More than a hundred years ago, German sociologist Georg Simmel described the act of eating as both the most intensely individual and social of human activities. The food paradox remains unchanged to this day: we can feed from a common pot and eat with the same relish from a single plate, and yet, no two dinner companions can eat what the other is eating. The experience is all at once a private and shared one.
Coincident with our species’ transition from the practice of feedingto dining, ethnic, religious and cultural groups around the world have forged protocols of belonging through food, all the while constructing around its prohibitions and taboos modes of differentiating themselves from each other. Simmel perceived in the socialisation and aestheticisation of the meal what he called a ‘triumph over the naturalism of eating’. At The Forager, all around us, we see this in legacies passed on by our forebearers who found in food’s material and sensuous language a means of expression, a tongue with which to speak and be with each other. For indeed, commensality’s grammar, whose rules and structures are differently codified from one location to the next, can only be learned and refined in the shared, embodied experience of eating together.
Modernity and a consumerism that knows no limits of the national underlie the culinary bricolage giving today’s ‘global cities’ their contemporary edge; whether eating a pizza dosa from a roadside food stall in Bangalore or grabbing a kimchi taco from a food truck doing the rounds of a New York neighbourhood, food cultures are intermarrying like never before. The idiosyncrasies of food practices in the contemporary moment present a giddy concatenation of cultural mingling, mimicry and borrowing at one end of the spectrum, and at the other, raise the more critical issue of food security at a time when global elites’ fickle food preferences are synced to fashion’s and not nature’s seasons; such are among the territories we are setting out to explore in this and future editions of our magazine.
On this occasion of The Forager’s inaugural issue, our dining table has influences from India, Europe and the Middle East. In Boiling Coffee/Burning Beirut, Deepa Bhasthi writes, in ode to Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulnes, an empathetic response to the role of daily ritual – in this instance making coffee – in keeping, for five short minutes, the day’s wartime horrors at bay. Taltaje Vasanthakumara recounts the importance of food in the life and death of Buddha, while K N Ganeshaiah and V R Ramakrishna Parama, in passing through the German town of Witzenhausen, are taken under the wings of an Indian couple who run a pizzeria with the best curry in town. Nimble-footedly threading her way through film scenes, Ranjani Krishnakumar takes her readers along to wedding feasts and nuptials, pointing out along the way the nature of food’s twinning with matrimony in Tamil Cinema. For Tanja LaÅ¾etiÄ‡’, the aisles of her local supermarket in Ljubljana display the price paid by local producers for the phenomenon of consumer choice, while food’s function as a medium for political expression in the art practice of Raša TodosijeviÄ‡ provides the ‘meat’ of Maja Ä†iriÄ‡’s contribution; resurrection of an old dictionary definition of ‘meat’ is the linguistic key unlocking understanding of how TodosijeviÄ‡ puts to artistic use food’s semantic richness in the region encompassed by the former Yugoslavia. Lastly, in Things You Learn When You Forage, Rebecca Beinart strikes out along the banks of the River Trent and into the city of London with a mobile kitchen and a mission to forage.
Across these contributions, scope of subject and shifts in geography variously conspire to show food’s vanishing point at the intersection between culture and politics. It is this breath of topic that we believe makes The Forager’s thematic focus an engagement with both food and everything that filters through it – living and dying, making art, memory and migration and so on and so forth. It gives us great pleasure to invite you our reader and interlocutor to enjoy the ‘meat and drink’ on offer in this The Forager’s first issue.
Aileen Blaney is faculty at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India.
She is Editor of The Forager.