Cod and the Nation: Processes of reproduction of national identifications through the Academies of Codfish in Portugal and in the Portuguese Diaspora

Cod and the Nation: Processes of reproduction of national identifications through the Academies of Codfish in Portugal and in the Portuguese Diaspora

The relationship between national identity and cuisine is a topic of research that has recently attracted attention both in the fields of the studies of food and nationalism and ethnicity. In this project we approach this topic by studying a peculiar institution: The Academies of Codfish. These organizations appeared from 1968 onwards. Both the timing of their emergence and their spatial distribution reflect aspects of recent Portuguese history. They were founded in the last moments of Portuguese colonialism and they are connected to emigration, which drove in successive an impressive number of Portuguese to several activities. Among other activities they aim to celebrate Portuguese national identity through commensality where cod takes a central role. This is understandable if the history of cod in Portugal is taken into account. Cod, for a long time a staple in popular diet in Portugal - although the poorest only rarely could afford its consumption - was converted into a symbol par excellence of Portuguese cuisine during the process of construction - or invention - of a national cuisine; this took place in a time of pervasive dominance of nationalist ideologies and policies (since the beginning of the 20th century), particularly during the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo (1933-1974). These Academies continue to maintain their activities in Portugal and among the Portuguese communities in the Diaspora, but they have not been scientifically studied up to now.

 

Estatuto: 
Proponent entity
Financed: 
Yes
Entidades: 
Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Keywords: 

Nation, Identity, Food, Cod

The relationship between national identity and cuisine is a topic of research that has recently attracted attention both in the fields of the studies of food and nationalism and ethnicity. In this project we approach this topic by studying a peculiar institution: The Academies of Codfish. These organizations appeared from 1968 onwards. Both the timing of their emergence and their spatial distribution reflect aspects of recent Portuguese history. They were founded in the last moments of Portuguese colonialism and they are connected to emigration, which drove in successive an impressive number of Portuguese to several activities. Among other activities they aim to celebrate Portuguese national identity through commensality where cod takes a central role. This is understandable if the history of cod in Portugal is taken into account. Cod, for a long time a staple in popular diet in Portugal - although the poorest only rarely could afford its consumption - was converted into a symbol par excellence of Portuguese cuisine during the process of construction - or invention - of a national cuisine; this took place in a time of pervasive dominance of nationalist ideologies and policies (since the beginning of the 20th century), particularly during the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo (1933-1974). These Academies continue to maintain their activities in Portugal and among the Portuguese communities in the Diaspora, but they have not been scientifically studied up to now.

 

