Since I became a sous chef in a 5-star hotel in Southern California, I told myself to forget anthropology indefinitely if I wanted to become a chef in a year or two.  It is hard to  ignore anthropology in my current job. Besides cooking and eating being social and cultural, cooks having  different cultures, and guests exhibiting different tastes, the food I cook always remind me what is wrong in current anthropology and, in general, social theory.  I just cannot escape from the things that have preoccupied my mind.  So, here I am writing this blog post.


In culinary, like in social theory, the French also dominate. They view cooking linearly from grande (grand) or haute (high) to classique (classic) to nouvelle (new).  After reading the translated books by some celebrated French chefs of long ago, I realized that they were no different to the Poststructuralism/Postmodernism texts I have read as far as the organization and presentation of ideas goes. There was uniformity, generalization, and adherence to a goal or a theme.  In both writings, I sensed selectivity in their explanations and opinions.  What worked were included and what did not were left out.


In Careme's grand cuisine, food was a high art.  He elaborately prepared food for the royals and aristocrats.  His menus, from start to finish, looked like his goal was to impress.  In Foucault's writings, he wanted to be different; thus from the first pages to the last, one can only read Postmodernism.  He was also selective.  The question that has bothered me is whether this is how culture or society is constructed.  Is it also through exclusion or through inclusion?  My own experience with my culture, I don't sense any selective exclusion but the opposite.  We accept things and let them develop, merge, and evolve.  The result is the endless web of things that are overlapping and connected.        


I remember a research project in my Urban Anthropology class in college.  I started my framework to be Marxist, it ended up to be a potpourri of many theories.  My bookish professor said it lacked focus.  I stuck to my belief that Marxism was not enough for me to study urban poverty.  I just could not ignore my informants' views that they were poor because of their fate and faith, because women had no rights to their bodies, because they had no access to ecological resources, because men did not want to work.  I tried class, alienation, and value, I  still found them inadequate. I went beyond political economy.   The result was a web and a C.


Now I am rekindling my tryst with the web.  I am trying to find out the multidimensionality of corruption as a web.  In my country, even the Catholic Church supports the corrupt  by being passive and indifferent towards corruption or becomes the beneficiary of stolen government funds and donations from the corrupt.  Their usual explanation is that Jesus Christ did not refuse what sinners gave him.  I guess they just love misinterpreting the poor Mary Magdalene and her vessel of perfumed ointment again and again.  In this instance, is theology not relevant in the study of corruption?  Can theology explain why the corrupt keep on stealing and lying with their conscience intact?  How do theologians view gifts from sins and forgiveness of sins because of gifts?  Is the Robin Hood complex theologically justified?  I need to answer these questions, considering the flagrant religiosity and the corrupt practices of the oligarchs in my country dominated by Roman Catholicism.  


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Comment by Youdheya Banerjee/Bandyopadhyay on October 3, 2011 at 6:17pm
Duality is the law of Nature(perhaps the only law branched into many laws).There R days N nights,Materialism N Idealism,Big bang N Steady state,Speed limit(by Light) N Non limit(recent challenge,faced by Relativity),Finite & Non finite Universe-like corruption & non corruption(progression).If anybody just want 2 study corruption he/she would not be able 2 find any conclusion or fathom it-I think.But 2 prevent it anybody would require 2 bond & strengthen progression.
Comment by M Izabel on September 16, 2011 at 9:20am

First off, Nikos, this is a blog post not a formal academic paper, and if you have a problem as far as  reading comprehension is concerned, it's not my fault.  From start to finish, I wrote about  the web, and even the way I wrote the post used the web as a device.  It gave me multiple ways to share my stories and opinions coming from  different directions but somewhat connected and related.    


Huon, like French  theories, it's  all in the marketing.  Japanese omelet is more advanced and  elegant than the French one, yet we only hear about the latter.  Zen, at least to me, is more post-structuralist  than any philosophical thought.  Way before  Baudrillard explored his concept of indifference and objectivity and advised silence as the best thing a postmodernist can do, Zen monks had already mastered detachment and had centuries of  scrolls about being, denial,  and nothingness. 


