This post from Gastronomy Student Altamash Gaziyani continues our series from students in Anthropology of Food.
4th March, 2017
As a food runner during a backed-up lunch service on the first Saturday of a new block, there’s not much I can do to help other than scrabble around, plucking tickets off the floor as they whizz out the machine unrelentingly, and scuffle against the wall, waiting for the floundering students to start putting plates up: the chef can though. Dwayne Lipuma famously shows no mercy when a single cog slides out of place from the ever-ticking, jewelled kitchen that is American Bounty; his prodigious skill and all round bad-assery in the kitchen are probably direct results of his years spent toiling in the industry and the disturbingly acute instincts and skills he’s developed over time. Today, it was overcooked beef that caught his eye. The hefty glaze of sauce wasn’t enough to hide the fact that the tenderloin was no longer blushing and rosy behind its veil; sauce was spattered across the plate like something from a street fair and the miserable brown-grey hunks of meat huddled in the center, the plate angled ‘cleverly’ in a desperate attempt to pass off the dud order.
He kicked into high gear immediately: with a single bellow, the students were cowering against their stations as he stormed down the line, all eyes trained on him. His hands were a busy, coordinated blur; his movements were perfectly coordinated; his eyes whizzed in their sockets as he barked orders and barked some more until they were carried out to his standards. He was absolutely savage, refusing to mince words or take the time to explain his actions—he knew just how long to baste the meat and flash the potatoes, just how much salt to flick into the wilted greens, exactly what order the components went on the plate. In the blink of an eye, we had nine plates of beef up and he continued toiling and raging away as the runners scurried to get the plates out. As I dashed out, I couldn’t help but shoot one last glance behind my back, watching him plate and cook simultaneously, and think that that was a man that knew exactly what impression he was making, and also how thoroughly he’d earned it.
17th August, 2016
I can’t stand it anymore. That pool house is tiny and quite unclean (which is a nicer way of saying its corners are grimier than a toad’s backside) and horribly stuffy during the Virginia summer. There’s barely enough room for one person to dash around and fire onion rings, flip burgers and toss salads for the horde of children swarming outside—I found myself stuck with two servers (who had the sense to bring portable fans) and Carlos. Good God, Carlos. He spent the all of prep chatting with the manager and then with a friend, regaling them with lurid stories about the busy services he’s endured in places “much more high quality” than this, leaving me to prep for about 350 people all by myself. He then proceeded to snatch the most difficult, ‘macho’ job—working the flat top and cooking pre-portioned, cookie-cutter patties of beef while trying to chat up Anu and Taylor, lolling by the front until we opened and rolling their eyes over and over in their skulls as he attempted flip after higher flip. When we were finally open, he swaggered up to the front window, bumping the two girls aside and handing plates to customers himself with a trollish grin as I let a continuous, steady stream of muttered swears flow while firing and plating…everything. Everything. I have no idea what he achieved today. All I know is that I hope for goodness sake that his cooking can keep up with his bravado tomorrow; that stuffy little kitchen is all his to work in (and scrub down) after he’s done inflating his ego some more overnight.
19th March, 2016
Sean and I have this system down. As an order comes in, he calls out to the other stations to coordinate times as I pour vegetables into different sauté pans over melted butter, ready to fire. When the order’s called, he drops the seafood and I begin picking up the sides, stirring smoked potato puree and basting leeks while he makes sure the scallops are perfectly burnished, the halibut achingly soft. We turn at the same time: I swish the puree across the flat plate, he places the scallops on and I start garnishing with vegetables like clockwork, while he positions the halibut and leeks in another bowl, waiting on me to pour the broth for the second dish. We walk up in perfect time to the pass, a plate in each hand, and set them down for Jasmine and Chef G to garnish, for the kitchen to keep the pace up with, for the customers watching eagerly from the window to admire. I can’t attest for him, but I can feel every single eye on the food as we walk back and see, ever so clearly in my mind’s eye, Chef G’s eyebrows raising unwillingly in surprise and pleasure. God, does recognition feel beautiful.
28th June, 2015
If I had to describe service tonight, I would call it unnecessary: it was an unnecessary, showy affair that Chef insisted on escalating into a cockfight between all the stations. I was demoted to make cupcake batter for the amenities we give our posh, prima-donna clientele and got to sit this one out, which meant I had a front-row seat to the catastrophe. It started off with a simple jab towards garde manger—the eager externs looking to establish their place in the new exec’s kitchen and earn his respect. “You guys wanna buck up that snail-pace there?”, he drawled, his icy-blue eyes flashing as he shot a roguish wink towards the ‘big guns’ on the hot line. The externs looked like they’d just been tasered, and began floundering in a desolate attempt to quicken service, pushing out niçoises and ceviches (with a certain lack of attention to detail). Chef’s head flicked instantly towards hot apps, as he began taunting the experienced line cooks for “letting the kids thrash” them. I saw several scowls burst across faces and fists clench as they hopped to and began veritably flinging plates at servers while Chef sniggered at the pass.
I saw one extern slip across the floor and smash his forehead against the metal countertop, only to shake off the blinding pain and continue with tears in his eyes. I saw another on the verge of hysterics, bleating incessantly for his partner to buck up as he toiled to keep up with Chef’s demand. I saw one line cook sweating buckets into his sauté pans, his mouth an imperceptible line and a frown scratched across his face, and another pair snapping at each other to keep up with the demand. I saw everybody trying to please the horrible ringleader, dancing along like circus animals to his tune for the fear of feeling his whip, and turned right back around. The cupcake batter deserved more attention than that rigmarole.
