Editor’s Letter, Summer 2020

From Gastronomica 20.2

I was fortunate to be able to do most of my reading for this issue in a location not available to many people: a lovely house overlooking a lagoon in South Africa’s West Coast National Park, a 90 (or so)–minute drive from Cape Town, where I live and work. The house is owned by close friends, and we’ve been visiting it long enough for their youngest child to have dubbed it “Signe’s house” because my husband and I always arrived for shared weekends before they did. So, for as long as she can remember, I’d already be busy pottering in the kitchen when they finally arrived after collecting children from after-school sporting events, or birthday parties, or negotiating Friday afternoon traffic (sometimes all of these commitments and more).

The house is technically situated in an area called Stofbergfontein, a local variation of a town name many South Africans will immediately recognize—fontein is Afrikaans (and Dutch) for “fountain” or “spring,” and its iterations are legion in the country, presumably in historical celebration of finding water on barren land (Bloemfontein, Matjiesfontein, Clara Anna Fontein, to name a few). But better known—and searchable on Google Maps—is the closest landmark, known as Churchhaven. (I say landmark with respectful caution: among the sparsely populated fishing community on the West Coast, Churchhaven would almost certainly qualify as a town, legal definitions aside; for those of us who live in cities, village or hamlet would probably be a more accurate description. There is indeed a church, and even a mayor, but no post office and definitely no Uber Eats.)

For a nonreligious person such as myself, our friends’—or “my”—house in Churchhaven is as heavenly as it gets. Given the poor cellphone reception out among the dunes, it is the calmest place I know, and therefore the best place I know to read. But the best place to read can also prove to be the hardest place to do so, because it is one of those rarest of places where all you actually want to do is sit on the stoep (local lingo for balcony or veranda) and gaze at the lagoon with a glass of wine, or, later in the day, stare into the flames of an outside fire as the wood whittles down to the glowing embers required for that evening’s braai (barbecue). With another glass of wine, of course.

Approximately halfway through my reading of the articles that populate this issue, I recall my intermittent gaze at the lagoon being distracted by a francolin (a guinea fowl–like bird common to South Africa’s Western Cape—our friend calls them “Churchhaven chickens”) in the small patch of shrubbery directly in front of the house. He—or she—was pecking furiously at a piece of orange peel left by the previous visitors to the house. I became intrigued by the bird’s persistence, even as the peel was clearly dried out and difficult to manage; its potential nutritional contribution questionable at best.

Persistence is one of the themes that run through the articles in this issue, and indeed frames many of the ways we speak and think about food today, be it in terms of protecting existing foods and traditions, lamenting those that are threatened by new behaviors or cycles of nature, or even in the perpetuation of certain language used to describe what and how we eat and drink. Zachary Nowak, Bradley M. Jones, and Elisa Ascione’s article on “Disciplining Polenta” begins with a spoof of the rules governing Italy’s PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) system, which is of course no joke, but the piece does encourage important critical reflection on the possibility of such systems operating as a “protective force against the specter of modernity and its flattening impulse” rather than a considered expression of which foods—and food traditions—require “saving,” as we explored in-depth in our special issue on “Saving Food” (19:3). Adam Calo’s research into the trope of the “Beginner Farmer” (portrayed as predominantly white, privileged, Herculean, and self-sacrificing) adds to the persistence of a myth that ignores, the author argues, the actual challenges of twenty-first-century agrarianism.

In Joel Harold Tannenbaum’s recounting of the myth-making “experiment”—there’s some doubt as to whether one such experiment actually took place—involving (dyed) blue steak, red peas, and green fries, we learn about the persistence and metamorphosis of a culinary (and scientific) myth: an excellent example of how the language of both food and science is transmitted, more fascinating with each retelling and embellishment, its origins harder to lock down with each iteration. Susan H. Gordon’s musings (incidentally also inspired by gazing at a wonderful landscape), which interrogate the appropriate word to use for Italian wines and produce rather than the French catch-all terroir, propose a keener, more captive descriptor in the Italian territorio—much less persistent, and more cognizant of geographical and historical fluctuations than its French counterpart.

