Taking a bite of Steak & Chips!

The final essay in ‘Mythologies’ written by Roland Barthes breaks down the concept of “mythology”, what is the true meaning and how myths have historical significance in France. In this essay Barthe lays out what we like to call an equation which states the following:
When you have something, take the rose he used as an example, the meaning of that rose or the significance of it varies depending on a) the person and b) the context in which it is being used.
The rose = the sign
the signifier = Love/Passion
the signified = the concept
This was relatively confusing for us until Thursday’s lesson. To better understand these concepts we also read the chapter in ‘Mythologies’ titled Steak and Chips to further understand the concept of language as a system of signs and how it related to the French ideology. In this short chapter Barthe uses Steak and Chips which were considered to be the definition of “Frenchness”, mainly consumed by Bourgeois society though available to all in the form of cheap restaurants.
The semiotic view of consuming ‘steak and chips’ is just that, that one is consuming steak and chips. But if you look at it through a mythological lens what this action of eating steak and chips declares is your “Frenchness”, the pride you have for your country. Barthes says, ” Being part of the nation, it follows the index of patriotic values: it helps them to rise in wartime, it is the very flesh of the French soldier, the inalienable property which cannot go over to the enemy except by treason.” (Barthe, 63)
Now using steak and chips into the equation we have the following:
Steak & chips = the sign
French pride/morality/manliness = the signifier
the concept = the signified
*the concept essentially being the same as the signifier in the case of France during this time.
OR without that breakdown:
Steak &chips = Steak & Chips
Steak & Chips (the concept) (what comes to mind when I see the steak & chips)
With this evaluation we have the broken the semiotic view and have gotten to the mythological view of steak & chips. To further back the breakdown of our equation Barthe says, “commonly associated with chips, steak communicates its national glamour to them: chips are nostalgic and patriotic like steak.” (63).
In conclusion, during this war time period in France the ideology within not only the bourgeois society but most of France was that consuming Steak & Chips was equivalent to declaring the love you have for your country, your backing of the war, and in a way it was a sexist declaration. Consuming the steak medium-rare which or saignant steak meant you were inheriting the “strength of bulls” strength which was not associated with women during this time. Also, the ones who fight at war are also the men. Steak represents all of the above for them, but not for women. It made us take this question a step further by asking/wondering whether women were even allowed to eat steak at all!
This reading was short and to the point and really assisted with our understanding of Barthes equation and concepts.

Written by: Jenessy Rodríguez

Steak & Chips: A closer look

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