Author Archives: reblack

Behind a Forager, the Pickers: Wild Food Production’s Other Side

mushroomprices

Wild food harvesting is piece-work.

Foraged foods from the wilderness are this year’s hottest trend in natural, ethical eating. They’re lauded as more organic than organic: after all, they grow in the wild, where there aren’t just ‘approved’ pesticides and fertilizers, but none whatsoever. Growing of their own volition, these native species don’t need a farmer to tame them—and perhaps warp their purity, sapping them of taste and nutrient value.

Wild food is also, paradoxically, celebrated as the most local of foods, though the wild was once upon a time the most remote and alien of places. This sense of locality arises in the figure of the forager, the man (and almost always it is a man) whose profile makes up most media reports on wild food; the man who goes deep into the woods and brings its bounty back out, directly to you. Like the family farmer he’s wholesome, connected to the soil and its seasons. And in this way wild food becomes small-scale, fair trade, a way of supporting local economies. There aren’t any intermediaries, and no 2 500 miles, just a quick jaunt out of the city, into your local wilderness.

Who is this forager? He’s a character drawn at first glance from our collective imagination of the mushroom picker. A solitary and vaguely European, upper- or at least middle-crusty sort with a walking stick and wicker basket, perhaps accompanied by a well-trained hound that can sniff out the prey, he knows the secret patches where these sorts of things grow and will take their locations to his grave. And in this latest incarnation he’s also become a lay botanist, conjuring names and identities out of the tangle of green, bringing us closer to the miracles of nature we city-dwellers forgot from want of exposure: our plant-loving, Earth-loving Adam. With that basket he spreads the seeds and spores, helping the foods grow. At the same time, with his compass and his technical outwear and the shimmering blade of his knife, he also takes reasonable precautions in light of the animals, the elements, of getting lost: all our vague urban fears of the wilderness handily dispatched.

A commercial mushroom buyer's shack.

A commercial mushroom buyer’s shack.

But the fact of the matter is that while this man really exists, is who he says he is, and does what he appears to do, hidden behind him is a whole society of other men (or almost as often women, elders and families) who we never seem to hear about. They are the pickers. Like fruit pickers and vegetable pickers on farms, they’re often marginalized and poor, working a physically demanding and dangerous job to make ends meet the only way that seems possible. They confront the cold in threadbare sneakers and jeans they bought at Walmart, pick into a plastic bag that last held groceries or a six-pack of beer, and don’t need a compass because they know these woods well, as anyone who worked them day after day, year after year would. Their dog is a burly one designed to take on a bear, and if they carry a weapon it’s a rifle, because their knife is a tool, meant to cut stalks and stems as quickly, numerously and profitably as possible: they’re paid by the piece, and the profit always seems less than it should.

In Canada these people are most often refugees from ruined local resources economies: from shuttered sawmills and denuded oceans, from blighted reserves. In the United States they tend to be refugees of another sort, Laotians, Hmong, Vietnamese and Cambodians fleeing the still-rippling violence of the Vietnam War. In other words, the people who produce the vast majority of wild food aren’t foragers but pickers, resource workers displaced by machinations of power they did little to cause but do much to suffer. They struggle to survive in capitalism’s precarious hinterlands by gathering raw materials for the profit and use of someone more powerful. Someone somewhere else: someone in the city.

It’s hardly fair to blame anyone involved for this. The media are interested in a hot new trend; they want to find a local business that’s engaged in it, to tell about it. The owner, the forager who sells wild foods to chefs or at farmers’ markets, really is a forager; that’s why and how he is in this business. Although obviously one man is not enough to supply all of a city’s restaurants, some of the product comes from their own forays in the bush, and when the press comes knocking, they take them to the place they both love the best: the woods. They believe in wild food, in its value and uniqueness, in its healthfulness, in its superiority to the products of the global industrial food system. And in many ways, they’re right. For instance, unlike many agricultural workers, the Canadian pickers at least love their work: love being in the woods, the freedom and excitement of it all; love being their own bosses instead of working a soul-crushing job with an overseer who treats you like dirt.

Mushrooms packed in standard baskets for shipping.

Mushrooms packed in standard baskets for shipping.

