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Berghahn Books

Chapter Author(s): Jeremy MacClancy

Book Title: Researching Food Habits
Book Subtitle: Methods and Problems
Book Editor(s): Helen Macbeth, Jeremy MacClancy
Published by: Berghahn Books. (2004)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcv0r.12

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IDENTIFICATION Jeremy MacClancy Anthropologists need to be very cautious when talking about ‘identity’.139 on Fri. or as not just restricted to themselves but common to many. as though benefiting from a preordained independ- ence. It may well make some think of an entity fixed in time or coasting through it. and how that definition may change over time. which they themselves regard either as of little importance. Fourthly. Eriksen 1993).91. The danger is that we may extol or assiduously analyse a part of others’ lives. Among other commentators. as a noun. And who. This does not square with the ethnographic record (see. impervious to vicissitudes. Thirdly.jstor. it tends often to be used in the singular. autonomous and sufficient unto itself. The trouble is.g. For several reasons. it may appear to some as agent-less. they might argue. is more inter- ested in studying anthropologists themselves than in studying what they have to say? Secondly ‘identity’. as an abstract noun. We start to find symbols where none at present exists. as though plural identities were the exception. e. key concepts are always inherently vague. not the commonplace that they here are. as an abstract noun. After all. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. than about the way the people studied regard themselves. its versatility and possible extension being of potential benefit to social anthropology. adopting this style may well lead to us anthropologists imposing our notion of identity upon unmarked aspects of others’ cultures. one must look at what it is defined against. may well make some think of an entity with clear boundaries to be traced and sharp contours to be defined. Yet it was Fredrick Barth (1969) who argued over thirty years ago that identity is essentially relational: that to study an identity. the classificatory ingenuity of its author. A seemingly empty vessel fillable with almost any content. MacClancy (1996) has underlined the This content downloaded from 69. Perilous procedure this. Some might think this a strength of the term. may I ask. IDENTITY.org/terms . for the resulting ethnography may tell us more about the imaginative power. Firstly.5.149. it can be used as a general framing device for a surprising range of ethno- graphic data. ‘identity’ is such a catch-all term that almost anything can come within its compass. FOOD.

from focusing on a particular point in time to watching the evolutions of the processual. of sculpting a shape out of the almost formless. not as a prescription etched in acid. Second. to persuade us why they think there is only one such mechanism operating within their research area. study of them helps us overcome the above worries about imposing categories on others. First. because it forces those who wish to claim a solitary mode of identification to argue their case. the roles. Fifthly. MacClancy (1997) exposed just how untenable that position is in the contemporary world. its use pushes aside a pseudoautonomous ‘identity’ for the sake of reintroducing. It has numerous advantages. which otherwise threaten to carry all with them. Fourth.64 Jeremy MacClancy fallacy of this misuse. For all these sorts of reasons and in these contexts. ‘identity’ is a very tricky concept for anthropologists to employ. ‘identity’ is usually regarded as an unproblem- atic category. as though floating independently through the ether. it is best for anthropologists to study others’ exploitation of ideas about identity but to talk among themselves of ‘modes of identification’. in a fully integrated manner. it shifts attention from the static to the dynamic. I recognise that it is easier to conduct this kind of research in areas where local notions of ‘identity’ have become deeply politicised than in places where political conflict has not taken quite that form. rather than as one fragmented in nature and constantly chal- lenged.139 on Fri. Modes of Identification Modes of identification are many and operate at many different levels.149. it takes us from an overconcern with the singular to a challenging emphasis on the plural: I say challenging. motivations and actions of agents in any identi- ficatory process.91. In the same vein. On this account ‘identities’ do not simply exist. but observing the ways they use their own categories. The change is not merely semantic. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. and of playing fast and loose with the temporal dimension. Of course this does not mean we should not study how others deploy the concept. its use runs the risk of turning the abstract into the sub- stantial. Being aware of these potential pitfalls should make us more sensitive to the ways others use the term. by making us observe how the locals shift and swerve. Third. trying to negotiate the deployment of these modes. I should add that the particular modes catalogued below are not This content downloaded from 69. Perhaps then. Here we would be tracing the means employed by others to isolate an identifiable identity within the global flows of today.jstor.org/terms . Far from it. to what effect. It is intended as a springboard for thought. It appears to be an unjustifiably arbi- trary manner of delineating others’ lives in academic terms. An oversimplifier of complex realities. The scheme I here present is only to be taken as illustrative or suggestive. For what we would be doing here is not foisting categories of our own device on the locals. rather individuals or groups initiate or perform actions in particular contexts for identificatory purposes. to what end.

