Editor’s Letter, Spring 2023

From Gastronomica 23.1

An Academic Diptych

This year represents a peculiar personal anniversary. I have now been doing food studies for as long as I previously did sexuality studies, before my “culinary turn.” While I have gradually slid from the sex to the food side of the academic table, I still teach both subjects. I also remain active on the editorial board of Sexualities, a leading journal in the sociology of sexuality, even as I participate in the editorial collective for Gastronomica. Thus, as I was gazing at Jess Stephens’s mesmerizing photographic diptychs in this issue, I also was contemplating the academic diptych of my own career, on the one side “sex,” on the other “food”—what connects them? This question formed for me a way of looking at this issue. Just like the flies caught lighting upon the dates in the cover image from Stephens, questions of bodily politics buzz from food to sex studies. Drawing on these articles as food for thought, I found three terms that seemed ripe for comparative reflection: authenticities, temporalties, and borders.

Sex and food find a connection in the concept of authenticity. Food and sex both are visceral ways of grounding culturally prescribed “truths” about self and society in the body. As Gaozi tells Mencius, “food and sex are natural” (食色性也 shi se xing ye), but for Mencius, this commonsensical observation is only half the story. The Confucian conception of nature, like Aristotle’s, is both descriptive and normative (Bloom 1997; Hall 2020). In short, desires for sex and food are simultaneously formed in the body and informed through the cultivation of a moral instinct. Similarly, for us moderns, “authenticity” is a term that contains within it this simultaneously socialized and naturalized conception of a prescriptive path—a “way” (dao 道) of eating—that still must be cultivated through social pedagogy (e.g., food writing and nutrition studies). Sex is analogously thought to be “natural,” though the standards of “nature” we apply to it are different.

As both culture and nature, food and sex also are ways of marking social time on multiple scales, from the daily meals and hugs to feasts celebrating a lifelong marriage. Food, through the vehicle of palatal memory, is a particularly powerful way of establishing shared social temporalities, confirming private and public connections through palatal nostalgia. Sex, in contrast, is often a way of forgetting as much as remembering, and sexual memories are notoriously mutable. Both can be ways of grounding stories about our pasts, presents, and futures. But are these stories told through the body always reliable?

Finally, eating and sex can both be a way of staking out boundaries against others, while simultaneously creating especially inviting ways of violating them. While sexual border crossing is more often perilous, gastronomy both celebrates distinctive social identities and suggests new recipes for redefining them. Culinary boundaries and borderlands are concepts in many of the pieces in this issue. Therefore, in outlining themes that unite this issue of Gastronomica, I try to generate some formative questions from my perspective on sexuality studies, which I pose as one way of reading these contributions to food studies. I start first with the theme of authenticity, then memories and temporalities, and finally return to the questions of boundaries and boundary crossing.

Authenticities: An Italian Dao of Eating

The topic of authenticity is at the center of this issue of Gastronomica, with a pathbreaking special section devoted to the concept of authenticity in food studies, all based on Italian case studies. Since this special section comes with its own thorough introduction by Lauren Crossland-Marr and Elizabeth L. Krause, I will not introduce the individual articles here. However, as a bifocaled food-and-sex scholar, I can’t help but be struck by the question of whether or how sexuality scholars would talk about “authentic sex,” and what form this conversation might take. My own reply would be to point to the discourse of “naturalness” in ethnographic sex research. Good sex is often described as “natural” in interview-based studies (Fahs and Plante 2017; Farrer, Tsuchiya, and Bagrowicz 2008). This idea of “naturalness” is conceptually very close to “authenticity” in implying a corporal telos, grounded in “natural” needs that we still must discover and cultivate socially. Another explicit take on authenticity comes up in studies of commercial sex, in which clients seek “real” emotional connections with sex workers, even while knowing such connections are contrived or even faked (Bernstein 2007). Authenticity in sex is thus opposite of contrivance and commodification—but exists in their shadow. In authenticity discourses about food, this grounding of palatal taste in nature is tied to embodiment but also more broadly to peoples and lands—in the worst instances, a crude culinary version of Blut und Boden (blood and soil), in others as flexible ties among peoples, places, and practices. As with sex, there is a similarly naïve hope that such “real” connections can survive the processes of commodification, marketing, and regulation. The articles in this section explore how tastes are bound to people and places, while not ignoring the social exclusion created in market mechanisms and regulatory standards, many of which are institutionalized by European Union authorities.

Not surprisingly, as we also see in the articles in this issue, norms of culinary authenticity are viewed with suspicion by many ordinary eaters. Is it because they seem to be imposed by bureaucrats and elitist foodie authorities? Some examples in this special section seem to point in this direction. How would people react if standards for “authentic sex” were regulated by the European Union or the columnists of The New Yorker? Indeed, research in sexuality shows that in addition to “naturalness,” another standard for good sex is the ability to choose our own sexual scripts (Fahs and Plante 2017). Probably, the same is true for food. “Good eating”—like good sex—most likely entails our choosing our own scripts for authenticity. In this issue, we learn about several scripts for authenticity, mostly from Italy. This is a pluralistic and ethnographic approach to authenticity that brings much pleasure in reading, even for those who remain skeptical of the promise of “true” food.

Temporalities: Culinary Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future

Linked perhaps to the peculiar physiology of smell and taste, gustatory experiences are recalled so vividly (or at least imagined so) that they enable us to re-encounter a personal and collective past as though it is still present—the famous “Proust effect” (Hamilton 2011). Individual and shared food histories are constructed through this acutely felt culinary nostalgia (Swislocki 2008). Sex, however, in contrast to taste, reminds us of the untrustworthy nature of sensory memories. Men and women show wide discrepancies in their recollections of sexual experiences, even basics such as the numbers of sexual partners (Brown and Sinclair 1999). Sexual memory points to the equally human arts of forgetting and dissembling, something food scholars might consider more thoroughly. Indeed, the essays in this issue point to both slippages and creativity in imagining food pasts, presents, and futures. Memories are extremely fecund, but they may be faulty. And even imagined futures are deeply laden with selective readings of the recent past.

