This afternoon, a sweet and helpful professor passed on a link to the University of Toronto at Scarborough’s website, Culinaria. I had never before heard of this project, which is a multidisciplinary effort to engage with the culture and diversity of foodways by both graduate and undergraduate students. There’s even a journal I had never heard of—Global Food History. How Had I missed this? I quickly perused the listing of members of the editorial board and found some familiar names: Michael LaCombe, Peter Scholliers, and Paul Freedman. All three are cultural historians who have produced working concerning food in history, and I have explored and am continuing to explore their work. However, the Culinaria website makes it a conscious effort to explain that it is involved in a multidisciplinary project. Indeed, their website showcases projects that aren’t strictly historical, such as an exploration of the role of food as it relates to identity in diaspora communities. I pushed these new findings to the back of my mind as I attempted to get back to my assignments for this week, and duly started thinking about my blog assignment.
As I tried to think of current issues that are being addressed within the food history community, Culinaria kept nagging at the back of my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder—what, exactly, is the “food history community,” and who are its constituent members? Without realizing it, I’ve been attempting to address this confusion throughout my research. I have tried to map out a historiography of the field, but have failed. LaCombe offered some insight into this in his 2013 article “Subject or Signifier: Food and the History of Early North America,” though he too questioned the precise role that food plays in historic scholarship. Much as I have seen in my readings, he argues that food has been used as a tool in diverse scholarship over the past few decades, though it has not become a primary area of study until recently. He concludes that food can be a useful cultural indicator, which I certainly agree with. Despite this, though, I’m left with a bit of bewilderment—how will this be done, and by whom?
I suppose the greatest issue I see that resonates with my research, then, is defining the depth and breadth of food history and who takes part in that conversation. This directly relates to my research since I am reaching for a variety of sources from a multitude of fields. I appreciate and admire the interdisciplinarity of food studies and am excited to be a part of it, yet it is likewise challenging. In a field that is currently developing its own identity, how will I learn how to be its scholar? Who will teach me how to do this? I can only conclude that I must keep reading, keep learning, and start talking. Until I am able to interact with other scholars who have studied food, I won’t fully understand what I’m trying to get myself into. Don’t worry—I meant that a bit wryly, though I do sometimes wonder!
As far as research questions are concerned, this does prompt me to wonder about what methodology or theoretical approach is best for my work. At this point, I suppose I don’t know. However, I know what I’m going to do next. I am going to take the list of editorial reviewers for Global Food History, go to Summon, and do a massive search. I think reading their work will be very helpful in developing a sense of the field, a feeling of where things have been and where they may be going, and how they’re getting there. Hopefully my issue of trying to define a shifting and developing field will become a bit more graceful as time goes on, though its fluidity is one of the most attractive things about it.