act as deeply idealised folkloric records.149. we might call them. Other books are lengthy expressions of cultural nostalgia (Fragner 2000). they should be viewed as a loose collection of overlapping themes. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. or What to Read.139 on Fri. Books. a still deeply neglected fount of data for anthropologists. All cookbooks have fictional dimensions. Rather. For instance: a) reviews of restaurants b) interviews with chefs c) letters to the editor d) editorials e) articles by columnists f) feature articles g) news on certain kinds of events: the staging of competitions. are written for a diversity of reasons and it is often more profitable to enquire why they have been written than to analyse their contents in an uncritical manner. cookbooks are literary products and have to be seen as such. I have often had to read ‘against the grain’.org/terms . relevant ones may be of an excep- tionally wide variety: (a) cookbooks: both essential and potentially profoundly misleading. a cookbook should not be taken as indicative of what locals ate in the time and area it was written. I have encountered much material of great interest in pieces from all of these six categories. The range and sorts of relevant information here is very broad. with the reader well aware of their provisional nature and expository purpose. The script here seems to be: ‘this is the world we have already This content downloaded from 69. again. Identity. How? For me.jstor. Above all. It was Evelyn Waugh. even cookbooks. In other words. which are. Identification 65 to be seen as mutually exclusive taxa. the giv- ing of prizes. etc. the key source of information here is newspapers. who said his favourite bedtime reading was the books of Elizabeth David. the presence of politicians at key food-based events. Also. as a series of separate pigeon-holes for packets of knowledge. Of course. In the course of my own research on local notions of cuisine in the general Basque area of northern Spain. the authors of these salvage ethnographies are con- cerned to ‘save’ seemingly traditional recipes before they are lost.Food. after all.91. Next in our survey come books and. most surprisingly. hidden within the coal. The Literary Mode of Identification. scanning articles or letters which are not directly concerned with food matters but which may well still contain highly appropri- ate material: the gems. no doubt so would be the modes isolated. and the more one comes close to com- manding a body of knowledge the faster one can skim. The question is: of what kind and to what degree? Some. for instance. It pays to read fast and to learn how to skim. if our aims were slightly different.

The world they have lost. unpolished manner. This content downloaded from 69.139 on Fri. and popular dreams. the role of food in romance. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. and of local cooking is the author trying to portray? What are the proportions between the different kinds of dishes (meat.jstor. present-day values. They have to be seen not as descriptive documents but as pre- scriptive ones. For these reasons. the questions I usually ask myself are: Who wrote this? For whom? When? Where? What position did the author hold? What local contexts can this book be fitted into? Who are the publishers? Who funded this book? What might the author have gained from producing it? What interests. for example.149. the modern rise of nationalism and regionalism has boosted the pro- duction of cookbooks. I have been able to learn about. sweet. eating in a local manner is to consume history. hopes and aims.’ According to this line. then. as Zubaida (2000: 41) argues. (b) Novels. Thus contemporary cookbooks which focus on the folkloric.91. etc. Indeed in some cases it may well be the nation- alists or regionalists themselves who are funding the publication of these books. green and harmon- ious. is almost always rural.org/terms . but which we can try to re-create through cooking’. to uphold virtue. was he or she seeking to pro- mote? How successful was the book? What image of the Basqueland. vegetable. fish. the nostalgic. somehow. a confirmation of the authenticity and superiority of the present-day national cuisine. but to be interrogated. for then all the more likely he or she is to tell us about local life in a relatively unmediated. becomes the measure of national virtue. History. however. dirty chimney stacks or working-class discontent in the visions they perpetuate. It is common for claims to be made about the great age of much local cuisine. Cookbooks may also appeal to the aspirations of their readers. ‘This sup- posed historical antiquity and continuity are cited as. When looking at a Basque cookbook for the first time. It is important here to remember that the claims to existence of any contemporary nation are partly legitimated by its self-vaunted pos- session of a prestigious culture. giving us an inkling of the culinary worlds their authors would like to see. of local society. or the aspirational (as so many do) may tell us less about culinary conditions than about collective imaginations. From reading local novels. including food. and the centrality of feasting. the social importance granted to cultivating a fine palate. there are no ugly towns. feeding their fantasies about the identities they wish to achieve rather than lending substance to the identities they already possess.66 Jeremy MacClancy lost. For. beyond the immediately individual. these books are not simply to be broached.)? Are significant proportions of the dishes from distinct sub-zones of the area in question? In other words. especially bad novels: the less artistry the local author dis- plays the better. and that an ideologically significant part of a culture may well be its distinctive cuisine.

