Recipes for a Field: Translating Middle Eastern Cookbooks and the Horizons of Food Studies

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Very few theories have generated the kind of interdisciplinary and global engagement that marks the intellectual history of intersectionality. Yet, there has been very little effort to reflect upon precisely how intersectionality has moved across time, disciplines, issues, and geographic and national boundaries. Our failure to attend to intersectionality's movement has limited our ability to see the theory in places in which it is already doing work and to imagine other places to which the theory might be taken. Addressing these questions, this special issue reflects upon the genesis of intersectionality, engages some of the debates about its scope and theoretical capacity, marks some of its disciplinary and global travels, and explores the future trajectory of the theory. To do so, the volume includes academics from across the disciplines and from outside of the United States. Their respective contributions help us to understand how intersectionality has moved and to broaden our sense of where the theory might still go.
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Is it time to establish a food studies canon? In recent years, the field of food studies has come into its own as a means to investigate critical questions about production and consumption. This commentary explores the written sources of two academics' interest in food, and the books that have sparked the food studies movement and today's food revolution. As a topic for readers' consideration, it asks whether food studies has progressed to a stage of development at which it is now possible to identify a core list of books that can be considered to define the field.
At this moment of great peril for democracies across the world, scholars must not only be critical but develop affective investment in common people’s lives so as to be able to engage in the democratic process more successfully. That entails paying attention to common joys and pleasures as much as to suffering.
This richly drawn ethnography of Samburu cattle herders in northern Kenya examines the effects of an epochal shift in their basic diet-from a regimen of milk, meat, and blood to one of purchased agricultural products. In his innovative analysis, Jon Holtzman uses food as a way to contextualize and measure the profound changes occurring in Samburu social and material life. He shows that if Samburu reaction to the new foods is primarily negative-they are referred to disparagingly as "gray food" and "government food"-it is also deeply ambivalent. For example, the Samburu attribute a host of social maladies to these dietary changes, including selfishness and moral decay. Yet because the new foods save lives during famines, the same individuals also talk of the triumph of reason over an antiquated culture and speak enthusiastically of a better life where there is less struggle to find food. Through detailed analysis of a range of food-centered arenas, Uncertain Tastes argues that the experience of food itself-symbolic, sensuous, social, and material-is intrinsically characterized by multiple and frequently conflicting layers.
The state of Israel has been involved in a long-standing violent conflict with its Arab neighbors, yet Jews and Arabs share a culinary passion: hummus. This humble dip of mashed chickpeas seasoned with tahini and lemon juice is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern public and private culinary spheres and is extremely popular among Arabs and Israeli Jews and, as of recently, among Western consumers lured by the health qualities of the “Mediterranean diet” and by the exotic nature of the dish itself. In 2008, hummus became the subject of a heated debate between Israel and Lebanon that revolved around cultural copyrights, culinary heritage, and economic revenues. In this article I return to the so-called Hummus Wars, a series of culinary undertakings performed in Lebanon and Israel in an attempt to claim ownership over hummus by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest hummus dish. I focus on one of these events, which attracted substantial attention in Israel and beyond: the breaking of the Guinness record at the Palestinian-Israeli village of Abu Gosh. In my analysis of this event I highlight two aspects of the “Hummus Wars” that are of specific interest to food scholars. First, I argue that food metaphors acquire a life of their own and may express unexpected meanings. Second, I point to the unexpected role of mediator undertaken by Palestinians of Israeli citizenship in this event. I suggest that a process of what I term “gastromediation” was taking place in Abu Gosh, in which the smooth oily paste was intended to serve as a material and social lubricant for the Israeli-Arab-Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
In this article, I examine the “cultural biography” of hummus in Israel from the Mandate period to the present, focusing on the changing place of Arabness in the signification of the dish. Contrary to accounts that regard food consumption as metonymic of political relations, I argue that, because food items move in several fields, both their consumption and signification are overdetermined processes. Rather than taking hummus to be the essential “food of the Other,” I show that the Arab identity of hummus functions as a resource, employed by social actors embedded in various political, social, and economic projects.
The importance of the spice trade to commercial development in Europe in the later middle ages has long been recognized, although the reasons for the demand for exotic condiments from the East have not been much considered. There seems little evidence to support the idea that spices were used either to mask the taste of rotting or “vulgar” food or as preservatives. There are sources, however, which do provide a basis for the unriddling of the taste for spices. Contained within the recipes of the period is evidence that the style of cooking was adopted from the Arabs, and that the heavy use of spices was but one of a cluster of characteristics of Arab food replicated in Europe. In order to establish the similarities between European and Arabic medieval cookery, a sample of French, Italian, Spanish, Flemish, English, and German texts is drawn upon and compared with the main features of the several Arabic works which have been translated into Spanish, French and English. Underlying the upheaval in the cooking of the élite in Europe from about 1300 was a changed attitude toward eating which was stimulated by the place of food in Moslem theology as represented in depictions of the Garden of Delights, a concept which is explored in its rather wide currency in Europe. I postulate that, intrigued with the sensual pleasures of eating as portrayed in the Garden, Europe began to associate luxurious dining with the food of the Arabs, and thus the passage of what was a strange and alien cuisine was facilitated.
The Limits of Critique
  • Rita Felski
Felski, Rita. 2015. The Limits of Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Une histoire culinaire du Moyen âge
  • Bruno Laurioux
Laurioux, Bruno. 2005. Une histoire culinaire du Moyen âge. Paris: Champion.
Theorizing Cuisine from Medieval to Modern Times
  • Vanina Leschziner
  • Andrew Dakin
Leschziner, Vanina, and Andrew Dakin. 2012. "Theorizing Cuisine from Medieval to Modern Times." Collapse 7: 347-77.
The Medieval Egyptian Kitchen
  • Nawal Nasrallah
Nasrallah, Nawal. "The Medieval Egyptian Kitchen." The Medieval Egyptian Kitchen (blog). Accessed March 19, 2018. https://
A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine
  • Susan Pinkard
Pinkard, Susan. 2009. A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine, 1650-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York
  • Claudia Roden
Roden, Claudia. 1996. The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, first edition. New York: Knopf.
Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences
  • E C Spary
Spary, E.C. 2012. Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. GASTRONOMICA 95 SUMMER 2019