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Fast-Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and Social TiesFast-Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and Social Ties, by BestAmy L.New York: New York University Press. 245 pp. $26.00 paper. ISBN: 9781479802326.

Authors:
edifying illustrations, including the author’s
own before-and-after Botox photographs.
That said, the book contains a surprising num-
ber of minor typos, which, along with more-
than-minimal overlap between the methodo-
logical appendix—which is excellent—and
the description of methods in the introduc-
tion, left me wondering whether the book
was rushed to press. These are minor
complaints, however. A timely, sociologically
rich, and highly accessible book, Botox Nation
will be a welcome addition to the shelves of
scholars and undergraduate and graduate
classrooms, especially in courses on gender
studies, health and medicine, self and socie-
ty, embodiment, and the life course.
Fast-Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and
Social Ties,byAmy L. Best. New York:
New York University Press. 245 pp. $26.00
paper. ISBN: 9781479802326.
KATE CAIRNS
Rutgers University-Camden
kate.cairns@rutgers.edu
For readers who enjoyed Amy Best’s previ-
ous books on prom night and teen car cul-
ture, Fast-Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines,
and Social Ties will not disappoint. Diving
into the fraught world of youth food con-
sumption, Best expertly conveys the sights,
sounds, smells, and feelings of young
people’s everyday food lives. The book
goes beyond individualistic accounts of the
young eater to make a compelling case that
‘‘youth food consumption is less a discrete
activity . . . and instead a sphere of meaning
populated by a range of institutional actors,
with youth among them’’ (p. 171).
This is a refreshing approach at a time
when young people’s eating practices are
the focus of considerable hype, met with
either condemnation or praise. By contrast,
Fast-Food Kids is neither judgmental nor cel-
ebratory. Instead, the book explores how
young people (and the adults around
them) negotiate overlapping institutional
arrangements, including public education,
familial care-work, and a powerful corporate
foodscape. This layered story elides narrow
constructions of ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ characters.
Readers encounter complex, sympathetic
portrayals of people doing the best they can
givenparticularconstraints,suchasthecaf-
eteria director who mimics strategies from
corporate marketers in an effort to make
nutritious offerings more appealing to
students. That Best’s clear commitment to
empathic understanding is matched with
institutional and structural critique is one
of the book’s core strengths.
While Best leads readers deep into the
interactional dynamics of the school cafeteria
and post-school fast-food rush, this attention
to everyday ritual does not prevent her from
addressing big-picture issues like capitalism
and inequality. The book develops a power-
ful political-economic critique of the corpo-
rate foodscape and raises pressing questions
about responsibility for care-work in late cap-
italism. Is food a private good to be accessed
through individual consumption and domes-
tic food provision or a public good to be equi-
tably distributed by state institutions like
public schools? How can an understanding
of youths’ food practices, relationships, and
identities help us answer these questions?
Best argues that in the current context, where
youths’ eating practices have come under
scrutiny, ‘‘it is important that we understand
the social meaning young people themselves
assign to food, and the cultural systems of val-
ue that organize those meanings’’ (p. 7).
According to Best, young people value
food not (only) as a source of fuel or flavor,
but as a ‘‘form of play that is central to the
public display of youth culture and youth
identity’’ (p. 2). Her ethnographic analysis
uncovers practices of play in young people’s
collective food experiences, from the rituals
of exchange in the school cafeteria to the bois-
terous flow of bodies and french fries across
booths in McDonald’s. Best also demon-
strates how youth ‘‘play’’ with food catego-
ries generated within adult, middle-class
worlds of morality. Junk food is not only deli-
cious, but a resource for enacting a youth
identity that is distanced from adult concerns
about nutrition and the norms of a ‘‘proper’’
meal. Best reconstructs the meaning of food
from young people’s perspectives, rather
than putting youths’ food practices under
the often-judgmental lens of an adult-
managed microscope.
Reviews 301
Contemporary Sociology 47, 3
Drawing on several years of research in
urban and suburban contexts in the Wash-
ington, D.C., area, the book incorporates
a range of qualitative methods and data
sources. A chapter on the family meal uses
college students’ written family food memo-
ries to examine food’s continued significance
for ideals of maternal care-work and familial
intimacy. Interviews with school administra-
tors and cafeteria directors serve as the main
source of data for a chapter on the challenges
of public food provisioning at a time when
commercial markets exert considerable pow-
er in school lunch politics and in a broader
context in which public services are increas-
ingly privatized.
My favorite chapters were those that led
readers deep into the everyday social worlds
of youth, capturing food’s affective signifi-
cance and embedding eating practices within
the relations of inequality young people
negotiate daily. We come to see how race
and gender powerfully structure cafeteria
dynamics, from the racialized geography of
student seating to heteronormative rituals
of food sharing, in which girls give valued
items to boys in an expression of affection
and feminine selflessness. Classed dimen-
sions are explored in a separate chapter that
examines how administrators and parents
in an affluent school claim social status
through distinction practices surrounding
health and taste. Finally, a chapter on fast
food argues for a shift in focus from the
teen consumer to a Goffmanian analysis of
the situation; through this lens, we come to
see commercial food venues as ‘‘youth cul-
tural scenes’’ that offer one of the few public
settings in which young people can effective-
ly claim space of their own.
Given the rich ethnographic analysis,
readers may be surprised to learn that Best’s
access to young participants was highly
constrained by the institutional review board
process. In a methods appendix, she speaks
candidly about the increasing barriers faced
by youth researchers and considers the impli-
cations of these restrictions for scholarship.
