From the blackened avocados at Nix to the lamb heart ashes at Aska, burned and charred foods may seem like just another fad sweeping through pyrotechnically inclined restaurants. But burning, a technique that can involve a surprising amount of shading and subtlety, has deep roots in many cuisines…
“When I’m pulling something from the salamander, someone is always walking by saying, ‘Uh-oh, somebody burned something!’” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I’m like, ‘Yes, that’s the whole point.’”
Culinary historian and chef Joanna Pruess and Kelsey Brow, curator at the King Manor Museum, present a lively dialogue about the legacy of three of America’s First Ladies, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and their friends, including a tasting of some recipes. More than a century before New York women won the right to vote in 1917 (it took three more years for the country to ratify the 19th Amendment), some steadfast and intelligent wives stood alongside their husbands as our nation was created. Even without a ballot, they were an effective force in nurturing Colonial America. Woven into their biographies are details about what they ate, how meals were served, sources for recipes, together with culinary innovations and insightful anecdotes about daily life and this new country. They reveal much of our history and even how we still eat today. Sponsored by the Food Studies Program. http://bit.ly/2k4NFgn
We have just witnessed the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Not knowing what the political future of the country holds, we are trying to make sense of the signals that the new president gave during the campaign and the transition. Based on his cabinet choices, his impromptu pronouncements on twitter, and a bizarre press conference, there is a lot to worry about – including in terms of the future of our food system. The scant commitment to sustainability and the determination to cut the budget at all costs does not bode well for all those who need forms of support to feed their families. These often include the less protected sectors of society, such as citizens with disabilities, women, immigrants, and minorities.
Many also may wonder what will happen to the vegetable garden that Michelle Obama launched, who will be cooking for the first family and what they will eat. In this context, I found particularly refreshing to read The President’s Kitchen Cabinet, a book that looks at the contributions of a specific minority – African Americans – to the food culture of past presidents and the White House. As its author Adrian Miller observes, “Life in a bubble can be very good, but a good story could be richer if more voices were added to give perspective.” As Miller points out, many of the culinary professionals he introduces are likely to be virtually unknown to most readers, because “much of the venerable presidential history we consume omits these people primarily due to a mix of condescension and contempt toward African Americans on the part of white historians who wrote the stories.” Although information is now more readily available, Miller still notices a form of laziness that prevents writers from acknowledging that “there are more cooks in the kitchen than the executive chef and the pastry chef.”
ThePresident’s Kitchen Cabinet delves into the personal histories, the tribulations, and the achievements of the most relevant – and those for whom documents exist – among the numerous black men and women that found employment as stewards, maître d’s, chefs, cooks, and even mixologists in the White House, but not only. In fact, a chapter is dedicated to those who worked on trains, yachts, and planes that transported the US presidents across the country and around the world. George Washington’s cook Hercules, Thomas Jefferson French-trained chef James Hemings, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s family cook Zephyr Wright and many other come to life, indicating how deep the influence of African Americans has been on the culinary arts of the United States, long before a juggernaut like Edna Lewis made her presence felt on the national scene. In the early decades of the republic, many of these professionals worked as slaves, and Miller does not hesitate to point out what their legal status meant for their personal lives and in terms of their relationship with the man in power, which ranged from benign paternalism to callous insensitivity and outright exploitation. Miller’s book responds to the same desire to acknowledge the oft-ignored past history of black culinary professionals that inspires the pages of Toni Tipton-Martin’s The Jemima Code. However, while the latter emphasizes cookbooks, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet focuses on material culture, cultural issues, political dynamics, and labor relations, contributing to the study of the development of the culinary professions in the US.
Since the independence, African American personnel in the White House have found themselves interacting more or less smoothly with the First Ladies, who – as Miller underlines – play a crucial role in determining what is prepared and consumed, and particularly influence the president’s diet. Join us on Monday, January 30th at The New School for a Culinary Celebration of America’s Founding Mothers, a conversation with culinary experts Joanna Pruess and Kelsey Brow about three of America’s First Ladies, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison. The event, which will include a tasting of some recipes, will help us further our understanding of the role food plays in determining the public image of presidents and the perception of their politics in general.
