#7CheapThings: Raj Patel on World Ecology and More

Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives: these are the seven things that have made our world and will shape its future. In making these things cheap, modern commerce has transformed, governed, and devastated Earth. In A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore present a new approach to analyzing today’s planetary emergencies. Read on below to learn more about world ecology and the importance of #7CheapThings in our current political climate.

What is world ecology?

Like all academic terms of art, it’s not quite what it appears. World-ecology isn’t the ecology of planet Earth – that’d just be ‘ecology’. World-ecology is an intellectual update of world-systems theory, which in its day was a new way to think about what unit of analysis to use to explain and understand social change. Rather than take individual states as molecules in a system interacting with one another, world-systems theory looked to the processes that produced those states, at how Britain wouldn’t be Britain except through its interactions with the rest of the planet. World-ecology goes one better. Rather than looking at humans and nature separately, world-ecology looks at how our understanding of human and nature have been produced together.

What is the capitalocene vs. anthropocene?

Understanding the answer to question 1 makes it easier to answer this question. World-ecology makes it harder to believe that there’s some timeless and unchanging set of things that constitute being human in the world. For the term ‘anthropocene’ to make sense, you have to believe that the current transformations of the planet, recorded in the earth as extinctions and radioactivity and plastic, are the inevitable outcomes of anthropos, of humans. The counterargument is that while humans have indeed been responsible for extinctions in the past 20,000 years, we also still have human civilizations – particularly indigenous ones – that are very good at living within the web of life without leaving a trail of destruction. The real uptick in planetary transformation has much less to do with being human and much more to do with capitalism. So rather than call it the anthropocene, it’s more accurate to call it the capitalocene.

How do we make sense of your book’s message during the current political climate?

We’re writing this book to help connect dots between different movements for change, to show how ideas of patriarchy and supremacy have always been intersectional. We’re already very excited about the international reception we’ve received for these ideas, and what we’re hoping is that they can help inform the theorizing and organizing for change that’s happening around the world, helping movements to connect with one another in ways that can make them stronger.

Read more posts in our #7CheapThings blog series here.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.


A History of Cookbooks: How New Products Entered Cookbooks

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverThere was a great difference between the various products in the way they were integrated. When people were confronted with the new foods, they compared them to existing and well-known food categories. The product that was most easily accepted was turkey—at least for those who could afford to buy it. This animal was not too different from the other big birds that had traditionally been served at the tables of the European elite. Turkey could be used as a substitute for peacock or capon and was prepared the same way. Meat from birds was also considered to be healthy, so it did not risk being criticized by doctors, as many of the other new foods were.

It is consequently no surprise that cookbooks with recipes for turkey were published in the first century after Columbus arrived in the New World. In 1570, the Italian Bartolomeo Scappi suggested the same preparation for turkey pullets and ordinary pullets, and he compared the cooking of turkey with that of peacock. A decade later, the German Marx Rumpolt proposed twenty different ways to prepare turkey, all of them well-established methods for other meats. A taste for turkey soon spread from the aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie, and prices went down. In France in 1538, turkey meat cost eight times more than meat from hens; in 1711, it was only twice as much.

The tomato is an example of a new food that was slow to become part of European food culture. For a long time appreciated only as an ornamental plant, the tomato was mentioned as food around 1600 in an Italian botanical treatise. As was the case with turkey, the fruit was compared with well-known ingredients in the kitchen; the author of the text explained that tomatoes could be eaten the same way as eggplants—with salt, pepper, and oil. But the first professional recipe for the food did not come until 1692, when Antonio Latini’s Italian cookbook gave a preparation for salsa di pomodoro, alla spagnuola (tomato salsa, Spanish style). In Spain, tomatoes were not included in any cookbooks published before 1611. After that year, there is unfortunately a period in which no new Spanish cookbooks were published that lasted until 1745, when we find a recipe for tomato sauces with garlic and oil, typical of the Mediterranean food culture we know today.

