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Maria Elisa Christie
Foreword by Mary Weismantel
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Throughout the world, the kitchen is the heart of family and community life. Yet, while everyone has a story to tell about their grandmother's kitchen, the myriad activities that go on in this usually female world are often devalued, and little scholarly attention has been paid to this crucial space in which family, gender, and community relations are forged and maintained. To give the kitchen the prominence and respect it merits, Maria Elisa Christie here offers a pioneering ethnography of kitchenspace in three central Mexican communities, Xochimilco, Ocotepec, and Tetecala.

    Christie coined the term "kitchenspace" to encompass both the inside kitchen area in which everyday meals for the family are made and the larger outside cooking area in which elaborate meals for community fiestas are prepared by many women working together. She explores how both kinds of meal preparation create bonds among family and community members. In particular, she shows how women's work in preparing food for fiestas gives women status in their communities and creates social networks of reciprocal obligation. In a culture rigidly stratified by gender, Christie concludes, kitchenspace gives women a source of power and a place in which to transmit the traditions and beliefs of older generations through quasi-sacramental food rites.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79403-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Foreword At the Kitchen Table
    (pp. IX-XVI)
    Mary Weismantel

    “As I interview her from my seat at the kitchen table . . .” So begins a typical paragraph in Maria Elisa Christie’s warm and engaging ethnography, Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico. That conjuncture of “interview” and “kitchen table” in the same sentence captures this book’s dual qualities: it is one of those rare works that manages to be both serious social science, and a warm and intimate look at everyday life in a very particular place and time.

    Dr. Christie did indeed spend many hours sitting at kitchen tables, and she invites us to do...

  4. Preface
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIX-XX)
  6. A Taste of Three Places
    (pp. XXI-XXVI)
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book offers glimpses of women’s lives and community celebrations in Xochimilco, Ocotepec, and Tetecala from the perspective of kitchenspace, a term I coined to describe my research site. For the purpose of this book, I define kitchenspace as the place where food is prepared, whether indoors or outdoors—usually a combination of the two. Kitchenspace is a privileged and gendered site of social and cultural reproduction, where society’s relationship with nature is inscribed in the patterns of everyday life and ritual celebrations.

    It became clear soon after initiating my fieldwork that “kitchen” or cocina—as used in Mexico as...

    (pp. 27-42)

    This work is explicitly feminist in its aim to bring attention to the significant contributions that women in kitchenspace make to social and cultural reproduction. Feminist methodologies inform my recognition of the privileged standpoint and power imbalance that I bring to the relationship with my research subjects. I employ participatory methods and a “strong reflexivity” (Naples with Sachs 2000; Wasserfall 1997), which I am convinced are necessary if scholars are to stop re/producing false certainties that necessarily erase important wrinkles of reality—disproportionately women’s realities.

    As a geographer, I found the conceptual framework offered by feminist political ecology (FPE) particularly...

  9. PART ONE Women of the Circle

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 43-46)

      Part One introduces each of my three research communities by exploring several celebrations in each. In Chapter One on Xochimilco I present key ingredients in the folk Catholicism celebrations that are also relevant for the following two chapters. These include the gender lines in kitchenspace, fireworks (unquestionably a male domain), and the musicians and dancers who are usually present. Other elements include the barrio as a key geographical unit, the sense of time, young people’s participation in the fiestas, and the tension between tradition and modernity. In all three chapters the date of the journal entry indicates when the activity...

    • 1 Xochimilco “Short on Days to Celebrate Our Fiestas”
      (pp. 47-91)

      Xochimilco’s fiestas, traditional foods, plants, and canals attract tourists and shoppers from the adjacent capital city and the interior of Mexico. Its canals and trajineras (traditional vessels like gondolas), made famous in part by their depiction in classic Mexican movies and contemporary soap operas, are both an attraction and an environmental disaster. People use the trajineras and smaller flat-bottomed “canoes” to navigate the canals that weave throughout Xochimilco, in particular to reach the chinampas to work the land and to transport the produce home. Larger versions are also used for tourism. Xochimilco has two large covered markets (including the mercado...