Several of the essays in this issue of Gastronomica deal with temporalities expressed through food memories, food nostalgia, and routinized food practices. First, we learn how personal food memories help us construct the present while simultaneously reimagining a collective past. Victor Valle, in his article in this issue, takes his own kernel of childhood palatal memories and enlarges it into an ambitious exploration of the culinary meanings of chiles that draws on poetics as well as neuroscience. Far more than an exercise in childhood nostalgia, Valle’s essay presents the hope of a postcolonial politics of food memories based on both personal and collective memories associated with the pungent chiles native to the Southwest United States.

One of the most intriguing explorations of culinary storytelling in this issue involves a case of failed or disappointed food memory. The author and photographer (and our reviews editor) Janita Van Dyk returns to Italy aiming to photograph the foods and places she had associated with the slow food movement only to find that her memories have failed her. On her return, the foods she previously photographed are now ugly and the places disappointing. There is no Proustian madeleine moment of recognition for her. For Van Dyk, food memory proves faulty and evasive. She can only recapture the essential conviviality of slow food by refocusing her gaze on candid portraits of her fellow diners and friends. In this essay, then, the reputed reliability of gustatory memory is questioned, and the presence of slow food is shown to be less on the plate and the tongue than in the momentary expressions of co-presence on the faces of the people she shares it with.

Food pasts also become ways to talk about the future of food. We see this vividly in Alex Ketchum’s essay on the retrofuturist visions of food robots and food computers in mid-twentieth-century America. As Ketchum points out, even in a future in which culinary work is made effortless by automation, men could only imagine women staying at home in order to push all the digitized buttons. Evidently, the unquestioned routines of women conjuring meals for men makes a gastronomic future dominated by robots and computers palatable to the assumed male reader or viewer of these ads. In short, the future imagined through food may just be another jaded version of the gendered past, until someone unexpectedly stops pushing buttons for those in power.

Taken together, these articles show that food is a particularly pliable medium for imagining our pasts, presents, and futures, but it is not as reliable as we sometimes think. Ultimately food memory is, as Van Dyk writes, a political act, as is the imagination of our food futures. And, good meals, like good sex, may be as much an art of forgetting as remembering.

Borderlands: Border Crossings and Imagined Frontiers

Another shared symbolic function of sex and food is the politics of boundary-making and boundary-crossing. Sexual boundary crossings are often fraught with danger, whether concerning the boundaries of heteronormativity, homogamy, or propriety. Eating seems far more promiscuous. While religious folks may refuse the food of the “other” and urban elites grouse about culinary appropriation, gastronomic practice has long been an orgy of cross-fertilization, allowing for a bodily politics of contamination and hybridization. With sex, in contrast, people proceed cautiously across sacred social boundaries, often at mortal peril. The comparison is not meant to imply equivalence, but I do believe thinking about these similar but different uses of food and sex helps sharpen our attention on what is at stake in the corporal politics surrounding both.

Foodways can both solidify and blur social boundaries. In this issue of Gastronomica, the primary emphasis is on the ways in which foods allow us to cross borders, to inhabit and reimagine borderlands, and to use border crossings to reimagine the identity of the center. Blake Allmendinger’s paper reads the border-crossing career of Julia Child against another essay by Bernand DeVoto that defends a romanticized idea of the “frontier” in American history. For Allmendinger, the significance of Child’s writing lies in the politics of opening up the American domestic sphere to experiments with cosmopolitan foodways at a time when the Cold War politics of the country were increasingly xenophobic. According to Allmendinger, Child defined the kitchen as “a liminal space of transformation and possibility; as a contact zone in which different cultures converged.” Of course, America had long placed French cooking at the center of its metropolitan culinary tables, so Child’s work might not be quite as radical as Allmendinger applies. Still, Child clearly did impact the American kitchen in ways that went further and deeper than the fancy French banquets served to elites in large cities since the nineteenth century (Freedman 2016). Readers of Child’s cookbooks and those inspired by her learned first that there were acceptable ways for Americans to be “European” and then later to be “global.”

Culinary histories of borderlands may also help rewrite the broader social histories of places, show connections that were later erased, and even expand the “border” to include most of the territory. Taking us on a far-ranging culinary tour of the border zones of the United States and Mexico, Patrick Charbonneau and Jeffrey M. Pilcher use the sweet fudge-like panochita de leche to show us how food histories can be reimagined through a particularly popular food item. Panochita is a confection of boiled sugar and milk invented in colonial Mexico. It became a popular sweet in nineteenth-century Mexican cities and towns. The authors trace its cross-border lineage and show it sometimes merged with similar categories of sweets, especially fudge, in the United States. It was subsequently used by cookbook authors to represent both Mexicanness in Mexico and localized authenticity in the American West before gradually becoming a nostalgic and rare item sold in only a few places. Studying this sweet allows the authors to reexamine a postcolonial Mexican American history of shared culinary borderlands and cross-border influences. As a coda to this historical article, Charbonneau and Pilcher join with Kelsey Kilgore in the Culinaria kitchen at the University of Toronto to recreate panochita in a series of surprisingly arduous experiments, showing how the embodiment of a dish involves more than a sense of taste, but also muscular kitchen labor.

Sex rarely pops up explicitly in Gastronomica, but it did here. In passing, the authors note what Spanish speakers will already know, that more than a century ago the term “panochita” turned into a slang term for female genitals, and remains so today. The longevity of this slang perhaps points to the resonance of food–sex metaphors. A cautionary tale about googling for images of “panochita” also points to the moral boundary work we reflexively engage in about sex. There are no “not safe for work” warnings on food porn. True, food also can be the locus of fierce moral boundary maintenance. Hindu extremists have killed Indian Muslims for allegedly slaughtering cows. Secular examples also can be found. Some Americans protest the eating of rabbits, dogs, or horses, regarding them as exclusively pets. But such examples are scarce in comparison to the number of people policed and even murdered for infractions of sexual boundaries. The battles over the hijab in Iran or abortion in the United States show the fierceness of these sexual border wars. Food, in contrast, seems to form an arena of body politics in which boundary crossing is not only tolerated but even celebrated. Both the connections and disjunctures in these two most common foci of corporal politics are striking, and could be a site for longer investigations.