Objectivos: 
The main purpose of this Project is researching the connection between food and cuisine in general, and cod in particular, as markers of national identity. Others deal with matters related o the emergence and structure of the Academies, their social composition, their programs, their activities, the kind of relations their members develop among themselves, the links with the population and States and population where they exist and the Portuguese State. We focus as well on their role in the making of community ties. We dedicate a special attention to the hypothetical role they play (and how they do it) in processes involving national identifications or "ethnic" ones among Portuguese people or of Portuguese ascendancy. This research is intended as critical contribution to a study of the links between food, nationalism, ethnicity and transnationalism. The role of food as symbol or metaphor for national identity has been already analyzed recently by a few studies, although there is a lot of research to be done. But this project brings about innovation to his research, both in theoretical and empirical and methodological terms. In theoretical terms, he intends to represent a development in the studies of food and cuisine in their connections to nationalism, because these have been mainly restrained either to the borders of a nation-sate or to migrant communities.
State of the art: 
Although research on nationalism and ethnicity and on food and cuisine has a long history, only recently the connection between them has been explored. Most of the work in this area linking food and cuisine to ethnic, religious or national identities was published in the last years (Ohnuki-Tierney 1993; Wilk 1999; Atkins & Bowler 2001: 273-274; Pilcher 2006: 63-70; Cwiertka 2006; Belasco 2008: 15-33). Also, although memory is central for the study of identity, the exploration of its role in connection to food has been rarely a concern (Sutton 2001). All these studies point to a very complex relationship between food and identity, which is variable and dependent on context (Belasco 2008). This will be particularly apparent if we look to the trans-national context of communities in the Diaspora. There we will find probably at the same time multiple national identifications, the transformation of food habits, cultural assimilation and hybridization in the new country and the rediscovery of culinary roots. As Sidney Mintz recently argued, it is through the context of migration that migrants discover themselves as "ethnics"; and their food as an "ethnic" one (Mintz 2008: 519). It has also been pointed out that the usage of food to symbolize national identity and ethnicity has clearly increased with the processes of development of human interactions, global trade and nationalism in the last two centuries (Anderson 2005: 200; Möhring 2008: 129). Then, when doing research on the Portuguese Academies abroad, we will examine the connection between food and identity, the type of articulations between foodways evocative of homeland and the new food habits acquired in the countries of residence in a multicultural context where the identification and preferences for other cuisines is available (Belasco 2008: 15-33) and the difference between ritual and everyday food. We will pay attention to the reasons that have made cod such a unique element of Portuguese cuisine and a symbol of Portuguese identity. That requires an historical overview of the development of its consumption and of Portuguese cuisine. Cod has been one of the main staples of Portuguese food since Middle Age. This fish was salted and dried, because it was fished faraway and only preservation allowed its consumption long after its capture. The Portuguese had no fresh cod available (Kurlansky 1999: 37). In Portugal as in other Christian countries the consumption of cod is linked to the religious prescriptions that forbade the ingestion of meat in specific times of the year, mainly at Lent and at the Advent (Kiple 2007: 86-87). As time went by, cod became very popular and ingrained in the food habits of the Portuguese. It is the key element of the ritual food on Christmas Eve in most of the country. It is celebrated in popular culture through jokes, songs and events like the Enterro do Bacalhau (the burial of the codfish), a ritual parody that celebrated the end of Lent and the allowance to eat meat again (Leite de Vasconcelos 1982: 225-230). If throughout the centuries cod was mainly identified as a popular foodstuff, he was gradually adopted by the upper classes during the twentieth-century and promoted to a symbol of Portuguese cuisine during the nationalist regime of the Estado Novo (1933-1974); this regime marked the final phase of the "invention of the tradition"; (Hobsbawm 1984) of a Portuguese "national" cuisine that began at the end of the 19th century (Sobral 2007, 2008). The Estado Novo seems to have contributed to the construction of cod as a symbol of Portugal and the Portuguese in another way. The arduous task of cod fishing in the Atlantic North during the 20 the century was represented as a continuation of the Portuguese navigations to America, Africa and Asia in the sixteen and seventeen centuries which established the basis for Portuguese colonial empire and are still represented as the Golden Age of Portuguese history in official narratives. The state took an active role in promoting cod fishing and nationalist representations linked to its fishing and consumption (Garrido 2004). So, the unique symbolic role of cod for the Portuguese can be compared to that of rice to the Japanese (Ohnuki-Tierney 1993), that of the tamales to the Mexicans (Pilcher 1998), or the haggis to Scots (Tyrrell et al. 2007: 46-63). But both the history of cod and its use as national symbol still need a much more rigorous historical reconstruction. We will try to make it, paying attention to the complex of cultural, social and economic factors affecting foodstuffs and cuisine as stressed in the inspiring works of Goody (1982) and Mintz (1985). The Academies of Codfish constitute a network of organisations in Portugal and in countries of the Portuguese Diaspora. Probably there are now around forty-five of them, according to the only overview available (Abel & Consiglieri 1998: 155-18). Under the ostensive invocation of cod, their main objective seems to be the maintenance of a strong identification with Portugal. So they appear to be an important place to study both formal - linked to state agencies - or informal, "nationalism"; (Billig 1997). Will also enquire on the types of relationships and activities among membership in attempt to see what role these networks play in the construction of a "symbolic community" (Cohen 1985). When dealing with the consumption of cod we will reflect upon the importance of "culinary nostalgia", defined as "the recollection or purposive evocation of another time and place through food" (Swislocki 2009: 1). Due to its ritual presence in the most important family meal in Portugal - the dinner at Christmas Eve - and its central role in Portuguese (national) cuisine, the study of the Academies will necessary focus on the role of commensality. Eating together, as Simmel has pointed (Hirschman1998: 20), is connected to communal action and to the recreation of an "imagined community".
Parceria: 
Unintegrated
Coordenador 
Start Date: 
01/02/2011
End Date: 
31/01/2014
Closed