El Paso Food Voices begins by embracing the fact that food—how it is remembered, experienced, and perceived—speaks of people’s migratory patterns, histories and cultural values that define the culinary flavors of an area. In this collection, residents of El Paso, Texas, give expression to their gastronomic ruminations. In voicing their culinary experiences, people illustrate how they negotiate the politics of consumption by defining the symbolic and affective value certain foods and food practices hold for them. El Paso Food Voices speaks to cross-cultural connections that define a city’s culinary identity that is made up of a diverse population, a past with roots spreading in multiple directions, and a dynamic and ever-changing present.
To trace a live history and culture defined through food practices, this oral history project uses the methodology of food voice. The term, coined by nutritionist Annie Hauck-Lawson, refers to how food and culinary practices in and of themselves serve as a powerful, highly charged, and personalized voice that crystalizes the dynamic, creative, symbolic, and highly individualized ways that food serves as a channel of communication. This collection, therefore, offers a unique opportunity to explore the cross-cultural connections that brought into existence some of the area’s signature dishes and methods of cooking: brisket, chile con queso, and green chile tamales to name but a few. It helps appreciate why Stöllens (German Christmas bread), Rosca de Reyes (Three King’s Bread), and sweet potato pie are equally integral to the culinary makeup of the area. The collection illustrates how and why the region of El Paso del Norte (The Pass of the North) has historically been a hub for trade, an oasis in the desert, and a place where people from different parts of the state, the country and the world learn to call home.
The food voices of El Paso gathered and archived through this project are categorized into two groups: Private Kitchens and Public Kitchens. The distinction is drawn on the space and place a person mostly bases her/his culinary experience and for whom they mostly cook: family, guests, or customers in a for-profit setting. In some Public Kitchens, as in the case of restaurants, more than one person’s food voice tells the story of the culinary culture and history particular foods served in such kitchens.