This article explores the relationship between Soviet and pre-Soviet histories in the reinvention of traditional foods in Latvia, with particular attention to how these products are transformed into new commodity forms. It focuses on regional home-baked breads and local wines produced from grapes grown in western Latvia. Both of these revivals of culinary heritage engage in complex and contradictory processes of “authentification” by taking an historical artifact—such as a recipe, a piece of equipment, or an ancient tale—and consciously crafting the missing pieces around it to produce an authentic food product, one that includes seemingly anachronistic elements of different eras. The result is a material and symbolic bricolage (Lévi-Strauss 1966) that represents both producers’ and consumers’ innovative efforts to preserve or redefine livelihoods in times of change, and to negotiate complicated cultural memories of various pasts. Rather than dismissing seemingly out-of-place elements as “tampering with tradition,” I show how they are the very foundation of authenticity. I argue that the authenticity of homemade foods, like bread, is based on acknowledging the seemingly misplaced Soviet elements of the processes alongside the “ancient” recipes and modern European infrastructure, while in the case of wine we see an effort to forget the Soviet past and leapfrog to a European future. The fate of such claims, however, depends on the social networks through which the products circulate, as informal networks for home-baked breads become professionalized, and entirely new networks of connoisseurs are created who are interested in following the fate of attempts to grow “real” European wines in Latvia.
Guntra A. Aistara holds a PhD from the University of Michigan. She is an environmental anthropologist, whose research interests include organic agriculture movements, agrobiodiversity and seed sovereignty, political ecology of small farmers’ movements, socio-ecological resilience of local food systems, and culinary heritage revivals. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Central European University in Budapest, and is currently an Agrarian Studies fellow at Yale University.
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Guntra A. Aistara; Authentic Anachronisms. Gastronomica 1 November 2014; 14 (4): 7–16. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2014.14.4.7
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