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Food's dark shadow: Poisoning in popular culture and preventative health messages

journal contribution
posted on 2018-07-10, 00:00 authored by Donna BrienDonna Brien, R Franks
Much food-focused preventative health discourse mobilizes narratives of poisoning, with such foodstuffs as sugar, fast/junk food, and alcohol regularly imaged in this way. In order to add a possible new frame for thinking about these messages and their efficacy, this discussion relates this discourse to popular culture narratives of poisoning. We propose that this is a useful correlation to consider, as, while much contemporary food media celebrates food (and its production, preparing, and serving), popular culture contains a shadowy and alternative narrative about food that does not sustain, reward, or gratify but instead harms its consumers. In order to consider how teaching messages about healthy food may be usefully and palatably incorporated into the classroom context, we investigate how discussions of poisoning can be incorporated into such teaching contexts as the literature or communications curriculum. In this, we focus on crime fiction, in which food is regularly used to represent an unknown danger — as seemingly innocuous culinary items can be laced with poison. Such murders image victims (that is, the eaters and/or drinkers of the poisoned foodstuffs) as participants in their own demise, which provides links to the rhetoric of preventative health messages. This paper, therefore, provides an exploration of poison’s complex and symbiotic relationship with the culinary, with an emphasis on some of the different ways in which poison — and particularly poisoned food — has been utilized by crime fiction writers, in order to suggest that this could cast light on the rhetoric of food-focused preventative health messages and provide an expanded approach for this type of communication.


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Freely available from journal website.

Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

Open Access

  • Yes

External Author Affiliations

University of Newcastle

Author Research Institute

  • Centre for Regional Advancement of Learning, Equity, Access and Participation (LEAP)

Era Eligible

  • Yes


Table Matters: Food, Drink, Manners

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