Food and Drink

“All from my cup of tea”: International Tea Day

Sarah Ives, author of the new book Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea, brings us a guest blog post for International Tea Day.

“And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea.”Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time


In his early twentieth-century novel In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust describes the “all-powerful joy” that a sip of tea invokes. The joy stems not from the tea’s flavor, but from something transcendent that arises during the act of consumption. The smell and taste of the tea—and the madeleine cookie that accompanies it—transport him to another time and bring memories to life: flowers in a garden, people in a village, a parish church.

December 15 marks International Tea Day. In his iconic reflection, Proust focuses on the experience of drinking tea. International Tea Day, however, has a different goal. The “holiday” dates to 2005, when tea-producing communities around the world joined together to draw attention to the intimate, material experiences of producing tea in a global commodity chain.

In A Time for Tea (2001), Piya Chatterjee writes that the history of tea’s commodity chain is the history of the domestication of the exotic. To seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European and American consumers, tea was an alluring commodity: Its storied origins evoked landscapes of the new and mysterious. This sense of distance from the familiar, however, gradually transformed into the quotidian ritual of teatime, reflecting a quintessentially “English” definition of civility and taste. Chatterjee asserts that hidden in this shift from the “strange” to the “familiar” is the very history of empire: “the mappings of exoticism, the continuous struggles over symbol and sign, and the cultural cartographies of conquest.”

978-0-8223-6993-6In Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea, I explore these struggles through the story of one tea-growing community. Rooibos is an indigenous plant that grows only in a small part of South Africa’s Western and Northern Cape provinces. Marketers describe rooibos as a “miracle” beverage that will supposedly help people lose weight and control diabetes; it will promote longevity, make skin more youthful, cure acne, prevent cancer and Parkinson’s disease, guard vision, protect the liver, improve male fertility, soothe colicky babies, promote sleep and relaxation, provide comfort, and on and on. These depictions, however, are more than marketing flourish. Residents of the growing region also describe a “rooibos miracle.” Some even call the tea “Mandela-like,” imbued with charismatic qualities that will heal the unhealthy body, the racially divided nation, and the depleted land.

A tea executive I interviewed described the benefits of rooibos beyond its healthful properties: “What’s interesting is that in tough times, people drink more tea. It’s cheap. It makes people feel comfortable. Tea and makeup, both those things go up. . . . Tea makes people feel good.” The world’s largest flavor company, Givaudan, selected rooibos as one of the flavors “to watch” in its annual forecast, and concoctions such as Vanilla Rooibos Lattes regularly feature in the United States as Starbucks’ “Drink of the Day.” Marketing portrayals of South Africa skip from ancient history to the immediate present and future, from South Africa as a primitive land to the country as a “place to watch.”

While this marketing is reminiscent of Proust’s “all-powerful joy,” the narrative negates years of colonial violence, apartheid-era dispossessions, and continuing inequality. As the executive said, rooibos simply “makes people feel good.” Despite the redemptive and celebratory tales of rooibos’s natural and indigenous healing power, the tea grows in a precarious place. Focusing on transcendent—even romantic—stories of consumption can lead to multiple erasures: The tea-growing region is a social and ecological landscape in which many inhabitants face uncertain futures, livelihoods, and claims to belonging. Yet the tea stories woven into marketing narratives require a production of locality—a natural, indigenous, exotic locality that is either unpeopled (the African wilderness) or populated only by “natives,” portrayed in these tales as a natural part of that wilderness and not fully or securely human.

International Tea Day asks consumers to rethink this narrative. The story of rooibos is not just about the tea or the plant but about how people claim their belonging in relation to an uncertain political, economic, and ecological future. By exploring the ironies and surprises that surround the plant/commodity, Steeped in Heritage looks at how people envision themselves as attached to places and how those attachments play out in fierce contestations over nature, race, and heritage in a land where climatic shifts are pushing the indigenous ecosystem southward.

As you sip a cup on International Tea Day, consider what the experience conjures in you. Maybe, like Proust, you find that the warm, aromatic flavors bring to life intimate memories from your past. But trace the tea’s production beyond the cafe and contemplate how the production of tea—whether in South Africa, India, China, or elsewhere—carries its own stories, stories that weave together violent dispossessions of colonialism and its aftermath with concerns about precarious economic and environmental futures. Like the joy invoked by Proust, producing tea can include narratives of intimate, affective belonging to ecosystems and loving relations with place. Acknowledging the realities of the violence behind these idyllic images, however, can lead to more complex understandings of tea growers’ persistent attachments to the plants they cultivate.

