Hungry and thirsty: the role of food and the senses in Spanish identity, 1750 - 1850
Forrest, Beth Marie
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Nineteenth-century, Europeans experienced the rise of gastronomy alongside the rise of the modern nation-state. These two concepts were tied together inextricably by the intense consideration of national cuisines. Thus, the topic of food -- the judgment of food -- embedded and extended social commentary of the "other." Sensorial experience contributed to discourse, which expressed not only an awareness of aesthetics (traceable to the palate) but also a reflective characterization of those who ate the food. For England and the United States, the nineteenth-century witnessed moments of unrivaled power while the once-global power, Spain, was economically and politically anemic. Food becomes the axis point of three converging spectra: the senses which inform the individual with external environments and nationalism as discourse that creates understanding of the world; internal and external identities, meaning diet as tied to one's constitution and national cuisines reflecting culture; and the role of the historical memory in creating the political imagination. Through these concepts, the individual body and the body politic would be the material understanding of conceptual ideas. Eating is unique as the only act that employs all of the senses. Boundaries are crossed, and the individual becomes part of the collective. With these reoccurring themes, I argue that the boundaries of the past, of geography, and the body become ways a perceived knowledge and truth about Spain was created. By using a range of sources, which include material culture, cookbooks, and travelogues, and by paying particular attention to how sensorial experiences are portrayed, we can better understand the prominent connection of food and power. Spain's unique position -- of having 700 years of Islamic occupation and a failed empire from the "Spanish decadence" -- allowed the Spanish to consider who they were as a nation and for outsiders to reify the stagnate status of Spain, supported by economic and political evidence. By portraying Spain as romantic and savage, but also impotent, nineteenth-century English and American writers limited its cultural identity as inert and unprogressive; Spain's limited food supply and cuisine – good or bad –reflected a national character of stunted development that was circulated, reinterpreted and translated.