chapter  12
21 Pages

(IN)EDIBLE NATURE: NEW WORLD FOOD AND COLONIALITY Zilkia Janer

Nature is the source of human subsistence but the transformation of nature into food is a cultural process that is not independent of power relations. The colonization of America comprised the systematic repression of indigenous ways of knowing and even after the elimination of political colonialism the relationship between European cultures and the others is still one of colonial domination (Quijano 1992, p. 438) The colonial repression of different knowledges also affects the culinary epistemology that informs food preparation and consumption. Three instances in which the effects of coloniality in the food cultures of the New World can be observed are: (1) the degradation of indigenous culinary knowledge as a response to the challenge that American nature and indigenous culinary practices posed to Europe, (2) the enduring hegemony of French cuisine as the highest standard of European culinary modernity-rationality against which all other cuisines are measured and (3) the practice of a fusion cuisine structured by European culinary values and that incorporates other cuisines only to reduce them to sources of natural ingredients devoid of a culture of their own. I finish with a consideration of what the decolonization of culinary knowledge might entail.

The colonization of Mesoamerica by the Spanish led to the confrontation of different discourses regulating cooking and eating practices. Such discourses classify foods into categories according to hegemonic social, religious and medical knowledge. Whether a food is considered edible or inedible, high or low status, festive or appropriate for fasting, good or bad for health, has more cultural than natural explanations. Amerindians received a number of new foods from Europe and resisted the subordination of their culinary ideas to the colonizers’. The Spanish, on the other hand, had to do without some of the food items and practices they were used to and struggled to insert New World foods into their established categories. Below I analyze how the confrontation of Spanish and Ameridian culinary practices in the colonial context resulted in the partial suppression of the Amerindian systems of knowledge that regulated

food production and consumption, and in a conceptual challenge and eventual adaptation of European religious and medical discourses.