the third course

Separating Yolks from Whites: Comfort Food for Thought

 

Soetkoekies (Spice and Wine Cookies)

 

2 cups flouranti-xenophobia signs around cape town

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup brown sugar

4 ounces chopped almonds

1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup port or sherry

1 egg white, beaten

 

Combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, brown sugar, and almonds in a large bowl. Add the butter and cut into the flour mixture. Add the beaten eggs and red wine and mix dough together vigorously until it can be formed into a ball.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rough circle about 1/4" thick. With a cookie cutter, cut the dough into 2" rounds. Arrange the rounds about 1" apart on a buttered cookie sheet. Continue cutting cookies, then brush each gently with the egg white. Bake for 15 minutes—until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool completely.

(Global)

 

Nothing compares to cooking your own meal, especially after traveling and living on restaurant food. Even the simplest meal, the one you make every other night at home, becomes comfort food.

For me, the smell of garlic sizzling in olive oil makes a foreign kitchen home; making tomato sauce from scratch makes up for the fact that every person who walks through the backpacker’s kitchen – whether I know them or not – asks me what I’m cooking. Salad, vegetarian pasta, French bread. I could be back in Baltimore, even though the sounds of the early Durban evening speak of a completely different animal nightlife than I’m used to and the avocados I slice for the salad are twice the size of the ones I’d find in a Whole Foods or Giant.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what’s been making me uncomfortable the past few days. At first I thought it was culture shock, the sheer overwhelming volume of places we’d visited and people we’d met, or even the lingering edge of apartheid that colors almost every conversation. Finally, it strikes me that what’s been getting to me has been space dynamics. I’ve been traveling in a large group – with a professor, a guide, thirteen other girls, and one boy – and there hasn’t been any space to breathe or think or digest the world around me. Race relations, which play into everything, both overtly and covertly, have become a plaguing issue. Our group is primarily white, traveling through a country fraught with racial tension. This is the closest I’ve ever come to traveling in a racially homogenous group, and it makes my skin crawl.

I want to go lose myself in the city, blend in by not standing out by my companions. See South Africa when it’s not smiling at its tourists.

But I can’t. I’m cooking dinner for a few of the other girls in the group and the pasta is done. I drain and rinse it in the sink, give the tomato sauce another minute and turn off the heat. It’s time to eat.

 

In his piece, “Assimilation, Emigration, Semigration, and Integration: ‘white peoples’ strategies for finding a comfort zone in post-apartheid South Africa,” Richard Ballard takes a critical look at comfort zones and sense of space. Even though it has been over a decade since the end of apartheid, color lines still dominate South Africa. The white reaction to nationally enforced integration has been received and internalized in many different ways.

Despite the advent of gated communities, which reinforce the segregation of apartheid on an economic scale, the importance of home and the sense of safety is a luxury few white South Africans seem to feel is safely within their grasp. “We attempt to find comfort zones within which it is possible for us to ‘be ourselves.’ These are places that do not challenge our self conceptions. Home in its ideal is the best example” (Ballard 2004:50). This false sense of integration has also been exemplified in the Dixon Durrheim 2003 study of racial contact. There, a desegregated beach still maintained characteristics of both integration and segregation.

“Although the racial composition of the beach as a whole was reasonably representative of South African society, occupants maintained a variety of kinds of territorial barriers to racial interaction at more intimate scales” (Clack, et al. 2005:4).

Ballard asserts that a good portion of this fear of mixing derives from a sense that, in accepting a new identity, they are embracing something that is not clearly defined or familiar. “Spaces that once generated a reassuring sense of ‘white’ achievement are now experienced as ‘uncanny’ or heterotopic… Quite simply, home no longer feels homely” (Ballard 2004:59).

During apartheid, the general social hierarchy – consisting of white supremacy and black subjugation – was maintained through political, cultural, and economic methods. Positions of political power were held and maintained by whites, thereby constraining the economic spectrum of society. Culturally controlling images, such as the general perspective of whites ­– particularly European/Western members of society – as being civilized, clean, and moral, and non-whites as the reverse and, therefore, inferior, created and maintained stratification between races. A visual structure of this stratification in living environments reinforced this mindset.

“Cities were posited as the centers of civilization and progress, a claim that was made possible not only by the virtue of the presence of the supposedly civilized (‘white’) people that lived there, but also by the exclusion of ‘uncivilized’ people. From 1913, the physical relocation of ‘surplus’ ‘blacks’ represented a new drive to create Europe in Africa by removing all (unnecessary) non-Europeans” (Ballard 53).

