Taco Literacy Going Digital-ish & Back to Authenticity

Good to see the Taco Crew back at it again, though online. I hosted a Google Hangout session, we figured it out, made it happen, and I met with the students who could show up. They made themselves as comfortable as they could, and talking to them this way gave me some joy to start this week. I recorded the conversation via YouTube, but it is not the screen that has the students, though you can hear them when they offer their thoughts.

We were working through a shared Google Doc that has the notes for class, and back and forth to the hangout for discussion. I’m still working on how to do that better, I should have mentioned for students to work from two different screens. That’s what worked for me, but I didn’t make that clear. Still learning this stuff!

I started off class with some announcements.

  • As a way to add more discussion, and since we won’t be meeting, I’m going to ask that we use Instagram for the comments function. That means I’m going to make a weekly assignment that will be “participation” where everyone offers comments.
  • Each week, you should offer two comments on Instagram to each of your classmates. Kat offered a smart idea: you should give a comment, but also end with a question. Your classmates will be responding back to you. The hope is that these comments will lead you to answer some stuff that could be useful for your upcoming projects.
  • For the weeks left, you will have left 20 comments to your classmates. 
  • For your Instagram posts, I’m going to ask that for the last sets of 15 that you also include 5 videos. I will let you figure out the best way to do this, whether of you trying food, maybe doing some cooking or leaving a video response. If possible, tag any of your classmates who may have covered similar ideas in their posts. 

Also, I’ll be giving an online lecture for the New School, and I’ll count that as Monday’s class for next week: https://event.newschool.edu/tacoliteracy: Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 4:00PM to 6:00PM (EDT). Please register with the link above, it’s free.

In class, we read over this quote from Pilcher’s Planet Taco, from the Preface, pg. Xv

“. . . This book tells the story of how a particular idea of authentic Mexican food was invented in the global marketplace by promoters of culinary tourism in order to compete against industrial foods from the United States.”

Students responded to this via the Google doc, some smart ideas.

Anthony: Looking at how this mentions a “particular idea of authentic Mexican food” makes me think about how the use of the word “authentic” is problematic. In this situation, it seems to suggest that certain food spaces are attempting to seem “authentic” but in reality, it is only a means to “compete” and profit from having Mexican food.

Alexis: I think this suggests that, although people can get stuck on what exactly “authentic” means and how food fits into their own definition, it is in fact not a “particular idea.” Authenticity can be subjective but we want it to be objective, so calling certain food/restaurants “authentic” — which speaks to someone’s own idea of what authentic means — attracts people.

Sarah: I think that authenticity can be used to make money because a lot of people want to try the actual food of a region and not the Americanized version of it. However, I think that what we have to keep in mind is that where we are in the world plays a huge part in the “authenticity” of the food that we are eating.

Laura: Its interesting that this quote talks about a constructed/ fabricated authentic. Where a restaurant is made to look and feel aesthetically authentic to attract people to different areas.

Arianna: I think, in a way, this is good because it brings support back to the smaller mom and pop shops. However, it also emphasizes that everything is about making money. Here, these “promoters of culinary tourism” are exploiting authenticity.

Ben: Does globalization mean? We related this back to the moment we are living in with the Corona Virus, and the connected world, connected despite the rise of nationalism worldwide.

Akosua: I think the author is diving into how certain foods and attractions bring in tourist. Tourist are very important to a country’s economy. In order to keep/compete up with the US the concept of authentic Mexican food invented.Which brings the question how do you create/invent something authentic.

All this goes to show the way we have thought about “authentic” has been going through some serious re-thinking, from the sense of having a “real feeling” to how exploitation becomes a part of an economy of “tourism,” which has some problematic ways of understanding power relations and profits before people.

For more of that, there’s the above video.

To end with some notes for the upcoming assignment, a larger, self-directed literature review for the course.

Assignment 3: Looking Ahead: Get Your Taco Research Game Going

For the next assignment, I’m asking you (the Taco Crew) to do some research, to broaden your ideas about Mexican food away from experience now, and into the body of work written about it, to see what’s out there, and hopefully to find where you fit, but also where you can identify places where you can fill in gaps. 

There are a couple places to start. I always tell students to go to Google Scholar first, https://scholar.google.com/. You get a broad start, but try being a little selective with your terms. That is, if you type in “Mexican food” you’re going to get bombarded. Similar to using “tacos” when you search Google maps, you’re going to get a lot of choices. Narrow your word category to “taqueria” and things siphon down, in the case of Google maps, to the places that use Spanish. You could do the same on Google Scholar, but for our purposes you may encounter a lot of stuff in Spanish. Not bad if you are able to do bilingual research, but I want you to narrow down scholarship about Mexican food. 

Another way to do this, maybe try specific terms: “tacos al pastor immigration” to really narrow things down. A formula for this: specific Mexican food + term related to social inquiry. By that last part, I used “immigration” but you could also type in “gender dynamics” or “racism” or “social class” or even more specific, “anti-immigrant language policies.” I don’t mean to be reductive at all, but giving your search term for a food or theme, say “tortillas” and adding one of these three terms, race, class, gender. Those three axes of inquiry will help to find scholarship that applies a social lens to interpreting your topic. Also, try a few different ideas, say with tamales, corn, Mexican food, or a variety of terms. The different searches will yield different results.  

You’ll notice, you’ll have things that pop up, some that may be useful, but some you may have to do more searching for. I also ask that you hit up JSTOR on the Library Databases, which you can find here: http://campusguides.stjohns.edu/az.php

Through there, you’ll encounter cool journals, like Gastronomica that will help with your research. Check out the title of this article that popped up on JSTOR for me when I did a search for “Mexican food authenticity”: Dirty, Authentic…Delicious”: Yelp, Mexican Restaurants, and the Appetites of Philadelphia’s New Middle Class. The quick discussion about Yelp in class was interesting: I’m learning more about that. Maybe a good project! How would it relate to the culinary tourism industry?

So class one online is in the books, Thursday next session. I’m going to be there, so tune in for the recorded version later.

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