1st April, 2010
The clock kept ticking. The risotto was ready, I’d just mounted it with enough butter and pecorino cheese to bring a grown man to his knees—it was good too, if I may say so. I had the prawn skewers all ready to go for people as they walked in; the powerful aromas of honeyed, roasted garlic, and nutty-brow butter that had imbued the shrimp were permeating the house. The pie was ready too: plump and bursting at the seams with lamb and sauce (lamb that cost me a fortune and was probably why I now had no money, but hey, it was worth it). I’d even gotten the cake into the fridge to set; a giant, Oreo-cookie-crusted spectacle, resplendent with fudge crumbs and vanilla ice cream to go with it. As I wiped rivulets of sweat trickling down my forehead, I sat patiently, staring at the door, waited for the twenty-or-so people that had promised to show up for lunch to come. My cat nudged my ankle, her eyes round and anxious, but I gently pushed her aside; these people were bound to show any minute, I thought, and I needed to be ready. I needed to make an impression, because who was I, if I wasn’t the guy that cooked for everybody? The quiet, little boy with the awful fringe that sat in the front row and did everyone’s project assignments? Or the one who got asked to parties out of obligation and watched while everybody danced? No. That wasn’t me. That isn’t me. I can make miracles out of basic ingredients and coax flavours to life. I deserve to be recognized for what it is that I do for these people, for how much I care, even if I have to work harder and wait longer by the door with a plastic smile on my face.
Ten hours later, after I’d poured all my food (minus enough for dinner) into the trash and carried it out myself, weeping senselessly as I stumbled down the stairs and into my pillow at night, the clock kept ticking.
This post from Gastronomy Student Hannah Spiegelman continues our series from students in Anthropology of Food.
I had never heard of Proust or his madeleine before starting the Gastronomy program at BU, but his famous moment has been talked about or mentioned in almost every class I have taken thus far. In his book, In Search of Lost Time, Proust (1913) takes inspiration from his own life, turning his childhood holiday home in the Loire Valley into the fictional town of Combray, France. The moment that all food studies people, anthropologists, and others have hence talked about occurs when Proust’s narrator (never-named) is offered tea and “petites madeleines.”
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray…had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take…. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines….” I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me…. I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature….Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind.
As soon as Proust’s character tastes the madeleine dipped in tea, he experiences an overwhelming feeling of a past time, although he can’t imminently place it. With more tastes, the memory unfolds:
The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray…when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them…that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds…had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring…more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.
A person’s “senses also interact with memory in the creation of foodways, as Marcel Proust showed by reconstructing and entire social world through the taste and smell of a madeleine” (Tierney and Ohnuki-Tierney 2012, 120). Proust’s character is vividly transported home through his taste experience:
And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me…immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents….and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.
Smells and tastes have the power to send people places in their past. Erdinç writes, “The smells and tastes, each time I trace them, in various phases of my own story, like the pebbles in the Hansel and Gretel story, take me home. Putting the pieces together, the picture appears as yet another rendering of the narrative of the self” (Erdinç 2001, 98). Erdinç clarifies that not all taste memories are positive and can equally appear with beloved and hated foods. The point here and that Proust made over 100 years ago is that scents and tastes hold powerful and potent connections to our past, whether that’s a figure from our childhood, a beloved home, a special trip, or an experience of commensality.
I have a culinary concept called A Sweet History in which I make ice cream flavors inspired by historic figures, events, art, etc. The point is to relay history through something accessible like everyone’s (for the most part) favorite frozen food. This long-term project has also helped me delve into stories I wouldn’t have otherwise. While on my quest of teaching others, I learn as well. I often turn my papers and projects into ice cream flavors in order to explore the subject further. Perhaps it has something to do with embodying knowledge. Even though I am not recreating traditional recipes, taking the time to cook my base, bake my mix-ins, and churn the final product allows me to think deeply about the flavor’s story. Despite not usually having a personal connection to these stories, turning the stories into a physical (and edible) product enhances their meaning. Warin and Dennis (2005) write about how Iranian female immigrants “give meaning to place and memory through the everyday practices of cooking and embroidery.” Of the senses, they write, “The senses are intertwined in a synesthetic knot in which memory is embodied and reproduced” (2005, 150). Acts of eating and cooking and creating allow for memories to resurface and be remade in a different light.
While I can’t say I’ve had as strong and similar a taste memory moment as Proust with a madeleine, here is my madeleine memory that came to mind when creating the ice cream I call “Proust’s Madeleine Moment:”
I had loved madeleine cookies for years, but I ate more that winter in France than I had in all those years combined. For four days in mid December 2015 and another four in mid January 2016, I stayed with my best friend, Rachael, in her southern-French four-story walk-up. She had two weeks off teaching English to French school children, which I took as an excuse to make a month-long vacation. Rachael was in the habit of buying jumbo bags of madeleines for only a couple euros at her local grocery store. They were cheap, but tasty and addictive. We easily ate seven in one sitting. One humid yet cool afternoon, we were sitting on the small couch in Rachael’s living room, munching on the small cakes, when her know-it-all annoying roommate interjected into our conversation. I had mentioned to Rachael that my throat had started to hurt and she offered to make a cup of tea. “What kind do you have?,” I pondered. “I think we have green,” Rachael replied, knowing that was my preferred tea of choice. Her roommate challenged her. “We only have English breakfast right now,” she said and then condescendingly, “it’s a type of black tea.” I lowered the madeleine I was holding from my lips and looked baffled at Rachael. Had her British-Canadian celiac roommate just explained to me what English breakfast tea was? Later, when it was just the two of us again with our mass-produced madeleines, we laughed and laughed. She would never know the beauty of eating soft springy madeleine after madeleine.
