As I write this letter in August, here in the United States where I live and work, we are gearing up for our national elections, which will be held in early November. By the time this issue is published, the elections will be over and we will know the outcome. As I reflect on this election season, I am struck by the fact that food themes have been curiously absent. In the U.S., presidential candidates and other political leaders have long been connected to particular foods and food issues, as if those foods conveyed a particular set of qualities or values associated with those individuals. In the 1928 presidential elections, a local chapter of the Republican Party published an advertisement in The New York Times endorsing Herbert Hoover, promising that a Hoover presidency would ensure not just “a chicken in every pot,” but “a car in every backyard, to boot.” After Hoover won the presidency, rival campaigns during the 1932 presidential campaign held him accountable for not following through on this promise. Promises of food as a path to prosperity and social justice continued to color American presidential campaigns, with John F. Kennedy promoting a food stamp program that he then initiated after he was elected. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, subsequently pushed the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that made the food stamp program permanent. Johnson has since been credited with introducing measures to expand governmental programs to provide food assistance to low-income families, especially children.
Personal food preferences have also been part of presidential campaigns, as candidates have been associated with individual foods and observers have sought to link those foods to ideas about the character and personality of the candidates. President Jimmy Carter’s Southern heritage was associated with peanuts, whereas President Ronald Reagan was often remembered for his preference for jelly beans, a candy. President George H.W. Bush was remembered more for the food he disliked—broccoli—a dislike with which many Americans identified, particularly in a moment when debates about legislating health and healthy eating represented larger concerns with personal choice versus the intrusion of the “nanny state” in citizens’ ordinary lives.
Retro food stands invoking 1950s and 1960s Moscow offer hot corn on the cob, drinks, and ice cream to passersby enjoying Moscow’s City Day along Tverskaya ulitsa.
I am writing this letter from Moscow, where I am spending a few days visiting friends. I was eager to return after a year away, not simply to catch up with loved ones but also to find out what was happening with Russia’s food scene following the bans on foreign food products that were instituted last summer and the recent reports about fake foods and the destruction of contraband food imports.
I arrived on the eve of Moscow’s City Day celebrations, and discovered that the anniversary themes focused on the city’s history as told through cultural, artistic, and technological innovations. For a city celebrating its 868th year, that is a lot of history and innovations, and much of that lengthy span was held together by placing a special emphasis on food in Russia’s capital city: the “Capital City Gastronomic Festival.” Neighborhoods all around Moscow were organized around subthemes that evoke the historical contexts of those particular regions: “National Supper” in the region closest to the federal and city government buildings; “Soviet Dinner” just outside Red Square and the Kremlin; “Farmers’ Dinner” in a square that was once a farmers’ market; “Theater Buffet” in one of the oldest neighborhoods with numerous theaters and the celebrated theater university; and “Literary Dinner” in the square ringed by the major newspaper and book publishing houses. At the center of each designated neighborhood was a cluster of food stalls, each decorated to look like peasant cottages and promoting regional food specialties, stages for musical performances, and organized activities reflecting the neighborhood’s assigned subthemes. In the “Literary Dinner” neighborhood, for instance, visitors sampled local food treats while receiving free issues and other goodies from the many Moscow-based newspapers and publishers. The focus was on both Eating Locally and Reading Locally. Along Tverskaya Ulitsa, the main boulevard that leads to Red Square and the Kremlin, visitors walked through the centuries of Moscow’s past and not only saw but had the opportunity to taste foods from “the past”—including cafeteria-style foods sold from a Soviet-era stolovaya (cafeteria).
Moscow’s focus on food, and on local food, whether rendered as regional, historic, or national, is apparent elsewhere in the city, most notably in an explicit aesthetic of nostalgia. Ice cream carts and beverage vending machines from the 1950s and 1960s have taken up residence in food courts and along busy city streets. Food shop clerks are dressed in the blue-and-white aprons and hats that were more common during the socialist and early postsocialist eras in state-run stores. And noticeable among the Russian food products on store shelves is a return to Soviet-era packaging styles.
