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From duty to pleasure in the cookbooks of communist Bulgaria

Attitudes to food in the culinary literature for domestic cooking released by the state-run publishers between 1949 and 1989

ABSTRACT
This article examines how ideology influenced the home cooking literature in communist Bulgaria. It traces the evolution of discourses related to taste and pleasure from food and cooking in state-published cookbooks between 1949 and 1989. Evaluating the fluctuation through the decades, it argues that “futurism,” to which food was a means to convey political and social agendas, prevailed until the end of the 1970s. Taking pleasure in eating and cooking was only legitimized in the 1980s. The analysis suggests that while Bulgarian cookery literature fully accepted the futurist ideology ofz the USSR, it made little use of the Soviet “Socialist Realism gastronomy,” which saw food as a source of pleasure and  cooking as “excellent respite from work”.

When in 1984 violoncello player Peter Saraliev published his Cookbook for Men, Sofia had come a long way since the terror of the early communist years and was experiencing the resonance of Soviet Perestroika. The sorrows of the past quite forgotten, Bulgaria had undergone a rocky industrialization and the swelling urban population was living the uneventful, shabby life of state-socialist modernity. One of the pillars of this modernity was meant to be gender equality. Yet Saraliev’s cookbook was the first in the entire history of Bulgaria to target male readership. In fact, his book broke ground in more ways than one. In the era of nutritionists, it was authored by a hobby-gastronomer. Untypically, it presented cooking as an art and as a source of pleasure. It even rebelliously denounced canteen food, which had been promoted in the country ever since 1944, and stated that cooking was “indeed an art” requiring “a lot of creativity, talent, and imagination” (Saraliev 1984, 5). Indeed, just a few years earlier cookbooks such as his would have been deemed ideologically heretical. Its attitude to food had little to do with the nearly militant nutritionism1 of the previous decades, which filled cookbooks with chemical formulae, Engels’ views on proteins, and the presentation of home cooking as wasteful, unnecessary, and obsolete.

Read the full article, published in Food, Culture & Society,

or contact me for an AM copy