Eating Our Words: An Introduction

“Eat” by Brian Pennington, is licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License (CC BY 2.0). No changes have been made to this image.

I really didn’t want to start off a new blog with a post about how this a a new blog, but I couldn’t think of another way of how to begin, so here you go: This is a blog about shame and how we encounter it in our worlds, and also sometimes will feature food and recipes, not only because I like cooking and experimenting with difference recipes and foods, but also because food and shame are so intimately intertwined, especially in the United States, where what you eat and how much you eat are often the targets of simultaneously great praise and great shaming.

Often when I tell people I study and write about shame, I get one of two responses: Either people will tell me about their experiences of shame in a manner akin to a dam bursting, because for the first time someone is giving them the opportunity to talk about something that has been stifled and hidden throughout their lives; or people will tell me that they’re glad to hear I’m interested in shame because we need more of it in our world. One would think that the people in the second group haven’t met with the people in the first group, or in the most pessimistic sense, they aren’t listening to the people whose lives are so inundated with shame that they can barely speak about it for the weight of it on their hearts and lips. But a better way of understanding is this, that for the second group, it’s not that there’s not enough shame, but not enough shame about the specific things they are interested in shaming, which tend to typically be in regard to sex, bodies, modesty, family arrangements, recreational pursuits involving drugs or alcohol, or identity expression, which often are exactly the shames that most of the people in the first group are suffering from. And while there is a recent school of thought that sees shame as liberative, I have often wondered exactly how much pain — and ask anyone who is suffering from shame and is in a place where they can talk about it, shame is exceedingly painful to the mind, body and spirit — any one person or group of persons is expected to undergo for their liberation. And I’ve wondered, too, whether the shame that gets dealt out by the shamers and taken in by the shamed is the same type of shame that leads to that freedom and transformation. Or perhaps is it something else entirely.

My charge to myself in this blog is this: To know shame for what it is, rather than deal it around like cards in a dangerous game of chance, or banish it away like a recalcitrant troublemaker. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, drawing on the work of the affect theorist Silvan Tomkins, writes that “one is something in experiencing shame, though one may or may not have secure hypotheses about what.”1 This means that to generate hypotheses about the something that we are in shame, it is helpful to also begin knowing shame, as a tool, as a mirror, as an insight, as a way of getting a taste of who we are and more importantly, who we would like to be as individuals, communities, nations, and an entire world.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, N.C., and London: Duke University Press, 2003), 37.


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