Food Writing and Sex Writing

Turning the question around, what did food studies teach me, then, about studies of sex? If you read the pages of Gastronomica, you might be forgiven for thinking that no one ever had a bad meal. Food scholars gush over the joys of their fieldwork. If you read the pages of Sexualities, in contrast, you might suspect no one ever has good sex. Problems abound in the bedroom. Clearly, food studies can be critical, and Gastronomica is perhaps the best example of this type of writing. Sexuality studies, however, could possibly learn something from food studies about celebrating the textures, tastes, and terroir of the erotic. This is tricky, but that doesn’t obviate the point that academic sex writing is often oblique, technical, and dry. Food writing is both more direct, vivid, and embodied. Good writing mobilizes people, and above all, good writing is read. Visceral prose can more directly pierce the established conceptual and societal boundaries we all seek to question in our research. This is one great merit I see in Gastronomica as a collective enterprise devoted to both scholarly rigor and writerly style. I am now happy to be sitting more often on this side of the table.

And finally, Gastronomica is a collective of members who rotate into and out of editorial duties. This year, Helen Zoe Veit, Josée Johnston, and Simone Cinotto leave us, and we thank them for their devotion and good companionship over the years. Their seats at the editorial table are now taken by Alyshia Gálvez, Irina D. Mihalache, and Rafia Zafar. We look forward to their fresh voices in our continued conversations to make the journal even better, more inclusive, and more accessible to readers and contributors.

—James Farrer, for the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, Tokyo, November 2022

Bernstein, Elizabeth. 2007. “Sex work for the middle classes.” Sexualities 10.4: 473–488.

Bloom, Irene. 1997. “Human Nature and Biological Nature in Mencius.” Philosophy East and West 47.1: 21–32.

Brown, Norman R., and Robert C. Sinclair. 1999. “Estimating Number of Lifetime Sexual Partners: Men and Women Do It Differently.” Journal of Sex Research 36.3: 292–97.

Fahs, Breanne, and Rebecca Plante. 2017. “On ‘Good Sex’ and Other Dangerous Ideas: Women Narrate Their Joyous and Happy Sexual Encounters.” Journal of Gender Studies 26.1: 33–44.

Farrer, James, Haruka Tsuchiya, and Bart Bagrowicz. 2008. “Emotional Expression in Tsukiau Dating Relationships in Japan.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 25.1: 169–88.

Freedman, Paul. 2016. Ten Restaurants That Changed America. New York: Liveright Publishing.

Hall, Edith. 2020. Aristotle’s way: How ancient wisdom can change your life. New York: Penguin.

Hamilton, Paula. 2011. “The Proust Effect: Oral History and the Senses.” In The Oxford Handbook of Oral History, edited by Donald A. Ritchie, 219–33. Oxford, UK: Oxford Academic Press.

Swislocki, Mark. 2008. Culinary Nostalgia: Regional Food Culture and the Urban Experience in Shanghai. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Spring 2023, Volume 23 Number 1

Editorial Letter | James Farrer


Diptychs from Las Californias | Jess Stephens


Theorizing Authenticity: Introduction to the Special Section | Lauren Crossland-Marr and Elizabeth L. Krause

Authentic Possibilities: Uncommon Lessons from Slow Figs and Fast Fashion | Elizabeth L. Krause

Authenticity and Its Perils: Who Is Left Out When Food Is “Authentic”? | Jillian R. Cavanaugh

Quality and Genuineness in the World of Sicilian Olive Oil | Amanda Hilton

Crafting Futures through Cheese-Making in Val Taleggio (Northern Italy) | Cristina Grasseni


Toward a Poetics of Chile . . . in Another Mexico | Victor Valle

Setting the Table for Friendship | Janita Van Dyk

Kitchen Bytes: The Retrofuturism of Kitchen Computers and Robots | Alex Ketchum


The Map and the Menu: Julia Child and Changing Definitions of the US Frontier | Blake Allmendinger

From Panocha to Fudge: Mexican Roots of an American Candy | Patrick Charbonneau and Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Recreating Colonial Mexican Fudge: Panochita in the Culinaria Kitchen Laboratory | Patrick Charbonneau, Kelsey Kilgore, and Jeffrey M. Pilcher


Tainted Tap: Flint’s Journey from Crisis to Recovery by Katrinell M. Davis, reviewed by Alison Hope Alkon

Meat the Future , a flim by Liz Marshall, reviewed by Joel Dickau

Gastropolitics and the Specter of Race: Stories of Capital, Culture, and Coloniality in Peru by María Elena García, reviewed by Joseph P. Feldman

The Scarcity Slot: Excavating Histories of Food Security by Amanda Logan, reviewed by Joeva Sean Rock

Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture by Emily J. H. Contois, reviewed by Ana Tominc

Editor’s Letter, Winter 2022

From Gastronomica 22.4

Editor’s Letter

“Decline, decline, decline. I’m sick of that word,” was the waterman’s gruff response to my question about the downward trend in annual oyster harvests. It was the early 1980s and I was interviewing a skipjack captain1 at a commercial landing as part of my first job in public history. Fresh out of grad school, I was leading a research and documentation project on the history of local fisheries at the Calvert Marine Museum, a regional maritime museum on the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland. The project, funded by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was designed to document the working lives of watermen, so-called because they “follow the water,” harvesting the seasonal round of resources in the bay and its complex network of tributaries.2 Called an “immense protein factory” by Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken,3 the Chesapeake’s long history of spectacular hauls of oysters, crabs, clams, finfish, and terrapin was definitely in decline by the 1980s. A combination of pollution and environmental degradation, ruthlessly efficient harvesting technologies, and aggressive harvesting to meet consumer demands had led to the decline and depletion of species like striped bass (rockfish) and oysters, two of the bay’s culinary stars. A major tenet underlying the project itself was that we were witnessing the end of something, the end of viable commercial fisheries—known as “the water business”—on the bay. The museum, which houses collections of gear and workboats as well as aquaria showcasing various marine species, was well positioned to record the twilight of these historically and culturally significant industries. Indeed, the project revealed that rockfish and oysters weren’t the only species in decline. Watermen felt endangered too.