the main Yuletide feast in the Basqueland. where the dia del pueblo (‘day of the village’) was not only celebrated by a collective meal but by the cooking. As some locals told me with pride. Identity. both formal and informal.g.139 on Fri. it had belonged to the refectory of a former seminary within the village. Identification 67 (c) Memoirs: another neglected source of data. or Whose Past to Study? This mode is particularly pockmarked by difficulties. How? The rituals investigated may vary enormously in scope.g. communal meal eaten collec- tively by all the members of a hamlet during its annual fiesta to a particular day in the calendar associated regionally or nationally with certain foods. northern Spain. as well as eulogies to the local diet and styles of cooking. This content downloaded from 69.91. the ritual opening of the first cider barrel or the first bottles of txakoli (a local. Thanks to the work of academics such as Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983) and Boissevain (1992). the gastronomic societies of the Basque area). on occasion. somewhat acidic white wine) of the new harvest]. in the central square. or What Events to Observe. And that the reasons why people today maintain particular traditions. events here may be defined in terms of occupation or leisure-group (e. The Ritual Mode of Identification. of the main course in an extraordinarily large flat cooking dish. Also. e. cloak- ing them in the trappings of the past.Food. what is more important here is often the mode of praise rather than its content. The Historiographic Mode of Identification. However in my Basque case. the sorts of information I have been able to glean from examples of this genre include accounts of recently defunct rules of behaviour and forms of interaction. They may range from a small. As in other domains of activity.149. or of the stages within the annual agricultural cycle [e. the inclusion of elvers (now a very expensive dish) in Christmas Eve dinner. most likely because the trawl. can be long and the catch relatively meagre. They were not just concelebrating community by eating together but having the communal meal cooked on an instrumental product of their common history. it is now extremely well-established that many so-called traditions are in fact rela- tively modern inventions or recent revitalisations of almost moribund customs. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. in the Basqueland. I remember attending the annual fiesta of a small village in the Central Zone of the autonomous province of Navarre. may be very different from why they or their predecessors maintained them in previous decades. from the intensely local to the national.org/terms .jstor.g.

in a playful inversion of the normal order. n. it appeared.g. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about.). in areas where cooking is already highly valued and local identity strongly stressed. even if much of that past was specially created for the purpose. This is very much a question of the production of particular pasts for the present. and not overcynical.d. ‘the New Cuisine of San Sebastián’ (the city where almost all of them worked)? This content downloaded from 69. wanted it believed that the societies were the traditional homes of a democratic egalitarianism where. who adapted the innovations of the French nouvelle cuisine to the local context. original and most innovative prac- titioners. Nostalgia can here play an eminently practical role.68 Jeremy MacClancy This is especially so when we come to questions of identity. This is relevant to our purposes as. men acted as the chefs. A par- ticular image of these societies. they win the support of local journalists. or What do Cooks do? How? For What Reasons? This could just as easily be called the ‘careerist’ or ‘self-promotional’ mode of identification. I was very conscious throughout that I had to constantly sift the seemingly historical material which so many local eulo- gisers used when speaking about this regionally distinctive institution. was so useful to particular sectors within Basque nationalism that most of the popular conceptions about the societies are best regarded as more mythical than factual. and of regionalist politicians. in my own research on the creation and evolution of gastro- nomic societies in the Basque area.139 on Fri. eager for easy copy. Many nationalist writers.91.jstor. By the simultaneous promotion of both their food and the area.149. Legitimating their preten- sions by the national laudits and prizes some of them won. to ask how much of this would have happened if the chefs had called their cooking by another term: e. it appeared. The Culinary Mode of Identification. The main example I think of here is the creation of the ‘New Basque Cuisine’ by a huddle of Basque chefs in the 1980s. For instance. they furthered their aims by granting seemingly endless interviews to local and national journalists and by being ever ready to pose with politicians at appropriate gastronomic events. keen to find further ways to boost regional distinctiveness and pride. Some of the politicians returned the favour by making them the latest winners of prizes dedicated to successful practitioners of regional culture. I found that much of that statement can be radically questioned (MacClancy. It is relatively easy for a loosely associated group of chefs to promote a relatively new cuisine. wished- for view of the future. for it appears that the upholders or promoters of an identity often feel it necessary to supply that identity with a past. It is easy. for here I wish to draw attention to the ways chefs can advance their own standing by publicising a certain kind of cuisine.org/terms . especially if they claim to be its best. the local chefs may well phrase their cuisine in localist terms. as the praise of a particular view of the past while keeping one eye on a particular.

