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Alyxandra Vesey

Alyxandra Vesey is an assistant professor in Journalism and Creative Media at the
University of Alabama. Her research focuses on the intersection between gender, race, authorship, music culture, and media industry labor. She is currently working on a manuscript about the identity politics surrounding musicians’ labor in television production culture during the post-network era. She has also published scholarship on how ideologies of gender circulate within merchandising, branding, and endorsement work in the recording industry.

"Songbirds in the Kitchen: Female Soul and Country Singers as Cookbook Authors and the Intersectional Politics of Comfort Food"
As an extension of food television’s prolonged fascination with celebrity cooks, the Food Network and the Cooking Channel have recently launched programs hosted by female soul and country singers who have parlayed their legacies as recording artists into secondary careers as cookbook authors. Grand Ole Opry member Trisha Yearwood has hosted the popular Food Network program, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, since 2012. Godmother of Soul Patti LaBelle briefly joined the Cooking Channel’s line-up in 2015 with Patti LaBelle’s Place. Both stand-and-stir programs reconfigure the kitchen as a stage for these singers, who reinforce their professional reputations with backstage anecdotes, family stories, famous guests, and intimate performances while teaching viewers the best way to sauté pork chops. They also demonstrate how the hosts use their status as celebrity cookbook authors to ensure career longevity in an industry besieged with sexism and ageism, a tactic deployed by female recording artists at least as far back as Kitty Wells’ Country Kitchen Cook Book in 1964. In doing so, they prove the commercial value of their adult female fan base who frequently serve as food television’s intended audience. Often these hosts use food as a resource to work through cultural anxieties around feminine aging by reflecting on motherhood and their struggles with health and body image. Finally, these programs illustrate how these singers, working in the genres of country and soul, affirm their professional acumen by installing themselves in the kitchen as cookbook authors who specialize in “comfort food,” a descriptor for simple and unpretentious dishes passed down from mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters and often associated with the complicated shared history between white Southern and African-American culinary traditions. Thus, this presentation seeks to contextualize these programs within the intersectional politics of comfort food and country and soul singers’ negotiation of it as cookbook authors.