Tomato recipes in Spanish and Italian cookbooks surprise nobody, since the fruit could be grown in these countries. The situation was completely different in northern Europe, where effective cultivation came only in the twentieth century. The first tomato recipes from this region were from the last decades of the nineteenth century, and they suggested using canned tomatoes in soups and sauces. One of the Russian cookbooks written by Elena Molokhovets called for tomato purée in soups in early editions published in the 1860s and only gradually introduced fresh tomato dishes. As late as 1896, Charles-Emil Hagdahl wrote in his gourmet cookbook that he regretted that tomatoes in Sweden were mainly sold in the form of bottles of purée, imported from abroad. In Norway, a cookbook from 1888 included a series of interesting tomato recipes, but the book actually demonstrates why general conclusions about diet never should be drawn on the basis of one cookbook. The author had spent several years in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), where tomatoes were common by that point, and her book was the only one of its kind. A decade later, another Norwegian author did not give any tomato recipes in the first edition of her cookbook, published in 1897, and in a later edition, issued in 1912, she remarked that “tomatoes are seldom appreciated the first time they are tasted,” and wrote that in Norway, “tomatoes are still very expensive.”


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.


Available Today: A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

We live in precarious times. As we continue to step further into both our uncertain political climate and continuing late stage capitalist system, it is unclear both where we are headed and what things will look like in the near future.

Starting with Christopher Columbus and continuing through to the present day, Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore chart the history of our current economic system and suggest that it’s not too late to steer ourselves off of the increasingly capitalist and neoliberal path we are currently wandering down. Using the cheapening of seven key things—nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives—A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things shows how we made the world safe for capitalism and provides a radical new way of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in our current turbulent times.

Read on to see what others have to say about the book, and use promo code 17W1863 to save 30% when you order the book on our website.


“Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore have transformed ‘cheapness’ into a brilliant and original lens that helps us understand the most pressing crises of our time, from hyper-exploitation of labor to climate change. As we come together to build a better world, this book could well become a defining framework to broaden and deepen our ambitions.”—Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough and This Changes Everything

“It’s remarkably rare that authors manage to find a really useful new lens through which to view the world—but Patel and Moore have done just that, writing an eye-opening account that helps us see the startling reality behind what we usually dismiss as the obvious and everyday.”—Bill McKibben, author of Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance

“What a relief to read a bold, grand narrative of European colonialism/capitalism and its destruction of the environment as well as reducing whole civilizations to enslavement, impoverishment and ruin—just what is needed at this time to contextualize the many granular studies we now have access to. Patel and Moore have provided not only an elegantly written and insightful narrative, but also a path to imagine a noncapitalist future.”—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

“This book is a remarkable achievement: it makes the history of capitalism from Columbus to climate change into a page-turner. If you’ve been wondering how we got into this mess, what care work has to do with ecological crisis, why racism is intertwined with capitalism at the roots, Patel and Moore are the guides you need.”—Sarah Jaffe, author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt

Follow along with the rest of our #7CheapThings blog series here.


National Coming Out Day: Important Moments in Queer History

Encompassing a number of historically important days, this October is set to remind both the LGBT and wider communities of the important roles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have taken in creating the social, legal, and political worlds we live in today. This National Coming Out Day 2017 marks both the 29th anniversary of the day’s observance and the 30th anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which called for President Ronald Reagan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Check out important moments in queer history with these selected UC Press titles.


After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images
By Avram Finkelstein, available this November, pre-order now

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” The graphic and the slogan still resonate today, often used—and misused—to brand the entire movement. Cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein tells the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic were created. In writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process, Finkelstein reveals a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history, told twenty-five years later, and offers a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art.

