Resistance Is Fertile! | Anne Meneley

from Gastronomica 14:4

The practices of everyday commensality—producing, provisioning, and consuming food and drink in the West Bank of Palestine—are radically affected by the Israeli occupation. I discuss two very different Palestinian initiatives that envision production and consumption of food and drink as a nonviolent means of resisting the occupation: a craft beer called Taybeh brewed in the predominantly Christian Taybeh village close to Ramallah, and a local agriculture movement based in the Ramallah district known as Sharaka (“partnership” in Arabic). Theories of resistance in anthropology, from James Scott’s (1985) conception of resistance tactics as “weapons of the weak” to Lila Abu-Lughod’s (1990) idea of resistance as a “diagnostic of power,” still resonate in Palestine as the Palestinians are so clearly in a position of gross inequality in relation to their Israeli occupiers, whose power is hardly disguised enough to need a diagnostic. I have found Julia Elyachar’s discussion of how agency is embedded in infrastructure and infrastructure is implicated in resistance activities insightful. This is particularly salient given the peculiar status of infrastructure in the West Bank where, instead of facilitating connectivity, infrastructure is designed to impede and exclude flows—in this case, commodities of sustenance (Elyachar 2014: 460). I am primarily concerned with both Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank; while I did not have the opportunity to travel to Gaza, conditions in Gaza, including the shocking 2014 Israeli military offensive, affect political sentiments and actions in the West Bank, including resistance practices involving food, a topic I will return to briefly in the postscript of this article.

Local food and drink production and consumption have become sites of “agro-resistance.” Vivien Sansour, a journalist and activist, describes 78-year-old Abu Adnan as one of Palestine’s farmer revolutionaries, who “understand on an experiential level that healing for us as a community suffering from oppression and occupation requires the restoration of our sense of self—a self that is defiant but not defined by its oppressor” (Sansour 2010: 2). Dinaa Hadid cites a Palestinian farmer who, like Abu Adnan, envisions agricultural practice itself as a fertile resistance: “‘I don’t throw rocks,’ says farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. ‘I use them to build our future’” (Hadid 2012: 3). I borrow my title from that of a recent article published in Al-Jazeera, “Resistance Is Fertile: Palestine’s Eco-War” (Brownsell 2011), itself a spinoff from the classic line by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Resistance is futile.” Describing Palestinian “guerilla gardeners of the occupied West Bank,” the author quotes Baha Hilo, then of the Joint Advocacy Initiative, responsible for planting olive trees on land that is in danger of being confiscated: “We’re not a militia, our weapons are our pickaxes and shovels, our hands and our olive trees” (ibid.: 3). Baha Hilo was my guide during my five years as an intermittent “guerilla gardener” myself, as we picked olives on Palestinian land threatened by Israeli military or settlers. Here, I examine how guerrilla gardeners are part of contemporary Palestine agricultural movements and, moreover, are deployed as a new form of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

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Introducing a Special Issue on the Reinvention of Food | Cristina Grasseni and Heather Paxson

from Gastronomica 14:4

Cristina Grasseni, Utrecht University
Heather Paxson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jim Bingen, Michigan State University; Amy J. Cohen, Ohio State University; Susanne Freidberg, Dartmouth College; and Harry G. West, SOAS, University of London

In 1970, Margaret Mead described American popular notions of nutrition as dominated by a dichotomy between “food that was ‘good for you, but not good’” and “food that was ‘good, but not good for you’” (1970: 179). Today, that dichotomy appears increasingly old fashioned. More and more, we see people—and not only in the United States—working to align the various vectors of food’s “goodness” such that it might point the way toward an optimal diet, or to a perfect food. But what, nowadays, makes food good?

Searching beyond taste, even beyond nutrition and health benefits, the eaters who populate the articles in this issue track food’s affordability and accessibility, the authenticity of customary familiarity—even methods of production and provisioning—in evaluating food’s relative “goodness.” Political empowerment, social justice, and environmental resilience are increasingly upheld alongside flavor and skilled culinary preparation as criteria of “quality” foods. While multifaceted and translocal, this surge of popular interest in food—and especially in the ways food is manufactured, distributed, and consumed—calls out for a unified analysis, one we offer through the lens of “the reinvention of food.” Reinvention is meant here both as “rediscovery,” as in the revival of dishes and culinary techniques from generations past, and also as “renewing the foundation of,” or shoring up familiar methods and modes of food production so that they remain viable under new political, regulatory, and market regimes. Reinvention does not create things anew, sui generis; rather, it gives new form and significance to food substances, senses, and practices that may seem reflexively familiar to some, while curiously exotic to others.

