Nadeau, Carolyn A. Food Matters: Alonso Quijano S Diet and the Discourse of Food in Early Modern Spain.
With this book, Nadeau has created a tempting menu of roast meats, stews, cold salads, custards, and chocolate, to demonstrate that food was a powerful organizing force in early modern Spain. The sociological insight underpinning the book is deceptively simple: the better we know what people ate, the better we know who they were (or how they came to be who they were). The methodology Nadeau employs is deliciously complex. She begins with a literary insight related to food, generally from the Quijote, and goes on to ask historical questions about how the foods mentioned in the literary text were procured, how much they cost, how they were prepared, preserved, and seasoned, when they were eaten, and by whom. She then circles back to the literary text and places it in dialog with her abundant historical sources. The result is a wide-ranging and profoundly satisfying consideration of the ways in which food produces meaning and identity in early modern Spain.
Food Matters is full of unexpected pleasures. Four of the six chapters are ostensibly dedicated to dishes or foodstuffs: Chapter 2 is about meat and bread; Chapter 3, salads; Chapter 5, lentils; and Chapter 6, poultry. However, there is almost no way to anticipate where Nadeau's curiosity and sedulous research will take the argument. Chapter 6, for example, starts with squabs and the "bodas de Camacho" episode from the second part of the Quijote. It goes on to discuss the diet of Philip IV (and the fact that 60% of the budget for his diet was spent on poultry), menus of royal feasts and the ways that banqueting permitted the performance of social hierarchies, sensuous feasts in the drama of Lope de Rueda and Ruiz de Alarcon (including the "gastro-humor" of La cueva de Salamanca), and the intricate relatedness of food, fantasy, orality, and sexuality. What starts with a humble pigeon ends up a tour de force of literary, historical, and sociological bricolage.
One of the most helpful elements of this book is Nadeau's abundant reference to early modern recipes and cookbooks throughout Food Matters. She dedicates the entirety of Chapter 1 to close readings of medieval and early modem cookbooks; she also provides a substantial appendix of recipes that show us how our sense of flavor combinations has changed. Salads, for example, contain no lettuce, while lettuce, for its part, is softened in beef tallow, stuffed with raisins and pine nuts, seasoned with saffron, boiled, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (225-26). Nadeau is careful to point out the ways that cookbooks did not reflect common eating habits; they almost never mention breakfast foods, American foodstuffs such as tomatoes, nor do they make much mention foods strongly identified with the poor, such as lentils. By carefully suggesting the ways in which cookbooks sometimes directed the development of eating habits at elite tables and, at other times, lagged behind the changes in Spanish cuisine, Food Matters provides a helpful understanding of the function of published cooking manuals.
Chapter 2's study of meat and bread, read against passages of Don Quijote and the Guzman de Alfarache, documents the fact that in cities and villages alike there was significant consumption of mutton, which was preferred to beef. This leads to a study of the Mesta (the association of sheep ranchers), conflicts between herders and farmers, and the state's "vested interest in all things ovine" (48). Curiously, Nadeau's examination of bread avoids any discussion of its religious and symbolic meanings, focusing instead on the ways in which degrees of whiteness in bread reflected Spanish social stratification. Nadeau's study of salads and pickled foods in Chapter 3 returns to the idea that food established and maintained social hierarchies, noting that "as one's social rank decreased [...] one's salad consumption increased" (78). Pausing to consider the anti-aphrodisiacal qualities of lettuce, she makes the leap to "one of the biggest gastronomic transformations" Spain experienced: the incorporation of American foodstuffs. Unpacking a famous passage of La Lozana andaluza allows Nadeau to consider "the significance of pork for Spain," in light of the need for Christians to differentiate themselves from Jews and Muslims (106). Once again, this leads Nadeau to make a surprising and satisfying leap: to meditate on memory and the ways that "[i]ntimate memories, such as those associated with food preparation and its consumption, reveal power relations between the colonizing and the colonized" (119).
Abstinence and indulgence are the twinned subjects of Chapters 5 and 6. In Chapter 5, Nadeau begins with Sancho's frustrations on the Isla de Barataria and the paradox of the lowly lentil (thought to be both nutritious and too crass for the bodies of the nobility). Examining meatless Lenten dishes allows Nadeau to consider the peculiarities of Spanish religious dietary observance, when meat was permitted, and how eggs and cheese were consumed. As we mention above, Chapter 6 moves among orality, sexuality, and food, suggesting how "writers use food to reveal its function of fulfilling primary needs of food and sex and thus demonstrate the complexities between food and social systems" (188).
Every page of this book evidences Nadeau's capacious imagination and deep learning. The afterward forthrightly acknowledges that more work needs to be done on early modern food: we missed a study of how cod fishing affected North American colonization, or how the introduction of corn shaped meat production. Her satisfying study of Aldonza's memories in La Lozana andaluza cannot quite make up for the lack of a sustained argument about food and gender. That does not diminish from this book's achievement: Food Matters is a generous and erudite work of scholarship that definitively establishes how consumption of texts and foods enabled the performance of both hegemonic and dissenting identities in early modern Spain.
John Slater and Victor Cervantes
University of California, Davis
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|Author:||Slater, John; Cervantes, Victor|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2018|
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