Comida e Práticas Alimentares no Campo e na Cidade / Food and Foodways in the Country and the City

Key information

10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Lisbon, Portugal

About this event

José Manuel Sobral (ICS-UL), Nuno Domingos (ICS-UL e SOAS), Harry West (SOAS, University of London)

In his classic work, The Country and the City, Raymond Williams argued that the rural idyll was a recurrent trope in English literature—“a myth functioning as a memory” (43) in an ever more urban, industrialized England. The same may be said of notions of the countryside often articulated today by commentators addressing “modern”, “industrialized” foodways. According to United Nations estimates, 2008 marked the year when more people worldwide came to live in cities than in the countryside. Commentators have lamented, among other things, the “disconnect” urbanization produces between city dwellers and the source of their sustenance. The global food price crisis occurring in the same year, 2008, lent gravity to their concerns, highlighting just how food-insecure an increasingly urban global population might be. Within this context, agrarian movements, especially in lesser industrialized nations, have begun to assert the right to greater “food sovereignty”—calling for a delinking from the “global food system” dominated by corporations headquartered in more industrialized nations and a return to domestic foodways and food supplies—while consumers, especially in more affluent countries, have begun to seek out “local”, “traditional”, and/or “heritage” foods. Discourses such as these suggest that “the countryside”—whether specified or categorical, whether domestic or foreign—is an enduring locus of foods that are more authentic and more secure, even if such foods, as well as the countryside sustaining them, are under threat of disappearance. Ironically, such discourses also perpetuate the divide between urban dwellers and rural foods (which by definition are practically accessible only to city folk of discerning tastes and exceptional means). But as Williams warned us nearly forty years ago, a romanticized countryside may be a powerful heuristic tool in the critique of the city, but it ultimately fails to expose deeper historical dynamics whereby the country and the city have actually been produced and reproduced in relation to, and interrelation with, one another. Again, the same may be said of the country, the city, and food. Whether “good” or “bad”, whether “industrial” or “artisanal”, whether “local” or “foreign”, whether “urban” or “rural”, the foods eaten around the world today have all been shaped by, and have in turn shaped, historical processes that have dramatically transformed the country, the city, and the relationship between the two.

Revised papers will be submitted to an English-language press in the form of a volume edited by the symposium organizers.

Dia 7 de Novembro

10 h –13 h

Abertura (Director do Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa)
José Manuel Sobral, Nuno Domingos e Harry West - Food and Foodways in the Country and the City

Emma-Jayne Abbots
Post Doctoral Research Associate
SOAS Food Studies Centre

  • Sourcing ‘Good’ Food in the City:
    Discourse, Practice and Class in the Southern Ecuadorian Andes

In the Southern Ecuadorian region of el Austro, the feminized image of the Chola Cuencana peasant embodies small-scale rural food production. Originating in the surrounding countryside, but ever present in the city’s markets, she is associated with authentic traditional foodways and local produce, and is a key figure, as both rural producer and urban purveyor, in the privileged classes’ constructions of ‘good’ food.  Yet, while they discursively valorize romanticized images of the Chola and local produce, members of the privileged classes are reluctant to engage with ‘real-life’, lower-class Cholas and, often citing safety concerns, consistently obtain their food from supermarkets and large-scale producers which have the wherewithal to acquire organic certification. As a result, distinct class-based food spaces are established within the city and social distance between the ‘urban’ and the ‘rural’ is maintained. Thus, by highlighting the disparity between discourse and practice and the salience of local class relations, I suggest that, while it may seem that the ‘good food movement’ provides the stimulus for small-scale production, the key actors in this movement are continuing to support industrial agriculture. I conclude by outlining the peasantry’s response and reflect upon how notions of the city and countryside play into constructions of ‘good’ food in this context. (206)

Dulce Freire & Monica Truninger
Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa

  • Feeding the city with another Mediterranean: the construction of fruit quality and taste in 20th century Portugal

