Editor’s Letter, Winter 2018

from Gastronomica 18:4

Just recently in mid-September 2018, the state of California passed a new law that permits the sale of homemade food. A previous law—the Cottage Foods Law—permitted the sale of “non-potentially hazardous foods” such as fruit pies and jams, but otherwise outlawed the use of home kitchens for commercial purposes. By contrast, the new law allows home cooks to make and sell fresh food on the same day. Supporters argue that this new law will especially benefit members of marginalized communities—most notably, women, immigrants, and people of color. Opponents have drawn on arguments about food safety in order to voice concerns that commercially sold homemade foods carry the risk of spreading foodborne pathogens from poor handling and sanitation practices. What struck me was the presumption that homemade food might be more dangerous than food produced and consumed in a commercial sector—particularly in a context in which California’s food activists regularly encourage more home cooking as a way to prevent all kinds of social ills, such as obesity, and to promote social goods, such as children’s intellectual and social development, family and community bonds, and even support for local farmers and grocers. At the same time, “home-style cooking” appears regularly as a theme not just in restaurants but also in packaged foods, both across California and nationally. Clearly, homemade food is healthy and desirable—except when it is not.

It is the “when it is not” part that is so intriguing. What are the criteria by which food makers, diners, activists, and policy makers decide that homemade food is or is not desirable? Here in California, there is an obvious raced, classed, and gendered component to these decisions. “Street food” sold from a truck by young, white entrepreneurs is somehow quite different from the same “street food” sold from a pushcart or out of an ice chest in the back of a minivan parked along a side street and handled by an immigrant or person of color. Two cherubic elementary school children selling homemade lemonade at a sidewalk stand in front of their house are somehow perceived as clearly different from a homeless person selling bottles of warm soda from a tattered backpack. But what is the difference, or more precisely, what is the difference that matters? Is it the person making the homemade food? Or is it the nature of the “home” that is the source of the “homemade”? Does “home” really matter in “homemade”? And if it does, does “home” really need to be “at home”? When does the space between in-home and out-of-home become significant and in what ways? When is it preferable to eat one’s own homemade food, and when is it preferable to eat someone else’s “homemade” food, even if that food was not necessarily cooked in another’s home. Although the boundaries between in-home and out-of-home are blurred, distinctions matter to diners. Eating out is big business—even if what people are eating out is food from at-home.

So why do people eat out? How often do people eat out? And where do they eat out? These are some of the questions addressed by Alan Warde in his SOAS Food Studies Centre and Gastronomica Distinguished Lecture. In his Distinguished Lecture, Warde reports on changing patterns of eating out among diners in three large cities in England. As the research by Warde and his collaborators shows, since 1995 diners in England are eating more of their meals out of the home, and their habits reveal a diversification of dining options. Because this is a follow-up study, Warde and his collaborators are well positioned to probe the meanings behind these changes and ask their informants about their perspective and experiences. Informants can reflect on both past and present habits, offering a fascinating look at how consumers describe their habits and navigate the differences between eating at home and out, both past and present. What is especially intriguing is how eating out has become familiarized—in other words, whereas twenty years ago eating out was an exceptional, special event, now it is considered far more routine. Especially revealing is that these out-of-home spaces include other people’s homes in addition to more expected non-home spaces such as restaurants. Describing this as a process of familiarization, Warde considers how people come to feel a sense of familiarity, comfort, and even unremarkableness in these other spaces. As a result, these familiarizing dynamics open up interesting questions about when out-of-home spaces are as familiar as home spaces, and whether home spaces have become unfamiliar, even strange. How do we draw the line between home and not-home spaces? What constitutes these different spaces and how do they blur into one another? When is not-home more at-home than home?

