Category Archives: anthropology

You know kimchi but how about kimjang?

Sangyoub Park and Sunyoung Cheong

At the beginning of the new year, a variety of news outlets and food-related venues usually predict upcoming food trends. USA Today, for example, predicts that “Kimchi will be in” in 2020. As a matter of fact, however, kimchi has been it-food at least over the past 10 years. I became aware that kimchi was next big America’s food when the New York Times stopped using an additional explanation for kimchi about 10 years ago. Before that, whenever the Times talked about kimchi, it followed with an additional explanation like “Korean spicy fermented cabbage.” Kimchi is the most common banchan, side dish, in Korea. When the Times stopped providing “what kimchi is to readers,” it signaled that everyone knows what kimchi is. In other words, there was no reason to describe kimchi as Korean spicy fermented cabbage any longer.

Fresh kimchi

The rising popularity of kimchi coincides with another trend in the culinary world – fermentation. As Americans are obsessed with well-being, they begin to pay extra attention to fermented foods. Fermenting food is not new, of course but it is one of the oldest ways of preserving food. The reason behind the latest trend is that many fermented foods are thought to entail health benefits. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was published around the time this trend was taking off. Kimchi is a probiotic lactic acid bacteria (i.e., good bacteria) fermented food. Many people believe that kimchi has a wide range of health benefits including improving digestion, increasing the body’s immunity, preventing aging, and preventing cancer.

Furthermore, as sociologists highlight how social class affects food preference, food can be a marker of social status. People create cultural distinction through food and eating. In the United States, the upper and middle classes are ready to embrace more “exotic” foods like tofu or sushi to distinguish their cultural identity. From this perspective, kimchi is very exotic. With exoticness and health benefits, it is evident that kimchi will enjoy longevity in the landscape of American food. This is exactly why I describe kimchi as an “Eww” food that has become a “Wow” food in terms of American taste trends.

Sunyoung Cheong, Preparing for kimjang in her home in Topeka, KS. She also pre-prepared for kimjang by washing about 25 heads of cabbage and salting them for 12 hours the previous day and making a huge batch of seasoning.

So, it is hip that you eat kimchi now. However, do you know anything about kimjang? Kimjang refers to making and sharing kimchi with others (click here for a short video about kimjang). Making kimchi requires collective effort because the process of making kimchi is very labor intensive. It is not unusual that kimjang is performed with large quantities like a couple of hundred heads of cabbage. Kimjang is usually done during November or December to last through the long cold winter. This explains why kimjang can be a communal activity. It is a way of communication, a way of creating memory, and a way of bonding together. The ritual of kimjang, in fact, was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

Kimchi-makers putting the kimchi paste between the layers of cabbage. This is a very important step to make good kimchi.

Over the past few years, we have invited community members, neighbors, and friends to our kimjang to experience firsthand how kimchi is made in a traditional way. We open our home to guests because we can help people broaden their understanding about “others.” We can be making kimchi together instead of “breaking bread together.” This year we invited friends (Akiko, Mary Anne and Luke) to make kimchi. In particular, this time kimjang was better organized thanks to kimjang mats, which we bought in Korea to test out for a potential kimchi festival – I am always dreaming of organizing a kimchi festival in Topeka, Kansas (Click here for the Kimchi Festival in Korea). Imagine making kimchi with strangers. And this might be exactly what we need in the Divided States of America today. During our kimjang, we conversed about children, marriage, changing food culture, and simply gossiped about everyday life. It is a way of bringing people together and creating a community. It can be a way of healing us. It can be a first step to unite a fractured community again. As an immigrant couple, after kimjang, we feel like our community has been extended by sharing our culture.

Making kimchi together.

Yes, it is good that more people are eating kimchi now but I hope that people appreciate kimchi simply beyond numerous health benefits. If kimchi can be used as a diplomatic tool, gastrodiplomacy, to enhance cultural understanding among countries (click here for a NPR story), it certainly can play a role in bringing us together.

Finishing up kimjang.

Let’s roll our sleeves and make more kimchi!


Usually after kimjang, Koreans eat steamed pork with fresh kimchi to celebrate the end of kimjang.

