Defying simplistic categorisation in food by Paula Hardie

Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe are Cooking Sections, a duo based in London with backgrounds in urban design, architecture and performance. As spatial practitioners, Pascual and Schwabe employ practice-based research, installation, performance, mapping and video to explore geopolitical issues through the lens of food.

A recent interview with Assemble Papers queried the pair on using food as a medium in communicating messages of ecological detriment as a result of geopolitical conditions. One work that demonstrates this was Under The Sea There Is A Hole (2015) which saw twenty five dining tables map out risk zones along the Dead Sea shoreline that had resulted from dam construction in Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, date palm plantations exhausting underground water resources, and the extraction of minerals from evaporation ponds in Israel and Jordan.

A large part of Cooking Section's work is identifying the human influence on surrounding environments and how that influence affects agriculture, food and animals.

The simplistic view we have on food procurement – like food labelling such as 'fair trade' and 'seasonality' according to four seasons regardless of the climate (and climate change) – buries the stories of farmers, soil and animals who become burdened by the marketisation of 'doing good' and 'eating seasonally'.

How do we define what is 'fair' trade in the first place? Pascua implies perhaps not by standardised and expensive certifications...

"When we were in Granada, we met someone who ran a farm who said that there’s a series of economic burdens for them to even apply for these sophistications. Most of the time it’s not affordable – these rules prioritise big farms over small ones – so for him it was more ‘fair’, more ‘organic’, to avoid the labels and initiate a relationship of trust with the supplier in the UK" (Assemble Paper, 2016).

This is a common story among farmers and producers in the South East Queensland area. Understanding that not all growers are certified in one particular way or another, even though they may be growing in fair conditions, allows consumers to think beyond organic.

Removing the marketisation of food – trends, fads, fashions – introduces a new logic of communication and awareness that could be used as a way to redirect food consumption to counter the geopolitical and ecological issues surrounding them. For example, in order to mitigate the invasion of the lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean, traditionally an aquarium fish species, Pascual and Schwabe proposed the adoption of lionfish in everyday diets.

"So instead of thinking of a very fixed vegetarian diet or carnivore diet, we propose that we need to become a bit more flexible; we might need to eat lionfish for three years until the problem is solved. That constitutes for us a new approach to seasons, precisely because of all these disruptions in the environment caused by urbanisation forces" (Assemble Papers 2016).

There is no absolute understanding of what is fair, what is seasonal, or what is ethical because our surrounding economies, ecologies and climate are in a constant state of flux. Speaking to this, Cooking Sections curated a dinner performance called Climavore (2015) which proposed a temporary diet that adapts to the world's states of unsettlement due to climate change. Five food reactions to climate events consisted of the Forever Fertile Season, the Drought Season, the Invasive Season (mmm, lionfish), the Ocean Cleaning Season, and the Desertification Season.

A culinary response to the simplification of food labelling, climate change and geopolitical conditions, all
 shared through a very thought-provoking meal, indeed.

Image taken from Cooking Sections

Image taken from Cooking Sections

Chefs = Change Agents by Paula Hardie

Here is an example of chefs using their influence and creativity to assume a role of responsibility as agents of change.

RefettoRio Gastromotiva, launched by Italy’s Massimo Bottura and Brazil’s David Hertz, utilises ingredients left over from the Olympic Village's catering services, and surplus food from sponsors and partners' grocery stores that would otherwise be wasted, to feed impoverished Rio de Janeiro residents.  

Social inequality is significant in Brazil, and favela-dwellers represent 17 per cent of the total population of Rio (Xavier & Magalhães 2003), which brings into question the social, economical and political appropriateness of the placement of the 2016 Olympic Games.

The team behind Gastromotiva are helping break down the exclusionary conditions set upon gentrified communities in Rio with its potential to design ontologically, as Hertz claims it will continue to function after the Olympic and Paralympic Games via the provision of vocational training.

According to Bottura's wife, Lara Gilmore, the inability to prepare recipes in advance is the real challenge for the project's participants (Rafael 2016). This project not only brings the awareness of food waste to the global stage, but an exemplary solution also, proving that chefs are positioned within a system that is capable of, and responsible for, social change and political awareness.