Despite the downward trend borne out by statistics, life went on aboard workboats, in seafood packing houses, and in watermen’s communities. In interviews, many locals preferred to take a long view, describing the current state of things as part of a pattern of abundance and scarcity that had characterized the fisheries for generations. If we were in a valley, just wait until the peaks of plenty returned. And I struggled, too, to reconcile the trajectory of decline with what I encountered every single day: spectacularly beautiful expanses of water observed from landings, bridges, beaches, and boat decks. Where were the rusty pipes dumping sewage into the water? Where were the factories and chemical dumping sites that would account for the declining water quality? Where could I see the noxious processes that were polluting the water and decimating the bay’s seafood resources? That’s when I learned about non-point-source pollution, the widespread run-off from chemically treated lawns and agricultural fields, livestock and poultry waste, highways, suburban parking lots, and similar impermeable surfaces that permitted oil and other pollutants to enter the watershed. The insidious nature of non-point-source pollution brought home the complexities of ecosystems and the arduous work of trying to change human behaviors to protect the marine environment and coastal communities when all seemed fine on the surface. While my interviews touched on these issues, the stories watermen and their families were eager to tell were about the centrality of water, and the water business, to their lives.4 The resulting archive teems with remarkable narratives of resilience and innovation as watermen pushed hard against the notion that this was the end of something, that the decline was real.

A decade later, I moved to a position at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, an hour’s drive away, but still within the massive watershed of the Chesapeake. When I joined the “Ocean Planet” exhibition team at the National Museum of Natural History as an adviser on fishing communities, the context for concern became global. This project coincided with the 1992 moratorium on cod fishing in the formerly productive waters of the North Atlantic, a shattering event in the lives of fishermen in the maritime provinces. The moratorium came fifteen years after international fleets of highly efficient factory trawlers had been banned from the fishing grounds, but still too late to undo the damage. By the 1990s, the decline was deemed irreversible and in fact six cod populations had collapsed.5 Canadian fishermen paid the price. Amid waves of angry protests, one Newfoundlander created art. Dan Murphy, forced from fishing, began carving what the death of the fishery looked like to him: a carved codfish lying in a wooden coffin.6

While fishing and coastal communities brought me into the world of water, my curatorial work shifted toward food history in the 1990s. The lens of food provided substantially more opportunities to consider the fundamental role of water to critical issues in food studies, such as food production and sustainability; nutrition, health, and the harms of unequal access; food systems and economic policies that are at odds with environmental protection; and the impacts of climate change on global water resources. Now, as we stumble further into the twenty-first century,more people around the world are experiencing firsthand the acute impacts of water—flooding, droughts, rising sea levels, dried-up rivers and lakes, decimation (way beyond decline) of wild fish populations, noxious drinking water and dire health consequences, commercial and politically driven competition for fewer water resources. Within this context, the Gastronomica collective determined that the time was right to launch a special Call for Papers to encourage submissions on water through the lens of food. We left the CFP broad and vague, hoping to inspire a wide range of topics and perspectives.We are notdisappointed. In fact, we aim to continue highlighting water submissions in future issues and encouragemore articles, essays, creative pieces, and visual contributions on the theme, broadly conceived. The well for insightful, relevant water work is nowhere near dry.

While fishing and coastal communities brought me into the world of water, my curatorial work shifted toward food history in the 1990s. The lens of food provided substantially more opportunities to consider the fundamental role of water to critical issues in food studies, such as food production and sustainability; nutrition, health, and the harms of unequal access; food systems and economic policies that are at odds with environmental protection; and the impacts of climate change on global water resources. Now, as we stumble further into the twenty-first century,more people around the world are experiencing firsthand the acute impacts of water—flooding, droughts, rising sea levels, dried-up rivers and lakes, decimation (way beyond decline) of wild fish populations, noxious drinking water and dire health consequences, commercial and politically driven competition for fewer water resources. Within this context, the Gastronomica collective determined that the time was right to launch a special Call for Papers to encourage submissions on water through the lens of food. We left the CFP broad and vague, hoping to inspire a wide range of topics and perspectives.We are notdisappointed. In fact, we aim to continue highlighting water submissions in future issues and encouragemore articles, essays, creative pieces, and visual contributions on the theme, broadly conceived. The well for insightful, relevant water work is nowhere near dry.

Under the heading “Changes in the Water,” four articles look at the impacts of environmental change on particular places, communities, resources, and foods. Chanelle Dupuis writes about communities in the Peruvian Amazon for whom local waters have always been and remain essential to their livelihoods, sense of identity, and culture. Dupuis’ research reveals how changes in the smell of surrounding waters, detected and described by Indigenous communities, has emerged as an indicator of environmental change. She discusses the association between the increase of putrid smells with pollution and contamination of the Nanay River, as industrial and consumerist practices in the Amazon continue to degrade water quality and affect the quality of life. She argues that changes in the sensory landscape are nontrivial and indicate serious disruptions of basic health and, importantly, spiritual connections with water.

Rebecca Irons writes from South America as well, from the coast of Peru, where she explores the underlying politics of ceviche and Peru’s gastronomic revolution. As an official part of the country’s national heritage, and a candidate for UNESCO designation of intangible heritage, the tension between the gastrotourism-based approach to ceviche and the history of the dish as prepared according to local practice reveals deep fissures in Peruvian society. With historical links between raw fish and cholera, the participants in Peru’s globally recognized gastronomic ascent seek to distance their ceviche from any sense of coastal communities that are associated with disease, dirt, poverty, and nonwhite handlers. This study also looks at how the rise of microplastics in the world’s oceans presents an additional health-related concern that is still playing out among advocates for a national dish that has already turned its back on history.

Dawn Starin’s article “Pirogues to Paradise?” explores the global politics of fish and fishing, and the desperation faced by traditional fishers in The Gambia, a small country on the west coast of Africa. In an all-too familiar pattern, Gambian fishermen, who have been struggling for years, have been effectively put out of business by highly efficient international trawlers working off the coast. The ocean that supported generations of Gambian fishermen and communities is now perceived as just an escape route toward a better life elsewhere. Starin foregrounds the tales of desperate Gambians who have taken to the open ocean in their pirogues—small, open, wooden boats—heading toward Europe. Many do not survive, but others believe the risks are justified. These themes of small-scale fishermen up against a global economy built on the exploitation of ocean resources and without regard to people of color who have little political power continue to hasten the decline of species and the despair of coastal communities.