Rethinking the familiarizing qualities of food life is a recurring theme in the other articles in this issue of Gastronomica, which take up the multiple relationalities that exist between life and death, aesthetics and analysis, real and imaginary, past and present, here and there. Bo McMillan, Michelle Bloom, and Jim Drobnick take on questions about the nature of reality, life, and liveliness through studies of food in its aesthetic modes. McMillan starts the conversation by thinking about the jazz-like qualities of food, and the food-like qualities of jazz through an examination of the food writing of American author Jack Kerouac. McMillan opens up possibilities not just for thinking about Kerouac as a food writer, but for seeing how food’s creative capacities endow it with possibilities for contributing to American culture and counterculture. Jim Drobnick focuses even more directly on the materiality of wine, and more precisely the materiality of wine bottles, and investigates how political aesthetics transform wine bottles from vessels into larger and critical social commentaries on life. Michelle Bloom expands our conversation about the aesthetics of life by critically comparing two Chinese-language films about maternal food memories. In both films, food is a way to preserve memory, culture, and family, but food’s preserving and connecting capacity is especially poignant in the context of Alzheimer’s and dementia, a topic typically omitted in both filmmaking and food studies. Bloom helps us see the power and possibility of food to make things real, to make memories and pasts come alive, and to provide comfort. Taking up literary studies from a different angle—that of Danish literature targeted at children, most notably children’s cookbooks—Karen Wistoft and Lars Qvortrup trace not just the evolution of a New Nordic Kitchen sensibility, but its disciplining qualities in the most intimate and ordinary spaces of children’s and families’ lives. In so doing, they map out not only the past of the New Nordic Kitchen but also its probable future, thereby blurring distinctions between past, present, and future, as well as between home and public.

Probing the ethical, metaphysical, and biological boundaries between life and death is central to Kelly Anderson’s critical inquiry into a newly enacted Swiss law banning the boiling of live lobsters. Through careful detailing of how chefs cook lobsters, and the practical and ethical considerations behind food preparation, Alexander considers the simultaneous transformations of, on the one hand, lobsters from live animal to food and, on the other, national culture to aesthetic politics. Devon Sampson continues the conversation about the shifting boundaries between politics and ethics in his analysis of the productivist approach to hunger alleviation. Moving between the realities of a farmer in rural Yucatan, Mexico, to formal, public events at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome, Sampson delves deeply into the disconnections between noble international attempts to alleviate poverty and the realities of the people who are forced to bear those attempts. Reality is multiple, and often contradictory. The multiple, even contradictory nature of reality colors Lacey Gibson’s comparison of drinking habits in France and England. Drawing on ethnographic research in Nice and London, Gibson poses possibilities for understanding how diners in these two cities enact and experience very different aesthetics of friendship, family, and national identity through their wine-drinking behaviors.

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Melissa L. Caldwell

Editor’s Letter, Fall 2018

from Gastronomica 18:3

As I write this letter, it is the beginning of June. Over the past few weeks I have found myself thinking even more than usual about the meals that I prepare for my family. Like many parents, I have been counting down the days as my daughter nears the end of her school year—and as I near the end of my daily morning routine of packing her lunch for school. I have chuckled over social media posts comparing a “first day of school lunch,” complete with nutritious and elegantly packaged lunch items, to a “last day of school lunch,” marked by random odds and ends pulled from a refrigerator or pantry. Our dinnertimes also have been under siege, as a never-ending cycle of end-of-school-year festivities for both my daughter and me entails careful coordination and preparation of dishes that can be taken to special events or eaten quickly at home beforehand. Added to these dinner deliberations is the reality that the four-legged members of our family each has a special dietary regimen that often conflicts with and complicates the human-focused feeding rituals of our home.

Feeding others entails more than simply preparing and serving food. It also requires attention to the needs and desires of the eater, as well as issues such as seating arrangements, sharing protocols, and whether whining about the foods served—or barking and meowing, as the case may be—should be tolerated. Reflecting on the specific mealtime dynamics within my own home prompted me to recognize that creating, sharing, and consuming food draws us into a tangle of multiple and complicated social dynamics with human and nonhuman beings. That, in turn, prompted me to wonder why it is that nonhuman beings are so often absent in accounts of food and eating and then to contemplate what a more-than-human, multispecies perspective might offer food studies. Specifically, I began questioning how the more-than-human reality of food might help us think about the “more-than” qualities of food and food experiences more generally. What happens when food and food practices become “more than” what we think they are?

