Editor’s Letter, Spring 2020

From Gastronomica 20.1

It’s 1969. April. It’s 3 a.m. At that time, it was quite cold in Turin, Northern Italy, in the wee hours of the morning, a reality not even the fascist propaganda of “Italy, Garden of Europe” had been able to change. And I’m wearing shorts, sandals, and a striped T-shirt as, with sticky eyes and dazed by the short sleep, I run down the five stories of stairs of the walk-up where I spent a good part of my childhood at my maternal grandmother’s house.

My grandma Mariuccia, like her sister Anna, who is quietly waiting for us downstairs, is a street vendor at the local open market, rain, snow, or sunshine. My grandma specializes in fruit, my aunt sells vegetables. The sisters immigrated from rural Southern Italy to the industrial city as young children in the late 1920s—before the mass internal migration of the 1950s and 1960s—in the wake of the peasant uprising in the durum wheat latifundia of Puglia. Half the rural town of Cerignola relocated to the Barriera di Milano neighborhood of Turin, creating an urban village in the city and two twin communities, one North and one South, sending people, food, things, and information back and forth in flows. Nonna Mariuccia married a man from a large Torinese artisan family, Nonno Beppe, creating serious controversy in both families—coming from separate anthropological universes, and gastronomies.

Nonna Mariuccia, Zia Anna, and I wade into the dark as we silently walk across the deserted square of the open market—in just a matter of a few hours, with the light, a confusion of voices, colors, faces, and odors will reign over the naked pavement—to get to the stop of streetcar number 9, which, in a symphony of shrieks and clangs, takes us to a very different neighborhood, to the city’s wholesale produce market. The market is overwhelming with noises and movement. The truck drivers, who drove all day and night from as far as Sicily or Naples, park their trucks so the backs are open, like enormous mouths, toward the buying bystanders, a very mixed crowd. The truck drivers munch on sausage or tomato sandwiches and drink beer at four in the morning while the middlemen scream in all Italian dialects, tossing around crates of apricots and sacks of potatoes onto the biggest scales I have ever thought existed. Upon my first visit I had been confused about my grandma asking for “ten yellow peaches” and been given ten crates of the fruit, not ten fruits. But now I know. Rolls of cash, big brown bills, are displayed upfront and my grandma hands some of the money to a guy with a van, a familiare car, as it was then called, that she trusts to deliver in a couple of hours the fruit she just bought right to her stall, marked by only four little white corners painted on the ground.

Dawn is approaching. On our way back to Barriera di Milano and the street market where my grandmother and aunt soon need to be at work, we see, on the opposite track, advancing streetcars fully packed with factory workers en route to the Mirafiori automobile plant to begin their six o’clock morning shift. Many of the women, older people, and occasional children shopping at my grandma’s fruit stand are their families. Everyone’s a migrant at the market: everyone is from somewhere else and has feelings toward the many others they see, hear, smell, and bump into. Food is also from somewhere else, from places imagined through that food name, and shows up at the market only in season, that is, two weeks every year. In June, my grandma sells Duroni di Vignola, dark, firm, and sweet cherries, which to me have the great advantage of being safe from containing the fleshy little worms the native Torinese call Giuanin (Johnny), so often present in the smaller and softer varieties when they’re fully ripe. In July, she sells the White Peach from Naples which, when I bite into it, releases a bout of sugary, sticky juice that drips down my forearm; in August, ramasin—small bittersweet plums, vaguely tasting like tobacco, you can’t stop eating and pit spitting—from Saluzzo.

Everything and every move you make is personalized at the market: it makes a big difference who you are buying your food from, who s/he is to you. The food actually tastes different because of the purveyor—maybe it’s the sweat—so the escarole from Uncle Vito or the ricotta cheese from comare Antonietta tastes like them, and has a biography. When, in the middle of the morning, I’m sent out to buy from some relative, even if that means walking all the way to the other end of the market, I’m stopped by three women, all dressed in black, with heart-shaped pendants with the photo of the deceased, who ask each other (they aren’t really talking to me) if I’m the grandson of Mariuccia, the nephew of Anna, the daughters of mastro Vincenzo, may he Rest In Peace, and resolve to lift me and press my face into their warm and soft breasts.

The boundaries between real, material everyday life and the extraterrestrial, the magical, and the holy are so permeable at the market; and foods and plants are thought to have medical, even salvific effects. I fear that there might be horsemeat, which has a weird sweet taste I hate, for dinner tonight, because I’m anemic. Later in her life, grandma—who refuses to use the newly introduced plastic pasta colander because she thinks it poisons food—would routinely go to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies, but today, and she’s taking me with her, she’s going to her favorite erboristeria, a shop selling a variety of curative herbs, objects, and talismans. The secularization of Zia Anna happened only when, after having devotedly prayed and sacrificed to Saint Anthony for years, the saint failed her and let Nonno Vincenzo die. In a famous bout of rage, Zia Anna threw all her St. Anthony paraphernalia into the street, onto the market, from the window of her first-floor flat. Among the vendors, or the helpers, many have physical or intellectual disabilities, reflecting the general lack of trust in the medicalization of the issues somebody in the family may have. But it’s past one in the afternoon and it’s time to load the unsold crates and sacks onto the pushcart, fold the stall, and pull the cart toward the storage. Until tomorrow.

