Category Archives: anthropology

Food Studies at SOAS

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

Welcome to the inaugural post of SAFN’s new Food Anthropology Program series. We will feature an undergraduate or graduate food anthropology program in each post. If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate a food anthropology program for the series, please email the series coordinator, M. Ruth Dike.

Celia Plender
Doctoral Student, SOAS

The anthropology of food has been taught at SOAS, University of London since the mid-1980s. For many years, this took the form of an optional class available to BA and MA students, which was  taught by Professor Johan Pottier. The class reflected Pottier’s research interests in Central Africa, including the study of famine, armed conflict, refugee migration and the disruption of food markets.

When Professor Harry West joined the department in 2003 he was embarking on food-related research with a focus on artisanal cheese making, the notion of re-embedding food systems in locality and the emergence of ‘heritage’ foods. Concurrently Doctor Jakob Klein—who had recently finished his PhD at SOAS and was beginning to lecture in the Anthropology Department—continued to work on the transformation of regional cuisine in the People’s Republic of China. These three academics were interested in learning more about each other’s research, and over time decided to collaborate to develop a full-unit class in the anthropology of food, which combined their diverse interests. Originally the class was open to postgraduate and undergraduate students, but as demand grew availability was limited to MA students only. From 2007, this class became the core of a full master’s programme in the Anthropology of Food.

2007 also saw the inauguration of the SOAS Food Studies Centre, which has developed strong links with an international network of food researchers, and attracted academic speakers such as Sidney Mintz, James L. Watson and Melissa Caldwell, and food writers and chefs including Claudia Roden and Yotam Ottolenghi.

Restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi--known internationally for his books and television programs on Mediterranean food--gave a Distinguished Lecture in the SOAS Food Studies Centre in November 2014, to the delight of centre members and SOAS alumni.

Restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi gave a Distinguished Lecture in the SOAS Food Studies Centre in November 2014, to the delight of centre members and SOAS alumni.

As well as hosting lectures, workshops and conferences, the Centre holds a weekly Food Forum during term time. This research seminar is designed to complement the structure of the anthropology of food course, giving its students an opportunity to engage with people active in food-related scholarship, businesses and activism. West is currently Chair of the Food Studies Centre. Klein is Deputy Chair. The Centre currently has 47 members and an additional 803 associate members. The MA in the Anthropology of Food covers a broad range of topics and approaches food at many different scales, ranging from the body, to the household, the nation state and the global food system. Ethnographic examples are drawn from all parts of the world and discussed in a seminar format. Although grounded in anthropology, the syllabus explores different disciplinary perspectives including historical, scientific, nutritional, geographic and economic amongst others. While Johan Pottier has now retired, Harry West and Jakob Klein continue to co-ordinate and teach the core course.

The MA programme, directed by Harry West, currently has an annual intake of around 25 students. The programme attracts a diverse range of students of different ages, nationalities and professional/academic backgrounds. The programme can be pursued full-time over twelve months, or part-time over two or three years. Around a third of students take the part-time route. The MA is made up of four modules – the core course in the anthropology of food, a dissertation of 10,000 words and two other options (or as many as four half unit options). For those who have not studied anthropology before, one of these is filled by a compulsory course in theoretical approaches to social anthropology. Option courses are available in the Anthropology Department as well as others such as Politics, Economics, Development Studies, Law, Religion and Languages. Students also audit a course in ethnographic research methods in order to further prepare them for their dissertation.

Doctoral student Katharina Graf, who studies how cooking knowledge is passed down in Moroccan households, prepares couscous for an ethnographic dinner.

Doctoral student Katharina Graf, who studies how cooking knowledge is passed down in Moroccan households, prepares couscous for an ethnographic dinner.