What are we to make of this? On the one hand, this effort can be seen as a glorification of food patriotism and food nationalism, a topic that is near and dear to my heart and that I have discussed before. On the other hand, it is important to remember that what seems to be very political can also be quite personal. It is equally possible that these food events are as much about familiarity and comfort, or even irony, as they are about making an international political statement. Foods contain and convey messages at multiple levels and to multiple audiences, and those messages may change according to the historical and cultural context or even with regard to how a particular audience receives and decodes them. For me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of food studies: food makes us think and makes us question. Food is knowledge, and knowledge can be food. As one of Moscow’s bookstores put it in an advertisement in their window this week: “Books are pizza for the brain.” Perhaps by extension, pizza—or any other food—can be a book for the stomach.
Moscow residents celebrate Moscow’s City Day at the “Literary Dinner” square located at Tverskaya metro station, right in the center of the central media and publishing house district.
A 1950s/1960s–themed beverage cart offering flavored waters sits nestled alongside a hot food stand offering fajitas (fakhitas) and American-style barbeque.
It is this power of food to provoke, to inspire, to communicate, and to satiate that runs through the contributions to this issue of Gastronomica. These are, in many ways, eclectic pieces that touch on very diverse topics. As editor, I hope that every issue’s contributions are meaty and stimulating, but there is something about this particular issue and the diversity of topics and viewpoints that I have found especially thought-provoking. In various ways, each of the contributions has raised critical issues and questions that have challenged me to think differently. It is truly a literary feast.
Hungry Moscow residents grab a quick bite to eat in a Soviet-style cafeteria. Traditional cafeterias like these have quietly disappeared in Moscow as they have been replaced by sit-down restaurants and cafés.
The first piece is, naturally enough, pizza-related. Zachary Nowak presents a lively and detailed interview with Antonio Mattozzi about his recent book, Inventing the Pizzeria. Their conversation is not so much about a book as it is a history of a family and a culinary tradition that invites us to reconsider what we believe we know about pizza and family businesses. This interview is followed by a series of research briefs that raise new questions and offer new directions of research for food. Chika Watanabe’s essay on waste and philosophies of circulation forces us to think seriously about what a truly sustainable system of local agriculture might look like and whether consumers would be comfortable with their personal roles in sustainability initiatives. Watanabe also opens up possibilities for rethinking terroir and taste of place: when we take waste seriously, can we also talk about a “taste of person”? Anna Harris continues this thread of productive discomfort by suggesting that there are sensory deficits in approaching food through taste, smell, touch, and vision; and she asks what happens if we consider the sounds of food and food work. While sound has been important for food manufacturers in terms of how they design products, it has so far evaded critical inquiry among scholars and even ordinary consumers. Harris provides an entry point for thinking about a fuller sensory spectrum and the implications of paying attention to the sounds our food makes.
In their essays, Levi Van Sant and Ernesto Hernández-López tackle the political dimensions of the sensory qualities of food. For Hernández-López, it is about the legal, social, and cultural implications of the problems faced by the California-based company that makes Sriracha, the popular hot sauce, when local residents complained about the fumes believed to emanate from the factory, and by extension presented a political critique of the people associated with those sensory experiences. Van Sant takes on an equally charged topic by considering the racial politics contained within a culinary tradition constructed as part of a unique heritage culture: that of Lowcountry cuisine in South Carolina. By looking at constructions of heritage, taste, race, and class across popular cookbooks, Van Sant critically examines how tastes are deeply embedded in experiences of race and class. What makes this piece especially powerful is that the setting at the heart of Van Sant’s essay is Charleston, the site of recent horrific events that have laid bare some of the very issues that Van Sant explores.
The research essays continue this emphasis on provoking challenging and even difficult conversations. In the first research essay, Kimberly Nettles-Barcelón curates a conversation among a group of women chefs and food researchers about the experience and value of food work by Black women. From different perspectives and vantage points—some as scholars and some as professional chefs—the contributors to this conversation discuss important issues about how labor, expertise, authority, and voice in the food world are directly shaped by political systems of race and gender. This is an inspiring essay that nonetheless reminds us of the pervasive inequalities that continue to shape professional food work both inside and outside the academy.
In her essay, Tracy Bilsing brings a different perspective on gender and politics by introducing previously little-known work by Katherine Mansfield in which she reflects on the Great War. Bilsing not only provides a critical historical service by uncovering Mansfield’s less familiar work, but she also challenges us to reconsider the relationship between food and war and how these relationships are presented in different literary mediums.