In retrospect, even back then, some thirty years before I became a Food Studies scholar, the market, and by extension the whole world of food, looked all about mobility and diversity to me. Not only because of my life story, but as one of the few members of the Editorial Collective of Gastronomica based outside North America and the only one based in (Southern) Europe, the themes of mobility and diversity in food are especially close and dear to me. In my role as part of the so-called “acquisitions cluster” of our collective, I aim to promote variety in the topics and approaches taken by our contents; to extend our diversity of voices in the journal by encouraging authors across class, racial, gender, sexual orientation, language, and geographical divides to contribute to the journal; and to help expand the readership of Gastronomica outside and beyond the more frequented grounds of North America and Western Europe. I therefore could not be luckier for and more excited about having the opportunity of being the editor of an issue—this one in your hands—widely dedicated to mobility and diversity in food provision, highlighting marketplaces as intriguing and revealing sites of observation and experience.

The first section, “Street Markets, Street Food,” opens with Krishnendu Ray’s “Rethinking Street Vending,” a piece that originated as his address at the annual Gastronomica Distinguished Lecture at the SOAS Food Studies Centre. Ray discusses street food as a form of food provisioning that, in the West, has been significantly curtailed by modernity, food industrialization, and the capitalist rationalization of urban space, with wide-ranging consequences on consumer taste, health, and sociability. Drawing on classic and recent sociological theory and historical literature, and examples from India and South Africa, Ray shows how street food and street markets transcend their capitalist and exchange functions to bring “liveliness” to cities, offering vendors, shoppers, and strollers the experience of other cultures and other worlds, including interclass relations. So the answer to the question “could good food be made congruent with good livelihoods for poor people and a lively city?” seems to be a resounding yes. In her response to Ray’s address, Sandra C. Mendiola García describes the open markets of Puebla, Mexico, in images evoking the pulsating space and rhythm of consumption of the street and insisting upon street food vendor activism (mobilization). Threatened by state policing and intense capitalist exploitation of the urban space, global city street vendors like Puebla’s increasingly have to self-organize and fight for their right to make a living and contribute to urban food systems and vitality. The second response, penned by Jane Battersby, similarly suggests that in the colonial and postcolonial city, state power has most decidedly construed street food vending as residual, irrational, and dangerous. Battersby recommends that African street vendor activists look at history to identify the best strategies to navigate between the pressures of state control and the needs of civil society. A closing epilogue offered by Noah Allison and Jaclyn Rohel asks food scholars to consider adopting an expansive definition of the notion of “street food” that can encompass an extended range of food provisioning and social interactions in shared urban spaces.

The issue’s second section, “Food, Culture, and Nation,” focuses on the power of food and its memory to generate and nurture multiple collective identities, and opens with Rose Wellman’s social and cultural history of jello in Iran. Wellman shows that food represents a “biomoral, physio-sacred substance” for the Basiji community of Iran. Halal (meaning safe, good, healthy) food is created multidimensionally: it’s a matter of ingredients, of processing techniques and practices, and of shopping choices—of where and from whom the food is purchased. In the religious and state-sanctioned halal geography of consumption, food needs to be bought in a Muslim market, and for it to be pure the vendor also needs to be pure. All this is shown through the colored semitransparent lens of jello, an industrial food that complicatedly floats in and out the sphere of the halal.

Next, Eric C. Rath’s piece examines funazushi, a Japanese food made with fermented carp and rice and widely supposed to be the most ancient form of sushi. The exploration of funazushi‘s claims of originality is largely a history of taste. At the turn of the nineteenth century, sushi became less a method to preserve fish through fermentation and more a way to serve fish with flavored rice, thus marginalizing the characteristically sour taste of funazushi from its sensory palette and making it “ancient.” Rath narrates his travels across Japan in search of funazushi, emphasizing once more that who makes a food and where that food is eaten make it taste differently, and suggesting that—because of its preparation and its taste—funazushi may be not only sushi’s past but also its future, in a reconfiguration of taste in new social, cultural, and technological contexts.

Paul Lewis rounds out the section with an account of his visit to China as an ambassador for Irish artisanal high-quality food and restaurants. Traveling means comparing, and self-reflecting on one’s own (food) identity; as Lewis notes, the mobility of food juxtaposes tastes, cultures, and visions of the world, producing more diversity. “Oysters on the Half Shell” by Courtney Nzeribe provides a fleshy and sizzling evidence of life and food in art.

