Fermented foods/drinks are one of many traditional food preservation practices known to ameliorate flavor and nutritional value and extend shelf life. They are also an essential element in creating a regenerative food system, one that seeks to create conditions that enhance already existing systems rather than just sustaining them. However, many gastronomic, traditional, and heritage foods such as noncommercial fermented products are not eligible to be sold at local or global markets and are considered hazardous and unfitting of food safety standards. Subsequently, these foods are often produced in homes, or as cottage industry products sold at farmers markets. In the United States, many of these products are made by marginal communities, Latin, Middle Easterners, Southeast Asians, and Indigenous communities. These foods carry meanings of value, identity, and sacredness and have created a trans-local food ecosystem. This paper explores how Arizona, with its large and growing population of marginal communities, governs such modes of food production. Using an ethnographic multisite methodology of “follow the thing,” the authors follow two fermented foods—gundruk, and yoghurt/soft cheese—observing how they are produced, consumed, and valorized in Arizona. We explore how the production of these foods unravels microbiopolitical entanglements, described through personal narratives and contextualized within the history of a larger regulatory structure. Like fermentation itself, these narratives reveal that we should welcome the unseen actors for a more diverse and inclusive food governance atmosphere while redefining what a local and place-based food system should look like.
Follow the Ferments: Inclusive Food Governance in Arizona
Sara El-Sayed is a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University in public interest technology. She completed a doctorate in sustainability at ASU, focusing on regenerative food systems in arid regions. She is the co-founder of several sustainability enterprises in Egypt and often consults in biomimicry and in food systems.
Christy Spackman, PhD, is an assistant professor, jointly appointed between the School for the Future of Innovation and Society and the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering at Arizona State University. She studies the environmental and social impact of the management of taste and smell in the food and water supply.
Sara El-Sayed, Christy Spackman; Follow the Ferments: Inclusive Food Governance in Arizona. Gastronomica 1 February 2022; 22 (1): 20–33. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2022.22.1.20
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