Holly Brause, whose essay rounds out the “Changes in the Water” section, is looking at water scarcity and heritage crops in New Mexico, where she is researching the future of the state’s chile industry. This iconic crop, in all its varieties and hyperlocal nuances, is essential to New Mexican cuisine, identity, and culture. While factors such as international competition, labor issues, disease, and pests have negatively affected the industry over several decades, the lack of water for irrigation is the major, and infinitely more complex, problem to solve.

Like other states in the American West, New Mexico is suffering from an extensive and devastating drought, an ongoing crisis that deepened in the summer of 2022. Without adequate winter snowpacks or natural rainfalls, water allocations from shared sources like the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers are being renegotiated and reduced, putting crops, livestock, and livelihoods at risk. Brause describes how chile farmers in New Mexico are adopting measures such as water rationing, letting land lie fallow, and investing in more efficient irrigation technologies to survive. Yet she warns that such measures can have unintended consequences; the all-important taste of different varieties of chiles can be affected by changes to the land, their terroir. The impacts of the drought on New Mexico’s chiles, cuisines, and communities are multiplying and the uncertainty of a future without water weighs heavily. While Brause writes there is no easy answer, she is certain that protecting heritage crops like chiles—including how they taste—will need “imagination, dedication, vision, and collaboration.”

The issue’s second section, “Drinking Water,” includes three articles on that most basic compound essential to maintaining life and health. The authors discuss aspects of water for drinking in New York, Tokyo, and Phoenix, and explore the extraordinary innovations, engineering, and planning behind the quest for safe, reliable, and tasty water for human consumption. James Edward Malin’s “Give Us Seltzer That We May Drink” provides a sobering look at the history of drinking water in New York City in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with particular focus on the horrendous conditions endured by Jewish immigrants living in the city’s tenements. Disease was rampant, and deaths from waterborne bacteria were common. Discrimination was also rampant and Jewish neighborhoods were denied the infrastructure and safeguards provided to the city’s wealthy and elite populace. The arrival of seltzer—bottled, carbonated water—stanched the flow of sickness and helped improve overall health. This story of innovation and resilience underlies the fierce loyalty Jewish New Yorkers accord seltzer and its status as a cultural icon.

The second article in this section comes to us from Tokyo and Gastronomica collective member James Farrer, who takes us on a voyage of discovery on the Kanda River, revealing how centuries of engineering have made the river a viable source of municipal drinking water. While working with a film crew, Farrer encounters the canal structures and deep tunnel built to control the river’s flow. Farrer’s former sense of the river as an unimportant eyesore to his understanding of its extraordinary history and utility reinforces the notion that the surface of water never tells the whole story of what lies below.

From Tokyo we return to the American West, specifically Phoenix, Arizona, where Christy Spackman and her co-authors Marisa Manheim and Shomit Barua present their research findings from a project they developed to engage citizens in shaping the future of municipal water in the city. As cities like Phoenix grapple with water scarcities now, and look into the future, questions such as how municipal water should taste may be left on the margins. The researchers developed a series of activities to engage diverse visitors at an exhibition about water resources and the future and share both the research design and results in their fascinating contribution.

The “First Person” section flows away from the water theme and into personal narratives that connect deeply to themes of family, labor, ethics and choices, and artistic expression. In “Don’t wait for me for lunch,” Camille Bégin traverses across generations and continents, family recipes and wartime deprivations, the end and beginning of life, all as she wades with intention and care through her family’s extensive archive. The stimulus for this archival journey is best told by Bégin herself, but it’s not giving anything away to say that she and her mother shared the goal of making “something of all the stuff” in the family archive as COVID-19 and other circumstances limited their mobility. Bégin shares what the archive holds in terms of personal recipe books kept by three generations of women living in Paris, Algeria, and, for a short time, Lebanon. The collective cuisines and memories contained in the books provide a view into her family’s lived experiences in food. The main focus of Bégin’s article, however, is her great grandfather’s letters, written while he traveled for his work as an inspector of the French lycées (secondary schools funded by the government) abroad after World War II. The letters, which serve as his travel journals, included memorable trips to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as French West Africa in 1948 and 1949. He wrote of his encounters with people and places, but his comments on food raised questions that Bégin explores. This food-centric family history is a labor of love and survival; if there are more such treasures in this remarkable archive, we can only hope she will continue making “something of all the stuff.”

We often hear about the challenges of farming and labor in the United States, but seldom in the words of the farmer herself. In “How the Work Gets Done,” Margaret Ann Snow describes the small, organic vegetable farm in Alabama that she and her husband own and, how, over many years, they have contended with finding reliable and capable workers to help plant, cultivate, harvest, wash, and store various crops. Almost a decade ago, they decided to participate in the H2A visa program, which allows guest workers from other countries to live and work on American farms on a temporary basis.7

Snow’s essay describes how, over nearly a decade, she and her family have employed the same three farm workers and their close friends and relatives from Mexico. The genuine relationships that Snow and her family have built and nurtured with these individuals who are supporting their families in Mexico through their labor, contrast with reports about exploitation and abuses of temporary workers elsewhere. She reflects on how laws that have shaped farm labor lead to questions about equity, as well as what it means to be a responsible employer in American agriculture.

Rounding out this section, Amy Finley writes about living her values. In this case, considering the environmental costs of meat production and making a different choice—rabbit. Finley takes us along as she encounters vociferous opponents in the United States to the idea, practiced broadly elsewhere, that rabbits are a viable source of protein and should be more widely available and consumed. She compares the environmental cost of raising rabbits to raising beef and makes a case for Americans to become more comfortable with the environmental impacts and realities of eating meat of any kind. Finley shares the complexity of her thoughts as her convictions are put to the test.