Proust’s Madeleine Moment
Combray Tea Ice Cream with Lime-Scented Madeleines
1 ½ cups cream
2 cups milk
¼ cup corn syrup
¾ cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Loose leaf black tea
½ cup crumbled madeleine cookies
- Create two large tea bags with equal parts black tea and dried apple. Place in container with the milk and set aside in the fridge for an hour.
- Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl half to 2/3 of the way with icy water. Set it aside.
- Combine cornstarch with 2 tablespoons milk in a small bowl to make a slurry; make sure it is mixed well and set it aside.
- In a large saucepan, put in the milk (with the tea bags), cream, sugar, and corn syrup. Place it over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Add in slurry and simmer for another minute. Then, remove the pot from the heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Add about ½ cup of the hot dairy mixture to the yolks while whisking to avoid scrambling the eggs.
- Pour the tempered yolks into the pot of hot milk mixture, while whisking. Place the pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring with a spatula to avoid curdling,
- When the custard begins to thicken, pour the mixture into medium bowl through a strainer to remove any curdled bits of egg yolks. Place the bowl into the prepared ice bath and stir occasionally to help the custard cool down.
- When the base is cool, transfer it to the refrigerator to cure for 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- Place the base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. Layer the ice cream with the crumbled madeleine cookies.
Erdinç, Ferda. 2001. Journeys through Smell and Taste: Home, Self, Identity. In Food and the Memory, edited by Harlan Walker, 91-99. Totnes, UK: Prospect Books.
Itineraries of Taste. 2019. Proust and the Madeleine. Date of access, June 26, 2019. https://itinerariesoftaste.sanpellegrino.com/dk/how-we-were/proust-and-madeleine
Proust, Marcel. 1913. Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove. The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, 48-51. New York: Vintage. http://ww3.haverford.edu/psychology/ddavis/p109g/proust.html
Tierney, R. Kenji, and Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. 2012. Anthropology of Food. In Oxford Handbook of Food History, ed. Jeffrey M. Pilcher, 117-134. New York: Oxford University Press.
Warin, Megan, and Simone Dennis. 2005. Threads of Memory: Reproducing the Cypress Tree through Sensual Consumption. Journal of Intercultural Studies 26(1-2): 159-170.
Students Karen Metheny’s summer course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts. Today's is from Gastronomy student Caley Mahoney, who conducted participant observation for this article.
It wasn’t until I used my position as a bartender and barista for a class project that I realized I had been conducting amateur anthropological research, unconsciously, for years. My role as a participant-observer (AKA an employee in the food industry) was driven by economic concerns, such as making enough money for food and rent, yet at the same time, I had been observing and learning. I have worked in the food industry for almost a decade: I’ve been in lower positions like a hostess and a food runner, moved up a few levels to cheesemonger and caterer, and hit my peak as a manager of a store making buying decisions about beer and wine and running events and marketing. No matter what level of the ladder I was on, every job I worked has brought me intimately close to the public, to the consumers. Being a part of the food industry has given me access to YOU, the consumer; to your everyday, unconsciously repeated norms that I have come to anticipate before they happen, to the extraordinary, bizarre, random instances of human individuality that make me question it all.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered I had been a researcher this whole time. Disguised in an apron and from behind the counter, I had been observing patterns of human interactions and consumption. My field of ethnographic research wasn’t located in some remote village in sub-Saharan Africa, it was at the register of a cafe, on the floor of a restaurant, and behind the bar of a brewery. As workers of the industry (the good ones anyways) we have learned to anticipate customer needs through thorough observation; we guide you in your choices, we serve you “the usual,” we get you, we know you. We know you, because we’ve been WATCHING YOU, the whole time. (Yes, this sounds creepy, but it’s our job…)
We watch the way you move through our spaces and the way you interact with others. We notice which foods you are drawn to and which ones deter you because of foreign ingredients or fancy labels. We read the calculated decisions about calories and caffeine intake that play out on your faces as you order coffee in the morning. We observe how you fail to read signs that we have painstakingly placed in your path and we know when you get confused by which cut of meat is which, eventually give up and grab a box of pasta instead. We watch you, in order to better serve you. (And to occasionally write a paper for a class on the movements and choices of consumers in public food spaces.)
The line between my life in the food industry and my life as a student studying food is one that easily, and usually, crossed. My two worlds have become so intertwined that I can’t help but notice how Sarah has created a ritualized form of self-imposed food rules, which only allow her post-workout self to indulge in a double chocolate brownie on Saturdays. And isn’t it incredibly obvious that a gendered power struggle between Jim and Martha surfaces every time they order a cappuccino and half-caf almond milk latte? (All names have been changed to protect the anonymity of my research participants). (Also, none of them know that they are research participants in my unintentional study).