g. Identity. e) local terms for foods and toponyms. My landlord’s father would stress how delicious were the particular strains of fruit or salad vegetable they had chosen to cultivate. acclaimed by locals.jstor.e. g) the discourse of food. most toponyms would fall into disuse and be forgotten. the village’s wine. one worker siphoned off some fresh grape juice for me. c) the cultivation of certain crops. One September evening. Local modes include: a) local cultivation of crops. i. its olive oil).139 on Fri. washed down with the village wine and ‘mountain tea’ (an infusion made of a local herb I could not identify). my landlords (with whom I ate every day) liked to boast of how much of what we were eating had been produced by their own hand. ‘Try that.’ he said. They and other villagers underlined how creamy the local milk was and how distinctive its flavour. etc. f) traditional festivities. how relatively free from chemical additives.149.Food. mushrooms. as the harvested grapes were being ditched into collection vats. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. In the village where I am usually based when conducting my Basque-area research. ‘100 percent pure! And you can’t say that about what’s sold in the shops! Full of chemicals that stuff!’ On Sunday evenings. b) local ways of cultivating crops. d) foraged food. would also praise certain foods from certain villages. or Who are ‘We’? Who are ‘They’? Much of this could also be included in the ritual mode of identification. I usually ate with my landlord who often took delight in showing me how well he knew the countryside by cooking us a meal centred around the undomesticated products he had foraged that afternoon from spots in the sur- rounding countryside (whose location he would never tell me): wild asparagus.g. crayfish. locally collected. as being especially good. like other locals. a village twenty kilometres to the west. these verbal markers of their agricultural space were too valuable a local heritage to This content downloaded from 69. They were rightly worried that with the rejection of agriculture as an occupation by most of the village youth and the recent concentración parcelaria (reorganisation of all the arable land within the municipality into larger fields. Several locals were also greatly concerned that all the toponyms within the municipal bound- aries be catalogued and so saved for posterity. Identification 69 The Local Mode of Identification. on their own land.org/terms . They may take patent pride when presenting a certain local product (e. My landlords took pleasure in pointing out to me how even the local terms for a few fruits (such as apricots) were different in their village and those immediately around it from the terms used in the next valley. emphasising how ‘natural’ it is. To them..91. e. My landlords. the kidney beans of Genevilla. They tended to underline how much better it tasted than much shop-bought produce. valued and praised by locals. which could be more efficiently worked).

debating. So they raised some of the money to have the task carried out professionally. as a necessary skill for those who wish to be regarded even minimally civilised. and did what remained themselves. while the degree of criticism. with well-charged members singing.1 Food as part of local identity: the weekly dinner of an age-set.139 on Fri. For what This content downloaded from 69. these meals can be lengthy. They are also indicators of the extent to which locals recognise a refined palate and the ability to talk about it as a hallmark of savoir-faire. Traditional festivities included the weekly dinners of some age-sets within the village. each covering about a five-year period. and how was it judged? Information collected in this way may pro- vide insights into the way food is locally valued. If successful. it was important to note: what was being eaten. and not moving onto the bars of the village until one or two in the morning. and clears up afterwards.70 Jeremy MacClancy Figure 5. lively and loud.org/terms . and how publicly it may be stated are all indicators of how con- cerned locals are about the quality of what they eat. in a Navarran village be lost so easily. in their clubhouse.jstor. or as a sure sign of snobbery.149. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. its fineness. At both meals with my landlords and with the age-set I was attached to. they buy a small house or storage building.91. If the members of an age-set are active and enthusiastic. A different pair of members prepares the meal each time. in what terms was it being assessed. One form of village classification is the division of everyone into age-sets. Its main purpose is for the holding of dinners every Saturday night and every night during the week-long annual fiestas of the village. and convert it into their own premises.

