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August, 2014
Kitchen Sisters Coming to NYC

Kitchen Sisters Coming to NYC

Dear Friends,

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva) are holding their Interviewing & Recording Workshop inNew York City on Wednesday, September 17 from 10am to 1pm at WNYC Radio. The three-hour session is designed for people who want to acquire and hone their skills for an array of audio projects: radio, online, podcasts, storytelling, oral histories, audio slideshows, family histories, news, investigative reporting, documentaries and other multimedia platforms.

The workshop will cover interviewing approaches, miking techniques, sound gathering, use of archival audio, field recording techniques, how to make interviewees comfortable, how to frame evocative questions that make for compelling storytelling, what equipment to use and what to pack in your kit, how to build a story, and how to listen (which is harder than it seems).

The workshop is customized to fit the projects you are working on. People who attend come from radio, film, multimedia, newspapers, blogs, journalism, photography, oral history, historical societies, music, writing, libraries, archives, web design, detective agencies, farms, universities, restaurants, health care organizations, theaters and beyond. The groups are always lively and good contacts are made.
Of course, snacks will be served.

The workshop will be held on the 8th floor of WNYC, 160 Varick St., NY, NY. 10013.

Fee: $135.00.  Register here.

Questions? Email us at kitchen@kitchensisters.org.  And please pass this announcement along to your community.  Expand your skills, meet new people, support the work of The Kitchen Sisters.

See you there,

Davia & Nikki

Louis & June

Louis & June

Louis & June. Love their sound! They have been singing together since they were 15. Here’s one of their first videos. Check ’em.

ps: aka Owen & Molly

 

I Say A Little Prayer from Owen and Molly on Vimeo.

A Conversation with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

A Conversation with Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

  
“We’re never more intimate with the environment than when we actually eat it.”

Felipe head shot

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My name is Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. I teach history at Notre Dame and am responsible for far too many books, including “The History of Food,” which is titled “Near A Thousand Tables” in the US.

Food A History                   Near a Thousand Tables
 

Cooking With Fire

We are a change-addicted species. I think it is an unintended consequence of evolutionary change that is otherwise quite positive. We are, in our origin, a hunting, gathering and garnering species. In order for us to do that, nature had to endow us with the faculty of anticipation.  We needed this in order to know that there were prey or predators around.

One of the consequences of anticipation is imagination.  Both are about seeing what isn’t there. We needed to have a lot of anticipation because, compared with our rival predator and prey species, we were very meek and feeble.  At least I am.  Luckily your listeners can’t see me, but if they could they would see this weak, epicene, sort of flabby, hopeless-looking individual. But even the fastest, strongest human is feeble and slow compared with a cheetah.  We just don’t have many physical advantages.  Look at our claws!  Look at our fangs! They’re hopeless.

Because we have extra anticipation, we have extra imagination. Because we have this super endowment of imagination, we are continually re-imagining our world.  Because we are constantly re-imagining our world, we are also constantly re-crafting it to fit that imagining.

Cooking is a great example of the restlessness of the human imagination.  When you think of some of the transformations which cooking affects, you can see that its origins are connected with magic.  Bread is a stunning example of an apparently magical transformation in which gritty grains are transformed into a great, fluffy, chewy, ethereal substance. The result has no resemblance to the basic ingredients.  It’s like turning a hat into a rabbit.

This is even more magical when you think of good old alcohol, stuff like beer, because here you’ve transformed simple grains into a substance that can release visions and take you into unseen worlds.  These are really powerful transmutations, and when we encounter powerful transmutations in the world we call them magic.

I don’t buy the idea that it all happened by accident. The observation of natural processes having culinary effects is surely a part of what happened, and I would not entirely eliminate instinct from consideration either.

There are creatures that do not seem to be cultural and still prepare food instinctively. Birds typically prepare food for their offspring to ingest by masticating it first.  But the key thing, I think, is what happens in the human mind.  Cooking is really the result of imagination—of seeing a magical, trans-mutative process in nature, and finding ways to reproduce it.