Has the Gay Movement Failed?
By Martin Duberman, forthcoming June 2018

“Martin Duberman gets to the heart of what has gone wrong with the LGBT movement and why it has not fought for—or has even impeded—a comprehensive vision of freedom for everyone. Has the Gay Movement Failed? is his most challenging, provocative, and visionary book to date. An imperative read for anyone interested in a truly liberated queer future.”—Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States

The past fifty years have marked significant shifts in attitude toward and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States and the West. Yet the extent of this progress, argues Martin Duberman, has been more broad and conservative than deep and transformative. One of the most renowned historians of the American left and LGBTQ movement, as well as a pioneering social justice activist, Duberman reviews the fifty years since Stonewall with an immediacy and rigor that informs and energizes. He relives the early gay movement’s progressive vision for society as a whole and puts the Left on notice as having continuously failed to embrace the queer potential for social transformation. He acknowledges successes as some of the most discriminatory policies that plagued earlier generations were eliminated but highlights the costs as radical goals were sidelined for more normative inclusion. Illuminating the fault lines both within and beyond the movements of the past and today, this critical book is also hopeful: Duberman urges us to learn from this history to fight for a truly inclusive and expansive society.

Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability
By Jack Halberstam, e-book available now

“This lively and smart book by Jack Halberstam offers a new way of approaching the politics of ‘naming, claiming, speech, silence, and protest.’ This is the treatise on the asterisks for which we have been waiting; it cracks open a future, resisting transphobia and ushering in a new horizon for anybody struggling with the norms they oppose and the forms of life they desire and deserve to live.”—Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has come not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism and political recognition. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? How did a stigmatized identity become so central to U.S. and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans*, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left
By Emily K. Hobson

“Hobson succeeds in painting a rich portrait of a vibrant gay and lesbian left that flourished in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 1980s and saw itself as connected to the international left… the book has certainly made me rethink the way I write and teach LGBT history and has added some very necessary complications to that standard narrative.”—Daily Kos

LGBT activism is often imagined as a self-contained struggle, inspired by but set apart from other social movements. Lavender and Red recounts a far different story: a history of queer radicals who understood their sexual liberation as intertwined with solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. This politics was born in the late 1960s but survived well past Stonewall, propelling a gay and lesbian left that flourished through the end of the Cold War. The gay and lesbian left found its center in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where sexual self-determination and revolutionary internationalism converged. Across the 1970s, its activists embraced socialist and women of color feminism and crafted queer opposition to militarism and the New Right. In the Reagan years, they challenged U.S. intervention in Central America, collaborated with their peers in Nicaragua, and mentored the first direct action against AIDS. Bringing together archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson rediscovers the radical queer past for a generation of activists today.

The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination
By Sarah Schulman

“The book that’s inspired me more than any other this year… a razor-sharp memoir of New York in the heyday of the AIDS crisis.”—Jason King, Slate

“Schulman is brilliant at conveying how devastating and surreal it was to live during the AIDS crisis… [the book is] teeming with ideas, necessary commentary, refreshing connections and examination of the status quo.”Lambda Literary

In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.

An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings
By Harvey Milk, Edited by Jason Edward Black &Charles E. Morris

“An extremely important, timely, and significant book. Full of inspiration and hope, this book is highly relevant to anyone interested in activism, politics, and social change.” —Gust A. Yep, Professor of Communication Studies, San Francisco State University

Harvey Milk was one of the first openly and politically gay public officials in the United States, and his remarkable activism put him at the very heart of a pivotal civil rights movement reshaping America in the 1970s. An Archive of Hope is Milk in his own words, bringing together in one volume a substantial collection of his speeches, columns, editorials, political campaign materials, open letters, and press releases, culled from public archives, newspapers, and personal collections.