In terms of thinking about the more-than-human dimensions of food within the specific context of my own family’s feeding rituals, I realized that when food studies pays attention to animals, it is primarily concerned with farming, animal welfare, or butchery. Animals are pre-food objects, either as laborers or as the sources of what becomes food. Marion Nestle’s book Pet Food Politics was innovative precisely because it expanded conversations about food safety and feeding beyond human consumption to consider nonhuman consumption. Yet despite Nestle’s effort to shift the frame of food studies beyond the human, animals are still relatively marginal in food studies—even if they are rarely marginal in real life. In fact, for many of us, they are right at the center of our daily lives. The human members of my family share our home with a number of nonhuman living beings, beginning with our cat, our dog, and the occasional foster dog that visits until placed by the dog rescue organization with which we volunteer. We also have a worm farm, as well as two bacterial colonies (i.e., sourdough starters) that in their uniquely lively way are members of the family, as evidenced by the fact that they have names. Over the years, our animals have joined us at mealtimes, shared our food (sometimes with permission, most often without), and made their own unique taste preferences known—whether it was the cat that loved corn and learned how to open the trash can and fish out discarded cobs, the dog that turned up his nose at everything except chocolate truffles, which he could quietly and delicately unwrap from their foil wrappers (note: although dogs should not eat chocolate, many dogs tend to ignore those rules, even if the chocolate is otherwise securely stored out of reach, as was the case with our dog), or the foster dog that loved raw sweet potatoes and could find them no matter where we hid them in our house.
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Figures 1 and 2: In a more-than-human world, food remainders and leftovers become pleasures of the palate.
Photographs by Andrew G. Baker © 2010 and Clifford W. Baker © 2003

I know that my family is not alone in the ways in which family meals and other food rituals include more than just the human members. Concerns about expenses or the quality of pet foods prompt many people to prepare pet meals from scratch, often from high-quality, human-grade ingredients. Food stores offer special treats to the animal companions of their human customers. In our neighborhood, most local businesses have a bowl of fresh water to refresh thirsty pooches, while many of the restaurants offer special menus for pet companions. Perhaps the favorite destination is the local ice creamery that gives out free cups of soft-serve ice cream to doggie customers. On occasion, other nonhuman family members show up with their human owners to sit at the local cafés – cats, parrots, lizards, and even snakes (admittedly, some of these nonhumans are not common café sightings!).

Social norms about the food-related dynamics between humans and nonhumans vary widely around the world, even within the same community or the same family. Whether animals are allowed to join their human companions in restaurants and cafés depends on cultural ideals and legal codes. In Germany, dogs are ever-present in restaurants and cafés, while elsewhere they are forbidden and chased off. Whether animals can sit at—or on—spaces for the preparation, serving, and consumption of food can be highly contested. My students always debate not simply whether it is acceptable to share food with animals but the conditions under which sharing might occur: Does it matter whether it is one’s own animal companion or a strange animal? Is the type of food significant? Is there a proper sequence of person and then animal? Should the food be broken off or can a person and animal eat from the same utensil? And so forth and so on. Ice cream always comes up: Do you share your ice cream with your dog or your cat? Do you share a spoon or the cone? How many licks are too many? What do you do if you find a fleck of fur in your food?

Recognition of those moments when animals are key and indispensable members of families and communities also reorients how we think about central food justice issues around access, equality, and entitlement. In Moscow, where I have been doing research among poverty and welfare programs for many years, I have frequently observed recipients in food aid communities sharing their meals not just with their pets at home but also with stray dogs and cats on the streets, a reality that reveals the intersection of a strong cultural emphasis on food sharing with an equally strong ethics of care. Such sensibilities are not unique to Russia, but appear in many other places, such as in the United States, where homeless shelters and food banks are increasingly expanding their food relief programs to include food for the nonhuman companions that accompany human clients.

