From the Editor, Spring 2014

from Gastronomica 14:1

Welcome to 2014 and the first issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. As I announced in the previous issue (13.4), the journal’s core emphasis will be innovative and thought-provoking scholarship and debates within the worlds of food and food studies, a refocusing that is reflected in the journal’s new subtitle. At the same time that our contributors push the boundaries of food scholarship in terms of the topics they cover, they will also invite us to consider the formats in which we engage these topics and conversations. While we will continue to rely on conventional text-based formats, we also will experiment with new types of scholarly communication, including graphic arts and multimedia approaches, both in the pages of the journal and on our website. This is an exciting moment for the journal and for food scholarship, as researchers, writers, artists, and enthusiasts play with innovative content and formats. I am very much looking forward to the creative possibilities and scholarly innovations that will emerge as Gastronomica’s contributors and readers interact at the very forefront of critical food scholarship.

More generally, this is a timely moment for critical engagement with food in all of its forms. As this issue goes to press, California governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state and requested that residents voluntarily reduce their water use by twenty percent, with the possibility of mandatory water restrictions coming soon. Both the drought, which is California’s worst in 100 years, and the water restrictions are already having significant effects on America’s food practices and will have repercussions for a long time to come. Most immediately, with lakes and reservoirs at or near empty and wells running dry, California farmers are making decisions about whether they will plant, what they will plant, whether they should sell off or slaughter their livestock, and whether they will even have jobs for the laborers who work in their fields and on their farms. Vintners are uncertain about whether they will have grapes later this year, as the lack of water now will likely affect whether their vines will bud this spring. Even fisheries are suffering as scarce water resources are being diverted for more critical needs.

These developments will have profound consequences for national and global food supplies. California produces approximately one-half of the US’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts and is the country’s leading dairy supplier. Its number-one food export is almonds, which is also one of the most water-intensive crops because it requires year-round watering. No one knows precisely what will happen if California’s drought continues, but it is clear that any reduction in California’s food production capabilities will resonate across the food chain, with prices rising and availability and diversity shrinking, farmworkers losing their jobs, and farmers wrestling with hard choices about whether to wait it out, change their focus, or get out altogether. Such critical themes as labor, health, choice, access, environment, sustainability, and tradition, among many others, will increasingly come to the fore as points of debate and discussion in scholarly research, public policy, and dinnertime conversations.

Above all, these developments highlight the fact that food never exists in isolation from larger trends and dynamics; rather, it is always deeply embedded within and buffeted by shifting political, economic, cultural, and environmental forces. Food is not merely something pleasurable or tasty, but something that is crucially significant to all parts of our daily lives. Food matters. Thus as the journal moves forward this year, expect to see contributors focus careful attention and debate on the weighty, thorny, and consequential aspects of food in all of its manifestations.

The contributors to this first issue of 2014 take us directly into critical food conversations with an impressive and fascinating collection of essays that revolve around themes of morality, knowledge, and power. In different ways, the contributors inspire us to think about how particular food traditions have evolved, what types of information and perspectives they provide, how they are situated within systems of power and control, and why these food practices matter in today’s world.

Seth Holmes starts this conversation in the opening interview about his recently published book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, a riveting ethnographic account of the hidden world of migrant farmworkers as they cross the border into the United States and make their way to the West Coast farms that stock American pantries. With an eye to the scholarly and ethical dimensions of his project, Holmes describes and analyzes the physical and emotional suffering of Triqui migrant workers who are entangled in racialized work hierarchies and medical systems.

The questions that Holmes raises about the nature and impact of power and value are pursued in different ways by the other contributors to this issue. In his essay on local food movements in the United States, B. R. Cohen examines the political terrain staked out by these movements as they make claims on such issues as health, food safety, food security, and food sovereignty. By illuminating the interconnections and points of convergence and divergence among these movements, Cohen argues against a one-size-fits-all homogenizing orientation to food reform efforts and instead suggests that a greater potential for innovation and alliance lies within an ecological approach that recognizes their plurality. Maywa Montenegro de Wit extends this theme of the plurality of politics and ideas within food movements in her essay on urban agroecology trends in the United States, with particular attention to the ways in which agroecology scholars, proponents, and activists have interacted in their efforts to educate the public about new approaches. Taking a slightly different angle, Yuson Jung and Andrew Newman critically interrogate the moral economy of food, labor, and consumer choice in Detroit as local residents and activists debate the arrival of Whole Foods in their midst. Jung and Newman provoke important, but also uncomfortable, questions about the role of class, race, and taste in a setting where low-income residents who have struggled to survive in a food desert now have access to a premium grocery store that promotes a particular health-oriented lifestyle.

Value, change, and tradition continue as themes in essays by J. Weintraub and Gary Paul Nabhan. In his translation of a chapter from Eugène-Vincent Briffault’s Paris à table, Weintraub introduces us to Briffault’s critical perspective on Parisian gastronomy, replete with both serious and humorous observations of the highs and lows of the cuisine, restaurant settings, manners, sensibilities, and even diners of nineteenth-century Paris. Far removed from the metropolitan tumult of Paris, Nabhan situates the Arabian Peninsula’s spice trade in a compelling history that weaves the past with the present, the cultural with the agricultural.

