Recombinant Gastronomy in Timor-Leste: Building Food Futures through Responsive Methods

Authors: David Szanto*, University of Ottawa
Topics: Food Systems, Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Timor-Leste, eco-gastronomy, decolonization, transdisciplinary practice, culinary innovation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The pluralistic nature of food culture and food systems produces complex and surprising geographies, often prompting scholars to adopt research approaches that embrace multiple methods and critical, collaborative perspectives. In parallel, calls for the decolonization of research methods have brought attention to the risks posed by academic work involving Indigenous communities and traditional knowledge, which is of particular relevance for food scholarship. This paper presents the process and outcomes of a multifaceted initiative centered on the contemporary and historic foodways of Timor-Leste, including current challenges to individual health, national identity, and economic-ecological sustainability brought about by centuries of colonial and transnational influences. To frame the work, I use the notion of recombinant gastronomy—manifested through blended and responsive methods, polyvalent collaborators, emergent outcomes, and a hybrid understanding of indigeneity. The initiative itself was conceived within an international development context, and aimed at building local empowerment, economic development, and social change. Within this hybrid-responsive approach, three diverse methodologies were brought together, following quantitative, qualitative, and creative approaches, including surveys, storytelling, and culinary innovation. Situated within a critical perspective on the dis- and re-empowering potential of post-colonial Timor, the work drew together the praxis of food-and-tourism operators, development professionals, local activists, and academic researchers. Together, we directed our efforts at understanding, valorizing, and promoting healthful and nutritious local food, as well as helping the project’s partner communities adapt, innovate, and find pride within Timor-Leste’s current food realities. (This presentation is part of the "Building a Radical Food Geography Praxis" paper session.)

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