 


A History of Cookbooks: American Cookbooks and National Identity

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverIn 1776, many years before the aforementioned European nations started to fight for independence, a new independent country had been created in North America: the United States. After the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War, a growing national consciousness was observed among the inhabitants of the nascent state. This new patriotism was strengthened by new national symbols; before the turn of the century, the United States had a flag, the Great Seal, and a national bird, the bald eagle. The first cookbook written by an American is also from this period: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, was published in 1796. The subtitle claimed that the book was “adapted to this country.” There are recipes for Independence Cake and Federal Pan Cake, but more important is the use of indigenous foodstuffs, such as corn, squash, and Jerusalem artichoke.

The language of the book has many interesting features. For example, it introduced several Americanisms that had not yet been referred to in American dictionaries. One of them was “slapjack” (a corn pancake), a word probably based on a misreading of the English “flapjack”; at the time, the f and the long s (∫) were very similar in print. The book was also the first to use two words borrowed from Dutch: “cookey,” from the Dutch koekje, used for what English cookbooks called “little cakes,” and “slaw” from the Dutch sla, meaning “salad.”

The author—of whom we know nothing more than we can read in the book—presented herself on the title page as “An American Orphan.” Why did she give this peculiar biographical information? Some scholars have interpreted it as a national metaphor. The author had to support herself without any help from a parent, just as the United States needed to survive without England. If this interpretation is correct, the book is an even stronger proof of national attitudes.

It should be mentioned that not all the recipes in Simmons’s book are American. She included traditional English recipes, many of them taken verbatim from English books. But the American recipes in Simmons’s book were noticed by both readers and publishers; in the following years, new editions of old English books were printed with the addition of American recipes, many of them taken directly from American Cookery. The title of her book also heralded a period when the American angle was emphasized. In the years leading up to the Civil War, more than twenty cookbooks used the word “American” in their titles: for example, The American Housewife, American Domestic Cookery, American Receipt Book, and Modern American Cookery.

The United States was a society dominated by immigrants from many European countries, and one of the characteristics of cookbook publishing, like other fields of publishing, was the high number of books in languages other than English. The first French cookbook in the United States was published in 1840, the first Spanish in 1845, and the first German (Pennsylvania Dutch) in 1848, and they were followed by cookbooks in Italian, Yiddish, and Scandinavian languages, mirroring the country’s different immigrant groups. Some of the books were printed in two languages—for example, Yiddish and English, or French and English.

Most cookbooks in foreign languages catered to large immigrant groups who wanted to preserve their culinary heritage, but there were also foreign-language cookbooks with a very different intention. A particular genre consisted of works with recipes written in two parallel columns, one in American English and the other in Danish, Swedish, or Finnish. They were meant to help American housewives communicate with their Scandinavian servants—of which there were a large number in the United States around 1900. The housewife would point out the dish she wanted prepared (the dishes in these books were American, not Scandinavian), and the servant would then use the cookbook as a manual for cooking in addition to as a textbook for the English language.


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Care

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the fourth post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

“As we come together to build a better world, this book could well become a defining framework to broaden and deepen our ambitions.”—Naomi Klein

#7CheapThings care book cover

There’s no set way for humans to take care of one another. The extraordinary diversity of community forms and population dynamics in human history underscores the point. At every turn, systems of tending to, caring for, and reproducing human life are connected with extrahuman natures. This existential connection not only encompasses the material and biological but extends to our belief systems and modes of thought. Every rite of passage, every springtime fertility ritual, from maypoles to bloodletting, signals the range of ways that human and extrahuman life form through each other. But when we talk of reproductive labor under capitalism, we’re referring to a very specific set of arrangements, ones that were rearranged through world-ecology and persist today. Under these arrangements, some humans were confined to new political, social, and ecological units—households—the better to engage in care work in capitalism’s ecology. Call this the Great Domestication.

