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  • IntroductionThe Spatial Turn and the "Second Wave" of Food Studies
  • Michael D. Wise

Food studies is no longer fighting for respect. Given the rapid maturation of food studies in the first decades of the twenty-first century, scholars in the field no longer need to preface their publications with oncecommon assertions about the vital importance of food to the supposedly more "serious" topics—race, gender, labor, war, and so on—engaged by their work. Classic statements, such as Felipe Fernández-Armesto's often cited quotation, "Food has a claim to be the world's most important subject. It is what matters most to most people, most of the time," have become truisms.1 Today, seventeen years onward from the publication of those sentences, whenever I read words like that in a new manuscript, it makes me wonder about the future growth of food studies. It seems that everyone now knows about food's vital importance to cultural identity, political expression, environmental transformation, social relationships, and other topics. Simply adding in "food" as a new dimension of study in an existing field no longer stands on its own as a meaningful intervention. The field's first wave of provocations have lost their power. Even more distressing, all the good food puns have "gone stale."

So, what's next for the field? What might be the "second wave" of food studies? Where does it seem that authors and publishers are taking us? And, in particular, how might future relationships between geographers and the field of food studies evolve? In April 2019, at the American Association of Geographer's conference in Washington, DC, I organized a roundtable session to gather insight on these questions from several authors and editors who have each played prominent roles in shaping food studies over the last five or ten years, and longer. I also wanted to open up a space for members of the audience to respond to our panelists and to offer suggestions and answers of their own. One [End Page 32] of the outcomes of the session was this special issue on food and place in Historical Geography. Another outcome was the ongoing discussion about the roles of place and space in food studies: How have food studies scholars engaged work in geography, both knowingly and unwittingly? And how might focusing on spatial questions more deeply—at an empirical level as well as on an epistemological register (by thinking through how regionalities, localities, and a multitude of scales affect the production of knowledge within food studies scholarship, in both knowing and unwitting ways)—yield new energy and insights for a field now established in the academic mainstream and in need, perhaps, of some fresh excitement?

Two of the questions that I have had in mind over the last several years—at the risk of putting them too simply—are (1) "how much 'food' needs to be in food studies?" and (2) "what counts as 'food,' anyway?" Food exists at so many scales that it requires a geographer's classificatory sensibilities to map out the different levels and registers in which food enters into food studies scholarship. If we grasp food at its widest possible set of meanings, then it encompasses literally the entire earth, and definitely the sun and the moon too. For many food studies scholars in the humanities, I think this wide-angle lens can be a blurry and somewhat unappealing frame of analysis. With our deepest roots, perhaps, in the anthropological traditions of ethnographic description, we have often yielded the floor on these kinds of big-picture food studies projects to the social and the physical scientists, preferring instead to drill down into the details of individual eaters, individual cooks, individual ingredients, and individual cuisines.

Within the bifurcated discipline of geography's wide-ranging considerations of the relationships between food and place, it seems to me that this difference is especially clear. In short, geographers trained in cultural studies have tended to ask questions about the role of food in the production of place—the function of food in regional identities, for instance—while physical geographers and those trained in the social sciences tend to consider the role of place...


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