While food stories can be found in many pages of Gastronomica, the act of storytelling frames the two contributions in the “Food and Storytelling” section of this issue. In “Mieux” by Oliver Pagani, we are taken into an imaginative tale based on one of Aesop’s fables and related folklore involving the practice of beating walnut trees to encourage growth and increased production. Within the setting of a nunnery in the Iraty beech forest of southwest France (Basque Country), an ancient walnut tree is brutalized by a group of men while Mieux, a nun who cannot bear to witness the violence, retreats to a cave where she regularly makes a highly prized type of cheese. At day’s end, she emerges to find the wounded tree as well as a visiting priest with whom she begins a conversation. Pagani engages the reader in this richly sensory narrative and then rewards us with a recipe for a dish that evokes spring in the countryside of Mieux’s tale.

Migration stories that also involve food are highly valued among food studies scholars and wider audiences alike, and “Fried Goose Eggs” by Sandra Trujillo rounds out this issue in a memorable way. Trujillo weaves together bits of tales told by the author’s T´ıas about Grandpa Manuel, nicknamed El Tacaño, The Stingy One, because of his actions as the family migrated years ago, on foot, from California to Colorado. She links that story to a more recent visit to El Tacaño, proving that the nickname still applies. Yet the visit yields two giant goose eggs that are exclaimed over and consumed with delight as more stories about food and family are exchanged. Recipe included.

In many ways this is an extraordinary issue of Gastronomica, and I congratulate the authors for their excellent and marvelously varied contributions. The reviewers— Noah Allison, Natasha Bunzl, Noha Fikry, Julia Fine, Kashyapi Ghosh, and Peter A. Kopp—deserve tremendous thanks and recognition for providing such insightful reviews of new scholarship. Finally, I wish to thank members of the collective, and especially Managing Editor Jessica Carbone, who keeps this ship of food scholars on course. And, speaking of which, please consider sharing your research and writing on food, water, environmental change, and related topics for future issues. There is no decline (decline, decline) in our interest to support work on water.

—Paula J. Johnson, for the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, Port Republic,
Maryland, August 2022

1. Skipjacks are traditional wooden workboats used for dredging oysters under sail in the Chesapeake Bay. They are the last commercial fleet to work under sail power in the United States.

2. The term “waterman” refers to those who harvest seafood and make a living on the water in the Chesapeake Bay. The term is rarely used in other maritime regions of the United States. English exploration and settlement along the bay in what are now the states of Maryland and Virginia dates from the sixteenth century, including Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition in 1585. “Watermen” in England referred to those who handled cargo and passenger boats on rivers, canals, and other waterways. The Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames, for example, was founded in 1514. https://watermenscompany.com. The gendered term as used in the Chesapeake reflects the fact that the vast majority of the seafood harvesters and boat owner/operators in the bay are male.

3. H. L. Mencken, Happy Days (New York: Knopf, 1940), chap. 4, “The Baltimore of the
Eighties.” Kindle.

4. The research and interviews were used for the volume Working the Water: The Commercial Fisheries of Maryland’s Patuxent River, edited by Paula J. Johnson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988).

5. Ransom A. Myers, Jeffrey A. Hutchings, and Nicholas J. Barrowman, “Why Do Fish Stocks
Collapse: The Example of Cod in Atlantic Canada,” Ecological Applications, 7.1: (1997):
91–106. Also see Jenn Thornhill Verma, “30 Years after the Moratorium, What Have We Really
Learned about Cod and Science?” CBC News, July 10, 2022. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/

6. One of Murphy’s cod coffin carvings was featured in the exhibition and catalog, Ocean Planet: Writing and Images of the Sea, edited by Peter Benchley and Judith Gradwohl (New York: Harry N. Abrams and Times Mirror Magazines, Inc., in association with the Smithsonian Institution, 1995), 166. The object was added to the permanent collections of the National Museum of American History and has been on display since 2009 in the exhibition On the Water: Stories of Maritime America. https://americanhistory.si.edu/on-the-water/fishingliving/ commercial-fishers/atlantic-cod/what-happened

7. The scope of the program is significant. In 2021, over 317,000 visas were certified for seasonal farm jobs in the United States, per the Wilson Center. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/look-h-2agrowth- and-reform-2021-and-2022

Winter 2022, Volume 22 Number 4

Editorial Letter | Paula J. Johnson


The Smell of Water: A Liquid Witness to Environmental Change in the Amazon | Chanelle Dupuis

Ceviche Revolution: Coastal Cholera, Marine Microplastics, and (Re)Fashioning Identities in Postcolonial Peruvian Gastropolitics | Rebecca Irons

Pirogues to Paradise? | Dawn Starin

The Uncertain Future of New Mexico Chile: Can a Heritage Crop Adapt to Water Scarcity? | Holly Brause


Give Us Seltzer, That We May Drink: How Soda Water became a Jewish Icon | James Edward Malin

Seeing the Kanda River | James Farrer

Tasting Water at Canal Convergence 2021: An Experiment in Embodied Remembering | Christy Spackman, Marisa Manheim, and Shomit Barua


“Don’t wait for me for lunch”: A Voyage and Memory Collage through a Family Food Archive | Camille Bégin

How the Work Gets Done | Margaret Ann Snow

Concerned about Climate? You Should be Eating Rabbit | Amy Finley


Mieux | Oliver Pagani

Fried Goose Eggs | Sandra Trujillo


Caribeños at the Table: How Migration, Health, and Race Intersect in New York City, by Melissa Fuster
reviewed by Noah Allison

Front of the House, Back of the House: Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers, by Eli Revelle Yano Wilson
reviewed by Natasha Bunzl

Moveable Gardens: Itineraries and Sanctuaries of Memory, edited by Virginia D. Nazarea and Terese Gagnon
reviewed by Noha Fikry

Imperial Wine: How the British Empire Made Wine’s New World, by Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre
reviewed by Julia Fine

A Taste of My Life: A Memoir in Essays and Recipes, by Chitrita Banerji
reviewed by Kashyapi Ghosh

Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism, by Allyson P. Brantley
reviewed by Peter A. Kopp

Editor’s Letter, Fall 2022

From Gastronomica 22.3

Digesting Tensions and Change

It has been way too long since we entered the so-called “new normal” life under a global pandemic. At Gastronomica, our editorial letters have documented the inevitable influence of these transitions, with each new issue chronicling how our worlds continue to be transformed. This editorial letter, alas, maintains what seems to be now a tradition. COVID-19 continues to be an ongoing presence in our lives, even as we seek to return to our “old” normal. Yet, it is not at the top of the news cycle. The War in Ukraine, which began back in February 2022, has been sharing the news spotlight for some time. Yet, more keeps on coming. Writing from the United States, our attention has diverged to concerns over the impending erosion of women’s reproductive rights, painfully in contrast with the inertia in the face of increasingly common mass shootings. We are also being reminded of the fragile state of democracy. Violence, war, and assaults on reproductive rights form part of a growing list of ongoing issues, seemingly expanding the more time I take to finish this letter. Organizing this issue amid this ongoing ambiance of social distress had the potential to serve as a welcome distraction. While some of the pieces contained within did provide a needed pause, conflict was indeed top of mind as I attempted to put together this puzzle.

