Feast in a Time of Famine | Darra Goldstein

As I sat down to write this, Gastronomica‘s tenth anniversary letter, news of the terrible earthquake in Haiti reached me. And I faltered. Estimates of fifty thousand dead. No food or water or medicine. Misery on a vast scale. How could I celebrate a journal about food in the face of such devastation? Devastation not only in Haiti but throughout the world. Isn’t it wrong, or at least frivolous, to feast on gorgeous images and prose when others are suffering? The answer is complicated, as I hope that Gastronomica has shown. Depriving ourselves of food and food for thought does not reduce world hunger. Food magazines can and do celebrate the good life, but they really ought to do more, especially now, when food issues are among the most pressing global concerns.

Thinking deeply about food allows us to think more deeply about the world, and from its inception that is what Gastronomica has sought to promote. We try to make readers aware of the power of food, its social and cultural relevance, its enormous emotional weight. But at the same time we don’t want to overlook food’s sensual attributes, its colors and textures, its beauty and memory-stirring tastes. We wish equally to celebrate and investigate, to relish and rail. Through vivid imagery and evocative writing, we hope to show how food remains at the core of human community, even in times of political turmoil and disaster.

If you think about it, sharing is one of the least explicable behaviors, at least in Darwin’s or Adam Smith’s terms. When food is scarce, why give any away? If we are all competitors, why waste time sharing stories or valuable information? Sharing—giving of ourselves, celebrating or commiserating together, breaking bread or news, reaching out across borders—that is what a food magazine, particularly a nonprofit journal, should be about.

Gastronomica launched in February 2001, at a time of unease in the world, the beginning of a new millennium when wars both cultural and actual raged across the globe. Perhaps because the first issue appeared amid such disharmony, Gastronomica has always sought to consider the ways in which food can unite. Over the years we have also examined the myriad means by which food is manipulated and manipulates us—all too often to ill effect. While food is necessary to sustain life, it is also crucial to understanding how we live. By giving voice to writers and artists who think about food’s complex meanings, Gastronomica has, in its own small way, helped to establish food studies as an important mode of inquiry. Each issue has, I hope, also demonstrated the centrality of food in our lives and suggested ways in which food can be a force for positive change.

Anniversaries are a time to think back to beginnings. I remember Gastronomica‘s conception, the moment when I decided to create a publication that would unite the worlds of academic and popular writing—in part to pull together the disparate strands of my own life. I hoped to establish a place where all of us with an interest in food—scholars, professionals, and passionate amateurs—could enter into dialogue and find release from the isolation of our own particular patterns of thought; where the twain between the cerebral and the sensual, the disturbing and the silly, could finally meet. Now, as the journal embarks on its tenth year of publication, I reflect with pleasure on all it has become. And I’m grateful.

As I write this letter, I look out on the snowy, isolated landscape of my remote New England town. But thanks to Gastronomica, my world has grown large. The journal carries me around the globe, at least figuratively. Through this issue alone I have traveled to Sudan, Romania, Catalonia, and Martinique, Japan, France, Italy, England, and Portugal. I have met, and often befriended, the most interesting people. I get plenty of thanks for all that Gastronomica provides. Now it is my turn to thank all of you for the gifts that editing the journal has bestowed upon me: great writing, beautiful artwork, wonderful new acquaintances, and blessed encouragement.

It is my hope that as Gastronomica approaches its teenage years, it will continue to offer striking images and prose, to explore moments both joyous and dark in our encounters with food. I offer this special tenth anniversary issue and photo supplement (put together by Gastronomica‘s brilliant design director, Frances Baca) as both a culmination of our first decade and a taste of things to come. I hope you will join me in raising a glass to our good fortune.