an introduction to "cooking up a new south african identity"

en route to south africa

before the actual intro to the paper, a few paragraphs of 'please's.

if you didn't already know, i went to south africa about a year and a half ago for an anthropology class and, while it wasn't a full study, i took notes and wrote a ridiculously long anthropological survey about food, identity, and gender in south africa. (difference between a survey and a study, by the way: time) i've been meaning to post some, if not all, of that paper as many people who traveled with me expressed an interest in reading it. for those of you who did accompany me, remember how emotionally exhausting and taxing the trip was? if i remember correctly, i wrote a good deal of this paper while in one of those emotionally-strained places. please, if any of my comments seem strained or harsh, remember how difficult it was dealing with intense situations we were in with only somewhat familiar people at our sides and know that those comments are not heartfelt. group travel is always difficult and the places we went, the people we met, and the experiences we shared were not easy ones.

looking at the paper, and fine-tuning and editing a bit more as i go (possibly adding to what i already have... we'll see), some parts are already dated, some ideas expressed have changed, and obviously, i still have a very, very limited idea about south african food and the role it plays in helping create the modern south african identity. please don't judge me too much on my ideas or in any way think i am pretending to be an expert. what i have is what i have, and sadly i don't know of a way, as of yet, to go back to south africa and transform this survey into a study.

another bit to note: this paper i wrote using recipes as course (section) introductions. i know recently i wrote about my lack of recipes on this site. please, do not jump to call me a hypocrite, because you know what? i'm still not going to make a recipe bank. so there. the recipes that are listed with their sections all do have roots in south africa and were chosen to match the sections they introduce. therefore, they are serving a purpose and are not simply just taking up space.

lastly, you will probably note that the excerpts i post are (hopefully) written properly, captial letters and all. while i do take a very e.e. cummings approach to this site (minus the creative punctuation), it seemed silly to go through my past work and downgrade the capital letters simply for continuity. so, while captial letters do intimidate me, please don't make fun of me for having used them.

so, please: i hope you enjoy. or are at least mildly interested. otherwise, why are you bothering to read this? go find something else to do and don't waste your time. and finally, please, if you do find this somewhat interesting, let me know. i'll be more likely to post more, if not all nine, courses.*

and now that all the 'please's have been said, thank you. and let's get this thing over with.


Cooking Up a New South African Identity:

An Exploration of Food, Identity, and Gender in Nine Courses

What is the flavor of the new South African identity? Is it the pungent, bitter flavor of tumeric? The sweet, woody fragrance of cinnamon? The overwhelming intenseness of cardamom? Or the sharp bite of ginger?

While the emerging South African identity is marked by the raw nerve of the former apartheid regime and a strong patriarchal foundation, closer examination of the country suggests that its salvation may be matrilineal. By examining the way in which communities are defined, supported, and negotiated by women through food in both public and private spheres, I argue that the actual healing process occurs daily on a local level within South African society. To support this, I plan to examine the South African social construction of gender and the creation of cultural identities through food, myths, racial comfort zones, gender divisions, agriculture, and current societal trends.

Identity is created and expressed through food just as it is through action. Personal space, gender discrepancies, personal worth, and wealth can be viewed just as much through observation as it can be through what is eaten, how it’s eaten, and when. Preparation, taboos, and ingredients can describe individual and communal life. “Food studies have illuminated broad societal processes such as political-economic value-creation, symbolic value-creation, and the social construction of memory” (Mintz and Du Bois 2002:99).

Emerging from apartheid, South African recipes are a medley of African, Indian, and Western ingredients, with cultural backgrounds blended together in some so thoroughly it is difficult to identify their original ingredients or heritage. Yet other recipes are barely mixed, and it is clear which foods belong to the wealthy and which to the poor, which are of Afrikaner descent and which of Zulu. “Like all culturally defined material substances used in the creation and maintenance of social relationships, food serves both to solidify group membership and to set groups apart” (Mintz and Du Bois 2002:109). Where and how these social relationships are created and maintained as well as who is included and/or excluded are equally important to the South African identity as to what these identities actually are.



*quote citations may be found on the critical citations page