Culinary Anthropologist

Secret Kitchen menu, 15th December 2012

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the raw, the cooked and the rotten

Dessert wine
Rabbit rillettes with pickled orange

Hot-smoked salmon
with oatcakes and horseradish crème fraîche

Three raw and rotten salads:
Winter roots with yoghurt
Winter greens with bacon & apple
Cauliflower with Stilton & cranberries

Twice-baked panettone pudding

Salami with sherry

About tonight’s menu

I am all excited about my part-time MA in the anthropology of food, and so have decided to play with raw, cooked and “in between” foods, cooking methods and meal structures following some structuralist anthropologists.

In 1966 the French structuralist Claude Lévi-Strauss proposed his theory of the culinary triangle – the raw, the cooked and the rotten.  Cooking is universal, he says, and we humans unconsciously structure our cuisines to reflect our universal ambivalence over being part of both nature and culture.  We are a product of the wild, natural world, yet also very different to all other creatures in our cultural ways.   The raw reflects nature, the cooked culture, in binary opposition, and all cooking is ambivalent – a bit of both.  For example, the roasted is both burnt and raw, and often male, the boiled is cultural (the pot) yet prone to rotting (natural) and often female, and the smoked is highly ambiguous…  “The cooking of a society is a language in which it unconsciously translates its structure – or else resigns itself, still unconsciously, to revealing its contradictions.”

Following Lévi-Strauss, English structuralist Mary Douglas went to on to say our eating is also patterned – we categorise types of eating and drinking, meals and dishes, and organise them in structures which reflect our social relations and boundaries.  Hence a canapé, like a main course, requires a central protein, a starch carrier and a side or garnish (a + 2b).  Drinks are for anyone, but food is for friends, with cold dishes for those less well acquainted.  A meal is only a meal if it manifests the expected structure – starter, main, dessert (A + 2B).  So does tonight’s meal count as a meal?

Anyway, food for thought, and probably half-baked at that.

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