In this this interview, Carrie Tippen talks with Candi K. Cann, editor of the new collection, Dying to Eat: Cross Cultural Perspectives on Food, Death and the Afterlife
(University Press of Kentucky).
Dying to Eat
is an interdisciplinary collection of essays that examine the role of food in rituals surrounding death and dying from around the globe.
Cann, who identifies herself as a death studies scholar, divides the collection into two ways of using food in death rituals: “Dining With the Dead” and “Eating After: Food and Drink in Bereavement and Remembrance.” The first essays examine rituals where food is offered to the deceased or to ancestors, while the second half focuses on sharing food between the bereaved or preparing food for mourners.
This division extends from a understanding that some cultures “care for” the dead while others “remember” the dead. To care for the dead in this way may include offering food and drink, allowing the living and the deceased to maintain “an active and participatory relationship” (4).
These essays describe the symbolism of food in Chinese funerary rites and ancestral worship, Korean memorial festivities that negotiate between Catholic and Buddhist traditions, and the role of sugar and alcohol in holidays commemorating the dead in China, Mexico, and the US. Conversely, remembering the dead is “a renegotiation of life without the deceased;” these food rituals may be more focused on repairing the social fabric in the community of the living (4).
These chapters describe meals after funeral rites including communal meals in the US South, traditions of mourning in Judaism, expensive displays of national and class identities in Moroccan Muslim families, the community function of funeral meals in Tswana and Zulu peoples in South Africa, and the role of alcohol in a short-lived secret society in 1880s Chicago. The diversity of the collection provides an excellent introduction to the topic.
Dr. Candi K. Cann
is Associate Professor of Religion at Baylor University.
Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature. Her 2018 book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Gastronomica, Food and Foodways, American Studies, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society.