Pick up Steeped in Heritage for 30% off using coupon code E17IVES on

French Historical Studies publishes special issue on the history of food in France

FHS_36-2_covWhat could be better than France and food? The special issue editors of “Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History,” Erica J. Peters and Bertram Gordon, are proud to publish this issue of French Historical Studies attesting to the growth of interest in food history. In this guest post, they give an overview of the topics selected.

In the last generation, food history has gained increased attention on the part of researchers and the general public. The Food History News website currently lists fifteen culinary history organizations in the United States, Canada, and Australia and some twenty-two academic periodicals are devoted to food studies. The five articles published in the FHS special issue offer a broad range of social and cultural insights into the development of French gastronomy ranging chronologically from the introduction of coffee into seventeenth-century France to the black market restaurants in Paris during the Second World War.

Acquiring a new taste for coffee, seventeenth century consumers willfully ignored the slavery that helped produce it. The new beverage also fueled images of sexuality onto exoticized harems as Julia Landweber shows in “‘This Marvelous Bean’: Adopting Coffee into Old Regime French Culture and Diet.” In his “La construction de la renommée des produits des terroirs, Acteurs et enjeux d’un marché de la gourmandise en France (XVIIe-début XIXe siècle),” Philippe Meyzie demonstrates how the promotion of terroir in the eighteenth century ties into issues of social status among an aspiring middle class in France.

Two articles focus on the social dimensions of food in turn of the twentieth century France. Martin Bruegel‘s “Workers’ Lunch Away From Home in the Paris of the Belle Époque: The French Model of Meals as Norm and Practice” shows the gap between a popularly imagined “repas normal,” or standard meal, and the reality of the more meager lunches of the working class French, while Patricia Tilburg makes a parallel case for the midinettes, working women who survived on street food for lunch. As with the “repas normal” and the reality of workers’ lunches, the popular image of the midinettes as carefree, happy-go-lucky, and indifferent to food was very far from the reality. Kenneth Mouré‘s, “La capitale de la faim: Black Market Restaurants in Paris 1940-1944,” demonstrates that access to Paris’s most exclusive restaurants became a trophy first seized by German forces in 1940 and then claimed by the Americans in 1944.

The special issue of French Historical Studies attests to academic interest in food history while opening new vistas into French history.

Check out the full issue here. To subscribe to French Historical Studies, visit

Celebrating TSQ at the Berkshire Conference, Toronto, May 2014

We were so excited to welcome TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly with an official launch at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in Toronto last week. The inaugural double issue, "Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a 21st Century Transgender Studies," features nearly ninety keyword contributions that "showcase the breadth and complexity of the field." You can subscribe to the journal here.

IMG_3360Editors Paisley Currah and Susan Stryker, along with editorial board membors A. Finn Enke and Frank Galarte, participated in a roundtable on TSQ that included information about the initial conception of the journal, current calls for papers, ideas for special issues in the future, the necessity (and difficulty) of the book review section, and how fashion would be an exciting part of the journal with Frank Gallarte acting as the Fashion Editor. It was thrilling to have an engaged audience participating in the conversation surrounding the bright future of the journal.

Following the roundtable, we had an official launch reception for TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly in the beautiful Croft Chapter House. We were happy to toast the journal with so many interested scholars, contributors, fans of the field, and conference organizers!The temporary tattoos we gave away with the TSQ asterisk were a big hit and it was fun to see so many attendees rocking the tattoos for the rest of the conference.

Check out the photos below for some highlights from the official launch. We hope that everyone will continue to contribute to the conversation on social media using the #TSQjournal hashtag.

Congratulations, TSQ!

TSQ Roundtable

From left to right: Book Review Editor A. Finn Enke, co-Editor Paisley Currah, co-Editor Susan Stryker, moderator Elspeth Brown, and (joining the roundtable via Skype) Fashion Editor Frank Galarte
TSQ Roundtable Audience

Much of the roundtable was facilitated by enthusiastic questions from attendees. It was also enjoyable to follow the thoughts of those who were live-tweeting.
TSQ Reception

The recption, held in Croft Chapter House, included food, drinks, temporary tattoos, and a lot of great conversation (all the necessary items to make a good party!).






Susan and Paisley at the TSQ Reception

Co-editors Susan Stryker (L) and Paisley Currah (R) address the reception attendees.