Many of my fellow industry workers see the patterns in public food consumption, the gendered and ethnic based biases, and the various issues of economic and political concern throughout their daily work with food (even if they aren’t conscious of them like I am now). As an industry, we share a heightened sense of awareness, like dogs with their sense of smell; we are a specific breed of human, we can’t help how well we notice and how much we observe. With our specific roles as purveyors of food, we hold not only vital sources of nourishment but we also shape the environment in which consumers make choices that aid in the creation of their identities! And we know these identities: we know how what kind of wine you like to drink, we remember that you don’t like pickles on your Italian sandwich, and we expect to see you every Saturday after yoga. We know your identities because your food choices and foodways tells us these things… and because, well, we are always watching.
Students Karen Metheny’s summer course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts. In today's post Gastronomy student Swarnta Prabhu considers different types of commensality.
Chee-Beng defines commensality as “not only a biological act of consuming food but also a communicative act which has the significance of social relations” (2015, 13). For example, food is the active medium that is believed to bridge the gap between the physical world and the psychical realm. The celebration of the memories of ancestors and the appeasement of the souls are performed through the offerings of food, drinks, and other delicacies. This act of serving, nurturing, and nourishing the ancestors and spirits is practiced by several cultures across the globe. Why people use the medium of food in their act of remembrance and feed the ancestors and spirits, what rituals they perform, and which cultures believe in commensality with the spiritual world are questions that allow us to learn more about the practices of spiritual commensality of different cultures and their significance.
In India, Shradh is a prevalent practice among the Hindus through which loved ones are remembered and memories reminisced. The ritual of Shradh is performed during the lunar period of Bhadrprada, the 15-day yearly ritual based on the Hindu calendar (NDTV Food Desk 2017). Shradh is observed to give respect to the ancestors and for the attainment of peace for the departed soul. Shradh involves chanting of prayers by the priests and the family members (primarily the elder son of the family) along with offerings to the holy pyre of rice, black sesame, and ghee (clarified butter). The prayers, which appease the soul, are followed by a vegetarian meal that consists of the dishes or a symbolic dish that the ancestors relished. The food is first served to animals and birds. It is believed that ancestors return to the physical world in the form of animals or birds and it strictly observed that the birds or animals are served first, after which the priests consume the food. Finally the rest of the people may partake in this commensal act. In the Hindu culture, ancestors are believed to visit the physical world as crows, symbolic mediator, and communicator between the physical world and the spiritual world. They partake in the spiritual commensality. Served either on a silver plate or a banana leaf, with ingredients such as sesame, mustard, clarified butter, honey, barley and millet, the meal is an elaborate and ornate preparation.
One can find similar practices in other Asian cultures. Chuseok, a three-day festival observed in Korea, is held to express gratitude to the ancestors for the year’s harvest and the protection provided by the spirits to the people (Funeral Zone 2017). Chuseok is celebrated with families coming together to recognize the contribution of the ancestors, visit family tombs and graves, and share flowers, foods, and drinks with the ancestors. The offerings given to the ancestors on the last day involve specific foods that are oriented in specific spatial directions. Songpyeon, a type of rice cake, is made and offered to the ancestors. The Chinese festival of Qingming, and the Japanese Obon festival also involve paying respect and sharing symbolic foods with the ancestors (2017).
African communities practice spiritual commensality and show their respect to ancestors and spirits through different types of food and drinks. The Haya of Bukoba, Tanzania, conduct ancestor propitiation ceremonies where banana beer is the mediating symbol (Carlson 1990, 297). By reaching altered consciousness through beer drinking, the Haya may placate the ancestors and spirits in order to receive their blessings. The blessings will bring continuity of lineage, the productivity of banana grove, health, fertility, and support and protection from the ancestors. The Zafimaniry of Madagascar also believes in the union of the living and the departed that is witnessed during the feasts (Bloch 1999, 7). Honey and rum are consumed not only to establish closeness amongst the people gathered for the feast but also between the living and the departed. The feast reflects two different emotions: one is the fear of punishment in the form of diseases if the ancestors are not pleased, and the other is a form of joy brought by unification.
Spiritual commensality is evident in many South American cultures as well. Quechua communities of the high Andes frequently consume coca leaves, which are not only a symbol of cultural identity but also a means of connecting with the spiritual realm (Allen 1981). Quechua people share the coca leaves with each other after blowing over the leaves so that the scent of the leaves reach the ancestors, who are believed to bestow blessings. The ritual of communicating with the dead dates back thousands of years in Latin America where people follow different customs and rituals (Robertson 2016). This ritual is known in Ecuador as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased), and in Mexico it is known as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This tradition involves remembrance of loved ones by friends and families and sharing of meals to celebrate the journey of the dead to the next life.
In exploring several traditions and rituals related to spiritual commensality, food is the medium through which the occupants of the physical world communicate and express their gratitude to the ancestors. People during their lifetime leave markers through several medium. Food is one such medium which establishes the identity of an individual, community, society, nation, and region. Social markers, left by our ancestors, through mediums such as food are what enable us to remember, cherish, and reminisce their presence. The ubiquity and universality of food, its ability to form an identity, and its capacity to communicate and carry the meaning are unparalleled and the innate reason for being the chosen mode to relate with the spiritual world.
The act of commensality with our ancestors and our loved ones provides us a sense of contentment and emotional prosperity. These rituals provide solace to those who are remembering their loved ones and appease the soul of the one who is being remembered. Some might partake in the ritual out of fear, some out of grief, some to share joy, and although the reasons vary, the unquestionable commonality is the food that promotes commensality, both with the physical world and the spiritual world.
Allen, Catherine J. 1981. To Be Quechua: The Symbol of Coca Chewing in Highland Peru. American Ethnologist 8(1): 157-171.