    • 2 Ocotepec “Not Letting the City Eat This Town Up”
      (pp. 92-134)

      In Ocotepec, known for its celebration of the Day of the Dead as well as the Posadas preceding Christmas, each of the four barrios celebrates its own patron saint in the annual fiesta del barrio. Each barrio formally participates in the fiestas of the other three barrios as well as over thirty additional fiestas, including the celebration of the town’s patron saint, San Salvador, on August 6. Local residents are proud of their community’s traditions (Díaz 1995; von Mentz de Boege 1995), which have become more familiar to outsiders thanks in part to a series of documentaries about Palm Sunday...

    • 3 Tetecala “Here Mangos Used to Be Like Gold”
      (pp. 135-150)

      Each year Tetecala de la Reforma celebrates two principal fiestas: Día de la Candelaria on February 2 and the day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the town, on October 4. February 2 is one of the most important dates in both Xochimilco and Ocotepec and, not coincidentally, marks the onset of the planting season. A series of events occurs in Tetecala on that day and the preceding day, including a parade and a spectacle in the bullring. Unbeknownst to most residents, a special meal takes place prior to the parade, in conjunction with the neighboring town of...

  10. PART TWO Kitchenspace Narratives

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 151-154)

      This section presents individual women’s perspectives from kitchenspace, making evident my hosts’ hospitality, knowledges, and creativity as well as some of their food-related beliefs, recipes, and economic strategies. It includes descriptions of several home kitchens and several maps that women drew at my request. The selections here (as in Part One) are drawn from a much larger group. As women reflect on their lives and the losses and gains they have experienced from the kitchen, we hear voices communicating a vivid sense of place and change. Not surprisingly, food practices linking the living with the dead are a recurring theme....

    • 4 Women of Tetecala “You Have to Be Ingenious in the Kitchen!”
      (pp. 155-178)

      This chapter on Tetecala begins with entries from Esmeralda’s own ethnographic notebook. I include her mother and her father, because Esmeralda’s kitchen is in her parents’ house and her story makes no sense without them. I conclude with Doña Eustoquia, a woman and neighbor much her senior who was introduced to me by a professor from Mexico City who rents a part of her house for weekend visits. If Esmeralda’s cooking is at the center of her family and even the marketplace, Doña Eustoquia is a relatively lonely widow, though she too shares her table with others on a regular...

    • 5 Women of Xochimilco “It Is Better for the Pots to Awaken Upside Down”
      (pp. 179-205)

      In this chapter we hear from three women. Rosa, Linda, and Teodora have very different perspectives on cooking and food traditions in Xochimilco. Señora Rosa is the only one of the three to have spent much time outside of Xochimilco. At an early age she was sent by her family to Mexico City to earn her keep and learn a skill working for a hairdresser from Xochimilco. Her boss also taught her how to prepare traditional recipes and fed her Xochimilca beliefs and sayings. Working outside of Xochimilco for much of her life has given Señora Rosa perspective, some impatience,...

    • 6 Women of Ocotepec “We Used to Have a Lot of Pigs”
      (pp. 206-231)

      In the two preceding chapters, we have heard from women of different ages and perspectives. Here we enter into dialogue with four women in Ocotepec. Again, though María Teresa, Isidra, Dolores, and María Soledad are not representative of women in any community, their words shed light on other women’s experiences and kitchenspaces in my region of study. As in the rest of the narrative, the journey is as much a part of the story as the destination.

      We begin with a closer look at María Teresa’s kitchenspace. She was the woman in charge of the meal for all the barrios...

    (pp. 232-266)

    This book is both an ethnography of women’s everyday lives in three semiurban communities in central Mexico (Xochimilco, Ocotepec, and Tetecala) and an innovative approach to gendered spaces of social and cultural reproduction. It explores the lifeworld of ordinary women in a region where many spend much of their time and energy in kitchenspace and have tremendous—though little recognized—social impact. Kitchenspace is a site of adaptation and innovation where gendered subjects work within the parameters of cultural boundaries to accommodate changes in the natural and social landscapes. It is a privileged and gendered site of cultural and social...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 267-276)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 277-282)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-310)