) and the age-set to which I am attached (preparing meals. In other words. by learning-through-doing I had shown a degree of openness which they respected and so.139 on Fri. while tradi- tionalist members of the English upper class might view any such concern with the quality of the food and the desire to speak about it at length as an index of poor upbringing: ‘Always vulgar to talk about the food.org/terms .Food. I learnt because I was living there for an extended period (just under two years). My first point has to be that much of what I learnt about food habits while in the village. I wish here only to underscore those points my colleagues have not themselves stressed.91. As Malinowski pointed out decades ago. Also. and pretentious to boot. etc. ‘milking’ [to use the local term] olive trees. Identification 71 a Navarran smallholder might regard as a perfectly reasonable comment on his wife’s cooking and which would be accepted by her as such (e. stacking bales. harvesting grapes. which I would then ask the locals to explain. It is important to underline that I was not so much gradually gaining an idea of their way of life as collectively constructing with them a certain interpre- tation of the village. both the questions and answers of the participants This content downloaded from 69. best to keep to fresh when we can afford it. as far as I can judge. Fieldwork. As some locals explicitly told me. it has enabled me to ask locals how they try to reconcile the rift between the two.). because the main focus of my work was not directly on food.g. joining in their entry to the annual fancy-dress competition. long-term fieldwork allows anthropologists to recognise some of the gaps between local rhetorics and realities. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about.149. and have consist- ently tried as much as possible to participate in the tasks of the community: especially assisting both my smallholder landlord (pruning vines. Hubert.jstor. etc. won for myself a certain level of acceptance. Medina).’). Clifford (1980) has spoken of the fieldwork encounter between anthropologist and key pundits as less a work of translation and more a joint production of an intercultural text. have kept on going back at least annually. This continuing experience has also provided me with a diversity of overlapping contexts within which to attempt to understand what I have come to know about village ways and attitudes. In the process. in my case. my dear’. We really shouldn’t buy so much frozen fish. ‘Good but a little overcooked and too much salt. while the locals are trying to understand the aims of their visitor and respond accordingly. Identity. much of what I learnt was by obser- vation and serendipity: unexpected events happening in front of me during the long course of my fieldwork. an anthropologist and his or her informants produce a series of questions and answers in which the interloper attempts to comprehend what his or her hosts are doing and why. Participant Observation and Other Intellectual Excursions Other social anthropologists contributing to this volume have already dis- cussed some of the pros and cons of fieldwork and participant observation (e.g. his English counterpart might judge as verging on the insulting.

The result. (ed. can be pulled down by a customer and rearranged as suits. In MacClancy. Fragner. and so on. In Zubaida.) (1992) Revitalizing European Rituals. (1980) Fieldwork. Clifford’s approach is itself all too obviously partial. anthropologists do not simply dis- cover ‘what is going on in the village’ but painstakingly help put together a collection of ‘partial truths’. a fact they have to stress to some of their readers.V. F. In Barth. Man 15: 518–532. who might otherwise be easily mislead. and Tapper. size of portions.91. J. (ed. F. A Final Point Anthropologists cannot prescribe exactly which food-related dimensions pro- moters of local identity may wish to focus on. The statements ethnographers fabricate are much more grounded. T.V. Anthropologists do not deal in hard-edge facts which. J. combinations of foods. particular tastes or textures. (1969) Introduction.72 Jeremy MacClancy in this ongoing discussion become ever more refined. J. Identity and Ethnicity. London. J. and the Making of Ethnographic Texts. T.jstor. Oxford: 1–20.org/terms . R (eds. like tins on a supermarket shelf. Universitetsforlaget. Eriksen. Taurus.. table manners.149. Routledge. all of which help in the formulation of the partial truths. Reciprocity. MacClancy. S.) Sport. styles of cooking. (2000) Social Reality and Culinary Fiction: the perspective of cookbooks from Iran and Central Asia. Identity and Ethnicity. It forgets the other conversations an ethnographer participates in before production of his or her ethnography: dialogues with colleagues and other academics. References Barth. and Ranger. This content downloaded from 69. It is up to the fieldworker to find out exactly which are being used to drive the vehicle of identity. (ed. structures and timing of meals. Oslo: 9–38. Clifford. London. (1996) Sport. B. according to Clifford. Hobsbawm.) (1983) The Invention of Tradition. particular prohibitions. Pluto. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about. is not a definitive ethnography but a book which should be assessed as the complicit manufacture by the parties involved of a historically con- tingent intercultural text. Cambridge University Press. (1993) Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological perspectives. They may stress particular foods. But Clifford’s key point should still be well taken. London: 63–71.) A Taste of Thyme: Culinary cultures of the Middle East. Boissevain. On this reading. (eds. Berg. and the intersubjectivity they are creating that much more extensive and subtle. Cambridge.) Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The social organization of culture difference. E.139 on Fri.H.

S. (2000) National.139 on Fri.91.V. S. J.org/terms . Identity. Politics and Identity in the Modern World. (eds. Zubaida.d. Taurus. (1997) Anthropology. Art. In Zubaida. Forthcoming.V.jstor. (ed. J.) Contesting Art.149.Food. (n.V. MacClancy.) A Taste of Thyme: Culinary cultures of the Middle East. This content downloaded from 69.) Cultures of Nationalism: a Basque example. Art and Contest. Identification 73 MacClancy. R. Communal and Global Dimensions in Middle Eastern Food Cultures. Oxford: 1–26. In MacClancy. J. London: 33–45. Berg. and Tapper. 08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about.

08 Jul 2016 23:51:20 UTC All use subject to http://about.139 on Fri.org/terms .149.This content downloaded from 69.jstor.91.