In addition to the passion that West and Klein have for their subject matter, one of the many strengths of the programme is its location in London, which is home to a broad range of alternative food businesses, NGOs, food purveyors, media organisations and other food-related activities. This is reflected in a half unit option which is available to students on the MA – a directed practical study in the anthropology of food. Students taking this identify an institution, organization or enterprise in which to work as an intern. The combination of work experience, directed readings and reflective written assignments allows students to bridge the divide between theoretical and practical concerns, and in many cases helps students to reflect on their future career paths, while expanding their relevant networks. Alumni of the course have gone on to work in a broad range of food-based jobs, details of which can be found on the food studies alumni profile page.

About the author:

Celia Plender is an alumna of the MA Anthropology of Food and current doctoral student in the Department of Social Anthropology at SOAS studying consumer food co-ops in the UK under the supervision of Harry West.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

Farm To Table, New Orleans, August 8-10 2015

Symposium-Logo-Website-Header1

The 3rd Annual Farm to Table International Conference is scheduled for August 8-10, 2015, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. F2Ti features the brightest thought leaders and leading practitioners in the burgeoning farm-to-table movement. F2Ti explores the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of food and drink sourced locally to globally. It takes place in tandem with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Annual Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, an event attracting food and beverage professionals from across the country.

This year’s theme, “A Feast for the Senses,” spotlights the sensual aspects of food and drink at every stage of the agricultural-culinary cycle. Topics will include, but are not limited to, best practices in urban farming, bringing products to market, sourcing locally, enhancing sustainability, and the latest trends and developments in the industry, including food science, security, and safety.

Program Features:

  • Panels on best practices in the following educational tracks:

•    Crop to Cup (Brewing, Distilling, Vinting, plus non-alcoholic beverages)
•    Farming and Production
•    Food and Beverage Journalism and Media
•    Farm to School
•    Food Innovation (Science, Technology, Trends, etc.)

  • Keynote speakers of national and international standing
  • Numerous opportunities for networking during the three-day conference program
  • Chef Demos and “Knowledge Center” presentations

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:

  • Chefs, mixologists, and restaurateurs
  • Researchers, academics, and policymakers
  • Farmers and agricultural professionals
  • Writers, publishers, and media
  • Slow food advocates
  • Brewers, distillers, vintners, and distributors
  • Farmers markets and urban farmers
  • Nutritionists and health professionals
  • Grocers and retailers
  • CSA/RSA
  • Foragers
  • Food incubators
  • Food hubs

Additional information can be found here. Registration is here.

F2T is produced by the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in partnership with the SoFAB Institute and the LSU AgCenter.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, conferences, farming, food activism, food policy, food politics, Food Studies, food systems

Dublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016: Food and Revolution

dublin gastronomyDublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016 (Theme: Food and Revolution)

Call for Papers

Save the dates 31st May – 1st June 2016 in your diaries for the third biennial Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. The theme for 2016 will be Food and Revolution which can be interpreted in the broadest sense. The study of gastronomy is uniquely multidisciplinary, and indeed transdisciplinary, encompassing the arts, humanities, and both the natural and social sciences. Of course, we will be celebrating the Easter 1916 Revolution here in Dublin but the symposium organisers invite papers about revolutionary events in the food world – including but not limited to the following topics:

–       Food and war, trench food, siege food, food as a weapon or war etc.;

–       Impact of the French Revolution on restaurants and hospitality;

–       American Revolution – Boston Tea Party! (Tea, coffee, chocolate as revolutionary beverages);

–       The Industrial Revolution and its effect on food and drink;

–       Health Food Revolutions – from Galen to the Paleo diet;

–       Influence of Service à la Russe;

–       Who were the revolutionary chefs, cooks and food producers of the past and who are the present revolutionaries?

