Twelve years ago, nearly to the day, I sat down to write my first editor’s letter for Gastronomica. I was bursting with plenty to say, though I didn’t quite know how to begin. I feel the same way today. Twelve years ago Gastronomica was an upstart idea that had come to me as I struggled with the unnatural divide between my lives as a college professor and as a food writer. I had never done any editing before and, truth be told, had no idea what I was getting into. I simply believed that we needed a journal to bring together the disparate worlds of academia and popular writing about food, to help overcome their historic rift. I envisioned a publication that would dig beneath food’s tasty surface to uncover its deeper, and frequently darker, meanings. A publication that would be visually lush, in order to celebrate the pleasures of kitchen and table but also to provoke readers through sometimes disturbing imagery. I wanted an adventurous journal to explore some of the remote, undiscovered places on the food map of the world, as well as undiscovered places within ourselves.
I hardly considered whether such an edgy publication could succeed. But succeed it has. Thanks to the marvelous writers and artists who have contributed over the years, and to the support of friends at University of California Press, Gastronomica has not only thrived but won a potful of awards. Along the way, it has given many young people their first publication even as it has offered established writers an opportunity to play with a new, food-centric voice. Working with them all has been a joy. But when UC Press decided to sharply cut production costs, I realized that I don’t want to preside over a different, more purely academic journal. So, after much reflection, I’ve chosen to step down as editor of Gastronomica. The issue you now hold in your hands is my last.
Gastronomica was founded in the belief that the more we know about food, the greater our pleasure in it, and the more profound our awareness of the world. I like to think that Gastronomica has helped nurture this awareness. Since the journal first appeared, there has been a sea change in our thinking about food. Although in my first editor’s letter I boldly proclaimed that “Food Studies Comes of Age,” in retrospect I see that food studies was then still in its infancy. Now it has grown. The issues surrounding food, whether they divide or help us cohere, have never been more prominent. Food studies courses and programs have proliferated, and it is now nearly impossible to keep up with all the gastronomical books being published in political science, physics, and art history, to name just a few of the fields that have increasingly turned their gaze to the study of food. Most exciting of all is the appearance of a new generation of students eager for involvement with food. Despite the prospect of a precarious livelihood, these young people are choosing careers in the kitchen or on the farm. Youth always makes the future look bright.
Because of young people, I worry less today about globalization and broken food systems than I did at Gastronomica‘s inception over a decade ago. I have seen how individual and communal efforts can resist the homogenization of food cultures and the hegemony of fast food, how they can counteract cynical political expediencies to create vibrant communities of people committed to the pursuit of healthy and delicious food. No matter where I’ve traveled over this past decade, from Iceland to India, Oman to Vietnam, I’ve discovered a palpable pride in local culinary traditions, a bulwark against the relentless march of McDonald’s across the globe.
For this, my last issue, I’m thrilled to feature Richard Paul’s striking artwork as the cover illustration, since it captures Gastronomica’s dark humor. His candy-covered skull also serves as a kind of culinary memento mori for the journal as it has been. I close my final letter with special thanks to my staff, who are also leaving the journal: Frances Baca, Gastronomica‘s awesome design director, who has made these pages so vibrant over the years; and Jane Canova, my highly skilled managing editor, who has always kept the business end of things smooth as butter. Above all, I’m grateful to you, devoted readers, for sharing my vision, and for accompanying me these many years. It’s been a lovely ride.