What makes the kitchen a space for the reconciliation of the contradiction or conflict between life and death, purity and impurity, or sacred and secular in many societies? It is supposed that the kitchen is not only a place used to prepare dishes that can be eaten, but also has a hidden function—to convert a ‘living thing’ (nature) into ‘food’ (culture). The kitchen serves as a boundary space where foreign materials are brought from the natural world that is out of public order, and a structure of cooking is created. Furthermore, it is a terrible place where flesh or tissues are chopped with a knife and something dead is transformed into a dish in simmering water or hot oil. Just adjacent to the sinister power of death and violence, the kitchen has been playing a magical function to convert that power into ‘cooking’.

From ‘Organscapes’, presented as part of the Foodscapes exhibition at the Arts Maebashi, Tokyo, in 2016–17.

In his essay ‘Organscapes’, anthropologist Toshiaki Ishikura encourages the reinterpretation of the natural landscape of fields, mountains, rivers and seas as ‘exterior organs’, embodying ‘a complex web of life where food is harvested, processed, and delivered to our internal organs’. Between the exterior and interior organscapes exist the spaces of transformation, where nature is transformed into culture, living things into food. In most societies, the kitchen is the seat of food culture, wherein the techniques of transformation are carried out according the ‘edible code’.

Toshiaki Ishikura is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in art anthropology and comparative mythology. He is currently Associate Professor at Akita University of Art and is a member of the Institut pour la science sauvage, Meiji University. 

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