The issue’s third section, on “Politics and Ethics of Taste,” opens with the question, “What Is a Superfood Anyway?” Here Melinda Butterworth, Georgia Davis, Kristina Bishop, Luz Reyna, and Alyssa Rhodes dissect this hotly debated category of edibles by exploring the nutritional, economic, political, and ethical meanings that such a label entails. The definition of “superfood” appears to have become grounds for a power struggle among many self-identifying authorities in the field, arguing over who decides which food deserves the hyperbole rather than defining and agreeing upon a set of objective features and definitions. What all superfood experts have in common is their insistence on promoting a version of ethical eating that enforces a “duty to do well” on the part of the consumer. The entire idea of “superfood,” then, ensnares the consumer in a discourse about personal responsibility in managing health and reducing the risk of disease.

The article that follows, “Confronting Whiteness in Kansas City’s Local Food Movement” by Chhaya Kolavalli, tackles directly the issue of diversity in local food markets, and interrogates the powerful notions of “local food” and “food sovereignty” as rooted in exclusion as well as inclusion. Drawing on interviews with local food advocates in Kansas City, Kolavalli identifies a problematic discourse generically celebrating diversity in the stalls via the phenotypical appearance of vendors, yet still leaving the structures of unequal relations of power and racial inequalities in the local food system largely, if not utterly, untouched and unquestioned.

Victoria Dickenson’s piece completes the section, illustrating, in a vocabulary of names, colors, and tastes, the varied foodscape of Newfoundland in the summer, which includes baccalà alla livornese (cod simmered in tomato and onions) and Turin’s specialty food bagna cauda (a hot dip made of melted anchovies and garlic). Images of “Fresh” in the food photography by Jaina Cipriano articulate the consuming experience in an architecture of colors and shapes.

This issue’s exploration of food mobility and diversity ends with two more stories from Canada in the section “Migrant Food Memories.” First, we present Anelyse M. Weiler’s interview with Kim Thúy, a migrant restaurateur to Montreal, and a published, highly regarded novelist, with a new cookbook from her Vietnamese kitchen, and then close with “A Literary History of the Mandarin Orange in Canada,” by Shelley Boyd, Nathalie Cooke, and Alexia Moyer, which describes Japanese mandarin oranges’ evocative power in Canadian literature, representing the diversity of food in the face of challenging climatic circumstances.

I began this letter with memories of my grandma and aunt, migrant women workers who made a living selling food on the street, in sunshine, rain, and snow, and I have come to realize how much food, the mobility and exchange of food, the diversity of food and of those who give it to us, is such a big part of our socialization and understanding of the world, for all of us. I hope you will enjoy the following pages, making up the fourth issue published since the inception of the new editorial collective of Gastronomica. A diverse group ourselves, we look forward to continuing to deliver stories of food mobility and diversity, from different places and from many different voices.

Simone Cinotto for the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, February 2020

Editor’s Letter, Winter 2019

From Gastronomica 19.4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Letter, Fall 2019

From Gastronomica 19.3

Every day this winter, I climbed the stairs from Toronto’s subway, and before bundling into the Canadian cold and a landscape of hibernating plants, I passed a public service poster reminding commuters about how many tomatoes Canadians throw out daily. Part of the city’s “Love Food Hate Waste Canada” campaign, the posters encourage zero waste buying and zero waste cooking, sending commuters to a website that has everything from recipes to tips for freezing, drying, and canning and also induces a pang of guilt by shifting the inefficiencies of the industrial food system onto home cooks and family shoppers (midwinter, those tomatoes are grown far, far away). “One third of all food produced globally is wasted. Shocking, eh?” reads the campaign’s website. “The truth is that Canadians are throwing out more food than they realize—food that could, at one point, have been eaten”. Looking at that poster, my mind typically drifted to the mathematics (dividing the number of discarded tomatoes by the population of Canada, it works out to each Canadian tossing a bruschetta’s worth of tomatoes daily). I thought also of my own fridge, wondering (susceptible as I am to food politics) about what lurks in the back, at the dividing line between cold storage and slow-moving rot. And then, I thought about what I was cooking for dinner.

That daily experience—a mixed salad of food politics, government advocacy, corporate evasiveness, consumer guilt, gastronomic pleasures, cooking, and the life cycle of food itself—informs this special issue of Gastronomica. As an editorial collective, we have spent the last few months thinking a lot about the many entwined meanings of “saving food”—from preservation to curation to nostalgia to archiving to salvation. We intend to bring in many voices; as a collective of fifteen, we can draw upon our own perspectives and experiences, but also on others we know, or wish to meet, or have encountered through different media. Can the many meanings of “saving” help us understand in new ways the intersections of food pleasures, politics, and production, the overlap between activism, cooking, museum and archival practice, and the constant race to cook and prepare foods before they rot?

From wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap to fermenting ingredients to curating museum exhibits to creating seed libraries and archives, we all “save” our food. Translated into a public service slogan, “loving food, hating waste” reflects a far larger public and activist concern about the fate of our foods in the Anthropocene, this contemporary era of climate change and global inequality. At the everyday level, as diners, cooks, activists, teachers, growers, and consumers, we face the challenge that ingredients can be food or waste. In “The Race against Rot,” members of the new collective participated in a public forum at the University of Toronto; the rich conversation that flowed among the crowd has been transformed into a written conversation. Donna Gabaccia and her students Nana Frimpong and Gillian MacCulloch at the University of Toronto describe their efforts to experience the everyday act of saving food by learning how to make pickles.

What is canned in the cupboard, lies rotting at the back of the fridge, or tossed is, today, politicized. In her topical intervention into the problem of food waste, Leda Cooks argues that while efforts to “save” and redistribute food often appear to be an obvious solution, “food rescue and donation maintain inequities in the food system.”

Beyond preserving, fermenting, freezing, drying, and smoking, does food—its traditions, its materials, and its products—need saving? We often worry that food is being lost—as generations age, as strains of crops are rendered extinct, as the climate changes, and as highly-processed foods proliferate. Paul S. Kindstedt and Tsetsgee Ser-Od take readers on a fascinating journey into dairying and cheesemaking practices that continue in Mongolia today from their Neolithic origins in Southwest Asia. They trace the evolution and migration of these practices, shedding a critical light on how climate change and globalization shape and affect the endeavor to save historical food preparation. Sharon Hudgins, meanwhile, reflects on her own experiences in Siberia during the early days after the fall of Communism, learning to save food in new and unexpected ways.

We envision preserving food traditions, regional iterations of cuisines and recipes, ingredients, seeds, products, and more through an astonishing array of strategies that draw upon small-scale seed and recipe exchanges, family and community cookbooks, seed banks, and museum collecting. Efforts to “save” food have their long antecedents in the transmission and mobility of food products, recipes, and knowledge. Can those histories provide new understandings for contemporary anxiety about the loss of both bio- and culinary diversities? Collective member Helen Veit reached out to Sean Sherman and Elizabeth Woody to explore what “saving food” means to them and their Native American communities; the conversation considers preservation but also loss. Harry G. West extends our renewed fascination with food and rot, as he argues that while traditional cheesemaking is materially a process of the “managed decay” of milk, the affective appeal of preserving its heritage also fundamentally implies the “savoring of dying traditions.”

Can food, as well, save us? Food is mobilized as a strategy of national and community belonging, a form of urban or economic development, and as an example of intangible cultural heritage. Sylvie Durmelat focuses on Moroccan-born visual artist Ymane Fakhir’s video installations that feature her grandmother’s practiced gestures transforming raw materials into staples like bread and sugar loaf. The article speaks directly to a key concern of this volume on “saving food,” namely, the dialectic between tradition and modernity: how does the past inform the present and the future? Increasingly, nations have turned to global organizations like UNESCO in order to protect a local dish or ingredient. Yet do heritage politics protect (or ossify) food traditions?

For an individual, including the iconic food writer M.F.K. Fisher, food might also represent a means to physical and social salvation. Victoria Burns challenges the widespread reception of Fisher’s “memoir” as an uncensored window into the life of Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, urging readers to treat the book “as an imaginative recreation of lived experiences.” Ines Sučić, Tihana Brkljačić, Ljiljana Kaliterna Lipovčan, Renata Glavak-Tkalić, and Lana Lučić together remind us that food, just as it occupies much of our time and consumes much of our budgets, can also be a source of happiness. Asking ordinary Croatians, “What is happiness for you?” they trace the association between food and subjective well-being.

In this, our second issue of Gastronomica with an editorial collective, we continue to offer provocations. Together, collective members and authors have initiated new conversations about what it means to save food (and to be saved by it). Look for more responses to our invitation to consider “saving food” in future issues!

Daniel E. Bender for the Gastronomica editorial collective, Toronto, July 2019

Editor’s Letter, Summer 2019

from Gastronomica 19:2

We talked a lot about eggs this month, after we decided to feature them on our first cover. Eggs feature in all of the food traditions that show up on the tables of our new Editorial Collective. Hard-boiled, then fried and smothered in a rich, tomato gravy, they become an egg curry. Kneaded into a hard flour, then rolled out and cut or filled, they are pasta. Nudged gently in a pan with good butter, they are an omelet. They are also a good metaphor to think with.

Eggs are re-birth, that is, new birth from old. This issue marks the very first produced by a new Editorial Collective. We are fifteen scholars and writers at different stages in our careers (a dozen eggs with several extras). We work around the world in a broad range of scholarly homes and disciplines: large and small universities, a museum, public and private colleges, research centers, food studies departments, and nutrition programs. Here is our goal: we expect to maintain a collective that balances academic and geographic perspectives and upholds high standards of racial, sexual orientation, gender, class, and age diversities.