The first form of cooking was simply leaving food to rot for a while. Leaving your prey to rot to the point where it’s digestible but not yet poisonous, is cooking, in a sense.  It is the harnessing of a natural process to increase the digestibility of food. The first absolutely concrete evidence of cooking with fire is about eight-hundred thousand years old; meaning we’ve actually got the remains of the hearth, and the hearth’s in close proximity of bones that are the remains of food, which suggests that those bones might have been cooked. And that in itself is very striking because our species, Homo sapiens, is at most two thousand years old.  So we’re talking about cooking originating in a species that wasn’t even human in the modern sense of the word.

When the Raw Got Cooked

Culture begins when the raw gets cooked. When people did start cooking with fire, it led to the creation of a new, focused life.  The word focus literally means hearth in Latin, by the way.  Before people cooked with fire, when they were just burying food to make it palatable, eating was a very hurried occasion: scavengers grabbing a hunk of meat and scurrying off to eat it under a rock, or wandering around finding food and eating it on the spot before the opportunity was lost. 

Cooking changed that.  If you build a fire or dig a fire pit, you sit around it for the meal.  You gather around it to guard it whilst the cooking takes place.  There is a literal focus for social intercourse, conversation, and joint planning of the next expedition to find food.  The partially pre-social life of the scavenger is transformed by the fully social act of sharing a place for the most fundamental activity of survival, eating.

Once people start sharing this common life around food it means that more changes can happen because people are sharing ideas and communicating. They start developing a mutual identity and a sense of solidarity.  They then differentiate themselves from other bunches of people sitting around other campfires. Those individual imaginations are becoming collectivized. They are coming to agree on new ways of operating, of behaving, and of making strategies for getting food.

Felipe on couch
 

Surround it With Ritual
Like we always do when we find ourselves in the presence of magic, we surround it with rituals.  The annals of anthropology are full of the studies of fireside rituals and we know this from our own experience.  We still surround our eating with rituals.  On one level we ritualize meals in our religious lives.  Christians aren’t the only people who eat their god and make her great. We also ritualize our commonplace food habits by doing things like setting the table, having our own places around the table, having table manners. Just as scenting the altar in church makes that a special place, you behave differently at table than other places to make it special.  That’s the essence of ritual.

Beyond table rituals there are also, of course, kitchen rituals.  You dress differently to cook.  Chefs have priestly attire and strange hats, which are quite unnecessary for any practical purpose. The kitchen has its own hierarchy: every cook has his or her own rituals connected with the ways in which they regulate their kitchen. My experience is that cooks treat their kitchens as sacred spaces.  Very often they have these rules, which you have to obey in order to be admitted into the kitchen—it’s just like a priest having a sanctuary!  It’s not surprising because the processes that are going on there, the boiling and steaming and roasting, are trans-mutative processes.  It is not all that different from transubstantiating bread and wine with flesh and blood.

Of course in all cases where you have ritual, you have taboos.  Food is the main area in all societies where we still experience and enforce taboos although we’ve almost abandoned them in every other walk of life.  All of our sexual taboos are practically gone except maybe pedophilia, incest, and bestiality but we still have things that we won’t serve at our tables and which we won’t allow other people to eat at theirs.  These taboos and rituals are always evolving, and it’s been amazing to me how some of the rights of table with which I was brought up have disappeared in our own time to be replaced by other rituals.  The after dinner smoke has switched from being an almost obligatory ritual to being a taboo.  These worlds are highly interpenetrated.  Every time we drop one of these old rites we adopt a new one.

The World                So You Think You're Human

Tremendous Revolution

Agriculture is a stunning intervention that reverses evolution and substitutes unnatural selection for natural selection.  It means creating new species through speciation, hybridization, and selection.  Tremendous revolution!  Brilliant revolution!  And if there are gods or angels watching us they would say to themselves, “What an audacious thing to do!” It introduced famine, plagues, and political tyrannies; despite all that, humans have persevered with it and now there is practically no society that hasn’t become agricultural.

What historians like to call “the ecological revolution’ is the second great intervention. In the last 500 years or so we’ve started swapping food-yielding life forms around the world.  We move them across oceans and between continents so that now you have the same biota all over the world. An astonishing reversal of evolution!  For something like 200 million years, ever since Pangaea split into separate continents, the life forms that we ate had been growing ever more differently from one continent to the next. We’ve reversed all that.