Celebrate Mardi Gras with our Journals

Maybe Mardi Gras isn't celebrated in your city, but who says you can't get into the spirit? Duke University Press has published many journal articles on Mardi Gras, and we've made these two freely available for the holiday—so don your beads and mask, cut a slice of king cake, and dive into these articles.*

B2_logoOutline_k_web"Spenser and Milton at Mardi Gras: English Literature, American Cultural Capital, and the Reformation of New Orleans Carnival" by Richard Rambuss in boundary 2 (27:2)

Read an excerpt:

Milton may be far from mind when one now thinks of or, better, experiences what is advertised as the world's greatest free party. Yet, as we have begun to consider, a rather detailed, even learned usage of literature—particularly English Renaissance and classical literature—played a structuring role in Comus's endeavor to appropriate and dignify the residual Latin traditions of Carnival. Propounding a caste status for its founders that was then more an aspiration than an actuality, a commemorative booklet issue by the Mistick Krewe in 1947 thus explains that 'as the members of Comus were socially important this meant that their celebration of Mardi Gras was orderly, educational and cultural.' (pages 49-50)

For more of "Spenser and Milton at Mardi Gras," click here.


GLQ_black_web"Mardi Gras Tourism and the Construction of Sydney as an International Gay and Lesbian City" by Kevin Markwell in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (8:1-2)

Read an excerpt:

Mardi Gras attracts many domestic and international tourists to Sydney during February, and their numbers peak just prior to the parade and party at the end of the festival. The festival, parade, and party are major events on Australia’s tourism calendar. There is a strong representation from countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and France, as well as increasing numbers of tourists from Southeast Asia, and Mardi Gras packages are advertised in the gay and lesbian press in European and North American countries. While approximately 15 percent of the eighty events at the festival are free, many of the most popular ones require tickets… Full participation in the festival is an expensive undertaking, especially when coupled with the costs of outfits; body treatments such as waxing, tanning, gym training, hairstyling, and party drugs; and, for tourists, accommodation and transportation costs. Many people are willing, however, to spend large sums because Mardi Gras becomes for them the major yearly event that helps define their gay or lesbian identity. (page 84)

For more of "Mardi Gras Tourism," click here.


Roll With ItDon't forget to check out Matt Sakakeeny's new book Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans while you're on your Mardi Gras kick!


*If you're in a location that really celebrates Mardi Gras, don't be concerned. You can still read these articles through the end of the month. Recover from your festivities and then get to reading.

Take a Chance on the Carlyle Letters Online!


Make a donation of any size to help keep the Carlyle Letters Online openly available between now and Thursday, March 29th, for a chance to win this Carlyle-inspired basket!

Included in the basket:

-2 hardback volumes of the Carlyle Letters

-Stationery & fountain pen

-Writing journal, magnetic notepad, and desk calendar

-Yorkshire tea, tea tin, an English Tea Store mug, and a Union Jack tea towel

-Wilkin and Sons Ltd., English marmalade, Walker's shortbread biscuits, and a chocolate and toffee bar


To donate:

Click here to make a gift on a secure giving website administered by Duke University. As you complete the Web form, please confirm that "Carlyle Letters Online" is indicated under "Additional/Other Designations," and your entire donation will directly support The Carlyle Letters Online project.

Radical Foodways

RHR tumblr Today’s New York Times features an article about a school district in Greely, Colorado that is a forerunner in the back-to-scratch food movement.  Most of the school’s lunches will be prepared from scratch this year, rather than relying on packaged or frozen foods, in an effort to combat obesity and poor nutrition.

The back-to-scratch movement is just a small part of the growing “Good Food Revolution” that Americans have embraced. “Radical Foodways,” the most recent issue of Radical History Review examines this “revolution” (evidenced by best-selling books, popular movies and TV shows, local and organic agriculture initiatives, even a vegetable garden at the White House). It also looks at the foundations of the problems in our food supply, including the historical structures of colonialism, labor, regulation, memory, racial and gender inequality that persist in every bite we eat. 

Read the introduction for free here.

Social Text Book Series Launch Party @ NYU


On November 21, Duke Press and Social Text will celebrate the launch of the first two books in the Social Text Books Series at a party at the NYU Tisch School of Arts. The first two books in the series are Randy Martin’s An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management and Janet R. Jakobsen & Ann Pellegrini’s Secularisms. For more information, please visit the Social Text Party Web page.

Examining the Role of Bananas in Central American Politics

Food and the politics of food were central on Bob Edwards Weekend. Last week's broadcast included an interview with Peter Chapman, author of Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. Steve Striffler offers an ethnographic exploration of the United Fruit Company in Central America in his work In the Shadows of State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900-1995. Striffler tells the story of how Ecuadorian peasants gained, and then lost, control of the banana industry.
Striffler is also the co-editor, with Mark Moberg, of Banana Wars: Power, Production, and History in the Americas. Banana Wars
reveals how the banana industry marshaled workers of differing
nationalities, ethnicities, and languages and, in doing so, created
unprecedented potential for conflict throughout Latin America and the