Bloch, Maurice. 1999. Commensality and Poisoning. Social Research 66(1): 133-149.
Carlson, Robert G. 1990. Banana Beer, Reciprocity, and Ancestor Propitiation Among the Haya of Bukoba, Tanzania. Ethnology 29(4): 297-311.
Funeral Zone. 2017. Chuseok Celebrations – Remembering the Dead. Funeral Zone. Date of access, 20 June, 2019. https://www.funeralzone.com/blog/chuseok-celebrations-remembering-dead
NDTV Food Desk. 2017. Shradh 2017: What is Shradh? The Do's and Don'ts to Observe During this Period. NDTV Food Desk. Date of access, 19 June, 2019. https://www.ndtv.com/food/shradh-2017-what-is-shradh-the-dos-and-donts-to-observe-during-this-period-1744437
Robertson, Amy. 2016. Bread Babies and Purple Drink: Ecuador's Spin on Day of the Dead. NPR's The Salt. Date of access, 19 June, 2019. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/11/02/500105108/bread-babies-and-purple-drink-ecuador-s-spin-on-day-of-the-deceased
Tan Chee-Beng. 2015. Commensality and the Organization of Social Relations. In Commensality: From Everyday Food to Feast, ed. Susanne Kerner, Cynthia Chou, and Morten Warmind, 13-29. New York: Bloomsbury.
Students Karen Metheny's summer course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts. This example of participant observation comes from Gastronomy student Kate Cherven.
On Saturday, June 1st, I went to the Boston Public Market and Haymarket to conduct participant observation for two hours from 8:30 am until 10:30 am. These two locations are called “markets,” which are understood to be public spaces where people gather to sell and purchase goods, such as foodstuffs and other commodities. Yet, even though these two locations are called markets, their characteristics are very different from one another.
The Boston Public Market is an indoor food hall that provides specific branded stalls for different vendors to sell their products. Most of the products for sale in the Boston Public Market are: food prepared to eat right away, prepared food that can be taken to another location to be eaten, food to take home and prepare, as well as non-edible goods such as soap and yarn. The Boston Public Market is open year round and is available everyday from 7am until 8pm (Boston Public Market 2019). Haymarket is an outdoor market that is year round and is open Fridays and Saturdays from around 4am until 7pm (Market Tips 2019). The Haymarket stalls sell products that are mostly vegetables and produce, with some stalls selling seafood.
Thinking on Ray Oldenburg’s term “third place,” I wonder if Haymarket or the Boston Public Market can be considered “third places” (Lin 2012, 120). Oldenburg defines “third places” as locations that are “free or inexpensive, usually having food and drink, and being highly accessible for mixing and mingling in a comfortable atmosphere” (Lin 2012, 120). Haymarket fits this description in a few ways, because it is a space that is inexpensive and it is accessible for mixing and mingling, yet food and drink are not available on site for people to sit and share while socializing.
By comparing the social supportive resources outlined in Lin’s 2012 article, "Starbucks as the Third Place: Glimpses into Taiwan's Consumer Culture and Lifestyles," I claim that customers at Haymarket don’t receive these resources, therefore I don’t believe Haymarket would be considered a “third place” by Oldenburg’s description (Lin 2012, 120). Haymarket does not possess a pleasing and decorative space, a clean space, comfortable seating, nor cozy surroundings (2012, 122). Haymarket does possess a reputation as a historical and cultural site in Boston and is a tourist attraction (Experience 2019).
Yet, while Haymarket provides a space for social interactions, it does not create a space for people to sit and gather and build communal social relations. Anderson states in the book, Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture, Second Edition, “People almost always eat as a social act” (2014, 138); therefore if Haymarket doesn’t provide a space for this social act, I don’t consider it a “third place.”
Boston Public Market seems to be a better match for “third place.” The Boston Public Market has a pleasing and decorative space, is clean, provides comfortable seating, enjoyable music, a prestigious reputation, and provides high quality products (Boston Public Market 2019). While I walked around, I noticed that the Boston Public Market has numerous gathering locations made from large communal tables, or standing tables where people are able to gather and consume their purchased products. Yet, the Boston Public Market doesn’t seem to fit the “third place” definition of being either free or inexpensive, with the majority of their products for sale being more than $5 USD. Yet, it is possible for a person to come into the Boston Public Market to sit and not buy anything, therefore it can be used as a free gathering space.
I found it interesting to observe two food spaces in Boston that are called “markets” yet are drastically different from one another. Haymarket is an outdoor space that provides raw food products for individuals to purchase and take home with them to prepare, while the Boston Public Market is an indoor space that provides mainly prepared meals for people to sit and enjoy within the space or take with them to other locations. When using Ray Oldenburg’s concept of a “third place,” I was able to understand how customers receive social supportive resources from food spaces and concluded that while the Boston Public Market would be considered a “third place,” I believe Haymarket would not. I’m not sure if there is a “fourth place” in which Haymarket would fit, but I find it interesting to conclude that even though these two food spaces are called “markets,” their social supportive resources are drastically different from one another.
Anderson, E. N. 2014. Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture, Second Edition. New York University Press, New York.
Boston Public Market. n.d.. Retrieved June 5, 2019. https://bostonpublicmarket.org/
Experience. n.d.. Retrieved June 6, 2019. http://www.haymarketboston.org/market-tips
Lin, En-Ying. 2012. Starbucks as the Third Place: Glimpses into Taiwan's Consumer Culture and Lifestyles. Journal of International Consumer Marketing 24 (1-2), 119-128.