Sangyoub Park is an associate professor of sociology at Washburn University. He teaches Food and Culture and filmed the documentary “A little bit more Korean.” Sunyoung Cheong is a visiting assistant professor of the department of visual art at the University of Kansas. She teaches Casting for Jewelry and CAD/CAM.  She also creates interactive art performance like Wearable Play.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 9, 2020

David Beriss

After a long hiatus, FoodAnthropology returns with a brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com.

I am writing this from New Orleans, where food is often used to frame discussions of nearly everything. A few especially good examples of this appeared this week. First, this poignant article by restaurant critic and perceptive cultural observer Ian McNulty on thinking about the New Orleans Saints football season of hope and disappointment through red beans and rice. This is a great example of how restaurant writing has evolved in recent years. Second, this interesting recollection of Leah Chase, by Lolis Eric Elie, that tries to disrupt some of the iconic ideas about that famous chef’s life. A good example of how people resist the narratives we use to box them.

Sometimes journalists manage to combine the discussion of a simple dish and a personal narrative in a way that provides a small insight into a society. Bryan Washington, writing for the New Yorker, did this in his article about omurice, a sort of Japanese fried rice omelet. More recently, Vidya Balachander wrote this beautiful example of how knafeh, a stunning Middle Eastern pastry, can be used to tell a lot of different stories about the region. This is exactly the kind of writing that I like to use to inspire my students to think about the links between food and culture.

Theodore Gioia argues in the Los Angeles Review of Books that restaurant criticism needs to transform itself to remain (or become) relevant for readers today. More than consumer advocacy or guides to taste, Gioia argues for both new approaches (focusing on ethics, politics, and culture) and new formats for restaurant reviews. For once, I suggest reading the comments below the article, which are also interesting…and looking for the twitter storm it generated among food writing professionals.

As Gioia remarks, a new generation of restaurant critics is taking up the kinds of tasks he suggests, including a bunch of newish critics on the West Coast. But how new is this kind of self-consciousness about criticism and food writing in general? This discussion, from The Splendid Table, between Soleil Ho and Ruth Reichl provides some useful nuance to this history. The interview, from last fall’s radio show is about how different kinds of food-related businesses deal with change between generations. You can listen to the whole thing here.

Many FoodAnthropology readers are familiar with the Racist Sandwich podcast, started by Soleil Ho (see above) and Zahir Janmohamed, which looks into race, class, and gender in the worlds of food. The podcast has two new hosts, Stephanie Kuo and Juan Diego Ramirez, and is very much worth following. Listen, for instance, to this very curious and somewhat clandestine interview with a French convict (yes, he is in jail) who has a viral Instagram page on cooking. And related to the discussion above about the changing world of food criticism, listen to their interview with Soleil Ho, after a year at the San Francisco Chronicle. There are other interesting episodes too, all on the website.

Does every immigrant or minority in America have a story about dealing with being embarrassed, teased, or ostracized for the foods their family made or that their mother packed into their school lunch? I certainly do and I am endlessly fascinated by all the related stories I read in this genre. In this sweet video from The New Yorker, Priya Krishna discusses growing up in Dallas and being ashamed of her mother’s cooking, preferring instead peanut butter and jelly. In a related article, chef Jenny Dorsey discusses the tensions around being Chinese-American, both growing up and as a cooking professional. I would recommend this article for use in a class on food and race/ethnicity. Has anyone put together a collection of essays of this kind? It seems like these are widely shared experiences in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) and it would be fascinating to see them put together.

Everyone knows that “real” food happens in independent restaurants, not in fast food or fast casual joints. And yet, it seems that work in fast food or fast casual restaurant chains has shaped the experiences of many of our most interesting chefs today. At least, that is what Priya Krishna (cited above) reports in this fascinating article. She argues that working at Applebee’s, Waffle House, or IHOP can often provide training every bit as valuable as culinary school.

It may surprise people in dryer parts of the United States, but hardly a week goes by in New Orleans without some sort of water crisis. Our flooding problems are well-known, but I am referring in this instance to the annoyingly frequent boil water alerts that occur due to problems with our aging water infrastructure. It turns out that New Orleans is hardly alone in this (Flint, Michigan comes to mind, of course, as a much worse example). In this piece from Counter Punch, Andreea Sterea provides an alarming overview of the state of water across the U.S. Read this and allow yourself a brief moment of panic, then start writing and calling your elected officials.