Resituating history and heritage is also central to Gina Hunter’s essay on galeterias in Brazil. By discussing the resurgence of Italian-Brazilian culinary heritage as both a contemporary reworking of Italian immigration to Brazil and an outgrowth of culinary tourism, Hunter opens up new directions for thinking about how ethnic identities and histories are mobilized at different moments and for different cultural and economic purposes.
Moscow pedestrians enjoy the “Capital Breakfast” themed square, decorated with carts filled with pumpkins for autumn.
Emma McDonell asks the provocative question of how certain foods become “miracle foods”—or those foods that are valorized for their potential to save a community, a heritage, a society. In this case, McDonell considers how particular foods have, at different moments, been promoted through global development initiatives to prevent hunger or malnutrition but have ultimately failed. She focuses specifically on the development politics of quinoa and the tensions that play out between global development actors (both scientists and politicians) and local farmers and consumers.
Lastly, the creative reflections in this issue engage thoughtfully with questions and issues raised in the essays by turning more personal and contemplative, but in ways that are more attuned to the bodily and the sensory. Fa-Tai Shieh muses on how and what we think about the foods that we put into our mouths and bodies. Taking this question about ingestion further, Kiran Bhushi describes the experience of spending time at an Ayurveda Hospital in India and a personal realignment with the sensory attributes of food. Daniel Press takes issue with the perceptions implicit and explicit in the wine industry and shows how the power of suggestion and presentation directly influence sensory experiences and evaluations.
I invite you to come join me in this movable feast by journeying through time, space, and multiple sensory registers.
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.
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States describes the physical pain and emotional suffering that Triqui migrant workers routinely face during their work in the West Coast berry fields – suffering that is made endemic by racialized work hierarchies and often dismissed by medical professionals. Holmes’s deep ethnographic account is vivid and lucid in its telling, and leaves the reader with a strong emotional impression.
First, let me congratulate you for writing a very engaging and informative book. How did you first come to this project, and what compelled you to write this book in the way you did?
Several of my long-standing interests came together in this project. First, I have been interested in the relationship between the United States and Latin America in terms of economics, culture, poverty, development, and immigration. Second, I have been interested in understanding the place of indigenous or native people in our world. Third, I have been interested in our food system and our relationship to the land, what goes into the production and harvesting of our food, especially the fresh fruit and vegetables celebrated by the contemporary food movement and our health system. Fourth, I wanted to better explore the ways in which physicians and nurses understand health, illness, and social difference.
I wrote the book in such a way as to invite the reader into the narrative and the experiences. I wanted the reader to be able to imagine being alongside me during the border crossing so that they might be more interested in thinking through the inputs into that dangerous experience and the implications of it for so many people. I wanted to counteract the way in which most media coverage and policy debates around immigration focus on blanket statements about “immigrants do this” or “immigrants deserve or don’t deserve that.” I hoped I could convey enough about individual human beings who are migrating that the reader might become invested in understanding their realities and no longer take for granted the general stereotypes we often hear.
People have referred to you as the “new” Paul Farmer. Has he been an inspiration for you and why? Who else has inspired your work?
During my sophomore and junior years of college in the mid-1990s, I did a handful of “informational interviews” of people with interesting careers as I decided what to pursue next. Paul spoke with me over the phone one night after he took care of patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That night and over the years of interacting at conferences and even team teaching a course together, I have been impressed with the ways he seeks to bring together a strong appetite for reading, an interest in thinking critically about health and economics, a commitment to a structural vision of social justice, and a desire and ability to work toward improved medical care on individual and systems levels. In the end, I decided to pursue an MD and a PhD in anthropology and, later, a relatively public engagement with social and health inequalities.
The past few months since the last issue of Gastronomica went to press have been exciting ones in the world of food. In London the first in vitro meat hamburger was served, an event that is significant not just for what it reveals about advances in science and technology, but also for how it has forced uneasy but necessary conversations about animal welfare, strategies for solving the world’s food shortages, and the limits of what counts as “food,” “taste,” and even “pleasure.” In the Northern Hemisphere, fall harvests and harvest festivals have begun, enticing eaters and drinkers around the world to enjoy the delights of Oktoberfest, wine festivals, pumpkins, apple picking, and freshly juiced pomegranates, to name but a few. And in multiple international settings, food scholars and practitioners have gathered at conferences to share their work and push the field of food studies in new directions.