Market Tips. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2019. http://www.haymarketboston.org/market-tips
Students Karen Metheny's summer course, Anthropology of Food (MET ML 641) are contributing guest posts. This food mapping example comes from Gastronomy student Jie Liu.
Food mapping is a tool that can be used to figure out where people buy and eat food, what their preferences are, and how they behave in a food system. In this entry on food mapping, you will clearly see how people move through the space and what connections people create through food. I will connect my observations to three different aspects of food mapping to see what we can learn from this practice.
I chose H Mart, a popular Asian supermarket chain in America, as the site of my mapping observation. This specific supermarket has a small food court with three vendors: Paris Baguette Café, Go Go Curry, and Sapporo Ramen. It is a very good place to have a meal and a cup of coffee, and then buy some groceries, all at one stop. Besides the supermarket, Paris Baguette Café is another reason that I come here very frequently. This international and premium bakery-café brand was founded in 1998. It serves a variety of treats—not only breads, pastries, and cakes, but chef-inspired sandwiches and salads, and different kinds of drinks. I chose to observe the food court, especially paying attention to Paris Baguette Café. I was hoping to get more information about how people interact within this area, and in relation to the environment.
H Mart is located at 581 Massachusetts Avenue and is just steps from the Central Red line which is a very easy destination for costumers. Beside the large logo of H Mart in front of the main entrance, people also can see the signs for three vendors, but especially Paris Baguette Café. The Cambridge H Mart food court area is clean, sleek, and well organized. The appealing inner decoration, the clean environment, and the exotic food extend the role of H Mart beyond its function as a supermarket to a destination for dining and a place to relax. There is a modern and organized bakery-café store you can see first when you enter from the main gate. As you can see from the map (Figure 1), in the upper left corner, there are six tables with leather sofas belong to the café. All six tables seat four. In the center of this space, there are four main pillars. There are at least 50 seats available along the pillars. The bottom area in the map shows there are two other stalls: Go Go Curry and Sapporo Ramen. Moreover, there are around 30 seats beside these food stalls. All these tables and chairs use the same white color and unified material, which makes the environment bright and tidy.
I arrived at the food court at 10:30 am on Thursday morning. I decided to observe the space for at least 2 hours. I chose this time range because it was not lunch time during the first hour from 10:30 to 11:30. And more people would come here for lunch in the second hour from 11:30 to 12:30. In the first hour, I chose the table that is not far from Paris Baguette Café cashier which is the red dot shown in Figure 2. This spot was close to the entry, and also gave me a great view of the whole café. One hour later, I changed my seat to the red dot in Figure 3, so that I could observe more clearly the people who came to have lunch.
The first interesting finding in my data is the vast majority of the customers at Paris Baguette Café were women, unaccompanied or only with their kids. There were very few male customers at the café. Even during the lunch time, the most people who went to Paris Baguette Café to buy a drink or a dessert were women as well. How do we explain this? Scholars like Bentley (1998) suggest that we look closely at gender in foodscapes. Bentley argues that red meat is associated with masculine virility, while sugar has been identified with femininity by other scholars (e.g., Avakian and Haber 2005). According to Farnham (2014), in Brtitain “men are more likely to visit a coffee shop on a daily basis, whereas women are more likely to visit 2-3 times a week. Women tend to stay longer once they get there though and they are more likely to use a coffee shop for socializing as well. Women are also more adventurous than men in the new drinks they are willing to try.” This phenomenon is worth exploring at Paris Baguette Café at different time periods and on different days.
According to my observation, I found that most people who come to Paris Baguette Café would like to spend a little time in front of the bread display cabinet, even if some of them didn’t buy anything. As Huddleston and Minahan (2011, 108) observe, “Creative and attractive merchandise displays draw customers in.” However, unlike most coffee shops today, Paris Baguette Café in the H Mart doesn’t have power sockets and WIFI. Although the café offers a very comfortable dining area for its guests, there would be more customers if they provided this supplementary service.
Another interesting conclusion I noticed involved the pattern of foot traffic. As you can see from the map, people always chose the narrow path opposite the cashier as an exit, regardless of which direction they came from. Nevertheless, if someone used the table between the first two pillars which are close to the main entrance, especially a mother with a stroller, that narrow path would be blocked (Figure 4). Meanwhile, with the increasing number of customers at the peak time, the two main pathways on both sides of the middle seating area became very messy. There is no defined place to queue while customers are buying the food. The issue is worth exploring more to create a better idea to use the space.
Unlike food observation, food mapping can be used as a tool to promote dialogue with retailers and policy makers. Food mapping could help bring positive change and effective strategy. As Wight and Killham note (2014, 314), “Food mapping is a new, participatory, interdisciplinary pedagogical approach to learning about our modern food systems. […] This experiential exercise encourages participants to look beyond their plates and think about the health, economic, and ecological impacts of food.” Moreover, food mapping can describe physical and economic relationships with food, and illustrate people's preferences and behaviors. The effort and meaning involved in producing meaningful food maps should never be underestimated.
Avakian, Arlene Voski, and Barbara Haber, eds. 2005. From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Bentley, Amy. 1998. Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Farnham, Jacqui. 2014. Women and the Coffee Shop Revolution. Business Boomers. BBC Two. Date of access, June 07 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2QHz8CcHJV1wqxSjK77M4q7/women-and-the-coffee-shop-revolution
Huddleston, Patricia, and Stella Minaha. 2011. Consumer Behavior Women and Shopping. New York: Business Expert Press, LLC.
