From the Editor, Fall 2014

from Gastronomica 14:3

As the parent of a three-year-old, I find myself confronted by issues around proper diet and eating habits on a regular basis. From what I have heard from friends and colleagues who are also parents of small children, picky eating is rampant among the American toddler set. It seems as if for many parents their biggest battle is getting food—of any kind—into their children. We are fortunate that our daughter has a fairly expansive taste palate, but even so, there are nights when she has no interest in eating the dinner we have prepared and tries to convince us that she should have a bowl of pretzels instead (as she has not yet mastered the fine arts of negotiation and persuasion, she always loses that battle).

Beyond our own kitchen, my family has been barraged by a never-ending stream of information and advice about what we should be feeding our daughter, both now and in the future once she begins attending elementary school. One outgrowth of the US’s concerns with childhood obesity has been that information about childhood nutrition is everywhere. Within our own community in the Bay Area of California, there have been local campaigns to ban toys from children’s meals at fast-food restaurants, add taxes to sodas and other “unhealthy” foods, and require schoolchildren to participate in garden activities as part of their educational curriculum. At the same time, there are constant messages from the media and political leaders admonishing California parents to improve our families’ diets and warning us of the dire health, social, and economic consequences of poorly nourished and overweight children and the poorly nourished and overweight adults they will surely become. A recurrent theme is that our children’s intellect and social skills will be stunted if they do not eat the proper foods. More telling is how often this advice is part of a larger cultural practice of fat shaming, which has become a national pastime in the United States, and one that is directed at children even before they can walk.

American preoccupations with diet and nutrition play out in other ways that may be less visible but just as forceful. Shopping at the grocery store might invite disdainful looks from other customers who feel emboldened to peer into your cart and inspect your choices—or even comment directly on them. Health insurance companies monitor subscribers’ medical records and send out recommendations for menus, exercise regimens, and even medications.

Above all, American concerns with diet and nutrition are coupled with a striking public moralism. Food choices are not simply correlated with concerns about health, but are also understood to represent proper forms of behavior and even citizenship. There is also a pervasive sense that it is an acceptable, perhaps even necessary, part of civic life to comment publicly on the food practices and bodies of others. My own students are not immune to this, as they eagerly participate in service projects that seek to educate low-income individuals about “healthy eating” through an indoctrination program that requires program beneficiaries to perform sweat equity in community gardens and community kitchens. What is often explicit, yet unquestioned, in such projects is the assumption that low-income individuals are both ignorant and unhealthy and that it is society’s duty to reform and heal them.

Yet what counts as “healthy” in these contexts is not necessarily an absolute, as the information regarding what types of foods are “good” changes frequently. I still remember the panic that erupted among my peers during our middle school years when a study came out claiming that peanut butter caused cancer. For us, peanut butter was a right of our American heritage, and we all swore never to relinquish that right. We were relieved to discover later that those claims had been discredited.

Concerns with nutrition and health are certainly not unique to the United States, especially in today’s world where fads and information spread quickly through social media and Internet-based news. What is curious, however, is that information about nutrition, diet, and health tends to be accepted (or discredited and ignored), with little attention given to how that information was created and promoted in the first place. In many cases, if we look more carefully at nutritional information, we find fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of scientific experiments and discoveries. In other cases, there are equally fascinating stories of moral evangelists and government officials realizing that diet and nutrition can be effective channels for cultivating particular moral, religious, and political values. In still other cases, the popularity of particular dietary and nutritional rules and practices provides revealing and sometimes unsettling insights into the values and beliefs held by the people who practice these rules, enforce them, or reject them. Above all, dietary and nutritional information matter, not simply because they provide guidelines for health and behavior, but because this information can serve as a proxy for critically important social, political, economic, and scientific debates about civic rights, responsibilities, and entitlements, personal freedoms such as free will and privacy, and legal protections and accountability, among many other issues. Clearly, nutritional and dietary information matter.