This issue of Gastronomica brings together contributions that make us think of the tense intersection between permanence and transformation, or tradition against innovation. We are reminded of the discomforts inherent in change, and how food— much like ourselves—is always adapting and changing, despite our wishes or attempts for preservation. The issue organization recreates some of this push and pull, intertwining thematic sections that present forced or intentional changes and adaptation with those that present a place for rest from conflict, of imagined immutability and resistance to change.

We open with Conflict and Transformation, with articles that have tension at their core, discussing change through conflict, innovation, and movement. The article, “The War in Ukraine and Food Security in Eastern Europe” by Eszter Krasznai Kovács, Agata Bachórz, Natasha Bunzl, Diana Mincyte, Fabio Parasecoli, Simone Piras, and Mihai Varga is a timely discussion of the ongoing conflict. The piece resulted from a panel discussion held at New York University in March 2022, when the conflict started to unfold. The authors presented on the potential food security consequences and the refugee crisis we can now see in the region and beyond. The resulting article expands on this discussion by unpacking the regional capacities to address the crisis, the role of the European Union, and the importance of civil society “bottom-up” responses, while also tackling what the authors refer to as a “popular misconception” of Eastern Europe being “backwards” or belonging to “Russia’s sphere of influence.” In doing so, the piece brings a contemporary view of adaptations forced by conflict, while we continue to see how the situation develops in the region, as the full ramifications of the conflict are yet to be known at the time of writing this letter.

In “Designing the Future of Polish Food: How Cosmopolitan Tastemakers Prototype a National Gastronomy,” by Mateusz Halawa and Fabio Parasecoli, we continue our explorations in Eastern Europe. In a serendipitous conversation with the previous article, Halawa and Parasecoli further enrich our perception of the region through an ethnographic study of tastemakers in Poland and the pre-Ukraine conflict identity tensions in the region. The article discusses change as driven by global food culture, leading to tensions between innovation and tradition. Halawa and Parasecoli explore these tensions through innovations in wine, food, and vodka, via the work of tastemakers and the lens of design thinking. While the authors provide us with an afterword on how the situation has changed in response to COVID-19, it will be up to us, the readers, to be on the lookout for the current work of these tastemakers, and if and how this will continue to change, as the conflict in Ukraine and ensuing refugee crisis continues to unfold.

The next two contributions included in this first thematic section move us from the global to the personal. “Eating America” by Joanne Jacobson is a memoir of change, where food choices are presented as an act of rebellion. The story is rooted in conflict, opening with food traditions in Passover—the Jewish holiday that brings remembrance of slavery and liberation, a time of transition. This sense of liberation permeates the article, recounting rebellion against religious food laws and traditions. As Jacobson recounts from childhood memories of feasting in a local buffet, “for our family, the lush displays of shellfish and pork roasts and meat with cream sauces constituted a liberation from inheritance: a ritual feast of transgressiveness.” In this memoir, food is not shown as static or something to be preserved but as a vehicle for liberation and transgression, “a source of welcomed newness—honoring nerve and curiosity, a way into an America whose boundlessness my immigrant grandparents could not bring themselves to embrace.” The sense of rebellion is continued in the closing article for this first thematic section, with the visual piece “Tangled” by Jaina Cipriano. While not explicit in the author’s framing of the images, the themes of conflict and transformation are still salient in this contribution. It presents items we may recognize as food, transformed into inedible objects, either through the use of color or found objects, such as nails. The images evoke a sense of violence but also of unfinished digestion, in line with the author’s brief introductory text for the images, framing the use of food photography as a vehicle to delve into the author’s fear of vomiting.

The articles presented in the next grouping, Uprooted and Transformed, focus on changed foods, after having gone through a process of transformation. The section opens with “Across Time, Space, and Matter: A Panel Discussion on Food in the Hispanic World,” a contribution I co-authored with H. Rosi Song, Rebecca Earle, Lara Anderson, and Jordana Mendelson, coming from a roundtable organized in commemoration of the New York University King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center’s twenty-fifth anniversary in February 2022. The roundtable contextualizes change through movement and conflict, presenting how food is transformed using the Spanish-speaking world as a case study. Song moderated the discussion, where I had the pleasure of being in conversation with two outstanding food historians, Anderson and Earle, linking together my present-focused work in the Hispanic Caribbean with the past, through the movement of food, covering Spain and the New World, Latin America, and the space in between. This contribution reflects our commitment, in Gastronomica, to read across geographic boundaries and disciplines. It also serves to contextualize the theme of transformation and uprooting exemplified through three foods—yogurt, pineapple, and chicken—in the articles that follow.

In “Who Owns Bogurar Doi? An Ethnography of Placemaking and Craftsmanship in Bangladesh,” Ishita Dey presents an in-depth, qualitative examination of a yogurt (doi) named after Bogura, a city in northern Bangladesh. Continuing the theme of our roundtable opening this section, Dey traces placemaking of this food through its production cycle, proposing a “decolonial reading of placemaking” to “challenge the romantic notions of linking food to place,” as implied in the concept of terroir. Dey does this by examining the ecological and historic shifts resulting in this yogurt’s transformation as Bogurar doi, including the movement of the cows, preparation techniques, and the “triad of soil-water-air.”

