Category Archives: anthropology

George Mason University Job Announcement

George Mason University
Department of Nutrition and Food Studies – Term Assistant Professor

The George Mason University, College of Health and Human Services, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies in Fairfax, Va., invites applications for a Term (Nontenure-Track) Assistant Professor position in Nutrition to begin Spring 2016. Responsibilities require teaching four courses per semester at either the undergraduate- or graduate-level.

An earned doctorate degree in nutrition or a related field is required. Successful candidates will contribute to the growth and success of Nutrition programs (including an M.S. in Nutrition, graduate certificates in Food Security and Nutrition, and the development of additional programs), teach Food Studies and Nutrition courses at both the undergraduate- and graduate-level, and advise our M.S. students.

The ability to contribute to other programs within the College of Health and Human Services, including Public Health, Community Health, Epidemiology, Global Health, Chronic Disease, Aging and Disability will be weighed in the selection process. Additional desired qualifications are experience with successful methods of teaching and learning, developing courses in higher education, online course development and offerings, and a solid record of teaching undergraduate and graduate students. Priorities given to those who can teach courses in food security, food systems, nutrition/food policy, food and culture, and nutrition program planning.

George Mason University is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse faculty and staff. Women and minority candidates are particularly encouraged to apply.

For full consideration, applicants must apply for position number F7147z at by November 13, 2015. The position will remain open until filled. EO/AA/Vet/Disabled Employer.

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Street, Neighborhood, City in the New New Orleans

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Brocato sign

Old and new, Brocato’s and El Rinconcito.

When Angelo Brocato’s gelato and pastry shop reopened in September, 2006, it seemed like a beacon of hope in a neighborhood that was still very much on the mend. I don’t think there were very many other businesses open yet on that stretch of N. Carrolton Avenue. I do remember the large crowds that gathered to get some gelato or cannoli, the band that played as we waited on line, and the sense of happiness at having Brocato’s century old shop back in business. Located in a diverse Mid-City neighborhood, Brocato’s is the kind of place frequented by people who live here and its rebirth suggested that maybe the city would return to some semblance of what it had been.

Within a few years of the 2005 floods, however, the debate began to shift away from recovery to the future. The city’s demographics were changing. Many people could not return to the city, public housing was being destroyed, and the cost of living in New Orleans started to rise. Many Latino workers, having arrived to help rebuild, decided to stay and make lives for themselves here. Young college educated people—often white—were moving to New Orleans and moving into neighborhoods that had previously been mostly black. Now the concern was whether or not the neighborhoods of New Orleans, the site of vibrant cultural life, would survive these changes. New Orleans leading thinkers have developed a cottage industry explaining this situation, either decrying the threats to local culture, celebrating the “resilience” of any surviving parts of it, or arguing that everyone has misunderstood the central issues.

Starting in the summer of 2010, I gathered a group of UNO students to study the restaurants clustered around the intersection of N. Carrolton Avenue and Canal Street, in New Orleans. This area is a kind of microcosm of the transformations that have marked the city since 2005. For a long time, most of the restaurants were local businesses, with very few national chains, although that has changed significantly in the past 2 years. Some of restaurants rebuilt after the floods, while others were replaced by new businesses. There are even a few upscale restaurants in the neighborhood. The changes seem to reflect deeper trends in New Orleans business and consumption patterns.

A number of commercial districts in the city have had remarkable rebirths since 2005. Historian Rien Fertel has written about rediscovering Broad Street, making an interesting case for why that road represents some of the city’s demographic and culinary trends. Freret Street, a commercial strip in uptown New Orleans, has an interesting pre-Katrina history and, in the years since, has become a kind of hipster mecca, but one that some think represents a good side of gentrification. Oak Street, home of the Po’Boy Festival, has also been the site of significant redevelopment in recent years. St. Claude Avenue, at the center of historically black communities, has become a center for controversy about gentrification and redevelopment, but is also home to a lively new array of eating and drinking opportunities. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, in Central City, has become the site of a distinct combination of restaurants and cultural institutions, including the new home of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Williams Boulevard, in the relatively distant suburb of Kenner might be the best index of the city’s future, with an array of restaurants representing the diversity of the populations in New Orleans today.

empty block

Scars of disaster, 2010, the site is now home to a shiny set of national chains.

