Category Archives: heritage

CFP: Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

A call for papers for an annual conference in France that may be of interest to our readers:

IEHCA logo

Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

Conference organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 November 2018 – Tours (France)

For several years now, many scientists have taken an interest in the relationship between food and heritage: from historians to anthropologists, sociologists to geographers, experts in the field of tourism science, and more. This interest has spawned a host of new publications, and with it a number of mono-disciplinary case studies.

There is a need to review these actions and this work. With the European Council and Parliament deciding that 2018 will be “European Cultural Heritage Year”, there is now a drive to “raise awareness of European history and values and to strengthen a sense of European identity”, while also “drawing attention to the opportunities offered by our cultural heritage, but also to the challenges it faces”. Viewing food in all its aspects as a cultural heritage clearly follows from the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This includes “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity”. The terms of this definition inspired the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food to initiate and carry through the Repas gastronomique des Français (Gastronomic meal of the French) nomination project. Furthermore, UNESCO has added 14 “food” elements to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and many other applications are being prepared. The time has come for a comprehensive and coordinated process of reflection.

Lines of enquiry

The first objective of the conference will be to advocate a multidisciplinary approach to the various aspects covered by food heritage. The second innovative trajectory will be to take a European and international standpoint, with a particular reference to countries that have successfully added food elements to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Finally, we will focus particular attention on the differing time frames, including those that are more long-term in nature.

This comprehensive approach will first focus on challenges: providing a precise definition of concepts such as intangible and food heritage, identifying the scientific and professional communities concerned by these concepts, while also taking the fragile nature of food heritage into account.

Understanding processes is key, in terms of developing the concept of intangible heritage or the historic development of food heritage (compared to concepts such as terroir), and preparing applications for inclusion on UNESCO’s Representative List. The national inventories are essential tools in this regard.

And finally, perspectives consider the fact that, as with any other intangible cultural heritage, food heritage is covered by safeguarding measures. The establishment of a global network of intangible cultural heritage food elements can, clearly, provide robust support for any collective action. We intend to lay the foundations for this network with the 2018 symposium.

Topics (non-exhaustive)

  • Typicality, in terms of the link between the product (and the know-how it takes to produce and transform it) and its place of origin, is a value whose characteristics change based on place and time. Typicality and tradition both contribute to shaping the concept of heritage. Here, too, recent case studies are available.
  • It is now impossible to discuss the notion of food heritage without due consideration of the UNESCO Convention and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Strictly speaking, the Urgent Safeguarding List still contains neither food nor gastronomic elements. Nevertheless, food does play a significant role in, for example, the Yaokwa ritual of the Enawene Nawe people of Brazil (2011), and Guatemala’s Nan Pa’ch ceremony (2013). While studies have already been published, this phenomenon calls for more in-depth research.
  • The notion of food heritage (or culinary, or gastronomic) is a recent development, but its roots stretch back in time. A preliminary work on the French case was published recently, and The French Culinary Model: dissemination, adaption, transformation and opposition worldwide (17th–21st centuries) was chosen as the topic of the IEHCA’s 2014 Conference. But here again, much remains to be done, particularly in a global and comparative sense.
  • Where heritage exists, there is also a need to understand, safeguard and transfer this heritage. This requirement is explicit in the UNESCO Convention, but its roots can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Such a need explains both the existence of inventories and political action taken by public authorities at a national, regional and local level.
  • Food heritage appreciation and interpretation was also the subject of an innovative museological and museographical project using virtual technologies. However, areas remain to be explored, and the use of certain techniques has often generated discrepancies or impossibilities that are yet to be identified to improve public information.
  • The process of heritage designation loads the standard product (and its cuisine) with added values derived from history and mythology; mythology often merges with history, to the point at which it acts as a substitute. The fact that sociologists have developed the expression “nostalgia marketing”, which refers to these aspects, is no coincidence; the consumer is reassured, and recognises a reminder of “the good old days” in the product, a guarantee of quality. There is also a clear economic aspect inherent in this example.

Submission guidelines

If you would like to present a paper at this conference, please send a proposal including an abstract and a CV (1 page maximum, in total) in French or English to be submitted to loic.bienassis@iehca.eu by 15 December 2017.

L’alimentation comme patrimoine culturel : enjeux, processus et perspectives

Colloque organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 novembre 2018 – Tours (France)

Depuis quelques années, les relations entre nourriture et patrimoine ont suscité l’intérêt de nombreux scientifiques : des historiens aux anthropologues, des sociologues aux géographes jusqu’aux experts des sciences du tourisme, etc. En témoignent de multiples publications récentes, qui présentent autant d’études de cas mono-disciplinaires.

