Happy 2015. We at Gastronomica hope that your new year has gotten off to a good start and that you are ready for another series of insightful articles and inspiring images about the world of food. I am especially pleased that this first issue of 2015 features the inaugural Distinguished Lecture sponsored by our partnership with the University of London’s SOAS Food Studies Centre. In November 2014, famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi delivered a riveting lecture on tradition and identity in Jerusalem. The lecture was accompanied by a delicious goodie-box dinner made in one of his London kitchens—and that I enjoyed in Heathrow, while waiting for the plane back to San Francisco, blissfully indulging in the treats while my fellow passengers were forced to make do with airport food. As we experienced during his lecture and through the goodie box, Chef Ottolenghi’s style is inspired both by his Middle Eastern upbringing and by creative influences from around the world. Through words and images, and the flavors of his food, Chef Ottolenghi invited his audience to travel with him to Jerusalem and experience a city of richly diverse cultures and histories. It was a thought-provoking lecture that upended stereotypes and encouraged respectful discussion and debate about the nature of heritage, tradition, and identity in contested spaces. It also served as the illustrious launching of the SOAS/Gastronomica Distinguished Lecture series, and I hope that you find his essay here as engrossing and thoughtful as we did.
Chef Ottolenghi’s call for more nuanced and complex understandings of food, tradition, and identity nicely leads into the other articles in this issue, beginning with careful studies by India Mandelkern and A.R. Ruis on the role of food in therapeutic practices. In her deep history of therapeutic gustation, Mandelkern documents how beliefs about health relate to long-standing concerns over the curative properties of certain tastes. Taking a different but equally revealing approach, Ruis shows how cultural beliefs about the pomegranate have informed medicinal recommendations and uses. Lara Anderson, Heather Merle Benbow, and Naa Ako-Adjei, meanwhile, present intriguing accounts of how identity and heritage can be reified and commodified, often in ways that disassociate foods from their actual origins and uses. In their article on Australian food cultures, Anderson and Benbow critically examine how the contradictions between Australia’s cultural ethos of multiculturalism and a striking culinary xenophobia in public discourse provide insights into domestic debates about immigration. Ako-Adjei also turns her attention to public and media representations of culinary heritage and shows how Americans misunderstand and misrecognize African foods and culinary traditions. Particularly intriguing are the limits of gastronomic journalism and the complicity of food writers in obscuring the richness and diversity of African cuisines.
Finally, the photoessay by David Bacon and creative reflections by Zachary Nowak, John Grossmann, Grace M. Cho, Rebecca Dimyan, and Jeff DeBellis each encourage thoughtful discussions about the pleasures and displeasures of food and food work, whether it is the physical labor of planting, tilling, fishing, picking, and preparing food, the emotional and psychological labors that food work provokes or alleviates, or even the politically charged inspirations and consequences of food work. In each case, these contributors shed light on the multiple and shifting layers of the activities that bring food to the table.
In closing, I want to remember Sheila Levine, former Editorial Director for the University of California Press, who passed away in September. Sheila was instrumental in working with former Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein to create and shape both Gastronomica and the Food Studies list at the University of California Press. Sheila’s influence is clearly everywhere in the field of Food Studies. More personally, Sheila was my editor and mentor, as well as a dear friend. I will miss her greatly, and I hope that the journal will continue to honor her memory.