Accepted paper:

Measuring time and matter: women's cooking practices in Marrakech's medina


Katharina Graf (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

In Marrakech’s medina, the preparation of food relies on measurement: of foodstuffs and of time. None of these measurements rely on devices, but on a cook’s sensing body. I aim to show how cooking defies enlightenment ideas of knowledge quantification without falling back on Eurocentric binaries.

Paper long abstract:

In Marrakech's medina, the daily domestic preparation of food relies on measurement: of foodstuffs and of time. However, none of these coordinating measurements are carried out with specific devices, but through and with a cook's sensing body, in interaction with her material and social environment. A cook uses a combination of smell, taste and sight to judge the amounts of spices, herbs and salt; she relies on her fingers' touch to judge the required cooking time of meat and her hearing to evaluate the right amount of fire underneath a pot. Timed by regular calls for prayer, a cook is able to serve a dish when her husband and children return home from work and school, serving homemade leavened bread that requires not only attention to temperature, rising time and combinations of different types of wheat, but also to the opening times of the nearby public oven and her own schedule of (house) work. Rather than arguing that measures are absent in Moroccan cooking, as is often done in cookbooks of Middle Eastern or African cuisines, in this paper I aim to show how women's cooking knowledge is based on a constant sensory assessment of temporalities and quantities of food and eaters through a bodily engagement with various food environments. Using ethnographic examples from lower middle income families in Marrakech's medina, I question the extent to which cooking knowledge can be disembodied and objectified in the form of recipes or even research reports.

panel P68
Made to measure: measurement, anthropology and the enlightenment