–       Revolutionary food writers (Grimod de la Reyniere, Elizabeth David, Theodora Fitzgibbon, Julia Child …) not to mention food in literature, poetry and songs;

–       The Green Organic revolution;

–       The Micro-Brewery and Artisan Distillery revolution;

–       Revolutionary food and beverage pairings;

–       Revolution in Culinary Training – from apprenticeship to degrees and beyond;

–       The rise in Food Studies programmes – revolutionary topics and methodologies;

–       Can revolution unify citizens under a common cuisine – Italy and Garibaldi;

–       Revolutionary Food Science and Technology – Molecular Gastronomy to Locavore Nutrition;

–       Podcasts, Blogs and Instagram – food and the new media revolution.

The above is only a sample of possible areas for study. Feel free to interpret the theme as liberally as you wish. We look forward to reading many interesting revolutionary papers from you in 2016.

If you are interested in delivering a paper, please send a 250 word proposal to mairtin.macconiomaire@dit.ie by the 15th January 2016. Completed papers would be expected to be submitted by 1st May 2016. Length of papers should not exceed 5,000 words (excluding references). Author style sheet is available on http://arrow.dit.ie/dgs/information_for_authors.html .

Please forward this notice to any interested parties.

The DGS Organising Committee

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, Food Studies, revolution

CFP: Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics

Call for proposals:  Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, 2nd edition. Eds. Paul B. Thompson (Michigan State) and David M. Kaplan (University of North Texas)

The online and print edition of the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics (Springer) was published in October 2014.   Springer is so pleased by the sales and number of article downloads that they are seeking to publish a second, on-line edition.

The encyclopedia consists of entries that introduce topics and review controversies surrounding food production, distribution, and consumption.  The entries are not works of creative scholarship but rather part of a tertiary literature: they summarize the issues, arguments, and developments surrounding ethical issues related to food, agriculture, eating, and animals.

We welcome your suggestions for contributions.  Entries should be 1,500 words (min) to 4,000 words (max).  Advanced graduate students and recent PhDs are welcome to contribute.

Contact David M. Kaplan (University of North Texas), David.Kaplan@unt.edu for a copy of the Table of Contents from the first edition.  For the new edition, please suggest a topic (and a title) that is not included in the list.

Deadline for proposals: August 1, 2015

 

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, ethics

Robert M. Netting Best Student Paper Prize

The Culture and Agriculture section of the American Anthropological Association invites anthropology graduate and undergraduate students to submit papers for the 2015 Robert M. Netting Award. The graduate and undergraduate winners will receive cash awards of $750 and $250, respectively, and have the opportunity for a direct consultation with the editors of our section’s journal, CAFÉ (Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment), toward the goal of revising the paper for publication. Submissions should draw on relevant literature from any subfield of Anthropology, and present data from original research related to livelihoods based on crop, livestock, or fishery production and forestry and/or management of agricultural and environmental resources. Papers should be single-authored, limited to a maximum of 7,000 words, including endnotes, appendices, and references, and should follow American Anthropologist format style.

Papers already published or accepted for publication are not eligible. Only one submission per student is allowed. Submitters need not be members of the American Anthropological Association but they must be enrolled students. Students graduating in the Spring of 2015 are eligible. The submission deadline is August 31st, 2015. Submissions should be sent to Nicholas C. Kawa (Ball State), nckawa@gmail.com.

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Filed under AAA, agriculture, anthropology, awards, foodways

“Would you put oregano on your posole?” Lois Stanford on teaching “Food and Culture Around the World” and using New Mexico’s diversity in the classroom

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

This month, we hear from Lois Stanford, Associate Professor of Anthropology at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Dr. Stanford teaches a popular upper-level undergraduate course titled “Food and Culture Around the World.” In our interview, she describes how she uses New Mexico’s rich ethnic and culinary diversity to engage her students, the three-project structure of the class, and her film recommendations for the classroom.

If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate an excellent instructor for the interview series, please email LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

Lauren R. Moore: Before talking about teaching, can you tell me a little about your research? I attended your presentation at the AAAs last year, in the food sovereignty session put on by Culture & Agriculture, I really am interested in some of the work you’re doing with seed saving.