Consider what appear to be entirely independent sets of observations. The Pew Research Center’s 2010 International Attitudes Project received a range of responses to the statement “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women.” In Iceland, 3.6 percent of people agreed, but in Egypt 99.6 percent did. Why the difference? The easy explanations are culture, religion, tradition, income level. Yet a study in the prestigious Quarterly Journal of Economics points the finger at none of these things. Examining data over the past two hundred years, controlling for everything from religion to war to the presence of oil, the authors found that somehow, across a range of countries, a key factor associated with gender inequality is the introduction of a specific agricultural technology: the plough. Individuals who grow up in a society with a tradition of using ploughs aren’t just more likely to perpetuate gender inequality at home—it even sticks with them when they migrate. Like good economists, the study’s authors haven’t a clue why. It’s clear that problems of gender, inequality, and discrimination wouldn’t disappear if we were now to replace ploughs with some other agricultural technology. The deeper challenge is understanding not just how a particular way of tilling the soil comes to naturalize divisions between men and women but what might be done to move toward equality.

So why might a farming implement ancient enough to be depicted in 2600 bce Egyptian hieroglyphics be responsible for twenty-first-century chauvinism? At the sixteenth-century frontier in what is now Peru, the chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega reported something that might solve the plough-sexism conundrum. Indigenous People widely viewed the domestication and then harnessing of oxen as bizarre behavior, both for its interruption of the order of nature and for what it said about the domesticators. The Indigenous explanation was that the Spanish were too lazy to till the land themselves and had to train animals to do it for them while they sat around picking food from their teeth. The Spanish were also considered odd because of the land they chose to farm and the way they occupied it. Colonialists preferred the relatively flat plains for their haciendas, while Indigenous People embraced the terracing technologies that can still be seen in and around Cuzco. You can’t plough a steep hillside that everyone owns—physics and social convention both exert strong forces against it. It’s much easier to plough on large, contiguous, privately owned haciendas. In other words, it wasn’t just the plough that was odd—it was the constellation of transformations in work, relations to extrahuman life, and property into which the plough fit. And central to those ideas were newly forming ones around animal and human domestication.

The modern household and its membership have their origins in ecological changes in European capitalism. In The Working Lives of Women in the Seventeenth Century, Alice Clark argues that the nuclear household of husband, wife, and children emerged through shifts in the economic geography of care and production on the commons. Recall that women’s work on the commons included fuel gathering and gleaning, which made subsistence possible and sometimes provided a marketable surplus. If anything went wrong, social insurance came from networks of support—religious, personal, social—across the community. These arrangements were incompatible with the kinds of agricultural innovation that brought about the widespread use of the plough: larger and larger enclosed landholdings, monocultures, exclusive private property arrangements, and the creation of a workforce motivated by the threats of starvation and imprisonment.

Enclosure made it impossible for peasants to survive on their meager landholdings. Peasants became wageworkers forced to sell their labor to survive. This also set women and men into competition in the labor market. With the commons, dairying had been a way for women to engage in agriculture, sustaining the household through milk and dairy sales. Without a commons, no cattle could be grazed. The market for dairying skills became tight—sheep’s wool was far more lucrative than cows’ milk, and shearing was gendered as men’s work. Women were required only for the paid work of milking and calving cows in the spring. Spring ploughing and autumnal harvesting involved heavier labor and were also often coded as men’s work. This division of labor led to different prices for men’s and women’s employment. It is in the fields that we find the origins of today’s global wage gap, a phenomenon in which relations with nature were involved from the beginning.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


Save 40% on New & Notable German Studies Titles

The 2017 German Studies Association Conference convenes October 5 – 8 in Atlanta, GA.

Visit our landing page to browse new and forthcoming UC Press titles across various disciplines, including Cinema & Media Studies, Music, Art & Visual Culture, and History. Save 40% online with discount code 16E8104, or request an exam copy for consideration to use in your upcoming classes. The discount code expires December 31, 2017.

 


A History of Cookbooks: Recipes in Verse

excerpted from A History of Cookbooks: From Kitchen to Page over Seven Centuries by Henry Notaker

This October we are celebrating National Cookbook Month by exploring the history of the cookbook genre. Check back each Wednesday for a new excerpt from Henry Notaker’s work.