Collective editing is new to Gastronomica, but the journal itself, by now, has a history which traces that of the world of food studies itself. “Since its inception as Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture in 2001,” writes outgoing editor Melissa L. Caldwell, “Gastronomica has been the go-to journal for important conversations about food.” We agree. Gastronomica, more than any other journal, magazine, or digital portal, can and should represent the space where the breadth of academic scholarship on food cultures meets a public increasingly interested in questions of food, gastronomy, and the culinary arts. With a long history of accessible scholarship, excellent production values, and varied, long-form writing, Gastronomica is uniquely positioned to enable food scholars to interact with our profession and the public to engage directly with the insights of food studies. We believe that a collectively edited Gastronomica can represent the outward face of our field and that an editorial collective can best unite a diverse range of academic voices from different disciplinary perspectives on a global scale, while also offering a venue for public voices to engage with scholars.

In the Summer 2019 issue (a special issue we are calling “Saving Food”), we will introduce more of the features, organization, and vision of a collective Gastronomica. This issue, however, is our opportunity to listen to new voices, past editors, and former editorial board members. For this issue, we highlight “New Voices” (including students, junior faculty, innovative activists, emerging artists, and starting food practitioners) to identify exciting new areas of inquiry, methods, forms of presentation, and approaches. In the “Research Articles” section, Sarah Elton reimagines food studies by taking a posthumanist, transcendental approach; Leigh Chavez-Bush suggests foretelling the future of food in the way the work of chefs is expressed in contemporary media ecology; Miranda Brown recovers a forgotten tradition of cheesemaking in southern China, thus challenging popular assumptions about dairy-free traditional Chinese cuisine; Mary Beth Mills revisits the notions of authenticity and commodification by looking at how identities are staged at culinary schools for tourists in Thailand. In the “Reflection Pieces” section, food stylist Don Macey self-investigates the ethics of killing animals just for the sake of photographing them; Jessica Gigot urges going beyond food as science and art to include the emotional and moral realms food invokes, something she calls a “poetics of food”; Henna Garrison calls for new food studies to combine scholarly methodology with the making and the multisensual experience of food. Rick Halpern’s photo essay takes us inside the Muslim Quarter, or Huimin Jie, in Xi’an. In black-and-white clarity, his photos capture the gastronomic vibrancy of street life. All of these diverse contributions, we believe, introduce novel perspectives and sensibilities.

At the same time, we recognize that we are new eggs in a basket—that new life hatches from old. As we consider the future of the study of food, we look also to the past, reflecting on how the journal has provided a place for so many people, within and beyond the academy, to think critically about food history and cultures. We turned to our editors emeriti: Darra Goldstein and Melissa L. Caldwell. In an oral history conversation, collective member Simone Cinotto asks them to elucidate their editorial visions and, based on their experience, to think about what new voices may be asking and answering. We also asked past members of editorial boards to write a letter, email, text, or tweet to new food studies practitioners. What are the emerging new questions? What older avenues of inquiry still need following? And, to introduce ourselves individually, we plunged into the back issues to identify some of our favorite past submissions. If you would like to read these past issues, you can find them available online at Gastronomica’s website, http://gcfs.ucpress.edu/, where they will be freely accessible through July 2019.

Editor’s Letter, Spring 2019

from Gastronomica 19:1

Whenever I have left Russia at the conclusion of fieldwork, I have always been the fortunate recipient of gifts from friends and colleagues who want to send me home with a reminder of happy times with them. These mementos have included small wooden or porcelain animal figurines, like the little Gzhel kitchen mouse that lives in a special spot above my kitchen sink and protects my kitchen, as well as delicate crocheted doilies, linen napkins and aprons, cookbooks, and of course jars and jars of homemade raspberry jam, black currant jam, apricot jam, pickled mushrooms, and puréed eggplant and pepper. Virtually all of the gifts have been for my table at home, which is significant given the amount of time I have spent sitting at the table with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Food is at the center of everything in Russian daily life, largely because it brings people together. When my friends send me home with food and other kitchen items, they are also sending me home with a tangible symbol of our time together—and maybe even the hope that when I enjoy those goodies at home with my own family, the physical distance between us will somehow be mediated.

The tradition of sending people away with a taste of home and family is recognized as something special, as something to be treasured and even protected. I learned this one time, long before there were restrictions on what air travelers could take with them in their carry-on bags. As I was on my way to the airport after a summer in Moscow, a dear friend pressed into my hands several large jars of raspberry preserves. My friend was elderly and barely survived on a tiny pension, so the expense of the sugar, the jars, and the time spent picking berries was quite significant. I packed the jars into my carry-on bag and headed for the plane. At that time, the Moscow airport conducted a second security screening at the gate. I placed my bag on the conveyer belt to go through the bag screener and walked through the human screening machine, only to be pulled aside by an imposing, stern-faced security guard. “What’s in the bag?” he asked me brusquely, gesturing at the wavy image on the monitor beside the conveyer belt. I hesitantly replied, “Jam from my babushka [grandmother, the term I usually used to refer to my elderly friend].” The guard’s face immediately changed, and he smiled broadly, chuckled, and waved me through. Babushka jam, clearly, was sacred.