Un bilan de ces actions et des travaux effectués s’impose. Le Conseil et le Parlement européen ayant décidé que 2018 serait l’« Année européenne du patrimoine culturel », l’initiative a été lancée de « sensibiliser à l’histoire et aux valeurs européennes et à renforcer un sentiment d’identité européenne » tout en attirant « l’attention sur les possibilités offertes par notre patrimoine culturel, mais également sur les défis auxquels il est confronté ». Considérer l’alimentation et tous ses aspects en tant que patrimoine culturel découle évidemment de la Convention UNESCO pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel, qui, rappelons-le, inclut « les pratiques, représentations, expressions, connaissances et savoir-faire – ainsi que les instruments, objets, artefacts et espaces culturels qui leur sont associés – que les communautés, les groupes et, le cas échéant, les individus reconnaissent comme faisant partie de leur patrimoine culturel. Ce patrimoine culturel immatériel, transmis de génération en génération, est recréé en permanence par les communautés et groupes en fonction de leur milieu, de leur interaction avec la nature et de leur histoire, et leur procure un sentiment d’identité et de continuité, contribuant ainsi à promouvoir le respect de la diversité culturelle et la créativité humaine ». Ce sont les termes mêmes de cette définition qui avaient conduit l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation à initier et à mener à bien le projet d’inscription du Repas gastronomique des Français. Outre celui-ci, quatorze éléments « alimentaires » ont été classés par l’UNESCO dans la liste représentative du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité et de nombreux autres dossiers sont en préparation. Le temps est venu d’une réflexion globale et coordonnée.

Orientations

Le premier objectif du colloque sera de promouvoir une approche multidisciplinaire des différents aspects que recouvre le patrimoine alimentaire. Sa seconde originalité sera d’adopter une perspective européenne et internationale en s’appuyant notamment sur les pays qui ont fait inscrire des éléments alimentaires au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité. Enfin on sera particulièrement attentif aux différentes échelles temporelles, y compris la longue durée.

Cette approche globale abordera d’abord la question des enjeux, qui suppose de définir précisément des notions comme patrimoine immatériel ou alimentaire, de délimiter les communautés scientifiques et professionnelles concernées par ces notions, sans oublier la prise en compte de la fragilité des patrimoines alimentaires.

La compréhension des processus est cruciale, que ce soit la construction de la notion de patrimoine immatériel ou bien la construction historique du patrimoine alimentaire (par rapport à des notions comme celle de terroir) ou encore l’élaboration des dossiers présentés pour l’inscription sur la liste représentative de l’UNESCO. De ce point de vue, l’instrument représenté par les inventaires nationaux se révèle essentiel.

Enfin les perspectives intègrent le fait que le patrimoine alimentaire, comme tout le patrimoine culturel immatériel en général, fait l’objet de mesures de sauvegarde. La mise en place d’un réseau mondial des éléments alimentaires du patrimoine culturel immatériel peut sans aucun doute être un puissant appui à une action collective : le colloque de 2018 entend en être la première pierre.

Thématiques (non exhaustives)

  • La typicité, en tant que lien entre le produit (et le savoir-faire qui le réalise et le transforme) et son lieu d’origine, est une valeur dont les caractéristiques changent selon le lieu et le temps. Typicité et tradition participent ensemble à la construction du concept de patrimoine. Dans ce cas, aussi, nous disposons d’études de cas récentes.
  • Il est maintenant impossible d’aborder l’idée du patrimoine alimentaire sans prendre en considération la convention UNESCO et la liste des éléments du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité qui nécessitent une sauvegarde urgente. Dans cette dernière, on ne trouve pas encore d’éléments alimentaires ou gastronomiques stricto sensu. Cependant, la nourriture occupe une place importante, par exemple, dans le rituel appelé Yaokwa, du peuple brésilien Enawene Nawe (2011) et dans la cérémonie de la Nan Pa’ch du Guatemala (2013). Des études ont déjà été publiées mais ce phénomène demande un approfondissement des enquêtes.
  • L’idée du patrimoine alimentaire (ou culinaire, ou gastronomique) est le résultat d’une construction récente, mais ses origines se situent dans l’histoire. Des travaux existent mais là aussi il reste beaucoup à faire, notamment dans une démarche globale et comparative.
  • S’il y a patrimoine, il y a aussi nécessité de le connaître, de le sauvegarder et de le transmettre. Cette nécessité est explicite dans la Convention UNESCO, mais elle plonge ses racines dans un passé qu’on peut faire remonter bien en arrière, parfois jusqu’au Moyen Âge. Une telle nécessité est à l’origine des inventaires d’un côté, et d’un autre côté des mesures politiques prises par les pouvoirs publics à l’échelle nationale, régionale ou locale. Les inventaires eux-mêmes dépendent des implications culturelles et économiques véhiculées par le patrimoine et souvent présentes aussi dans le développement de son inventorisation.
  • La médiation du patrimoine alimentaire a également fait l’objet d’un travail novateur en matière de muséologie et de muséographie, grâce à l’apport des technologies virtuelles. Mais tout n’a pas été encore exploré, et l’emploi de certaines techniques a pu parfois générer des contradictions ou encore des impossibilités qu’il reste à identifier pour améliorer l’information des publics.
  • Le processus de patrimonialisation charge le produit typique (et sa cuisine aussi) de valeurs ajoutées qui proviennent de l’histoire et de la mythologie ; la mythologie se mêle souvent à l’histoire, jusqu’au point de s’y substituer. Ce n’est pas un hasard si les sociologues ont créé l’expression de « Nostalgia marketing », qui renvoie à ces aspects ; il s’agit de rassurer le consommateur, qui reconnaît dans le produit l’évocation du « bon vieux temps », garantie de qualité. L’aspect économique est évident en ce cas aussi.

