Editor’s Letter, Fall 2020

From Gastronomica 20.3

I am not one to rely on recipes. Most of what I have learned about food and cooking has instead occurred through observation, trial and error, and most importantly, collaborations with others whose impact cannot be reduced to a simple formula. Recipes, nonetheless, have a certain power: they speak for those who cannot be present and offer guidance when the path forward is uncertain.

The idea for this issue arose in the wake of the WHO’s declaration on March 11, 2020, that COVID-19 was a pandemic. The Editorial Collective of Gastronomica, as a matter of course, was already conducting its regular meetings via Zoom, and each of us was experiencing the pandemic in different ways, on different timelines, and with differing degrees of intensity in Italy, Japan, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. As scholars and members of our local and global communities, we believed that it was important to respond to this moment and to find some order in the chaos—throughmutual support, storytelling, and analysis.We were searching for a recipe to guide our efforts and provide some measure of certainty.

As stay-at-home orders multiplied in the wake of the spreading pandemic, recipes were having a moment. Again. A fascination with recipes is not new in times of infectious disease. Recipes were viral sensations long before social media. Recipes might even be the original meme. Through replication, transformation, and diversification over time, they coevolve with their hosts—benefitting from their strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. The rapid spread of recipes for tangy sourdough loaves and frothy dalgona coffees, for hand sanitizer and presidential Clorox cocktails, reveals the same latent pathologies of past pandemics. Much like Plague Water and the various “sweat potions” that promised relief during outbreaks of the plague in seventeenth-century Europe, the proliferation of recipes in the time of COVID-19 offers scant immunity from fear, inequality, scapegoating, and xenophobia.1 Recipes, once synonymous with cures, seem to function merely as placebos.

The course of this history is baked into the very structure of the recipe, whose form and imperative voice originate in medical prescriptions or “receipts” from the sixteenth century. The popularization of these scripts—Hieronymous Brunschwig’s Liber pestilentialis (1500) is noteworthy above all for its attempt to render the technical language of medicinal plague cures into the German vernacular—suggests a persistent epistemological problem at the heart of any public health crisis: how to disseminate curative knowledge to those who are in the best position to deliver care? In subsequent centuries, the spread of recipe collections and cookbooks reflected a similar dichotomy: those who were literate and could afford such texts nonetheless relied upon those whose skills and station placed them in the kitchen rather than at the dinner table.

M. F. K. Fisher’s essay “The Anatomy of a Recipe” notes how the writing and transmitting of recipes later evolved to match the “changing tempo of reading, preparing, producing,” even though cooking, for the most part, remained unchanged. The fundamentals of bread making, fermentation, roasting, and grilling have undergone only superficial modifications during the past century; and yet, Fisher’s praise for the modern recipe notwithstanding, the global food system’s radical transformations in magnitude and interdependence reveal how pervasive and insidious the anatomy of the modern recipe has become.

This familiar structure of the modern recipe—a detailed list of ingredients supported with a set of ordered procedures—is both a catalog of the dish’s components and a technical guide for its production. And yet a recipe does not include what is sufficient for its success: the art of cooking is not the outcome of the recipe but rather its underlying premise. Cooking challenges any distinction between theory and practice. But there is a different logic at work in the modern recipe: a distinction not between head-work and hand-work, but between having and doing, between the possession of resources and the labor that transforms and delivers those resources. The structural logic of the modern recipe is no longer curative but instead reveals the deeper pathologies of capital: the quantification of all goods, the exploitation of essential labor, the devaluation of care work.

This special issue offers no alternative therapy; it records the stories and reflections of those whose experiences are inscribed within this same formula—those who, through an abundance of desire, angst, anger, or hope, have rallied their voices to reflect on food in the time of COVID-19 and to document its complex symptomology. The Editorial Collective’s response to the pandemic’s impact was rapid but also cognizant of its limitations. Our decision on March 19, 2020, to produce this special issue would give us less than two months to request submissions and then to collect, read, edit, and submit the volume to our publisher.We issued a call for papers—or more properly, dispatches from the field—with rolling deadlines of April 10 and April 25. We received 185 submissions from nineteen different countries. Fifty-nine of those submissions appear in this issue to document, however imperfectly, the early stages of the pandemic.

These pages contain potential cures and welcome placebos: impassioned storytelling, pointed analyses, and testaments tomutual aid. But this issue is not a recipe to heal or even distract us during this crisis. At best, it is an incomplete list of ingredients— elements of a more salutary recipe yet to be written. They are provisions for a recipe that is, like all recipes, provisional and never definitive. If it resists the framework of having and doing, such a gesture relies on an interpretation of the recipe that is constantly under revision: definitely not a cure, but perhaps a path toward recovery; not a silver bullet, but a strategy for management and some level of immunity—a resistance recovered from the very pathogen itself.

A careful reading of recipes reveals that, despite their current ubiquity, they speak primarily through absence—what their fundamental structure obscures and reduces to a formula. The written text of a recipe gestures away from itself: to the actual dish one intends to prepare, to its origins in the author not present to instruct us, to the knowledge and skill required to complete the dish, and to the aspirations and anticipation of those who will make or enjoy it. Through these fundamental forms of absence, recipes unite communities, recovering and relaying the bonds of kinship and friendship among those in proximity and to those who remain at a distance. Recipes cannot replace what is lost, but their ritual performance, through cooking and the pleasure it brings, recalls the origin of all placebos: the vespers of the Office of the Dead, a solemn remembrance for those who have gone before us.

There is no simple recipe for this moment. This issue, and the many voices contained within it, cannot speak for the essential individuals on the front lines of the pandemic who could not share their stories, or the many lives already taken by COVID-19. Our hope is that this issue, through its collective force, will resonate despite these and more widespread absences the pandemic will inevitably expose: in our healthcare and support systems, in our political leadership, and in the institutions that have for too long ignored and even erased those who will suffer the most. No prescription can completely undo the pre-existing social conditions that have exacerbated the pandemic’s impact, and as with any attempted recipe, our aspirations must reckon with the realities that will determine its outcome: some of them unforeseen, but many more the product of longstanding indifference, neglect, and willed ignorance. Beyond our most carefully orchestrated plans, there is perhaps greater wisdom in care, openness, and even the ability to improvise when the path forward is uncertain. This moment requires the courage to imagine a different reality and to transform the available ingredients into something new.

—Robert T. Valgenti, for the Gastronomica Editorial Collective, Lebanon, PA, May 2020

Fisher, M.F.K. 2010. “The Anatomy of a Recipe,” in With Bold Knife and Fork. New York: Counterpoint.

Fransen, Sietske. “How to Translate a Recipe,” The Recipes Project (blog), https://recipes.hypotheses.org/4565 (accessed May 14, 2020).

Heldke, Lisa. (1992). “Food-Making as a Thoughtful Practice,” in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, ed. Deane W. Curtin and Lisa M. Heldke Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Nicosia, Marissa. “Plague Water,” Cooking in the Archives (blog), https://rarecooking.com/2020/04/02/plague-water/ (accessed May 2, 2020).

Taape, Tillmann. “Recipes against the Plague—in Pharmaceutical Code?” The Recipes Project (blog), https://recipes.hypotheses.org/2240 (accessed May 9, 2020).

Editor’s Letter, Summer 2020

From Gastronomica 20.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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