Dr. Lois Stanford: Yeah, I’ve gotten really interested in it. I’ve done a couple of workshops with Native Seeds and I have a colleague here at NMSU who is a plant breeder. He works in traditional open-pollinated varieties of corn. I’m really interested in working with him, and with Native Seeds, to work with farmers and how they use [seeds]. I think there’s a lot of possibility for working with [farmers] in a way that would be useful to them. One of the things Native Seeds does is keep really good records on the seeds they are reproducing, but not enough from the farmers’ perspective. They don’t have the resources to look at how communities respond to them—you know, what kind of food they’re making, and what people prefer. I think there’s some potential there.

LRM: Tell me a little about this class, ANT 360: Food and Culture Around the World.

LS: Most universities have courses that are general education, because they want students to broaden their perspectives. At NMSU, we have classes that are general education at the freshman level, but we also have classes at the junior/senior level. These juniors and seniors are required to take at least one class outside of their college. It regularly draws from all over the college, and outside of Arts and Sciences. This class is also an elective for several of the majors in dietetics and nutrition and the College of Health and Human Services. Many students are studying dietetics or nutrition. They often go on to work in issues in public health or social work or dietetics. I just hope the class will get them thinking about these things more broadly, and will affect how they work and how they think about things, as well.

I try and get [students] to think about the relationship between food and culture, the way our culture shapes how we look at food, and how we use food to communicate and create social bonds—to really think about food differently.

Since this is a Hispanic-serving institution, I’d say easily half of the class is Hispanic. So, a lot of what we talk about is how much food has been an important part of their lives, their families, their identities. That’s something that I think really helps them look at food differently, too.

It’s a class I teach once a year; it fills within 24 hours after the registration opens up. It’s students who haven’t had anthropology; they’re also not students who are used to reading a lot of material, and they’re not students that have lots of experience writing. So, it’s kind of a class where I have to do a lot of teasing and cajoling. I’m using a new textbook, Gillian Crowther’s Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food.

Crowther coverIn the past, I’ve used Counihan and Van Esterick’s Food and Culture: A Reader, which I really like. When I teach anthropology students and graduate students, it’s a really, really good book. But the students in this class… Counihan and Van Esterick sent them right over the edge. They can’t read the articles and put it all together in a framework, so I’m using a different text for that reason. I have to structure things much more than I would with anthropology students or with graduate students.

LRM: Syllabi are such a great resource, but one of the hard things about consulting syllabi is that you don’t always have a sense for how the classes function day-to-day. I wonder if you could give us a picture of what one day in your class looks like?

LS:  I tend to be very structured. The class is run in a lab, so there are tables, and everyone is sitting in order. And then, it depends on what we’re doing in class… over the course of a week, I would do a lecture and would do a PowerPoint (I can’t lecture without PowerPoint). I have lots of pictures, and I tend to lecture standing in front of the slides and then asking questions and drawing people into the conversation. And then, those days are interspersed with films. When we have films, I usually give students a list of questions for stuff that they’re supposed to watch, and we then have a discussion after we a watch the film. We tend to alternate between something that’s more structured, like lecture with discussion and participation, and films that are followed by group discussions.

LRM: How do you have the course organized?

LS: First, I’m a cultural anthropologist. I know a lot of scholars may teach food from a biocultural perspective. I have the biocultural for one week at the beginning of the semester, and then we talk about subsistence and hunting and gathering lifestyles. Then, I domesticate food, and we talk about the fact that food is cultural, because most of what we eat is food that was domesticated. Then, I talk about food and history, followed by food and social relations.

Towards the end of the semester I move into talking about the transformation of traditional food systems. So, talking about globalization and the industrialization of food and the impact that has on us and on our health. We talk about some of the movements that can be looked at as forms of resistance to that industrial food system. So, talking about food and borders and identity, and then talking about local food systems.

LM: How does the New Mexican context shape the course?

