By Carly and Jared Jakins

Despite popular media’s recent focus on unveiling the evils of large food corporations and their products, Americans continue to consume—and even celebrate—the wildly cheap foods available in this country. Perhaps one of the most recognizably inexpensive line or label of food is ConAgra’s Banquet meals. Through the re-appropriation of existing YouTube media, we found an unexpected dialogue concerning these frozen meals, showing their place at America’s table.

Our resulting film enjoys the celebratory nature of blissful ignorance concerning the nutritional value of these foods and revels in the experience of cheap dining. The YouTube videos that we found and chose for this piece became a commentary on a society that consumes corporation-created foods. These videos had few views and hosted little Internet traffic, but reveal the underlying importance of this specific food to people of differing values and customs. Consuming food items distributed through a large corporation brings a virtual and long-distance relationship of commensality.

Our purpose in creating this film is not to debate the moral nature of large food corporations and their products. Rather, we wish to highlight the potential that the products of large food corporations have to allow people across the nation to find commonality through consumption.

Perhaps it is the affordability of the meals that makes them so universal. ConAgra emphasizes that Banquet meals are accessible to anyone with their slogan, “So Good for So Little.” For many, the price is the most attractive aspect of the meal.

After affordability, Banquet boasts a variety of meal options. They use the same meat blend (chicken, pork, and beef) for all meat flavors, thus offering simple variations on a theme, or rather a false sense of variety. This strange aspect of America’s cheapest food reminds us that Americans are similarly connected through variations of a theme, sharing the same basic needs and cultures. We are ultimately more alike than different.

In reality, community, like the meat blend in each entrée, is integral to American culture. The community defines the individual through relationships with others. These relationships are often developed through the practice of commensality, partaking and consuming of the same, together. Banquet meals are an affordable, readily-available, and easy symbol of that relationship, bringing a sense of connection across the nation.