In a nod to the nonpersistence of some traditions, Samuel H. Yamashita guides readers through the rise and influence of Japanese tasting menus, first in France in the 1970s, in Los Angeles and New York in the 1980s, and then across the general San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s and 2000s, while Carl Ipsen details the uncertain future of the centuries-old olive oil industry in Italy’s Puglia region thanks to a devastating scourge of the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium. In their piece on “worry-nostalgia,” Sarah Trainer, Jessica Hardin, Cindi SturtzSreetharan, and Alexandra Brewis examine the anxiety around individual and community health as traditional ways of eating are increasingly replaced by “globalized foodscapes” in three distinct—but evidently not so different—locations: Osaka, Japan; Atlanta, Georgia in the United States; and Apia, Samoa. Tackling the making and breaking of tradition from a somewhat different angle, Sabine Parrish lifts the lid, so to speak, on how gender affects the experiences of female baristas at US specialty coffee competitions, concluding that the construct of the “ideal barista” remains reserved for cisgendered males, where any deviation from that outcome is likely to be called out as irregular.

In our final section on “Saving, Fermenting, Remembering Food,” Frances Cannon goes in search of fermentation expert Sandor Katz, hoping for some clues on using fermented foods as alternative medicine, only to be cautioned not to expect too much from food alone. Corey S. Pressman’s reminiscences of three burgers that punctuated memorable moments in his life remind us of the visceral—and persistent—connection between food and lived experiences, and David Bacon’s photo essay on the public markets of Vigan in the Philippines provides a stunning series of snapshots of the everyday moments that add vitality to the necessary transactions of living.

As diverse in focus and approach as the pieces that make up this issue are, they all speak to something I saw in that Churchhaven chicken pecking away at an unyielding orange peel: a wonderful stubbornness; a refusal to let go. And while we cannot guarantee that traditions, myths, and ways of being will not change—sometimes for the better, sometimes quite clearly for the worse—having them recorded in these pages is one way they will persist, or at least be remembered. I hope you will enjoy this issue as much as I savored the privilege of editing it.

Summer 2020, Volume 20 Number 2

Editor’s Letter | Signe Rousseau

Disciplining Polenta: A Parody on the Politics of Saving Food | Zachary Nowak, Bradley M. Jones, and Elisa Ascione

The Yeoman Myth: A Troubling Foundation of the Beginning Farmer Movement | Adam Calo

“Blue Steak, Red Peas”: Science, Marketing, and the Making of a Culinary Myth | Joel Harold Tannenbaum

What a Little Hilltop in Abruzzo Can Tell Us about Words for Place | Susan H. Gordon

The “Japanese Turn” in Fine Dining in the United States, 1980–2020 | Samuel H. Yamashita

Xylella fastidiosa and the Olive Oil Crisis in Puglia | Carl Ipsen

Worry-Nostalgia: Anxieties around the Fading of Local Cuisines and Foodways |
Sarah Trainer, Jessica Hardin, Cindi SturtzSreetharan, and Alexandra Brewis

Competitive Coffee Making and the Crafting of the Ideal Barista | Sabine Parrish

“Sandorkraut” and the Truth about Rot | Frances Cannon

Three Burgers | Corey S. Pressman

Viga’s Public Market: The Commons in the Hands of Farmers and the Poor | Text and Photographs by David Bacon

A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat
by Eric Holt-Giménez, reviewed by Ali Brooks

The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World
by Amanda Little, reviewed by Donald C. Cole

Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste
by Ole G. Mouritsen and Klavs Styrbæk,translated by Mariela Johansen, reviewed by Joel Dickau

Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
by Julie Guthman, reviewed by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science
by Carey Gillam, reviewed by Nick Rose

Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations
edited by Heather Anne Swanson, Marianne Elisabeth Lien, and Gro B. Ween,
reviewed by Daniel Allen Solomon

New Call for Submissions: “Food in the time of COVID”

In addition to our standing invitation for scholarly research and “Food Phenomena” submissions, the Editorial Collective of Gastronomica will continue to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on local and global food systems. We invite the following submissions:

