Foodscapes, Foodfields and Identities in Yucatan by Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz.

Author:Zeigler, Donald J.
Position:Book review
 
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Ayora-Diaz, Steffan Igor. Foodscapes, Foodfields and Identities in Yucatan. New York: Berghahn, 2012. xii + 311 pages. Hardcover, $95.00.

In this five-chapter treatise from anthropologist Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz is the story of the Yucatan region's struggle against the hegemonic culinary takeover of a national Mexican cuisine rooted in Mexico City and the legacy of the Spanish Empire (New Spain). Ayora-Diaz, a native of Yucatan, explores the dialectical tension between the post-colonial narrative of Mexican nation building and a counter-narrative from a part of Mexico that was never part of New Spain. Using food (flavors, ingredients, recipes, procedures, techniques, etc.), the author illustrates the vigor with which native Yucatecans have stood up to the homogenizing forces of nationalism. What the reader expects to find is a rationale for Yucatan's regional identity rooted in distance from Mexico's highland core, the peninsula's unique physical geography, and the influence of indigenous Mayan culture. Instead, the following factors surface as the primary explanatory variables for understanding Yucatecan cuisine and, consequently, Yucatan's distinct regional identity: the region's urban elites and immigration streams as they developed during the henequen boom (henequen is a fiber crop used to make rope), its proximity to the Greater Caribbean, and its embrace of cosmopolitanism.

The title of Ayor-Diaz's book is really a synopsis of the book's content. The first two components of the title, foodscapes and foodfields, offer a formula for understanding the third, identities in Yucatan. Foodscape is defined as "an arena where food values are deployed to affirm similarities and differences between local and foreign culinary traditions" (pp. 13-14). With this concept, we can see how Yucatecans could view Mexican national cuisine--tacos, beef dishes, sour cream, etc.--as a foreign influence. The term foodfields, however, is unindexed, undefined and a bit misleading since it has nothing to do with agriculture. Rather, it comprises two parts: the culinary field and the gastronomic field. The culinary field is the place where ideas about Yucatecan food are planted and where regional dishes and meals (expressing much hybridity) are harvested. It is open to creativity and outside influence and is as much cosmopolitan (e.g., influenced by French haute cuisine and Syrian-Lebanese contributions) as it is regional (e.g., heavy on pork and fowl, Seville...

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