It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night and there’s a line out the door at EAT Café. Inside, executive chef and restaurant manager Donnell Jones-Craven is busy plating up salads and burgers, but he pauses to sprint out into the dining room. “I appreciate so much that you’re all here for dinner tonight!” he calls out to those still waiting in line. “Just bear with us and we’ll get you seated as soon as we can.”
Tucked into a crossroads of several West Philadelphia neighborhoods near Presbyterian Hospital and Drexel University, EAT Café is in the throes of its busiest night since opening six weeks ago in October.
EAT, which stands for “Everyone At the Table,” is the first restaurant of its kind in Philadelphia. The not-for-profit restaurant aims to provide a sit-down dining experience to residents of the city’s low-income neighborhoods by allowing patrons to pay whatever they can afford for their meals.
Baja California is a stunning place, with its desert landscapes next to surfing locations, the sprawling vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe a short drive away from both the mountains and the beaches. Its gastronomy is on the rise. The year-round availability of great produce and fresh seafood, as well the recent growth of its restaurant scene and its wine industries make Baja California an exciting place to explore. Its cuisine is open to the influence of the various communities that settled there over the years, from the Chinese to the French and the Russians, generating the increasingly popular Baja Californiana style, with Mexican mainstays featuring Mediterranean and Asian accents. Even Tijuana, which in the past was not especially renowned for its culinary refinement, now boasts great chefs, a Slow Food conviviumand the beautiful Culinary Art School. Besides courses for chefs, the school also offers a sommelier degree and a master’s program that focuses on the cuisines of Mexico, connecting practice with historical and cultural research.
It is not surprising that in 2015 Ensenada, one of the main towns in the state, became part of the UNESCO network of creative cities, and in particular the one dedicated to gastronomy. It is in this framework that the town hosted the fourth meeting of the Latin American network of Food Design in October. The cities in the network all invest in creativity as a key element to promote cultural diversity, dialogue and new opportunities for sustainable development. The network’s goal is to enhance production and availability of cultural services at the local level, especially for underprivileged groups. At the same time, the international connections and the UNESCO endorsement are supposed to provide visibility, positive reinforcement, and growth opportunities on a global platform, including tourism.
To guarantee more effectiveness, different networks have been established to emphasize various aspects of human creativity, such as literature, film, music, art and folk art, design, media arts. Food was added to the list in August 2005, gastronomy, the city of Popayán in Colombia was appointed the first UNESCO city of Gastronomy. The example was followed by Chengdu, China, and in 2010 the two cities issued the declaration, “Toward a World Union of Gastronomic Cities” that created the foundation for a Creative Cities Network based on food. The declaration framed gastronomy as “a development tool for a wide economic sector that includes several industries such as agro, tourism, transportation, food conservation and handling, lodging, [and] dining.” Besides Ensenada in Mexico, Östersund in Sweden, Zahle in Lebanon, Jeonju in Korea, and Florianopolis in Brazil have already joined the network, and other cities have already submitted their application or are getting ready to, including Niigata and Tsuruoka in Japan, Taipei in Taiwan, and Vic in Catalonia, Spain. So far, the only US city in the network is Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonora desert.
The participation in the network is meant to spur economic development, in which artisanal food with strong connections to place of production can play a crucial role. However, the relationship between the urban centers and the surrounding rural areas, where most crops and animal products are likely to originate, needs to be better clarified. Local ingredients and dishes are not considered in terms of manufacture and commerce, as the “City of Gastronomy” label is not applied to individual products that can travel and be enjoyed outside of the area, but rather is a promotional tool designed to increase local interest for food traditions and to attract tourists to enjoy gastronomy as a cultural resource in its original environment.
In Ensenada, the collective Ensenada Creativa took the initiative by the hand of local designer Damian Valles, bridging gastronomy, design, food production and science to reinforce culinary tourism, cultural identity, sustainability and the food security. The group believes that gastronomy can highlight the connection between society and nature in order to preserve the environment. As Valles explains it: “Creativity is the driving force that unites us as a community. We see the abundance and diversity of our landscape and want to tell the story of what Ensenada can become if it develops wisely thru values of equity, inclusion and coexistence”
What the city needs to do is to look at the whole sector of food production, environmental stewardship, and tourism with a systemic approach to generate concrete strategies while placing the participation of actors of all classes and backgrounds at the core of any new initiative. As difficult as it may seem, this would constitute a great example not only for other gastronomic cities around the world, but also for civic society in Mexico.