What they don’t love is having all the risk and few of the rewards: having nothing to eat when nothing grows to pick; ending up stranded at the end of the season, having spent all their money on gas that’s gone, 1 000 km from home—if they have one. They don’t love trying to break into urban markets on the other side of the continent. Failing to negotiate the cultural and class differences, they are turned away at the airport when they try to ship their product because of their lack of credit and their soiled clothes. They are turned away at the restaurant for fears of contaminated or misidentified mushrooms. And so the contradictions of contemporary capitalisms gain another foothold. Once again, and this time in the realm of the most natural, most ethical, most plainly good product yet, the true nature of production and the difficult circumstances of the producers are well-veiled. The wild, that place that seemed so newly close to home, at end remains so very far removed.

Dylan Gordon (@KnowWildFood) is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Toronto, researching the ethics and economics of wellbeing in the Canadian trade of wild food products. (www.dylangordon.ca)

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Filed under anthropology, foodways, sustainability, Wild foods

Call for Papers: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

safn-logo-temp

Your opportunity to present at the 112th American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Chicago, November 20-24, 2013

The theme of this year’s conference is “Future Publics, Current Engagements”. The AAA executive committee asks us to consider “how anthropological theory and method can provide insight into the human past and emerging future.” In particular, we are asked to examine “our efforts to transform our disciplinary identity and capacity in terms of knowledge production and relevance in a world of radical change.” SAFN members are particularly well situated to contribute to discussion around the theme, as many, if not most of us, work across anthropological sub-disciplines and/or with colleagues in other disciplines, using theories and methods that cross-cut disciplinary boundaries in innovative ways. For more information about the national meeting, including elaboration of the theme and important dates, see http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/index.cfm.

SAFN is seeking proposals for Executive sessions, Invited sessions, Volunteered papers, posters and sessions, and alternative session formats including Public Policy Forums, Roundtables and Installations.

There are three deadlines for submission: a deadline for Executive sessions (Wednesday, February 6), Invited sessions (Friday, March 15) and Volunteered sessions (Monday, April 15).

The deadline for proposing an Executive session is coming up fast. An Executive session is a unique, highly visible forum on a topic of interest to a wide audience that connects directly to the conference theme. Anyone interested in organizing an Executive panel or roundtable needs to submit a session proposal on the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, February 6. Decisions will be announced on March 1st. (Note that if the decision is negative, you can submit the panel for invited/volunteer sessions—see below.) If you are interested in submitting an executive session, please let Helen and Neri know asap (see our emails below). To apply, you will need: a session abstract (of no more than 500 words), keywords, length of session, anticipated attendance, presenter names and roles. The organizer(s) must be a current AAA member unless eligible for a membership exemption (anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists) and have registered for the 2013 Annual Meeting. Individual presenters must submit their own abstracts (250 words), paper title and keywords via the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, April 15. Any discussants or chairs must also be registered by April 15th

Invited sessions are generally cutting-edge, directly related to the meeting theme, or cross sub-disciplines, i.e. they have broader appeal. Session proposals must be submitted via the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, March 15. Session proposals should include a session abstract of no more than 500 words, key words, number of participants in the session, anticipated attendance, as well as the names and roles of each presenter. Decisions will be announced on April 4th. Individual presenters must submit their own abstracts (250 words), paper title and keywords via the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, April 15. Any discussants or chairs must also be registered by April 15th. One way to increase your and our presence at the meetings is to have a co-sponsored invited session between SAFN and another society. Invited time is shared with the other sub-discipline and the session is double-indexed. Please include any other societies we should be in contact with about possible co-sponsorships.

Volunteered sessions are comprised of submitted papers or posters that are put together based on a common theme as well as sessions proposed as invited that were not selected as such. Volunteered session abstracts should be 500 words or less, individual paper abstracts 250 words or less. Both must be submitted via the AAA website by 5 PM EST, April 15.

