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Cuisines of the Axis of Evil

23 July, 2008

One of the courses I’ve taught at Macquarie is called “Food Across Cultures.”  (I also have responsibility for — but have not yet taught — “Drugs Across Cultures.”  I trust you detect a theme here.  What I really dream of teaching, though, is a course not currently on the books that we would naturally have to call “Sex Across Cultures.”  Reading would include Malinowski’s Sexual Life of Savages, the edited volume on sex and fieldwork Taboo, and Rabinow’s Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco.  But I digress.)

So I keep an eye peeled for interesting stuff on food to use in that course, and I just got wind of this new book, “Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations.”  Great title.  If you go to the book website, you can see a video of the author, Chris Fair (who is an analyst at the United States Institute of Peace), talking about the book while she’s sitting at a noisy restaurant with exotic decor in the background.  She talks about the book and then confesses in a boozy drawl,

“I learned that in a cookbook, I could say anything I wanted to say without the interference of a pesky editorial board.  So you might be right to say that I’m just using the genre of the cookbook to get away with saying all kinds of crazy things that I wouldn’t ordinarily get away with saying.  You would not be wrong in making that point. Let me have a drink of my wine, please”

and then she takes a big swig.  She looks like she’s already been drinking for a while.  It’s absolutely hilarious.

It’s hard to tell from the website what are the “irritating states” covered in the cookbook, but the Quiz to Test Your Knowledge of Evil Cuisines lists as possible answers Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden along with Franco, Vlad the Impaler, Idi Amin, Hitler, and Darth Vader.  So evidently the irritating states in question are those that irritate the United States.  Which makes me suspect that she may not have included recipes for the cheeseburgers or MREs eaten by torturers at Abu Ghraib.

–L.L. Wynn

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Casimir MacGregor permalink
    23 July, 2008 9:09 pm

    Great post Lisa. Cuisines of the Axis of Evil is something to get your eat into. I hope Ho Chi Minh aka Uncle Ho is on the list. Uncle Ho trained as a chef in France. I’m sure he would make a mean Escargots de Bourgogne!

  2. 24 July, 2008 5:41 am

    Alas, I wasn’t boozed up…but I was jetlagged having just come in from Pakistan. (It’s amazing how not sleeping replicates the sensation of inebriation.) The book is actually a pretty serious attempt to discuss the politics of food using (or abusing) the genre of a cookbook, applying ample amounts of ribald humor and general silliness. As I explain in the book, everything that goes into our mouths is affected by militaries, missionaries, migrations and/or mercantilism. Food is also interesting because it is an instrument of nationalism either because the invention of a national cuisine is part of the evolving inventory of national symbols or because of the national history that a country’s food maps out. I note the dividing powers of food often mandated by religious authority and rules of commensalism, gender relations, and other social mores about what is or is not edible (cow v. horse). But, in the end, it’s a silly “culinary tour de farce” that I hope amuses others as much I was amused in writing it. Happy Cooking. Chris Fair

  3. 24 July, 2008 10:05 am

    Thanks Casimir and thanks, Chris — sounds like serious stuff with a very fun gloss, just the sort of thing I can imagine my undergraduates in ‘Food across Cultures’ loving. I’m going to assign it next time I teach the class.


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