Austerity Kitchen’s Christine Baumgarthuber is interviewed for Bon Appétit:
The Internet is awash in food blogs, a lot of them pretty similar, but every once in a while something original, interesting, and relevant to our times pokes its head above the surf. The Austerity Kitchen is one such blog.
Started by Christine Baumgarthuber shortly after the financial crisis of 2008, Austerity Kitchen takes a look at how normal people have eaten in times of trouble throughout history, pairing recipes for simple meals with the historical context and stories around them.
For example, the post on War Time Griddle Cakes from the rationing period of WWI suggests replacing maple syrup with “conservation syrup”—apple or other fruit parings mixed with water and sugar. Another post looks at Steerage Soup from the Titanic, the dinner that many of the third-class passengers were served on that unfortunate one-way trip.
We got a chance to talk to Baumgarthuber (currently finishing her PhD in English at Brown University and about to begin writing a column for The New Inquiry) about the blog.
BA: Where did the idea for The Austerity Kitchen come from?
CB: A few months after the ‘08 market crash, austerity was on everyone’s lips. So I started to consider not just the pleasure to be had in austerity and simple living, but also the hardship.
It’s a topic that resonated with my own studies on the London poor, and with my family history—my maternal grandmother came from the north of Norway, from a little rocky island, and my paternal grandmother survived on a diet of dandelion soup during the last months of WWII.
BA: Why look at food?
CB: I think it’s something that we can all relate to—everyone eats—and if you want to embody a historical moment or conceptualize that, one of the more concrete things you can do is recreate a meal.
BA: The idea of “austerity” has a lot of connotations—what definition have you used for the blog?
CB: I talk most about the hardship that austerity engenders, but I’ve started to consider the pleasures to be had from simplicity, in contrast to the consumer excess of the past few decades.
BA: So you think that austerity can be a good thing?
CB: When it’s voluntary, austerity is all about having a choice. We seem to be moving into a historical period again where it’s going to be mandatory, but when you can choose to embrace a more simple mode of life, rather than the excess late-stage capitalism breeds, it can be nice.
BA: For the sake of the Austerity Kitchen’s staying topical, are you glad that the recession (or jobless recovery, or long slump) has stuck around for this long?
CB: No! Part of the reason why I write this is to look at how much we’ve won—how much the labor movement has allowed us to enjoy a certain amount of middle-class comfort. Once again, I think austerity should be a choice.
See also: Christine for Lapham’s Quarterly