Food has become an increasingly visible arena where individuals, communities, and nations debate and define their cultural identity, their social standing, their political outlook, and their economic success. Crops turn into commodities on the stock market, while trade regulations determine the fate of entire regions. Public concerns and the debates that emerge from them range from health and nutrition to organic methods, use of GMOs, support of local producers, and labor issues, among others.
The common thread between all of these aspects of the food system is that so much depends on the power distribution among all the stakeholders involved. Who has authority to decide what and how we eat? The next Farm Bill, which will determine the future of food production in the United States, is expected to enter negotiations by 2017 or 2018 at the latest. So much of our well-being lies in the politics of food that it is time we really start paying attention.
The close relationship between food systems and power, especially in totalitarian regimes, is not a new phenomenon. The recent death of Fidel Castro has reignited debates on how his political directives had a profound impact on what Cubans grew, bought, and ate. A new book by historian Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism, dives into how fascist dictatorships of the twentieth century (Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany and Salazar in Portugal) embraced agriculture and husbandry, as well as the technological advances in those fields, to increase their control over food production in their countries and the lives of their citizens, while expanding their power structures.
The three dictators all embraced the ideal of the “organic” nation, closely connected with its generous soil and its inhabitants, who were the expression of pure and superior races. On the one hand, this constituted the ideological basis for the introduction of new plant and animal varieties that were intended to increase yields and to support the efforts of the three regimes toward complete autonomy (or autarky, as they preferred to say). According to Saraiva, these were not “thin scientific objects isolated from society,” but rather they bonded “science, technology, and politics together in a continuum.” On the other hand, the faith in science and progress provided a justification for the three regime’s expansionist policies in Europe and in Africa, reflecting the long held beliefs in the civilizing mission of the white man that had been ideological backbone of colonialism since the fifteenth century.
The three dictators all embraced the ideal of the “organic” nation, closely connected with its generous soil and its inhabitants, who were the expression of pure and superior races. On the one hand, this constituted the ideological basis for the introduction of new plant and animal varieties that were intended to increase yields and to support the efforts of the three regimes toward complete autonomy (or autarky, as they preferred to say). According to Saraiva, these were not “thin scientific objects isolated from society,” but rather they bonded “science, technology, and politics together in a continuum.” On the other hand, the faith in science and progress provided a justification for the three regime’s expansionistic policies in Europe and in Africa, reflecting the long held beliefs in the civilizing mission of the white man that had been ideological backbone of colonialism since the fifteenth century.
Saraiva focuses his research on both the existing literature about the relationship of fascism to science and technology, and on the close examination of a wide array of administrative, scientific, and political documents. He concentrates on a few specific cases: the introduction of laboratory-selected wheat varieties in Italy and Portugal, as well as the diffusion of genetically-controlled types of potatoes and pigs in Germany. To illustrate the impact of technoscientific organisms in the colonial efforts of the three regimes, the author examines coffee, rubber, cotton, and sheep.
The book explains that despite all of the interest in rural traditions and the glorification of farmers as the foundation of the nation, the fascist regimes had no intention to move back to the past, striving rather to assert what Saraiva defines as “a utopian vision of an organic alternative modernity.” The new communal dynamics were supposed to work as an antidote against the negative aspects of modernity, such as individualism, the supremacy of international plutocracy, and international instability. Class tensions were replaced by corporatist organizations where field laborers, sharecroppers, small farmers, and large landowners were supposed to cooperate with scientists, distributors, and food industries for the common good. In reality, the landowners relied on the regime to impose their domination over the rural population and drain them of resources.
We will discuss these topics in the public panel Food, Power, and Politics, which will take place at The New School on November 29 as part of the activities around the exhibition of artist Roxy Paine’s Dinner of the Dictators. These dynamics are not only remnants from our past—they define the present of our food system and will determine our future as individuals and citizens.
