Smithsonian Food History Weekend 2017: Roundtables Session 1

[MUSIC] PAULA: Hello everyone good morning and welcome to the third annual Smithsonian food history weekend at the National Museum of American History. I’m Paula Johnson, a curator in the division of work in industry and the project director for the exhibition right next door, “Food: Transforming the American Table.” It’s a pleasure to open this day of roundtables, a key component of our weekend, which is devoted to exploring how food history underlies, illuminates, shapes, and expands our understanding of American history. So on behalf of the entire food history team at the Museum thank you so much for participating in the roundtables and demonstrating your interest in this year’s theme. Many Flavors, One Nation links us to an important exhibition, ” Many Voices, One Nation,” that opened on the second floor of the Museum in June. And I invite you, I urge you, I implore you to take a few moments while you’re here in the building today to go up to 2 West to see this fantastic exhibition. Which explores how the migrations of people both forced and free have shaped this this country. I don’t have to tell you that that’s a pretty big topic for one museum gallery So it is through programs like this weekend that we can dive more deeply into related topics and ideas. In this case how migrations have influenced food history, how and how and what we eat in America. Our four panels today are designed to take a broad view of food and migration past and present. We’ll grapple with changing perspectives and understandings of how and when foods become American or not? We’ll look at migration and food through the lens of labor, Examining how food-related work in fields and factories and markets and restaurants is often an entry point into the economy, while perhaps also limiting opportunities as well. We’ll look at how diverse Americans have expressed identity and community by what they grow consume share and preserve for their families and communities. Finally later this afternoon panel four we’ll hear about how ingredients in a single dish can be traced to global movements of people through thousands of years. And how that same dish can hold the most personal memories and meanings in the lives of individuals? So each roundtable features some of the most distinguished scholars, practitioners, writers, and thought leaders in the country. We’re honored to have such an extraordinary group of participants in the roundtables. And I’d like to take one moment just to thank all of them and the moderators for joining us today. Could we start is out with this panel? [APPLAUSE] And I’d also like to thank our donors for their generous support of today’s roundtables and their shared commitment to supporting food history at the Smithsonian. Of course, The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, John Deere, The Brewers Association, Wegmans, Melissa’s Produce Company, Laura Chenel’s cheese, and the many individuals and groups that attended last night’s gala. Which kicked off the Food History Weekend. And thanks to all of you for being here and participating. Through your attendance, through your feedback and support, we have been able to grow our Food History Initiative into something that extends to all aspects of the Museum and has engaged our colleagues around the Mall and across the country. And now I’d like to introduce Lauren Safranek, a curatorial assistant for the Many Voices project. Lauren will throughout the day give you all the information and the answers that you’ll need to fully participate in today’s activities. Lauren LAUREN: Good morning. Thanks Paula. So it’s my pleasure to also welcome you to the third annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend and to today’s roundtables. So as Paula mentioned I’ll be with you all day with friendly hints and tips about how to get the most out of the roundtable event. It’s the second day,with the gala happening yesterday, of Food History Weekend, and you can find out more what’s coming in your trusty Weekend program, which you should all have. It looks like this. We hope to see you with all of our events throughout the weekend both here at the Museum and around DC at the Dine Outs tonight. So let’s get into it, let’s go to the roundtables. Each discussion will be one hour, 45 minutes for the discussion on stage and then 15 for questions at the end from you. If you have questions, and we hope that you do there are two ways to send them in. One is to tweet, to #SmithsonianFood. And our trusty, QA officer up here, Ashley who’s waving. Did you see her? We’ll gather them up and present them at the end. If you’re more of a pen and paper type person, no problem. On page 12 of your program is a blank notes page. Feel free to rip it, you know, write your your comment on there and rip it off and hand it to the ushers who should also wave right now. There’s one And there’s another one back there to usher’s for you, and they’ll be looking for you Just if you if you hold it up a little bit just towards the end of the panel. They’ll find you. And they’ll deliver them to Ashley who will read them. We are thrilled to have Francis Lam with us. He’s the award-winning food writer and host of Public Radio’s, The Splendid Table. He is moderating our first panel on the big ideas that will shape all of the conversations today, so let’s dive right in. Francis. FRANCIS: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]. Yes, Yes. Please, standing. Not really. Hi, can you hear me? Okay great. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I know it’s early. It’s really early. [LAUGHTER]. We were actually backstage taking bets on like how many people think are actually going to show up this thing? Nine o’clock on a Friday? Weekend’s gonna start. But thank you for coming to the opening panel. And as your opening panel We felt like we had a certain responsibility A) to keep you entertained and keep you awake keep you awake. But B) to think about the fact that as this is the first of you know, as Paula and Lauren said, a day of what I’m sure will be super fascinating and intriguing and engaging conversations about issues around food. Or issues we can get at through looking at food. It seemed to us that we could do a service for you. And the service we could do was to think about some of the words that you’re gonna be hearing today almost inevitably. You know lots of discussions will probably center on pretty chewy words. Words that may be either full of meaning or kind of meaningless, but we just kind of keep throwing them at each other. Words like appropriation. Words like authenticity. We thought what we’d do to start… [INAUDIBLE] FRANCIS: What we throught we’d do to start is to play a word game. I have here a tremendously distinguished panel who I’ll introduce in just a moment. But what we’re going to do today is: I’m going to ask our panelists to help us define some of the words you’re going to hear today. So we’ll do some of this like pre-digestion work for you as you engage in the rest of conversation. Really what’s gonna end up happening, because really smart people almost never define and always complicate. We’re gonna make everything harder. Like everything is gonna make less sense