We see the transformation of pineapple in Sebastian Ocklenburg’s meditation on “Toast Hawaii,” a German staple, much like the Hawaiian pizza in the United States, although, according to the author, less debated. Through this simple dish, a toast topped with ham, cheese, and pineapple, we are invited to think about food and movement and how such movements result in foods being transformed in our imaginations. That is, the pineapple, a fruit originally from the Americas, has been transformed into one associated with the lushness of the Pacific, in Hawaii. Ocklenburg recounts the origin of this dish and how it spurred a “Hawaii food trend” in 1950s Germany, along with an updated view of the dish today, incorporated into the national culinary imaginary. This theme of incorporation and transformation is continued in the next contribution. We move from Germany to the United States, where Matthew Meduri addresses the transformation of chicken in his essay “Immigrant Birds,” recounting the story of how Serbian fried chicken came to become part of a US-based experience in Ohio. The transformation is facilitated by movement and entrepreneurship, where a globally eaten staple, chicken, gets transformed into pohovana piletina, breaded chicken fried in lard—a Serbian staple—that then becomes the base of the Barberton chicken houses and part of the town’s identity.

From food in community and global spaces, the next section, Adapting for Others, moves us to the inter-relational and domestic. In this third thematic section, we return to the feeling of tension, through articles that address this sensation, as one driven by the need to adjust for the sake of others. Some of this is done reluctantly and some adaptations are out of love. This section opens with “The Language of Spoons” by Kristin King Gilbert, a whimsical contribution that invites us to meditate on the theme of adapting through serving others, via a server’s rationales behind gelato spoon color selections. The tension in adaptation becomes evident as Gilbert shares her reactions to the occasional “philistine” request for a bigger, “American” spoon— perhaps not unlike the one displayed in the patent drawing gracing this issue’s cover. In the end, she begrudgingly obliges, despite this choice being described as “all wrong for eating gelato.”

From spoons, we move to food adaptations, with “The ‘Worst Dinner Guest Ever’: On ‘Gut Issues’ and Epistemic Injustice at the Dinner Table” by Megan A. Dean. The piece was inspired by a Venn diagram from a 2012 post in the popular recipe blog, The Kitchn, where multiple dietary restrictions, allergies, and intolerances overlap to showcase what was called the “worst dinner guest ever.” Dean examines adaptations as part of the host–guest relationship when it comes to food allergies, intolerances, or what Dean calls “gut issues,” inviting us to think about how we view the request for accommodations, as hosts, and what influences whether we are believed, as guests with “gut issues.” Most of us have been on one or both sides of this equation. This shared experience led to extended conversations within our Editorial Collective, inspiring us to extend this article into a fuller forum within this issue. We invited a triad of responses, traversing across disciplines. First, Robert T. Valgenti extends Dean’s philosophical take with a response titled, “When Knowledge Is Not Enough.” Valgenti examines our duties as hosts “to believe in the implicit veracity of a guest’s claims about food allergies and intolerances despite the various obstacles to empirical proof.” This is followed by a response from Matthew Smith, who in “Doubtful Guests, Harassed Hosts, and the Golden Rule” adds a perspective from the realm of health history. Smith underscores hosts’ adaptations as a response to being empathetic, “thinking a little bit about what it is like navigating the world where food is not only a form of sustenance but also a threat” resulting in adapting ingredients or overall menus. And lastly, Jacques Rousseau chimes in with “Epistemic Exuberance at the Dinner Table: A Response to Megan A. Dean.” Coming from studies of ethics and logical reasoning, Rousseau provides a counterargument, asking whether Dean brings up a “non-problem,” in light of data that shows that dietary concerns are overstated and reminding us of our agency in choosing dinner companions and whether to accept invitations from hosts that would not accommodate “gut issues.” While I tend to fall into Rousseau’s camp, I appreciate how Dean’s contribution, and its responses, got me to think at a deeper level about this “non-problem,” including my own food avoidances and whether they fall within the domain of “gut issues.”

The last contribution in this section comes from Noha Fikry with “Short Breaks Are for Hot Chocolate, Long Breaks Are for Salads, Weekends Are for Baking: On Being a Graduate Student during COVID-19.” The article continues our ongoing documentation of food in the times of COVID-19. Fikry recounts her food routines, planned around a challenging, back-to-back course schedule, after the pandemic led her to starting her Canada-based doctoral degree from Egypt, in the times when teaching moved fully online. Her story reminded me of my own students at that time, some joining class and research team meetings from across the globe, at ridiculous hours of the day. I also identified, sharing the experience of having too many meetings in one day, and forgetting to schedule breakfast and/or lunch in any given day. But the piece is more than that. In Fikry’s story, while not the focus, we see a mother adapting her routine to ensure the well-being of her adult daughter, facilitating meals to be eaten within short and long breaks. Fikry eventually leaves for Canada, reminding us of the growing pain of leaving our childhood home—a pain amplified by the long distance from a move that spans across the globe. But I see something more, as an article that recounts adapting for others out of love, in the changing of an unnamed mother’s daily routine to ensure the well-being of her adult child. The feeling of nostalgia and longing carries into the last thematic section in this issue, Remembering and Preserving. Jay DiBiasio’s “Embodied Knowledge” gifts us with a beautiful moment of generational culinary knowledge transmission, ensuring the enjoyment of a famous thick pizza crust for generations to come. The moment is preserved in a photo, where a family elder is shown transmitting culinary knowledge not through written recipes, but through practice. The second contribution in this section, “Eva’s Bowl,” by Barb Webb speaks to the theme of remembering and preserving through a thrifted Pyrex bowl. The piece is a letter to Eva, the presumed previous owner of the bowl, and explores imagined memories forged with the bowl, alongside Webb’s own memories of her mother’s bowls, lost upon her death. These last two articles allow me to end this letter and issue with a feeling of nostalgia. In contrast with the violence, tension, and uncertainty conveyed in my opening, I want to end with stillness—the quietness afforded by memories preserved in a photograph and those dreamed through a bowl. In closing, I now invite you to take this journey from beginning to end. As you do, my hope is for you to appreciate the wide range of emotions evoked by the contributions making up this issue, prompting a greater appreciation of the power of food in conveying and assuaging tensions, and the role of tension, change, and adaptation in helping us explore the contexts in which foods are grown, distributed, served, and consumed.

—Melissa Fuster, for the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, New Orleans, June 2022