Food is not only good to eat; it is also increasingly enjoyed through media that range from one’s smartphone to cinema. In today’s popular culture, food’s visual representations play a role as relevant as its actual consumption, allowing for new forms of sharing and circulation. A specific contemporary way of looking at food is easily identified in communication forms as diverse as cookbooks, advertisement posters, reality TV, and commercials. Both critics and scholars have used the expression “food porn” to refer to this visual language in which food is always glistening and luscious, with lights playing on it to heighten its sensuality.
This style employs recognizable shots, from the ingredient detail to highlight its material qualities to the hand shots that glorify a cook’s dexterity and skills, moving to larger shots that include table, tools, and dishes, as well as the face of the cooking protagonists, all the way to wide shots that reveal the environment and the interaction with other characters. When food porn is applied to film, editing can vary from meditative, slow takes to frantic rhythm, depending on the filmography. Amplified sounds of simmering water or sizzling meat, much louder than ever experienced in reality, contribute to draw viewers into what they see and cannot, obviously, taste or smell.
These elements are constitutive in what is often called the “food film” genre, the main topic of the new book I wrote with Laura Lindenfeld called Feasting Our Eyes: Food Film and Cultural Identity in the United States. Both avid consumers of the genre, Lindenfeld and I question it to uncover how it participates in the formation and the diffusion of ideas and values about important aspects of our identity such as gender and sexuality, class, age, as well as race and ethnicity. We discovered that as fun as they can be and as apparently progressive they may seem in their celebration of difference, originality, and creativity, food films tend to reveal a quite traditional – at times conservative – outlook on society.
Of course, that is not always the case. Recently, two great works that propose an alternative approach to food in film, albeit in different ways, have been re-released: Tampopo and Daugthers of the Dust, which had a huge impact on how I look not only at the genre, but also at movies in general. For different reasons, both refuse the voyeuristic attitude that allows spectators to revel in the more sensual, aesthetics aspects of culinary cultures that are not their own, without actually engaging with them neither symbolically nor materially. Films like Woman on Top or the Mistress of Spices are two clear examples of this approach, which excludes whole groups from full cultural citizenship and does not contribute to establish real dialogue and intercultural communication. Tampopo, Juzo Itami’s 1985 wild romp through the Japanese gastronomic landscape, has been restored and presented in 4K, giving new brilliance and depths to the images. Tampopo is often hailed as the first true food film, due to the central role cuisine and eating play in the plot and in the characters’ development. The story of the motley crew that follows a ramen shop owner in her quest to discover the best recipe for her specialty allows the filmmaker to uncover many quirks and downfalls of Japanese society in the 1980s, torn between unbridled consumerism, pretention, and conformism. As an insider, Itami is not at all attracted to the aspects that most Western viewers would find intriguing and exotic. His tone is ironic, at times surreal; as frequently as it appears on the screen, food never presents the “porn” undertones that would become a mainstay of the genre in the years to come.
Also Julie Nash’s 1991 Daughters of the Dust has been restored to mark its 25th anniversary. Set in the early 1900s in a Gullah village on one of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, the film places food front and center in the lives of the community it represents. Although Nash’s work cannot be considered a food film, food production and preparation, a daily occupation for the female protagonists, are featured frequently but discretely, central to their lives as its consumption. Daughters of the Dusk is not so much interested in allowing strangers to peep in the Gullah culture as to understand the profound changes that were assailing it at the time. Needless to say, no food porn is to be enjoyed.
The two films indicate that representing cooking and eating on the silver screen outside of the “food porn” canon is possible, effectively disrupting the limitations of the genre. If you are interested in these topics, join us for a public conversation on food and film at The New School on November 28.
The morning after Election Day, I found myself in a very small college town in rural Pennsylvania where people were celebrating the victory of their candidate. That forced me to accept the fact that, more or less, 50% of those who cast their vote have not only supported Trump as next president of the United States, but also changed the political balance in Congress, with all the consequences this entails. What this new landscape reveals has deep repercussions, as aggressive expressions of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and sexism have been normalized and made acceptable for large segments of Americans. This is the reality that many of us will have to deal with on a daily basis in the most common interactions, from going to school to shopping and even just existing as a visibly different person.