after this, but but it’s important to engage in the sort of totality of the ideas that are gonna be floating around. They’re gonna be in the air. So to introduce the panel. Maybe I’ll just go from closest to furthest. This is Matt Garcia Matt is a professor of Latin American Latino and Caribbean Studies and History at Dartmouth College. He is a new role there, coming from Arizona State. He is also the co-editor of a book that’s coming out this fall called “Food Across Borders.” Explain this Hasia Diner as she told me to say “Diner, like the restaurant.” Like how do you pronounce that, it’s not hard. She is the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University. She’s the author of many papers and books, but one I was really excited by was “Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration.” Next to her is Maricel Presilla. Maricel is the James Beard award-winning chef of Zafra and Chucharamama restaurants in New Jersey. She’s also the James Beard award-winning author of “Gran Cocina Latina.” So if there’s like a, like if there’s like an EGOT equivalent in the food world, she is she’s most of the way there. and But before all this, she was also a Professor of Medieval Spanish History. MARICEL: Not professor, I would say. Maybe adjunct. FRANCIS: But she was a scholar in Medieval Spanish History [LAUGHTER]. Hasia: Adjunts are professors too. She’s an escapee from the world of academia. MATT: We’re captives. [LAUGHTER]. FRANCIS: And next to her is Krishnendu Ray. Krishnendu is the Chair of the Department of Food Studies at New York University. Krishnendu probably holds the record for like, the ratio of mind-blowing comments to actual words said in my direction. [LAUGHTER] Like every time [INAUDIBLE]. I go to think about this. So again, we’re gonna play a game. I’m going to put a word or an idea or a set of terms in front of each of our panelists and I’m gonna ask them to chew them up for us a little bit. So I want to start with Hasia. HASIA: Okay FRANCIS: It’s great when you say it’s a game you watch everyone go, wait wait. I’m I going to win, am I going to lose? Hasia, so you have done a lot of work, obviously, in how food and migration affect one another. And how the food of migration both changes. The food itself changes as people migrate, but it also changes the places where these people go. And how those changes are not always they don’t follow the same patterns, right. The food of one community that migrates changes in a particular way. But the food of another community that migrates might change in a totally different way. And so the first thing I want to ask you to help us think about is: What does it mean then for us to say ” a cuisine?” Because, you know, I think it’s fascinating often when you ask someone, “Hey, what do you want to have for dinner tonight?” the answer is Just as often as not Going to be “Well, I feel like Italian.” Or “I feel like Chinese food.” Instead of, in many sort of, many traditional societies the quick answer might be like “Oh, well what did we pull out the ground today.” Or “Oh, I feel like a piece of fish.” Or “I feel like you know the chicken.” But here, or at this time, that answer is so often again, “Oh, I feel like Mexican food.” Tell us, what does it mean or feel, like you know so, what does it mean to say we have a cuisine? What is Italian cuisine? What does it mean to say Mexican cuisine or American cuisine? HASIA: Okay, I mean it’s obviously an amazing question and one that I can’t contain in the five minutes you’ve given me. But rather to say on some level there is no such thing, but rather all, I like the word foodways better. Because there are a variety of processes involved in that construction of what’s Chinese food or what’s Italian food or what’s Indian food? If we think about the content, the concept that foods are constantly changing ecological change, political change, economic change. Migration is obviously the one that’s closest to my heart in terms of what I’ve chosen to study. But whatever we think is Chinese food or Italian food once wasn’t. And there in fact at one point,, there’s no such word as Italian food. I’m actually going to offer a little story. I think it probably would be emblematic of so many of the sort of situations that we want to study. In the 1920s a man from Italy came to New York. He was an official of the government. He was involved in actually selling olive oil and in arranging trade deals. And he was walking around an offshoot neighborhood of Little Italy, actually on the street I live on, which once was an Italian neighborhood. Which in and of itself a kind of interesting problematic because it was a neighborhood in which people from particular regions in Italy had lived. Not Italians. He said he was walking down the street and he kept seeing signs for something saying Italian restaurant, Italian restaurant, Italian restaurant. And he said “I didn’t know what that was.” I thought that was really funny. So he decides “Okay, I’m going in.” And he picks one of these Italian restaurants, and he said he looked at the menu and he laughed because there was a dish called parmesan so it was from the region of Parma and something else that was Florentine so it was of Florence and something that said Siciliano, so it was Sicilian. He thought this is so funny that they’re all kind of living next to each other on the pages of the menu. So as he tells in his memoir, he says “I said I decided to order the most unusual thing.” and what does he choose? Spaghetti and meatballs. [LAUGHTER] He orders it The server brings it. He tucks into it. And he said: “This is so good. People in Italy would love it too.” [LAUGHTER] Okay so. What this one individual on some level, very unselfconscious of the process of migration, of people from dozens of regions, hundreds of towns who each had varied, Italy in particular was a quite disunited place. They each had very different ideas and traditions of food, different dishes, different ingredients, different names. Tremendous resentment if you were Sicilian to be on the same menu with somebody from Lombardi. Right, they weren’t even part of your nation as far as you are concerned. To have them all meet on the pages of this Italian restaurant on Bleecker Steet. And so let’s just then multiply this for all the other sort of immigrants who came to the United States from places that got national boundaries, okay, India Okay, it’s a place it got a boundary based on imperialism. Okay, the British designate this this place is India. I’m sure Krishnendu will be able to tell us how many different cuisines are represented in India. But as you began we’ll say “Hey, let’s have Indian tonight.” So that all these entities that would call cuisines were constantly evolving. In immigrant destination settings, and obviously the United States was the immigrant destination par excellence of the great age of migration. People from all these different regions who share a name on a piece of paper called “I came from Italy,” that’s what the designation was meet. Partly because they live in proximity to each other, somebody from one village in Sicily lives in proximity, Next to, around the corner from somebody from a village in Apulia. Or from somebody from Calabria. They come in America, or in