Conditions de soumission

Si vous souhaitez présenter une communication à ce colloque, merci d’envoyer une proposition comprenant un argumentaire et un CV (au total 1 page maximum), en français ou en anglais, auprès de Loïc Bienassis loic.bienassis@iehca.eu avant le 15 décembre 2017.

___________________________________

Ce colloque est organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours) qui a porté la candidature du « Repas gastronomique des Français » au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité établi par l’UNESCO.

The conference is being organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours), which supported the nomination of the ‘Gastronomic meal of the French’ for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, established by UNESCO.

En partenariat avec / in partnership with

L’Association France PCI

Le Ministère de la Culture

La Mission Française des Patrimoines et des Cultures Alimentaires

Le Réseau des Cités de la Gastronomie

L’Université de Tours

Comité de Pilotage (provisoire) / Steering committee (provisional)

Loïc Bienassis (Chargé de mission scientifique, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Francis Chevrier (Directeur de l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Denis Feignier (Inspecteur général de l’agriculture, ministère de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation)

Bruno Laurioux (Professeur d’histoire du Moyen Âge et de l’alimentation, Université de Tours)

Pascal Liévaux (Chef du département du pilotage de la recherche et de la politique scientifique, ministère de la Culture)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Laurent Stéfanini (Ambassadeur, Délégué permanent de la France auprès de l’UNESCO)

Comité scientifique (provisoire) / Scientific committee (provisional)

Chiara Bortolotto (Chercheuse associée au laboratoire d’anthropologie et d’histoire de l’institution de la culture (LAHIC), Paris)

Antonella Campanini (Enseignante/chercheuse en histoire médiévale, University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italie)

Allen J. Grieco (Chercheur associé, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italie)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, É0cole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Sylvie Sagnes (Chargée de recherche, CNRS, Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain, Paris)

 

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, Food Studies, heritage

Food Heritage and Culinary Practices

sorbonne musee histoire naturelle palim

Call for papers

Food Heritage and Culinary Practices

International and interdisciplinary symposium

October 14 th -16th 2015

National Museum of Natural History

57 rue Cuvier, 75005 PARIS

We propose to bring together researchers from all fields around the core theme of cooking in order to collectively understand the construction process of food heritage. Specific combinations of ingredients and techniques, from daily, festive or professional cooking, allow achieving textures, flavors, aromas and aesthetics peculiar to a social or cultural group. We wish to combine different approaches to reach this global awareness. We will engage physicists, chemists and biologists, who work on ingredients, their origins, their properties, their processing, their impact on physiology and health, along with anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, historians, archaeologists who work on terroir, food processing techniques, old and modern recipe books, consumption patterns, representations, cultural expressions, identity and, of course, heritage.

Call for papers

We expect contributions, from all disciplines, that could enlighten our understanding of culinary practices and the construction of food heritage.

Papers may address topics such as (partial list):

PRODUCTS, TECHNIQUES AND IDENTITIES

– Evolution of practices and techniques (from prehistory to the present)

– Circulation, exchange and appropriation of products and associated knowledge

– Fermentations: implementations, diversity (meals, drinks)

– Sensory aspects

– Geographic distribution of taste and distaste

CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF FOOD HERITAGE

– Origins and history of food systems

– Food diversification: management, production and use of biodiversity

– Propagations, innovations, crossings

Terroirs and territories

– Heritage scenography

MARKETING AND FOOD MARKETS: QUALITY AND HEALTH ISSUES

– Economic advantages of heritagization

– Food trade channels: quality and sustainability

– The organic sector: economic and ecological issues

– Diet, lifestyle and metabolic diseases

– The development of food preferences: generational and cultural effects

The originality of the conference largely depends on its interdisciplinary nature, which constrains the content and form of presentations. In order to favor mutual understanding and to enhance discussions, speakers are asked to position their talk in a wide framework and avoid any technical jargon difficult to understand by people from other disciplines.

