Editor in Chief Darra Goldstein swept into town the other night to celebrate 10 years of Gastronomica magazine, her quarterly food writing journal about “sensual and intellectual nourishment.” She founded the publication in her copious spare time as a professor of Russian at Williams College.
I saw her in a wide-ranging conversation on food, culture, and identity at UC Berkeley with sociology professor Barry Glassner, author of The Gospel of Food: Why We Should Stop Worrying and Enjoy What We Eat.
The multiple award-winning Goldstein, who lived in Russia, studied in Helsinki and is the author of four cookbooks, began the conversation discussing Culinary Cultures of Europe, a book she edited where writers from 45 countries laid out views on how food could be used to encourage tolerance and diversity.
Oh, how wonderful to leave my office and computer for a few hours, I thought, and open my dusty brain. I want to BE Darra Goldstein.
But back to Darra. After that experience, she wanted direct involvement. She went to Israel to work on a project promoting tolerance between Israelis and Palestinians by having them share a meal. It turned out to be harder than she thought. “Food emotions can be channeled into something negative,” she said.
You’re telling me. I prepared a revered Jewish family dish with an old friend, who dismissed it as not as interesting as his family’s Jewish food. See, it’s not just about Israelis and Palestinians. (Funnily enough, Darra met this same guy on a bus in Israel.) And look at the hot-headed comments Joan Nathan got when she wrote about preparing a Palestinian meal for Alice Waters.
The conversation turned to locavorism, an identity more of a political statement in Europe, Goldstein said, where people are concerned about GMO foods and the impact of the European Union’s homogeneity upon their local food.
Here in the US, it’s all about individuality, where food identity is worn as a badge. Eating locally is invested with “all that is good.” Goldstein noted that people are anxious about where food comes from, and knowing is a source of comfort and connectedness.
While she’s all for eating locally, she finds it difficult to accomplish during Massachusetts winters. Besides, Goldstein feels a responsibility to those counries whose economies depend on our consumption of the foods they export. She mentioned Russia’s cutoff of imports of Georgian food, which accounted for 75 percent of Georgia’s Gross National Product. If the Georgians could get their food imported here, she’d eat it to support them.
The speakers also referenced these two articles, both good reads about how our ideas about food are changing: Adam Gopnik’s recent piece in the New Yorker, Le Fooding, about a group that attempts to to “save the preëminence of French cuisine from going the way of the Roman Empire, the five-act tragedy, and the ocean liner;” and Corby Kummer’s The Great Grocery Smackdown: Will Walmart, not Whole Foods, save the small farm and make America healthy?
And then it was over, a mind-expanding 1.5 hours of intellectual thought, a privilege of living in the Bay Area. I’m back in front of the computer in my pink bathrobe, drinking energy tea and telling you about my glimpse inside Darra Goldstein’s magnificent brain.
If you’d like more than a glimpse, see her list of books and publications. And please read Sarah Henry of Lettuce Eat Kale’s thorough report on Darra’s talk.
Thanks to Nani Steele for the link to Joan Nathan’s piece.