Editor’s Letter, Summer 2015

from Gastronomica 15:2

It has become commonplace to think of food in terms of rights, including the right to access basic sustenance, the right to healthy food, and the right to culturally appropriate food. This idea that access to food is a right has been enshrined in the policies of many governments and organizations, ranging from the Constitution of the USSR and US-based programs such as federal food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) to the European Union’s Agricultural Policy and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and its Millennium Development Goals. In each case, the focus on rights to food illuminates ideals about the proper and necessary relationships between states and individuals. In some cases, the emphasis is on the proper actions of states to ensure the health and well-being of individuals, while in others, the emphasis is on the proper behavior of individuals as a condition of accessing food.

This emphasis on proper behavior and proper relationships illuminates another aspect of food: rites. Food and food practices are never neutral but always shaped by rules, values, and cultural logics. Thus to turn food into a right requires following particular rules for what kinds of food are possible, how they are distributed and consumed, and how different actors in the relationship behave. It is by following these rules that food is transformed into something more: a marker of humanity, a facet of citizenship, an incentive or barrier to foreign policy negotiations, or even a solution to global problems. In many ways, this shift from rights to rites reminds us that all food-related activities are performative.

In different ways, the contributors to this issue of Gastronomica are exploring rites and rituals to think through the cultural systems of rules that shape food use. In some cases, the rites and rituals are explicit, such as in the essay by Gary Fine and Christine Simonian Bean on the significance of banquets in American political activity, most notably the partisan nature of food and meals for political campaigns. In his essay on Japanese gastronomy, Scott Haas describes how Japanese chefs seek to educate diners about the uniquely Japanese qualities of this cuisine by illuminating culinary rules and the rationale—the cultural logic—behind these rules. In both essays, national identities become politicized through specific rules and rituals governing food.

Yet food rituals are never static, but always dynamic and in formation, as the essays by Joe Weintraub and Maryann Tebben demonstrate. Focusing on how French culinary practices have come into existence over time, Joe Weintraub uses the writings of nineteenth-century French food critic Eugène-Vincent Briffault to consider the invention of dinner as a social and culinary event. Taking on an even narrower category within the French culinary repertoire, Maryann Tebben examines how the French dessert course was transformed from being a fully edible entity in the seventeenth century to an aesthetic object in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and then to its current form as an object that conveys multiple symbolic messages.

A subtheme running through all of the essays is the tension between practice and discourse: what people do versus what they say or write. In some cases, the rules of rituals are more apparent in discourse because there is a form of documentation. Yet the rules embodied by nonverbal practices are no less real or legible. Legibility in different registers is at the heart of Dylan Gottlieb’s essay on a very contemporary, dynamic, and mobile form of food criticism: the use of Yelp and other forms of social media to evaluate and communicate food experiences. Although the social media format of consumers’ personal accounts of their food and dining encounters suggests a more democratic, even anarchic, form of communication, Yelp reviews are public performances that are highly scripted in the types of information that are presented, the audiences that are anticipated, and the qualities that are evaluated. Social media simply creates a new stage for the enactment of food rituals.

These themes of rites, rules, and performance are critically examined, unmade, and remade in the essay on food hacking by Denisa Kera, Zack Denfeld, and Cat Kramer. Employing a strategy that is part ethnographic case study, part manifesto for alternative ways to view and engage with the underlying structures and rules governing food—from the molecular to the social—Kera, Denfeld, and Kramer not only persuasively challenge prevailing assumptions about the proper ways to engage and think about food, but also offer new approaches for reimagining food.

The contributors to the creative reflections section of this issue also examine topics that remind us of the performative, ritual, rule-bound nature of food. James Nolan presents a profound conundrum familiar to anyone who has ever eaten alone in a restaurant: when is solo dining a publicly shared social experience, and when does it violate cultural norms about who is allowed to eat in a public setting. Similarly playing with questions about appropriate forms of social interaction, Brett Busang uses the case of Southern barbecue to link the micropolitics of family food rituals with larger American socioeconomic events. Through a whimsical account of finding and cooking with weeds in Australia, Tom Celebrezze asks us to think about how recipes are made, unmade, and remade through associational connections among remembered flavors, places, and people.

Finally, both Heather Richie and Corina Zappia reflect on the rules that are embedded in performative rites of identity. In Richie’s case, Cracker Barrel offers a lens for fundamental questions about what it means to be not just a Southerner or an American, but a member of a family. In Zappia’s case, the question is about how authenticity is performed and reified through food rules: namely, how does one demonstrate being authentically Filipino or even authentically Filipino-American when there is a conflict between knowing the cultural norms about the foods one should eat to demonstrate an authentic identity and the personal enjoyment of those foods. By describing an alternative set of food rules, Zappia presents a compelling case for multiple performances of authentic identity.