I felt combative, more than confrontational. I had been invited to participate in a student workshop and give talks, finding myself reflecting on how the election would shape my role and duty as an educator, a researcher, a public intellectual, a writer, and as a practitioner. Of course, I do not have clear answers and my considerations are personal. I have no intention to tell anybody how and when to work through their own fears, grief, and anger, or how to navigate the future. For me, a core question is: how will I make use of and invest my privilege as a white male of European descent (although an immigrant), whose job is to teach and do research in food studies? What can I contribute as a professional?
That day, I participated in a workshop where students were discussing possible -and easily feasible – innovations to shift the way their peers eat in the cafeteria towards more sustainable and healthier models. While we were evaluating different practical interventions, I also moved the conversation toward the gender, class, and race identity issues underlying food-related behaviors, as well as their social and economic consequences in terms of accessibility, affordability, labor relations, and the environment. Later that afternoon, I gave a talk on food, film, and memory, where I tried to show how an apparently innocuous and fun form of popular culture such as food films can actually reflect, support, and reinforce values and practices that are predicated on the framing of whole categories of people as inferior and exploitable.
My work focuses on food, which may come across as apolitical but is actually profoundly entangled with power dynamics, social structures, and environmental issues that assume immediate, tangible meanings. As food did not emerge as a priority in the presidential debates and the discussions that surrounded them, it is not easy to gauge the direction of the new administration. However, the promise of greater deregulation, less EPA control, and the overall skeptical attitude towards climate change will move environmental issues connected to agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry front and center.
The new administration’s favorable attitude towards the carbon-based energy industry could also slow down the efforts to increase the use of renewable resources in the food system and to shift towards more sustainable models. These issues will become crucial in the negotiations around the upcoming farm bill, where not only will Congress determine the future of US food production, but also the availability of funds to support the most vulnerable sections of the population through school food, SNAP, WIC and other programs.
In this context, it is important to emphasize not only structural and economic features, but also the cultural and social aspects that can generate dynamics of oppression and injustice. I believe my first call is to help students and the community at large outside of universities and intellectual circles recognize the relevance of these matters. In food studies, we now have sufficient students, programs, institutions, and relative media visibility to have some impact.
Above all, I am afraid I can’t enjoy the luxury of separating theory and applied practice any longer. It becomes crucial to pair the insights and the analysis that are central to food studies with hands-on projects and initiatives for change and social innovation. I will be moving my research and activities towards collaborations with designers, agronomists, scientists, engineers, information experts, and media operators, so that my teaching, writing, and doing become expression of a more profound engagement with the new reality.
A friend of mine in Brazil reminded me of the Italian politician and theorist Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts on organic intellectuals, who share their knowledge and competence to usher change rather than concentrating uniquely on their professional world. It is urgent to devise creative strategies and form inclusive alliances around widely shared concerns in the food system, while questioning the priorities of the elites (which include myself) as well as the interests of the rich and the powerful. This election has brought home that what I make of the emerging political reality is also my responsibility. At least for me, the answer is rolling up my sleeves to get down to work.
Happy to share, Professor Andrew F. Smith, discusses the history of New York City food in this interview with The New York Times.
When the food writer Andrew F. Smith had an idea for a new book on New York City, he went for an intriguing angle. “We preserve the homes of people who were born here and later became famous, and we preserve all sorts of artwork,” he said, “but people don’t think about preserving a city’s food heritage, which was something that was missing in New York.”
In this season of indulgence (and overindulgence), some people will turn to the treadmill, while others turn to the Pepto-Bismol. Author Brad Thomas Parsons will reach for the bottle — specifically, a bottle full of a liqueur called amaro, which people have used as a digestive aid for centuries.
It’s an herbal recipe, and “it’s actually bittersweet,” Parsons says.
“The bittering agents in it are actually helping your digestive system,” he explains. “Four out of five doctors may not agree with everything that’s working in there, but trust me.”