I have been privileged to attend two of these recent conferences. At the end of September, the University of Graz (Austria) hosted “Foodscapes: Access to Food, Excess of Food,” which was held at Seggau Castle in the Styrian countryside, Austria’s beautiful wine region. At the beginning of October, the Social Sciences Research Council hosted the workshop “Rescuing Taste from the Nation: Oceans, Borders, and Culinary Flows,” which was part of a larger conference on “Inter-Asian Connections IV: Istanbul,” held at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. Both conferences brought together an impressive international contingent of food scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to address critical issues in food studies. Many important questions and themes emerged at these conferences, and I want to single out a few for special note.
In her keynote address to participants in the “Foodscapes” conference, Julie Guthman from the University of California, Santa Cruz (and a member of the Gastronomica editorial board), introduced a series of provocations about the field of critical food studies and its possible future. One of Professor Guthman’s questions to the audience was whether critical food studies is really about the food or whether it is about “something else.” As became clear, both in Professor Guthman’s remarks and in the papers and conversations that followed, while food may be a starting point, critical food studies is really about the “something else” that becomes revealed through food.
Taking up this provocation, participants discussed and debated such important issues as the role of alternative food movements in shaping new forms of civic engagement and sustainability projects, the ways in which certification regimes influence cultural understandings of locale and taste, and how taste preferences are not simply physiological responses to sensory stimuli but may also be cultivated by social, political, and economic relationships. Offering different perspectives in their own keynote addresses, David Evans from the University of Manchester and Valentin Thurn, a documentary filmmaker from Germany, challenged participants to think critically about food waste, how it is produced, where it goes, and whether consumers are complicit in the production of excess food. As both speakers noted, such questions have profound implications for how consumers make choices about the foods they buy and how they consume them, how concerns with practical matters such as storage and transportation affect food choice, and even how cultures of blame (directed at both producers and consumers) emerge and become politically salient. With regard to questions about the materiality inherent in critical food studies, colleagues from the world of food and design introduced new ways of thinking about the intersection of form and function with the emotional and symbolic qualities of food. Collectively, discussions between participants highlighted important conversations and debates about the moral and ethical dimensions of food practices and food systems, the limits and nuances of assumptions about “pleasure” and “taste” associated with food, and the necessity of unpacking and even rethinking analytical and methodological approaches in order to move beyond a neoliberal, global capitalist framework in order to understand the significance and impact of other political economies.
The SSRC workshop “Rescuing Taste from the Nation” raised equally important questions for food scholarship. Drawing on the larger conference’s focus on rethinking “Asia” as a geographically, politically, and culturally constructed entity, participants in the food workshop examined the regional and global networks that have encouraged foods and food cultures to travel into, out of, and through “Asia” and other spaces, the role of imperialist and state-making projects in the creation of distinct (and not so distinct) culinary cultures, and the biosocial limits of “taste.” Workshop organizers Jaclyn Rohel, Cecilia Leong-Salobir, and Krishnendu Ray (also a Gastronomica editorial board member) challenged participants to think about how worlds of taste and pathways of trade comestibles open up new spaces beyond and between conventional boundaries of nation-states and institutional regimes. Taking up this charge, workshop participants from the fields of law, sociology, anthropology, history, and cultural studies examined not just how taste preferences and culinary cultures are formed, but how they traverse and upend expected political and cultural borders, so that taste as a circulating commodity itself becomes dislocated from a particular place, people, or value system.
One area of concern that emerged from workshop presentations addressed the value of food traditions in maintaining distinctive identities, a sense of personal dignity, and connections to a homeland and shared history, such as with papers on the culturally appropriate diets provided to indentured workers from North India while on boats taking them to the plantation islands where they would work and on the ways in which survivors of the Armenian genocide who fled to Bulgaria have used family recipes and memories of “traditional” foods to forge new lives and remember their pasts. A second set of conversations considered how the simultaneous movement and emplacement of foods and taste preferences produce new symbolic and physical geographies and relationships, with papers on the simultaneous “mixing” of cuisines and families in Malaysian communities that has created rich Peranakan and Eurasian culinary traditions; the flow of food technology and food technology experts, such as the brewers who have influenced the emergence of beer cultures in China, Japan, Korea, and India; and how colonial and postcolonial elites in Turkey, Israel, and Jordan have strategically used foods in their political negotiations. A third theme that emerged probed the body politics of food and taste with papers on how the emerging global market for olive oil is creating new consumers and producers in places like India and China, as well as new regulatory regimes that are in turn influencing taste preferences; the political dimensions of public hygiene as evoked through cultural practices and public policies governing betel quid chewing within the British Empire; the way in which the circulation of a taste for turtle soup and mock turtle soup from the Caribbean to Europe and on to China illuminates how tastes for particular dishes move not just among geographic regions but among classes and cultures; and finally the changing nature of culinary professions, particularly that of chefs, in Istanbul under the influence of global flows of food-related fashions, fads, and people.