Collectively, such incidents reveal intriguing cultural values about social hierarchies between humans and nonhumans, the nature of sociality and commensality, dietary and social health, and values of caretaking, among many other topics. More importantly, such incidents remind us that humans constantly share their food worlds with other eaters, and attending to that fact productively shifts and expands how we think about food. Eating and sharing food are not exclusively human activities. They are more-than-human.
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Figure 3: When ice creameries offer doggie ice creams, they change assumptions about customers and how ideas about desire are reconstituted in a more-than-human economy.
Photograph by Melissa L. Caldwell © 2018

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Figure 4: On the sidewalk outside a food relief program in central Moscow, a program recipient shares her lunch with one of the stray cats in the neighborhood.
Photograph by Melissa L. Caldwell © 2009

Scholarship from emerging fields of multispecies studies and more-than-human studies offers intriguing possibilities for grappling with these provocations and pushing critical food studies in new directions. For instance, Anna Tsing’s work on matsutake mushrooms reminds us that mushrooms are not simply foodstuffs and the target of foragers but are, in fact, living beings with their own ecologies and socialities. Notably, as Tsing illuminates, the more-than qualities of mushrooms reveal the extent to which they are coexistent partners within—and even caretakers of—humans’ social worlds. At a different scale, Hannah Landecker’s work on metabolism redirects attention to the living beings that inhabit our own bodies. As Landecker points out, when we feed ourselves, we feed the beings coexistent within us, which have their own needs and preferences to be satisfied.

More-than-human approaches that pay attention to the microbiome, whether it is already inside of us or existent in the foods that we ingest—yogurts, raw milk cheeses, other nonpasteurized cultured dairy products, kombucha, kimchee, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods—provide new vantage points for understanding and theorizing not simply diet, digestion, and health, but also the nature and dimensions of social worlds, cultural practices, and historical processes. For instance, recent research has shown that the living beings that inhabit the same home share the same microbiome, a fact that can link people, their pets, and other roommates in more intimate and biologically homogenous relations than other kin or legal bonds. And when we consider food safety and sociality, we must also revisit questions around intentional and unintentional communities, whether they exist outside or inside our bodies.

Ultimately, bringing multispecies and more-than-human approaches to critical food studies opens up pathways to new conversations, new questions, and new parameters for understanding and interpreting food and the social worlds it animates. Multispecies and more-than-human approaches offer insights into the broader social, cultural, political, and even culinary ecologies that emerge through food-related experiences.
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Figure 5: A behind-the-scenes look at a photo shoot for a Gastronomica cover image reveals that food props and hopeful dogs go together.
Photograph by Melissa L. Caldwell © 2017

The possibilities afforded by considerations of the broader social and political ecologies that exist between the human and the nonhuman is one of the themes running through this issue of Gastronomica, even if the authors themselves are not explicitly engaged with multispecies and more-than-human debates. Natalie Doonan’s article about wild foods and provisioning practices in Canada repositions nature as a social force and agent, thereby revealing how nature becomes revalued and relocated as wilderness. One of the consequences of this move from nature to wilderness is the re-situation of Canada’s Anglophone, Francophone, and indigenous Innu communities within the greater Canadian nation that they constitute. Sacha Cody extends this re-centering approach in his article on the commodification of food in rural China. By comparing the various ways in which farm labor is made visible to consumers, Cody investigates intimacy and alienation as simultaneously economic, material, and social relationalities. The limits and possibilities of intimacy and alienation also shape Sarah Fouts’s article on food trucks in New Orleans. Through a careful ethnography of the experiences of Latinx food vendors as they navigate endless bureaucratic hurdles to launch their small food businesses, Fouts challenges us to think about how food systems and food experiences dehumanize certain kinds of people. Recognition of the dehumanizing dimensions of the food world is perhaps not surprising, but Fouts helps us to see how bureaucratic processes dehumanize and rehumanize differently. Bureaucracies are, as anthropologist Mary Douglas and others have reminded us, always the products of human activity, even as they may appear to act as human agents.

