From the Editor, Spring 2014

from Gastronomica 14:1

Welcome to 2014 and the first issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. As I announced in the previous issue (13.4), the journal’s core emphasis will be innovative and thought-provoking scholarship and debates within the worlds of food and food studies, a refocusing that is reflected in the journal’s new subtitle. At the same time that our contributors push the boundaries of food scholarship in terms of the topics they cover, they will also invite us to consider the formats in which we engage these topics and conversations. While we will continue to rely on conventional text-based formats, we also will experiment with new types of scholarly communication, including graphic arts and multimedia approaches, both in the pages of the journal and on our website. This is an exciting moment for the journal and for food scholarship, as researchers, writers, artists, and enthusiasts play with innovative content and formats. I am very much looking forward to the creative possibilities and scholarly innovations that will emerge as Gastronomica’s contributors and readers interact at the very forefront of critical food scholarship.

More generally, this is a timely moment for critical engagement with food in all of its forms. As this issue goes to press, California governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state and requested that residents voluntarily reduce their water use by twenty percent, with the possibility of mandatory water restrictions coming soon. Both the drought, which is California’s worst in 100 years, and the water restrictions are already having significant effects on America’s food practices and will have repercussions for a long time to come. Most immediately, with lakes and reservoirs at or near empty and wells running dry, California farmers are making decisions about whether they will plant, what they will plant, whether they should sell off or slaughter their livestock, and whether they will even have jobs for the laborers who work in their fields and on their farms. Vintners are uncertain about whether they will have grapes later this year, as the lack of water now will likely affect whether their vines will bud this spring. Even fisheries are suffering as scarce water resources are being diverted for more critical needs.

These developments will have profound consequences for national and global food supplies. California produces approximately one-half of the US’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts and is the country’s leading dairy supplier. Its number-one food export is almonds, which is also one of the most water-intensive crops because it requires year-round watering. No one knows precisely what will happen if California’s drought continues, but it is clear that any reduction in California’s food production capabilities will resonate across the food chain, with prices rising and availability and diversity shrinking, farmworkers losing their jobs, and farmers wrestling with hard choices about whether to wait it out, change their focus, or get out altogether. Such critical themes as labor, health, choice, access, environment, sustainability, and tradition, among many others, will increasingly come to the fore as points of debate and discussion in scholarly research, public policy, and dinnertime conversations.

Above all, these developments highlight the fact that food never exists in isolation from larger trends and dynamics; rather, it is always deeply embedded within and buffeted by shifting political, economic, cultural, and environmental forces. Food is not merely something pleasurable or tasty, but something that is crucially significant to all parts of our daily lives. Food matters. Thus as the journal moves forward this year, expect to see contributors focus careful attention and debate on the weighty, thorny, and consequential aspects of food in all of its manifestations.

The contributors to this first issue of 2014 take us directly into critical food conversations with an impressive and fascinating collection of essays that revolve around themes of morality, knowledge, and power. In different ways, the contributors inspire us to think about how particular food traditions have evolved, what types of information and perspectives they provide, how they are situated within systems of power and control, and why these food practices matter in today’s world.

Seth Holmes starts this conversation in the opening interview about his recently published book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, a riveting ethnographic account of the hidden world of migrant farmworkers as they cross the border into the United States and make their way to the West Coast farms that stock American pantries. With an eye to the scholarly and ethical dimensions of his project, Holmes describes and analyzes the physical and emotional suffering of Triqui migrant workers who are entangled in racialized work hierarchies and medical systems.

The questions that Holmes raises about the nature and impact of power and value are pursued in different ways by the other contributors to this issue. In his essay on local food movements in the United States, B. R. Cohen examines the political terrain staked out by these movements as they make claims on such issues as health, food safety, food security, and food sovereignty. By illuminating the interconnections and points of convergence and divergence among these movements, Cohen argues against a one-size-fits-all homogenizing orientation to food reform efforts and instead suggests that a greater potential for innovation and alliance lies within an ecological approach that recognizes their plurality. Maywa Montenegro de Wit extends this theme of the plurality of politics and ideas within food movements in her essay on urban agroecology trends in the United States, with particular attention to the ways in which agroecology scholars, proponents, and activists have interacted in their efforts to educate the public about new approaches. Taking a slightly different angle, Yuson Jung and Andrew Newman critically interrogate the moral economy of food, labor, and consumer choice in Detroit as local residents and activists debate the arrival of Whole Foods in their midst. Jung and Newman provoke important, but also uncomfortable, questions about the role of class, race, and taste in a setting where low-income residents who have struggled to survive in a food desert now have access to a premium grocery store that promotes a particular health-oriented lifestyle.