Discussions of obesity and food tend to center on questions of public health and diet, often framed by deeper ideas about race and class. In the case of countries in the Pacific, you could even add in stereotypes derived from colonialism. Yet there are many other ways to frame these issues and, of course, there are anthropologists who study them. Listen, for instance, to this great episode of the Sausage of Science podcast in which Cara Ocobock and Chris Lynn interview Jessica Hardin about her work and recent book (Faith and the Pursuit of Health: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa, 2018, Rutgers University Press) on religion, health, food, and more in Samoa. The podcast covers Hardin’s findings, but they also discuss the research process in ways that could be very useful for students as well.

We end this week with crabs from the eastern shore of Virginia. Or, rather, this excerpt from Bernard L. Herman’s book A South You Never Ate: Savoring Flavors and Stories from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (2019, UNC Press) that appears on the Southern Foodways Alliance Gravy website. Hard crabs, sooks, busted sooks, lemons…this is about the language of Virginia crabbers and the definition of this particular terroir. The pictures will have you longing for crab.

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“What counts is the imagination of ham, rather than its actual existence,” An Interview with Joelle Bahloul

In this third installment of interviews with anthropologists about their work on food, David Sutton talks with Joelle Bahloul, whose work on food and memory has inspired many other anthropologists. Family history, Jewishness in France, the influence of Maurice Halbwachs and her return to Algeria. Domestic memories of Jewish and Muslim communities that remain highly relevant today. But also connections between French citizenship and learning about food. And, of course, ham, imaginary and real. Watch and learn!

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Intercultural Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice, Part II

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The Intercultural Learning Community at the vegan restaurant, Quinoa, operated by one of our own members, Luz Zaruma

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

Just as our fall term was wrapping up at Oregon State University, the Intercultural Learning Community headed to Ecuador to complete the second part of this experiential program. To read about the first part in Oregon click here.

Before covering some of the highlights of this trip, let me give a shout out to Claudia García who drew on her deep knowledge of Ecuador’s food systems and connections around the country to organize a rich and enjoyable trip, and to the EkoRural Foundation that served as our Ecuadorian financial sponsor. We began our trip with a visit to the highly integrated Atuk Farm outside of Quito run by the Dammer sisters. Sixty of the ninety hectares they own are in forest. The chickens live in large teepee-shaped tractors and clean the pastures of parasites à la Salatin. They had a clever way of turning the compost down a hill and a lovely outdoor kitchen where they served us a farm lunch. After lunch we retired to a hand-made mud brick building where Javier Carrera talked to us about the Seed Savers Network. The Guardianes de Semillas have been in existence since 1998 and includes 110 families in 15 Ecuadorian counties, though they also do seed exchanges in Colombia and Bolivia. The point goes beyond saving seeds to sharing ancestral knowledge about nutrition and promoting social change. He gave an historical overview of settlement and soils in Ecuador, emphasizing the migrations of food crops as well as the ways in which indigenous peoples in different ecosystems fed themselves. Moving to more recent times, he talked about the 2008 national constitution which protects the rights of nature and food sovereignty. Despite this progressive legal framework encouraged by indigenous groups and agrifood activists, implementation is more difficult and there is constant pressure to conform to the industrial food system. Mandatory pasteurization and slaughter in state approved facilities put small farmers at a disadvantage, just like in the US. Saraguro women were told that they had to deliver their milk warm to be pasteurized, but the facility was two hours away. They went on strike and several of the women were put in jail. Carrera said that 30% of the farms in Ecuador are small, family farms and they produce 70% of what Ecuador eats. They are fighting to keep a separate system for small farmers in order to ensure future food sovereignty. He shared with us several successful experiments in permaculture around the country.