The Thorniest Catch | John Grossmann

from Gastronomica 15:1

Sitka, Alaska resident Jim Michener knows that spring has arrived by the sentinel smell of a natural phenomenon he compares to stampeding herds in the Serengeti or bygone sky-darkening flocks of passenger pigeons over the Midwest. After a long winter, Michener will awake one morning in late March or early April and detect “the first whiff of the ocean” he’s had in five months. What’s caught the nose of this 44-year-old former charter fisherman and wilderness survival instructor for the US Coast Guard is an age-old hallmark of Sitka, the subtle tang of the annual herring spawn: the smell of dormant waters rebooting with life. This spawn, loosed from hundreds of millions of herring, inundates bays and shoreline waters with roe and milt, turning them milky white. Plankton bloom and mix with the spawn in the Alaskan waters Michener now uses in other months for his salt-making business, coloring the normally incredibly clear seawater a mesmerizing Caribbean green.


Aqua-colored plankton and milk-white herring roe and milt signal the annual rebooting of aquatic life in Sitka Sound.
Photograph by John Grossmann © 2014

Whales and sea lions and bald eagles come to Sitka to prey on the herring. As do an elite group of fishermen who annually vie in a high stakes, multiday competition that sometimes takes place in the harbor immediately offshore Sitka’s downtown on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska. On such occasions, stores close their doors, not because the shopkeepers have gone fishing, rather because they’ve gone to watch fishing. Spectators line the shore and stand shoulder to shoulder on the town’s bridge to watch the frenzied action of a fishery unlike any other, a precisely timed, macho haul of massive schools of ready-to-spawn fish nowadays captured in YouTube videos with titles like “The Shoot Out,” a fishery still basking in the glow of the single set that netted a lucky boat nearly a million dollars.

High overhead, a dozen or more spotter planes, many assisting multiple captains, radio where they see dark masses of fish. The sound teems with boats. Four-dozen permitted commercial fishing vessels, many outfitted with custom engines capable of 22 knots, jockey for position, awaiting the countdown from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), which oversees the fishery. Most of these boats are 58-foot seiners. Each has a small seine skiff that dashes off on a huge arc, bearing one end of a 200-fathom-long purse seine that soon rejoins the countercircling mother boat, fashioning an aquatic lasso big enough to surround a football field. That’s only about half of the boats in play. About a dozen Boston Whalers dart about like water bugs in the manner of roving pit crews, assisting with net closures and filling buckets with test samples for the processing plants. Standing by are dozens of tender boats. When the call comes, one will pull alongside a bulging purse seine, lower a hose the diameter of a municipal water pipe into the churning, silvery catch, pump ton after ton of fish aboard, and then shuttle them to shore for brining and flash freezing for shipment to the Far East. To monitor the catch, ADF&G staffs five boats. The spectacle even has a frame: nearby snow-capped mountains, including the blown volcanic top of Mt. Edgecumbe.


Forty-eight licensed seiners, most aided by spotter planes, compete for a closely-monitored catch—almost all of which is bound for Japan.
Photograph by Kevin Fisher © 2014

A day’s fishery might last an hour or two. Or as little as fifteen minutes, should ADF&G’s on-the-fly assessment of the collective haul reach the handling capacity of the three local processors or, say, on day two or three, the guideline quota for the annual harvest. Word will go out over VHF radio. “Five minutes.” Then, “Ten, nine, eight…” Like a basketball loosed after the buzzer, an unsecured seine net, post-countdown, goes for naught. It must relinquish its prey.

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Editor’s Letter, Spring 2015

from Gastronomica 15:1

Happy 2015. We at Gastronomica hope that your new year has gotten off to a good start and that you are ready for another series of insightful articles and inspiring images about the world of food. I am especially pleased that this first issue of 2015 features the inaugural Distinguished Lecture sponsored by our partnership with the University of London’s SOAS Food Studies Centre. In November 2014, famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi delivered a riveting lecture on tradition and identity in Jerusalem. The lecture was accompanied by a delicious goodie-box dinner made in one of his London kitchens—and that I enjoyed in Heathrow, while waiting for the plane back to San Francisco, blissfully indulging in the treats while my fellow passengers were forced to make do with airport food. As we experienced during his lecture and through the goodie box, Chef Ottolenghi’s style is inspired both by his Middle Eastern upbringing and by creative influences from around the world. Through words and images, and the flavors of his food, Chef Ottolenghi invited his audience to travel with him to Jerusalem and experience a city of richly diverse cultures and histories. It was a thought-provoking lecture that upended stereotypes and encouraged respectful discussion and debate about the nature of heritage, tradition, and identity in contested spaces. It also served as the illustrious launching of the SOAS/Gastronomica Distinguished Lecture series, and I hope that you find his essay here as engrossing and thoughtful as we did.



