Yesterday, The Hairpin posted a lengthy but well-considered examination of “snackwave” by Rookie writers Hazel Cills and Gabrielle Noone. “Snackwave” is the authors’ own term for the pop culture and social media phenomena of women and girls “expressing an obsession with snack foods.” The expressions tend to be hyperbolic and performative, often with a dash of conspicuous consumption:
“You don’t just eat cheeseburgers. You wear a shirt covered in them. You don’t just eat pizza. You run a blog devoted to collecting pictures of celebrities eating pizza.”
And it is ubiquitous: the authors mount an impressive and comprehensive array of evidence from TV clips to twitter handles and celebrity soundbytes to corporate sponsors. They also offer some sharp interpretations of certain media representations and trace the paths of trendmaking from consumer to corporation and back again, but I want to focus on their description of the polymorphous nature of the snackwave girl.
As a meme largely circulated through female-authored spaces and female-targeted consumer goods, “snackwave” variously reflects and resists pervasive cultural attitudes about women and eating. On one hand, embracing snack food rejects the virtuous, controlled ideal of femininity embodied in yogurt commercials and yoga magazines: a woman is supposed to take care of her body, so housing a pizza is out of bounds for responsible womanhood. It takes confidence to reject social norms, and confidence can be sexy: in her excellent article about the paradoxes of the “Cool Girl,” Anne Helen Peterson calls attention to Jennifer Lawrence’s self-proclaimed voracity for snack foods, which is adorable because she is adorable. A cute girl who eats burgers is a girl who eats like a boy while remaining desirable as a girl. She seems to be winning the losing game of gender, but it’s a delicate line to walk: sometimes the social norms reject you. The funhouse-mirror image of the burger-noshing Cool Girl is the sad girl who eats junk because she does not have access to love or sex—think about 30 Rock‘s endless jokes about Liz Lemon’s love affair with snack foods, to the point where she sort of (not really) gets pregnant by off-brand cheese chips. The girl who loves snacks is a disruptive figure: is she sad or self-confident? Does she care or not care about her body and what other people think of it? Does this make her hot or gross?
The snackwave idea presented a timely intervention to me: I just got this slim volume of poems about pizza, and I’ve been wondering what to do with it. Despite all of my own junk food blogging, I felt unprepared for a discussion about pizza poetry; I felt like I needed some justifying theoretical frame or excuse. But surely that is part of the point of this collection: Why shouldn’t pizza be considered a worthwhile subject for literary treatment and study? Why not anthologize a range of pizza/woman relationships?
The poems in By the Slice are all authored by female-identified poets, and many of the poems seem to speak back to the same gendered cultural assumptions at play above. As Courtney Marie writes in “Probability and Theory of Pizza,”
there is a bell curve: on one end a solo pie,
alone in bed, crumbs flying in the seductive glow of
a made-for-netflix original series, on the other end the
re is, for example, a large rabid social function, out of sn
A few other poems in the volume seem to position themselves at the ends of that bell curve. For example, Jennifer Jackson Berry’s “Fat Girl Confuses Food and Sex, Again” contrasts appetite-stirring pizza talk, including her own throaty voice ordering by phone, with the messy image of the sad girl eating pizza alone. On the other hand, “Pizza Coven” by Alina Peskova sets a scene of a pizza dinner like a witches’ circle, as though the pizza is an arcane source of a power, friendship, and pleasure. She also overtly confronts the health-nut ideal of womanhood:
With brew pints
we cackle louder
than the women
harder than those
in yogurt commercials
Perhaps the midpoint of those extremes is “Sunnies” by Carrie Murphy, which voices the uneasiness of wanting to be free to enjoy things and to be carefree, while remaining excruciatingly aware of how female enjoyment is always under scrutiny: “I want to eat pizza when I want to eat pizza. . . . When I’m walking around I want people to / look at me, but only most of the time / & only when I say so.”
Other poems explore facets of class, consumption, comfort, and more. I particularly liked the judgment of office culture in Nicole Steinberg’s “Pizza Party” (yes, my workplace too feeds pizza to our unpaid summer interns, confident that we have already “fattened them up with value”) and the heartbreaking story of “Dear Carole: For hours it’s been burning” by Sarah A. Chavez, in which salty, fatty pizza toppings are the first things the narrator can taste after months of depression. In twelve poems there are certainly twelve different visions of what pizza can represent and how it can be exchanged. As with the many incarnations of snackwave, it’s a little hard to pin down where the joke is and who is the butt of it. But again, that’s just the point: whether or not pizza is itself a sophisticated food, it may still inspire complex, sophisticated, or equivocal associations and memories well suited to literary expression–particularly for women whose relationship with snack food is already fraught with equivocation.