Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women

Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women

Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women

Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women

Synopsis

"Literally, chilaquiles are a breakfast I grew up eating: fried corn tortillas with tomato-chile sauce. Symbolically, they are the culinary metaphor for how working-class women speak with the seasoning of their food."-from the Introduction

Through the ages and across cultures, women have carved out a domain in which their cooking allowed them to express themselves, strengthen family relationships, and create a world of shared meanings with other women. In Voices in the Kitchen, Meredith E. Abarca features the voices of her mother and several other family members and friends, seated at their kitchen tables, to share the grassroots world view of these working-class Mexican and Mexican American women.

In the kitchen, Abarca demonstrates, women assert their own sazón (seasoning), not only in their cooking but also in their lives. Through a series of oral histories, or charlas culinarias (culinary chats), the women interviewed address issues of space, sensual knowledge, artistic and narrative expression, and cultural and social change. From her mother's breakfast chilaquiles to the most elaborate traditional dinner, these women share their lives as they share their savory, symbolic, and theoretical meanings of food.

The charlas culinarias represent spoken personal narratives, testimonial autobiography, and a form of culinary memoir, one created by the cooks-as-writers who speak from their kitchen space. Abarca then looks at writers-as-cooks to add an additional dimension to the understanding of women's power to define themselves.

Voices in the Kitchen joins the extensive culinary research of the last decade in exploring the importance of the knowledge found in the practical, concrete, and temporal aspects of the ordinary practice of everyday cooking.

Excerpt

We have all heard from nutritionists that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While I have ignored it on many occasions, this time I will follow the experts’ advice and begin with the breakfast that gives this book its basic yet essential nourishment: los chilaquiles de mi ’amá. This dish flavors the premise of Voices in the Kitchen, that everyday cooking is a language. Literally, chilaquiles are a breakfast I grew up eating: fried corn tortillas with tomatochile sauce. Symbolically, they are the culinary metaphor for how working-class women speak with the seasoning of their food. Los chilaquiles also blur the distinction between theory and action, between the field of knowledge in the library or laboratory and the field of knowledge in an ordinary home kitchen.

This book is a research project where the personal is political on at least two counts: the reason for embarking on it and the core of women whose culinary philosophies give substance to it. When I graduated from college in the early 1990s, I knew I needed to get away from the academic institution. I needed to leave that world, at least for a while, before going to graduate school since I was becoming rather cynical and skeptical about most of the textual knowledge I encountered. I am particularly referring to feminist theories of female subjectivity and agency. All these theories were meant to raise my consciousness and help me liberate myself from the patriarchal, socially constructed, restricted, and oppressive . . .

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