Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Should We Safeguard 'The Idea of the Anzac Biscuit Recipe'?

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Should We Safeguard 'The Idea of the Anzac Biscuit Recipe'?

Article excerpt


In "Anzac biscuits - A culinary memorial" for the Journal of Australian Studies, Sian Supski (2006) argues that the recipe 'filled a gap in the birth of the nation narrative' (p. 52). Supski built on the work of Grimshaw, Lake, McGrath & Quartly (1994), who wrote in women's contributions and experiences to counterbalance the dominant masculinist trope of nation building pervading White Australian history.

This commentary serves as an open letter to the Australasian sisterhood, suggesting they consider adding 'the idea of the Anzac biscuit recipe' to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) intangible cultural heritage list (UNESCO, n.d. a). It is hoped Women's Studies Journal readers will advance the conversation at a kitchen, regional, or national level and share their views.

This commentary has three parts. First, I define intangible cultural heritage and reveal connections between regional or national foods and national memory projects (UNESCO, n.d. e). Because of a lack of documented evidence in food history, Andrew Smith (2001) points to 'culinary fakelores' and 'logical fallacies' embedded in the 'origin narratives' of national foods (pp. 254-258).1 Next, I examine the recipe's transference through cookery books. Cookery books, in Janet Theophano's view, 'arouse the mind's sensory palate' (2002, p. 2). Cookery books also provide clues into women's lives (Scott, 1997); other womanly historical documents include samplers and scrapbooks (Bower, 1997). Using the Anzac biscuit recipe as a case study, I look at the 'women's culture' behind cookery books, focusing on messages about patriotism, food, and gender. The third component looks at the Anzac biscuit culture in everyday life in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Understanding intangible cultural heritage, and the legacy of the Anzac biscuit recipe

Intangible cultural heritage includes folklore, song, drama, festivals, and cuisine. UNESCO provides guidelines on how to safeguard intangible cultural heritage and manages the list of 'elements [that] cannot ... survive without immediate safeguarding' (UNESCO, n.d. d). Foodrelated examples include the French gastronomic meal (UNESCO, n.d. b) and gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia (UNESCO, n.d. c), both listed in 2010.

Intangible culture cannot exist without recognition. We must decide for ourselves whether the 'idea of the Anzac biscuit recipe', which includes both the transmission of baking knowledge and skills and the act of eating the biscuit, needs safeguarding.

First, we must consider the connection between intangible cultural heritage and national memory projects. According to Charles Lindholm (2008), citizens experience 'a secular communion' with the nation by ingesting its 'authentic' food (p. 87). In the case of the Anzac biscuit, Supski (2006) sees significance in their role in the commemoration of Anzac Day, giving the biscuit a 'civil-religious' resonance, and that through the social act of 'eating the biscuits, one "belongs" in and to the Australian nation' (p. 58). The biscuit is sold commercially and for fundraising purposes, and the Returned Soldiers' Association (RSA) in Aotearoa/ New Zealand and the Returned Services League (RSL) in Australia serve as 'protectors of the authentic biscuit' (Supski, 2006, p. 55).2

Smith (2001) warns that 'invented culinary traditions' (p. 258) rather than documented evidence surround authentic foods (see also Holtzman, 2006). The Anzac biscuit recipe creation story combines culinary fakelores with historical truths on both sides of the Tasman. The New Zealand National Army Museum (Te Mata Toa) website (http://www.armymuseum. debunks the most seductive origin narrative: that the soldiers made Anzac biscuits at Gallipoli. Soldiers' rations at that time did not include golden syrup or coconut, quintessential Anzac biscuit ingredients. The logical fallacy draws on rational connections not supported by historical evidence (Smith, 2001). …

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