Chapter 13. Ways of Eating: Tradition, Innovation, and the Production of Community in Food-Based Art
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225 Chapter 13 Ways of Eating Tradition, Innovation, and the Production of Community in Food-Based Art Laurie Beth Clark and Michael Peterson On November 8, 2006, the New York Times published a “revolutionary ” new technique for baking bread, developed by Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery.1 The “no-knead” technique involves quickly mixing a very moist dough with a small amount of yeast, and letting yeast and time do the work of developing the bread’s gluten. In most versions, the wet dough is almost poured into a preheated cast-iron pot and baked with the cover on to capture the steam released by the moist dough, producing a puffy interior and a very crisp crust. This was widely acclaimed as revolutionary and hailed as the first advance in bread making in hundreds of years.2 The coming together of a traditional practice with an innovative technique was what made this recipe so sensational. It is a good example of the ways that the traditional and the avant-garde are not distinct but rather mutually defining, intertwined practices. In this essay, we are considering what we can learn about food by looking at it through the binary of the traditional and the avantgarde , as well as what we can learn about those two ideas by looking at them through the lens of food.We’re particularly curious about how these two different sensibilities are deployed in performance art, but we are also interested in the ways these approaches permeate other 226 Eating Out food ­cultures.We’ll consider food in everyday life,in new gastronomy, and in performances,both art world and theatrical,with our examples influenced by our own experiences and practices as artists, primarily in a United States cultural context.We have a special focus on the ways that food is used to create and/or invoke community, which we show to be a complicating factor in our understanding of the dyad of the avant-garde and the traditional.We will elaborate several dimensions of the construction of food as either“traditional”or“avant-garde,”with an emphasis on the subject of communal dining—eating together. How is food deployed to invoke tradition? How is food constructed as traditional? What is meant when food is interpreted as “avant-garde” (whether using that term or not)? In a previous essay on the use of food in social practice art, we argued that often the symbolic role of food is overemphasized, at the expense of what food does.3 We assessed “the problematic relation of food and generosity” and in particular the common assumption that food and feeding signify generosity when food is actually often a tool for constructing more specific and nuanced relationships. We argued that food is not inherently tied to generosity and that the use of food in relational art is not necessarily a sign of “generous” relations. Further, we argued against the implication that a generous relationship, or a sociality of hospitality, is necessarily not a “critical” one. Here, we build on this fundamental clarification or opening up of the meaning of food and feeding and explore multiple meanings of food as it is constructed and interpreted. When we use the term traditional in this context, we mean to invoke conventional behaviors,such as the bourgeoisWestern practice of dining together,whether as a nuclear family on a daily basis and/or as an extended family (broadly construed to include one’s social network ) on holidays. Under this heading, we might consider foods that are familiar (family recipes, national cuisines) and that are generally considered comforting.But we also want to attend to what we will call “neo-traditional” dining. This includes a DIY embrace of “the good old ways,” but also haute cuisine’s recent fixation on the preparation of expensive versions of “comfort foods”and a trendy embrace of formerly disparaged cuts of meat (sometimes known as “nose-to-tail” cuisine).4 The slow food movement champions the political merit of Ways of Eating 227 traditional values of local produce and farm-to-table consumption. While cultures associate traditional foodways with both conservative and progressive values, tradition typically performs a resistance to change and a celebration of repetition. Although Levi-Strauss’s nature-culture distinction between “the raw and the cooked” can seem simplistic, we can still note some ways in which traditional foods, even if intensely cooked in age-old fires, are considered to be closer to their raw ingredients. While...


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