On the semantics of a dish: moqueca capixaba and the construction of local identity, ES/Brasil
The set of social norms and conventions that regulate production, exchange and eating in a given society contributes to determining a specific food tradition. This, like any other element of culture, is a process, and is subject to continuous modification, although it is considered ancestral, unchangeable, pure and safe. In this context, the case of moqueca capixaba – a typical dish from the state of Espírito Santo, southeastern Brazil – offers interesting opportunities for reflection. In this conference we propose to start from two axes. On the one hand, the registration of the craft of potters in Goiabeiras (a neighborhood located on the outskirts of the capital, Vitória/ES) – whose black clay pots are the main cultural element in the elaboration of typical dishes of the local cuisine. In 2002, this office became the first Brazilian Geographical Indication in the area of handicrafts, considered an intangible asset, registered and protected at IPHAN – Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional, inaugurating the Book of Knowledge Registration and declared Cultural Heritage of Brazil. The second axis relates to the creation of State Law no. 7,567/2003, which established moqueca as the “typical food of the State of Espírito Santo”. In our understanding, the two episodes can be considered as part of a procedure that transforms memory into history, a process that aims to create a memory of identity, which carries with it representations and recognitions of a
history that unites the preparation of the dish in Espírito Santo, the identity of the territory and the people who live there. However, when proposing such a reflection, we cannot forget the economic, social and cultural aspects that are involved in this process. This is where social history poses questions and inquires in order to understand the dynamics of lived processes. After all, food preferences are built from a complex plot between “standards of use” and “respect for tradition” (CASCUDO, 1983). However, despite being deeply rooted (the palate is the last to be denationalized), the tradition is not immobile. It follows the dynamics of the society in which they are inserted, establishing a continuous dialogue between time, understood here as a historical process, and space, geography itself. In fact, as highlighted by Certeau & Giard (1996), each food habit makes up a tiny intersection of stories. Therefore, eating behavior is directly linked to our sense of ourselves and our social identity.
Professor Doctor Patricia Merlo
Department of History, Arts and Humanities