When I became editor of Gastronomica at the end of 2012, it was these memories of food and company from my time in Russia that inspired my vision for the journal. I wanted to take food as the inspiration for setting a metaphorical table that would bring us all together. And just like the many Russian tables I have enjoyed, I wanted to provide a broad spread of experiences: festive, abundant tables; meager, sparing tables; tables adorned with every sumptuous possibility; and tables set upon rickety boards with even more rickety stools crowded around them. I wanted us to sample appealing dishes, as well as not-so-appealing dishes. And, most importantly, I wanted the food to be the entrée that brought us together and invited us to join with one another for rich, detailed, complicated, and messy conversations that might, in some cases, be pleasant, while in other cases could be deeply disturbing and full of conflict. Above all, I wanted us to ask questions, to debate, to argue, to challenge our expectations, and maybe even rethink our perspectives.

Food, drink, and friends are essential for a proper Russian table.
photograph by Andrew G. Baker © 2010

Even the simplest Russian dacha table is a feast for friends.
photograph by Andrew G. Baker © 2010

These are the experiences and approaches that I want to leave you with, as I pass on the journal to the editorial collective that will be taking up the mantle of guiding critical food studies in new directions. I also hope that, much like the remnants of jams past that linger in the back of my fridge, too precious to toss out, I have left you with a few little nibbles to squirrel away, savor, and possibly even eye suspiciously as you wonder what you should do with them.

It is bittersweet to write my final column. It has been an incredibly rich and rewarding opportunity to serve as editor of Gastronomica. I have had a privileged position from which to view the ways in which studies of food have evolved over the past six years. At one time, food studies tended either to be siloed rigidly according to disciplinary and professional boundaries, or rather uncritically and haphazardly glommed across multiple fields. Gradually, however, thanks to robust conversations that brought together multiple perspectives, disciplinary orientations, and theoretical debates, the strengths of individual disciplines have been showcased and new, transdisciplinary approaches launched. Along the way I have been particularly excited to learn of and feature work by scholars and practitioners from disciplines and approaches that had not necessarily been central to the broader field of food studies; they have emerged as key anchors and interlocutors, and their work has had an impact beyond their own disciplines and across multiple scales and approaches within the larger field of food studies. I have also been pleased to see that dominant North American and Western orientations within food studies scholarship are now sharing the stage with scholarship from and on other parts of the world, a change that is contributing to innovative reconfigurations and conversations across regions and intellectual traditions.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, it has been rewarding to watch as the concept of “critical food studies” has gone from being an intellectual idea to a recognized theoretical and methodological orientation in the field. At the time when I first assumed the editorship of Gastronomica, there was an emerging set of conversations and shared research projects that were focused on thinking carefully and deeply about the significance of food in multiple registers. Above all, the people who were involved in these conversations were interested in complicating the feel-good aspects of food by making a place at the table for the not-so-good, or perhaps more precisely, the not-so-simplistic dimensions of food—what my colleague Elizabeth Dunn has called “unhappy food.” The point was that although there are many aesthetically pleasing and rewarding facets of food, there are also many food experiences that are far more complicated, difficult, and even unpleasant. Food can be a way to force us to have more difficult conversations and rethink our assumptions.

When I was approached about becoming editor, there was not yet a systematic set of conversations across an entire field, although these discussions were happening in and across a number of places, often clustered around groups of scholars working at the intersections of the humanities and the social sciences, such as at Indiana University, SOAS at the University of London, University of Sheffield, and among food clusters in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, and the many food studies networks across the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere.

Not coincidentally, one of the sites where these conversations were taking place was in California, and specifically within networks of food studies scholars associated with the University of California—many of whom were also authors whose food books were being, or would soon be, published by the University of California Press. The University of California has long been a leader in innovative food studies scholarship across many fields—whether in food history, cultural studies, anthropology, food science, food technology, agroecology, food labor, food insecurity, or food justice. And certainly the University of California Press has been a leader in food publications across many genres. This confluence of trends became especially prominent following a series of University of California–sponsored research programs, where a core group of scholars from inside and outside the UC system and UCP community solidified the notion of a critical approach to food—that is, a theoretically sophisticated and analytically inquisitive approach to food—and heightened an awareness of it on national and international radars. Here I want to identify some of those scholars: Julie Guthman, Charlotte Biltekoff, Carolyn Thomas, Susanne Freidberg, Melanie DuPuis, Alison Hope Alkon, Alison Hayes-Conroy, Jessica Hayes-Conroy, Patricia Allen, Aya Kimura, and Garrett Broad. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the individuals who contributed to these conversations and in moving the conversations forward in their own disciplines and in the broader field of food studies. Their work was attracting considerable attention, and in turn, there was a noticeable growth of work by other scholars who engaged their ideas and approaches and then pushed beyond them.