In her 2007 book, Cristina Grasseni first proposed “the reinvention of food” to characterize the novel interest in local food that she observed ethnographically in the realm of alpine cheese cultures. For the upland communities of northern Italy in which Grasseni worked, refocusing economic efforts on producing local cheeses meant transforming artisanal traditions that had been tied to local seasonality and transhumance routes and reconfiguring them in light of new technologies and audit cultures. Such transformations were set in motion by recent European Union health and safety legislation, by the intensification of globalized markets and consumer interest in culinary niches, and by accelerating techno-scientific innovation in practices of cattle breeding, dairy farming, and cheesemaking (on the latter, see Grasseni 2009).1

In response to such broader transformations, local dairy producers began to recast their alpine cheeses as distinctive items of local “food heritage.” As we are seeing across the globe, they did so as a self-conscious development strategy, expecting this approach to increase economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs and to boost the economic fortune of rural communities that had been geographically and economically marginalized. In order to attract new customers and tourists, however, the cheesemakers also found they needed to mobilize marketing rhetoric and a poetics of authenticity in ways often incongruous with the actual processes of transformation reshaping their food production practices and the cultural landscapes these practices help to contour (see also West and Domingos 2012). Even so, while artisan producers and family farmers found it personally taxing to balance day-to-day production routines with demands for the performance of authenticity so pleasing to “alternative” consumers, many also found it financially rewarding (Grasseni 2011; see also Paxson 2010, 2013). Similar signs of ambivalence mixed with pragmatism, we find, characterize many local responses to global food systems.

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Seven Bald Men and a Kumquat Tree: Rob Connoley, Silver City’s Non-Native Son | Amy Gentry

from Gastronomica 13:3

I have never seen a restaurant kitchen quite like this. The Kenmore oven/stove combo with its electric range is the same make and model as mine at home, but of an older vintage. Something that looks like a thirty-year-old camping grill sits on the counter next to the stove. Mason jars filled with rustred hackberries, bumpy green cholla fruit, and twigs with the leaves still attached litter the shelves and countertops. On top of one sits a piece of spongy grayish-green moss.

“What’s that?” I ask. Rob Connoley, skinny and tall, with a shaven head and lashless blue eyes that blink red in the smoky kitchen, picks it up.

“Oh, just something I found in the woods. I’m going to take it to Naava.” That’s Naava Konigsberg, local herbalist, whom Rob consults for information about the various plants he forages, before taking them to the biology lab at Western New Mexico University for further analysis. “I’ll ask them, is it edible? Sustainable? Are there toxic levels of pollutants?” He puts the moss back down. “Don’t worry, I also try it myself first. If I die, I won’t serve it.”

Rob keeps up the steady stream of chatter while he drops a squiggle of pale green watercress puree on four plates, crosses it with a bright saffron-yellow streak, and plants a white ball on one end that looks like fresh mozzarella (it is actually a curd made from sweet corn shoots). At the other end of the plate, trapezoidal hunks of acorn bread lean drunkenly against one another like the ruins of a small city. He plops a couple of elderflower boba—glistening, translucent balls resembling oversized golden whitefish caviar—onto a small heap of greens and moves to the next plate.

In December of 2012, Rob’s restaurant, the Curious Kumquat, was named #39 in Saveur Magazine‘s Top 100 destination restaurants. To understand how truly unlikely this ranking is, you should know that he has a PhD in sports psychology but no culinary degree and no restaurant experience at all outside of the one he opened in 2008; that he works almost completely alone, prepping, firing, and plating all the courses and washing his own dishes by hand at the end of the night; and that the Curious Kumquat is located in a mountain town with a population of 10,000 four hours from the closest commercial airport.