This separation served as a crucial defining factor for the white South African identity. By creating and reaffirming boundaries between races, a sense of security was cultivated. With the end of apartheid, this structure has collapsed. Critically examining the local response of whites to changes in comfort zones and senses of spaces in post-apartheid South Africa, Ballard describes the four main strategies of coping with change as assimilation, emigration, semigration, and integration.

Assimilation has taken hold of much of the white South African identity. Ballard describes this in conjunction with the changing cultural concepts of ‘modernization’ and ‘First World’ identities. This transition is somewhat attributed to the direction of former Prime Minister P.W. Botha, who’s efforts to create a white middle class signaled the first steps to a changing concept of civilization and same-status contact. The influx of people of all social strata to cities and other such culturally and identity defining spaces challenge the comfort of these places for whites.

“The result, then, is a degree of alienation and displacement, which prompts the avoidance of areas where ‘whites’ feel they lack control and they attempt to find spaces within which control can be adequately maintained” (Ballard 58).

Emigration has sprung out of out of this for a multiple of reasons: white preservation, safety, and comfort. Semigration – originally describing white migration to Cape Town from Johannesburg – examines this movement within South Africa. “In its extreme, ‘semigration’ is the creation of a ‘self-contained town’ from which residents seldom need to venture” (Ballard 60). Walled neighborhoods, some of which employ guards, fortified villages, and attempts to fence in public spaces exemplify this movement to privatize space.

“According to Teresa Caldeira, the fear of crime and violence is closely associated with the emergence of new urban forms in a number of places in the world, characterized by private fortified enclaves designed so that their affluent occupants can have maximum control over the enclosed spaces” (Ballard 62).

This movement, though originating in a sense of urgency to create separateness –and thereby, create safety– adds a new complexity to developments.

“In the process of establishing such urban forms, those who benefit from them are, by necessity, undertaking a process of defining some types of people as safe (desirable) and others as a threat (undesirable)” (Ballard 63).

By maintaining these boundaries, segregation through affluence is created. Those who have are able to separate themselves from those that do not, and a sense of control over environment is created.

Integration refers to a shift in cultural thinking, where the sense of the ‘other’ that was created and maintained in assimilation, emigration, and semigration is reconsidered or discarded to allow a more inclusive identity. “Thus, urban spaces change from being spaces of avoidance or assimilation to spaces of engagement” (Ballard 65). Under the basis of establishing connections and identifying links between individuals – common ground – comfort and safety is established through inclusive action.

At the end of a chapter in her recounting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Antjie Krog expresses her own discomfort with space and the proceedings through food, specifically the warmth and familiarity of baking:

“Suddenly my grandmother’s motto comes to mind: When in despair, bake a cake. To bake a cake is a restorative process.

“I snip into a bowl glace pineapple, watermelon, ginger, green figs, dates, and walnuts. Big red and green cherries, currants, sultanas. I let it stand in a cool, dark cupboard – a bowl full of glistening jewels soaking in brandy. I relish the velvet of twelve eggs, butter, and sugar. I bake a fruit cake and eat small fragrant slices in the blinding blue Cape summer heat.

“And I think up delicious lines of lies and revenge” (Krog 66).

 

There’s a hand-written sign taped to the red door to the Olympia Bakery titled “Xenophobic Attack On Two Kalk Bay Traders.” The concern for the Zimbabwean bead and wire artists contradicts the sarcastic sign inside proclaiming “NO… smoking, split bills, self-discipline, bull shit… EVER.”

Olympia’s fresh baked pastries and sweet lattes are a welcome wake-up call. The women manning the counter smile tolerantly at us, even though we crowd the small space and haven’t quite figured out how to convert dollars into rand in our heads yet. I can’t help but notice when I peek into the back kitchen that, while there are some women working, it’s mostly men actually baking. Their faces are lined and hardened, a few are dusted with flour. It doesn’t matter which hemisphere, a job is a job anywhere and hard work is hard work. The dour light clashes considerably with the humorously sarcastic chalkboard signs out front and it’s difficult to reconcile the fact that bakery and the shop-front are two halves of the same whole.

They let me take a few pictures of the bakery, but not of anyone working, and then hustle me back into the storefront. As I leave, it occurs to me that I’ve just invaded their space. The xenophobic sign on the door twinges an extra nerve.



*quote citations may be found on the critical citations page