LS: Because of where we are, [there are issues with] trying to revive the local food system and improve food security. It isn’t really food studies like Indiana University…we’re in a very poor state, in a Hispanic-serving institution, we’re in a public land grant institution, and we are in the middle of a drought. We have food production issues, we have a very low income and very ethnically diverse population… the context makes food studies much more applied.

I think a lot of people don’t really realize how important food is to them and to their own identity. In many other areas of the country, they might look at New Mexico and say, “Well, they eat Mexican food.” But, here in New Mexico, food is a really important marker of the geography of the region and your identity. When people start talking about those issues toward the end of the semester, they’re starting to loosen up a little, and they start realizing how important these things really are.

People who come from northern New Mexico think the food’s really different down here. We use more chile, it’s spicier, we use more oil; we’re influenced by Mexican food. Northern New Mexico is very “comida la ranchera,” it’s more peasant food, stews, and they just use red chile. The Mexicans who immigrate across the border, they make their enchilada sauce with red chiles but also with mulatos, anchos [dried poblanos], güeros [banana peppers] and different kinds of chiles.

All these kids recognize that the tastes are different. So the minute you start talking about ethnicities and boundaries and borders, you start asking, “do you use yellow cheese or white cheese?” “What kind of chile do you use?” “Would you put oregano on your posole, or would you put cilantro?” They realize how we use these things to create boundaries and differences, and it really is important to them. It’s a lot of fun.

WhitePozoleDF

White pozole with oregano.

Also, because here in New Mexico… I don’t mean any disrespect, but it’s not Vermont! We have kids that are Hispanic from northern New Mexico, who never considered themselves Mexican. They’re Chicanos, they’re descendants of Spanish. We have New Mexican border culture down here. We have immigrants, people from El Paso who are Hispanic and have grown up on the border, and have immigrants from Mexico. And I’ll often have Navajo or Mescalero [students], or students from the Pueblos. All of a sudden people start talking about their own experiences.

I think it’s really interesting for the white kids, too, because we have a tradition of farming in New Mexico, and many of them… they don’t have to go back far before they start realizing their own ancestry and their own foodways. They may be third or fourth generation immigrants. They don’t speak the language, they don’t have any ties, but often times food is that last thing that you kind of hold on to a sense of your family and who you are. They never really thought about it that way. They have a culture, too. I like to tell them, “those of us from the South, we have culture too!”

LRM: This sounds like it gets to be a really lively point in the course. Do you have particular activities that get these kinds of discussions going?

LS: One of the things we do at the end of the semester, when we’re talking about ethnicity and borders, is I have a PowerPoint slideshow, and we go through and talk about “What is a burrito? What do you put in a burrito?” Because in California, where I grew up, we have “California burritos,” where you put the rice and all of this stuff in them. And the students are like, “Oh, god! That’s disgusting!”

california burrito

California Burrito

Then I talk about posole, and ask, “Your posole, is it white or is it red?” They get into these arguments about what kind of cheese you’re supposed to use. Are you supposed to sauté the rice before you put the tomato sauce in it or after? At that point, they really realize how important these little tiny differences are, and it’s because we make them important. We assign value and importance to them.

They also do a series of projects in class. The first project they do is to write a history of a food, they have to pick a food and write a short history of it. The second project they do is an observation at a meal. They have to document how the food is used, what kinds of social values are being reinforced through the sharing of food and how it’s organized. The last assignment is an interview with someone with a list of questions I provide that focuses on someone either from their family or somebody from another ethnic group, someone who is an immigrant or who has grown up in a different food culture. It’s a narrative interview to look at how that individual uses food as a way of maintaining their ethnicity.

LRM: What kinds of questions you have students ask in that interview?

LS: Well, if somebody’s immigrated, students ask what kind of foods they ate while growing up? What kinds of challenges did they have trying to maintain those foods when they came to the United States? How did they find them, how did they learn how to fix the foods, who taught them? Do they still eat these foods? When do they eat them?