A related theme of reorientation that emerges in this issue addresses the forms by which aesthetic presentations and experiences of food take shape and become real. Irina Mihalache’s article on the focus on food in an art exhibition in a Canadian museum examines how food knowledge and experiences were captured and communicated to visitors. Recipes become a particular communication form through which particular food experiences and desires are expressed. From a different vantage point, the article on wine labeling in Australia by Moya Costello, Robert Smith, and Leonie Lane considers how the aesthetics of visual representations of terroir may or may not match up with the sensory or even cultural expectations of wine drinking. The experience of the label comes to stand in for the experience of ingestion, and the biological liveliness that exists within wine is reduced merely to the paper on the outside of the bottle that contains the wine. In both instances—that of the museum exhibition and that of the wine label—where does the dynamic, sensual experience of consumption exist? Or, as Nancy Gagliardi’s article prompts us to consider, what are the consequences of these aesthetic forms for creating the subjects that consume these experiences? Taking up the topic of American dieting practices in the 1960s, Gagliardi shows how attention to the marketing of diet products sheds light on how consumers—in this case, women—were challenged to reconstitute and reexperience their own bodies, a phenomenon that has had profound effects on the ways in which such critical issues as agency, bodily autonomy, and subjectivity are understood and theorized today. Lastly, Mark D’Alessandro brings us back to the larger social ecologies that encompass the human and nonhuman in his reflections on how he as a student learned about butchery and then began teaching it to his own students.

As you read through this issue, I invite you not simply to think about the limits, boundaries, and new horizons that become possible when we decenter and move beyond the human, but also perhaps to find ways to include the nonhuman and the more-than-human in your own reflections and analyses.

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Melissa L. Caldwell

Editor’s Letter, Summer 2018

from Gastronomica 18:2

“Local foods” have become something of a cliché in the food world. In the grocery stores where I do my shopping here in California, “local foods” are now the default, unmarked category for nonpackaged foods (fresh produce, dairy, meat, and bread primarily), and it is foods from “elsewhere” that are designated by labels indicating their geographic place of origin or the names and pictures of the people who grew or produced them. Of course the fact that I live in California is significant, as foods from “elsewhere” typically are stocked only when they are out of season here or if they are specialties not grown or produced here. This does not mean that “local” products are not obvious, but the features by which their localness is identified are more often indicated by claims to farming technique, cultural heritage, authenticity, aesthetic presentation, quality, flavor, and even realness. At the same time, the sheer size of California means that what counts as “local” might be from within the same county or from within the state—distances that can range from a few miles to several hundred miles. The field of Food Studies has seen similar trends. As “local foods” have become preferred themes for authors, activists, and their audiences, scholars have given greater attention to such topics as terroir, appellation labels, family farms, and artisanal food producers, with the presumption that these are the features that best encapsulate and express localness. Certainly these are topics that have become ever more common in the submissions and books that arrive at the Gastronomica office.

When the “elsewhere” issue arises in grocery stores, farmers markets, and scholarly and activist conversations, it is often framed in terms of the circulation of people, goods, and cultural practices that move foods and food cultures to new settings. In a departure from theories of localization that have emphasized how foods move from their original habitats to new places where they are remade, integrated, and (re)localized according to the values and practices of those new places, this insistence on a qualitative distinctiveness to local foods from “elsewhere” instantiates both distance and difference. Tellingly, this perspective is often accompanied by a moralizing sensibility that presents the elsewhere as problematic because it ostensibly displaces or oppresses an idealized local. The local from another place carries with it a taint of elsewhere. There seems to be a distinct and meaningful difference between local foods in their original habitats and local foods that have been uprooted and transplanted to new settings. Yet reconfiguring the “elsewhere” not as a nonlocal but rather as an invading “local” on the move reveals intriguing questions about the nature of the presumed associations among particular foods, places, communities, and cultures, whether these associations dissolve when they move, or whether they might move together, intact, to new destinations. Above all, it is the movement that seems to matter in terms of what constitutes localness. As such, the local is not so much an absolute and stable place as it is a fluid movement through multiple spaces, peoples, and experiences.