Moving beyond the serious to the more whimsical, but no less intellectually provocative, Marilyn Stasio, Robert Iulo, and Julia Hebaiter invite us to consider the mysteries of food. Stasio takes us into the world of the “foodie mystery” and offers insight into how food works as a plot device and what ultimately makes for a satisfying food-oriented thriller. Iulo details the intimate and mysterious powers of food as recipes, traditions, and shared memories hold families together through time. Hebaiter provokes us to consider the value of secretive, even illicit behaviors for enhancing the pleasures of food, with her cheekily rendered musing on purloined fruit from neighbors’ gardens.

In their contributions to this larger discussion of the intersection of values, morals, and food, Laura Titzer and Margaret Sessa-Hawkins explore from different angles the productive, generative nature of food work. In a reflection on the hard work that takes place on an organic farm, Titzer considers how the physicality of planting and harvesting tomatoes offers insight into the complexities of alternative food systems and the ideals of the inclusivity they promote. Sessa-Hawkins explores how a simple food like the apple can simultaneously include and exclude, as she learns to make homemade apple pie and new friends over a fire in Malawi, far from her family and home in Virginia.

Finally, in their contributions, Ali Fitzgerald and Shelly Errington push the boundaries of food studies formats by moving away from text-based analyses to more artistic forms of critical commentary. Through graphic arts, Fitzgerald and Errington illuminate the political dimensions of food, with Fitzgerald’s rendering of mushrooming in a post–Cold War Berlin and Errington’s musing on what capitalist consumption might mean for the Easter Bunny.

In closing, I invite you to dig into these pieces and allow them to inspire your own critical reflections on food and its role in our daily lives and the world around us.

Spring 2007, Volume 7, Number 2

from the editor
Time Travels | Darra Goldstein

Rumblings from the World of Food

orts and scantlings
Table Manners | Mark Morton

feast for the eye
Zhan Wang: Urban Landscape | John Stomberg

Sommelier | Zilka Joseph

The “Juice of a Few Flowers”: Gerald and Sara Murphy’s Life of Beautiful Things | Kathryn Price

How Caviar Turned Out to Be Halal | H.E. Chehabi

The Prize Inside | Toni Mirosevich

Twain’s Feast: “The American” at Table | Andrew Beahrs
The Medieval Spice Trade and the Diffusion of the Chile | Clifford A. Wright

They Eat Horses, Don’t They? Hippophagy and Frenchness | Kari Weil

Heavenly Khao Chae-Aromatic Soaked Rice | Su-Mei Yu

Lactose Intolerance and Evolution: No Use Crying Over Undigested Milk | Benjamin Scheindlin, MD

past pleasures
At the Prince’s Table: Food in The Leopard | Mary Taylor Simeti

The Myth of Apicius | Sally Grainger

Gâteaux Algériens: A Love Affair | Rachel Finn

personal history
Having What She’s Having | Scott Korb

Simply Cachaça, Simply Brazil | Milton Mizputen

chef’s page
Ray’s Café and Tea House, Philadelphia | Laurie Bernstein

review essays
Two Ways of Looking at Maestro Martino | Nancy Harmon Jenkins
The Meat of the Issue | Betty Fussell
Flesh and Bone: Toward a Whole-beast Meat-eating Ethos | Tom Philpott

the bookshelf
Books in Review

Besos y Balas | Joe Bravo

Cover: Jean Blackburn, Thick or Thin, 1998. Rolling pin, board 4″ x 16″ x 16″. Courtesy of the Artist & Caren Golden Fine Art, NY. Photographer: Jeffrey Sturges.

Waiting for a Cappuccino: A Brief Layover along the Spice Trail | Carolyn Thériault

from Gastronomica 7:1

As I wait for my cappuccino, I subconsciously but quite mechanically begin to play with the salt and pepper shakers on the vinyl tablecloth—pairing them off as ballroom dancers across the checkerboard design, then transforming them into charging bull and lithesome matador. In its zeal, the salt delivers a deathblow to the pepper, knocking it over and spilling much of its contents. Turning my head slightly, I note that I am being watched in disbelief by the server. Embarrassed, I set the pepper shaker aright, affording it (and myself) a little dignity.

Dignity? What dignity can I offer my spilled pepper—its day is gone, the sun has set on its empire, it has paid for its commonness in a questionable currency of novelty shakers, plastic bags from bulk stores, bins, and unimaginative pressed-glass bottles. If pepper (and the same holds true for all spices) is distanced from its origins, then we are wholly ignorant of them. Do peppercorns look longingly back on an illustrious past when bloody battles were fought, queens seduced, peoples enslaved, lives lost, pirate-infested waters crossed, and worlds discovered for their sake, when their value was such that they were counted peppercorn by peppercorn? If they don’t, we should, for the “discovery” of our world was founded upon the rapacious pursuit of these peppers, as well as vanilla and allspice. Our land mass stood inconveniently in the way of those ships seeking direct passage to the “wealth of the Orient,” but this diversion was serendipitous if not rewarding: the bounty of the Americas proved to be equally profitable to that of the Far East. Our kitchen cupboards are a living map of trade routes: shelves and racks peppered with spices that have traveled since antiquity along their own routes or hitched a ride along the silk and amber roads of China, India, Indonesia, Africa, and Persia—their distant homelands still evocative of culinary erotica.

Pylons of spices, Marrakech. Photograph by Carolyn Thériault © 2006

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