Wight, R. Alan, and Jennifer Killham. 2014. Food Mapping: A Psychogeographical Method for Raising Food Consciousness. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 38(2): 314-321.
Looking to add another course to your summer schedule, but unsure how to choose? You might consider Netta Davis's course, Culture and Cuisine of New England. Without fail, this course receives rave reviews from all who take it -- from students who have lived in the region for years to those who moved here just for school.
The following Fall 2019 courses are organized by the Programs in Food & Wine and are open to both degree-seeking students and as non-credit certificates.
MET ML 698 – Saturday Laboratory in the Culinary Arts: Cooking
8 Saturdays, 10am – 4pm, September 7 – October 26
This intensive, hands-on course will expose students to the essential skills and techniques that are the foundation of any culinary career. Students will engage in lectures and demonstrations and acquire applied experience in our spacious, state-of-the-art laboratory kitchen. From simple techniques to more difficult and complex preparations, students will develop valuable cooking skills, including:
- Foundations of cookery: stocks, soups, sauces, knife skills
- Production cookery: sautéing, roasting, frying, stewing, braising, simmering, poaching, grilling
- Bread and pastry: cakes, pastries, tarts, cookies, breads
- Sanitation, safety and the proper handling of food
This intensive, Saturdays-only course offers a condensed version of the full-time Certificate Program in Culinary Arts to students with weekend availability.
MET ML 700 - Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts: An Intensive, Hands-On Cooking Course (Multiple Instructors)
Mondays –Thursdays, 10am-6pm, September 5 to December 12
In the spring of 1989 Boston University held the first class in the Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts. Cofounded by Rebecca Alssid, Julia Child, and Jacques Pépin, this intensive, semester-long program was developed to expose student to classic French and American techniques, baking, and international cuisines, sustainability and many more subjects. The unique program merged the best aspects of traditional culinary arts study with the hands-on tutelage of a wide range of chefs—augmented by insight into the food industry as a whole. This model allows students to enter a wide variety of jobs related to food as well as continue their education in the Gastronomy Program. Merging the best aspects of the traditional culinary arts with hands-on instruction in BU’s state-of-the-art laboratory kitchen, the program provides insight into the food industry and prepares students for a variety of professional roles.
The only one of its kind in the country, Boston University’s full-time culinary arts program – entering its third decade – is taught entirely by working chefs and experts in the food industry.
Enrollment is limited to 12 students.
For more information, please call 617-353-9852 or visit www.bu.edu/foodandwine/culinary
MET ML 651 - Level 1: Fundamentals of Wine – An Introduction (Bill Nesto, Ara Sarkissian)
Prerequisite: none, 2-credit course
Mondays, 6-9pm, September 9 – November 9
Suitable for students without previous knowledge of wine, this introductory survey explores the world of wine through lectures, tastings, and assigned readings. By the end of Level 1, students will be able to:
- Exhibit fundamental knowledge of the principal categories of wine, including major grape varieties, wine styles, and regions
- Correctly taste and classify wine attributes
- Understand general principles of food and wine pairing
- Comprehend the process of grape growing and winemaking
MET ML 652 - Level 2: A Comprehensive Survey of Wine (Bill Nesto, Beth Ann Dahan)
Prerequisite: none, but Level 1 recommended
Tuesdays, 6-9pm, September 3 – December 10
This intensive survey is designed for the avid consumer and serious student of wine. Offering detailed knowledge of wine through tastings, lectures, and assigned readings, the course is also useful for those who wish to enter the wine trade, or those in the industry who want to hone their knowledge. By the end of Level 2, students will be able to:
- Exhibit detailed knowledge of wine regions, grape varieties, and styles
- Demonstrate refined tasting ability
- Understand inherent characteristics of wine
MET ML 653 - Level 3: Mastering Wine – Skill Development (Bill Nesto, Beth Ann Dahan)
Prerequisite: a passing grade in Level 2
Wednesdays, 6-9pm, September 4 – December 11
This interactive and dynamic course is the first step in the mastery of the world wine industry. Intensive independent research, group presentations, and wine tastings enable students to gain advanced knowledge of wine production distribution, and consumption. By the end of Level 3, students will be able to:
- Identify wines accurately in blind tastings, including grape varieties and regions
- Appreciate the structure of the wine business at the local, national, and international levels
- Fully understand wine grape growing, vinification, maturation, bottling, and quality control
- Comprehend the theoretical interaction and synergy between wine and food pairing
MET ML 654 - Level 4: The Wine Trade – Global, National, and Local Perspectives (Bill Nesto, Beth Ann Dahan)
Prerequisite: a passing grade in Level 3
Thursdays, 6-9pm, September 5 – December 12
Students continue to develop mastery of the global wine industry through in-depth discussions and forums, research of current issues in the wine industry, interaction with experts in the field, and by tasting wines of exceptional quality. By the end of Level 4, students will be able to:
- Use their wine tasting skills to deconstruct and understand wine quality and origins
- Refine their wine vocabulary and comprehensive observations
- Effectively communicate about wine
- Speak and write confidently about current issues in the wine industry
MET ML 650 - Beer and Spirits (Sandy Block)
Thursdays, 6-9pm, September 5 – October 24
This class will cover the history, production, techniques, and classifications of all the major beer and spirits categories. Together with Master of Wine Sandy Block, VP of Beverage at Legal Sea Foods, students will taste and become thoroughly familiarized with the differences among beers and spirits, learn about the ingredients that create these classic beverages, and discuss trends in the beer and spirit industries in the United States and worldwide. This survey course is ideal for people who have an interest in beer and spirits, but would like to have a greater in-depth understanding of the richness and diversity comprising these categories.