The provocative realities of localness, multiplicity, and mobility are recurring themes in the pieces in this issue of Gastronomica, beginning with Amita Baviskar’s SOAS Food StudiesCentre Distinguished Lecture. Drawing from her current research on the changing world of manufactured foods in India, Baviskar focuses on the phenomenal popularity of Maggi instant noodles, which have become the go-to comfort food for a generation of young urban Indians. Ubiquitous across the many places where young adults eat—from small food stands to family kitchens—Maggi noodles offer endless possibilities for customization, which in turn enables diners to flex their consumer citizenship muscles in today’s India. Maggi noodles no longer represent a global industrial food but make possible the flow of local—familial, regional, class-based—culinary cultures throughout India. In this way, Maggi noodles carry with them multiple, mobile locals. This idea of the multiple, mobile local also challenges us to think more critically about the origins of the “local” itself, not simply in terms of whether some origins are more authentic or real than others, but also in terms of whether duration of time is significant. In the case of the Maggi noodle cultures described by Baviskar, even as culinary appropriation and reworking have imbued these dishes with a sense of familiarity and comfort, the processes by which these activities have occurred are recent and so the processes by which authenticity and real have been made can be recalled.

Yet what about instances when the processes by which claims on authenticity and reality are either more distant or are linked to cultural features that resist critical questioning? Does length of time matter? How long does it take for foods to become local? Is one generation enough? Do foods have speeds? Do some foods move more slowly or faster than others?

These are issues addressed in different ways in the articles by Nurcan Atalan-Helicke, Neil Oatsvall, and Tomonori Sugimoto. In a fascinating article on einkorn, an ancient variety of wheat in Turkey, Atalan-Helicke examines how production of einkorn has moved from the small, mountainous regions across the Mediterranean where it grows to the tables of urban, middle-class Turkish consumers. When einkorn travels, it brings with it eight thousand years of heritage, so that today’s cosmopolitan diners are engaging with a deep and broad history of regional encounters. At stake is what happens to an ancient grain when it is mobilized for contemporary culinary practice, and by extension, what happens to idealized notions of origins and authenticity. How does our knowledge about foods and food cultures—and local foods in particular — change when we reorient our perspective to the longue durée?

Neil Oatsvall tackles related questions from a very different vantage point: what happens when notions of an original and authentic local are a myth shrouded in a longue durée that stakes its legitimacy in indigeneity, notably the identities and cultures of indigenous people. Through a carefully documented analysis of Mountain Valley Spring Company, an American bottled water company, Oatsvall shows how the company created advertisements that laid claim to an older and original American cultural heritage, but in so doing recreated themes of the conquest and exploitation of indigenous peoples by white Americans. Consequently, when indigeneity becomes a valuable selling point, it also dislocates indigenous people from their own pasts and local communities.

Tomonori Sugimoto similarly explores the theme of indigeneity and its significance within cultural projects of preserving cultural heritage while simultaneously moving it into more contemporary political concerns with community and national well-being. Specifically, Sugimoto pays careful attention to the ways in which the foodways of Taiwan’s indigenous Austronesian people have become popularized as a new food trend among Han Chinese consumers. Yet as Sugimoto argues, the popular attention given to these foodways overlooks the realities experienced by the very people whose physical and intellectual labors produce these foods. Specifically, urban Pangcah/Amis people, especially women, must engage in risky labor to provision indigenous foods for nonindigenous consumers. As a result, the trendy preference for “local” foods rests on the exotification and exploitation of indigenous communities and their heritage. At stake here is the increased vulnerability of indigenous communities and their ability to claim authentic localness.

Although themes of indigeneity, multiplicity, and mobility are more oblique in the articles by Jan Dutkiewicz and Albena Shkodrova, these authors similarly raise questions about the civic, public life of mythologies of a distinctive, unique local. In the case of Dutkiewicz, it is the phenomenon of agritourism at a factory farm that invites tourist-consumers to enter the intimate settings of a working farm and personally connect with the animals and farmers who make the food that lands on their plates. Invoking the trope of knowing the farmer and knowing the animal as a means for signaling a “localness” that is different from a presumably generic nonlocal, this agritourism encounter attempts to craft intimate, personal encounters within a tourist experience that is explicitly mobile.