Installations are a creative way to present ideas that capture the senses, and may include performances, recitals, conversations, author-meets-critic roundtables, salon reading workshops, oral history recording sessions and other alternative, creative forms of intellectual expression. Selected Installations will be curated for an off-site exhibition and tied to the official AAA conference program. Successful proposals will offer attendees an opportunity to learn from a range of vested interests not typically encountered or easily found on the traditional AAA program. Organizers are responsible for submitting the session abstract (of no more than 500 words), keywords, length of session, anticipated attendance, presenter names and roles by 5 PM EST, April 15.  Presenters must also be registered by the April 15, 2013 final deadline in order to appear on the 2013 Annual Meeting Program. If you have an idea that might require some organizational creativity please contact the Executive Program Committee as soon as possible at aaameetings@aaanet.org.

Public Policy Forums are a place to discuss critical social and public policy issues. No papers are presented. Instead, the ideal format is a moderator and up to seven panelists. The moderator, after introductions, poses questions that are discussed by the panelists. It is recommended that at least one panelist be a policymaker. Proposals should include a 500-word abstract describing the issue to be discussed, and the moderator and panelists’ names. Submissions are reviewed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy; the deadline for forum submissions is 5 PM EST, March 15.

For further information or to log in to submit proposals, go to http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/Call-for-Papers.cfm. Remember that to upload abstracts and participate in the meeting you must be an active AAA member who has paid the 2013 meeting registration fee. (Membership exemption is in place for anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists.)

If you’d like to discuss your ideas for sessions, papers, posters, roundtable discussions, forums or installations feel free to contact the 2013 Program Chairs, Helen Vallianatos (vallianatos [at] ualberta.ca) or Neri de Kramer (dekramer [at] udel.edu).

We look forward to another exciting annual meeting with a strong SAFN participation!

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More than just tacos: Lunch in the Mission #AAA 2012

Photo SF Gate

While spending long hours in a conference hotel listening to colleagues, networking, catching up with friends and engaging our minds is a priority for most AAA conference attendees, we all need to make time to eat. Why not take an extra half hour and escape the artificial lights and din of the conference to see some of the city and get a tasty lunch that will cost half as much as hotel food. Hop on BART and get off at the 24th Street Mission stop. San Francisco is all about neighborhoods. The Mission was traditionally a working-class Latino neighborhood but it has undergone some major transformations over the past twenty years. You can taste them for yourself.

On Mission Street, just a stone’s throw from the BART station, is La Taqueria. Although the number one taco shop is greatly contested in San Francisco, this little restaurant generally comes out in the top five. The Mission is also famous for its burritos, mainly for their ridiculous size. It is nearly unthinkable, but if you are not up for Mexican food, check out Rosamunde Sausage across the street for delicious sausages and beer.

Wander down 24th Street for more Latin American culinary delights at La Palma. You can watch the women in the kitchen making tortillas, and get some great takeaway food. Around the corner on Harrison Street you can indulge in a SF ice cream experience at Humphry Slocombe. Don’t miss the “secret breakfast” flavor. Too cold for ice cream? Hipster donuts and coffee are just down the street at Dynamo donuts.

As you stroll through the neighborhood after lunch, take note of the many murals that adorn sides of buildings and wooden fences in this area. They tell the story of Latino migrants and their heritage.

Balmy Alley mural

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Here is the line up of SAFN sessions at the 2012 AAA conference – #AAA2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

8:00 AM-11:45 AM

3-0215
EATING AS A BODILY PRACTICE: CONTESTED EATING, BOUNDARY-MAKING AND BORDER CROSSING
Rachel E Black, Bodil Just Christensen, Line Hillersdal, Heather A Paxson and Anne T Meneley

1:45 PM-3:30 PM

3-0740

4:00 PM-5:45 PM

3-0980
FOOD CONSUMPTION AND BODY IMAGE
Melissa Medich and Melissa Medich

Friday, November 16, 2012

8:00 AM-9:45 AM

10:15 AM-12:00 PM

4-0305
WOMEN, AGRICULTURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Cornelia Butler Flora, Joan P Mencher and Anita Spring
4-0360

1:45 PM-3:30 PM

4-0675
THE WORLD FOOD CRISIS IS BOTH BORDERED AND BORDERLESS: REPORTS FROM THE AAA TASK FORCE ON WORLD FOOD PROBLEMS.
Lois M Stanford, Glenn Davis Stone, Solomon H Katz, Barrett P Brenton PhD, Joan P Mencher and Barrett P Brenton PhD

