Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory

Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory

Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory

Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory

Synopsis

Proust's famous madeleine captures the power of food to evoke some of our deepest memories. Why does food hold such power? What does the growing commodification and globalization of food mean for our capacity to store the past in our meals - in the smell of olive oil or the taste of a fresh-cut fig?This book offers a theoretical account of the interrelationship of culture, food and memory. Sutton challenges and expands anthropology's current focus on issues of embodiment, memory and material culture, especially in relation to transnational migration and the flow of culture across borders and boundaries. The Greek island of Kalymnos in the eastern Aegean, where Islanders claim to remember meals long past -- both humble and spectacular - provides the main setting for these issues, as well as comparative materials drawn from England and the United States. Despite the growing interest in anthropological accounts of food and in the cultural construction of memory, the intersection of food with memory has not been accorded sustained examination. Cultural practices of feasting and fasting, global flows of food as both gifts and commodities, the rise of processed food and the relationship of orally transmitted recipes to the vast market in speciality cookbooks tie traditional anthropological mainstays such as ritual, exchange and death to more current concerns with structure and history, cognition and the 'anthropology of the senses'. Arguing for the crucial role of a simultaneous consideration of food and memory, this book significantly advances our understanding of cultural processes and reformulates current theoretical preoccupations.

Excerpt

This book is a study of the relationship between food and memory on the island of Kalymnos, Greece. It is an extension of my original research on Kalymnian historical consciousness, or the felt relevance of the past to the present (Sutton 1998). Although ethnographically focused, this book is not meant as an ethnography of food and social life on Kalymnos. Rather I hope to use grounded ethnography to consider issues of current theoretical concern. I believe that such a grounded and simultaneous consideration of the topics of food and memory will shed light on current diverse theoretical approaches, ranging from structure and history, to “embodiment, ” to consumption. This book will be successful if it casts some light on these issues while at the same time suggesting new and important questions for future ethnographic research.

It has been said that anthropologists often choose their fieldsites based on gustatory preferences, or more generally that the anthropologist and the community find each other, in the sense of a mutual attraction of interests and personality traits. This certainly proved the case in my own experience of the Greek islanders of Kalymnos in the Eastern Aegean. As a child I had been infected by my father's passion for cooking. The kitchen in our 9-room rent-controlled apartment in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City was for the most part not functionally discreet. Rather, it was spacious enough to house a large butcher block counter for chopping, and an old round oak table, where the vast majority of our meals were served even when friends and guests were present. This meant that the kitchen was a gathering place in the evening. It was where my father brought his colleagues/friends/students home on a regular basis to continue the day's work at the kitchen table. And work imperceptibly shifted to drinks and hors d'oeuvres as my mother returned home from teaching, and my parents and their friends discussed and argued about work . . .

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