For any communication proposal, please send before July 10th, 2015 a title, abstract (< 400 words) in English or French, a brief CV (< 1 page) and contact information (phone / e-mail / postal address) both to Esther Katz (katz@mnhn.fr) and Christophe Lavelle (lavelle@mnhn.fr). Authors of selected proposals will be notified by end of July.

The conference will be held in French and English

Organizers (contact)

Esther Katz, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris – katz@mnhn.fr

Christophe Lavelle, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris – lavelle@mnhn.fr

Scientific committee

Guy Chemla, Université Paris 4

Renaud Debailly, Université Paris 4

Charles-Édouard de Suremain, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Dominique Fournier, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Jean-Pierre Grill, Université Paris 6

Esther Katz, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Christophe Lavelle, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Vincent Maréchal, Université Paris 6

Vincent Moriniaux, Université Paris 4

Emilien Schultz, Université Paris 4

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CFP: Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

Israeli Assoc Culinary Culture Logo

Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

International Conference

19 – 21 November 2013 

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

The terms “Desert” and “Food” seem irreconcilable: deserts are associated with aridity, scarcity, and the struggle to survive in inhospitable environments, and are rarely related to the pleasures of fine cooking and dining. Research of desert societies, however, reveals time and again the ingenuity and resourcefulness of desert dwellers, who manage to eke out of their meager environment much more than the calories and nutrients essential for their survival. Indeed, desert cuisines, whether Mexican, Native-American, Bedouin, Mongolian, Aboriginal-Australian or Inuit, may seem simple and even coarse to the uninitiated, yet are surprisingly complex and varied, making for an outstanding human achievement.

If desert foods represent human ingenuity at its best, food deserts, defined as disadvantaged urban areas with poor access to retail food outlets, or as areas where food retail is scarce and expensive and where much of the available food is industrialized, processed, expensive and of low nutritional quality, stand for the degradation of the human condition in the context of modern urbanism.

The distinction between “desert foods” and “food deserts” is not without ambiguity. Processes of modernization undergone by some groups living in desert areas have indeed undermined local and traditional culinary practices and hastened the expansion of fast-food chains into those areas. However, at the same time, a counter-reaction to this process has brought about creative and innovative ideas and practices which seek to produce and distribute quality food in a non-alienated environment. Examples of this include community vegetable gardens, farmers’ markets and social networks for the exchange of knowledge and information regarding the cultivation and procurement of fresh food products.

Beer Sheva is the perfect venue for hosting such conference. Israel’s “Capital of the Desert” is located at the heart of the Negev Desert and constitutes the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the surrounding desert communities. The city draws Bedouin semi-nomad shepherds and town dwellers, Jewish farmers in communal and private agricultural settlements, as well as large numbers of migrant workers from different countries, and serves as their culinary centre.

Up until recently, Beer Sheva was a typical “food desert”, featuring mainly cheap local fast-food venues as well as small and medium size grocery shops (“minimarkets”). Rising income, the influx of immigrants from the former USSR, the expansion of Ben-Gurion University and the growing communities of migrant workers from Africa and Asia, have led to new and diverse culinary demands. Beer Sheva is now an exciting hub of culinary experimentation and innovation, influenced by its multicultural and multiethnic social mosaic.

The conference seeks to unravel and discuss the rich and diverse culinary concepts and practices in both actual deserts and symbolic ones. To that end it will provide a platform to both scholars and practitioners. Keynote speakers at the conference will be: Prof. Sammy Zubaida, Chef Israel Aharoni. 

We seek sessions and individual papers that deal with various aspects of desert foods, food deserts, and possibly their interface. “Deserts” are understood in the broadest possible sense of the term and include any region, territory or era where food is/was scarce and hard to get.

As the conference will also include a non-academic session with the participation of culinary practitioners from various fields proposals are also welcome for that session.