My students tried to trace out the commercial history of the Carrollton/Canal area, interviewing owners, workers, and customers. In 2010, the scars of the 2005 floods were still visible, with at least one former strip mall still standing in ruins. The BP oil spill was an ongoing problem and the local seafood purveyors expressed deep concerns for their future. What was particularly striking, however, was the dominance of local businesses. We found interesting stories—how Doson Noodle House, a Vietnamese restaurant, evolved from Oak Street’s wonderfully named Chinese’s Chinese, for instance, or the sad story of Chef Michel Foucqueteau, whose last New Orleans restaurant, Chateaubriand, did not survive the floods. We heard about the changes in the kinds of businesses in the area, as beauty salons, hardware stores, car dealers, and pool halls, gave way to more and more restaurants.


Doson Noodle House

I have been especially happy to see my students enthusiastically embrace this research. I regularly teach a course in applied anthropology that has a methodological focus. By picking one area, I can treat the class as an applied research team, giving them an opportunity to produce a series of reports that can resemble a real applied project. The students tend to take this project personally, because they live or work in or near the area, have family history there, or frequent the restaurants themselves. The project allows students to learn about a wide range of methods, starting from developing a sense of how to observe the organization of the street, to conducting interviews, oral history techniques, archival research, and more. They also learn about teamwork and about how to put together both written reports and visually interesting presentations.

This is an ongoing project. We will start updating the blog again this spring, when a fresh group of students will return to document changes in the area. There are some important questions we need to answer. The empty lots that marked the area in 2010 have been replaced by a shiny cluster of national chain restaurants. What impact will these new places have on the local businesses? The Lafitte Greenway, merely a dream for activists and planners in 2010, is now open, providing a bike path directly from the neighborhood to the French Quarter. How will this new amenity impact the community? Will the enormous new medical complex—not far from our area of study—change the neighborhood and the businesses in it?

There are also some deeper issues that our research can explore. Why have food (and drink) businesses become so central to reviving (or gentrifying) urban neighborhoods? What does the particular mix of restaurants and people in the Carrollton/Canal area tell us about the future of New Orleans distinctive culinary culture?

The neighborhood itself never stops changing. We have seen a few restaurants come and go, including an outpost of the local pizza chain Italian Pie (replaced by Milkfish, a Filipino restaurant), as well as Juicy Lucy’s, a stuffed hamburger joint that had itself replaced Fiesta Latina, a Central American restaurant (still open in Kenner!). The former Kjean’s Seafood, maker of po’boys, boiler of crawfish, and seafood retailer will soon be replaced with Bevi Seafood, a slightly more chef-driven version of the traditional New Orleans seafood joint (that makes po’boys, boils crawfish, and retails seafood). The announcement that “legendary barman” Chris McMillian will be opening a new restaurant in the Carrollton/Canal area could be a sign that hipster dining is arriving in the neighborhood. According to, the menu will include “pretzel brioche sticks, bulgogi wraps and chicken chimichurri kebabs” and, in the same article, McMillian states that “Mid-City is ready for craft cocktails.” Maybe. Julia Yocom, longtime neighborhood resident and one of the original members of our research team in 2010, told me that the area is more of a “High Life and a shot” sort of place. Whichever it is, our students will be there to document it.

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Filed under anthropology, disaster, Food Studies, New Orleans, SAFN Member Research

Christine Wilson Award 2015

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to announce the 2015 Christine Wilson Award.

The award recognizes outstanding student research examining topics in nutrition, food studies and anthropology. Papers that propose new conceptual framework or outline novel research designs are especially welcome.

Guidelines for Submission of Your Entry:

  • Paper must present original, empirical research (literature reviews not eligible) undertaken in whole or in part by the author.
  • Primary focus must be on anthropological approach to food and/or nutrition.
  • Author (or first author for co-authored papers) must be currently enrolled as a student (undergraduate or graduate), or enrolled during the past academic year.
  • Papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced, and follow American Anthropological Association style guidelines.

