Food Lab

Ethno-Gastronomy

Food is not just about stuffing nutrients into that big hole in your face.

With our new Food Lab initiative, EASC wants to invite our friends to explore the world of East Asian Ethno-gastronomy. Like its better known cousin Ethnomusicology does with music, Ethno-gastronomy investigates the social and cultural contexts of food through a highly interdisciplinary collaboration between cultural anthropology, performance studies, gender studies, history, biology, geography, agriculture and many others. It looks at how local food preparation and consumption impact social practices vs taboos, community resilience vs industrialization, indigeneity vs globalization.

Ethno-gastronomy brings together home cooks, professional chefs, biologists, farmers, educators, nutritionists, and consumers to investigate and experiment, while always respecting the rich traditions and cultures that have created the techniques, utensils, ingredients, and knowledge with which we are working.

Over the next four years, the EASC Food Lab will make forays into several areas of the Ethno-gastronomic landscape, with the magical world of fermentation being the first to be rolled out:

At a time when germaphobia is spreading faster than the Omicron variant, the East Asian Studies Center has set out to explore the roots and multitudes of traditional East Asian fermentation practices and techniques and to present this microscopic world of beneficial bacteria and molds to a broader audience. We hope that this will stimulate interest in East Asian food cultures and history, but also that local farmers, restaurants, and other food producers will find inspiration to explore new ways to conceptualize their own produce and products. (Check out our intro video to this project - note that the hyperlink will open up in YouTube.)

The fermentation project will furthermore be an interesting addition to the Indigenous East Asia project with its emphasis on food heritage preservation.

Seminars/workshops/lectures:

  • Traditional (and indigenous) East Asian techniques of fermentation
  • Kimchee and why it is not just spicy sauerkraut
  • History of Fermentation – from ancient Chinese jiang to (post-)modern amino acids
  • Role of fermented foods in national cultures and identities
  • Overcoming seasonality: Fermentation as a lifeline for local producers
  • Biodiversity of fermented foods
  • Mighty Molds of Japan – The art of using Koji-kin
  • Heritage Preservation vs Cultural Appropriation 

Goals

With the fermentation project, we will accomplish a long range of objectives within the mission of EASC:

Resilience/Food security: explore new ways for local farmers to overcome the problem of seasonality. To this end we have allied ourselves with a local farmer, non-profit, co-op (Rosehill Farmstop) with whom we intend to organize a series of talks and seminars/workshops as a first step.

Food culture studies: investigate and map fermented food products as sources of national/cultural identities

Linking culture studies with microbiology and other hard sciences: Increase understanding of how microbial cultures have impacted, and have been impacted by, social cultures across time and space

Cross-cultural comparisons: Demonstrate how food preservation is universal but also locally unique through a comparison of techniques, ingredients, and consumption

Current Partners:

  • FED – IU student culinary club
  • IU Food Institute
  • Center for Rural Engagement
  • Rosehill Farmstop

If you have read this far, it is probably fair to assume that you find the project interesting, so please get in touch with me (mortoxen@indiana.edu) so we can have a chat about how you or your organization can get involved, or sign up for our newsletter.

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