Front Matter - Editorial -

Editorial

Rhona Richman Kenneally
Guest Editor
Jordan L. LeBel
Guest Editor

1 The essays in this special issue are, with one exception, a selection taken from a 2008 workshop entitled Domestic Foodscapes: Towards Mindful Eating? held at Concordia University in Montreal. The aim of the workshop was to explore a conceptual Venn diagram consisting of three intersecting sets: the home; the culture of food; and the concept of mindfulness. Not surprisingly, the attendees represented a diverse cross-section of disciplines including anthropology, American studies, architecture, communication studies, design, English literature, history, geography, human-computer interaction, marketing, nutrition, psychology, religion, women’s studies, and, oh yes, research related to foodways, food science, and food and drink.

2 Indeed, at the heart of the event was the challenge to find ways to work collaboratively across fields that have differing sets of assumptions and methodologies. The Domestic Foodscapes workshop was conceived out of a misunderstanding arising from alternate definitions of the very word “domestic.” To Jordan LeBel, then a professor at Cornel University’s School of Hotel Administration, the term encompassed an array of domains including at the scale of the nation, as in Gross Domestic Product. It was not instinctive for Rhona Richman Kenneally, a professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia and with a background in architecture, to think in such terms; for her, domestic constitutes the zone of the household. Notwithstanding—perhaps even because of—this initial confusion, the workshop proved rewarding because of negotiations that subsequently took place regarding how to approach any data being addressed, how to analyze it, report the findings, even cite sources that were used. Not only did this exercise introduce each participant to new ways of doing and thinking about things, it made us question our own habits and tacit beliefs, and re-confirm—or modify—them. We hope this collection continues to make opaque what is often rather transparent, namely the infrastructures of knowledge that belong to particular fields of scholarship, and the mediation that must inevitably take place when crossing from one’s own area(s) of expertise to new ones.

3 That being said, in setting up the collection for the reader, certain definitions seem required. “Domestic” will, in these essays, relate to the household and to the house, “our first universe, the real cosmos in every sense of the word” according to Gaston Bachelard (1994: 4). In that environment, food culture is transferred (or not) across generations and diverse audiences; rituals are created, observed or abandoned by virtue of a myriad of stimuli; and prescriptives about cooking and eating, not to mention convenience foods in various stages of preparation, enter the kitchen and are personalized and modified (or not) for the purposes of the household.

4 The genesis of the term “foodscape” likely emerges from Arjun Appaduri’s conceptualization of “scapes” as capturing dimensions of global cultural flow, inasmuch as he uses the suffix “to indicate first of all that these are not objectively given relations which look the same from every angle of vision, but rather ... are deeply perspectival constructs, inflected very much by the historical, linguistic and political situatedness of different sorts of actors” (1990: 296-97).1

5 An early use of the “food” prefix can be found in a study by Lewis Holloway and Moya Kneafsey. They refer to the U.K. as a somewhat disembodied or “placeless foodscape” (2000: 286)—although one undergoing a sort of rehabilitation by virtue of the emergence of British Farmer’s Markets that feature locally grown or produced foodstuffs—as compared with countries whose food production was strongly rooted to a particular region. Over time, the geographic range of a foodscape becomes more focused in the hands of other researchers, for example on such cities as Glasgow and Bangkok.2 In her investigation of the latter, Gisèle Yasmeen takes the position that “like the concept of landscape, which is a view of space from a certain perspective, a foodscape can be thought of as a point of view on a given place”; the term thus emphasizes “a spatialization of foodways and the interconnections between people, food, and places” (2007: 525).3 Jeffery Sobal and Brian Wansink (2007) narrow the confines even more in their exploration of “kitchen-scapes, tablescapes, platescapes and foodscapes,” built environments of varying scales that influence both the type and amount of food consumed. For the purposes of this collection, however, the most comprehensive conceptualization of the term is articulated by Juan E. and Magda Campo in the syllabus for their course—Food, Religion and Culture in the Middle East—at the University of California Santa Barbara. For them, a foodscape is “a way to talk about the culinary culture(s) of a place as defined by the interactions of a variety of factors: geography, climate and environment; religion, language, and cultural practices; history; social organization, ethnicity, status and gender; science and technology.” An ever-dynamic environment, it is grounded in the actual tasks associated with food preparation and consumption, but “can also be represented in texts, art, architecture, and even ordinary objects connected with food production, cooking, serving, and eating or drinking.” In short, foodscapes “interweave the body with society and culture, nature, and the world at large.”4

