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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