whatever the other immigrant destination, to see first we have more in common with each other here than we did back there. And we have more in common with each other than these Irish, Polish, German, Jewish people who are living in the other apartment buildings and in the nearby streets. Within a generation or two, marriages take place between an Apulian and a Calabrian. The distinctions begin to, in foodways and ingredients, begin to meld into a kind of common, sort of, set of dishes. As they face the larger American public, they present themselves, not as Calabrians and Apulians but as Italians. And it’s, in that particular case, although every group is different and every group is also the same, They come to present themselves to the American public in terms of that nation state and through their food. What is it we are contributing to America? This is what we’re giving them. These Americans never had any of these foods till we came. I’m set against a constant refrain that immigrants are bad for America, that each group of immigrant is somehow not as good as the ones that came before, each one is defective. The food became a very powerful way for these individuals, again who had not thought of themselves necessarily as Italian before migration, to shall we say unite behind their food as they sought to defend themselves as good people and good Americans. So that cuisine, I mean yes, it is a cuisine, but it’s always changing. If we gathered together in 50 years or 100 years to tell it what we know as Italian food might be very different just as it was different 50 years ago or 100 years ago. And nothing, food for sure, but no aspect of culture stands still and passes down unchanged from one generation to the next, from one era to the next. FRANCIS: Well you actually bring up a fascinating idea, right, which is, many fascinating ideas, but the thing I’m really keyed in on is this idea that you know I may have come as a Sicilian, but I became an Italian after I came to the United States. HASIA: Yes FRANCIS: Right, and so my food may have been Sicilian before, but now it’s Italian. And it’s not just a different It’s not just a different matter of labeling or a more imprecise labeling. It’s the idea that oh this identity, and therefore this culture and this cuisine was actually sort of forged here, not back in Sicily, in Lombardy, and so on and so forth. You say well things become unchanged. I think about that because that’s obviously a huge change, but also think about the fact that So my family’s… Never do that never hit your microphone. I think the fact that my… My family, my parents are Chinese immigrants. They came from southern China. My wife’s parents come from Portugal. You know, the immigrant generation, the migrant generation is in You know my wife and I were born and raised here. We talk about this a lot because we come from these very different places very different cultures but we share a very common experience in terms of seeing our parents, watching our parents, and thinking about ourselves and our relationship to our parents. One of the things we both have said and noticed that’s common to us is the fact that our parents never really felt like they belong here. But also no longer feel like they belong where they came from. Because Hong Kong changed tremendously in the 50 years of my parents have been here. Portugal has changed tremendously in the 50 years that my wife’s parents have been here. So in a funny way the people who have experienced the most change are also the people in a strange way who try hardest to preserve and to remember what it was that they left. In a funny way like the most culturally conservative and the most culinarily conservative families are immigrants. Sometimes seem to be the people who did make that journey because they had to hold on to whatever they could hold on to. What do you think of that? HASIA: Well I think it’s incredibly profound and it again, would I’d say probably no immigrant has not an image, child of immigrants has not had that experience. Again, they might have it differently based on technology, based on the ability to go back home for a visit or perhaps to go back to home to live for a while and come again. But that notion that once people leave a place, the place doesn’t stand still and it becomes more, and we could think of what that precise words are not important. But it changes because the different political situation, different economic situation. That place also goes through the process of exposure to mass culture. And so the the immigrant, if we could talk about the immigrant because obviously such a gross oversimplification, comes with of memory of the place they had left and in their minds, it’s frozen. There was a wonderful folkloric study by a folklorist in the, I think he was writing in the 1970s, and it was about a few small towns in Kansas where people had all come from Sweden in the 1870s and 1880s. Over the course of the decades they had they had instituted certain festivals that they had remembered from home. Pre-christmas festivals and this is what happened in Sweden. Then the, they would get Swedish visitors in the 1940s and 50s. And they would say “What are you doing?” They didn’t. People weren’t doing that and the Sweden any longer. And the Swedes would go to the local Lutheran churches with the Lindsborg Kansas Swedes and they’s say “What are those songs?” Because these were hymns that were no longer being sung in Sweden and the Lindsborg Swedes were kind of my god How could that be we, and essentially they came to see themselves as actually the repositories of the true Swedish experience. Again the Swedes who are coming to visit as part of tours or exchange programs, go into these homes in Kansas and they, they’re really shocked by the food because again by now, you know Sweden is kind of, You know, it’s really a hyper modern and [INAUDIBLE] HASIA: Exactly. UNKOWN: We eat this after every meal. HASIA: Yeah, and so in a way as a historian of immigration it’s actually the thing that really fascinates me. Is that both the journeys people make and the journeys their children make, the children who experience American education immersion American popular culture for the people I study, young men who have you know served in the military in World War I and World War II and had this kind of mass socialization experience of confronting difference and saying ” Hey, it’s pretty interesting. or that’s pretty terrible.” And the parents who remain to a certain degree frozen in a moment in time in their heads in the place they left. It’s a, again, as a historian, it’s endlessly fascinating. FRANCIS: I think for my parents forever 1970. HASIA: Okay FRANCIS: With that, I would love to move to Maricel. MARICEL: We’ll I’m your case study. I’m the immigrant who exemplifies everything you two have been talking about. FRANCIS: Yeah, so you are an immigrant from Cuba. MARICEL: I was born in Cuba and naturally my question was about authenticity and appropriation. FRANCIS: We’re supposed to pretend this is spontaneous. [LAUGHTER] MARICEL: It have everything to do with the topic that we have been discussing so far. They seem to be completely different concepts authenticity being, the quest for authenticity being the quest for that