  • Research ‘briefs’ (500-3,000 words): shorter treatments of developing projects, vital research questions, and/or the essential methodologies for the study of food and pandemics. Research briefs will be blind peer-reviewed. 
  • Teaching ‘briefs’ (300-2,000 words): reflections on and studies of pedagogy (“remote” or otherwise) and food’s far-flung social, economic, cultural, and medical impacts in the context of pandemic(s).  (“Pedagogy” pertains to teaching practices from pre-school to universities, virtual spaces, as well as to public spaces, and includes an array of voices, from academics to tour guides to cooks to artists.)
  • “Dispatches” (100-1000 words), shorter pieces drawn from lived experience of this pandemic (and other pandemics): portraits, creative non-fiction, telephonic/digital interviews, photographs and other images, and more.  
  • Regular and full-length research and Food Phenomena pieces, including, but not limited to fully realized submissions about food in the time of COVID-19As always, Gastronomica seeks to publish work that presents new and original research, advances our understanding of the pressing topics, theories, and methods in the world of food, and invites critical commentary.  

Deadline: Review of submissions will begin immediately. In order to be considered for issue 20.4 (Winter 2020), submissions must be received no later than 15 July 2020. Later submissions can be considered for future issues.  Some submissions may also be selected for online publication as part of our Web Exclusive series,* and/or featured on Heritage Radio Network’s “Meant To Be Eaten” (MTBE) podcast (in collaboration with host Coral Lee for a regular collaborative Gastronomica/MTBE mini-series).  

(*Note that any submissions selected only for online publication will not be indexed by Gastronomica)

Read more

Food in the time of COVID-19: Call for Submissions

Lockdowns, social distancing, quarantines, and simple fear in a time of uncertainty highlight the challenges of provisioning, the experiences of food workers, and the essential services food shops, hawkers, street vendors, bars, restaurants, markets, farms, and many more play in providing not only sustenance but also the liveliness upon which we depend in daily life.  

The Gastronomica Editorial Collective is seeking dispatches about food in the time of COVID-19. We seek as many diverse voices as possible, from as many affected, infected places as possible to provide a snapshot in time. We know that even as this next issue will go to press, the situation in many places may have worsened (but, hopefully, improved). We are, though, already immersed in stories and narratives of resilience that deserve to be remembered and documented. We seek, therefore, reflections in resilience. How do people feed themselves in times of crisis? What is the role of community and social ties in feeding ourselves, families, the ill, and each other? How has the crisis both highlighted the essential services provided by food workers and the precarity of those services? 

We invite shorter pieces (100-1000 words) in the form of personal dispatches drawn from lived experience: portraits, creative non-fiction, telephonic/digital interviews, photographs and other images, and more. If you are, or you know, someone who would like their voice heard, but might not have the time to put words to paper, please be in touch and we can arrange a conversation or interview with a collective member. We are eager to read, listen, and share. 

 Submissions can be sent directly to gastrome@ucpress.edu with the subject line “Food & Covid,” followed by your name and submission title. Please include a brief cover letter that can function as both an abstract and author bio, and include a word count. (If you have any citations, they should follow our general submission guidelines at https://gcfs.ucpress.edu/content/submit.) Please include (in-text) the date, place, and if possible, time, of writing in all submissions. 

In an effort to document, recall, and portray particular moments in the coming months, we are offering rolling submission deadlines. 

First submissions by: 10 April 

Second submissions by: 25 April

(We anticipate running more dispatches in forthcoming issues.)

(Empty shelves in a usually well-stocked supermarket in Cape Town, South Africa)

Meant To Be Eaten/Gastronomica Podcast #6

In the sixth (and final, for this mini-series) instalment of our collaborative podcast with Meant To Be Eaten and Heritage Radio Radio Network, we bring you Collective Member Melissa Fuster in conversation with Chhaya Kolavalli on the topic of “Confronting Whiteness in the Local Food Movement.” We hope you enjoy the episode (and the article that this conversation is based on, free to read through 2020):