Together, the discussions and debates raised at these two conferences illustrate the power of food as simultaneously an object and an experience that merges the personal, the political, the social, the historical, and the geographic. Just as significant is that through such fascinating topics as these and the many others presented at these workshops, food scholars and practitioners are making important contributions to our understandings of how the world works. This is an exciting time in critical food studies, and I am very pleased that Gastronomica, because of its position at the forefront of this ever-evolving field, will be presenting the cutting-edge work that emerges from these and other events.
Going forward, the journal will be focusing more directly on critical studies of food. I look forward to bringing you the very best of the most thought-provoking, empirically rich, and theoretically innovative scholarship in the field. Look for an exciting lineup beginning in the February 2014 (14.1) issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies.
The contributors to this issue of Gastronomica initiate these conversations by taking us directly to the heart of the provocation “what is food” by enlarging its scope to ask who decides what counts as food, how food can be wielded as both political gift or political weapon in state-level negotiations over tradition, immigration, and human dignity, and how ideals of health are infused with spiritual practices, among many other questions In articles that celebrate the vibrancy of longstanding cultural traditions, Carolyn Phillips traces the origins and mythology of China’s Kitchen God as a protector of the home, while Jenny Holm recalls how the simple pleasures of a New Year’s feast in Northern Ossetia refract deep family, cultural, and regional histories. Describing her first experience with maté during field research in Paraguay, Heather Millman explores the significance of this beverage in terms of its cultural traditions and medicinal properties, thereby showing the centrality of beverages within food studies and furthering our understanding of the relationships between food and medicine. Elizabeth Chatellier continues this interest in the healthful dimensions of tradition, and the spiritual qualities of food, in her account of the culinary traditions cultivated and presented by Monk Epiphanius of Mylopotamos of Mount Athos. Other pieces focus more directly on the political facets of food and the relationships of expectation, obligation, and despair that emerge between states and their subjects. Through an account of the traditional presentation of salmon caught by Maine anglers to American presidents, Catherine Schmitt explores how salmon and salmon fishing have been influenced by national policies regarding energy and water use. In a sobering account of the feeding practices for unauthorized migrants in American detention centers, Megan Carney critically examines how the provisioning and withholding of food frames an American biopolitics in which the bodies and appetites of detained subjects are manipulated for the extraction of political value by state authorities and economic value by the food industries that are contracted to provide meals to detention centers. Carney’s article offers keen insight into the unpleasant realities of the militarization of food and the eating experience.
Finally, in keeping with the festivities of the season and the fall and winter holidays that are at hand, other contributors invite us to ponder the ritualized qualities of food and food experiences in our kitchens, pantries, workplaces, and family get-togethers. Selections range from Will McGrath’s recounting of the slaughter of a pig for a special occasion in Lesotho, Diane Gleason’s narrative of Mediterranean cuisine, and Matthew Gavin Frank’s philosophically inspired musing on the symbolic nature of the bagel to Chris Wiewiora’s chronicling of the inner rhythms and harmonies within a pizza joint and Eric D. Lehman’s allegory about the unintended consequences of hard work, success, and the limits of class mobility as told through the narrator’s quest for the perfect soup.
In closing, I would also like to thank publicly Allison Carruth, who has served as Gastronomica’s Book Review editor for the past several years. Professor Carruth has done yeoman’s service by identifying books to be reviewed in the journal, soliciting reviewers, and working closely with reviewers and potential reviewers to ensure that the reviews published in this journal are of the highest caliber of critical evaluation. Professor Carruth is stepping down to join the Gastronomica editorial board and to focus on her own research and writing. I also want to congratulate her on the recent publication of her book, Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food. Look for a review of it in an upcoming issue of the journal.