For Shkodrova, the mobile local has more to do with the changing dynamics of global geopolitics. In this account of Coca-Cola’s adventures in Bulgaria, Skhodrova maps out the movements of people, beverages, and politics across political and geographic borders. One of the consequences of these shifting dynamics was a shifting terrain as distinctions between local and global, East andWest were reconstituted. The local was not just on the move, but on the march across a Europe otherwise marked by Cold War landmarks.

When taken together, these articles invite us to rethink the very premise of “the local” itself. It is no longer necessarily a geographic orientation or a claim to a particular form of culture. Rather “the local” becomes a dynamic mode of being, notably a form of motion that travels across and between spaces and times. Sometimes it moves quickly, at other times more slowly. Sometimes it moves subtly, while at other times its movement is overt, even jarring. In all instances, what becomes clear is that “the local”—and all of the qualities associated with it—is never stable but always in emergence.

Melissa L. Caldwell

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Editor’s Letter, Spring 2018

from Gastronomica 18:1

“What is the relationship between food and value?” This succinct but complex question stimulates many debates and discussions within critical food studies. Is the relationship dictated by the type of food or ingredients used? A particular recipe or the background of the person who picked, prepared, served, or consumed the food? Is it the way in which foods flow through personal, regional, or global networks? Does value arise through combinations of aesthetic, sensory, and cultural qualities? Is it a blend of some or all of these qualities? Or is something else at play?

In this issue of Gastronomica, Micah Trapp takes this question in new and fascinating directions by exploring the world of American grocery auctions. Through a detailed ethnographic case study of what actually happens during grocery auctions in Mississippi and Maryland, Trapp examines how the spoils and excesses of an industrialized food system are transformed into valued foods. In so doing, Trapp complicates our understandings of market capitalism in a world where scarcity, excess, desire, and need are remade. Themes of value also emerge in Jake Young’s provocation on offal. Once commonplace in American food cultures but now increasingly rare, offal’s presence and absence challenges Americans to grapple with their feelings about animal flesh. Which pieces of animal flesh are desirable and for whom? How do American consumers think about waste and wastefulness, as well as desire and enjoyment, when animal bodies are at stake? Read more

Editor’s Letter, Winter 2017

from Gastronomica 17:4

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The Soviet world was a land of striking contrasts, contradictions, and paradoxes, where citizens recognized that even though everything was forbidden, everything was possible. These paradoxes also characterize the post-Soviet era, such as this amusing scene in the center of Prague, where the Museum of Communism shares a courtyard with McDonald’s.
Photograph by Andrew G. Baker © 2009

One hundred years ago was a momentous time in many places around the world. While the catastrophe of World War I continued to grind on, adding to already unimaginable levels of casualties, it was not as though the rest of the world stopped and waited for the war to end. In 1917, the United States Supreme Court upheld an eight-hour working day for railroad employees, contributing to the idea that workers were people who were entitled to personal time and promoting the nascent concept of work-life balance. Suffragettes in Great Britain and the United States marched and protested for the right for (white, elite) women to vote. Puerto Rico was officially created as a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship. Although in Africa there were only two independent countries—Liberia and what is now Ethiopia (then Abyssinia)—and it would be nearly another half century before independence movements swept the continent, a series of major revolutions elsewhere led to the formation of new nation-states. In China, Sun Yat Sen’s efforts to lead a separatist regime eventually resulted in what has come to be described as the modern Chinese state, with Sen recognized as its de facto “father.” Finland declared its independence from Russia, setting it on the path to full autonomy. At the same time, ongoing political struggles in Russia culminated in the October Revolution, which paved the way for the formation of the Soviet Union. In short, the events of 1917 and their lasting effects proved upheaving for those who lived through them and continue to fascinate those who are drawn to studying them.

Read more