How to Eat When You’re Expecting
by Sofia Soto Sugar
Director Michael McCullers uses a star-studded cast to turn Baby Mama (2008) into a social commentary on nutrition, class, pregnancy and motherhood, neatly disguised as a comedic film. Kate (Tina Fey) is a 40-something successful business woman who is ‘married to her career’ but ready to have a baby. After trying everything imaginable, she seeks the help of a surrogate named Angie (Amy Poehler) to carry a baby for her. After Angie and her careless husband Carl (Dax Shepard), split up, Angie spends the majority of the pregnancy living with, and befriending, Kate. Their relationship becomes quickly consumed with Angie’s lifestyle. Kate, as the vice president of Round Earth Foods (a health-food grocery store), brings home plenty of healthy food for Angie to start eating, to which Angie responds “that crap is for rich people who hate themselves.” Her resistance to all of Kate’s suggestions is exhibited Figures 2-4, where Angie is seen stubbornly refusing pea soup in an exaggerated, childish manner.
Their relationship is evidence of the drastic effects that class can have on nutrition. Angie and CI’arl’s home is strewn with fast-food wrappers and trash, soda and beer, and features a fridge full of take-out leftovers. Meanwhile, Kate’s home is pristine and she only purchases wholesome and organic ingredients for herself. McCullers, by using different mise-en-scènes for the two homes, is able to show the class difference associated with their nutrition and the quality of the food that they can buy: Kate’s executive VP salary vs Angie and Carl’s makeshift jobs. In Figure 1, we can see what happens when Angie is left alone in Kate’s apartment, strewing candy wrappers and soda cans all over the place, and even sticking gum under the table.
The film also plays into the societal expectations for pregnant women and mothers to maintain a strict food regiment for themselves and their baby. Deborah Lupton, in her “Food, the Family and Childhood” chapter, talks extensively about the societal pressure that pregnant women face and how this responsibility is so emphasized that the pregnant woman is no longer an individual but a “factory” with specific intake regulations “for the production of the fetus via food” (41). It’s clear that this expectation is only placed the pregnant woman, a time when she seems to lose her identity, but not the woman as a mother (in this surrogacy case, Kate), let alone a father. In Figure 1, you can see Kate standing over Angie in a dominant power pose, lecturing her about all the junk food that she’s been putting into her body at the start of the pregnancy. Meanwhile, in a bar scene, Kate indulges in a dangerous amount of alcohol while Angie avoids any. Similarly, Kate’s sister Caroline, whom is not pregnant but already a mother, is shown pouring a bunch of frozen foods out on a pan.
Through some additional characters – particularly Kate’s eccentric boss, Barry (Steve Martin), and love interest, Rob (Greg Kinnear), a smoothie store owner competing with the “corporate juice pimps” at Jamba Juice – Baby Mama touches on satire about the green movement, “raw food vegan movement” style of food that is increasingly popular. While the characters each experience their own romantic and personal turbulence towards the end of the film, the film consumers can see how Baby Mama continues to use food as a medium for social commentary on nutrition, class, and womanhood.
Baby Mama. Dir. Michael McCullers. Perf. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Universal, 2008.
Lupton, Deborah. Food, the body, and the self. London: Sage, 2012. Print.