It was this set of intellectual currents that were emerging at the exact time that I was asked to take on the editorship of Gastronomica. When the directors of the University of California Press asked me what I thought were the most interesting directions in food scholarship, this is the set of conversations and debates that I identified. This excited the UCP community, and the directors explicitly charged me with the responsibility of not simply catching this new wave, but getting in front of it, riding it, and seeing if I could bring others along for the ride. To invoke a concept familiar to Northern Californians, I was given the task of surfing the Mavericks of the food studies world, catching the edge and navigating through the exhilaratingly unruly waters of scholarship and a field in formation.

But this was not a task that I could accomplish alone. It took a village of creative, playful, bold, risk-taking intellectual leaders. And I believe that this village—members of the editorial board, authors, reviewers, and readers collectively—have done this. Over the past several years, “critical food studies” has gone from being the subtitle of the journal to a recognized concept that appears in conference titles, publication titles, job postings, and research agendas around the world. That does not mean that we have conquered food studies or minimized it or made it easier. Nor does it mean that there is any singular notion of what “critical food studies” is or might be. Rather, collectively in this journal, we have explored a new set of waves and opened up possibilities for exploring further and deeper. I am proud to have been part of this process. But more importantly, I have been extraordinarily proud of all of the people who have joined me for this ride, pulling all of us forward: my authors, reviewers, editorial board members, and even the skeptics whose feedback has helped sharpen ideas and approaches.

As is probably evident, I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with so many smart, thoughtful, insightful, and generous people at all stages of the editorial process. To them I owe many debts and much gratitude. I cannot thank them all, but I would like to recognize some of the folks with whom I have interacted the most.

First, I could not have done this without the incredible staff who have worked behind the scenes to build, maintain, and now pass on the journal. I have had two fantastic managing editors, Carla Takaki Richardson and Rebecca Feinberg, who have manned the front lines and back alleys of the journal to facilitate all of the hidden processes through which submissions come in, go out for review, receive feedback, and move along the editorial pipeline from unfinished manuscript to copyediting, art editing, composition, proofing, legal contracts, and publication. Both Carla and Rebecca have also humanized the process for contributors, reviewers, editorial board members, the production team, and readers, with their good humor and diplomacy. Carla and Rebecca have been supported by several graduate student editorial assistants, who have overseen the journal’s book reviews and social media presence, as well as completing many other tasks ranging from opening random cartons of books that appear in the mail to checking that proofing errors have been corrected. I thank Stephanie Chan, Stephanie McCallum, Monica Mikhail, and Brian Walter. I am also grateful for the assistance of several undergraduate students who have served as editorial interns: Emma McDonell, Omar Lopez, Liz Smith, Emily Walden, and Egypt Claxton.

One of my greatest moments of luck was when Paul Tyler came on board as our copy editor. Paul is, hands down, the best copy editor I have ever encountered, not simply because of his technical wizardry, but because of his extensive knowledge of everything, which allows him to help authors (and me) convey their ideas as accurately and persuasively as possible. In addition, Gastronomica has been supported by several extraordinarily talented art editors who have ensured not only that the images that accompany texts are high quality, but also that they tell stories of their own. Many, many thanks to Rachel Walther, Patty Mon, and Mary Demery.

Perhaps the most daunting task I faced when I started as editor was in trying to line up an editorial board that would support the journal and me. Luckily, I was able to create a “dream team” of generous, thoughtful, and hardworking colleagues who have provided encouragement, mobilized their own professional networks, challenged me and made important suggestions that have helped me navigate the editorial process, and, perhaps most importantly, put in countless hours of work behind the scenes to provide reviews (sometimes on very quick turnarounds), make suggestions for reviewers, and work with contributors. Serving on editorial boards—especially when one actually has to provide service—is often a turnoff. But I was lucky to find colleagues who were willing to do the work, and many have done an incredible amount of heavy lifting over the years. I hope that I can repay some of their generosity and kindness in the future.

Of course a journal will never succeed if there are not authors and reviewers. Although many of us live in fear of overly critical peer reviewers (the dreaded “Reviewer 2”), I have been incredibly impressed by the care with which Gastronomica‘s reviewers have attended to the manuscripts they have read and evaluated. Over and over again, reviewers have taken the time to write long, thoughtful reports that have helped me evaluate manuscripts, but more importantly, helped authors sharpen their ideas, solidify their arguments, and move their work forward—even if the recommendation was to reject. Overwhelmingly, Gastronomica‘s reviewers have been incredibly kind and supportive, and I want to thank them for their otherwise invisible but important professional service.

I am also grateful to the many contributors who submitted to the journal. One of my greatest regrets was that I could not publish everything, but I did, in fact, read every single submission that came my way. I have learned so much from contributors who entrusted their work to me. I hope that they felt that they were treated with respect and dignity and that their work benefited from the process. And for the contributors whose work ended up in the journal, it was an honor to be able to feature your work and to accompany you as your work evolved and moved out into the world. Thank you.