which is true and appropriation is taking according to the dictionary taking something that doesn’t belong to you. And making it your own. So in a way, you know, that they say this it has this positive connotation well appropriation its perceived as a pejorative term. But historians do that. Chefs have to be, you know, oscillate between these two different poles, seemingly opposite poles. I was born in Cuba, was raised in Cuba and I came in 1970. My idea of Cuba was the moment of departure. Is the food that I experienced up to that moment. Though I’m no stranger to, you know, the lack of food or life, you know, with racial cards. My understanding of Cuban food has to do with eastern Cuba, very traditional food from eastern Cuba. And the cooking of two very different people, my maternal aunts were very refined and careful cooks. They practice what I would call bourgeois Cuban cooking, but there were also Amazons of the kitchen and they believed in you know, backyard raised chickens and slaughtering their own chickens and everything fresh. So it was like a farm-to-table sensibility. FRANCIS: Did you say Amazons of the kitchen? MARICEL: Amazons, yeah, they were Amazons. FRANCIS: That’s an amazing phrase. MARICEL: I mean they would be playing the piano at one moment and the next they would be in the backyard chasing a hen for soup. [LAUGHTER] Yes. FRANCIS: Wonder Women. MARICEL: My grandmother was a very rustic and fantastic and gutsy country cook. Her cooking had to do with her family life in a little town called [INAUDIBLE] By the [INAUDIBLE] River, which is very close to Baracoa which is the first Spanish city of Cuba. She married someone from central Cuba and went to live at a small town called by they were incredibly interesting dishes that you will not find anywhere else in Cuba. She learned those, and she taught them to me. So that was my foundation, so when I decided to reinvent myself through food, Cuban food at first, that was my luggage. Those memories, the taste of that food. That was what really grounded me as a Cuban cook and it was also the yardstick against which I measure everything that I tasted from the moment I landed in Miami in 1970. But then gradually I realized that there were many Cuban tables, that we had been fragmented as people, that was a Cuban food in Miami and in New Jersey and there was another Cuban food in Cuba. And also that we were like scattered pieces of a puzzle. Not only across the Florida Straits, but also all over the world, because Cubans are cooking Cuban food all over the world. So I realized that I had to take into account those disparate elements and those different moments in time. But what helped me is the fact that I’m a historian, so my quest for authenticity really led me to feel that I was the guardian of traditions that were lost or things that I knew were endangered. So that’s not archival historical mentality right. I felt like an arm, You know let’s call it, time machine authenticity type of thing. Archival authenticity. When I started doing research for different articles on Cuban food, that was not the mentality that really sustained me and propelled me forward. But then something happened to me, I realized that I was not just Cuban, that I was a Latin America. It happened to me in the United States. I realized that there was a new Latin America being created in the United States. It was a reconstituted Latin America, but everyone had gone through the same process that I did. Something interesting happened to Cubans. You know if you look at the people who came in different waves from Cuba since 1959, we represent all regions of Cuba, you know, we represent all races and endeavors from farmers to fishermen, blue-collar workers to professionals. In a way the the needs of exile made us into a whole. It wouldn’t have been possible in Cuba. We had a very regional mentality although it was a small island. The people of eastern Cuba were extremely proud of their food. You know I didn’t know how to make black beans. I did not. I ate red kidney beans just like in New Orleans because there’s a connection. So I learned how to make black beans actually in Spain, you know, with friends of Mine from Havana. At one point I made black bean soup, and they say oh, this is delicious red bean soup I said “No, no. It’s black beans.” They said “No, no. You don’t do black beans that way.” And they taught me. Because of my interaction with people from other parts of Cuba, I, sort of my whole conception of Cuban food wasn’t large, but then I became a Latin American. And I decided to make Latin America my area of expertise. I had a problem there because I realized that in a way making Latin America my own presented a problem of appropriation. Because although yes, we all speak Spanish, you know we’re Roman Catholics. We have so many cultural elements in ,common there is such a thing as the is the theory of the Freudian theory, you know, of the small differences the narcissism of small differences. That perhaps in why you make such a chimichurri with more parsley than the Argentinians. They feel that is a completely different chimichurri. It isn’t. It really isn’t. So those are tenuous differences. But they are a part of the political nationalistic discourse in those countries. Not so much in the United States where again we have been pushed together by the experience of being an exile and not being able to return. Because we couldn’t return for decades and a lot of people are illegal. A lot of Latin Americans are here illegally. They cannot go back. So they’re frozen in time. They were marked at a moment of departure all right, but when I decided to embrace Latin American, I just realized that knowledge was my tie to authenticity. Knowledge and respect. That this whole idea of appropriation without respect was completely out of the question for me. And so in order to truly call Latin America my own, I had to travel to the geographic space of Latin America. So travel in time and space because I am a historian, so I look at our ties. I look at all cookbooks, I take recipes, I make them my own. It was through that understanding that I became sure of myself. When I started working on my book, I was a historian, you know, with the archival mentality. Looking for that archival time machine authenticity. But when I started using those recipes for my restaurants I felt freer because I understood the basic underpinnings of this large territory. So I allowed my creativity to become a filter so my appropriation was grounded on respect, deep knowledge, and hard work. That’s I have no patience for corporate appropriation, the theme-park type of appropriation. I do not. You know it makes a mockery of global cuisines. I don’ have patience or respect for chefs that all of a sudden decide that they don’t want to be who they are and they embrace with things without understanding them. They do a type of semantic appropriation that bothers me immensely. Is that they, you know, they use traditional terms, or you know the names of traditional dishes for creations that have nothing to do with the spirit of that food. That bothers me. Because it’s superficial kind of appropriation., But then there are those, and I am a great admirer of many North American chefs who have decided