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The Political Palate: Reading Commune Cookbooks

Stephanie Hartman
Gastronomica
Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 29-40
DOI: 10.1525/gfc.2003.3.2.29
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2003.3.2.29
Page Count: 12
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The Political Palate: Reading Commune Cookbooks
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Abstract

This article examines cookbooks produced by American communes in the early 1970s, considering each as the historical record of a unique political and social community. It also analyzes them as still-relevant examples of how eating habits can reflect political ideals. The variety of these books testifies to the many ways of negotiating this question. The first part provides an overview of the counter-cultural movement and the role of food within it. The conviction that society had gone terribly awry led to the founding of thousands of utopian communities, determined to invent and model alternatives. Food was inseparable from the most closely held values of commune residents, who tried to live what they believed through making conscious choices about what they ate, how they grew or got their food, and how they divided the labor. What people discussed most on communes was apparently not sex, not "the revolution," but food. These eclectic, irreverent cookbooks remind us that eating is seldom a pure expression of political conviction; it also reflects considerations of economy, availability, ethnicity, personal history, and sensual gratification. Interspersing recipes with creative writing and psychedelic art, one cookbook explains how to skin a porcupine, cook with hashish, and make Grand Marnier sabayon. Another advocates bread-baking and shop-lifting in its critique of capitalism; a third approaches cooking as part of Buddhist practice. Throughout, their leisurely, process-oriented approach to food is the antithesis of both Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart. They show how cooking and eating can bring together pleasure and politics in unexpected ways.

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