Helia Nacif,  Xavier & Magalhães, Fernanda. 2003. Urban Slums Report: The case of Rio de Janeiro.  <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dpu-projects/Global_Report/pdfs/Rio.pdf>

Rafael, Tonon. 3 August, 2016. Inside Massimo Bottura’s Master Plan to Conquer Food Waste. Eater. <http://www.eater.com/2016/8/3/12347258/massimo-bottura-rio>

Image: http://www.eater.com/2016/8/3/12347258/massimo-bottura-rio

 

The Other Side of the Counter by Paula Hardie

Just as many young people have before me, I’ve braved the vicissitudes of a casual hospitality job from a young age. I believe the hospitality industry, especially in my youth, has given me a great deal of character and taught me how to read all types of people. But I’m a weekend warrior. I keep myself busy on the weekends by earning money rather than spending it as I finish my studies. I’m not out there doing the hard yards; not the break of dawn coffee rushes, nor the 3am high-volume bar closes.

Nevertheless, many of my close friends, including my partner, have chosen the full-time hospo’ life as their way of life. They are a bunch of bar-owning, restaurant-managing, career-waitering legends who love existing outside the Monday to Friday, nine to five work norm. They give unfalteringly genuine service and happily dedicate themselves to the public enlightenment of good food and (really good) drink; all the while enduring a politically unstable workplace environment (read: the Brisbane nightlife). 

Fortunately I’m not going to contribute any more noise to that heady topic. Instead I want to make a fuss over the food trends that have been widely adopted by Brisbane venues over the last couple of years. Everywhere I turn there’s an option for burgers, buffalo wings, burgers, sticky ribs, burgers, fried chicken, glazed doughnuts, chilli cheese fries or, yet again, burgers. Many of which are even served in the style of the Americana diner. 

No longer do we need to travel to Louisiana to sample the local New Orleanian foods. We don’t need to go all the way to South Carolina to eat the deep fried chicken that originated between Scottish immigrants and African slaves during the 18th century. We can eat Creole and Cajun, Vietnamese street food, Italian, and French peasant food right here in Brisbane. In fact, we can access nearly any kind of cultural cuisine, 'exotic', or 'authentic' food at any time of the year. How come everyone seems to know what poutine is, yet no one's interested in desert yam? The French have snails and frog legs, why don't we have goanna and kangaroo on our menus? I'd like to try a gimlet made with finger lime, please.

With the popularity of culturally themed eateries evident on every corner of Brisbane’s inner city suburbs, those who clock off later than 9pm (or simply fancy a late dinner) face a bleak outlook of dinner options. Why do we all of a sudden have an obsession with greasy southern American food? Not only is this style of food unhealthy and unimaginative, (yet indubitably enticing at 2am in the morning), it is a misinterpretation of our bioregion. Environmental writer and founder of the Planet Drum Foundation, Peter Berg, defines bioregionalism as not just a geographic terrain but as a terrain of consciousness (Berg 2002). What, where and when we eat food contributes to our terrain of consciousness which manifests as food memories. For example, during my childhood I anticipated eating Bowen mangoes when I visited family in northern Queensland during Christmas. The connections between food, place and time make eating a special event and create a ‘sense of place’.

A recurrent theme endorsed by the participant chefs engaged in my research project is the importance of ‘sense of place’ not just when they cook, but when they travel and eat. That is to say that accessing all foods, everywhere, year-round should not be normalised. One might think twice about the energy expended for the appearance of mango puree on a menu in London, or wild barramundi in a Tasmanian fish and chip shop. Joel Salatin, American author and farmer of Polyface Farms, once told Michael Pollan,

"Just because I can ship organic lettuce from the Salinas Valley, or organic cut flowers from Peru, doesn't mean we should do it, not if we're really serious about energy and seasonality and bioregionalism." (Pollan 2006, 133)

The era of sensationalising imported food has come to an end, and for reasons just as significant as resource conservation and preservation of the environment. Displacement of native plants and animals allied with native peoples has occurred since Europeans first arrived in both America and Australia. As I wrote about in Our Australian Cuisinethe suppression of native food knowledge and traditions during these early years not only perpetuated a muddled Eurocentric cuisine for Australia, it was the result of a "cultural myopia" (Pascoe 2014, 17) which devastated soil fertility, previously encouraged by thousands of years of careful husbandry. Years later, native Australian food knowledge and traditions still fail to penetrate the mainstream cuisine and national food identity.