Near my hometown in Spain they now grow kiwi fruit, which come from New Zealand. One can’t imagine Ireland or Bengal without potatoes, which come from America. One can’t imagine the Carolinas without rice, or Argentina without beef.  Neither of these foods existed in the Americas 500 years ago.  We’ve completely shaken up the biota of the world.  A kaleidoscope.  The results have been tremendously beneficial in terms of the edible nutrition in some parts of the world but we have also transferred deadly microbial life forms, decimating populations and destroying cultures.

Between the 1960s and 1980s, the Green Revolution saved millions of lives by introducing new food yielding species which are much more efficient to farm than the previous ones.  Unfortunately, in the name of saving lives we have absolutely wrecked the environment with the fertilizers and pesticides on which these new staple foods depend.  Every time we intervene in the environment we seem to contrive a brilliant solution, which brings new, devastating problems.  It’s like setting the spider to catch the fly.

Now we are confronting the consequences of our previous interventions with genetic modification and it’s possibly the biggest one yet.  Who knows what unforeseen consequences that will bring.

 

The Spanish Armada           Columbus
 

Cooking With Microwave

Family life is the most obvious place to observe the sharing of food in the modern world and I think that the family that eats together stays together.  We can see how sharing food crafts communities in our own experiences of family and we can also see how not sharing it can fracture that community.  One of the fearsome solvents of social stability in our time is the loss of the habit of eating together. If you want your children to have a sense of responsibility to the community and be good citizen you have to get them to sit down and eat at the table. Let the meal become the forum in which contact and conversation is exchanged. Families are always the first communities to take shape and the last communities to survive.  When people abandon their families it’s the last sign of desperation. They will abandon sexual partners, betray their countries, and desert their comrades in battle before they will give up that most basic of communities.  

In my more lighthearted moments I blame the microwave for the collapse of society.  It’s certainly a catalyst, a symbol of the way that modern families are reverting to pre-social habits of hominid eating.  Instead of grabbing your lump of decaying flesh and eating it secretly under a rock, you’re now sticking a can of something in the microwave and carrying it off to a bedroom. The microwave is, however, a symbol of something that is much wider spread.  We don’t value social solidarity as much as we value individualism.  We don’t value families as much as we do our individual gratification.

We’re living in a world where husbands and wives cheerfully abandon the family hearth saying they’re not being individually fulfilled. We go grab fast food and eat it in the street. We’ve become fast foodies.  When I lecture in the United States my students will eat their lunches during my lectures, which appalls me because they’re eating their food and they’re looking at me when they should be looking at each other. They should be making use of this opportunity to create community, instead they are isolating themselves. I think humans work best when they work together and we learn how to work together from our families.  Expel the microwave from the house!  Don’t eat fast food! Gather around the table.  Make society.  Make a community.

If you don’t gather around the table and create this culture, the prized individual is disembodied from the context that helps it achieve happiness and realize its potential.  The individual literally becomes lonely.  For the fast food eater food is reduced to a source of nourishment to get him or her from one moment to the next and has ceased to have the power that it has had throughout the course of our history.  I always say that food’s magic lies in how we prepare it.  That it is all about transforming it from one thing into something else, which is different and surprising and better.  But the greatest power, the greatest magic that it is capable of, is transforming individuals into societies.  If you don’t take part in that process you are going to end up impoverished, and I suspect, unable to fulfill that potential that you are so valuing.

Felipe lecture

New Fugitive Waves: Cry Me A River

New Fugitive Waves: Cry Me A River

 

Listen to Cry Me a River here    

Subscribe to Fugitive Waves


From our Listeners:

Dear Kitchen Sisters,

You really ought to check out the professional river guides who work in the Grand Canyon. They are famous for preparing gourmet meals 3 times per day for up to 3 weeks using kitchens and provisions carried aboard 18 foot rafts through some of the most ferocious rapids on the planet. Every evening, after these guys and gals have piloted their crafts (and passengers) through the Canyon, they unload their entire kitchen, go “shopping” among the coolers and dryboxes on the rafts, and create sumptious meals, complete with cocktails hors d’ houvres, appetizers, main course and dessert. Many of these delicacies are done in Dutch Ovens, an art in itself.

Check out Arizona Raft Adventures, OARS, Hatch Tours.

Veronica Egan, E.D.
Great Old Broads for Wilderness