A History of Cookbooks coverDidactic works in verse go back to Hesiod’s Works and Days, written around 700 BCE, and are found in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Several versions of Regimen sanitatis were circulated in verse starting in the thirteenth century, many of them written in a Latin close to the vernacular Italian. In England, there were John Russel’s treatise on household duties, The Boke of Nurture (ca. 1460), and Thomas Tusser’s A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry (1557). According to the German scholar Bernhard Dietrich Haage, the bound form is used in practical literature as a mnemonic aid, but it might also have been used to give material an aesthetic value.

Several early cookbooks open with a verse, either written by the author to serve as a preface or written by someone else as a recommendation for the book, but there are also examples of rhymed recipes from the fifteenth century in German and English manuscripts. According to the historian Hans Wiswe, however, one of the German recipes is “a humorous Intermezzo in a book that is otherwise so matter-of-fact.” This can be explained by what Haage said about versification of practical literature for the upper levels of society: “It is mainly for fun” (Aus reinen Spieltrieb).

There is a long tradition in European literature of verses about food, often with a comic or playful element, and the humor is quite obvious in the collections of rhymed recipes (“poetic cookbooks”) from the eighteenth century onward. The first of these books was the French Festin joyeux, printed in 1738. One of the recipes is for perdreaux aux écrévisses (partridges with crawfish) and it starts like this:

First you cook everything well,

And mix with a light ragoût,

Add sweetbreads and truffles too,

And let cockscombs and champignons swell.

Typical for the recipes in this book is that they can be sung, as they were written to well-known tunes from light and popular music genres. Referring to himself as a cook, the alleged author made excuses for the bad rhymes in his verses, which he said were certainly not as Scarron would have written them. By referring to the seventeenth-century burlesque poet Paul Scarron, the suspicion is strengthened that the verses belong to the century before the book was printed, and it has been suggested that the real author was the aristocrat Louis de Béchameil, although this has not been confirmed.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, French, German, Spanish, American, Danish, and Norwegian books of recipes in verse were published. A Norwegian book from 1833 versified the recipes of the first printed cookbook in Norway, published only two years earlier, and the verses were written to melodies used for national anthems, drinking songs, and hymns. By using tunes for hymns in these merry songs, the author, a church warden and rebellious publicist, did the opposite of men such as Martin Luther and William Booth, who wrote religious hymns to popular, secular melodies.

Were these recipes intended to be used to help in the kitchen? Some of them did in fact emphasize that that was the basic idea. The Danish Kogebog for musikalske husmødre (Cookbook for musical housewives) professed in verse in the preface:

The housewife now can cook her meat

While singing from a music sheet.

But in spite of the declared intentions, these books were probably made more to amuse readers than to instruct them. Most of the verses were rather amateurish, with clumsy rhymes and hobbling rhythms, and could not hope for a glorious afterlife in the history of literature. There are, however, recipe poems that were written by authors with acknowledged literary qualities. They followed the same chronological progression as the ordinary recipes, giving step-by-step instructions, but they added aspects and elements that were generally absent in cookbooks. Here follow five examples in five languages and from different literary contexts.

The first was by a representative of Polish romanticism, Adam Mickiewicz, who in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz actually used a 1682 cookbook to describe an old Polish dinner. But he also gave, as part of his description of old national traditions, the “recipe” for bigos, a dish still popular in Poland. He admitted that words and rhymes—he used thirteen syllable lines with caesura and rhymed couplets—were not sufficient to transmit a real appreciation of “the most wonderful flavor, the smell and the color.” He listed the ingredients of the dish—good vegetables, chopped sauerkraut, morsels of meat—and explained that they should all be simmered in a pot. But he did not follow the traditional recipe form; his recipe is a narrative told in the third person and without the particular verbal forms indicating a request.