Nevertheless, Berg claims that a response to the persistent issue of defending our bioregion (and our native food identity) from global intrusions must be a creative one (Berg 2002). To engage in creativity and flexibility in order to work with food in place and time (the local and the seasonal), allows a ‘sense of place’ to take shape. What would happen if we placed more trust in our chefs and their creativity, flexibility and engagement with local suppliers, distributors, farmers, producers and custodians? What might we be eating?

I trust it might not be trendy and ‘grammable’ ‘dude food’, misplaced in our society by way of social medias and mob behaviour. Perhaps, even my hospitality comrades might one night knock off to enjoy a dinner that isn't deep fried potato, as tempting as it may be.


Bibliography

Berg, Peter. 2002. Bioregionalism: An Introduction. Viewed 21st July, 2017. <http://www.planetdrum.org/bioregion_bioregionalism_defined.htm#Bioregionalism>

Pascoe, Bruce. 2014. Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture of Accident? Magabala Books. Broome, Western Australia.

Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Books. United States of America.

Seeking an Historical Understanding of Eating by Paula Hardie

Whilst attempting to ground my research project in a theoretical context, I have stumbled upon the recommendation (more than once) to seek an historical understanding of what structures one’s practice before considering moving forward into a state of sustainment.

Design theorist, author, professor and principal of The Studio at the Edge of the World (http://www.thestudioattheedgeoftheworld.com/), Tony Fry advises the redirective practitioner, as the first move toward advancing sustainment, to gain an historical understanding of what has structured their practice and their selves as (in the case of design) a designing subject (Fry 2007, 8). Fry refers to this way of thinking as aimed at productivist practices, especially design. I propose applying this way of thinking to the act of eating, and the hospitality practice that surrounds this act.

Alasdair MacIntyre, Scottish philosopher widely known for his contribution to moral philosophy in After Virtue, similarly indicates the importance of understanding the history of a practice. The hospitality practitioner inherits a past and is the bearer of it’s traditions. Thus to fully understand a practice is to, “notice that practices always have histories and that at any given moment what a practice is depends on a mode of understanding it which has been transmitted often through many generations (MacIntyre 2007, 221).” At what point through our past generations did we begin to disconnect from the origins of our food, and, in doing so fall out of touch with past traditional hospitality provisions. The way in which we eat has drastically changed in such a recent amount of time. How did we so quickly transition from our direct dependence on the land and those who tended it, to eating fast foods handed to us through our car windows? 

I think it’s valid to assume a great portion of our connectedness to food was degraded with the onset of the industrial revolution. Michael Pollan confirmed this when he wrote about the industrial food chain in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The industrial food chain is about forgetting, or not knowing in the first place, where our food comes from. It is the “principle reason it is so opaque, for if we could see what lies on the far side of the increasingly high walls of our industrial agriculture, we would surely change the way we eat (Pollan 2006, 10-11).”

Not knowing, or seeing, what has really become of our food is exactly what the industrial food chain relies on. Wendell Berry calls it a “perfect ignorance” of the history of food in the chapter The Pleasure of Eating in his book What Are People For? Essays. In losing our connection to the origins of food, we have, ourselves, become industrial eaters. Berry wrote,

“The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical — in short, a victim. When food, in the minds of eaters, is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous (Berry 1990, 146).”

Not only is it a cultural amnesia that we are suffering from, it is an historical amnesia. It is important, I feel, to acquaint yourself with knowing your food. In fact, Berry says there is much pleasure in knowing your food. He even goes as far to say that for anyone who does know something of the modern history of food, “...eating away from home can be a chore (Berry 1990, 151).”