The Gastronomy Program has made exciting changes to the requirements for its MLA degree in Gastronomy. Of the 40 credits required to graduate with the Master’s of Liberal Arts degree, 16 have always been set aside as required classes. Whereas previously Gastronomy students were forced to take 4 specific courses to graduate (Introduction to Gastronomy, Food and the Senses, Food History, and Anthropology of Food), now students will have more flexibility in their requirements.
“Students will be asked to complete one course each that satisfies the criteria of Salt, Fat, Acid, and Heat,” explained Gastronomy Program Director, Dr. Megan Elias. Similar to the new BU HUB requirements for undergraduates, this new structure ensures students enroll in a broad range of classes, but that they select individual courses according to their personal goals. “These new requirements really get at the heart of a Liberal Arts course of study,” Elias said, “and place the Gastronomy program as a whole at the center of a new trend in the American foodscape.”
Students looking to graduate soon may be wondering which courses satisfy each category. “Figuring out which courses counted as which category was part of the fun of building this new system,” said Gastronomy Program Manager Barbara Rotger. “The course Food and Gender fits in the category of Acid, because learning about the role of the patriarchy in the food system will leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth.”
To complete the Fat requirement, students can choose between our Saturday Baking Culinary Lab (plenty of butter there) or Debating Diet. Fun Gastronomy fact: the original proposed title for the Debating Diet course was “The Big Fat Fat Controversy.”
Courses which satisfy the Salt requirement all encourage students to engage directly with the mineral, including Science of Food and Cooking, with a full unit on NaCl, and the Wild and Foraged class, wherein students boil seawater for hours to harvest their own salt. Rumor has it Mark Kurlansky will even join the BU Faculty to teach a Salt class in 2020.
“All summer courses will satisfy the Heat requirement, naturally” explained Dr. Elias, “as will all courses that take place in a kitchen. You know what they say, if you can’t stand the Heat, you won’t graduate with an MLA.”
April Fool's from your friends at BU Gastronomy!!
2019 Summer Session 1 Gastronomy Classes (May 21 through June 28)
MET ML 641 - Anthropology of Food (Karen Metheny)
Mon./Wed. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 1 (May 22-June 26)
What can food tell us about human culture and social organization? Food offers us many opportunities to explore the ways in which humans go about their daily lives, from breaking bread at the family table to haggling over the price of meat at the market to worrying about having enough to eat. In this course we consider how the anthropology of food has developed as a subfield of cultural anthropology.
Read the course spotlight here.
MET ML 673 - Survey of Food and Film (Potter Palmer)
Mon./Wed. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 1 (May 22-June 26)
We can all take pleasure in eating good food, but what about watching other people eat or cook food? This course surveys the history of food in film. It pays particular attention to how food and foodways are depicted as expressions of culture, politics, and group or personal identity.
MET ML 714 - Urban Agriculture (Zachary Nowack)
Tues./Thurs. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 1 (May 21-June 27)
What do gardens in cities do for people? Urban agriculture is a catch-all term that covers community gardens, vegetable plots at prisons, didactically-minded gardens in schoolyards, gardens planted illegally on vacant lots, high-tech hydroponic companies, and farmers’ markets. Students will develop knowledge about how these different spaces differ across variables like legality, goals, and actors.
Check out the class site here.
MET ML 651 - Fundamentals of Wine (Bill Nesto)
Tues./Thurs. 6-9 pm, Summer 1 (May 21-June 18)
Suitable for students without previous knowledge of wine, this introductory survey explores the world of wine through lectures, tastings, and assigned readings. By the end of the course, students will be able to exhibit fundamental knowledge of the principal categories of wine, including major grape varieties, wine styles, and regions; correctly taste and classify wine attributes; understand general principles of food and wine pairing; and comprehend the process of grape growing and winemaking.
2019 Summer Session 2 Gastronomy Classes (July 1 through August 9)
MET ML 638 - Culture and Cuisine: New England (Netta Davis)
Tues./Thurs. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 2 (July 2-August 8)
How are the foodways of New England's inhabitants, past and present, intertwined with the history and culture of this region? In this course, students have the opportunity to examine the cultural uses and meanings of foods and foodways in New England using historical, archaeological, oral, and material evidence.
MET ML 713 - Agricultural History (Gabriella Petrick)
Mon./Wed. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 2 (July 1-August 7)
This course surveys the history of American agriculture from the colonial era to the present. It examines how farmers understood markets, made crop choices, adopted new technologies, developed political identities, and sought government assistance. Emphasis is on the environmental, ideological, and institutional impact of farm modernization and industrialization.
MET ML 702 - Grapevine Varieties and their Varietal Wine (Bill Nesto)
Tues./Thurs. 5:30-9 pm, Summer 2 (July 2-August 8)
This survey course provides advanced wine students with a thorough knowledge of the wine world's principal grape vine varieties and their respective varietal wines. Students will learn about their history and their role in the market.
Prereq: a passing grade or higher in Level 2, or a grade of B- or higher in MET ML 652