Editor’s Letter, Fall 2013

from Gastronomica 13:3

This year marks the release of the tenth anniversary edition of Marion Nestle’s pathbreaking Food Politics. With that book, Professor Nestle shook up the food industry, food studies scholarship, and the ways in which ordinary consumers understand the convoluted and often collusive intersections of politics, industry, and science that influence the production of the foods we put into our bodies. I am pleased that this issue of Gastronomica features an interview with Professor Nestle, where she reflects on the impact of her book and offers insights into where we – as scholars, enthusiasts, eaters, and citizens – need to put our energies next in order to continue to reform the food industry.

This past spring quarter, I taught my upper-division course “Anthropology of Food.” The majority of my students are food enthusiasts in some fashion: some are active in community food justice initiatives, others are involved in campus sustainability efforts, and most are passionate about healthy eating and ethical eating, not to mention the art and appreciation of eating. But as anthropology students, they are all committed to the challenge of thoughtful critical inquiry into how people throughout the world use, think about, and value food. Class discussions often become quite boisterous as students debate what makes food healthy, desirable, and pleasurable, whether food choices should be personal decisions or are the responsibility of governments and communities, and the ethics of giving and withholding food in different political contexts. They love talking about food, and our classroom conversations often carry over into hallway chats, section meetings, and online forums. Given their enthusiasm for thinking and talking about food, I was thus somewhat surprised when they were uncharacteristically silent one day. I had planned a session on molecular gastronomy, and my father-in-law, a retired chemist, had generously agreed to demonstrate some simple molecular gastronomy techniques and discuss the science behind the techniques, thereby demystifying “molecular gastronomy” and showing how it was simply part of the repertoire of basic chemistry that ordinary cooks use at home every day. Our “equipment” included an official “molecular gastronomy” kit, basic “chemistry” ingredients such as xanthan gum and soy lecithin that I had picked up from my local grocery store, and tools scavenged from my own kitchen and my husband’s professional chemistry toolbox.

My objective for the session was to challenge students to grapple with the fundamental question of “what is food”: how ingredients and foods can be transformed from one state into another by exploring the shifting terrain between food science and food art; how expectations may differ from reality in terms of the flavors, textures, and ingredients of food; and how cultural assumptions about forms of technology, the settings where food production occurs, and the individuals who make food affect the values (and prices) placed on those foods. The students were enthralled by the experiments, the science discussion, and, of course, the samples. They appreciated the foamed fruit and the raspberry sphericals, but they especially loved the apple pie that I had made and were amazed when I revealed that it was not, in fact, an apple pie but a mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers. However, the students were reticent to engage in critical discussion afterward, which was not like them at all.

I initially assumed that, despite their interest in the principles of molecular gastronomy, they felt a vague sense of discomfort at the idea of “denaturing” food through “mechanical” means, i.e., turning food into something else, such as making Ritz crackers taste like apples, or simply at the idea of a failed experiment that might end with food being thrown away. After much probing, what we collectively discovered was more surprising: they were uncomfortable with the idea that it was acceptable to play with food. They acknowledged that they had internalized an American cultural value that it was bad manners, and even immoral, to do so. Many reflected that when they were children, they were scolded for such ordinary things as putting pitted olives on their fingers, building mashed potato volcanoes, and mixing multiple foods together into an unappetizing mush that only the dog would eat. That realization then opened up a far more interesting discussion about the seriousness of food and the importance of creativity, personal interest, and even personal pleasure. We thought carefully about how play and experimentation were necessary both to food and eating (how else would new recipes or new technologies ever come about?), and to the intellectual study of food. And we discussed how playfulness enhanced and celebrated the pleasurable parts of the otherwise serious activities of growing, cooking, and eating food.

This issue is devoted to playfulness and creativity – the tweaking of expectations, the upending of conventions and norms, the sense of adventure that comes from trying new things, the delight in the unexpected. As the contributors to this issue reveal, there is beauty, grace, humility, and not a little humor in our encounters with something new, something different. Each in its unique way, the contributions in this issue highlight the importance of play, creativity, and inspiration to how we experience and appreciate food.

In some cases, playfulness evokes the giddy thrill that comes from searching out something rare and hidden, as in Meredith Bethune’s and Jimmy Schwartz’s reflections on the pleasures and pitfalls of mushroom hunting, or in Brian Gersten’s cheekily thoughtful reminiscence of how an urban journey into the culinary wilderness in search of unusual meats opens up critical questions about taste, novelty, and ethics. In other cases, playfulness encourages us to take the familiar and find new ways to enjoy it, as with Barbara Crooker’s celebration of the nectarine or Kate Lebo’s contemplation of rhubarb. In still other cases, playfulness invites us to venture outside our comfort zones and explore new worlds and forge new relationships. R.J. Fox’s essay, “The First Supper,” delightfully recounts how the trip to meet a beloved partner’s family entails adventures in food and drink around a Ukrainian dinner table. In a similar vein, Enrique Fernández reflects on how the immigration experience itself is an exercise in imagining and encountering the Other and its food. For Amy Gentry, it is the play and creativity of Rob Connoley, an unconventional chef, that makes possible a wild but rewarding culinary ride that is not for the faint-of-heart but something to be appreciated and savored by similarly adventurous souls. Fox, Fernández, and Gentry help us to imagine how a bit of creative bravery might take us on journeys we never had thought possible before.