The following two days were focused on metropolitan Quito. With 2,500,000 people pressed between two volcanoes high in the Andes and a poverty rate of 12.8%, the challenges of keeping people well fed are great. Add to that, over 300,000 recent migrants from Colombia and Venezuela. Other numbers that Alexandra Rodriguez cited were that 71% of food consumed in the city was eaten outside of the home and 63% of the population was overweight or obese. Since 2002 Rodriguez has been working with a participatory urban agriculture program (AGRUPAR) to expand urban and peri-urban agriculture in Quito. They now have 1400 gardens, involving 5000 people. 57% of the produce goes to home consumption and the remainder is sold. We visited one of the oldest farms and saw a variety of food grown in 1500 m2. We bought some for our own dinner that evening that we prepared under the direction of chef/group member Santiago Rosero at the Gastronomic Laboratory.

Quito’s food bank delivers to 77 institutions and 655 families, working almost entirely with volunteers and no federal support. Their main source of food is leftovers from the markets and supermarkets. They do not receive a tax break for donations, but it does relieve them of having to dispose of food they can’t sell. We visited two of the markets in the old center of Quito, San Roque and Central. At San Roque we heard from anthropologist Anahí Macaroff who has been doing research on the markets of Quito. She explained how they were all connected and should be defended against the growth of supermarkets. She cited several instances where supermarkets opened very near the older markets and lowered their prices for as long as it took to put the market out of business and then raised their prices.

Talking to people from the food bank and markets rounded out our picture of the urban food system. Farm-direct, agroecological markets are growing, but serve a small percentage of the population. This year Quito approved an Agrifood Strategy and a Climate Action Plan. This is a good start, but, as always, the proof is in the implementation. We stopped at a small recycling center that wasn’t quite operating yet. Its main purpose was to teach people how to recycle, but without access to designated receptacles it’s going to take a while.

We heard about several social justice-oriented projects. First, we heard from a group of multidisciplinary researchers from the Catholic University who have been working on nutrition projects in the province of Cotopaxi where a large number of children suffer from malnutrition. Then, we heard about the FUEGOS project to bring a culinary school and food tourism to the province of Manabi that was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. Finally, Marcelo Aziaga told us about feeding anti-austerity protesters. An estimated 20,000 people marched on Quito in October, closing the Panamerican highway and shutting down the capital city. The Catholic University, the Salesiana University, and the Casa de la Cultura housed several thousand people and chefs and food activists set up kitchens to feed them. The police dismantled the kitchens every night, which were then re-set up daily. Food arrived from various places. Volunteers organized food lines, dish washing and waste disposal. Medical students treated people who were wounded by the police, and also the police. Austerity measures were temporarily rolled back, but could re-emerge after the holidays. Later in our trip, we spoke with some indigenous leaders who recounted how they organized their participation through loudspeakers after the government shut down communications.

Driving north from Quito, we visited a biodiverse farm in the Andean dry forest that belongs to two of our group participants, Lucia and Fabian. We tasted four of the over 20 types of avocados that they grow and a variety of passion fruits and chirimoya. (I have to say, the Nacional avocado was to die for.) For lunch, Lucia made us a variety of Andean tubers, plantains and an excellent locro de zambo or squash soup. From there we continued north to Ibarra where we were hosted by MESSE, the Ecuadorian Movement for a Social and Solidarity Economy. Jorge García explained the Abya Yala Paradigm that reigned in the Americas before colonization. The four axioms are 1. Everything is alive; 2. Nothing is the same as something else and diversity generates life; 3. Everything is related to everything; 4. We are all of the cosmos and of the earth. He contrasted these with imported European beliefs about ownership and the primacy of humans that have led to environmental disaster. He gave examples of how the four elements: oxygen, fire, water and earth are the foundations of cooking.

Steve Sherwood outlined for us the relationship between agroecology and solidarity economies. Both share a focus on intersubjectivity between humans and between humans and non-humans, harking back to the axioms that everything is alive and connected. He encouraged us to focus on existence, rather than resistance, as we work to construct new ways of being through our own practices. He explained how food activists in Ecuador connected through various types of encounters that take place all around the country in a de-centralized fashion. This allowed food activists to come together during the strike and set up kitchens to feed people while the food industry called on the government to violently crush the strike, so that they could continue their businesses.