6 The concept of mindfulness takes as its point of departure the study of mindless eating as made popular by Brian Wansink in his bestselling book of the same name. Subtitled Why We Eat More Than We Think, the monograph documents his findings as Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and underscores the degree to which problematic food habits such as overeating result from distractions that move attention away from the act of eating, or from “hidden persuaders” (in advertisements or packaging, for example) that tacitly manipulate the consumer.5 However, mindfulness also brings up for consideration circumstances that might enable enriching culinary experiences for the eater, cook and other stakeholders implicated in food production and preparation. It centralizes opportunities to create community and commensality as a result of shared experiences as well as to enhance gustatory awareness, by encouraging a broader (cognitive, sensorial) appreciation of what one eats and where and how. It considers the transmission of gastronomic knowledge and experience as a way to ground both enhanced pleasure and personal responsibility. And it gauges the possibility of fostering more sustainable lifestyles by promoting a greater appreciation for ethical growing and harvesting practices. As Carlo Petrini (2001) writes with regard to Slow Food, mindful eating includes “giving the act of nourishing oneself the importance it deserves, learning to take pleasure in the diversity of recipes and flavors, recognizing the variety of places where food is produced and the people who produce it, and respecting the rhythm of the seasons and of human gatherings” (xvii).

7 However, whereas mindfulness is meant to be an overarching theme in this collection, the capability or consideration of the domestic foodscape as a potential site of mindful eating is framed in the interrogative. What evidence is there that a given domestic built environment accommodates mindful food culture? What conditions or variables work in favour of such a goal, and which mitigate against it? In what ways might it be possible or desirable to move towards mindful eating as a future objective?

8 Each contribution in this collection (briefly summarized below) takes a unique approach to these questions, and offers an account of varying degrees of mindful eating strategies in its respective analysis. Before proceeding to introduce them, however, it is necessary to address what the regular reader of the Material Culture Review/Revue de la culture matérielle will quickly note: this special issue has generated a break from the usual differentiation between articles and research reports, the latter usually consisting of shorter reflections of work in progress. Precisely because the wide range of methods and subject matter in these works might, in and of themselves, be seen to stretch the boundaries of what constitutes material culture studies, it was thought more useful to cluster them around points of thematic convergence that help establish a context, than to add an additional criterion of separation. Consequently, the two research reports (by Alan Nash and David Sutton) have been blended into the whole, and thus add to a more holistic presentation of key themes.

9 The first three studies of the “Domestic Foodscapes” special issue constitute a background against which varying characteristics and means of achieving mindfulness are considered, by addressing the culturally constructed perceptions of food eaten in the home. Jessica Mudry’s essay interrogates the Food Pyramid and other vehicles through which information about food as nutrition is communicated to the public. Her argument casts light on a conceptual shift whereby the appreciation of taste, and, to a larger extent, the experience of pleasure, are undermined as desirable elements of our eating behaviour as a result of being supplanted by a scientific, quantified discourse privileging vitamins, carbohydrates, and other health-related characteristics of food. Nathalie Cooke further explores cultural prescriptives in her study of what she calls “cookbooklets,” short publications of recipes, created and disseminated by food companies as a means to promote their products. Through fine comparison, (commensurate with her expertise as a literary critic) of the trajectories some of these recipes take when adopted and modified in different geographic regions, Cooke evaluates the degree to which these collections serve as indicators of consolidation, rather than of difference, of particular domestic foodways practices. Finally, Charlene Elliott, using communications and marketing scholarship, brings the focus to children, and “fun foods,” a category of ready-made products that unambiguously targets this consumer cohort with direct claims or allusions to fun or play. These foods are not only changing the content of domestic pantries but shaping children’s representations of food and their eating behaviours as well. What we see from this first group of essays, then, are the complexities that have to be addressed when evaluating food habits, given the relationship between individual and communal readings of food as fuel, cultural datum or commodity.

