Accepted Paper:

"How do you survive without porridge?": culinary mereology in western Kenya and in Claude Lévi-Strauss' Mythologica  

Author:

Mario Schmidt (Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores mereological similarities between the preparation and consumption of food and the enactment of social relations in Western Kenya. This exploration of culinary and social part-whole relations will lead to a fresh perspective on Lévi-Strauss analysis of food in Amerindian myths.

Paper long abstract:

The paper analyzes the preparations and consumption of a Western Kenyan dish from a mereological perspective. It will become clear that cooking and eating kuon anang'a gi aliya ("maize porridge with dried meat") is considered "necessary" by Dholuo speaking inhabitants of the small Kenyan market town Kaleko (Jokaleko) not merely because they "like" the dish, but because the mereological problems that are solved by preparing and eating it are similar to the problems Jokaleko have to solve while establishing and maintaining social relations. Both culinary and social actions are enacted as mereological ones and revolve around and offer answers to the questions "how many?" and "who is a part of which whole?"

By thus shifting the main focus of an anthropology of food from rather qualitative questions scrutinizing the specific taste (bitter, sour, sweet etc.) or color of food to mereological questions, a new perspective on Lévi-Strauss' contribution to a comparative anthropology of food will emerge. This new perspective (1) does justice to the multiple references to mereology in Lévi-Strauss Mythologica and (2) prepares the ground for an exploration of the latter's relation to Marcel Mauss' unfinished and largely ignored work on the categorical affinities between quantity, substance, subsistence and food.

Panel P103
From nature to culture? Lévi-Strauss' legacy and the study of contemporary foodways