4:00 PM-5:45 PM

4-0955
WHERE DOES FOOD START, WHERE DOES IT END?: FOOD, BOUNDARIES, AND BORDERS IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD
Megan E Edwards, Christopher Grant, Megan E Edwards and Jolie N Nahigian

6:15 PM-7:30 PM

4-1060
SOCIETY FOR THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF FOOD AND NUTRITION (SAFN) BOARD MEETING
John Brett, Neri de Kramer and Helen Vallianatos

Saturday, November 17, 2012

10:15 AM-12:00 PM

5-0375
THE SUBSISTENCE ETHICS IN EAST ASIA
Stephanie Assmann, Yi-Chieh Lin and Theodore C Bestor

6:15 PM-8:00 PM

5-1160

Sunday, November 18, 2012

8:00 AM-9:45 AM

6-0120
PLEASED TO EAT YOU: EXPLORING THE SCOPE OF PLEASURE IN THE FOODSCAPE
Leigh Bush, Leigh Bush, Madeline A Chera and Deborah Heath

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Announcing the SAFN distinguished speaker for 2012 – Penny Van Esterik #AAA2012

SAFN is pleased to announce that our Food Anthropologist of the Year and distinguished speaker for 2012 is Penny Van Esterik. With work ranging from the politics of breast feeding to food culture in Southeast Asia, Van Esterik’s work in the anthropology of food has tread new ground and inspired a generation of young food anthropologists. Van Esterik is Professor of Anthropology at York University. She is the author of Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy (1989) and Food Culture in Southeast Asia (2008), and co-editor of Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd Edition, 2012).

Join us on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 6:15pm at the SAFN Business Meeting to hear Penny Van Esterik speak about her latest research:

The Dance of Nurture

Van Esterik’s presentation takes a personal look at nurture and how its absence in food
studies and anthropology in general robs us of one opportunity to take the
discipline in new directions. She uses breastfeeding and young child feeding to
rethink the importance of nurture and examine how it challenges basic
assumptions in contemporary anthropology. While we are clear on how
anthropology contributes to food studies, how can nutritional anthropology and
food studies contribute to anthropology as a discipline? Van Esterik draws some tentative
answers from The Dance of Nurture, an unfinished interrupted manuscript that
provides a framework for exploring this subject.

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Filed under AAA 2012 San Francisco, anthropology, SAFN Member Research

San Francisco Food Gawking

Looking for some food tourism and food gawking while you are in San Francisco for the AAA conference? Forget clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf! Here are a few suggestions:

Within walkable distance from the conference, the Ferry Building is a great place to get a snack and enjoy some of the Bay Area’s finest food vendors (Hog Island Oysters, Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread, Blue Bottle Coffee, to name a few). It is open daily (10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat & 11am-5pm Sun). The same venue hosts the outdoor Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays (10am-2pm), Thursdays (10am-2pm) and Saturday (8am-2pm).

Jump on BART and get off at 16th and Mission or take the historic F-Market tram up Market Street. Walk up to Valencia Street and take a left. There are lots of interesting shops and restaurants along Valencia. Walk two blocks and take a right on 18th Street. Pass Tartine Bakery and Delfina Pizzeria and continue on to the Bi-Rite Market, perhaps one of the best little grocery stores in the world. Grab a sandwich or walk across the street to the Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream. Go and enjoy your loot in Dolores Park, just up the street. Check out Rachel Weidinger’s “We Are Very Hungry” exhibit at the 18 Reasons Gallery.

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AAA meeting in San Francisco – Start planning more than just dinner reservations

The American Anthropological Association meeting in San Francisco is only a few weeks away. It’s time to plan more than just your restaurant reservations.

SAFN members might be interested in taking time to check out the Ben Kinmont exhibit at SF MOMA:

“Existing somewhere between Conceptual art and “social sculpture,” Ben Kinmont’s artwork takes the form of gesture, conversation, and promise, as well as the things that support and document such acts: contracts, transcripts, prints, shared meals.”

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Joint ASFS, AFHVS & SAFN Conference in New York

Join us June 20-24, 2012 for the Global Gateways and Local Connections: City, Agriculture and the Future of Food Systems conference in New York City. Hosted by New York University and the New School, many SAFN members will be presenting papers at this wonderful event.