What we find a lot here is that when people assimilate, they don’t fix traditional foods on a daily basis. But for feast days, for Día de Los Muertos, there are tamales all over town. Everybody has to have tamales for Christmas, and it’s a really big deal whether you make them yourself, or if you go buy them…that’s considered cheating. That’s a really big deal.

A lot of times, the kids don’t realize how much of those foods are still a part of their cycle. It’s part of the seasonal cycle, not what they eat everyday. But when it’s somebody’s birthday, when it’s Lent, it’s really important that those foods are served.

LRM: Is there one assignment or one section of the class that students seem to enjoy the most?

LS: I think it’s probably the interview. I think that it’s often an interview they do with someone who’s a member of their family. So it’s often educational and also more rewarding. But it’s also towards the end of the semester, and I think that we all get a little loosened up moving ahead.

LRM: Is there anything that you have kept consistent throughout the years of teaching the course that really seems to go well every time?

LS: The three projects have worked fairly well. With the history of a food, they don’t have to go out and talk to people. There are so many websites now. I post a link to the food timeline, and the Smithsonian’s got a lot. They can get their feet wet, you know… start thinking about these things, but they don’t have to go out and interview somebody or do something that engages. So, I think that’s a good start. Then, the other two projects involve them in doing a little anthropology… one is an observation, and one is an interview.

LRM: Is there anything that you have tried and jettisoned?

LS: When I first started teaching the class, I moved very quickly into local foods and organics and alternatives. And, this is a generation of kids that have grown up at McDonalds, and most everybody shops at Wal-Mart. You know, and some of them are gardeners, and some of them have a very different relationship with food, but I feel like it’s very important to not be too judgmental, to not be too dogmatic, to lead people into thinking about these things as opposed to beating them over the head with it.

I also like to talk about the contradictions and the realities of our lives. We can’t all be pounding corn and making tortillas every day; we’ve got to do something else. And they may occasionally see me at Wal-Mart, picking up laundry detergent. I think that trying to get people to think critically and reflect on it, and to not be too heavy into the organic kind of stuff. That’s definitely improved my teaching evaluations.

And the text reading, too. I loved Food and Culture: A Reader, but it just didn’t work for that audience. I’m hoping that this one works better!

LRM: Do you feel like there’s anything you do differently with this group? While they aren’t anthropology majors, they are juniors and seniors. Does that change your approach at all?

LS: Yeah, in the sense that they’re older, they’re more mature. We often have students who are returning students, so they often have families, they’re parents. We have a lot of veterans, we have a long tradition of military service with students coming back to finish their degrees. So I feel like maybe one of the reasons I like the class is that although they may not be aware of the concepts and may not have had the anthropology, a lot of them have had world experiences. They’re raising kids, and thinking about these kinds of things in their own lives. They served in the Middle East and they’ve been exposed to other cultures… so they’re not anthropology students, but they’re grown ups. That experience is nice.

LRM: You mentioned that you use films. Do you have particular films that you’d recommend?

LS: I really like the… they are dated now, but the PBS series that was done on food, The Meaning of Food, that Marcus Samuelsson interviews and narrates. They’ve got three parts: Food and Life, Food and Family, Food and Culture. They do these short vignettes, so they’re thematically organized then you get to see these different cases.

I’ve shown Food, Inc. before, and thought that was a little “rhhm-rhhm-rhhm-rhhm” (heavy handed).

I really like an ABC News special that Peter Jennings did (it’s really old now [aired in 2003]) called How to Get Fat Without Really Trying. It’s about the industrialization of the food system. Very Marion Nestle-ish—how they convince you to eat more and you don’t even realize it. They’ve got some great quotes, where some of these advertising people are talking about how they changed the formula of cranberry juice so there’s no cranberry juice in it, but people can’t tell the difference! And they just say these things…. it really gets the students going.