Creativity and play are also what drive innovation. Not only does innovation ensure the potential for newness in our lives, it allows food cultures to travel and eventually settle in distant places. In her research essay on food habits in the United Kingdom, Anne Murcott elegantly details the evolution of British cookery and the history behind such familiar traditions as a “cuppa” and the “fish supper.” Kristy Leissle provides a fascinating account of the rise of artisanal chocolate in West Africa and how West African cocoa production has been in fact the backbone of the modern candy industry. Yet innovation and change may also have unintended consequences that raise important questions about whether what is new and different is always better, an issue that Jennifer Patico explores in her research brief on the many problems sparked by a honey bun in a school vending machine. Nutritional beliefs, economic realities, and the highly charged world of moral parenting – all are evoked by a simple packaged snack.

Ultimately, the contributions to this issue highlight that much of the pleasure we associate with food comes precisely from our ability to play with it – to experiment, to venture beyond how we cook and eat in our everyday lives, and to appreciate the infinite possibilities for relationships, traditions, and imagination that food can enable. And as my students recognized, food play does not devalue the importance of food, denature it, or necessarily entail wasteful frivolousness. Rather, play is a serious exercise in and of itself. Play requires thoughtful consideration, responsible oversight, and a deep commitment to acknowledging the necessity of both bodily and intellectual satisfaction. In that light, I hope that you enjoy this issue and that it inspires you to imagine or, better yet, to engage in, some play of your own.

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.

Summer 2013, Volume 13, Number 2

from the editor
Editor’s Letter | Melissa L. Caldwell

Does the Foodie have a Soul? | India Aurora Mandelkern

invitation to a feast
Come and Eat | Erica Cavanagh

Emily Dickinson Bakes Her Famous Coconut Cake | Emily K. Bright

celebrating family, friends, and traditions
Angel Food Cake: Just Heavenly! | Greg Patent

Dad’s Garden | Mary Lyn Koval

History in the Pot | Leigh Donaldson

Labouyi Bannann | Gina Athena Ulysse

Lemon Meringue | Kate Lebo

picnics by the sea
Clam Digging | Helen Labun Jordan

Tasting a Landscape: On the New Nordic Cuisine | Jared Demick

Rolling on the Beach | Sharon Hunt

Highway 1 | Jake Young

Can ideas about food inspire real social change? The case of Peruvian gastronomy | Judith E. Fan

Food Fight: Accusations of Press Agentry, a Case for Ethics and the Development of the Association of Food Journalists | Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere

love letters
Dearest Basil | Nicole McFadden

Of Pepperoni Rolls and Soup Beans: On What it Might Mean to Eat Like a West Virginian | Courtney Balestier

Exposition on Baking Baklava | Hillary Fogerty

BLT | Barbara Crooker

I Can’t Write a Poem About MCDonald’s | Barbara Crooker

love, anxiety, and loss
Take us off Solid Food for the Foreseeable Future: The Landscape of Food-Allergic America | Lawrence-Minh Bu` i Davis

Ina & Friends | Michael Lawrence

Foodies | Jean Ende

Papayas and Lemons | Juliet Wilson

Review Essay: What’s Growing on? | Jason Mark

The Discourses of Food in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Breaking Through Concrete: Building An Urban Farm Revival

just desserts
How to Love Yourself After Work | Shelly Errington

Cover: ©Alexander Maksimenko, iStockPhoto.com

The Fine Art of Feeding the Hungry | Dianne Jacob

from Gastronomica 3:4

You rush out the door of your local supermarket, laden with goodies for the holiday table, envisioning the feasts ahead. As you exit, you see a barrel next to the door, pleading for food. As a good citizen, knowing that the holidays are when people recognize the less fortunate, you throw in a few cans of tuna. Do you wonder what happens to your tuna, and whether it gets to the people who need it most?

The people who need it most are, quite simply, the hungry in America. These people are not just the homeless. The hungry are low-income children and adults, including the elderly, the working poor, the unemployed, the disabled, survivors of domestic abuse, recovering substance abusers, felons, and AIDS victims. They include families and, increasingly, the working poor, who have to stand in line at soup kitchens and visit food pantries. The food they receive often comes from their local food bank.

John Jackson sorts food and other grocery items in the Food Bank’s warehouse. He is one of hundreds of volunteers the Food Bank depends on to get the food onto warehouse shelves. Photograph by David Bacon @2003

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