The articles in this special issue of Gastronomica take up this provocation of “what is nutrition and why does it matter?” through a series of research essays about “critical nutrition.” Representing a range of disciplinary backgrounds from the humanities, social sciences, and science and technology studies, the contributors to this special issue unpack nutritional discourses and practices in order to consider and explain these intriguing backstories. Working collaboratively at the intersections of their respective fields, the contributors investigate such topics as the historical roots of nutritional sciences in the United States, the cultural contexts in which certain scientific findings and popular knowledge about diet, nutrition, and health have been accepted and discredited, the moral valences embedded in dietary knowledge and proscriptions, and the implications of nutritional paradigms for global health projects beyond the United States. Through their respective research projects and their thoughtful debates with one another, the contributors persuasively call attention to the power of nutritionism as an ideological system itself. Ultimately, they suggest possibilities for rethinking both nutritional information and the power of nutritionist thinking.

This invitation to revisit and reconsider what we know about food and food culture is continued in the creative pieces in this issue. Sandra Gilbert and Leo Racicot offer fascinating glimpses into the personal and professional lives of two important figures in the food world: M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, respectively. With their essays, Gilbert and Racicot provide further insight into the significance of these two legends, their friendship with one another, and their contributions to food artistry. Edra Bayefsky takes us on a similar backstage journey in her illustrated essay about Toronto’s Kensington Market, as imagined and experienced through the work of artist Aba Bayefsky. Each of these three contributors provides a rare behind-the-scenes look at how these gifted artists used aesthetics to make their food worlds come alive in unexpected ways.

Ultimately, the contributions to this issue remind us that we should not always take for granted conventional wisdom about the world of food and food-related experiences. There are always other stories to be told and other possibilities to consider.

From the Editor, Winter 2013

from Gastronomica 13:4

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.

Editor’s Letter, Fall 2013

from Gastronomica 13:3

This year marks the release of the tenth anniversary edition of Marion Nestle’s pathbreaking Food Politics. With that book, Professor Nestle shook up the food industry, food studies scholarship, and the ways in which ordinary consumers understand the convoluted and often collusive intersections of politics, industry, and science that influence the production of the foods we put into our bodies. I am pleased that this issue of Gastronomica features an interview with Professor Nestle, where she reflects on the impact of her book and offers insights into where we – as scholars, enthusiasts, eaters, and citizens – need to put our energies next in order to continue to reform the food industry.

This past spring quarter, I taught my upper-division course “Anthropology of Food.” The majority of my students are food enthusiasts in some fashion: some are active in community food justice initiatives, others are involved in campus sustainability efforts, and most are passionate about healthy eating and ethical eating, not to mention the art and appreciation of eating. But as anthropology students, they are all committed to the challenge of thoughtful critical inquiry into how people throughout the world use, think about, and value food. Class discussions often become quite boisterous as students debate what makes food healthy, desirable, and pleasurable, whether food choices should be personal decisions or are the responsibility of governments and communities, and the ethics of giving and withholding food in different political contexts. They love talking about food, and our classroom conversations often carry over into hallway chats, section meetings, and online forums. Given their enthusiasm for thinking and talking about food, I was thus somewhat surprised when they were uncharacteristically silent one day. I had planned a session on molecular gastronomy, and my father-in-law, a retired chemist, had generously agreed to demonstrate some simple molecular gastronomy techniques and discuss the science behind the techniques, thereby demystifying “molecular gastronomy” and showing how it was simply part of the repertoire of basic chemistry that ordinary cooks use at home every day. Our “equipment” included an official “molecular gastronomy” kit, basic “chemistry” ingredients such as xanthan gum and soy lecithin that I had picked up from my local grocery store, and tools scavenged from my own kitchen and my husband’s professional chemistry toolbox.

My objective for the session was to challenge students to grapple with the fundamental question of “what is food”: how ingredients and foods can be transformed from one state into another by exploring the shifting terrain between food science and food art; how expectations may differ from reality in terms of the flavors, textures, and ingredients of food; and how cultural assumptions about forms of technology, the settings where food production occurs, and the individuals who make food affect the values (and prices) placed on those foods. The students were enthralled by the experiments, the science discussion, and, of course, the samples. They appreciated the foamed fruit and the raspberry sphericals, but they especially loved the apple pie that I had made and were amazed when I revealed that it was not, in fact, an apple pie but a mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers. However, the students were reticent to engage in critical discussion afterward, which was not like them at all.