they’re going to embrace world cuisine so they do it very well. And I’m thinking about Rick Bayless you know with Mexican food. The man who’s been traveling to Mexico for four decades has an enormous respect for Mexican cuisine. Takes his whole staff there. So there are people like that and if we did not expect that then we would not be here basically worshiping at the altar of Julia Child. Yeah, because she appropriated, you know, French cuisine. But you know why we admire her? Because she did it respectfully with knowledge and with hard work. FRANCIS: So I’d love to move to Matt because this idea of the global pantry and global cuisines is sort of where we’re heading towards. I want to talk to you because as we mentioned earlier, the “Food Across Borders” is the title of the book that you’ve co-edited that’s coming out this fall. And the first line of that book is a beautiful and intriguing one. It is: “Eating is a border crossing.” Period. At this moment in our culture, in our society, we talked so much about eating locally and the importance of eating locally. Help us think about that phrase and that idea through the lens of the notion that eating is always a border crossing. MATT: Sure. And before I do that I wanted, Francis, to draw your attention now in the front row. Because we’re running out of time But I, you know, our our book, which is co-edited with Melanie DuPruis and Don Mitchell. We were all recognizing the rise of localism in our food culture, a celebration of the distance the preferably the short distance from farm to table that was happening in our culture. While I have, and Melanie and Don have a very healthy respect for localism and understand why it’s important. It allows us to get away from factory farms. It allows us to appreciate the cultures close at hand and it always been in the communities and the regions that we are living in. I want to throw out a challenge, which is our challenge, which is the the notion of localism can too easily slip into anti-immigrantism. And we have to think about why we have the kind of diversity of foods that we have today. That comes through globalization. That comes through free trade, in particular. I’m old enough to remember, growing up in Los Angeles, that Mexican restaurants were often called Spanish American because even though Mexicans had a strong presence in Los Angeles people were, the dominant culture did not feel comfortable with Mexican. Didn’t know what it was. And so even before it became Mexican, right, it was Spanish. It evolved to Mexican in my lifetime. I was born in 1968 and my grandparents grew up, even though they were from Norther Mexico, they grew up embracing this idea of Mexican. But if you look at the last roughly 20 years then it mirrors the period of free trade at NAFTA. We’ve seen a fluorescence of Mexican cuisine and a diversity of Mexican cuisine. So that we understand the difference between [INAUDIBLE] from Chihuahua and Oacaquan. And that is a product of the kind of migrations not just of foods because of free trade, but the displacement of Mexican immigrants who are crossing the borders to do things like harvest our food, serve the food on our tables, provide that food in our grocery stores, or cook the foods in the in the the back rooms and the kitchens that we eat at. So in many ways We’ve gone from this idea of Spanish to Mexican to now [INAUDIBLE] or Oaxacan as a consequence of the kind of anti-localism or globalization that has been present with us. So going back to this concept of local. The celebration of local can often lead to things like country of origin labeling, right, as a way of protecting our foods against those evil influences outside. We don’t want the food coming from Mexico. We don’t want the food coming from Argentina because we don’t know how they’re producing it. In reality, that migration of food and the migrations of peoples has given us the kind of fluorescence of food culture and cuisines that would not be possible if we simply held on to this notion of local. FRANCIS: But local in terms of production is often what people are talking about when they talk about being locally, right? But I think conceptually, if we’re talking about “How do we incorporate and how do we enrich our personal lives, our personal culinary tastes, but also a larger sense our national culinary consciousness?” That seems to be sort of the heart of what we’re talking about, like oh, “How do you bring in those ideas and bring in respect for those people the actual literal people? Who are coming here to do this work?” You also have this really interesting idea of how the people who have traveled across these political borders come and cook food for themselves, and how they can produce and and procure food for themselves. Talk about that a little bit. MATT: So that migration leads to the impulses that both Hasia and Maricel have talked and talked about which is the desire to have the cuisine that’s familiar to us or probably probably more relevant to our ancestors, right. And so it leads to a search for those ingredients that are not close at hand. And a desire to procure the things that make Thai food what it is. Or you think it is. What Mexican, or more specifically, Chihuahua food be what it is. What’s interesting is that free trade and the migration works hand in hand to diversify the things we eat. So, or example, chilies are much more varied today as a consequence of migrants coming to Los Angeles establishing restaurants, establishing cuisines, and then going in search of those chilies locally, can’t find them and making arrangements with Mexican growers, Mexican farms because of free trade to migrate those chilies to those restaurants and introducing the diversity of chilies. This is absolutely true with mangoes as well. Mangoes is probably the best example of that, because, you know, the reality is that less than 1/3 of the mangoes consumed in this country are consumed by Anglo Americans or European Americans in fact. The majority of mangoes are consumed by immigrants and in Los Angeles, 70% Latinos. And so without that migration of people and that seeking out of those unique mangoes, not just one type of mango, it leads to the diversity of palates right and of cuisines that make Los Angeles food as diverse as it is today and the things that we appreciate. For example, you know, I’ve been moving between Mexican and Thai. But Thai is a good example of mango sticky rice if you ever had mango sticky rice. You know how wonderful it is. That is a creation that is born of the kind of migration of Thai immigrants and then free trade that allows for those mangoes to come in significant volumes to establish that wonderful cuisine, that wonderful dish that we are now familiar with and in love with whether we’re Thai or not. I really think, while I understand localism, and I understand why we do it we have to understand that our food cultures and the foods we eat are global and they’re global because people are on the move and because free trade allows for that to happen. FRANCIS: So there’s a world renowned restaurant called Noma. It was named, sort of a portmanteau, and it mends nordisk mat, which is Nordic food. They’re famous They’re famous for a lot of reasons. It’s a tremendous restaurant. There’s