A really nice film that’s on the Center for Urban Pedagogy website that’s called Bodega Down Bronx. It’s nice, because we’re so Mexican and rural and border here, it’s a nice cultural difference.

And there’s also a really nice film called Ingredients about local food systems. It’s organized around the whole annual cycle, with local production coming full circle. It’s very nicely done, and it really focuses on CSAs, locals, and organics. And it’s in Washington state, with white people in Birkenstocks and stuff. So we watch that and everybody really likes it, and then I say, “What’s not in here? What’s missing?” and they’re like, “There’s no Mexicans in here!” There’s no desert, except for maybe a short five-minute clip in Tucson. So people have the sense that it’s not… it’s really good, but how does it get extended? How do other people participate in it? But it’s a really nice film, I like it.

And, I use a series of films that… well, I’ve done work in Mexico on food as cultural patrimony, and so there’s a short film that Mexico’s tourism department did and then presented to UNESCO as part of their food as their heritage. And then France did one, and France presented it. And so we watch the two of them, and they’re very different because Mexico is presenting its indigenous heritage, the farming, and the land. And then France…well, it’s all Paris, it’s French and Parisian, it’s urbane and cosmopolitan, so they’re presenting a different national image. It’s a nice contrast.

LRM: For instructors who are developing a food-related course for the first time, do you have any thoughts or suggestions for things to consider?

LS: I think the syllabi that have been provided by SAFN are a really good place to start because you can really see how different instructors have approached the same topic. Somebody who has a background in nutrition or who has more of a biocultural background, there would be different elements that they would include, and the course would be organized in a totally different way. I think it would help somebody who’s starting out to see what the different options are. Play with the syllabus, and make it yours.

LRM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LS: In addition to the undergraduate program, we have a Master’s degree, and we have a graduate level minor in food studies. New Mexico is a really neat place because there’s so much really interesting fieldwork that the students can do right here. Some students have done stuff that is food security related, designing curriculum for a school or something like that, others have done projects that have been more like food studies. I had a students who did a MA project on an ethnography of the matanzas, which is the tradition of the ritual slaughter and roasting of pigs for a feast. I had another student do an ethnography of an old, Hispanic, border restaurant, interviewing and cooking with the sisters who are behind the restaurant. We’re in a really culturally diverse area, where there’s a lot of opportunity for students to do really neat research, even at the beginning graduate level.

LRM: Thank you so much for your time!

 

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Filed under anthropology, Food Studies, new mexico, pedagogy

Interrogating the “Authentic” Local Ethnic Restaurant

M. Ruth Dike
University of Kentucky

I moved to Lexington, KY last August to start a PhD program in Cultural Anthropology. After a few months, I decided to ask my fellow graduate student Daniel, who grew up in Cholula near Mexico City, about where I could find “authentic” Mexican restaurants in Lexington. I wanted to know because I thought it would be nice to take my fiancé, Mario (who grew up in Zacatecas, Mexico until moving to the US in the 4th grade), to a restaurant that could remind him vaguely of his mother’s cooking (however futile that may be). Daniel obliged and even drew me a map of “Mexington” (no joke, that’s what Lexington calls it) with three “authentic” restaurants on it.

It was awesome that Daniel was so willing to show me places of “authentic” Mexican restaurants in Lexington but thinking back on it now, this wasn’t the best way to ask where to find less-Americanized Mexican food, or any type of international cuisine for that matter.

A few weeks later, we did end up going to Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez with a few other friends late on a Tuesday night. Below is a picture of my meal:

Burrito de asada chico and tacos de cesos y pastor with a glass of horchata.

Burrito de asada chico and tacos de cesos y pastor with a glass of horchata.

What even makes food authentic? Is it how long it’s been cooked in a certain way in a certain country? How far do we go back to look? 50 years? 1500 years? Are all the regional versions of couscous in Morocco just as valid as an imaginary “national” version of couscous? Is Neapolitan pizza more Italian than Sicilian pizza? Are we looking only at “authentic” Mexican food in Mexico or also in the US? Is Mexican food served in other parts of Latin America “authentic”?

