MEPHISTOPHELES: Now, give me of your taste some intimation.
FROSCH: How do you mean? Have you so many kinds?
MEPHISTOPHELES: The choice is free: make up your minds.
Goethe, Faust I. Auerbach’s Cellar
As long as I can think, I have wanted to cook. Some of my earliest childhood memories are me lingering around the kitchen of our one family house in Northern Germany – incidentally the kitchen pictured in this photo of me about to carve the Christmas turkey some 25 years later.
But the two things that really got me into food are America and academia. In my biography, those are closely tied together, because I came to the States to pursue my PhD. In fact, I am wrapping up my dissertation as we speak. In case you’re curious, I study Soviet literary journals, cultural consumption and the subversive potentials of aesthetic taste under socialism. And then there’s a side project on Central European queerness and national identities. Pretty obscure, huh?
Actually it’s not that obscure. And when you read my blog, you’ll notice a lot of recurring themes. Central and Eastern Europe? Most certainly. Taste? Check. National identities? So check. Subversion? Yes, please. This blog isn’t just about disrupting prejudice – like that German food is all about abundant meat or the only thing Czech people know to drink is beer (if only I could show you all the Moravian wines…).
More importantly, this blog is about how national identities are a pretty artificial concept – as are our notions of national cuisines. Yes, there are regional traditions, but then there is food that has been displaced, borrowed, inspired, exported, influenced. The shared culinary heritage of Eastern and Central Europe is not divisive, but brings us together. Exploring common taste and shared culinary passions in defiance of nationalist ideologies can be an act of subversion in the face of a new wave of nationalism, racism and xenophobia that we are witnessing today.
So why America and academia? Academia – well, you already heard my intellectual agenda. And research projects, explorations, recovering unknown and forgotten stories are my thing. Finally, moving to America gave me an outside perspective on who I am, what I eat, how I eat and how these things are inextricably linked to my identity, but also negotiable and never exclusive.
I hope I can share some of my excitement with you. I would love to hear your questions, ideas, comments. Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind!
Philip of Auerbach’s Kitchen