Value, change, and tradition continue as themes in essays by J. Weintraub and Gary Paul Nabhan. In his translation of a chapter from Eugène-Vincent Briffault’s Paris à table, Weintraub introduces us to Briffault’s critical perspective on Parisian gastronomy, replete with both serious and humorous observations of the highs and lows of the cuisine, restaurant settings, manners, sensibilities, and even diners of nineteenth-century Paris. Far removed from the metropolitan tumult of Paris, Nabhan situates the Arabian Peninsula’s spice trade in a compelling history that weaves the past with the present, the cultural with the agricultural.

Moving beyond the serious to the more whimsical, but no less intellectually provocative, Marilyn Stasio, Robert Iulo, and Julia Hebaiter invite us to consider the mysteries of food. Stasio takes us into the world of the “foodie mystery” and offers insight into how food works as a plot device and what ultimately makes for a satisfying food-oriented thriller. Iulo details the intimate and mysterious powers of food as recipes, traditions, and shared memories hold families together through time. Hebaiter provokes us to consider the value of secretive, even illicit behaviors for enhancing the pleasures of food, with her cheekily rendered musing on purloined fruit from neighbors’ gardens.

In their contributions to this larger discussion of the intersection of values, morals, and food, Laura Titzer and Margaret Sessa-Hawkins explore from different angles the productive, generative nature of food work. In a reflection on the hard work that takes place on an organic farm, Titzer considers how the physicality of planting and harvesting tomatoes offers insight into the complexities of alternative food systems and the ideals of the inclusivity they promote. Sessa-Hawkins explores how a simple food like the apple can simultaneously include and exclude, as she learns to make homemade apple pie and new friends over a fire in Malawi, far from her family and home in Virginia.

Finally, in their contributions, Ali Fitzgerald and Shelly Errington push the boundaries of food studies formats by moving away from text-based analyses to more artistic forms of critical commentary. Through graphic arts, Fitzgerald and Errington illuminate the political dimensions of food, with Fitzgerald’s rendering of mushrooming in a post–Cold War Berlin and Errington’s musing on what capitalist consumption might mean for the Easter Bunny.

In closing, I invite you to dig into these pieces and allow them to inspire your own critical reflections on food and its role in our daily lives and the world around us.

Editor’s Letter, Summer 2013

from Gastronomica 13:2

Sitting down to write a letter as the new editor of Gastronomica is a thrilling, and perhaps somewhat terrifying, experience. Darra Goldstein, the founding editor, has left large shoes to fill. As a reader, I have long regarded Gastronomica as one of the most important spaces for food writing. As incoming editor, I aspire to bring you a journal that continues to feature the most innovative scholarship and writing in the field. I envision Gastronomica as a ‘‘kitchen table,’’ a space where writers and scholars come together to engage with critical, necessary, and sometimes even uncomfortable debates about the political, social, and moral dimensions of food and eating, not just in our own homes and backyards but throughout the world. My goal is that this forum, in turn, provokes debates among readers. I have always felt that because food is a mediator between the personal and the public, it offers a unique vantage point from which to investigate fundamental questions about the human condition, whether that is by thinking about the place of technology and science in our daily lives, by considering the many different ways people throughout the world balance pleasure and responsibility, or by contemplating how food is always and in every possible way thoroughly infused not just with nutrients but with moral values. In other words, I want us to peek into other people’s pantries, see their dirty dishes, and sit with them at their tables to discuss and understand their worlds and experiences from their perspectives. This is not merely culinary voyeurism but rather a collaborative project of commensality where we all learn from one another and where ‘‘good food’’ is really about finding ‘‘good’’ company.

I was trained as a social anthropologist and have long been fascinated by the political dimensions of food consumption. My work as a scholar is focused on the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Europe, but my interests as an editor and reader extend far beyond this subject. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I teach in the anthropology department, I am surrounded by a community of scholars known for producing provocative, multidisciplinary work on food and agriculture. I am proud to be part of a scholarly community that has, for six decades, shaped food studies research and set the gold standard for social and environmental justice. UC Santa Cruz has generously supported my efforts to assume this editorial position, and I am pleased to be working with an editorial team of graduate students.

