Stuff the Turkey! An Investigation of Food, Language and Performative Identity Construction in Eat Pray Love

  • Bronwen Hughes


Race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity are commonly considered the cornerstones of our identity, they are the first most visible or perceivable signs of what R. T. Lakoff qualifies as a person’s “major identity” (Lakoff 2006, p. 143). Such signs, however, often remain on the surface, as mere categories or taxonomical groupings; an individual or indeed a nation’s core identity often resides at a deeper, less conspicuous level: “minor identities, like culinary preferences and sophistication contribute significantly to our sense of ourselves: who we are, how competent we are, who our friends are or should be, whom we admire or disdain” (Lakoff 2006, p. 165). The present study aims to investigate the manner in which food, and culinary prowess, can serve to bring together individuals belonging to different nations and cultures within a Community of Practice (Eckert and Wenger 2005), a sort of macro-identitary category, which breaks down linguistic, cultural and nationalistic divides and forges emotional bonds that spring from a common appreciation of good food. This study investigates the original (American) and dubbed (Italian) versions of the film Eat Pray Love, with the main focus on the first part of the film Eat, which takes place in Italy. Though the film is not renowned for its critical acclaim, it is felt that the focus on food as a means of crossing boundaries (including those pertaining to the act of translation itself) and building communities, makes this audio-visual product worthy of study. The idea of ‘crossing’, seen as both physical and linguistic diasporic transferal, is in fact the leitmotif that runs through the entire film. Indeed, it is through the very visceral, shared emotions which stem from sharing good food and drink that the main character Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is accepted within the Italian community. It must be said that the manner in which these shared emotions are portrayed in the American and Italian versions differs considerably, thus close attention will be paid to the many markers of identity discourse such as culture-bound terms, specialised lexis, code-mixing, code-switching and phonetic variation.


  1. Barthes, R. (2013 [1961]). Towards a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In C. Counihan & P. Van Esterik (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd ed., pp. 23–30). Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Bell, D., & Valentine, G. (2006). Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Blommaert, J. (2005). Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Eckert, P., & Wenger, E. (2005). Communities of Practice in Sociolinguistics: What Is the Role of Power in Sociolinguistics Variations? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 9, 582–589. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  8. Greene, C. P., & Cramer, J. M. (2011). Beyond Mere Sustenance: Food as Communication/Communication as Food. In J. M. Cramer, C. P. Greene, & L. M. Walters (Eds.), Food as Communication/Communication as Food (pp. ix–xix). New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  9. Hall, E. (1964). Silent Assumptions in Social Communication. Disorders in Communication, 42, 41–55.Google Scholar
  10. Hughes, B. (2015). Discursive Shifts and ‘Mis-premising’ in the Representation of Male Homosexuality in AVT. In G. Balirano & C. Nisco (Eds.), Languaging Diversity: Identities, Genres, Discourses (pp. 176–196). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  11. Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (2nd ed.). Abingdon and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lakoff, R. (2006). Identity à la carte: You Are What You Eat. In A. De Fina, D. Schiffrin, & M. Bamberg (Eds.), Discourse and Identity (pp. 142–165). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Laurier, E. (2012). Encounters at the Counter: The Relationship Between Regulars and Staff. In P. Tolmie & M. Rouncefield (Eds.), Ethnomethodology at Play (pp. 1–40). Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  14. Maynard, D., & Zimmerman, D. (1984). Topical Talk, Ritual and Social-Organization of Relationships. Social Psychology Quarterly, 47, 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Omoniyi, T. (2006). Hierarchy of Identities. In T. Omoniyi & G. White (Eds.), Sociolinguistics of Identity (pp. 11–33). London and New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  16. Pedersen, J. (2011). Subtitling Norms for Television. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sadie, S., & Latham, A. (Eds.). (1990). The Cambridge Music Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Smart, B. (1994). Digesting the Modern Diet: Gastro-Porn, Fast Food and Panic Eating. In K. Tester (Ed.), The Flâneur (pp. 158–181). Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bronwen Hughes
    • 1
  1. 1.Università degli Studi Suor Orsola BenincasaNapoliItaly

Personalised recommendations