maandag 23 december 2013

The humble literature of complex civilizations

Cookbooks, which usually belong to the humble literature of complex civilizations, tell unusual cultural tales. They combine the sturdy pragmatic virtues of all manuals with the vicarious pleasures of the literature of the senses. They reflect shifts in the boundaries of edibility, the proprieties of the culinary process, the logic of meals, the exigencies of the household budget, the vagaries of the market, and the structure of domestic ideologies. The existence of cookbooks presupposes not only some degree of literacy, but often an effort on the part of some variety of specialist to standardize the regime of the kitchen, to transmit culinary lore, and to publicize particular traditions guiding the journey of food from marketplace to kitchen to table. Insofar as cookbooks reflect the kind of technical and cultural elaboration we grace with the term cuisine, they are likely, as Jack Goody has recently argued, to be representations not only of structures of production and distribution and of social and cosmological schemes, but of class and hierarchy (1982).

From "How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India" by Arjun Appadurai. The paper itself deals with class in India but this first paragraph is good to quote here for the clarity of the way it states the anthropological angle on cookbook research.

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