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A pambamesa offered to us at MESSE’s Kuricancha in Ibarra

In nearby El Chota, Luzmila Bolaños also spoke of the four elements as she explained the history and foodways of the Afroecuadorian population of the Chota Valley. She spoke frankly about discrimination and said that the mestizo Ecuadorians had a lot to unlearn before they could learn. She talked about local foods that are part of the local diet, non-local foods that are part of the local diet and local foods that are not part of the local diet. In the latter group are prickly pear cactus which came from Mexico. They are starting to sell the fruit in Ecuadorian supermarkets now, but there is still no local market for the tender young leaves or nopalitos. She and her friend made a salad out of them for our lunch along with a delicious soup.

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Luzmila’s cousin and his prickly pear plantation near El Chota, waiting for a market.
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Both in Ecuador and the US, it is difficult to make a living by farming. Agritourism is one way that families have been able to stay on the farm, so we spent the rest of our time in Ecuador supporting these efforts. The MESSE activists are new to this, so our students served as guinea pigs. (Oops, they eat guinea pigs.)

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The students had a variety of experiences: helping with farming, cooking and marketing and living without potable running water and indoor plumbing for two nights. One host woke up at 5am to walk 45 minutes to milk cows, then made cheese for the rest of the morning. The next four nights were spent with a more experienced community tourism group in Cotacachi. These indigenous women have been hosting tourists in their homes for 20 years and knew the importance of private bedrooms and bathrooms. They also let Claudia know that when stays are booked through the website, the money never leaves the men’s group, so we booked directly through the women’s committee. The women’s committee is focused on health and central to that are indigenous foodways. Discrimination and migration damaged ancestral farming and cooking traditions, and they are working to valorize these health-generating practices. They shared their knowledge about multiple varieties of corn and their uses, demonstrating the traditional preparation of chicha. They spoke to us about their process of stabilizing the recipe for the industrial production of chicha for sale.

The highlight of the Cotacachi stay was the preparation and eating of a pachamanka. Don Enrique had a huge bonfire going when we arrived in the morning, heating up the rocks that were used to line the hole making an earthen oven. Meat and vegetables were wrapped in leaves and placed in the hole which was covered up with leaves and sod and left to cook for about 2 and a half hours. The food had a delicious, smoky flavor and we enjoyed eating it together.

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Loading up the Pachamanka
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Eating the Pachamanka

Our final stay was at Pambiliño Reserve run by one of our past participants, Emilia Arcos and her husband, Oliver. As we descended through the cloud forest, the air grew hot and humid and vegetation turned thick and tropical. Emi and Oliver self-identify as neo-campesinos or new farmers who are passionate about environmental education. Together with friends and family, they are re-creating food forests on land that was once dominated by cattle-raising and mono-cultures. On our last day there, we broke into groups and went foraging in the surrounding forest, bringing back cacao and macambo pods, different types of plantains and bananas, cardamom, oranges, lemons, yuca, guayabilla fruit, edible flowers and various herbs for teas. We made a wonderful lunch, using only very few staples from the kitchen.

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Luz, Camilo and Lisa foraging for their lunch at Pambiliño Reserve

Reading about similarities and differences in agrifood systems and conversing with people from other countries and other ecosystems who share your interest in creating more equitable and environmentally sustainable food systems are wonderful activities. What a privilege, though, to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell what people living different kinds of life experience.

intercultural learning photo 10
“It tastes like ginger”

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Review: Taste, Politics and Identities in Mexican Food

Media of Taste, Politics, and Identities in Mexican Food

Taste, Politics, and Identities in Mexican Food, Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz, ed., Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, 240 pp. ISBN # 9781350066670

Emily Ramsey (University of Georgia)

Is there such a thing as “Mexican cuisine and taste?” As the essays in the volume compiled by Stefan Igor Ayora-Diaz argue, this is an eminently political question because it belies an undergirding assumption that unity exists at a national level. This assumed unity masks any temporal, spatial, social, economic, and ecological differences among cuisines and dishes labeled collectively as “Mexican” while ignoring the hybridity that thrives at local and regional levels. To probe more deeply into what constitutes “Mexican cuisine” in its breadth, Ayora-Diaz and the collection’s authors delve theoretically into the concepts of taste and flavor, emphasizing that, while fundamentally biological in nature, “nonlineal, complex sociocultural and political processes…shape how people simultaneously develop shared and differing experiences of taste in food” (2). These experiences are equally subjective and intersubjective, deriving from memory, emotions, commensality, and perceptions of identity and difference, affirming identities at local, translocal, ethnic, regional, and national levels. Taste in this volume has a distinctly Bourdieuian (1984) flavor: since taste is a social marker it thus becomes a political matter. The politics of taste gain new meaning with UNESCO’s 2010 declaration of Mexican cuisine as intangible cultural heritage, fostering “traditional” recipes and methods of preservation while complicating the landscape of regional cuisines in the Yucatán, Oaxaca, and beyond. Consequently, the volume’s authors attempt to explore how taste is negotiated amidst complex processes of cultural identity in light of history, memory, social class, and global processes.