A chore! If we were to solely rely on ourselves for true and good food, we would surely lose the art of hospitality. For some would even lose their livelihoods as well as the absolute pleasure in dining out. The true meaning of hospitality originates in entertaining, comforting and ensuring the safety of the stranger. Thus, I beg to ask one question: How might we fully accomplish the act of hospitality if we do not truly know the history and origins of the food we are serving?

In gaining an historical understanding of our food and the tradition of hospitality, the hospitality practitioner will begin to understand and find purpose in themselves as a designing subject. In identifying oneself as a designing subject, and an agent of change, the hospitality practitioner understands how their practice acts upon itself as well as what the practice acts upon (Fry 2007, 9). That is, how does your hospitality practice act upon farming and agriculture (and the livelihoods that exist within those industries), and the health and wellbeing for consumers? Asking the hard questions might well be the first step in becoming the redirective practitioner.


Wendell Berry’s chapter on The Pleasures of Eating is a really great read, find it here.

Bibliography

Berry, Wendell. 1990. What are people for?: Essays: Counterpoint Press.

Fry, Tony. 2007. "Redirective Practice: An Elaboration." Design Philosophy Papers 5 (1):5-20. 

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 2007. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3rd ed. United States: University of Notre Dame Press

Pollan, Michael. 2006. The omnivore's dilemma: A natural history of four meals. United States of America: The Penguin Press.


Food and Cultural Appropriation by Paula Hardie

Shing Yin Khor's comic Just Eat It captures the phenomenon of eating, travelling and the fetishisation of 'authentic' cuisines. The comic describes Khor's own Asian authenticity as messy, inglorious, and complicated. "We're a people," she writes, "not a cuisine. Do not deny us our own diversity." The struggle for pre-Western, pre-colonial experiences through food reduces "centuries of history down to a plate." But now that plate is changing, through transitions of development and globalisation, Khor challenges what is 'authentically' Asian cuisine? 

The final panel of Khor's comic implores her friend to stop thinking. His 'us and them' attitude perpetuates the 'otherness' of her culture. This way of thinking, which can be so ingrained in Western language and attitudes, can be redesigned through the adoption of an intercultural understanding, not through cultural fetishism or the spectacle of tourism. 

Khor's comic encourages us all, no matter where in the world we might be, to choose language with consciousness, or else don't speak at all–just eat.

The final panel of  Just Eat It , by Shing Yin Khor, February 18th, 2014

The final panel of Just Eat It, by Shing Yin Khor, February 18th, 2014


Our Australian Cuisine by Paula Hardie

What defines the Australian cuisine? Some recent exploration into this topic has lead me down two pathways:

  • the native Australian flora and fauna that sustained indigenous Australians for thousands and thousands of years and,
  • a dominantly western diet imported and influenced by a great diversity of cultures

The American professor and author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan, argued that America, as a relatively new nation drawn from many different immigrant populations, each with its own culture of food, has never had a single, strong, stable culinary tradition (Pollan 2006, 5). This statement also rings true for Australia, if not more so. For the first arrival of white Australians, Australia’s indigenous foods were unfamiliar and considered inferior by colonists. In 1889, native Australian fruits, roots, leaves, and stems were documented as “nothing to boast of as eatables” and “never to be employed as food except in the direst necessity (Maiden 1889, 1)”. This view, combined with the existence of international trade, perhaps lead to our fragmented disconnect between food consumption and what the native Australian environment offers. American scientist and author of Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond, argued that, 

“White English colonists did not create a literate, food-producing, industrial democracy in Australia. Instead, they imported all of the elements from outside Australia; the livestock, all of the crops (except macadamia nuts), the metallurgical knowledge, the steam engines, the guns, the alphabet, the political institutions, even the germs. All of these were the end products of 10,000 years of development in Eurasian environments. By an accident of geography, the colonists who landed in Sydney in 1788 [had already] inherited those elements (Diamond 1997, 321)”

Thus one might argue that the white Australian cuisine began occurring through imported elements, despite the perennial existence of Aboriginal Australian’s cuisine which boasted of flora and fauna native to the land prior to European arrival. In America, also a relatively new nation state, a very similar pattern occurred between the white 'settlers' and Native American’s.