ABOVE: Cholla fruit. Photograph by Amy Gentry © 2013

Despite all this, the restaurant regularly draws a crowd increasingly made up of food tourists from New York, Chicago, and LA. Between Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, it’s been a stressful week. “We served seventy tables for dinner last night,” he says. “That’s the biggest dinner we’ve ever done, and it’s not even tourist season yet.” He pauses and rubs his head. “I’m exhausted, and I still haven’t done the courses for tomorrow night.” Tomorrow, the restaurant is closed for one of the experimental tasting dinners Rob throws every few months. This time he’s planning ten savory courses based around chocolate, presumably in honor of Valentine’s Day. With forty reservations, the dinner is sold out.

ABOVE: Moss and other ingredients in Rob’s kitchen. Photograph by Amy Gentry © 2013

“You mean you haven’t prepped them?”

“I mean I haven’t invented them.”

Leah, the single server working the floor, pokes her head in to tell Rob that the five-top she just seated wants to be out in an hour. “They’re watching the game.”

“The game?” Rob says incredulously.

She nods. “And they want the tasting menu.”

Rob shakes his head. “Seven courses in one hour, so they can watch the game,” he says. “Unbelievable.”

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Auditory Tune | Susan Comninos

from Gastronomica 14:3

“Auditory Tune” grew out of a disconcerting ringing in my left ear that came on suddenly within the past year and then just as randomly went away. The thought that I might have caused the auditory visitation gels with the primal fear that basic needs, impulses and appetites — say, to eat — can lead to a problematic, even shameful condition. In this poem, the speaker is obsessed with dried apricot halves, which look like ears, and can’t stop nibbling them. It’s a funny hang-up: being worried by fruit consumption. But my speaker has it. I, myself, like apricots. But they don’t preoccupy me. So, if she wants, the speaker in this poem can have my share.


I’ve been digging too much in my ears,
Sweet dears. Apricots make me turn
For the closed cupboard door. They lick
Me like a spoon. They tell of iron, of A,
Of scanning the dark for the Chesapeake
Floor. Flesh, twist me to one knee–
Hold on your banks of dried and stored.
Grab onto this grin of shame: you
Shed skin on my jaw. Chew, or smile? Starved
Popularity’s a priest on the moor. Sing cowls
And of coils, my solitary bowl. Forgive me my
Sticky half-heart. Turn your heard back on me.

Tall Tree and Sweet Flower: Julia Child in Sonoma | Leo Racicot

from Gastronomica 14:3

Julia Child stood out like a diamond wherever she was, not only because she loomed so tall, not only due to that Julia cartoon chortle she let loose with so liberally, but because her spirit, her natural joie de vivre dazzled you instantly. She raised being a bon viveur to an art, a lifestyle. Julia got people cooking and eating lusciously, and almost single-handedly transformed the American table into more than a plate of steak and a baked potato. She owned her craft, and she knew it. Nothing was snob-driven about it. It was confidence, and she possessed it in spades and it was always lovely to behold, lovely to listen to her talk and to watch her work.

She often (though not as often as she would have liked) could be found dwarfing the rooms of Last House bungalow in bonny Glen Ellen visiting her pal, Mary Frances (M.F.K. Fisher). The two had met during that predestined winter when she, MF, James Beard, and the still-mysterious Michael Field (not nearly enough has been written about this culinary nonesuch and his contributions to global cuisine) gathered together at Julia and Paul Child’s French country house, La Pitchoune (“The Little One”), for the first of many glorious and historic visits in the years to come.

Following a hip replacement operation, Mary Frances was somewhat bedridden, and so “guest chefs” would grace her already graceful home and do the cooking and be company for her. It was not uncommon to walk in to find Julia, Chuck Claibourne (Craig), Judith Jones, or Jim Beard at the stove/sink/cabinet/fridge chopping/kneading/dicing/pureeing away, the sunshine laying its California warmth over warm bread or a fresh tossed salad. This band of merry chefs, chattering away like woodland creatures, filled the eaves and corners of the bungalow, their wit and laughter rising like the bread dough in the cozy oven, echoing out past the door to the wild lupines outside. They were special souls—kitchen royalty—but they didn’t flaunt it, although once in a while James Beard would become crusty in his comments, causing his compatriots to whisper, “That One wouldn’t give a cough drop to Camille!”

Three cooks at the sink: Craig Claiborne, Jim Beard, and Julia in M.F.K.’s kitchen.
Photograph by Paul Child, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library Women’s Collection, Radcliffe College

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