a controversial but sort of widely known list of the world’s 50 best restaurants and it was voted the number one restaurant the world for many years in a row. Their whole thing was they brought this idea of eating locally to the world, but from their place, which is you know, the Nordic countries. Which is a part of the world that basically no one else in the world thinks has food. Let alone very good food. It’s like, “What do you eat, like reindeer hooves? What are you eating out there?” And he’s like “well I’m gonna make the best of reindeer hoof you’ve ever had in your entire life.” So this is an amazing restaurant and super well regarded by, depending on the high, fine-dining chef world. I had a chance to have a conversation with the chef once. He said this fascinating thing which was, when they first opened they actually got criticism. Because they’re, so their whole thing was our purview is the Nordic countries, so we only serve ingredients from the Nordic countries. No olive oil in the restaurant, no lemons in the restaurant, etc. etc. And people actually accuse them of “Are you opening a Nazi restaurant? Are you opening a nationalist restaurant?” You know everyone was like “Oh, that’s preposterous,” but I mean there is a certain logic to it, there is a certain idea. Maricel: But then he went to Mexico [LAUGHTER]. FRANCIS: The appropriation conversation continues. But I actually want to move to Krishnendu now because we’ve talked about Thai restaurants and the invention of Thai restaurants and, you know, these formerly Spanish restaurants that now can be called Mexican restaurants. And how we all agree that these restaurants, the cuisine they serve have enriched our lives, they have enriched our national lives, they’ve enriched our person lives. I order from the bad Thai takeout restaurant in my neighborhood probably twice a week. Because I go home and I’m lazy and I’m like, okay, I’m just gonna have, like you know, these spicy basil fried rice. I know that’s not how they make it in Thailand, but whatever, it’s fine. And I want to talk to Krishnendhu because Krishnendu, you have interviewed dozen, 80 I think right? Immigrant restaurateurs for your book, “The Ethnic Restaurateur.” So the phrase I want to put before you actually it’s two phrases, but they’re pretty related, and I think will be obvious why. And I ask you to talk about what I say, is a) the idea of quote-unquote ethnic food and b) cheap eats. KRISHNENDU: He’s trying to provoke me now. [LAUGHTER] FRANCIS: Poking the bear. Poking the bear. KRISHNENDU: Yeah, and it’s a real pleasure coming at the tail end of really kind of some fantastic ideas. But the downside is now, I’m beginning to disagree with everything I had thought about what I was going to say. So I have to change. Let me let me start with that in some ways the world ethnic itself is used, comes to be used, in American media by about 1959. And it, in fact Craig Claiborne uses it to identify a restaurant from Bali. And then, subsequently a restaurant with some claim to a Jewish identity. So in someways, this thing called ethnic, of course we have had exotic food in American history, and I want to just read one paragraph. And a lot of the characteristics of what we think ethnic is, including cheap eats, get reflected here. And it, but my larger point is in fact, I argue that ethnicity is not a thing. It’s a relationship. And it changes over time. And so this is like eight, January 19 1873, New York Times, and it’s talking about, I won’t name the restaurants yet. Right, “They are said to serve the odd things that foreigners love. Along with the roasts, pumpkin pies, and dumplings that Americans prefer.” Dumpling is interesting. It is both true and kind of feels different today. “For the Frenchman, there is lentil soup in which masses of Bologna sausage are floating, while the Irishman is vigorously to work on something like fish ball smothered in red cabbage. All of which is served with an enormous supply of coarse German bread. One customer orders a wiener schnitzel, a tremendous name, which however when brought is only veal cutlet with the bone removed. And another says he feels delicate and well have calf’s tongue with raisins. This delectable dish when it makes its appearance, is not very inviting in appearance.” For all this the author notes the price marked on the card is 15 cents. Further investigation into the mysteries of, here it is named, German cuisine shows beef alamode served with macaroni, a very peculiar, but highly satisfactory way of eating it and all the waiters are clearly German. So all this quest for cheapness, authenticity, weirdness, interesting, exoticism, and subsequently, by the way, it goes on to write about how these things, these German restaurants are becoming too popular, hence losing their sense of authenticity, okay. So both trying to encapsulate it and also afraid of contamination in the modern world and trying to protect it. So we see that. This is 1873, we didn’t have the word ethnic. We didn’t use the word ethnic at that point of time. Usually foreign is a placeholder at that point of time. Ethnicity comes into play in 1959 so it changes in some ways. We do not think, my argument is in fact German food for an outsider like me, an immigrant, recent American, from India. American food looks a lot like German food to me. And I realized that once I went to Germany recently I said damn it I’ve seen this food before. And of course it the peculiar thing is that one of the interesting things that happens with German food it hides in plain view in American culture. In fact, it’s one of the cuisines that does not get named. While everything else gets named. Some things are hidden because you do not name them and some things are hidden as exotically different, and in this case, it’s kind of a beautiful example, which is of course why in some ways the anthropological project is useful one and the argument at the heart of anthropology is the most important things about culture is in fact things that are hidden in plain view. So that’s why you need an outsider who needs to cross a border so it he buys, in this case me, lights it up by asking stupid questions. Which is “Isn’t this food very similar to that food?” And of course and earlier it has been stated for people who are insiders who belong there is the narcissism of minor differences. I mean, tell and Indian, a northern Indian, especially that what we are eating is really Pakistani food. [LAUGHTER] Or tell tell a Bengali from west Bengal that what we are really eating is kind of Bangladeshi food, maybe with less garlic. Okay and so these are of course ways of making distinctions and a naming difference and that naming changes over time. Ethnicity is one of those categories the other other use other Kind of the need for the word ethnic I think by 1959 and especially in the 1960s in American history has been partly to avoid the anxieties around race and race mobilization. Ethnicity has been a way to talk about cultural difference without falling into the dangerous territory of black-white relationship. In some ways ethnicity is both the way we have a marked difference and the way we have in some ways looked away. Tried to look away from race. In interesting ways, has interesting