Potential topics include:

  • Food tourism in the desert
  • Food and Politics in the Desert
  • Migrant and native cuisines in the desert
  • Desert foodways of nomads and permanent settlers
  • Ecology, geography and nutrition
  • Food deserts and globalization
  • Food, nutrition and meaning in scarce environments

The conference is hosted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in cooperation with the Israeli Association for Culinary Culture, and is supported by The Hertzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. The Conference conveners are Dr. Nir Avieli avieli@bgu.ac.il, Dr. Nimrod Amzalak info@culinaria.org.il, Prof. Aref Abu-Rabiah aref@bgu.ac.il and Mr. Rafi Grosglik, rafig@post.bgu.ac.il. Members of the academic committee include Prof. Yoram Meital, , Prof. Pnina Motzafi-Haller, Dr. Julia Lerner and Dr. Uri Shwed.

Attendance at the conference is free and the lectures are open to the public. Pending budget approval, the organizers will provide all speakers with free university accommodation and half board. The program includes study tours in Beer Sheva and the Negev Desert.

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words to desertfood2013@gmail.com by MAY 15 2013.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, CFP, food deserts, Food Studies, heritage, history, indigenous people, Israel, Middle East, sustainability

The NFL Occupation of New Orleans

SuperbowlDavid Beriss
University of New Orleans

The National Football League came to New Orleans a few weeks ago and while everyone else has probably moved on, I am still thinking about it. Part of this is because the big game was here in the middle of Carnival season. In fact, the parade schedule in New Orleans was re-arranged to accommodate the Super Bowl. New Orleans is a party town, but this was a long stretch of festivities, even for us. New Orleans is also a town that has long engaged in very self-conscious self-promotion. The NFL provided a key opportunity for that, allowing the city to put on a show for the entire world to see. I have been interested in the ways in which cities (especially New Orleans) work to create a sense of distinctiveness—for tourism, business, etc.—and this was clearly a great moment to see that happen. The NFL brought us a standardized segment of Americana and New Orleans responded with a cleaned up version of itself.

Perhaps a bigger city can absorb the NFL presence in a way that allows locals to get on with life as if nothing was going on. That would have been difficult here. In fact, city leaders worked hard to raise awareness of the arrival of NFL visitors. Locals were warned about the crowds and traffic to expect in the city center. New Orleans has a relatively concentrated core, with the Superdome very close to the neighborhoods where visitors like to gather. Those neighborhoods are easy to move around in, on foot, via bicycle (a temporary version of the bicycle share programs common in other cities was set up for the Super Bowl) or mass transit (an entirely new streetcar line serving the area near the Superdome was completed in time for the event). The NFL constructed a sort of independent town, with actual buildings and tents near the convention center and took over the vast convention center itself for a variety of events. The French Quarter was occupied by CBS, with banners and temporary structures creating backdrops for broadcasts. At one point people at CBS sparked indignant protests from locals when they decorated the iconic Andrew Jackson statue in the city’s central square with a sign from one of their shows. The sign came down, but the stage was still set. New Orleans was occupied by the NFL and the media. And, with a few exceptions, people were mostly pleased.

The Super Bowl seems to have become a secular holiday nearly on a par with Thanksgiving in the United States. Attending Super Bowl parties and preparing elaborate (if informal) feasts is now part of the regular ritual calendar for many Americans. Some claim that the Super Bowl provides the occasion for the second largest annual food consumption day in the U.S., surpassed only by Thanksgiving. It is clearly more than just a special football game. Spectacular sports events have been used in many countries as part of national holidays and sporting events can take on national significance that transcend the specific sport or game. This is certainly the case with the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, the Tour de France, and other events. Each of these provides an opportunity to showcase sports and promote the event’s sponsors, while at the same time providing a stage on which the event’s location also receives public attention.

The Super Bowl is a huge commercial and cultural juggernaut. Although I had an abstract sense of the event that had occupied New Orleans, the real size and flavor became much clearer when Rebecca Turner, of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, invited me to visit the “NFL Experience” in the Morial Convention Center. This turned out to be something like 800,000 square feet of football mania, with displays of everything the NFL and NFL-affiliated sponsors thinks you should think about when you think about football. There were dozens of games, ranging from tests of physical strength and coordination, to football trivia. There were displays of football memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, helmets and uniforms. Performers sang and danced and football players stopped by to sign autographs. The Southeast Dairy Association was there to promote a diet and exercise program it has developed with the NFL. Food offerings were mostly generic American industrial products–there were concession stands selling national beer brands and the usual fast food, while sponsors like Pepsi handed out samples of soft drinks (the dairy folks were distributing cheese sticks and chocolate milk). I suspect that NFL experience, or something like it, appears in every city that hosts the Super Bowl.

cochon de lait po boy

Cochon de Lait Po’Boy

Fascinating as this was, entering the NFL experience felt like leaving New Orleans. Of course, the city also put on a huge show of its own culture for the Super Bowl. This included endless interviews with local officials, activists, artists, musicians and, of course, restaurateurs. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and local chef Poppy Tooker used gumbo to help people think about the nature of New Orleans on one CBS show. The city and the NFL also organized a music and food festival in Woldenberg Park, next to the Mississippi River. I rode my bike over to that festival the day after I visited the NFL experience. Enthusiastic crowds surrounded several stages where local bands played everything from funk to brass band music. Rows of stands sold the kind of food that has made New Orleans famous. The French Quarter was just a few steps away, providing access to even more of the things that attract people to New Orleans (and the Times-Picayune provided an interesting analysis and guide to one of those things).