Other writers, however, chose the imperative. The French dramatist Edmond Rostand included in his most famous play, Cyrano de Bergerac, a scene where the protagonist’s friend, the rôtisseur and pâtissier Ragueneau, proudly declares that he has versified a recipe: “J’ai mis une recette en vers.” The recipe is for tartelettes amandines and is written in a light, elegant poetic form that plays with the rhymes and rhythm, making it very difficult to translate.

While Rostand kept the imperatives in the second-person plural, which was typical of most French culinary recipes at that time, the Argentine-born Spaniard Ventura de la Vega—who wrote many occasional poems—chose the first-person singular when he described his method of making garlic soup, sopa de ajo. The Voltaire-admirer-turned-Catholic paid tribute to the soup as a dish for Lent, but he also declared it the basis of the Castilian diet. The personal tone in the poem creates an atmosphere similar to the one in Pablo Neruda’s Odas elementales (which is about tomatoes, potatoes, and other foodstuffs), combining the solemn and the ordinary: In a casserole, boil salt, pepper, and small bits of bread in olive oil, and in this swelling mixture, “I will hide two well-peeled cloves of Spanish garlic.” Instead of Neruda’s free verse, Vega chose the bound form, and the Spanish composer José María Cásares later composed music for it. The text and the notes were printed in Angel Muro’s original cookbook, El practicón (1894).

Another original and much praised cookbook, Modern Cookery, by Eliza Acton, included a recipe in rhymed verse in the 1855 edition. In a note, Acton wrote that this was the first time the poem was printed, after it had been circulated among the friends of the author, the poetic reverend Sidney Smith. But in contrast to the serious, almost religious tone in Vega’s verse, Smith’s poem is filled with the light-hearted humor he was famous for. The ingredients for his salad dressing are enumerated with the common imperatives, but they are not always used in the traditional manner: “Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,” he instructed readers in one line, and in another, he told them to add “a magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.” He even resorted to alliteration: “Of mordant mustard add a simple spoon.” And then he expressed his enthusiasm for the result: “Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbacious treat!”

A final example, which also raises theoretical questions, is a poem the German romantic poet Eduard Mörike wrote about Frankfurter Brenten, a type of small cookies. The first surprise is perhaps his use of the imperative second-person singular, a dated and very uncommon form in the mid-nineteenth century:

Start with almonds, I suggest,

Take three pounds, or four at best.

This poem, which is included in Mörike’s collected works, was originally published in a German journal for ladies, Frauen-Zeitung für Hauswesen, weibliche Arbeiten und Moden, in 1852, and Horst Steinmetz used it as an example of how context may decide the reception of a text. The readers of Mörike’s complete works may have considered the recipe as a poem on a par with the other poems in the book, which describe feelings and phenomena of the human universe. The ladies who read “Frankfurter Brenten” in the journal may have looked at the text as a practical instruction—a recipe—even if they observed and appreciated the form as an amusing variation and perhaps made no practical use of the recipe in the kitchen. Yet a closer reading of Mörike’s text reveals that it has elements not expected in recipes. Consider, for example, these lines:

Now put all this while it is hot

Onto a plate (but poets need

A rhyme here now, and therefore feed

The finished stuff into a pot).

With this ironic remark, which breaks up the sequence of instructive steps, the poet seems to make fun of his own role; it is a kind of Verfremdung, or alienation, that creates a distance between Mörike as a poet and as a cooking teacher.

These rhymed recipes seem to have been written with very different intentions: to inform, to instruct, to entertain, or to create art. This is of course also true for recipe poems in unbound form by Günter Grass and others. But there is a noticeable difference in intention when recipes appear in prose works other than culinary works.


Notaker cookbook author photoHenry Notaker is a literary historian who taught courses in food culture and history for over a decade. He was a foreign correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and a TV host of arts and letters shows and documentaries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on European and Latin American contemporary history, food history, and culinary literature.