consequences and in fact in my book I argue that the word ethnic food in fact is going out of currency. I argue this is an interesting time to study it precisely because it’s dying. In fact the New York Times has stopped from about 2010 calling any food as ethnic food. It specifies it. It either nationalizes it or, now increasingly, sub-naturalizes it. For instance, as raised earlier, when you talk about Indian food. To call something Indian food is to call something European food. Right? That for an outsider, maybe there is some linkage between Polish food and Italian food. That in fact, the olive oil butter line doesn’t matter in some ways. But at, that only means very far outsiders. What we are seeing is the disintegration of the category of ethnic food other than in secondary markets. I would say second tier identification where ethnic like in New Orleans. Ethnic food is still a placeholder for all kinds of difference for instance. But that is disintegrating in some of the bigger markets in interesting ways. My last point is this thing about, when we use any word, like say ethnic and its association say in this case synonym which cheap eats. Is also the way to interrogate it is to think also of the antonyms. What is the opposite of ethnic food? Okay, and for me, I was thinking well ethnic food is Anglo food? But that will only make sense now in fact. After the Latinization of American culture okay. Before that Anglo would not be a useful category of distinction or I would say in some ways the opposite of ethnic food that still works today is not fancy food Okay, which has something to do with class. Something to do with haute cuisine and or what Sidney Mintz used to used to call institutional food. FRANCIS: Not meaning like, hospitals and cafeterias? KRISHNENDU: He meant, which was related to your first question, and Hasia gave a powerful and beautiful answer. Sidney Mintz answer was cuisines are basically institutional food. They happen in restaurants in the name of certain nationalities. They’re holding pens for this. I would say the third antonym of ethnic in some way is American. But ethnic is American but not fully American, but not fully foreign. Okay, and so then certain things have fallen out. Like French has almost, unless in certain regions where there are poor French immigrants, has almost never been associated with ethnic food. It has always been seen as like hat used to be called continental. Which is an American idea of European hotel food. And it is dying and the last of it is in the continental breakfast. [LAUGHTER] FRANCIS: A stale croissant. KRISHNENDU: Yes, yeah, which also tells you that how, how at the center of gravity of of gastronomy shifts and our understanding with people coming in from different parts of the world, and this is and exactly what Maricel was also saying and Matt was saying is that this boundary crossing and then naming. Naming in a sense is always an attempt to chase after and hold on to something that is already changing. and of course which is the old Confucian argument right? The Confucian argument that if only things stayed the same and didn’t change all our social sciences and the humanities would work. They don’t work because in fact everything changes. FRANCIS: I actually want to ask a follow up question, but I promised earlier That I would say at the 15-minute mark which was a long time ago. If you have written questions to please produce them in some way, I don’t know how yes wave them. ASHLEY: Our ushers in the aisles will collect them from you and then I will have them up here. Francis, please feel free to ask your final question, but then I’m going to want to turn it over to the wonderful array of questions we’ve been getting through Twitter and those on the notecards. So, I’ll let you take it away. And we’ll wrap things up on the panel. Francis: Okay great, or should we just go ahead and go there. Yeah, let’s go there. Spin the wheel. ASHLEY: Okay, excellent. This has been such a wonderful conversation. I don’t want to stop. I just want to stay here all day and listen, and I think the audience has responded to your wonderful conversation I have an entire list of questions. There’s no way we’re gonna get through all of them. But I will try to pick and choose a few that speak to themes that really are crucial to this panel. So we’re definitely talking about power here. I mean we have a wonderful array of panelists defining terms. That in and of itself is a form of power. Going back to consumers and producers when we’re thinking about naming a food culture and defining a cuisine, who actually has the power? Is it the producer? Is it the chef? Is it the cookbook writer, an author? Or is it the consumer? Who’s actually, you know, who is actually defining these cuisines? KRISHNENDU: Dialogic, contested, who has the most Instagram pictures? [LAUGHTER] HASIA: Can I jump in? FRANCIS: Please, yeah. HASIA: I say it’s just in a way, it’s a, it’s a tug of war between all of them. I mean I think one of the beautiful things about studying food and participating as a consumer, as a producer, is that the locus is constantly shifting the public has a role to play. It goes or it doesn’t go. A product is sold, you buy it, or you don’t buy it. The power is, it’s a constant jocking between all of those forces and there is no single answer and so power is definitely diffused. MARICEL: I don’t know, but I think that we, you know, we live in a chef driven culture maybe because you know, I am a chef. But I see chefs having a say on how consumers react and it’s because the media, not the bad media. The media takes creation takes restaurant as the epitome of, the exemplar for a particular cuisine. And that’s, you know and, that’s what goes into a magazine and that’s what the readers you know, that’s information the readers get. And then it really not only shapes the decisions they make when they go out to eat, but also the kinds of foods that they’re going to buy in a supermarket. MATT: I’d like to suggest though there’s power in numbers as someone that likes to look from the bottom up. So some of the ways in which food has changed over the last 20 years is through just sheer numbers of immigrants coming to a place and on the street, in their communities, redefining by representing what a particular cuisine would be, like Mexican. Or making the effort to go get that ingredient that’s missing when they get here. Then all of a sudden other people outside that community start to consume it and say “Hey that tastes really good.” And then we have things like taco chiwa. Or we have things like mango sticky rice. MARICEL: But that’s when you have a certain density. But otherwise it’s through that channel MATT: I would say though that there’s a ground, a change from the ground up. Occasionally with regards to the volume of immigrants. MARICEL: I see with peppers I grow about 300 types of peppers in my garden and I can get anything I want from all over the Americas here in the United States. And I can get all the dried chilies, including chilacas, which I also grow in my garden. But also there is a whole class of chile heads in the United States that go for the super hot. It’s an incredible phenomenon. And so there’s a whole group of people whose taste buds are now