Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias

Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias

Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias

Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias

Synopsis

Perennially viewed as both a utopian land of abundant resources and a fallen nation of consummate consumers, North America has provided a fertile setting for the development of distinctive foodways reflecting the diverse visions of life in the United States. Immigrants, from colonial English Puritans and Spanish Catholics to mid-twentieth-century European Jews and contemporary Indian Hindus, have generated innovative foodways in creating "new world" religious and ethnic identities. The Shakers, the Oneida Perfectionists, and the Amana Colony, as well as 1970s counter-cultural groups, developed food practices that distinguished communal members from outsiders, but they also marketed their food to nonmembers through festivals, restaurants, and cookbooks. Other groups- from elite male dining clubs in Revolutionary America and female college students in the late 1800s, to members of food co-ops; vegetarian Jews and Buddhists; and "foodies" who watched TV cooking shows- have used food strategically to promote their ideals of gender, social class, nonviolence, environmentalism, or taste in the hope of transforming national or global society. This theoretically informed, interdisciplinary collection of thirteen essays broadens familiar definitions of utopianism and community to explore the ways Americans have produced, consumed, avoided, and marketed food and food-related products and meanings to further their visionary ideals.

Excerpt

In 1986 the activist Carlo Petrini led a band of protesters armed with bowls of penne pasta in a demonstration against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant on the ancient Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Petrini and his friends represented the Italian organization Arcigola (archgluttony), which was working “to create awareness of local products and awaken people's attention to food and wine and the right way to enjoy them.” For Petrini, American fast food represented all that was wrong with the world: homogenization, industrialization, colonization, globalization, dehumanization—in short, McDonaldization. Europeans and North Americans, Petrini argued, had lost touch with their gastronomic roots, with their sources of true pleasure and taste. “Fast-food culture”—its corporate economics, its assembly-line mode of meal production and consumption, its fat- and chemical-laden Big Macs and fries, and the superficial, frenetic lifestyle it promoted—was destroying authentic human life physiologically and aesthetically. That day, on the Spanish Steps in Rome, the Slow Food movement was born.

Slow Food went international in 1989 and by 2004 had grown to more than eighty thousand members in more than one hundred countries, including an American affiliate, Slow Food USA. The organization promotes a global philosophy that is rooted locally in small convivia— groups that meet regularly in a member's home or at a restaurant, winery, or farm to learn about “matters of taste.” Convivia hold “food and wine events and initiatives, creating moments of conviviality, raising the profile of products, and promoting local artisans and wine cellars.” As . . .

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