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Food cultures and culinary traditions – Prof Helen Leach

July 7, 2012

There is a series of three lectures on Maori food traditions and cookery on Radio National which are really interesting. The information they offer on food cultures may be of use in the study of food cultures in literature…

In the first lecture, Prof Helen Leach explains that “food cultures incorporate rules and principles that we learn, often unconsciously, as we grow up. They are passed down from one generation to the next, they guide our decisions, and mark our identity. When I use the term culinary tradition,” she goes on, “I divide these unwritten rules into two sets: the first set relates to foods: for example, what items are classified as edible, including staple foods, secondary items like vegetables and flavourings, how foods should be combined into dishes, what equipment should be used to prepare and cook them, what is believed about the properties and symbolic meanings of these foods. The second set of rules help in the composition of meals and include, what dishes should be served and what combinations with what drinks, in what order, on particular occasions, when and where meals should be served, with what utensils, and how people should behave at meals.”

“…a culinary tradition combines edible items, material culture, or artefacts, customs and ideas. And as with cultural traditions, it undergoes progressive change as it adapts to changes in food supply, new technology and social trends and external influences.”

“…when people migrate, their culinary tradition moves with them, but it needs to adapt quickly to the new environment, for on it depends the survival of its practitioners.”

“…whereas migrating peoples were the key players until 1900, subsequently the migration of ideas had the more significant impact on our culinary traditions…. I hope to show, however, that culinary traditions are so deeply associated with a people’s sense of identity, that they are powerful agents of resistance.” (about 7.38 minutes in)

The Macmillan Brown Lectures 2008 – From Kai to Kiwi Kitchen

09:01 Macmillan Brown lecture 1, 2008
Maori Cookery Before Cook. What impact did migration from a tropical h

Leach’s discussion of how the Maori approached plants as potentially edible and how they dealt with toxicity in, for example, the Karaka berries is really interesting!

omeland have on Maori cookery? They experienced drastic changes in their traditional foods, yet the rules that were part of their Polynesian culinary tradition remained intact. In the first of her 2008 Macmillan Brown lectures, Prof Helen Leach of the University of Otago argues that culinary traditions are important for the survival and the maintenance of our identities. Leach draws a distinction between culinary traditions and cuisines and explores how Maori adapted tropical cuisine to new food sources. (46′52″)  Download: Ogg Vorbis  MP3 | Embed 

09:02 Macmillan Brown lecture 2, 2008

Cookery in the Colonial Era. Contact with the immigrants brought new types of kai and ways of cooking to Maori, explored by Prof Helen Leach of the University of Otago in the second of her 2008 Macmillan Brown lectures. From the range of introduced crops and animals, Maori selected those which slotted easily into their culinary tradition as substitutes for traditional foods. In contrast Pakeha settlers faced food shortages and a temporary loss of cooking technology. After a period of mutual borrowing, in the 1860s. Pakeha turned to older colonies around the Pacific for new recipes and equipment. (47′10″)  Download: Ogg Vorbis  MP3 | Embed

09:03 Macmillan Brown lecture 3, 2008

Cookbooks and Cultural Identity in the 20th Century. In this final Macmillan Brown lecture for 2008, Prof Helen Leach of the University of Otago exposes the way in which cultural identity can be gauged from looking at community cookbooks published here through the decades. Pakeha regarded Maori cookery as a relic of the past until cookbooks published in the Maori Renaissance during the 1970s showed its resistance to extinction. In the structure of their meals, descendants of British migrants also adhered to their ancestral culinary tradition until the 1960s; however in their baking they asserted a distinctive Kiwi identity throughout the 20th century. ‘Internationalization’ in the 1960s brought a flood of new recipes. It was followed by ‘globalization’ which has not (as yet) undermined either identities or culinary traditions. (49′17″)   Download: Ogg Vorbis  MP3 | Embed

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