The Taste of Art: Cooking, Food, and Counterculture
This article is about the work of American feminist artists starting in the late 60’s and on to the 90’s that were using food, and the domestic sphere surrounding food preparation to create feminist contemporary art installations, performances and other pieces. The influence of Fluxus as an anchor for the works mentioned was very clear, though the pieces veered off the Fluxus path by utilizing more symbolism and with more determined feminist intentions.
It was hard to feel absorbed by this reading as I am not familiar with all the pieces or performances which made me realize that it is difficult to understand the nature of a piece if it is merely being described to you second hand and in writing. The experience, or even the important visual and tactile centers of performance and installation work is diminished through the mere description in an article. I went and looked up many of the mentioned pieces afterward. The most notable for me came from the MOMA show The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort. Overall this reading was interesting, but many of the themes in the works described dealt more with the space of a kitchen rather than food preparation and eating so I didn’t find much inspiration for my project through this reading.
Food and Memory
This article is an excellent introduction to looking at studies of food and memory from an interdisciplinary humanities point of view. The author discusses a variety of approaches and examples of different works focused on this topic and then advocates for an approach that needs to embrace the inconsistency and subjectivity of memory. I will absolutely be referring back to this article for inspiration throughout. One of the projects I have been inspired to undertake after reading this is to try and track my own connections to food and memory by keeping a food smells journal.
I began approaching this by intending to write down every time I was transported back to a memory from the smell of food wherever I happened to be. As people are constantly getting whiffs of food from passing by restaurants, smelling cooking in hallways, and in the homes of my friends and family, I thought this would result in many entries. What I found however after almost 2 months is that I had only recorded one such happening. After this, I have been thinking about my failed experiment, and I realized that food memory comes from a variety of sources, not just smell and that the memories can also be delivered in varying states. The power of food as a vehicle for ‘time travel’ through memory via smell can be very potent, yet doesn’t come as often as I expected it to. To be transported to vivid memory perhaps requires a very certain set of conditions that might go beyond just the food itself. I imagine that the same smell or taste of a food might trigger, or not trigger something depending on what’s going on in one’s life, various distractions, and other external conditions.
Food Time Travel through memory was further inspired from watching a series called Ugly Delicious Episode 3: Home Cooking produced by chef and restaurateur David Chang where him and Rene Redzepi from Noma discuss the power of creating new memories attached to food, and how the ultimate goal and achievement of a dish could be traced back to how much it creates a new memory or traces itself to one from your past. David Chang humorously called it the “Ratatouille moment” (SPOILERS ALERT) as there is a scene in the animated movie Ratatouille about a rat who can cook (a movie that I love and have seen many times) where a staunch food critic eats a bite of ratatouille and is immediately transported back to his childhood sitting at the kitchen table in what looks to be a countryside cottage in Provence eating his mother’s ratatouille.
The single memory I recorded in my ‘smells’ Journal so far was back in February. I was at the Lafarge Lake/Douglas Skytrain station heading to work. As I rode the escalator down to the exit a strong smell of waffles started to fill the frigid air. I was immediately transported back to my time living in South Korea where there is street food everywhere, in particular coming out of the subway. It turns out the smell was the same, a stand just outside the sky train station was selling ‘fish bread’ or Bungeoppang, a waffle shaped like a fish filled with red bean or custard. My memory was not just triggered by the smell of the food, it was the surrounding conditions as well such as the location and action of leaving the sky train station, and the very cold weather. The emotions surrounding my time living in South Korea also returned briefly with the memory, particularly the intense loneliness and isolation I had felt while living there. I ate a lot of ‘fish bread’ because eating in South Korea was often not a straightforward task for me. I was mostly Vegan before moving there, and I realized that I might have a hard time with even vegetarian. I had decided to adopt a bit of fish into my diet in order to be flexible while living there but I didn’t realize how difficult it would actually be to eat vegetarian in South Korea. For one I had the language barrier, but even after that there really wasn’t many vegetarian options anywhere. There were about 3 specifically vegetarian restaurants scattered on opposite sides of Seoul at the time, mostly Buddhist temple cuisine (which is amazing) and none in the town of Ujeongbu where I lived. My travel time was often 2 hours by the time I got into Seoul and walked to those restaurants so they weren’t a viable option for me most days, and as a result, I had many let’s say challenging food experiences. My first day was very difficult, I had trouble figuring out even how to get a crappy coffee from the 7-11 as the system was totally different from in North America. After an entire day, hungry, I worked up the courage to go into a restaurant close to my house where I could not read the sign outside or what was on the menu. The table sitting next to me was very interested in giving me suggestions and I managed to convey to them with my translation dictionary that I could only eat fish and vegetables. I ended up getting a plate of octopus, not an easy first seafood experience after 10 years of vegetarianism. The first time I learned how to order and say ‘vegetable kimbap please’ (yache kimbap juseyo), kimbap being a very delicious Korean type of sushi roll and it came somehow filled with spam. I asked for it to go as to not embarrass myself or anyone in the restaurant, paid and bought a bag of chips on the way home for my lunch instead. I figured out quickly after that dishes I could eat, and how to order them (in very poor Korean) but most of the time I stuck to the same foods over and over as I knew I could get them vegetarian or that they had a bit of seafood. They are all delicious foods that I still eat fondly now such as kimbap, bibimbap, and then street food such as tteokboki, and fish bread. By the end of my stay, I could very slowly read Korean characters and then look up the word/food in a dictionary (which I have since forgotten) so I was able to branch out a bit.
That experience was very transformative for me in many ways, mostly as an introspective one but in particular it changed my moral view of vegetarianism, allowing me to realize that my choice to be a vegetarian was privileged and not always an option for people in different countries. In addition that there are cultural and financial boundaries to vegetarianism and that it might not be a realistic option for everyone, everywhere and that flexibility might be required of people living elsewhere and travelling. The morality and ethics of food are not cut and dry, there are many grey areas and it is hard to judge others for their food choices so it is best not too. My philosophy now is to try and make choices as best I can that fit each situation in my day to day for myself, and if I can influence others in positive ways, awesome. I still eat fish occasionally when flexibility is required, but choose to stick to a predominantly vegetarian or vegan food I’d say 95% of the time.
It’s amazing that a snippet of that entire complex experience came back to me in a few second flash just from that smell. I have not stopped my memory and food journal, I am leaving it open for when an experience like that hits me again and will continue to post any further smelly entires here.
Bird, Brad, Brad Lewis, Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, et al. 2007. Ratatouille. Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment.
Bottinelli, Silvia, and Margherita d’Ayala Valva. The Taste of Art: Cooking, Food, and Counterculture in Contemporary Practices. University of Arkansas Press, 2017. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/51750/.
Holtzman, Jon D. “Food and Memory.” Annual Review of Anthropology 35 (2006): 361-78.
“Home Cooking”. Ugly Delicious, season 1, episode 3, 2018, Netflix Original, https://www.netflix.com/watch/80191115