Crawfish beignets

Crawfish beignets

The distinctive version of New Orleans presented for the Super Bowl was just distinct enough to add some flavor to the dominant American football festival. There are reasons to think that the contrasts between New Orleans and the rest of America run deeper than those on display a few weeks ago. Although the contrasts have attracted attention for a long time, efforts to assert them have become something of a local cottage industry in the last few years. Some of this—including most of what was presented during the Super Bowl—is meant to attract and please tourists. Some of it is meant to challenge dominant ideas about how economic life is organized in the U.S. today. Some evokes parts of American history that challenge how we think of ourselves. I wonder what would happen if we put some of that on display for visitors the next time a big event comes to town?

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Filed under anthropology, city, culture, festivals, heritage, New Orleans, SAFN Member Research, urban

Montreal: Smoked Meat!

by Alan Nash
Department of Geography, Planning and Environment
Concordia University, Montreal

Schwartz's in 2008, photo by Alan Nash

 

“What should I eat in Montreal?”

As if answering your question, Calvin Trillin, in a November 2009 column in The New Yorker, acknowledged the reply that most Montrealers would likely give when he remarked “smoked meat was probably Montreal’s best-known food…”.

Similar august endorsements will answer your obvious follow-up question, “where’s the best place to eat smoked meat?”

“When you’re in Montreal, you must go to Schwartz’s” opines The New York Times (a headline that I have been unable to track back to the original – but come from a poster on the wall of the restaurant itself).

Small wonder, perhaps, that Schwartz’s restaurant has recently been the subject of a stage musical (called – yes, you’ve guessed it — Schwartz: The Musical) that ran in Montreal’s Centaur Theatre to packed houses in early 2011.  I have the t-shirt.

As the place for the food, the epicenter of smoked meat in the city, there is no doubt in the minds of many that Schwartz’s is Montreal. Certainly, it fits the bill of an “iconic food” – to borrow Jennifer Berg’s helpful term – and, as an iconic food becomes one that we do not have to eat (or like) before we will recommend it to others. Like the newspaper headline, smoked meat has passed into legend and becomes a marketer’s dream.

If, after a visit to Schwartz’s cramped 61-seater diner-style restaurant on St Laurent Boulevard, you still have the stomach for further questions, they are almost certainly going to be “What exactly is Montreal smoked meat?” “What’s the difference between Montreal smoked meat and New York pastrami?” and “Which is best?

Photo by Alan Nash

I won’t answer that last one — on the grounds of personal safety — but as to the historical background of this story, I can turn to Eiran Harris, perhaps the authority on Montreal smoked meat.

In an interview in Cuizine, he ascribes smoked meat’s origins to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who, in the late nineteenth century, brought with them a familiarity with the meat known as pastrami in Yiddish. Once in Montreal, he notes, two ways of making smoked meat developed. The ‘dry cure’ used the brisket, a cut of meat taken from a steer’s forequarters, which was then rubbed with salt and spices and left to soak for between 12-20 days, before being smoked for six hours. A subsequent development, the ‘wet cure’ reduced the soaking period to about four days to speed things up, and one final innovation, “steaming” the meat for three hours, replaced volume that the brisket had lost through curing. For the record, Schwartz’s (established in 1928) uses the traditional “dry cure” with a final steaming before slicing and serving.

Oh – and how is it different from pastrami? Let me turn to Montreal food writer and Montreal Gazette columnist, Bill Brownstein, who is brave enough to record a view on this contentious matter. He writes that Montreal smoked meat “can be differentiated from pastrami or corned beef by its higher ratio of fat and spice, which connoisseurs will attest accounts for its superior taste’ (2006, 17). Be that as it may, just for the record, there are some basic differences between the two. “New York” style pastrami, according to Bacon’s entry on the subject in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, uses plate rather than brisket – a superior cut of beef  and one usually dry-rubbed with a mixture of spices and then refrigerated for up to ten days before smoking.

Debates about smoked meat in Montreal are always hard to settle, but no one doubts that the secret of Schwartz’s success must lie in a heady combination of its ability to serve top-quality smoked meat, and the publicity that has come to surround both the food and the place.

You should try some.

