Metaphors for the symbiotic relationship between mind and body have become so familiar that by now they’re clichés. We speak of intellectual hunger and food for thought, but we forget that these concepts were once the subject of serious inquiry—from Erasmus, who advised readers to digest material rather than merely memorize it, to Montaigne, who described education and digestion as parallel functions. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture aims to renew this connection between sensual and intellectual nourishment by bringing together many diverse voices in the broadest possible discourse on the uses, abuses, and meanings of food. It’s time that we set a central table for this sort of conversation, if not quite in the boisterous manner of the great Renaissance banquets, then at least in the wide, egalitarian spirit of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, where all dinner party guests get a few featured pages in the limelight of narrative point of view.
In this inaugural issue our contributors look at food in many different ways, in many voices. The global food supply, arguably the most pressing issue of the twenty-first century, is investigated in two articles, one arguing passionately against genetically-modified foods, the other promoting biotechnology as a means of ending world hunger. A third article views the modern food supply from a somewhat different perspective, which counters prevailing consumer attitudes by describing the benefits of fast, processed foods. Discussions of futuristic foods are also found in articles on the visionary 1956 kitchen designed by the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson and on the signature deconstructed soup of the Catalan chef Ferran Adrià. Yet Gastronomica does not neglect the past. We offer an investigation of the symbolic meanings of the edible pastry letterforms so beautifully depicted in Dutch still lifes, as well as an analysis of a fourteenth-century Arabic cookbook that calls for the surprising use of Sicilian cheese. So much of history deals only with grand gestures, but these articles convincingly show how important everyday objects are to a fuller, more complex, understanding of the past. Traveling the world, we go on to look at food and wine production in Turkey, Italy, and Spain. Other articles discuss ancient cooking vessels as well as ancient techniques such as smoking, which has been used by societies throughout the world as a means of preserving their local foodstuffs. Yet even though cultures can be joined by common cooking methods, global unity only goes so far, as the essay on McDonald’s so wittily demonstrates.
As consumers we’ve become increasingly sophisticated about what we eat, but we also need to become more articulate about our food, to be aware of its sources and uses, and not merely on a culinary level. Gastronomica’s eclectic mix of articles intends to make readers aware of food as an important source of knowledge about different cultures and societies. This is a journal for anyone with an interest in food, which, I suspect, is everyone—even Kafka’s Hunger Artist pondered what he was abstaining from. Here cooks will learn new and old techniques; historians will discover unexpected origins; visual artists will see exciting images; literature lovers will enjoy great writing in both poetry and prose; and everyone will find the kind of eccentric, passionate inquiry that defines authenticity. Gastronomica is meant to be inclusive, embracing the disparate disciplines that are now coming together in the emerging field of food studies. These various points of view contribute to our understanding of food in radically different ways, and Gastronomica offers us all a chance to speak (and listen!) to each other. With its mix of research articles and shorter pieces, Gastronomica aspires to reach a diverse and idiosyncratic audience, one that’s now ready to sit down together. We hope to provide a much-needed forum for sharing ideas, provoking discussion, and encouraging thoughtful reflection on the history, literature, representation, and cultural impact of food. The fact is, the more we know about food, the greater our pleasure in it. A fuller understanding of the origins of the foods we eat and their cultural context can only increase the cook’s expertise and the diner’s pleasure, as well as help us become better citizens of the world.
Let us know what you’d like to read about. Send us submissions, queries, even curmudgeonly letters. We have a special place for those in “Borborygmus,” a Greek term, as you’ll discover, for stomach rumblings (and by extension grumblings of any sort).
We look forward to hearing some lively table talk.
GASTRONOMICA has been years in the making, and without the help of many people it wouldn’t have happened. First, I am endlessly grateful to the University of California Press for recognizing the importance of food studies and risking the publication of a new journal at a time when some analysts believe that print media are doomed. Rebecca Simon, Director of Journals, and James Clark, Director of the Press, have been wonderfully supportive of the project from the beginning, and thanks to their enthusiasm and expertise Gastronomica has come to fruition. The entire staff of the Journals Division at UC Press, especially Rebekah Darksmith and Mary Guitar, have leapt into overtime action to produce a beautiful publication. Also, without the generous financial support of the American Center for Wine, Food & gthe Arts and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Gastronomica would not be a reality. I am particularly grateful to Daphne Derven and Peggy Loar at the American Center, and Janie Hibler and Paula Lambert of iacp, who shepherded this project through their respective boards and whose pleasure in its existence is palpable. Justin Newby for KitchenAid and Paul Barrett for Bertolli usa also provided generous support at a crucial time. The members of Gastronomica’s advisory board deserve kudos for their important input into the process, as do Ardath Weaver, Jim Stark, Wyn Kelley, Deborah Rothschild, and Lorraine Wild for their extraordinary contributions. Frances Baca and Lee Friedman have created an elegant design that perfectly expresses the union of intellect and aesthetics that Gastronomica is all about. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my husband, Dean Crawford, and daughter, Leila, who had to compete with Gastronomica for my attention and endured my obsession without complaint.