When writing this post, I have to recognize my own privilege in being able to ask Daniel where “authentic” Mexican restaurants were in Lexington. Why don’t people ask me, “Where can we find “authentic” American restaurants in Memphis?” Am I any less knowledgeable of American food (having grown up in Memphis) than Daniel is of Mexican food? No, but we don’t expect Americans to make broad sweeping generalizations about a monolithic homogenous cuisine like we do for Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Moroccan, French, or other types of cuisine. We have regional varieties of American food but don’t realize that other countries are just as regionally diverse (thanks Olivia for this point). So maybe we should ask ourselves, would I ask that about American restaurants of my American friends?

And yes, I have had people ask me where to find good barbeque in Memphis (my choice), but the fact that they know to ask about barbeque because I’m from Memphis shows that they actually recognize America’s regional diversity. The way we use “authentic” in everyday life masks the regional variety of our local ethnic restaurants.

Why has no one ever asked my fiancé Mario (who has lived in Memphis since the 4th grade) about “authentic” American restaurants in Memphis? Is he less knowledgeable about American cuisine than I am? Nope. But sometimes I ask Mario to guide me through all of Mexican cuisine and culture. I realize now that it’s not fair to ask my international friends and family to represent an entire place and culture anymore than it’s fair for them to expect me to represent all of American culture.

There can be a complicated relationship between Americanized ethnic food and those from the culture that a restaurant might be trying to represent. Jiayang Fan, for instance, admits in The New Yorker that she loves General Tso’s chicken, but feels embarrassed about ordering it in Chinese restaurants. Mario loves Taco Bell. He doesn’t call it Mexican food but he does go there during the day.

Our friends and I thought the meal at Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez was delicious. I was impressed with the variety of meats offered and the distribution of ingredients in the burrito. Mario thought that his meal was tasty but that the carne asada in his burrito could have been a little fresher (we did go around 8 pm). I was reminded that Mario grew up having tasty carne asada at various weddings, quinceañeras, and baptisms throughout his life and had a much wider range of experiences with it than myself. Also that his mother is a cooking goddess.

Mario’s meal: burrito de asada grande and sope de asada.

Mario’s meal: burrito de asada grande and sope de asada.

We need to stop using the word authentic in a way that homogenizes ethnic cuisine when we ask our local Cultural Tour Guide** (ahem, friend) about local international restaurants. Instead of using the word authentic, you could ask, “What region do you think this Chinese (or Italian or Mexican or French or Pakistani) restaurant most identifies with?” “Are there any restaurants here that serve food that reminds you of home?” “What local restaurant has the least-Americanized food from your culture?” or simply: “What do you recommend around here to eat?”

Or you can use asking about “authentic” cuisine as a starting point for a deeper conversation about other cuisines. I think all too often we use our knowledge about sushi or pho to show our cultural capital without actually knowing much about another culture.

Eater.com editor Joshua David Stein says that, “there’s nothing more authentically American than inauthenticity.” Perhaps instead of searching for authenticity in ethnic cuisine, we should be searching for the complicated lived experiences of our international friends.

I’d like to thank Daniel V., David B., and Olivia S. for their insightful comments about this blog. This blog was inspired by another awesome article about food cultures written by Amy S. Choi as well as graduate seminars in the Gastronomy program at Boston University and the Anthropology program at the University of Kentucky.

*By international I mean any immigrants/visitors from other countries.

**The term “Cultural Tour Guide” was introduced to me by Olivia Spradlin, who heard it in a Gender & Women’s Studies graduate class at the University of Kentucky.

Ruth Dike considers herself a food anthropologist and recently started her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Kentucky. You can learn more about her here and reach her at mruthdike@gmail.com.

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Filed under anthropology, ethnicity, Food Studies, foodways