Best was forbidden from initiating conversa-
tions with youth during field observations,
and this resulted in adults featuring more
centrally in the project than she’d planned.
Beyond issues of access, the methods
appendix shares useful insights on the prac-
tice of qualitative research, ranging from
practical strategies for note-taking to rela-
tional efforts to preserve participants’ digni-
ty, as when Best pretended not to notice
a boy who was dining alone in the cafeteria.
Best also reflects on how her position as
a youth researcher has shifted with age.
This appendix offers a wonderful resource
for teachers and students of qualitative
research, particularly those seeking to con-
duct reflexive, respectful research with
young people.
While I am clearly a fan of this book, a few
limitations are worth noting. Although the
book discusses issues of income inequality
and food insecurity, experiences of poverty
and scarcity are rarely visible in the ethno-
graphic and interview accounts at the heart
of the analysis. Best describes how she was
able to observe which students were eligible
for free or reduced lunch as they swiped their
meal cards in the cafeteria, but we do not hear
from these youth directly. Similarly, in the
chapter on the family meal, the tensions with-
in students’ family food memories largely
center on a lack of time or emotional connec-
tion arising from hectic work schedules rath-
er than a lack of money or the challenge of
stretching limited groceries through the end
of the month.
Another area that receives less attention is
the growing emphasis on engaging youth in
food production, as seen in initiatives rang-
ing from school gardens to full-blown urban
farms, as well as broader movements for
food justice. We learn in the appendix that
Best did conduct observations in farm-to-
school programs, but this research does not
appear in the book. Finally, it’s worth noting
that the book’s attention to the complexities
of youths’ food lives does not always yield
clear takeaways for practitioners. Those
seeking direction within the thorny debates
surrounding youth, food, health, and social
justice will not find easy answers in this
book. Depending on the audience, this com-
plexity could be seen as a strength or limita-
tion of the volume.
In the concluding chapter, Best describes
how the years she spent conducting this
research turned her into a more vocal advo-
cate for school nutrition and food justice.
302 Reviews
Contemporary Sociology 47, 3
She makes a forceful argument for conceiv-
ing of care as a public responsibility and for
a curriculum of critical food literacy that
interrogates systemic issues, rather than
championing individual responsibility. Fast-
Food Kids makes an analytically compelling
and politically astute contribution to the
charged discourse surrounding youth and
food—one that takes seriously the complex-
ity of young people’s social worlds and the
meanings forged within them and uses this
understanding to interrogate the institutions
and injustices of late capitalism.
Seriously Funny: Disability and the Paradoxical
Power of Humor,byShawn Chandler
Bingham and Sara E. Green. Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016. 200 pp.
$65.00 cloth. ISBN: 9781626375208.
TOM COOGAN
University of Birmingham
t.a.coogan@bham.ac.uk
Shawn Chandler Bingham and Sara E.
Green’s Seriously Funny: Disability and the
Paradoxical Power of Humor is a welcome and
necessary book. The intersection of disability
and humor is underexplored and under-
theorized, and it merits further study. Fore-
most is the need to understand how humor
disables and enables, and that is this book’s
primary focus. Also important for the longer
term, however, is a consideration of the way
in which the encounter with another area (in
this case, Humor Studies) can illuminate and
inform the home area (in this case, Disability
Studies). As academics such as Rebecca
Mallett have noted, attempts by Disability
Studies scholars to analyze humor around
disability have sometimes shed more light
on the limitations of activist-dominated
theorizations than on their target subject.
Fortunately, this book also addresses this
issue, as it represents a step toward the
development of more complex and nuanced
understandings of humor around disability.
The book presents and contextualizes the
historical relationship of humor and disabil-
ity from ancient times to the present day. This
review is then supplemented with analysis of
interviews with a selection of American and
British professional stand-up comedians
with disabilities. Here, the authors use an
interpretive, emancipatory approach,
reflecting the project’s origins within
a U.S./UK Disability Studies sensibility
marked by close ties between academia and
activism. The authors acknowledge these
ties but, for the most part, do not permit
them to reduce their subject to a simplistic
view of humor as a tool for enforcing/fight-
ing oppression.
The book is organized well and written in
a warm and engaging tone that reflects the
personal engagement of the authors with
their subject. While the interviews with prac-
titioners are perhaps the most notable fea-
ture, their integration within a wide-ranging
account of the history, present, and potential
futures of the relationship of disability and
humor is sensible and useful. It allows the
book to act as a point of entry and also estab-
lishes a sound foundation for future research
in this area. Readers who are not familiar
with Disability Studies should find the book
accessible.
In terms of structure, the book begins by
placing disability humor into its social con-
text, laying out the aims, method, and con-
tent of the book and establishing the warm,
accessible tone of the text. It then examines
the use of humor as a tool in social interac-
tion, shaping perceptions, coping, subver-
sion, and activism. This is insightful, but
this instrumental approach risks being rather
narrow in terms of understanding humor:
does humor always have to be for something?
Similarly, a chapter on the historical rela-
tionship of disability and humor is a useful
overview taking us from ancient times to
the present day, but at times it threatens to
veer toward somewhat subjective and pre-
scriptive interpretations of the performances
of comedians such as Bobcat Goldthwait and
Frankie Boyle: this is rather at odds with the
more open critical attitude found elsewhere
in the book. The middle chapters of the
book introduce the interviews and the analy-
sis of them. While helpful as an example of
how similar research on this topic might be
conducted, more detail on data-gathering
and analysis would have been useful. As
the authors point out, the sample of inter-
viewees is small and not necessarily
Reviews 303
Contemporary Sociology 47, 3
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