The volume is divided into three sections, each with four essays. Importantly, it eschews an exclusively contemporary look at Mexican cuisine and taste, with several essays integrating historical texts, archival records, and archaeological evidence to present or reconstruct the evolution of Mexican cuisines. Although several essays are Yucatán- and Oaxaca-focused, the book also adopts a relatively broad geographic approach to “Mexican cuisine,” looking not only within national borders but to places where Mexicans or Mexican cuisine reside outside. It does so by looking to how certain ingredients and culinary styles have become instrumental in local, regional, and national identities, pushing us to consider the limitations and effects of discourses that promote a singular, often homogenizing, national cuisine.

Part I focuses explicitly on cuisines of the past. The first chapter, by Lilia Fernández Souza, attempts to develop a framework for doing “tasteful archaeology.” To do so, she draws on work by Sutton (2010), Stoller and Olkes (1989), and others on the foundational importance of multisensorial, sensual experiences and Hamilakis’ (2011) work on sensory experiences’ material grounding to argue that archaeology can reconstruct past flavors, textures, and aromas through material remains. As such, Souza reviews common ingredients in the Maya pre-Columbian archaeological record, considering the flavors and textures these would have contributed, and, in the absence of recipes, the effects of preparation and cooking techniques. Consequently, attention to such material traces opens the door to “multisensorial experiences of the human past” (32). The second article, by Sarah Bak-Geller Corona examines how calls to formalize and institutionalize culinary knowledge in early 19th century parallel wider processes of political reconfiguration promoting “republican principles of rationality, egalitarianism, and the common good” (37). She reviews these threads in the writings of Tepalcate, a parish priest who—viewing culinary science as demanding high levels of qualification and expertise—called for the creation of dictionary of cuisine for aspiring chefs, methods for grooming these chefs, and a code of cuisine establishing culinary rules and criteria. Cookbooks of the time perform similar republicanizing moves, maintaining that dining tables reinforce critical social ties to promote civility and civilization. Some 19th century authors, however, push back, nostalgic for past customs, simpler foods, and traditional preparation methods in light of new standardizing technologies like the corn mill.

Héctor Hernández Álvarez and Guadalupe Cámara Gutiérrez archaeologically examine the alcohol consumption patterns of the elite and poor at an early 20th century Yucatecan hacienda, focusing on the exclusionary mechanism alcohol played among social classes. They argue that the presence of whole and fragmented glass bottles from imported wines, beers, tonics, and liquors reflects the consumptive habits of the estate’s elite owners and guests; however, the presence of these bottles in the workers’ solares marks their reuse for containing aguardiente, a sugar cane-based alcohol traditionally drunk by indigenous populations. Álvarez and Gutiérrez argue that these bottles were refilled with the aguardiente produced and sold on-site to hacienda workers, a claim corroborated by hacienda workers’ descendants. In the last essay of this section, Mario Fernández-Zarza and Ignacio López-Moreno discuss the critical role of corn as a superfood in Mexican cuisine. Flavor is a sociocultural construction and corn’s countless flavors, they argue, result from a complex confluence of corn’s evolution driven by farmer cultivation and selection, its preparation, consumptive form, and especially its cultural significance. However, as the food industry increasingly reshapes tastes through processed foods and policies that have led to the abandonment of agricultural lands and the adoption of hybrid and transgenic corn varieties, corn’s diversity of flavors is more and more at risk.