Reading/References:

Bacon, J. ‘Pastrami’, in Smith, A.F. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. New York: Oxford University Press, vol. 2, 2004, 240-241.

Berg, J. ‘Iconic Foods’, in Katz, Solomon H. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. New York: Scribner, vol. 2, 2003, 243-244.

_____. ‘From the Big Bagel to the Big Roti? The Evolution of New York City’s Jewish Food Icons’, in Hauck-Lawson, A. and J. Deutsch (eds.), Gastropolis: Food and New York City. New York: Columbia Press, 2009, 252-273.

Brownstein, B. Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 2006.

Harris, E. ‘Montreal-Style Smoked Meat: An interview with Eiran Harris conducted by Lara Rabinovitch, with the cooperation of the Jewish Public Library’, Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures vol.1 no. 2, no pagination [e-journal article accessed on 2 March and 8 April 2010 at www.erudit.org/revue/cuizine/2009/v1/n2/037859ar.html] .

Trillin, C. ‘Canadian Journal: Funny Food’, The New Yorker (23 November), 2009, 68-69.

 

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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, anthropology, culture, heritage, Montreal

Rethinking School Lunch

USA School Lunch: Applesauce, chocolate milk, hash browns, and chicken nuggets, from http://interestingemailforwards.blogspot.com/2009/05/school-lunch-from-around-world.html

It has been many years since I last confronted a school lunch. While I can recall some spectacular lunchroom antics from my school years, I do not remember the food with any pleasure at all. Not the greasy pizza. Not the canned peaches served, mysteriously, with revolting cottage cheese. Not the jello. Well, maybe the jello, but more as a projectile than as food.

I have no idea where the food came from. I don’t know if it was cooked locally or distributed by a central kitchen. To be honest, I was not really paying that much attention at the time. There were more important things to consider. See my point about jello above. In any case, nobody seemed to care. Students were meant to eat and move on. We did.

Food activists have been trying hard recently to make people more aware of what kids eat in their school lunches.  Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, for example, started a campaign in California to get kids involved in producing their own food. Beginning over a decade ago with an “edible schoolyard” in Berkeley, Waters created a foundation (the Chez Panisse Foundation) that focused on improving school lunch by making it a real part of the curriculum.  Another famous chef, Jamie Oliver, launched a campaign to improve “school dinners” in the United Kingdom and has had some notable success as well as some colorful resistance. He also turned his campaign into a kind of reality TV show and brought it to the U.S., much to the consternation of the folks who make school lunches in Los Angeles.  There have been many more local efforts to improve school food around the country, too many to note here, and quite a lot of blog traffic on the subject, including this site devoted to school lunches around the world. There has been some notable recent research in this area as well. Janet Poppendieck’s recent book, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America (2010, University of California Press), provides very useful insights into the history of and debate around school lunches in the U.S. Wendy Leynse has studied and written about the place of school lunch in France, where it seems to hold a more important place in school curricula. The Food Museum Online has a very comprehensive exhibit devoted to school lunch reform that is very much worth exploring.

One of the more striking recent developments in this movement, however, has been an effort to turn kids into school lunch activists. Here in New Orleans, a group called the Rethinkers have, since 2006, involved actual kids in efforts to rethink (whence the name) public education. One of their central issues has been school lunch.  In 2008, the Rethinkers put together a list of 12 recommendations for the local public schools and managed to get the superintendent to agree to most of them.  They have worked quite effectively to keep their recommendations in the public eye, creating recipes with chefs to suggest for the schools, meeting with Aramark (one of the enormous corporations that holds local school lunch preparation contracts) to persuade them to use local produce and issuing reports evaluating the food served at schools around town. Their most recent report provides a detailed evaluation of the food at several local schools, along with policy recommendations, critiques of where lunch food comes from and very good analyses of why food and the dining experience in schools should be improved. The entire excellent report is available on line.

It is interesting to see what the Rethinkers think is important.  Here is a summary of their 12 recommendations for schools:

  1. Use real utensils (no more sporks).
  2. Buy fresh, tasty food that is minimally processed.
  3. Use ingredients that have been sourced within 200 miles of New Orleans.
  4. Put more New Orleans and Louisiana dishes on the menu.
  5. Provide better vegetarian alternatives.
  6. Stop using Styrofoam.
  7. Develop school gardens and grow some food for the school.
  8. Compost leftovers.
  9. Design school cafeterias to be welcoming places where you might like to eat.
  10. Provide sinks where kids can wash their hands.
  11. Provide enough time for kids to enjoy their food and the company of their friends.
  12. No silent lunches. Food and dining should not be used to punish students.