Chef Ottolenghi’s call for more nuanced and complex understandings of food, tradition, and identity nicely leads into the other articles in this issue, beginning with careful studies by India Mandelkern and A.R. Ruis on the role of food in therapeutic practices. In her deep history of therapeutic gustation, Mandelkern documents how beliefs about health relate to long-standing concerns over the curative properties of certain tastes. Taking a different but equally revealing approach, Ruis shows how cultural beliefs about the pomegranate have informed medicinal recommendations and uses. Lara Anderson, Heather Merle Benbow, and Naa Ako-Adjei, meanwhile, present intriguing accounts of how identity and heritage can be reified and commodified, often in ways that disassociate foods from their actual origins and uses. In their article on Australian food cultures, Anderson and Benbow critically examine how the contradictions between Australia’s cultural ethos of multiculturalism and a striking culinary xenophobia in public discourse provide insights into domestic debates about immigration. Ako-Adjei also turns her attention to public and media representations of culinary heritage and shows how Americans misunderstand and misrecognize African foods and culinary traditions. Particularly intriguing are the limits of gastronomic journalism and the complicity of food writers in obscuring the richness and diversity of African cuisines.

Finally, the photoessay by David Bacon and creative reflections by Zachary Nowak, John Grossmann, Grace M. Cho, Rebecca Dimyan, and Jeff DeBellis each encourage thoughtful discussions about the pleasures and displeasures of food and food work, whether it is the physical labor of planting, tilling, fishing, picking, and preparing food, the emotional and psychological labors that food work provokes or alleviates, or even the politically charged inspirations and consequences of food work. In each case, these contributors shed light on the multiple and shifting layers of the activities that bring food to the table.

In closing, I want to remember Sheila Levine, former Editorial Director for the University of California Press, who passed away in September. Sheila was instrumental in working with former Gastronomica editor Darra Goldstein to create and shape both Gastronomica and the Food Studies list at the University of California Press. Sheila’s influence is clearly everywhere in the field of Food Studies. More personally, Sheila was my editor and mentor, as well as a dear friend. I will miss her greatly, and I hope that the journal will continue to honor her memory.

Spring 2015, Volume 15, Number 1

Spring 2015, Volume 15, Number 1

FROM THE EDITOR
Editor’s Letter | Melissa L. Caldwell

2014 SOAS DISTINGUISHED LECTURE
Jerusalem on a Plate: Identity, Tradition, and Ownership | Yotam Ottolenghi

RESEARCH ESSAYS
Taste-Based Medicine | India Mandelkern

Pomegranate and the Mediation of Balance in Early Medicine | A.R. Ruis

Cultural Indigestion in Multicultural Australia: Fear of “Foreign” Foods in Australian Media | Lara Anderson and Heather Merle Benbow

How Not to Write About Africa: African Cuisines in Food Writing | Naa Baako Ako-Adjei

VISUAL ESSAY
Hard Labor in the Organic Potato Field | David Bacon

CREATIVE REFLECTIONS
The Thorniest Catch | John Grossmann

The Men Who Planted Trees: How the Truffle Saved Provence | Zachary Nowak

Madame Mushroom | Grace M. Cho

Picking Tomatoes at Midnight | Rebecca Dimyan

Shoot First, Make Breakfast Later | Jeff DeBellis

REVIEW ESSAY
Distinction and Dining | Gary Alan Fine

REVIEWS
San Francisco: A Food Biography By Erica J. Peters, Reviewed by Sarah Bakker Kellogg

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing By Anya von Bremzen, Reviewed by Anton Masterovoy

Rice Talks: Food and Community in a Vietnamese Town By Nir Avieli, Reviewed by Sarah G. Grant

The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India By Sarah Besky, Reviewed by Alexandra Hatzakis

Semiotics of Drink and Drinking By Paul Manning, Reviewed by Sierra Burnett Clark

Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture By Isabelle de Solier, Reviewed by Kelila Jaffe

Food, Farms, and Solidarity: French Farmers Challenge Industrial Agriculture and Genetically Modified Crops By Chaia Heller, Reviewed by Hélène B. Ducros

Food Co-ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy By Anne Meis Knupfer, Reviewed by Alison Hope Alkon

The Industrial Diet: The Degradation of Food and the Struggle for Healthy Eating By Anthony Winson, Reviewed by Robert Paarlberg

BOOKS RECEIVED

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

from Gastronomica 14:3

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

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



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


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

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