As the incoming editor of Gastronomica, I feel incredibly privileged to follow in the footsteps of Darra Goldstein, who has been both an inspiration and a mentor to me, just as she has for many of you. As a graduate student, I became fascinated by Russian food culture, and not surprisingly, my studies led me to Darra’s path-breaking work in Russian literature and on food.

Beyond her work as a scholar, Darra has defined the field of food studies as the editor of Gastronomica and as series editor of the California Studies in Food and Culture series. For more than a decade, Darra has cultivated a community of authors dedicated to probing all dimensions of food, cooking, and eating. Gastronomica transformed how we think about food and food practices, teaching us to see food practices as complex cultural phenomena. I am thrilled to carry the journal forward.

It pleases me that our first issue is coming out at the beginning of summer, a season filled with community celebrations, vacations spent with family and friends, and the gradual transition to autumn. There is something palpably different about summer, a time when daily routines slow down to accommodate trips to the lake or beach, relaxing picnics, and enjoyable meals of fresh produce al fresco. It is also a time often associated with new, if not fleeting, love affairs.

This issue nicely captures the simple pleasures of summer, as the essays, poems, and articles collectively narrate a summertime romance with food. India Mandelkern’s essay, ‘‘Does the Foodie Have a Soul?’’ begins with a look at the deep historical roots of our love affair with food—and how we love talking about food. Erica Cavanagh’s essay, ‘‘Come and Eat,’’ poignantly expresses the joy of company that is encapsulated in a simple invitation to a meal, while the essays by Jean Ende, Lawrence-Minh Bu` i Davis, and Juliet Wilson provocatively show that food can just as easily be an impediment to intimacy. Expressions of familial love and the power of food traditions to keep families together are featured in the pieces by Greg Patent, Leigh Donaldson, Mary Lyn Koval, and Gina Ulysse. Helen Labun Jordan, Jared Demick, Sharon Hunt, Jake Young, and Courtney Balestier take us further afield by revisiting places that hold special places in their hearts. Nicole McFadden, Hillary Fogerty, Emily Bright, Barbara Crooker, and Kate Lebo offer declarations of love and appreciation for the beauties of food, even as Michael Lawrence provides a cautionary tale about the consequences of unreciprocated declarations. The two feature articles build on these themes of pleasure and intimacy. Judith Fan offers a fascinating account of the ‘‘Gastronomical revolution’’ that has emerged in Peru as part of a larger project of social change to cultivate a new form of national solidarity. Love of nation and cultural patrimony come through clearly in her article. Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere examine the formation of the Association of Food Journalists by women food editors in an effort to codify and legitimize the ethics of their profession at a time when women’s food writing was largely disparaged and women were excluded from professional organizations for journalists. As Voss and Speere show, an abiding commitment to their professional craft motivated these women to pursue food writing, a love and passion that we can all, perhaps, appreciate.

I hope you enjoy this issue, and I hope the various pieces remind you of your own summertime loves, perhaps inspiring new romantic thoughts and longings that will become treasured memories. Of course, summertime and summer loves are fleeting— and autumn and the next issue of Gastronomica are around the corner. Until then, may you eat and drink well, and enjoy the many pleasures of good company.

“GM or Death”: Food and Choice in Zambia | Christopher M. Annear

from Gastronomica 13:1 (originally published in Gastronomica 4:2)

Food is complicated nourishment that feeds more than the belly. As recent events in Zambia have shown, it has the capacity to make (or break) relationships before even a morsel is raised to lips. Last year Zambian president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa sparked international controversy when he banned genetically modified (GM) foods from entering Zambia, including in the form of famine aid. Since then, contentious debate has ensued that transcends questions regarding the relative virtue of GM foods, both in terms of nutritional safety and geoeconomic prudence. The potency of President Mwanawasa’s words and the strong international, almost exclusively Western, repudiations to his declaration reveal a tenuous relationship between African and Western donor countries over the topics of food aid and food values. What he has shown, in effect, is that food can constitute political poison even when gastronomically edible.

Mwanawasa’s GM food remarks drew—perhaps even courted—criticism from beyond the borders of his midsized south-central African country for his purported insensitivity to the food needs of his own people. Due to the effects of El Niño on the past two growing seasons (2001, 2002), southern Africa has been reported to be a virtual famine zone. Therefore, the posited relationship between food and affected African countries is often discussed as if it were linear and axiomatic: the hungry continent requires food, any food. In this article I discuss the paradox that, on the one hand, debate is encouraged concerning the possible health risks of certain foods for people who can buy it; yet, on the other, donor governments deny the right of choice to those people in countries who receive it at no immediate economic cost. I examine two ideas central to this controversy: one, that the privilege of food choice is present only in prosperous, industrialized countries; and two, that food is conceptualized symbolically, culturally, and ethically in a variety of ways. In sub-Saharan Africa this is no less the case than in Western countries, yet when Africans attempt to exercise choice concerning GM foods they are told: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”1 Such sentiments suggest that Africans are denied the right of free food choice because Western nations, many of which are also aid donors, have already tacitly determined the relationship of food pathways to and for Africa.