Part II shifts from a more historical orientation to a look at the identities and politics—and the politics of identity—in Mexican foods. Ronda Brulotte’s chapter on the politics and practices of mezcal connoisseurship traces how this once low-status liquor became prestigious nationally and internationally. This prestige, Brulotte argues, arises from complex inter-discursive processes. Oaxaca’s depiction as an off-the-beaten-path site of authentic craft industries, mezcal’s portrayal as a liquor requiring education and refinement for true appreciation, and elaborate bottle labels that detail its terroir­ and production details collectively add value and status to the liquor. This, in turn, has opened new markets and helped transform Oaxaca into a trendy destination for craft food and drink consumption. The second essay, by Stefan Igor Ayora-Diaz, argues that the Yucatán’s historically strong regional cuisine and identity are rapidly evolving as the demography of the region transforms. This expanding and fragmenting translocal foodscape is actively shaping Yucatecan consumers’ tastes, making some more open to experimentation in restaurants when novelty was previously only valued in the home. The multiplicity of cuisines to which they are exposed mean Yucatecans are less able to use preferences for traditional foods to assert their identification with ethnic, local, or regional identities; rather, they must now compare these preferences to the breadth of cuisines extant at that moment.

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina explores “the life delicious” in Mérida, Yucatán, portraying how food-centered events and celebrations structure the year and contribute to a life well-lived. Whether during February’s Mardi Gras festivities, spring and summer school vacations, Day of the Dead celebrations, or Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, families structure their lives around socializing with good food among friends and relatives. Drawing on Korsmeyer (1999) and Bourdieu (1984), she argues that food, music, laughter, and the sounds of the countryside and sea are fundamental to building community and establishing the good life for all Yucatecans, even if social classes participate differentially and separately in the good life. In the last essay of this section, Jeffrey Cohen and Paulette Kershenovich Schuster explore the multiple roles that chapulines, or toasted grasshoppers, have come to occupy for rural Oaxacans, urban Oaxacans, and the region’s more adventuresome tourists. For rural Oaxacans, chapulines are a food of last resort and means of survival amidst food insecurity, while for urban Oaxacans, they increasingly reflect the state’s indigenous heritage and have become steeped in nostalgia for a bucolic past. For tourists, chapulines often represent a challenge, portrayed as nutritionally valuable by restauranteurs to entice health-conscious consumers. Because of taste’s biological and cultural dimensions, the authors assert that chapulines reflect how taste preferences change yet simultaneously expose social stratification.

The final section of this volume treats Mexican food in a broader global context. Ramona Pérez’s chapter examines the role of flavor in Oaxacan foods cooked in lead-glazed ceramic cookware. Oaxacan cuisine’s unique flavor profile, she argues, is an amalgamation of the region’s many microclimates, edible herbs used, distinctive combination of ingredients. and especially the cookware in which dishes are made. This cookware imparts inimitable flavors that, despite attempts, her team was unable replicate for local Oaxaqueños using nonceramic instruments. For displaced Oaxaqueños living outside the region, this flavor becomes critical. Longing amidst displacement generates nostalgia for local ingredients and flavors, and although many are aware of the lead poisoning threat, they have the lead-glazed ceramics shipped to them for special occasions to maintain tastes of the past. Jeffrey Pilcher examines the evolution of beer taste and preferences in Mexico in light of the larger global market. Pulque, a drink fermented from the sap of the maguey plant, has a long history dating to preclassical Tenochtitlan, but became associated first with indigenous and later working-class backwardness by Spanish and then Mexican elites. In the 19th century, beer in Mexico increasingly became associated with modernity, taking cues from available imported European varieties. Yet by the 20th century, Corona had established a regional, national, and later international presence, especially in the United States. Since UNESCO’s declaration of Mexican cuisine as intangible cultural heritage, pulque production, once almost gone, has resurged amidst a growing craft beer industry in Mexico City, recently also spreading to New York and Chicago.