Winners of the graduate and undergraduate awards receive a cash prize + a year’s membership in SAFN


Submit your paper to Amy Trubek via email (

Submission is open to AAA and non-AAA members. For more information, visit

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“It all comes alive.” Robbie Baer on Successful Service-Learning Projects with Anthropology of Food Students

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

This month, we hear from Dr. Roberta Baer, Professor at the University of South Florida. She shares what she’s learned from four service-learning projects conducted with Burmese refugees living in Tampa, Florida, and offers advice for instructors who’d like to incorporate service learning into their classes.

If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate an excellent instructor for the interview series, please email

LRM: I wonder if you could tell me a little about yourself, and give a brief overview of the four community-based projects you’ve done in your classes?

RB: I went to grad school at the University of Arizona, and my dissertation research was on nutritional anthropology. I looked at income allocation in Northern Mexico and how that affected diets and nutritional status. Then I did medical anthropology for years and years, and didn’t do anything big in nutritional anthropology until I got mixed up with the Burmese refugee community around 2010. At that point, I was teaching a class on ethnicity and healthcare, and I wanted a project for my class. My department’s grad program is very applied, and we try to have community-focused research projects for our students to work on in our graduate elective classes.

I talked with a friend who worked at Lutheran Services of Florida and suggested the idea of my class doing a project for them. It turned out that the same time that I was pitching the project, a group of some of the more educated Burmese refugees were trying to start an ECBO, an ethnic community based organization. In order to do that, they needed to have some sort of needs assessment. We made a deal that I would do a health needs assessment, they would act as interpreters for me, and Lutheran Services would help in a variety of ways. The research would then be available for the community organization to use to apply for funding. My students interviewed about 24 of about 27 households of Burmese refugees who had been resettled in Tampa by Lutheran Services Florida. We looked at diet, traditional remedies, mental health issues, and sources of stress. A big source of stress for a lot of the parents was child discipline, which is very different in the United States. Parents weren’t sure what they could do to discipline their kids, and the kids were saying, “oh we’re Americans, we’re free” or you know, “you do anything and I’m calling 911.” We also found a lot of dental problems; the longer people were in the United States, the more dental problems they had. That was the health needs assessment. We wrote it all up and gave it to the community.

Robbie Baer and students working in community garden.

Robbie Baer and students working in community garden.

About the same time we turned in the report, a local group had received a grant for ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) to start a community garden. One thing the refugees wanted was a place where they could grow some of their own food. The organizers of the garden wanted to have 35 families involved, and basically have them growing the kinds of food they were used to eating. In Fall 2013, I was asked to be on the advisory board for the community garden. So the others on the advisory board asked me for information about what the Burmese eat, to know what should be planted in the garden. I confidently said that I had a lot on that in my office and could forward it to the board. Come to find out I had nothing, nor was there much out there on the web or elsewhere. So for Spring 2014, I was assigned to teach a brand new course, Anthropology of Food. I thought, “Ok, they’re going to have 35 families involved in this garden, and I have 35 students in my class. Hmm…. what if I gave one student each family, and had them find out about what the Burmese ate?”

I suggested this to the garden advisory board, who thought it was great. I ran it past the Burmese community, and they thought it was fine. So, in Spring 2014, my students did a very complex project. There were 13 families involved in the garden. We interviewed one adult and one child from each family, and since our best access to them was on Sundays, we asked them about what they ate on the previous Saturday, figuring that was the most Burmese day and we could see how traditional their diets were or weren’t. We did 24-hour recalls with them, using interpreters. Then, the health department was interested in us finding out about people who were diagnosed with chronic illnesses, how they understood them, what they were doing about them, so we interviewed three people with chronic illnesses. Other people on the garden advisory board were interested in finding out what people were planting in the garden, and what those things were used for. So we did an inventory in the garden of everything that was being grown there… walked around with the farmers, wrote down the names of everything in Karen or Kayah, which are the tribal languages, or Burmese, took photographs of it, the whole nine yards. It turned out that some plants were used for food, others as medicine, and some as pesticides. Then we did two focus groups, one with men and one with women about: what did people like to eat? What they liked about American food, what they didn’t like about American food. It was very interesting—their big concern was not about nutrition. They had very little interest in nutrition. We asked them, “is there a relationship between food and health?” “Not really,” they said, but their big concern was that they didn’t want to get fat, and they thought American food could make you fat. That came out in the focus groups. Then, we had two teenagers who kept records for us of what they ate during the week. Basically, during the week the kids were eating school breakfast and school lunch. On Saturdays, people were pretty much eating Burmese food. So we made some recommendations based on that study.