The key thing to note here is that this is clearly about a great deal more than what students will get to eat. It is about where their food comes from, how it is prepared and disposed of, the dining context and the educational experience itself. It is about getting students, teachers, administrators and parents to be more self-conscious about food. In New Orleans, a city that is very self-conscious about food in general, this movement is helping remind people that kids do not have to leave behind their own culture at the school doors.  And by getting hundreds of kids involved in evaluating school lunches and rethinking what and how they eat, the Rethinkers are already succeeding in putting food on the curriculum.

One last thing worth noting: the never-ending debates about the crisis in public education in the United States usually focuses on issues like standardized test scores and what many people see as the “fundamentals” of education, like reading and math. Food is about as fundamental as it gets. The Rethinkers are calling attention to this.

Posted by David Beriss

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Filed under anthropology, culture, food policy, heritage, nutrition, obesity

City of Gastronomy

Louisiana bumper sticker

The BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico (named, it seems, for the fictitious town invented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”) has been capped, top-killed, sealed and may be bottom-killed as well. Last we checked, the government and BP were looking into adding a new blowout preventer to the well. We have a whole new vocabulary that we can try to work into class lectures, articles and blog entries. However, this new set of oil spill words should not distract us from a simple fact: the Gulf Coast remains in danger.

Gulf Coast seafood producers find themselves in a paradoxical situation. On one hand, the end of the spew and the reopening of many commercial and sport fishing areas means that seafood from the Gulf will once again be widely available. The seafood producers, including the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, have worked hard to build the local brand, trying to assure people that food from the Gulf is not only safe, but extraordinarily good. Obviously, the BP spill tarnished that brand, so their priority now is to resurrect it. The government has been testing the seafood extensively to show that it is safe to consume. The future of the seafood industry on the Gulf Coast—the way of life for thousands of people—is at stake.

At the same time, residents of the Gulf Coast want to remind you that the end of the oil spill is not the end of the problem. There is still oil on the beaches, in the wetlands, maybe under the sea. Seafood producers, processors, restaurant owners and workers and others involved in the Gulf Coast tourist industries have all lost income in the last few months. Cleaning up the damage and making people whole will take time and money. They do not want to be forgotten. Of course, calling attention to this also calls attention to the damage the oil and dispersants may have done to the environment and to the seafood. Which, of course, raises further questions about safety.

Another bumper sticker

A paradox, indeed.

Food activists are using ideas about food culture and heritage in one of the more interesting efforts to address this paradox. A group led by the food activist Gary Nabhan has recently published a collection outlining reasons why we should look at the Gulf of Mexico as both a biological resource and as a key part of America’s cultural heritage. The pamphlet has short articles by food activists in the New Orleans area—people you should read if you are planning on visiting the city for the AAA meetings in November—who explain clearly what is at stake in cultural terms in restoring the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

The problems go far beyond the immediate oil spill. They are biological, of course, but also social and cultural. The articles show what kinds of species are endangered, not just by the recent oil spill, but by other longer term problems. These include the destruction of the Louisiana coast due to oil canals, pipelines and the efforts to control the Mississippi river, all of which have rendered the region vulnerable to salt water intrusion, eroded wetlands and increased the area’s susceptibility to hurricane storm surges. It also includes the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is created every year by farm runoff from America’s heartland spewing out from the Mississippi. And it is not just seafood that is at stake. The Gulf Coast is home to plants such as mirlitons (known also as chayote squash) and many other vegetables, to heritage cattle breeds and other kinds of livestock, all of which are in danger of vanishing as the coast disappears and as the pressures of the American food industry and of culinary homogenization press in.

One group is working to have UNESCO designate New Orleans as a “City of Gastronomy.” This includes several of the authors from the Nabhan’s collection, other New Orleans food activists, representatives of the city government and the author of this post. The City of Gastronomy designation is currently held by only three cities (Popayan, Colombia, Chengdu, PRC and Östersund, Sweden). It is part of a broader “creative cities network” that UNESCO has created to promote social, economic and cultural development in cities around the world. This meshes with the emphasis in Louisiana on the “cultural economy” and is understood by our group as a means toward legitimizing the city’s claim that it is home to a distinct culinary heritage. This is not merely an historical artifact: the foodways of New Orleans and the surrounding region, from the waters of the Gulf and the people who work them, to farmers, gardeners, home cooks and restaurant chefs, is indeed a living creative culture. Insuring the health of the Gulf Coast is a key part of making sure that that culture can be sustained. We want to remind you that buying and eating the products of the Gulf is not just good eats. It is also a key part of keeping a way of life alive.

Posted by David Beriss

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Filed under AAA 2010 New Orleans, anthropology, culture, disaster, economics, food policy, heritage, media, sustainability