A New Year’s table, Russian-style. Plenty of tastes and nibbles for everyone.
photograph by Andrew G. Baker © 2018

Lastly, I owe many personal debts to friends and family who provided wise counsel and distractions at needed moments: especially Julie, Charlotte, Judith, Chris, Yuson, Jakob, Anne, Elizabeth, Melanie, and Harry. But above all, I want to recognize my husband Andy, our daughter Kaeley, and the furry creatures that inhabit our home. Andy has always read every single thing I have written, including every Editor’s Letter, and he is my most trusted critic. And Kaeley, who has never known anything but having a mother who writes and talks about food, is now an avid scientist who is working on her own “books.” I am looking forward to having more time to spend cooking meals, asking questions, and making memories with them.

By way of conclusion, it is with great enthusiasm that I introduce the pieces that make up my final issue. Every issue has been my favorite, and this one is no exception. There are a number of key themes that emerge from the articles and set up interesting and thoughtful issues for exploration, debate, and even disagreement, but the ones that I find most intriguing have to do with the intersection of political ideals and values of authenticity and protection. In different ways, each of the authors poses provocative questions about the ways in which different communities have made claims on something that appears to be authentic—whether an authentic cuisine, an authentic identity, or even an authentic experience—and the ideological logics on which those claims are based.

Michael Herzfeld begins the conversation by challenging us to think about the moralizing dimensions of food, most notably the sometimes paradoxical nature of moral relativism that seems to have a special place in culinary experiences. Herzfeld takes us through the rhetorical and performative dimensions of moral relativism to think about the ways in which competing power dynamics, claims on legitimacy and expertise, and invocations of right and wrong are always at play within decisions about whether to try something or not. David Haeselin picks up the theme of authenticity from a different vantage point—not from a restaurant table but from the front seat of a transport truck. While moonlighting as a truck driver hauling loads of sugar beets in the American Midwest, Haeselin finds himself challenged to reconsider how divisions between “industrial food” and “foodie culture” come to be, and come to be complicated. Along the way, he presents a different way of thinking about what makes local foods meaningful and authentic. This question about who decides what makes foods, food cultures, and food experiences authentic and legitimate is central to Gaik Cheng Khoo’s article about the South Korean government’s efforts to globalize Korean cuisine, most notably in terms of their efforts in Malaysia. Here, as Khoo documents, performances of authenticity become modes of gastrodiplomacy between the two countries. In a different setting, Chuanfei Wang considers how Japan’s recent resurgence of sake drinking relies on the performative dimensions of authenticity from a different beverage experience—that of wine drinking. As Wang describes, Japanese consumers are revaluing sake as a local product by drawing on aesthetic styles from a nonlocal beverage. Collectively, each of these articles raises questions about how claims on the authentic also invoke discussions about how real experiences are made legible.

Percolating through each of these articles are questions about autonomy, notably the capacity of those who eat and drink, as well as those who grow, haul, and produce, to decide what counts as authentic or what does not. And it is this issue of choice, particularly in terms of the autonomy or agency of individual people and individual communities, that comes through in Rebecca Earle’s and Kathryn Falvo’s articles in this issue. In her fascinating account of the eighteenth-century career of the potato in Europe, Earle examines how politicians, statesmen, and philosophers connected the potato with the body politic, including within projects to promote choice and the individual pursuit of happiness. As Earle suggests, the potato was one of the ways through which ideals about individual choice and autonomy were articulated. Writing about a different setting roughly a century later, Falvo digs even more deeply into the political dimensions of food choice by examining an experimental, American utopian anarchist community, “Fruitlands.” Falvo shows how, even though this community was, ultimately, not as successful as its counterparts, its vegan-anarchist ideals were deeply rooted in American political movements of the nineteenth century.

The capacity of food cultures to open up spaces and create possibilities for political movements is perhaps most tangibly depicted in Karl Peterson’s account of the role of French champagne caves during World War I. Reims, a city at the front lines of the war, was built above two hundred miles of Roman-built caves that were used for wine production and storage by champagne producers. During the war, these caves became a refuge for local residents, who spent almost three continuous years living underground. Here, European political movements translated into physical acts of refuge that not only protected France’s citizens but also its champagne industry.

Finally, the explicitly political dimensions of food form the basis of a shared conversation and debate among a group of scholars working on the question of what makes “good food.” Drawing on ethnographic case studies from around the world, each of the authors presents a short critical reflection on the hierarchies of power that imbue notions of “good food” and make it a contested category.

I hope that you enjoy this last journey with me. But more importantly, I hope that you continue on with Gastronomica as the incoming Editorial Collective takes the next exciting steps in the world of critical food studies. Thank you for joining me!

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Melissa L. Caldwell