10 Four subsequent articles offer more spatially-oriented approaches to the domestic foodscape, and consider how this site, as an interactive environment, modulates and negotiates the food-related signals (not to mention the physical artifacts) that are admitted into it. Alan Nash charts the evolution in Montreal, from the mid 20th century to 2004, of restaurant meals that were “ordered out” by consumers and delivered to the home as part of the transaction. He addresses two themes: the supplanting, in these orders, of “local” type foods (hotdogs, for example) by those that were internationally-inspired (such as Chinese or Italian), and the implications of this transformation of the domestic food environment, in tandem with the growing passion for ethnic cuisine which characterized popular culture of the time. Lucia Terrenghi considers the kitchen as a socio-technical environment, and the family as a “community of practice.” Specifically, she explores how digital technology, carefully planned and implemented, can contribute to the development of mindful eating by supporting the transmission and development of family culinary heritage. Anthropologist David Sutton considers recent transmission of food skills across generations on the island of Kalymnos in Greece, where concerns about the fate of traditional cuisine in light of available fast foods are balanced against new practices disseminated by Greek television cooking shows. Sutton brings attention to a domestic foodscape that habitually situates two quite distinct kitchen prototypes—a small but efficient utility kitchen for the matriarch, and a separate larger, more decorative version in the adjacent household of her adult daughter—within which young girls are taught “techniques of the body” to replicate long-standing embodied cooking practices, such as chopping food by holding it in one hand and working the knife with the other, rather than cutting against a flat surface. Finally, in a cross-disciplinary meeting of the minds, Richman Kenneally and LeBel work from the assumption that the architecture and material culture of the built environment can have a profound impact on constructions of food-related identity amongst members of a household. As a means of testing this hypothesis, they interpret solicited documentation of memories of childhood domestic foodscapes, to explore correlations between childhood eating experiences and adult food behaviours. These four essays thus highlight the importance of developing an awareness of the domestic foodscape as “place” in the exercise of mindful eating.

11 As guest editors, we wish to express our thanks to Gerald Pocius for affording us the opportunity to advance the process of dialogue and exchange initiated in the Domestic Foodscapes workshop, and we are grateful to Richard MacKinnon, Editor-in-Chief, for welcoming this volume. Special thanks go to Marie MacSween for her enormous efforts in bringing the volume to fruition, and for her patience in seeing the project through. It is our hope that these essays will inspire further research and dialogue across disciplines, on this significant and valuable subject.

Rhona Richman Kenneally and Jordan L. LeBel
Guest Editors

References

Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory, Culture & Society 7:296-97.

Bachelard, Gaston. 1994. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Cummins, Steven Sally Macintyre. 2002. A Systemic Study of an Urban Foodscape: The Price and Availability of Food in Greater Glasgow. Urban Studies 39 (11): 2115-30.

Holloway, Lewis and Moya Kneafsey. 2000. Reading the Space of the Farmers’ Market: A Preliminary Investigation From the U.K. Sociologia Ruralis 40 (3): 285-99.

Packard, Vance. 1957. The Hidden Persuaders. New York: D. McKay Co.

Petrini, Carlo. 2001. Slow Food: The Case for Taste. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sobal, Jeffery and Brian Wansink. 2007. Kitchenscapes, Tablescapes, Platescapes, and Foodscapes: Influences of Microscale Built Environments on Food Intake. Environment and Behavior 39 (1): 124-42.

Wansink, Brian. 2007. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. New York: Random House.

Yasmeen, Gisèle. 2006. Bangkok’s Foodscape: Public Eating, Gender Relations, and Urban Change. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.

Yasmeen, Gisèle. 2007. Plastic-bag Housewives’ and Postmodern Restaurants?: Public and Private in Bangkok’s Foodscape. In Food and Culture: A Reader • Second Edition, eds. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, 523-38. New York: Routledge.

Notes

1 . He adds that these “landscapes … are the building blocks of what, extending Benedict Anderson, I would like to call ‘imagined worlds,’ that is, the multiple worlds which are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe” (296-97).

2 . See Cummins and Macintyre (2002) and Yasmeen (2006).

3 . See Yasmeen (2006) as well.

4 . See syllabus for Religious Studies 185 at http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/syllabus/185 (accessed June 13, 2010).

5 . The term “hidden persuader” alludes to Vance Packard’s (1957) groundbreaking study of 1950s consumer behaviour and media manipulation.