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The Menial Art of Cooking

The Menial Art of Cooking: Archaeological Studies of Cooking and Food Preparation

Sarah R. Graff
Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Menial Art of Cooking
    Book Description:

    Although the archaeology of food has long played an integral role in our understanding of past cultures, the archaeology of cooking is rarely integrated into models of the past. The cooks who spent countless hours cooking and processing food are overlooked and the forgotten players in the daily lives of our ancestors. The Menial Art of Cooking shows how cooking activities provide a window into other aspects of society and, as such, should be taken seriously as an aspect of social, cultural, political, and economic life. This book examines techniques and technologies of food preparation, the spaces where food was cooked, the relationship between cooking and changes in suprahousehold economies, the religious and symbolic aspects of cooking, the relationship between cooking and social identity, and how examining foodways provides insight into social relations of production, distribution, and consumption. Contributors use a wide variety of evidence-including archaeological data; archival research; analysis of ceramics, fauna, botany, glass artifacts, stone tools, murals, and painted ceramics; ethnographic analogy; and the distribution of artifacts across space-to identify signs of cooking and food processing left by ancient cooks. The Menial Art of Cooking is the first archaeological volume focused on cooking and food preparation in prehistoric and historic settings around the world and will interest archaeologists, social anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars studying cooking and food preparation or subsistence.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-176-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Sarah R. Graff and Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría
  6. Contributors
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Introduction: The Menial Art of Cooking
    (pp. 1-18)
    Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría and Sarah R. Graff

    This book is about cooking. This book is not about food; it is about food preparation and what archaeologists can learn about societies from studying various aspects of their culinary practices, contexts, techniques, and equipment. Aristotle (1995) called cooking a “menial art” in book 1 of Politics, describing it as necessary knowledge for slaves in a household but not an honorable duty. Aristotle’s characterization of cooking, albeit in translation, is an activity that is not prestigious and perhaps does not require superior skill. In the title of this book, we are using the term “menial art” ironically. The idea that...

  8. Chapter 1 Culinary Preferences: Seal-Impressed Vessels from Western Syria as Specialized Cookware
    (pp. 19-46)
    Sarah R. Graff

    In western Syria, a distinctive looking vessel has been found dating to the late third millennium BC. This vessel is known as the seal-impressed jar because it is often impressed with a cylinder seal on the rim or the neck. Seal-impressed jars are considered important for a number of reasons. First, they date to the end of the third millennium BC, a time when early states, such as Ebla, had begun to form in western Syria and subsequently declined. Second, seal-impressed vessels are found distributed widely and as a result are viewed as important economic markers linking different archaeological sites...

  9. Chapter 2 Food Preparation, Social Context, and Ethnicity in a Prehistoric Mesopotamian Colony
    (pp. 47-64)
    Gil J. Stein

    Food provides a uniquely valuable source of insight into the dynamics of culture. Cooking and consumption often occur in different social contexts, corresponding to the contrast between domestic and more public spheres. For this reason, food preparation and consumption can reflect different context-dependent assertions of social identity such as gender or ethnicity (Crabtree 1990; Gumerman 1997). As recent analyses by Kent Lightfoot (Lightfoot, Martinez, and Schiff 1998) and Kathleen Deagan (1996, 2003) have shown, these contrasts can be especially important analytical dimensions in understanding the dynamics of multiethnic culture contact situations, especially those involving marriage between groups and the establishment...

  10. Chapter 3 The Habitus of Cooking Practices at Neolithic Çatalhöyük: What Was the Place of the Cook?
    (pp. 65-86)
    Christine A. Hastorf

    Perhaps more than any other human activity, the act of eating creates the person as well as the community. Food is the ultimate social glue. Many ethnographers who have ventured forth to study kinship, economics, politics, gender relations, ritual, or trade have found that their informants channel their discussions to their foodways and its central place in their lives (Descola 1994; Richards 1939; Hugh-Jones 1979; Kahn 1986; March 1987; Meigs 1984; Weismantel 1988). Any newspaper today demonstrates how important food is in our lives too, with sections full of recipes, discussions of food and health, and even the economics of...

  11. Chapter 4 Cooking Meat and Bones at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey
    (pp. 87-98)
    Nerissa Russell and Louise Martin

    In most societies meat is a highly valued food. In some cases, meat is rarely consumed except at feasts and sacrifices (e.g., Bloch 1985; Gibson 1985; Grantham 1995). In others, at least some meat is needed to make a “real meal” (Descola 1994; Douglas 1971). Either way, meat marks particular consumption events as more substantive than others. Moreover, many have noted that in addition to meat per se, fat, especially animal fat, is frequently much sought after and represents wealth and abundance (Abrams 1987; Bloch 1985; Fletcher 2003; Hayden 1990; Outram 2001; Speth and Spielmann 1983). Such highly valued food...