John, the web  I see is like a map of a city.  There are crossing points, parallel lines, alleys, freeways, etc.   There are also main streets  and shortcuts, famous streets and  notorious ones,  etc.  Fanatics of Marxism or Postmodernism  are like  those tourists who only  visit Beverly Hills or Malibu and avoid East  or South Central  LA or the entire county. .
Comment by Huon Wardle on September 14, 2011 at 11:57am
Thanks for the entree. What I would really like to know, M, is whether there are recognisable types who consume grande, classique and nouvelle food. Of course, as an academic, this is way above my pay grade.
Comment by John McCreery on September 13, 2011 at 7:50am

M, if I may be so bold, the issue you are wrestling with is the one that Clifford Geertz identifies as "thick description" in The Interpretation of Cultures. To me, the clearest statement of what this might involve is the opening paragraph of Chapter 2 "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man":


Toward the end of his recent study of the ideas used by tribal peoples, La Pensée Sauvage, the French anthropologist Lévi-Strauss remarks that scientific explanation does not consist, as we have been led to imagine, in the reduction of the complex to the simple. Rather, it consists, he says, in a substitution of a complexity more intelligible for one which is less. So far as the study of man is concerned, one may go even further, I think, and argue that explanation often consists of substituting complex pictures for simple ones while striving somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple ones.

How to retain that persuasive clarity is, however, a difficult problem. One approach that I have found useful is to reflect on the images in whose terms my thinking is cast. Thus, for example, when you write "web," my first impression is of something tangled, in which such apparently disparate things as Marxist theory, Catholic theology, and the tale of Robin Hood overlap and interconnect in ways that are not well understood. Suppose, however, that the image I associate with web is a spider's web. Do I see it from the spider's point of view or that of a fly trapped in the web or, another possibility the ladybug in the You Tube video Miniscule, who flies at such high speed, she rips the spider's web in passing. I imagine the spider as a fisherman and the web as the fisherman's net. How fine is the weave? Am I happy with a net that catches only a few big fish, i.e., an explanation that accounts for only a few major facts, or do I need a finer weave, to capture a wider range of facts both big and small?

As I ponder these issues in relation to what I am trying to explain, peering, poking and prodding from multiple perspectives, a clear yet complex structure sometimes emerges. It almost never does if I decide in advance to use only a single perspective, or even two or three. The moment I am looking for is the instant in which the web crystallizes, the tangles disappear, and that clear but complex structure appears.

Comment by Keith Hart on September 12, 2011 at 11:52pm
You might find this article of at least ironic interest: Has post-modernist design eaten itself?
Comment by Keith Hart on September 12, 2011 at 11:23pm

That's a great riff, M. Nobody does it better. Welcome back to the land of the living aka anthropology.

Just to stick with cooking for a start. Kant believed that the matrix of science was cooking, specifically fermentation and metallurgy. The aim of science is to get some something right, within an acceptable range of error, again and again. He claimed that the recipes that work best don't have to be a reflection of the reality of matter. They are cultural, selective of course, otherwise they would be pointless.

I cook curries and have about two dozen spices to call on for the curry powder blend. I organize them by colour from grey to brown to yellow to red, a continuum I think of as being from cool to hot and from musty to fruity. I mix the spices without measurement to achieve a blend of the desired type.  It works well enough for me and the result is usually close enough to what I want.

I also do North Italian stews. Here there are six ingredients, three constant (tomatoes, garlic, pepper) and three variable (the meat, wine and one big herb). This is nearer to what I get at home in the way of French cuisine: the emphasis is more on the quality of the ingredients than on their mixture. I once had a five-course meal which had just six ingredients: asparagus; beef and green beans; salad; one fat cheese; and strawberries.

My wife is an anthropologist of domestic material culture and writes about cooking. She has an article on English cooking based on Mrs Beaton, Elizabeth David and Delia Smith (nowadays she would have to add Jamie Oliver). But in her own cooking she wilfully ignores recipes, thinking of it as an art learned at the mother's knee. Not all French culture is found in books.

Newtonian mechanics works in its linear, billiard ball way. It is good enough to build bridges that don't fall down, but if you want to aim a missile at the moon, you need Einstein. When the goals of science change, so do the recipes.

Not much use for corruption and catholicism in the Philippines, but maybe if you want to make it from sous-chef to chef.




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