The news reports and opinion pieces published in response to President Mwanawasa’s decision have been less refutations of his argument against GM foods than comments on his perceived arrogance and ignorance at denying food to “his own starving people.” While this Western response to African hunger has been seen before, Mwanawasa’s initial declaration, and perhaps even more his stubborn adherence to an anti-GM stance, is rather less orthodox. In order to better analyze Mwanawasa’s political position this article will do what many others have not: it will reserve judgment long enough to examine the social, political, and gastronomic environment in Zambia that helped to generate the president’s antagonistic posture, articulated in one editorial as the choice between “GM or death.”2

Read more

We Are What We Eat | Paul D. Swanson

The Origins and Current Legal Status of “Natural” and “Organic” Food Labels

The cook plays an important part in the nourishability of food. Meals which are lovingly prepared with a profound desire for the welfare of the eater always benefit the body and mind more than do meals which are commercially prepared, or which have been prepared by someone who is indifferent to or dislikes the proposed eater. No one should cook when in a state of indifference, agitation, sorrow or anger.

From The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda, by Dr. Robert E. Svoboda

The most famous gastronome of them all, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, wrote in Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante (1826): “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” For some, such as Adelle Davis — Time magazine characterized her as “the high priestess of a new nutrition religion” in December 1972 — the consequences of our food choices are stark: “As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease.”

How do we know if we are supposedly building health, rather than unwittingly producing disease by what we consume? We resolve what economists call “informational asymmetry” by relying on food labels, brands and trademarks to confirm the authenticity and quality of our foodstuffs. But making “correct” food choices can be daunting and baffling. In her groundbreaking book, What to Eat, Dr. Marion Nestle estimates that there are around 320,000 food and beverage products available in the United States; and that the average supermarket stocks about 30,000 to 40,000 of them.[1] While we may not understand the true origins or makeup of what we put on our tables, most baby-boomers can tell you in a heartbeat that Rice Krispies go “snap, crackle and pop,” Lucky Charms are “magically delicious,” and Wonder Bread helps “build strong bodies in 8 ways.”

Two of the most symbolic words in food promotion nowadays are “organic” and “natural.” Generally defined, “natural” means “present in or produced by nature” and is not something “altered, treated or disguised,” but rather “faithfully represents nature or life.”[2] “Organic,” in its most abstract sense, means “simple, healthful, and close to nature.”[3] Both words hearken back to a pre-industrial age and share Edenic, utopian connotations. They imply a general distrust of chemical engineering and manufacturing processes. If we are what we eat, are we not closer to “nature” if we incorporate natural and organic foods into our diet? That is the compelling allure and implicit bargain of consuming organic and natural foods.

Read more

Crop Futures: How Surplus Breeds Demand | James Barnett

Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s pretend that human consumption of all soy products and bulk field corn dropped to zero in the coming marketing year, and that everyone knew this was going to occur. What would happen? Well, the prices of these commodities would probably drop back towards where they were circa 2000, an era when demand couldn’t keep up with rapidly improving yields and the entire concept of a grain shortage seemed like a quaint anachronism. The lower prices would presumably in turn reduce corn and soy planting to circa 2000 levels, which is about 10% less than where they are today. But even with virtually no human consumption of corn or soy, at least 90% of this land would still be used for a corn/soy rotation. The best farmland in the Corn Belt would barely see any change at all.

What this reveals is that the relationship between our eating habits and what gets planted on most of America’s farms is a lot less direct than we might imagine. Even with the local food movement taking root widely, industrial agriculture in this country holds its ground, because consumer choices influence only a marginal piece of this highly efficient operation. The ruthlessness with which businesses look to exploit an unused resource can be truly breathtaking. Name a by-product of virtually any agricultural operation, and someone will find a use for it. Heck, there is an active business in feeding chicken litter to cattle. Got something you don’t want to truck down to the landfill? What’s the caloric value of that stuff? Is it a decent source of protein? Maybe someone will take it off your hands.


Read more