  12. Chapter 5 From Grinding Corn to Dishing Out Money: A Long-Term History of Cooking in Xaltocan, Mexico
    (pp. 99-118)
    Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría

    Mexican cuisine is known for a variety of flavors (especially its heat) and dishes made from an endless list of plant and animal ingredients. Women are the ones responsible for such a great variety of flavors and ingredients. Women were the cooks in Aztec society, and they are the cooks in today’s Mexico. Many Mexican men cook, but they do so mostly in contexts where it will bring an income to the house, such as restaurants, markets, and food carts on the street. The majority of cooks in Mexican homes, whether upper-class or poor, are women. This means that technological...

  13. Chapter 6 Cooking for Fame or Fortune: The Effect of European Contact on Casabe Production in the Orinoco
    (pp. 119-144)
    Kay Tarble de Scaramelli and Franz Scaramelli

    Manioc, a shrub with a starchy, tuberous root, requires a complex cooking sequence in order to be converted into a storable and transportable food, either as casabe, a flat, round cake, or as mañoco, a form of toasted grits. In both cases, this process involves the grating, pressing, sieving, and cooking of the resulting pulp. Manioc is also consumed in the form of beer, known locally by different names such as cachiri or yarake, which also involves a lengthy production process and results in a fermented drink that figures prominently in indigenous social and ritual gatherings throughout the remote areas...

  14. Chapter 7 Crafting Harappan Cuisine on the Saurashtran Frontier of the Indus Civilization
    (pp. 145-172)
    Brad Chase

    This exploration of cooking practices at Gola Dhoro (Bhan et al. 2004, 2005; Sonawane et al. 2003), a small settlement of the Indus civilization (ca. 2600–1900 BC) in Gujarat, offers new insights into the foodways of the site’s residents as they came to increasingly participate in the interregional interaction networks that characterized South Asia’s first urban, state-level civilization. Specifically, the research presented here seeks to determine the extent to which the two spatially segregated communities that constituted the settlement were distinguished by their cooking practices through an examination of faunal remains, the material vestiges of meat-based meals. The significance...

  15. Chapter 8 Vale Boi: 10,000 Years of Upper Paleolithic Bone Boiling
    (pp. 173-200)
    Tiina Manne

    Animal fats in the form of subcutaneous, muscular, mesenteric, and within-bone deposits represent some of the most high-calorie foods available to foragers. Though the prehistoric extraction of animal body fats has no visible archaeological record, the harvesting of within-bone fats may be recognized through careful, taphonomy-oriented faunal studies. Prior to the Upper Paleolithic, humans practiced only one form of bone processing, that of cold marrow extraction where the focus is the consolidated fatty deposits found in the large central, medullary cavities of the limb bones and mandibles (see review by Stiner 2002). A second method of bone-grease extraction, heat-in-liquid grease...

  16. Chapter 9 “Hoe Cake and Pickerel”: Cooking Traditions, Community, and Agency at a Nineteenth-Century Nipmuc Farmstead
    (pp. 201-230)
    Guido Pezzarossi, Ryan Kennedy and Heather Law

    Cooking practices and the foods they produce are particularly important arenas for exploring the experiences and daily routines of colonial populations. Both the biological and social necessities that compel the production and consumption of the quotidian meal are crucial to “constructing and punctuating the rhythms and regime of life” (Hastorf and Weismantel 2007:309–310; Braudel 1981; Giard 1998; Parker Pearson 2003). Thus, it is the daily repetitions of cooking and eating that cast foodways as a critical part of the production of habitus, a central influence in the process of social “distinction” and the formation of social identities (Barthes 1979:32;...

  17. Chapter 10 Great Transformations: On the Archaeology of Cooking
    (pp. 231-244)
    Kathleen D. Morrison

    The difference between the potentially edible (plants and animals) and food—a substance deemed appropriate for consumption—is very often created through the act of cooking. In India, for example, paddy from the fields, though clearly destined for human consumption, is not subject to the same kinds of social restrictions as cooked rice, not yet being classified as a food, with all its attendant power and danger. Cooking is the vital, yet archaeologically neglected process of rendering potential foodstuffs edible, accessible, and appropriate. As a discipline, we expend a great deal of energy examining what we generally call “food production,”...

  18. Index
    (pp. 245-248)