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From the Editor: Defining Food Studies and the Next Four Years

In this fifth issue of the Journal, Editor-in-Chief Emily Contois seeks to define food studies and why it matters, particularly during our current political climate.

Published onMar 01, 2017
From the Editor: Defining Food Studies and the Next Four Years

When tasked this semester to define food studies for my students, these words are what I shared, inspired by definitions put forth by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik in Food and Culture: A Reader and by Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch in Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods. I explained that our discipline is young, pointing to the emergence in the 1980s of texts now considered nearly canonical, such as Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power and Warren Belasco’s Appetite for Change, as well as the pioneering work of Mary Douglas and Carole Counihan. I declared food studies an interdisciplinary pursuit, one that is thrilling and innovative, if sometimes nebulous. I further clarified food studies’ scope as an academic field of research, writing, and teaching, but just as importantly, a field dedicated to building bridges between scholarship, practice, and art. Food studies is a field built on the connections between researchers and communities, addressing resources, assets, dilemmas, and solutions. I attempted to summarize the vast inclusiveness of our object of study, pointing to dynamics between culture and biology, individuals and society, global and local processes.

And I felt called to emphasize that our field is inherently politicized. Food studies scholars often assert that food—food culture, food access, and food sovereignty—is a human right. Food studies examines how food constructs identities. And food studies analyzes how governments shape and control food through food systems regulation, food labor policies, food and feeding programs, and support (or lack thereof) for food-related research and artistic expression.

As a result, food studies matters, now more than ever. And while the articles featured in this issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies were not solicited under the banner of food’s vast and varied politics—nor have our contributing authors explicitly framed their work as such—it is now impossible to read them outside of our current political moment.

In “Cheesemongers Over Fearmongers: Toward Data Driven Cheese Recommendations for Pregnant Women,” Jessica Galen tackles food policy, food safety, and regulatory guidelines head on. Tracking Listeria outbreaks throughout the food system, Galen makes the case for FDA guidelines for pregnant women that take into account evidence-based research, food safety concerns, and the pleasure of eating. In “King Quinoa: The Development of the Modern Export Market and its Implications for the Andean People” Victoria Albert analyzes how U.S. media represented issues of food sovereignty, consumer ethics, and global food production during the quinoa boom. She argues the quinoa debate should not be framed as a neoliberal consumer question of “to buy or not to buy,” but rather around critical structural reform.

In “Keeping Kosher in Tel Aviv: Jewish Secular and Religious Identity in Israel,” Claudia Raquel Prieto Piastro investigates how individuals in Israel enact a plurality of identities. Drawing from twenty-five interviews, she demonstrates how the families she studied navigate dynamics of religion, culture, community, food availability, and nationalism through food—by negotiating kosher laws. And while it is often said that breaking bread together forms social bonds, Kendall Vanderslice seeks to more precisely identify how cooking and eating facilitate connection, understanding, and friendship in her article, “Making and Breaking: An Embodied Ethnography of Eating.” With the potential to inform both dinner dates and gastrodiplomacy, her research methodology also centers the marginalized, as she incorporates knowledge of the body and the collective arguments of all her study participants in her analysis.

This issue also launches a new section of the Journal—Food-Stuff—with three inventive selections. These pieces experiment with creative analytical and communicative approaches, visual methods, and generally transcend the boundaries of a traditional academic article, exploring food in innovative ways.

In his Food-Stuff piece, Noah Allison purposefully illustrates the stakes of our political moment in “Migration and Restaurants: Mapping America’s Most Diverse Thoroughfare,” by using GIS software to map restaurants and ethnicity on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York City. His project articulates how restaurants construct and negotiate cultural diversity, while demonstrating how immigrants, particularly in food businesses, influence a city’s culture, geography, and economy. In her own immigrant food story, Emely Vargas creatively explores in words and photographs the dynamics of ethnicity, gender, and class in a letter to her mother, “Dear Mom: Teach Him How to Cook, Not Me.” Subverting the gender norms of her Dominican family, Emely hates to cook, while her brother aspires to be a chef, inspired by the food world—and the men—depicted on the Food Network. Lastly, Jonathan Biderman’s “Inside Tsukiji: A Very Real Wonderland” combines photography, field notes, and film criticism of the documentary Tsukiji Wonderland to explore Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, a historic, urban fish market that now finds itself on the precipice of change. Biderman contends that shifts in both global fish consumption and local politics will shape the market’s future.

This issue also includes four book reviews, edited by the Journal’s new Reviews Editor, Edwige Crucifix, who builds upon the fantastic work of Clara Hanson, who served as Reviews Editor since our spring 2015 issue. In this issue, Sarah Huang reviews Nora McKeon’s Food Security Governance: Empowering Communities, Regulating CorporationsRituparna Patgiri critiques Utsa Ray’s Culinary Culture in Colonial India: A Cosmopolitan Platter and the Middle-ClassAlexandra Rodney considers Julie M. Parsons’s Gender, Class and Food: Families, Bodies and Health, and Daniel Shattuck evaluates Ronda L. Brulotte and Michael A. Di Giovine’s edited volume Edible Identities: Food as Cultural Heritage.

Preparing this issue depended upon the talent, skills, time, generosity, and unfailing good humor of the entire editorial team, including Managing Editor, Catie Peters; new Associate Editor, Emma McDonell; Communications Editor, Katherine Hysmith; and copy editors, Sally Baho and Hailey Grohman. We also thank our discerning peer review board. Together, we hope that this issue’s content incites critical thought, inclusiveness, and hope as we define and enact food studies in our current political climate.

Emily Contois

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