I just finished reading a marvelous new book: “Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity,” by Katarzna Cwiertka (an academic who teaches at my alma mater, the University of Leiden). The book details the rise of modern Japanese gastronomy, its globalization, and the roots of the homogenization of the cuisine in militarism and affluence.Here is a favorite quote:
“Cooks, publicists and even scholars inside as well as outside Japan tend to drape Japanese cuisine in an aura of exoticism, uniqueness and traditionalism. They are inclined to attribute the consumption practices of the past with the characteristics of the present. The most persistent tendency seems to be that of cultivating the myth of Japanese cuisine as a refined, time honored philosophy and practice, and extending the aesthetic qualities of kaiseki into a kind of eternal attribute of every Japanese meal, regardless of class and degree of affluence. Such fetishized, sentimental notions of the past do not merely falsify history but also distort our understanding of the present.”
If you have an interest in gastronomy’s ability to create and establish an ideology which, in turn, is used to create affiliation and identity, you will learn a great deal from the book. It uses Japan as a model for interpretation and analysis, and has me thinking of comparable applications.