Prof. Myron M. Beasley (Bates College, USA)

"Cooking up American Studies: Material Culture, Race, and Performance" (October 2019)

Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s book Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl was considered the first "black" mainstream cookbook. The book, performative in nature, not only provides recipes but also anecdotes and personal narratives related to specific food items and dishes. A New York Times bestseller, the book catapulted Smart-Grosvenor to host a weekly television program and NPR segment from the 80's to the early '90s. Smart-Grosvenor coined the term culinary anthropologist, yet today she and her work are almost lost in obscurity.

Smart-Grosvenor was always already making the critical connections between African American foodways and how it works to define the concept of American food and foodways. This seminar interrogated food and the construction and concept of "American." Specifically, the seminar considered food as material culture to demonstrate how food preferences and traditions that are considered "American" tell us about continental histories and cultures. Yet recognizing that the concept of "Americanness" is contested, and engaging in history is to unravel and examine multiple discourses of power, through the lens of performance. Smart-Grosvenor destabilizes how we think about food, how we think of America, and how we think of identity.

The seminar explored the panoply of food objects and performance by engaging in for example, food books (e.g., cookbooks, food memoirs) not only as instructional manuals for the culinary arts and repositories for traditional dishes, but also as reflections on food habits of a population, as historical markers of major events, and as records of technological advances in a society. They also provide narratives of self-development, interpersonal engagements, and intercultural negotiations as they recount relational life stories. Succinctly, using food as a point of interrogation, this course invited students to work with the key analytical categories of race, gender, sexuality, and nation in the context of American Studies.

The Instructor

Myron Beasley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of American Studies, he also serves on the committee of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Bates College. His ethnographic research includes exploring the intersection of cultural politics, material culture and social change. He has been awarded fellowships and grants by the Andy Warhol Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and most recently the Ruth Landes Award from the Reed Foundation. His ethnographic writing about Africana Cultural Politics, Contemporary Art, Material Culture and cultural engagement has appeared in many academic journals including Text and Performance Quarterly, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, The Journal of Poverty, Museum & Social Issues, The Journal of Curatorial Studies, Food and Foodways, and Performance Research. His food film/installation ritual/feast (of his ethnography is Brazil) has appeared in UMMI and Paris film festivals. His recent curatorial projects include The Ghetto Biennale (Haiti), CAAR Paris 7 (France), and Dak’art (Senegal). (Homepage)