“The white man brought his own ‘associate species’ with him to the New World–cattle and apples, pigs and wheat, not to mention his accustomed weeds and microbes–and wherever possible helped them to displace the native plants and animals allied with the Indian. More even than the rifle, it was this biotic army that did the most to defeat the Indians (Pollan 2006, 24).”

Many cultural cuisines, not exclusively belonging to the world’s indigenous peoples, are closely linked to cultural identity and heritage. In many cases, cuisines developed from the flora and fauna that naturally flourished in the surrounding environment, or from what was economically and socially accessible. Yet as the world’s population becomes exceedingly unsettled and migrates into densely urbanised environments, rural spaces become representative of ‘the good old days’ and seen as places to find compensation for lost identity.

Article 31 of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states, indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop, among other things, the manifestation of their sciences including seeds, medicines and the knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora. Below this it states, “In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.” This statement, formally supported by the Australian government as of the 3rd April, 2009, politically recognises the potentiality of losing knowledge and traditions belonging to the world’s indigenous peoples.

The phenomenon of reimposing indigenous traditions is reflected in gastronomy which has seen chefs and restaurateurs explore indigenous foods in order to preserve cultural identities and traditions, (and to combat an ever increasingly industrialised food culture.) Food journalist John Lethlean wrote that before famed Danish chef, René Redzepi, came to Australia to open his Noma Australia pop up restaurant he asked himself, “What if the Europeans and the indigenous people of this land had lived in complete harmony from the very beginning? What would a restaurant look like today?”  

Australian chefs and hospitality professionals are fortunate to live in a world of endless culinary options, influences and trends, yet here lies an opportunity for a deeper translation of Australia’s native environment through food. A socially and politically redirective food practice, through which a strong connection can be made with Australia’s indigenous cuisine, and with Australia’s traditional owners.


Bibliography

See John Lethlean's article on René Redzepi and Noma Australia here

Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. US: The Penguin Press.

Maiden. J. H. 1889. The Useful Native Plants of Australia (Including Tasmania). The Technological Museum of New South Wales, Sydney. Viewed 18th April, 2016. https://ia600209.us.archive.org/20/items/usefulnativeplan1889maid/usefulnativeplan1889maid.pdf

Diamond, Jared. 1997. Guns, Germs and Steel. UK: Jonathan Cape.

 

Why don't diners ask more questions? by Paula Hardie

A recent dining experience in East Brisbane left me mulling this question over and over in my mind. The waiter announced the white fish option on the menu was Mulloway and, as I’d just finished reading Dan Barber’s Sea chapter in his book The Third Plate, the responsibility (and curiosity) to question where the Mulloway came from nibbled at my freshly reinstated awareness of sustainable fishing practices.

Yet, even as the waiter prompted our table for queries, the question felt too forthright or nosey to put forward in such a casual setting; like when you accidentally find yourself conversationally cornered with a heavy topic. Certainly, every now and then one might ask for the translation of a particular French or Italian word, which can have a flattering effect on the proficient waiter. But asking where, how, (or even why) an ingredient made it onto the menu seems to be a less conventional dining habit.

Questioning where your food comes from, and under what conditions it was grown in or cared for, should not feel as though it carries weight. There is, in policy, a right to know where our food comes from, yet there is less transparency in our dining experiences than there could be. In most all cases, restaurant menus describe wine variety and origins but only rarely do we see restaurant menus celebrating the origins of it's ingredients. 

Barber says waiters are, "ambassadors for the chefs and the restaurant and emissaries for the diner. Waiters hold the responsibility to translate the restaurant's values (Barber 2014, 337)." Diners hold equal responsibility to translate their ecological values into consumer values (and demands). Making queries opens up a line of communication between chef and customer. In fact, the author, journalist, activist, and professor, Michael Pollan, is convinced that the more questions asked, the more likely money will be spent on food with a defensible story behind it. Pollan calls this, "voting with your fork" (Pollan 2015).

An instructional how-to-order guide for your benefit


Bibliography

Barber, Dan. 2014. The Third Plate: Field Notes of the Future of Food. New York: Penguin Books.

Pollan, Michael. 2015. Goodreads. Viewed 7th April, 2016. 
<http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2121.Michael_Pollan>