looking for the hottest sensation Which you know it’s kind of new. HASIA: But I think, you know, to complicate the chef, the power of the chef is to remember that the majority of people this country are poor, relatively poor, and struggling in fact to make it economically. They don’t go to those kinds of places, but they might buy a slice of pizza on the street or if they’re gonna go out. It exists at so many different levels and the ability of people to find in the cheap eats a way to satisfy their bodily needs and enjoy it is I kind of think that the struggle or the tug of war between all of these different elements… MARICEL: The dangerous part here is that this can be theme park eats that distort the complete culture FRANCIS: And to bring back the idea of the chef is the point person, in a sense, is a point figure is the fact that we’ve watched food move from the margins of our popular culture really directly to the center of a popular culture, probably in the last 25 years. I date that because I think of the Food Network was started in 1993. As that’s happened I’ve seen, I remember when I moved to New York in my early 20s what did I do? I went to work and after work I would go out and I would probably like just sort of hang out somewhere Or you know get a slice of pizza, and what I would really like be waiting for was meeting my friends at the bar later. Or going to a show and seeing a band. That’s how I socialize and how I thought most people in my generation, certainly who I knew socialize. Now I see people at that stage in their lives. They’re going to dinner and they’re staying there. The idea of going to dinner is the entertainment, the idea of going to dinner, that’s the thing that has social signifier as well as like you know their own interest. That’s a remarkable change I think and in that transformation, I think we’ve seen people because you think okay, I’m really into food, but what does that mean? Well I want to look towards people who know about food and sort of the first person that comes to mind is the figure of the chef. So I think people will look to chef at chefs for leadership, they look to chef for like cultural cues. KRISHNENDU: I think in some ways I see that is where when I first came to the U.S. I was surprised that people identified themselves by the music they listen to. FRANCIS: Yeah KRISHENDU: That’s a weird thing. FRANCIS: That was my life. KRISHNENDU: For me in fact, food is the new music. I see that especially in the younger cohorts, in the younger generation. I can’t in fact I don’t think we could run our program at NYU food studies if food was not the new music. Of course when it becomes something like that, then kind of and, there’s a shifting ground of the role of the artist, the role of the artisan, the role of the commentator, the role of the critic, and the role of the public. It is inserted at a time when old media structures are disintegrating. So that now in some ways where you see both the polarization, the New York Times food critic, restaurant critic is still a very powerful position. There are fewer of those and everyone with a byline can argue with that and in fact so in some ways it is a war out there. Like it used to be with music and that is exactly what produces a cultural field. It’s not agreement It is in fact disagreement that produces a cultural field. FRANCIS: Yeah, but they give back to Hasia’s point, I totally appreciate like the vast majority people do not actually consume the food made by these people but they now occupy a different space in our culture, and I think that… HASIA: And the they? Who’s the they? The chef or the people? FRANCIS: The chefs, sorry the chefs now occupy this different and sort of different space in our culture. What’s fascinating to me is, to get back to the idea of power and who has the power right? I think as they have risen to that level they’ve also gotten that class and that profession has gotten far more savvy about their engagement and interaction with the media. You don’t open a restaurant without a story anymore. You don’t open a restaurant and say, “Well I want to make good food and you know, I want to feed the people in my neighborhood and I want to have a good time” That doesn’t cut it you have to have a great story, you have to have a high concept story, that will stick with the reporters and bloggers you know like from traditional media on down and people be like oh, this is amazing they’re gonna cook the food. You know that would have existed in their neighborhood if they lived there in 1853. That’s a great story now we run with that. And what happens is I think it further exacerbates the divide between who has access to those reporters have access to the idea. You know the language to describe their story so and so forth from maybe an immigrant who has come here who’s opened a restaurant just to make a living. MATT: But media has transformed too, so that it’s not just necessarily Food Network who’s the arbiter of what’s great. It’s the democratization of social media and Instagram. It was a joke, but it’s true. That kind of popularizes that food, and that’s the kind of ground-up thing that I never want to lose sight of. I don’t want to just assign the arbiters of what’s good or what’s fashionable to the Food Network. HASIA: But think about the role of Yelp. You want to go out, you’re looking for a place in a particular neighborhood, I mean in a place like New York, you want a particular neighborhood. You go to Yelp you know, I you know not the New York Times food critic. And what are people writing in? Well, again I think one of our the problems I talk about the American people or the New York people as a single undifferentiated sort of entity but rather If I don’t like it, I’m not going back and so in a way the power is with me. Me multiplied. There are many mes and we’re all very different. ASHLEY: That’s an amazing comment to end on. The power of the people, the power of social media and conversation. Thank you for our Twitter followers and our audience for giving us wonderful questions. I wish we could have asked more. You were a fantastic panel, and I’m going to turn things over to my colleague to wrap this wonderful panel session up. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] LAUREN: Wow you promised to complicate things and you did! Wonderfully, so I can’t wait for the rest of the day based on that conversation. Unbelievable. So we’re taking a short break now before our next panel for coffee and book signings. Coffee and snacks are available across the museum on this floor at the LeRoy Nieman Jazz Cafe. And then the bathrooms are right next to that also across the lobby. And then all four panelists will be signing books just this way, the way you entered the theater near the big train. And in fact Matt Garcia’s book is out today, and it’s available to get it here first. [APPLAUSE] MATT: Nowhere else. [APPLAUSE] LAUREN: All of the books will be available for purchase by Smithsonian staff. And so that’s it we’re a little late so don’t go by the time in your trusty pamphlet just for this one. We will give us 25 minutes from now, which means we’re gonna be back here at 11:20 not 11:10. 11:20, so see you then.

Tags:, ,

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *