R. Fotiadis u.a. (Hrsg.): Brotherhood and Unity at the Kitchen Table. Food in Socialist Yugoslavia

Brotherhood and Unity at the Kitchen Table. Food in Socialist Yugoslavia

Fotiadis, Ruža; Ivanović, Vladimir; Vučetić, Radina
Zagreb 2019: Srednja Europa
Anzahl Seiten
273 S.
kn 168.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Nancy Nilgen, Forschungsbereich Kultur- und Gesellschaftsgeschichte, Universität Leipzig

Although food history has become increasingly established as a research field, there are still many remaining gaps in its content. Recently, a particular focus was placed on research into the foodways of eastern and south-eastern Europe during the Soviet and Post-Soviet eras.[1] The edited volume Brotherhood and Unity at the Kitchen Table: Food in Socialist Yugoslavia, on the subject of foodways in socialist Yugoslavia, adds to these studies. The editors of the book, Ruža Fotiadis, Vladimir Ivanović, and Radina Vučetić, all historians of south-eastern Europe, begin with a plea for the discipline of food history, arguing that the analysis of culinary practices is an effective way of addressing current debates about identity, belonging, and cultural heritage. Since basic terms such as food, food studies, and food history are explained here, the introduction renders the book not only suitable for food historians but also for readers who are not yet familiar with the research field in detail. These fundamental explanations are followed by a review of the current state of research on foodways in socialist and postsocialist Yugoslavia.

The individual contributions are well-coordinated and often complement each other thematically, despite their variation in focus. Corresponding to the book’s theme, the editors structured the table of content like a restaurant menu. The introductory “Starter” is followed by a short “Appetizer”, prepared by the historian Hannes Grandits. He provides information about the origin of this book project, which goes back to the research network “Changing Representations of Socialist Yugoslavia” between Humboldt University in Berlin and the Universities of Belgrade and Sarajevo.[2]

The “Main Courses”, and thus the empirical part of the volume, comprises twelve contributions. The first is written by co-editor Ruža Fotiadis and focuses on cookbooks and gastronomic literature, which have become classics among the sources in food history. The chapter provides initial indications of the ideological shaping of eating habits which, among other things, shows the attempt to develop a sense of national unity through the creation of a Yugoslav national cuisine.

An unavoidable subject when approaching foodways in socialist countries is community catering through canteens, on which there is a steadily growing number of studies from former socialist countries that may allow promising comparative studies in the future. This previous research is complemented by the two contributions on Yugoslavia’s community kitchens by Igor Duda and Rory Archer and Goran Musić. While Duda looks at the development of canteens during the first five-year plan, Archer and Musić investigate the topic in late socialist Yugoslavia. Both chapters provide exciting insights into the different stages of Yugoslavia’s history, with community catering reflecting economic markers as well as respective social discourses. They come to the same conclusion: Reality was often far behind the promised utopia.

The “Meat Dishes” section includes contributions on the history of the kranjska sausage by Jernej Mlekuž and the ćevapi by Slavojka Beštić-Bronza and Boro Bronza. By analyzing the reception of these famous dishes, these chapters tackle questions regarding identity and belonging, and how both categories changed over time, more strongly than the previous chapters.

The “International Dishes” section is primarily concerned with food in the context of culinary transfers. Vladimir Ivanović analyses the emergence of Yugoslav restaurants and the perception and integration of Yugoslav cuisine in West Germany that followed the migration of so-called guest workers. Complementing this, Francesca Rolandi investigates the effects of a culinary transfer in the other direction. The introduction of Italian cuisine in the neighboring Yugoslavian countries and the associated changes in eating habits saw Italian recipes in cookbooks, Italian ingredients on grocery shelves, and the opening of Italian pizzerias becoming part of the local foodways. With this, Rolandi complements studies focusing on the global expansion of the Italian national cuisine by adding the novel case of a socialist country.

Nemanja Radonjić explores the (re)production of a specific image of different national cuisines in great detail and analyses a 1979 travel report in the Chicago Tribune, in which Yugoslav cooks were described as “earthy” in comparison to the agents of the “elegant French kitchen” (p. 177). The author focuses on the inability to create a domestic Yugoslav cuisine in favor of building an identity in the sense of the maxim “Brotherhood and Unity”. Since the question of the legitimacy of the Tito regime can also be raised here, these research results call for a comparative study with other former socialist states.

Radina Vučetić's contribution differs from most of the others as she concentrates on the period after dissolution. She examines the transformation phase and the ambivalent developments regarding the acceptance of American culture presented by the so-called “McDonaldization”. She contextualizes her findings with global social controversies and the (re)construction of national identities.

Ana Kladnik’s chapter is listed under the category of “Desserts”, but thematically it follows the previous papers on culinary transfers and migration. The author focuses on Dobri Dol, known as the Sweet Village, and its Albanian confectioners who migrated mainly from Macedonia to Slovenia. As a minority, these educated and experienced confectioners were exposed to a wide range of restrictions and yet managed to prevail and helped shape local foodways. With her study, Ana Kladnik aims to break with the stereotype of unskilled labor migrants from the south of Yugoslavia.

The last two contributions are dedicated to culinary memories. Ildiko Erdei analyses the sensual aspect of food by asking members of different generations about their memories of the smell, taste, color, and texture of food and what they connect with it. From this, she draws conclusions about economic, political, and social changes resulting from industrialization and consumerism. The final chapter is not an academic but rather a literary journey by the Serbian writer Vladimir Arsenijević in which he links his memories of canned ready meals, as well as his mother’s cooking, with developments and discourses in Yugoslavia. This last contribution subtly takes up many of the key issues of the book once again and is therefore a very elegant closing.

As a relatively young discipline, food history must no longer hide behind other fields of social and historical studies. The discipline has proven for some time now its valuable contributions to historiography. This applies particularly to research on the former Eastern Bloc countries. After the end of socialism, scholars initially concentrated on political and economic history from above, ignoring the history of everyday life, which finally changed at the end of the 1990s when the focus shifted to the history of consumption. Although foodways were also taken into consideration, the main focus was on shortages and community catering. While these topics are, of course, important, the eating habits in former socialist countries should not be reduced to shortages but considered in a more complex manner. This volume is a relevant addition to this field of research. Nevertheless, it is a shame that some traditional topics of food history, such as food and gender, body image, or health policies, are mentioned only briefly, and comparative and entangled perspectives on other Eastern Bloc countries do not find adequate space. This is not so much a criticism as an invitation to continue to research the foodways of former Yugoslavia and its constituent states in more detail.

[1] Stephen K. Wegren / Alexander Nikulin / Irina Trotsuk (eds.), Russia’s Food Revolution. The Transformation of the Food System, Abingdon 2021; Albena Shkodrova / Peter Scholliers / Yves Segers (eds.), Food and History (Vol 18). Food and Drink in Communist Europe, Turnhout 2020; Anastasia Lakhtikova / Angela Brintlinger / Irina Glushchenko (eds.), Seasoned Socialism. Gender and Food in Late Soviet Everyday Life, Bloomington 2019.
[2] Project “Changing Representations of Socialist Yugoslavia”, 2015, https://fis.hu-berlin.de/converis/portal/detail/Project/401313981;jsessionid=a10aa1612753b301787f1dd6f5fa?auxfun=share&lang=en_GBn_GB (06.08.2022).

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