In the section’s third essay, Paulette Kershenovich Schuster examines the culinary preferences of Jewish Mexicans living in Israel, arguing that food and commensality helps them retain links to Mexico while maintaining a core part of their identity. First comparing the flavors and ingredients characterizing a Mexican diet versus an Israeli diet, she notes that Tex-Mex dishes have only recently begun to make their way into the Israeli mainstream. Traditionally Mexican dishes are often met with some uncertainty and confusion among Israelis, and thus Mexican restaurants adapt dishes to suit the Israeli palate. In their homes and social gatherings, however, Jewish Mexicans in Israel use food to anchor themselves to the past, teach their children about their heritage, and reinforce group membership through commensality. Consequently, food reflects both self-identification and cultural pride. In the last essay, Christine Vassallo-Oby explores culinary tourism in Cozumel, arguing that cruise line arrangements with and promotion of pre-vetted businesses results in sanitized tastes for most visitors. This sanitized model reaches its epitome with Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, which “builds a fantasy of paradise” (194) while it offers tourists a safe place to engage in “controlled debauchery” (196). This contrasts with a walking tour of local food venues offered by one U.S. expat, a tour that tends to attract a qualitatively different kind of tourist. The personal connections of the walking food tour thus counter the landscape of “Fordist mass tourism” generated by Cozumel’s corporatization (201).

Taken separately and as a whole, the volume’s chapters function well to disturb the idea of Mexican cuisine as unitary, or even as a concept altogether. I agree with Richard Wilk in the volume’s postface that national cuisines from a distance look very different, or even unrecognizable, to those from within, but that “the question of authenticity is really beyond the point” (208). As Wilk argues, understanding what motivates the different forms of authentication—including the need to “brand” national cuisines as forms of cultural heritage—is often as critical as is asking where the boundaries lie in defining not just what foods belong but how to characterize attendant social and culinary practices. The book, thus, does an effective job in pushing readers to consider food and tastes across multiple time scales and territorial distributions, recognizing that “these cuisines are actually in perpetual motion, with new dishes, spices, and combinations being absorbed and other things being exported abroad” (211). Each chapter does so in a broadly accessible way, engaging with theory but grounding its arguments in concrete examples. I thus find it appropriate for anywhere from upper-level undergraduates to graduate students and other academic professionals engaged in food studies.

 

References

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. R. Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hamilakis, Yannis. 2011. “Archaeology of the Senses.” In T. Insoll, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, 208-244. New York: Oxford University Press.

Korsmeyer, Carolyn. 1999. Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Stoller, Paul and Cheryl Oakes. 1989. “The Taste of Ethnographic Things.” In The Taste of Ethnographic Thing: The Senses in Anthropology, 336-352. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sutton, David. 2010. “Food and the Senses,” Annual Review of Anthropology 39(1): 209-223.

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“I Remember the Day I said ‘Okay, I’ve Read Everything,’” an Interview with Carole Counihan

David Sutton

Here is the second in my series of video interviews with food anthropologists. This one is with Dr. Carole Counihan, who probably needs no introduction. In it she reflects on her career, her research in Italy and southern Colorado, and her role as editor of Food and Foodways. This interview was conducted at her summer home in Antonito, Colorado, and was followed by a delicious Tuscan soup that Carole prepared, which unfortunately I cannot share here. See also Carole’s “Proust Questionaire.”

More interviews to follow soon.

 

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The Proust Questionnaire: Dr. Carole Counihan

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not originally devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.

SAFN student representative Kelly Alexander is collecting responses from participants in our food anthropology video archive. Here are responses to the Proust Questionnaire from Dr. Carole Counihan.

What is your favorite virtue? Truthfulness

What are your favorite qualities in a man? Honesty, generosity and knowledge of car engines.

What are your favorite qualities in a woman? Honesty, generosity and steadfastness.

What do you think is your chief characteristic? Balance (I’m a libra).

What quality do you appreciate the most in your friends? Honesty, generosity, and openness.

What do you consider your main fault? Being judgmental.

What is your favorite occupation? Anthropology: teaching, fieldwork, and writing

What is your idea of happiness? My loved ones doing well.

What is your idea of misery? My loved ones in distress.

If you could die and come back as another person or living being, what would you choose? Linda Ronstadt.

Where would you like to live? Colorado.

Who are your favorite prose authors? Too many to list but certainly Toni Morrison, Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Anne Tyler, Louise Penny, Alice Walker…

Who are your favorite poets? Ogden Nash

Who are your favorite heroes/heroines of fiction?Maggie Hope, Jo Marsh, Maisie Dobbs, Alec Ramsey

Who are your favorite anthropologists? Margaret Mead, James Taggart

Dr. Counihan’s full video interview is here.

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