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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Spring 2017, Volume 17 Number 1

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Spring 2017, Volume 17 Number 1

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

ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION
Immigrant Labor, Food Politics: A Dialogue between the Authors of Four Recent Books about the Food System | Margaret Gray, Sarah Horton, Vanesa Ribas, and Angela Stuesse

RESEARCH ESSAYS
Willing (White) Workers on Organic Farms? Reflections on Volunteer
Farm Labor and the Politics of Precarity
| Julie Guthman

Make America’s (Foodways) Great Again: Nostalgia, Early
Twentieth-Century Dietary Critiques, and the Specter of Obesity
in Contemporary Food Commentary
| Chin Jou

“Lose Like a Man”: Gender and the Constraints of Self-Making
in Weight Watchers Online
| Emily Contois

Singapore Hawker Centers: Origins, Identity, Authenticity, and
Distinction
| Andrew Tam

Modern Chinese History as Reflected in a Teahouse Mirror | Carolyn Phillips

VISUAL ESSAY
Oakland’s Friday Farmers’ Market and Its Vegetable Vocabulary of Love | David Bacon

REVIEW ESSAYS
The Seeds beneath the Snow: A Commentary on Two Films about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault | Tracey Heatherington

Historiography of the Appetites: A Note on the Edible Series from Reaktion Books and the Commodity Model of Global Food History | Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft

REVIEWS
Learning to Like Muktuk: An Unlikely Explorer in Territorial Alaska
By Penelope S. Easton, Reviewed by Sveta Yamin-Pasternak

Eating Words: A Norton Anthology of Food Writing
Edited by Sandra M. Gilbert and Roger J. Porter, Reviewed by Tanfer Emin Tunc

Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States
By Brian K. Obach, Reviewed by Bradley M. Jones

Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
By Laura Silver, Reviewed by Claudia Raquel Prieto Piastro

Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice
By Gyorgy Scrinis, Reviewed by Lua Wilkinson

Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids and How Its Lessons Could
Change Food and Farming Forever

By Kiera Butler, Reviewed by Ryan Phillips

Top Photo:
Maki” by Julie-Anne Cassidy and Maryse St-Amand © 2015.

Editor’s Letter, Summer 2016

from Gastronomica 16:2

One of the greatest rewards of my position as editor of Gastronomica is that I have a front-row seat to the many developments taking place in studies of food. From the fascinating submissions and queries about potential submissions that I receive (sadly, there are always far more worthy and intriguing pieces than I can publish) to the new books that arrive in our book reviews office (again, far too many than we can feature or occasionally even fit on our shelves), and from the conversations that I have with established and emerging scholars, writers, and editors in the field to the many press releases I receive about all things food-related (innovative dinners, art exhibits, musical performances, among many, many events), it is clear that this is an ever-expanding field. This is especially gratifying given that when I first began my graduate work in social anthropology in the 1990s, food was largely considered an insignificant, even trivial topic. I still remember receiving reviews of grant proposals and early manuscripts in which reviewers suggested that I would be better served studying something more meaningful and weighty than food. Implicit—and sometimes explicit—in these comments was the message that food was too popular and too mundane to be a “real” scholarly topic.

At the same time, embedded within this criticism was what I understood to be a genuine concern that an overly focused orientation on food might be analytically limiting. For the case of the discipline of anthropology in the 1990s, there was recognition that simply collecting or describing cultural objects, recipes, and stories (i.e., what is often described as salvage anthropology) was not enough. Instead anthropologists argued for the need to think critically about the political, economic, and social systems in which those cultural artifacts existed and were made meaningful. In other words, food was intellectually meaningful not simply because of what it was but because of it what it might reveal.

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Editor’s Letter, Spring 2016

from Gastronomica 16:1
Photographs by Melissa L. Caldwell

How do we make sense of foods on the move?

Mobile foods have proved to be intriguing points of departure for food scholars and food enthusiasts alike. Mobile foods are at the core of concerns about the impact of global processes, especially when multinational food corporations appear to resemble neo-imperial political and economic forces that are bent on invading and conquering new markets around the world. Mobile foods also offer sensory, emotional, and symbolic comfort for diasporic communities who are searching for a familiar sense of home. For health and environmental activists, meanwhile, traveling foods can represent the dangers of the global food system on individual bodies and landscapes. At the same time, foods and food cultures that are firmly rooted in place are just as provocative. Both local traditions and national economies are made possible by foods that are firmly embedded within ecosystems that are simultaneously cultural and environmental. Foods from particular locations provide the structuring parameters for identities and experiences. And for persons who travel—both actual and virtual tourists—foods offer a taste of other places, cultures, and times. Both the movement and emplacement of foods and food cultures open up possibilities for thinking about the nature of circulation, the conditions under which circulation does or does not happen, and the values and meanings attached to circulation.


What happens to “local” and “authentic” when Russian borscht travels to Asia as an American industrial food?

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