For more information and the conference program, please see the official web site.

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Filed under Announcements, Food Studies, SAFN Member Research

New Book Reviews

Growing a Garden City

How Farmers, First Graders, Counselors, Troubled Teens, Foodies, a Homeless Shelter Chef, Single Mothers, and More Are Transforming Themselves and Their Neighborhoods Through the Intersection of Local Agriculture and Community–and How You Can, Too

By Jeremy N. Smith
2010
New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Reviewed by Ellen Messer
Visiting Associate Professor
Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy Tufts University
Lecturer
Boston University Gastronomy Program

Read Review

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Fighting for the Future of Food. Activists Versus Agribusiness in the Struggle Over Biotechnology

By Rachel Schurman and William A. Munro
2010
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. Number 35 in their Social Movements, Protest, and Contention series.

Reviewed by Ellen Messer
Visiting Associate Professor
Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy Tufts University

Read Review

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Feeding the city. From street market to liberal reform in Salvador. Brazil. 1780-1860

By Richard Graham
2010
University of Texas Press

Reviewed By
Esther Katz
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
Brasilia, Brazil

Read the Review

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Cheap Meat: Flap Food Nations in the Pacific Island

By Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington
2010
University of California Press

Reviewed By
Amanda S. Green
Oregon State University

Read Review

____________________________________________________________________________________________

For more SAFN book reviews, please have a look at our book review page.

If there is a book you would like to have reviewed, please send an email to Miriam Chaiken. If you would like to volunteer to review a book, you can also contact Miriam Chaiken.

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Call for Contributors: Anthropology of Wine

Call for Contributors

Anthropology of Wine: Ethnography from the vineyard to the glass

Wine has received some attention as a historical and archeological subject; however, there is little recent scholarship by anthropologists that deals with the topic of wine. This may come as a surprise given the cultural and economic importance of wine in much of the world today. Alcohol Studies has generally approached wine consumption within the framework of disease prevention, often leaving out the cultural and social aspects of alcohol consumption. While the Anthropology of Food flourishes, wine has largely remained peripheral to this scholarly table. The study of wine finds itself in an awkward position–caught between the writings of amateur wine lovers, industry and critics and the anecdotal attention of scholars. The goal of this proposed volume of collected essays is to bring together current anthropological perspectives on wine and to create a place for the study ofwine within the larger body of ethnographic and theoretical work in cultural anthropology and the anthropology of food.

How can anthropological fieldwork contribute to the study of wine? How does a cultural perspective contribute to an understanding of production and consumption? How does the concept of distinction illuminate the study of wine? What are the larger social and economic themes at play in the making and drinking of wine? Essays in this volume will investigate wine from cultural, social, political and economic perspectives. Ethnographic methods and anthropological theory will frame and inform discussions of wine from the growing of grapes to the sensory perception of wine in the glass. All essays should be ethnographic or historical but with an anthropological scope. Possible themes and topics include:

·       Cultural concepts of terroir, place and locality
·       Sensory perceptions and the wine tasting experience
·       Taste memory
·       Wine education
·       Agricultural organization and the cultivation of grapes
·       Labour and working conditions in the wine industry
·       Gender and wine
·       Class and wine
·       Biodynamic and organic wine production
·       Geography of wine, the construction of place through viticulture and oenology, the emergence of new wine regions and markets such as China
·       Changing relationships between wine and food
·       Wine as food
·       Technology, techne and craft in wine production
·       Perceptions of nature in wine production and consumption
·       Home winemaking practices
·       Wine bars and tasting rooms
·       The role of the sommelier and the wine expert
·       Wine writing, wine criticism and authority
·       The wine business, emerging markets, consumer education & communications
·       The impact of legislation on wine production and consumption

Interested contributors should submit a 200-300-word summary of their proposed essay, a CV and short bio to Dr. Rachel Black (rblack (at) bu.edu) by January 28, 2011. Full-length submissions (20-35 pages) will be requested for early September 2011.

Potential contributors should indicate their interest in participating in a panel on the Anthropology of Wine for the ASFS conference (Missoula, June 2011) or the AAA conference (Montréal, November 2011).

Posted by Rachel Black

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