Contrary to the British case, Portugal has long been associated with a ‘rural’ society. In fact, until the 60s the majority of the population lived in the countryside and the main contribution to the GDP came from agriculture. After the 60s, a trend towards urbanization and intensification of fluxes of people and foods between country and city was more apparent, and after the accession of Portugal to the EU in 1986 this urbanization trajectory became definitely established. Some Portuguese scholars (Carmo, 2007) argue that nowadays a process of urbanization of the countryside is observed, rendering spurious a rhetoric around the urban-rural divide (revisiting Raymond Williams’ argument). Yet, in this paper we will show another story: how an imperceptible trend towards urbanization was already in motion since the 19th century. By focusing on the case of fruit quality construction and fruit taste acquisition in Portugal, this paper tries to unpack the historical dynamics between the country and the city and its interrelationships, which challenge a romanticized image of Portugal as a ‘rural’ society (a recurrent idea encapsulated in present popular discourses about the re-invention of Portuguese food traditions and cultures). Since the 19th century that agro-food policies promoted a strategy of fruit quality linked to images of modernization, which co-evolved with the urbanization of tastes. In this sense, a strong investment was made to export fruit from the countryside that fitted international urban tastes (excellent appearance, use of foreign fruit varieties, uniform size and shape). Thus, fruit from a Mediterranean country, yet detached from traditional Mediterranean products – e.g. rain fed crops like vineyards, wheat, olive groves and fig trees, after Braudel (1949) definition of the ‘true Mediterranean’) – was channeled to foreign markets and linking the Portuguese countryside with urban cities (adapting the fruit to international and cosmopolitan tastes, and therefore, feeding the city with another Mediterranean). Moreover, these agricultural policies around quality marketing standards were not so rigidly enforced in the fruit sector for the domestic market. Some of the fruit was going not only to international cities, but also, and especially during the New State regime (1933-1974), to the domestic market to feed urban tastes (e.g. as in the case of the Oeste fruit region feeding the city of Lisbon). Thus, by looking at the case of fruit, this paper tries to understand how the models of modernization fore grounded in agricultural policies, that organized the fruit sector of 20th century Portugal, have shaped the configurations of city-urban relationships. In this analysis we will pay special attention to three main tensions: export market and food sovereignty; monoculture and production diversity; construction of rural and urban tastes (images of fruit connected to health/nutrition discourses or fruit seen as a positional good (Hirsch, 1976) attached to status, class and distinction)). (456)

15-18 h

Jakob A. Klein
Lecturer in Anthropology
SOAS Food Studies Centre

  • Re-imagining the country and the city through agro-tourism in Southwest China

Since the late 1990s day trips and weekend excursions to nearby villages have become popular among urban residents of Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan Province. Food plays a central part in these trips. Villagers, often with the backing of government officials, have opened up their farms to tourists and set up facilities and services that allow visitors to enjoy ‘farmhouse cooking’ (nongjia cai), pick their own vegetables and fruit, or even catch fish from purpose-built ponds. Often these trips are combined with visits to periodic rural markets, where urbanites seek to stock up on foods grown, raised and sold ‘by farmers themselves’. This paper examines Kunming’s agro-tourism, primarily from the perspective of urban residents. Drawing on fieldwork carried out between 2006 and 2009, it explores the ways in which agro-tourists experience and talk about ‘the countryside’ (nongcun) and ‘farmers/peasants’ (nongmin) through food. It asks whether these visits are contributing to a possible re-imagining of what it means to be ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ in a Chinese context, where Maoist policies entrenched a strict rural-urban divide, a divide which in the reform era on the one hand has been blurred through increased mobility, but on the other hand has been reinforced by uneven patterns of development. Through food, agro-tourists imagine the countryside as a site of purity, health and taste, in contrast to the city, imagined as a site of pollution, disease and risk. How do they reconcile this with other prevailing representations, in which the ‘advanced’ (xianjin) city is contrasted to a dirty, poor, corrupt and culturally ‘backward’ countryside?

Elizabeth Hull
LCIRAH Post-Doctoral Fellow
SOAS Food Studies Centre

  • Bringing the city to the country? Supermarket expansion and changing foodways in rural South Africa

Since the mid-1990s, supermarket expansion in South Africa has been rapid in both urban and rural settings, a process widely understood to signify a shift from ‘traditional’ markets to ‘modern’ retail. A sizeable literature has emerged to examine both the dietary implications of this transformation, and its impact on the livelihoods of local farmers. Yet supermarkets have had other less documented effects. They have contributed to the growth of small towns and intensified patterns of movement to and from towns. They have influenced the rhythms of daily life, linking rural and urban areas not only by increased flows of goods, but by the activities of shoppers and the changing visual landscape. Paradoxically, they provide choice to consumers, while at the same time homogenizing the food consumed in rural and urban households. This paper will explore whether and in what ways supermarkets disrupt the perceived rural/urban divide by seemingly bringing them closer together. Do supermarkets enable what Achille Mbembe called a ‘performance of worldliness’, as rural residents incorporate, and via the mediums of consumption and shopping, the symbols of ‘modernity’ and urban lifestyle? How do supermarkets in rural KwaZulu-Natal influence not only diet, but also food preparation, expectations about the function and taste of food, the aesthetic interior of the home and the temporal and spatial patterns of every day life?