I initially assumed that, despite their interest in the principles of molecular gastronomy, they felt a vague sense of discomfort at the idea of “denaturing” food through “mechanical” means, i.e., turning food into something else, such as making Ritz crackers taste like apples, or simply at the idea of a failed experiment that might end with food being thrown away. After much probing, what we collectively discovered was more surprising: they were uncomfortable with the idea that it was acceptable to play with food. They acknowledged that they had internalized an American cultural value that it was bad manners, and even immoral, to do so. Many reflected that when they were children, they were scolded for such ordinary things as putting pitted olives on their fingers, building mashed potato volcanoes, and mixing multiple foods together into an unappetizing mush that only the dog would eat. That realization then opened up a far more interesting discussion about the seriousness of food and the importance of creativity, personal interest, and even personal pleasure. We thought carefully about how play and experimentation were necessary both to food and eating (how else would new recipes or new technologies ever come about?), and to the intellectual study of food. And we discussed how playfulness enhanced and celebrated the pleasurable parts of the otherwise serious activities of growing, cooking, and eating food.

This issue is devoted to playfulness and creativity – the tweaking of expectations, the upending of conventions and norms, the sense of adventure that comes from trying new things, the delight in the unexpected. As the contributors to this issue reveal, there is beauty, grace, humility, and not a little humor in our encounters with something new, something different. Each in its unique way, the contributions in this issue highlight the importance of play, creativity, and inspiration to how we experience and appreciate food.

In some cases, playfulness evokes the giddy thrill that comes from searching out something rare and hidden, as in Meredith Bethune’s and Jimmy Schwartz’s reflections on the pleasures and pitfalls of mushroom hunting, or in Brian Gersten’s cheekily thoughtful reminiscence of how an urban journey into the culinary wilderness in search of unusual meats opens up critical questions about taste, novelty, and ethics. In other cases, playfulness encourages us to take the familiar and find new ways to enjoy it, as with Barbara Crooker’s celebration of the nectarine or Kate Lebo’s contemplation of rhubarb. In still other cases, playfulness invites us to venture outside our comfort zones and explore new worlds and forge new relationships. R.J. Fox’s essay, “The First Supper,” delightfully recounts how the trip to meet a beloved partner’s family entails adventures in food and drink around a Ukrainian dinner table. In a similar vein, Enrique Fernández reflects on how the immigration experience itself is an exercise in imagining and encountering the Other and its food. For Amy Gentry, it is the play and creativity of Rob Connoley, an unconventional chef, that makes possible a wild but rewarding culinary ride that is not for the faint-of-heart but something to be appreciated and savored by similarly adventurous souls. Fox, Fernández, and Gentry help us to imagine how a bit of creative bravery might take us on journeys we never had thought possible before.



Creativity and play are also what drive innovation. Not only does innovation ensure the potential for newness in our lives, it allows food cultures to travel and eventually settle in distant places. In her research essay on food habits in the United Kingdom, Anne Murcott elegantly details the evolution of British cookery and the history behind such familiar traditions as a “cuppa” and the “fish supper.” Kristy Leissle provides a fascinating account of the rise of artisanal chocolate in West Africa and how West African cocoa production has been in fact the backbone of the modern candy industry. Yet innovation and change may also have unintended consequences that raise important questions about whether what is new and different is always better, an issue that Jennifer Patico explores in her research brief on the many problems sparked by a honey bun in a school vending machine. Nutritional beliefs, economic realities, and the highly charged world of moral parenting – all are evoked by a simple packaged snack.

Ultimately, the contributions to this issue highlight that much of the pleasure we associate with food comes precisely from our ability to play with it – to experiment, to venture beyond how we cook and eat in our everyday lives, and to appreciate the infinite possibilities for relationships, traditions, and imagination that food can enable. And as my students recognized, food play does not devalue the importance of food, denature it, or necessarily entail wasteful frivolousness. Rather, play is a serious exercise in and of itself. Play requires thoughtful consideration, responsible oversight, and a deep commitment to acknowledging the necessity of both bodily and intellectual satisfaction. In that light, I hope that you enjoy this issue and that it inspires you to imagine or, better yet, to engage in, some play of your own.