By adopting a “weak” version of cultural relativism, we can manage our own ethical discomfort without disrespecting those whose culinary values and practices we do not share. This entails recognizing the contextual and performative aspects of all gastronomic rhetoric, including claims of expertise over questions of culinary authenticity and standards of acceptable behavior during the consumption of food and drink; all such claims, while often couched in the language of moral certainty, are in reality susceptible to contestation. It is thus in the language of right and wrong that those engaged in culinary discussions affirm, negotiate, and modify the prevailing standards of taste and good manners. This becomes especially clear when local people test foreigners' willingness to adapt to local gastronomic practices and styles of consumption, aspects of performance that are often coded in ways that force uninitiated outsiders to fail, perhaps unknowingly, in local eyes.
Legalism in the Kitchen: Relativizing the Ethics and Performance of Gastronomic Expertise
Michael Herzfeld is Ernest E. Monrad Research Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology and has served as the first Director of the Asia Center's Thai Studies Program at Harvard University. He has also served as President of both the Society for the Anthropology of Europe and the Modern Greek Studies Association and as editor of American Ethnologist. Author of eleven books (including Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome, 2009, and Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok, 2016), he has made two films about Rome (including Roman Restaurant Rhythms, 2011), and has conducted extensive field research in Greece, Italy, and Thailand.
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Michael Herzfeld; Legalism in the Kitchen: Relativizing the Ethics and Performance of Gastronomic Expertise. Gastronomica 1 February 2019; 19 (1): 1–13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2019.19.1.1
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