A Peek into the San Francisco Public Library’s Archives on the Black Panthers

With One City One Book programming for Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party in full swing, the San Francisco Public Library invited UC Press staff to delve into the Black Panther Party archives. On the library’s 6th floor, the History Center holds a comprehensive research collection on all aspects of San Francisco life and history, and for this trip, we viewed original manuscripts, newspapers and magazines, photographs, pamphlets, police records, Mayoral papers, and more documenting the Black Panther Party as well as San Francisco’s legacy of resistance.

Take a look below, and to get an up close show-and-tell of Black Panther Party history, join the SF Public Library for Hands on History: All Power to the People on October 10 & 24 at 6 p.m.

And be sure to join Black against Empire authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin. Jr. as they discuss the genesis, rise and decline of the Black Panther Party and the movement’s link to today’s struggles, October 29, 1 p.m.

View all upcoming One City One Book events 

 


Black against Empire: One City One Book Upcoming October Events

San Francisco’s annual literary event, One City One Book, continues with Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, and October is packed with an exciting mix of citywide events. This month, get your hands on history with a close-up look into the library’s archives, head across the Bay and ride to significant sites of the Black Panther Party, join a lively discussion of activism and today’s resistance movements, or find yourself immersed in a topical film at one of the many screenings.

And be sure to mark your calendars for a special event with authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.:

SPECIAL EVENT Author Talk: The Irrepressible Politics of the Black Panther Party  Sunday, October 29, 1 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.

Join authors Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin in conversation with journalist Davey D Cook as they discuss Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party.

View the Complete Fall Program

October Events

Blacks, Blues, Black! Film screening Wednesday, October 4, 6 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium 100 Larkin St.

Join the San Francisco History Center for the screening of Dr. Maya Angelou’s 1968 series, Blacks, Blues, Black! which examines the influence of African American culture on modern American society.

Bicycle Tour with bike collective, Red Bike and Green Saturday, October 7, 1 p.m.

Meet at DeFremery Park in Oakland Ride your bike to tour sites of importance to the Black Panther Party.

Hands on History: All Power to the People Tuesdays, October 10 & 24, 6 p.m. Main Library, SF History Center 100 Larkin St.

Be part of an experience that brings San Francisco revolution and resistance history to your fingertips. Join us for a close-up show-and-tell of San Francisco history through original manuscripts, newspapers, and photographs which document Black Panther Party and San Francisco’s legacy of resistance. Space limited to 30.

Litquake Presents Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party Tuesday, October 10, 7 p.m. American Bookbinders Museum 355 Clementine St., San Francisco

Co-author Waldo E. Martin in conversation with Oakland-based writer and artist, D. Scot Miller. Co-presented by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners Thursday, October 12, 12 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium 100 Larkin St.

A documentary that chronicles the life of young college professor Angela Davis, and how her social activism implicates her in a botched kidnapping attempt that ends with a shootout, four dead, and her name on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.

Book Discussion Saturday, October 14, 10:30 a.m. Main Library, Library for the Blind & Print Disabled, 100 Larkin St. (415) 557-4253

Get Out Thursday, October 19, 12 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium 100 Larkin St.

A young African American man meets his white girlfriend’s parents during a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience gives way to a nightmare.

The Defender Film Screening and Talk Back with Jeff Adachi and the Press Saturday, October 21, 1 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.

An insightful documentary focuses on San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi as he and his team take on a high-profile case which suggests black-crime bias in ostensibly liberal San Francisco.

Emory Douglas: Art and Activism Panel discussion Sunday, October 22 1 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.,

Emory Douglas, the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, who created some of the most iconic images of Black Power, in conversation with other artists discussing the intersection of art and activism.

Negros with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power Thursday, October 26, 12 p.m. Main Library, Koret Auditorium 100 Larkin St.

Rob Williams was an African-American living in Monroe, North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s. Living with injustice and oppression, many African-Americans advocated a non-violent resistance. Williams took a different tack, urging the oppressed to take up arms.