The Race against Rot: Gastronomica’s New Editorial Team Weighs In on Saving Food

Compiled and edited by Anelyse M. Weiler, Sarah Elton, and Josée Johnston.

Gastronomica’s incoming editorial team gathered in Toronto this past fall to discuss the future of food studies and pressing issues for food scholars today. The new team explored the theme of “saving food” as part of a public roundtable hosted by the University of Toronto’s Culinaria Research Centre. What questions should researchers and food studies practitioners be prioritizing to address the issue of saving food? What are some of the creative new ways of exploring the field? What needs saving, who ought to do it, and what should be left to molder away? To hear what Gastronomica’s new editorial team thinks about these issues in food studies, we asked (some of) them to weigh in on four questions, including a fun glimpse into how they “save” food in their own kitchens.

  • Simone Cinotto (Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Gastronomic
    Sciences)
  • Paula Johnson (Curator at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History)
  • Eric C. Rath (Professor of History at the University of Kansas)
  • Krishnendu Ray (Associate Professor and Chair of Nutrition and Food Studies at New
    York University)
  • Signe Rousseau (Lecturer in Critical Literacy and Professional Communication at the University of Cape Town)
  • Amy Trubek (Professor in Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont)
  • Robert Valgenti (Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College)
  • Helen Zoe Veit (Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University)

What does food need to be saved from?

Johnson: Imagine a world without field plows and fishing boats, cauldrons and cooking tools, family recipes and restaurant menus, culinary correspondence and kitchen stories from places and people in the past. That world, bereft of the historical material culture of food, would be a dismal and oblivious place without tangible connections to the ideas, innovations, and understandings about food, in the broadest sense, from those who came before us. Curators, librarians, and archivists are savers. Through collecting, preserving, and providing public access to rich materials, we help researchers discover treasure troves of data
about who we are, where we’ve been, and what has mattered over time. Our collections continue to reveal new insights on diverse aspects of food history—cultural, social, political, environmental, technological. They provide evidence of people and places that might otherwise be forgotten. And because they are saved for perpetuity, we can only imagine how new
technologies, such as the experimental (emerging?) field of proteomics, might uncover new layers of insight through the analysis of proteins left on the literal pages of history.

Rath: Not all historians recognize the importance of food, though! Food needs to be saved from its perceived banality. It’s not just consumers who take food for granted by expecting seventy brands of breakfast cereal in the supermarket and watermelon in the winter. For far too long historians, particularly in my field of Japanese history, have simply ignored food unless it is relevant to crises such as famine or war. Yet, food is always central to daily life and it needs to be made central to history in the same way that gender, race, or class cannot be ignored.

Rousseau: On the other hand, food needs to be saved from being fetishized, and wasted.

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Editor’s Letter, Summer 2017

from Gastronomica 17:2

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Milk that comes straight from the source at a dairy farm near Manchester, England.
Photograph by Andrew G. Baker © 2015

Authenticity is one of those qualities that have proved especially vexing to those of us who are concerned with food matters. It is not simply the question of what makes something authentic, but also the question of what “authentic” means. Most often, what counts as “authentic” is imagined as an absolute state that can be quantified in some way, whether through aesthetic presentation, a specific combination of ingredients, sensory experiences, or the particular origin story attached to a dish or meal. Yet as Arjun Appadurai noted many years ago, authenticity is less an absolute state of existence than it is a relative category. More significantly, it is a relative category that is inherently and explicitly moral. As Appadurai wrote in his essay “On Culinary Authenticity”: “authenticity measures the degree to which something is more or less what it ought to be. It is thus a norm of some sort.” Appadurai then queried the nature of this norm: “But is it an immanent norm, emerging somehow from the cuisine itself? Or is it an external norm, reflecting some imposed gastronomic standard? If it is an immanent norm, who is its authoritative voice…? If it is an imposed norm, who is its privileged voice?” (Appadurai 1986: 25).

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Summer 2017, Volume 17 Number 2

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

RESEARCH BRIEF
The Price of Harmony: The Ideology of Japanese Cuisine | Scott Haas

RESEARCH ESSAYS
PB&J: The Rise and Fall of an Iconic American Dish | Steve Estes

Free to Serve? Emergency Food and Volunteer Labor in the Urban U.S. | Maggie Dickinson

From Sensory Capacities to Sensible Skills: Experimenting with El Celler
de Can Roca | Ana María Ulloa, Josep Roca, and Hèloïse Vilaseca

Turning Passion into Profession: A History of Craft Beer in Italy |
Matteo Fastigi and Jillian R. Cavanaugh

Commensality, Politics, and Plato | Michael Jackson and Damian Grace

CREATIVE REFLECTIONS
Lee Makes Rugelach | Misha Volf

The Wonder of Bread: Teaching University Students the Cost of Eating
with Their Hands | Eric Pallant

REVIEW ESSAYS
Innovative Directions in Philosophy of/through Food | Joey Tuminello

The Rewards of (Gluten) Intolerance | Bethany F. Econopouly
and Stephen S. Jones

REVIEWS
Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel
By Yael Raviv, Reviewed by Richard Klin

Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit

By Andrew Moore, Reviewed by Khristopher Flack

Thirsty Dragon: China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the

World’s Best Wines
By Suzanne Mustacich, Reviewed by Jean DeBernardi

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

By Bee Wilson, Reviewed by Lexi Earl

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production

By Sarah Bowen, Reviewed by Lindi Masur

BOOKS AND FILMS RECEIVED

Editor’s Letter, Spring 2017

from Gastronomica 17:1

Is there such a thing as a perfect food? A perfect meal? A perfect dining experience? And if so, what would it be like? Would it be a dream come true, would it exceed expectations, or would it be a disappointment because the reality could not match the desire?

For something that ultimately satisfies the most basic of biological needs, food has a curious relationship to notions of perfection, most notably beliefs about what constitutes an ideal or even perfect world. For far too many people around the world struggling with food insecurity, it is basic access to food and water that would be the ideal. For those with stable access to foods, however, often ideals of perfection are expressed through differential values associated with particular foods or the ways in which foods are produced, presented, and consumed.

Food’s place within utopian visions was the theme of the 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, which was held in Melbourne in early December 2016. Food scholars, writers, practitioners, and gastronomes of all sorts gathered from around the world to discuss and experiment with different visions of what might constitute a food utopia. Inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, published five hundred years ago, symposium participants drew connections between More’s idealistic visions with those of other utopian thinkers and activists, such as Charles Fourier’s ideas about gastrosophy, Soviet-era socialist planners who imagined possibilities for liberation through communal dining, NASA scientists who dreamed of what farms and gardens might look like in space colonies of the future, and even contemporary scientists working in the fields of synthetic biology and hospitality management to create new technologically perfect foods and food experiences. Yet despite the prevailing sentiment of progress and improvement embedded in many utopian dreams, the realities are often far from ideal, and may, in fact, introduce new problems—a reminder compellingly presented by Darra Goldstein, the founder and previous editor of Gastronomica, in her brilliant keynote lecture about the myths of abundance promised by early Soviet politicians and socialist activists.

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