Johan Pottier
Professor of Anthropology
SOAS Food Studies Centre

  • Food Security in Lilongwe and Kampala

My paper explores themes related to food (in)security in Sub-Saharan cities, based on ethnographic research in Lilongwe (Malawi) and Kampala (Uganda).
Themes will include: livelihood diversity, survival strategies and diet; urban food supply routes and seasonality; urban agriculture; and the dynamic nature of urban-rural social networks. For each city, data will be presented on one poor and one middle-class neighbourhood. There will also be an emphasis on methodology. (75)

Discussão - Debate

Dia 8

10-13 h

Nuno Domingos
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa
Post-Doctoral Research Associate
SOAS Food Studies Centre

  • Wine Narratives in Alentejo

This paper explores the construction of "wine narratives" in the Alentejo region, south of Portugal. My main idea is to compare different ways of imagining a particular region, its landscape and the social and historical relations between them. On the one hand, I study the way state institutions dealing with tourism and regional production and industrial winemakers create an image of the region mostly based on an economic project that explores emotions of an a idealized countryside directed to middle-class urban consumers. On the other hand, I try to compare this perspective with the narratives on wine made by the local working class consumers in Alentejo. (106)

José Manuel Sobral
Investigador Principal
Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa

  • Country, Nationalism and Authenticity: Representations of the Countryside and the Construction of a Portuguese Cuisine (XIX-XXI centuries)

Until late nineteenth-century there was no idea of a national cuisine in Portugal. Like in other places, French cuisine, closely linked with upper-classes consumption, dominated. Then, embedded in a rising tide of cultural, political and economic nationalism, there was a sustained effort to construct a national cuisine, which was linked with regional roots in the countryside.  We can find an example of the representations connected with that in the novel The City and the Mountains, written by the most influential Portuguese writer of the time, Eça de Queirós. There he contrasted the sophisticated cuisine of Paris with the simple one of a small hamlet in northern Portugal, asserting the superiority of the later. This representation was part of a more widespread discourse, identifying so-called national essences and traditions with the countryside and the peasantry, particularly influential during the nationalist dictatorship of the Estado Novo (1933-1974). Drawing in ethnography and historical research I offer a synthesis of the development of a Portuguese national cuisine, showing how representations of national authenticity linked to the countryside have persisted until the present, when most of people have been living in cities for a long time. I’ll try to offer some explanation for this persistence searching not only for its connections with past ideologies but with current trends exalting locality and rural traditions. (218)

Harry G. West
Professor of Anthropology
SOAS Food Studies Centre
Hw16@soas.ac.u k

  • Bringing it All Back Home:
    Reconnecting Rural-to-Urban Migrants with Heritage Foods through Culinary Tourism in the Auvergne, France

Throughout the twentieth century, out-migration from the Auvergne to cities near and far has left rural communities “incomplete.” While production of “prodiuts de terroir” remains robust in the region, local residents alone do not afford a large enough market for producers. This paper looks at the use of heritage tourism by one St. Nectaire cheese producer in his attempts to “reconnect” producers with consumers and to sustain a “living tradition” of artisan food production. The paper discusses the effects of such initiatives on the lived experience of “community” both on the part of this St.Nectaire producer and his fellow residents as well as those who visit his farm, restaurant and museum.


Vasco Valladares Teixeira
Professor, Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias,

  • Food and Foodways: changing between the countryside and the city in Fundão (Portugal)

This essay, based on intensive fieldwork, intends to explore the changing relationships and reciprocal influences between foodways classified as traditional and the restaurants, which are now intent on objectifying and codifying these local practices into a rurally based regional cuisine in Fundão (central Portugal).

Sami Zubaida
Emeritus Professor
Birkbeck College, University of London
Professorial Research Associate
SOAS Food Studies Centre
S.Zubaida@bbk.ac.u k

  • Literary Representations of Food between City and Country

On the eve of modernity and urbanization, in both Europe and the Middle East, the country and rural folk held particular fascination and concern for engaged urban intellectuals. Representations of the peasantry, their diet and their food production, expressed those concerns, with images ranging from romantic idylls to brutalizing poverty and the pains of unsettling socio-economic transformations. The paper will examine selected literary themes from such narratives as Lark Rise to Candelford and Emile Zola's novels, particularly The Belly of Paris. For comparison I shall consider Egyptian and Iraqi portrayal of peasants and food in relation to the city. Rousseau's reflections on the purity and simplicity of the rural natural idyll form a backdrop to those themes. These reflections also underlined the gastronomic transformations seeking purity, simplicity and wholeness of food, as against sophisticated complexity and pretence of urban civilization.

Discussão - Debate

Conclusões - Conclusions Harry West, Nuno Domingos, José Manuel Sobral

Contact email: hw16@soas.ac.uk