Editor’s Letter, Winter 2019

From Gastronomica 19.4

Over a year has passed since I received the request to join the—then proposed—new editorial collective for Gastronomica. My response was enthusiastic; I have been an avid reader and an occasional author since the very first issue. When we met in Toronto last September, we shared our appreciation for the journal—really, it was a roundtable of fans—but it was also a convocation to imagine the future of food studies. There was consensus on the possibility for innovative interventions, and everyone imagined this journal at the center of such ferment. And as we put together our third issue, the richness of this possibility was made obvious. As a seasoned [sic] veteran to the strategic planning, skirmishes, and occasional battles necessary in order to bring scholarly gravitas and creative energy to the understanding of the human engagement with food and drink, I am not just impressed but also inspired. Something is fermenting and Gastronomica can help feed it.

Ferment has two definitions. One is “to undergo fermentation” and another is “to stir up or incite.” In this issue, both definitions are explored, tested, and made known in expected and unexpected ways. Capturing the very essence of the transformations—material and symbolic—intrinsic to the processes involved in fermentation informs Nefissa Naguib’s journey to brewers in Norway, while Theresa McCulla’s engaging history of the emergence of the craft brewing movement in the 1970s points to the importance of Fritz Maytag’s passion for the “alchemy” of making beer, a sentiment echoed by those in Norway.

Other articles do not directly address fermentation but perhaps, in the spirit of Harry West’s provocative analysis of cheesemaking in the previous Gastronomica issue (on Saving Food), we can see them looking at the consequences of ferment, in all senses. West points out that in contemporary cheesemaking, “the contemporary artisan cheese renaissance is inextricably bound up with the historical disappearance of cheesemaking traditions—that these two trends are symbiotic, and that they animate one another. [Today,] I suggest, decay is savored, and dying traditions are all the rage.” The range of topics covered in this issue converge in the spirit of such a dialectic, the death and regeneration intrinsic to all manner of food and drink, but also to our human engagements. In a certain manner, a main convergence explores “remainders”—that which remains over time, that which remains in the processes of creating food—and investigates questions regarding what should remain, who controls these choices, and how that happens given any number of social and environmental issues of our food system.

In Laurie K. Bertram’s article on the Icelandic cake, vínarterta, we learn that Icelandic migrants to North America retain a certain vision of what allows a recipe to remain “authentic” while what remains of this cake on Icelandic tables is quite different. And in Ken Albala’s story about his attempts to make katsuobushi, he receives an unexpected Japanese embrace of his forays into what remains of centuries-old practice, even if MSG is now a commonplace alternative. And then there are the documentations of remainders, the various catalogues of human omnivory across time and space. We learn of the importance of the artichoke during the Renaissance in Jesse Locker’s essay on Caravaggio, opening up our understanding of a style of painting as well as of a painter. And what about ownership? Who has the right to “own” everyday and often communal practices? The unclear differentiation between documenting or borrowing (perhaps even stealing) of recipes is the topic of co-authored essay by Carrie Helms Tippen, Heidi S. Hakimi-Hood, and Amanda Milian on cookery and copyright. In the more literal sense, Andrea Montanari’s translation of Zhang Tongzhi’s List of Jinling’s Delicacies opens a door to the gastronomic bounty of an earlier era, and multiple contributors (Sarah Turner, Mélie Monnerat, and Patrick Slack) composed a visual essay that engages with spices and their dynamic place in the contemporary spice trade.

Additionally, there are so many ways food is used to incite action, to stir up received notions of what constitutes good food or best practices. Food remains a domestic and corporeal matter, yet as the field of food studies expands and matures, there is an insistence that we acknowledge all the public matters too, such as José Lucas Pérez-Lloréns’ consideration that eating seaweed might help us manage systems that are in crisis and Azri Amram’s analysis of the complex politics in Palestinian food tours. Finally, my non-traditional review of Juliet, a restaurant in Somerville, Massachusetts, suggests that public food spaces may be the most important sites of ferment as we grapple with and seek to transform a global food system.

There is so much animating food studies scholarship today with so much to learn! We are proud to include so many people, practices, and places in this issue, and we fully intend to nurture such expansiveness in the future. Everything old is new again, and we are delighted that Gastronomica remains at the center of this generative activity.

—Amy B. Trubek, on behalf of the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, November 2019