Garden work.

Garden work.

Then it occurred to me that what we really needed to do was figure out what the kids were eating during the week. I had another class, a qualitative methods class in Fall 2014. We did three-day recalls with all of the school-aged kids. There were 24 of them. Then, focus groups: one with the little boys, one with the older boys, and one with the girls, looking at the kids’ attitudes toward food, American food, Burmese food, body image, school lunches, etc.

I am doing the fourth part of this project this fall. I am teaching the Anthropology of Food again, and we’re going to look at two-day recalls of the adults, of what they’re eating during the week, and how much American food that they are eating, and what it consists of. And again, heights and weights.

LRM: What is the level of each of these classes? Undergrads, graduates?

RB: The very first one, the health needs assessment, was all graduate students. The one on weekend food was a mixed class of undergraduates and graduates. It was 34 students, and that was really hard. It was so many students, and so much data, and it was really crazy. The methods class was 13 undergraduates, and the class this fall, Anthropology of Food again, will have about 25 students, mixed undergraduate and graduate.

It’s really hard when you have a lot of students. And it’s really hard with undergraduates, because graduate students…you know, I would let go out and do home visits on their own, but undergraduates I don’t feel like I can do that, and the neighborhoods that we’re working with are not the best neighborhoods in the city, they are very low-income neighborhoods. So, basically, if my students are doing fieldwork, I’m out with them.

LRM: This sounds incredibly time intensive for you. Did you set individual appointments for each student group that was doing the interviews, and going out with the students in small groups? 

RB: I scheduled things. I ran the focus groups, but the students came and took notes, because we would get a focus group going in three or four languages, so there was no point in taping it because you couldn’t find anybody to transcribe it. We’re always operating in multiple tribal languages, Burmese, and English. So, my students just take notes in English. We miss a lot of what goes on, but this is the best we can do.

I set the time for the focus groups, I set the time for the Sunday interviews. We met with people after Sunday evening church services, because there was already a group of people all in one spot. And then, the work at the garden—the plant inventories, we scheduled particular Saturdays, because in these kind of projects you have to connect at least four dots. There’s the dot of me, the dot of the student, the dot of the interpreter, and the dot of the person you’re interviewing. The scheduling becomes really, really complex, so I do it in groups.

If there were any people that we hadn’t managed to catch at church, we sent out the word in the community that we were missing these people and was it okay if we came to their houses? People told us it was fine, so one evening we went out in a group—because again, these are not great neighborhoods—from house to house and caught up with the people we were missing.

When we interviewed the kids, they were actually the easiest group. That was Fall 2014. Someone lent us their apartment, and the kids were told to come to that apartment after school. They came in three waves, when elementary, middle, and high school dismissed. So, we just connected with the kids on three weekdays and did recalls with them. There were a couple of kids who lived in other complexes so we went and visited them. And then the focus groups we scheduled, I think on Sunday afternoons or something, again at the apartment complex where most of the kids lived so they could just walk over. So that was actually pretty easy.

LRM: Did you encounter any issues with students who weren’t able to meet on the weekends, or do this outside time?

RB: This was a big problem, because most of my students work 30 hours a week and are taking 15 hours of classes. I scheduled things at a whole variety of times, so there were some things that went on during the week, and you had various weekdays. Some things that happened Sunday evening, which is actually a good time—most students don’t work Sunday evening. Some things that happened Sunday afternoon. The dates were set before the semester started.

When students came the first day, I said, “you’ve got to be able to make one of these. You’ve got to make food recalls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Or, you can come to a focus group Sunday afternoon. Or, you can do this on Sunday evening. If you can do more than one, that’s great, but you have to do at least one, and you have to participate in analyzing the data.” That works pretty well. It gives them a variety of times they can plug into, and if you can’t plug into a single one of those times, well—it’s the first day of class, they can not take the class.

LRM: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what kind of prep this required on your part.  When you’re thinking about prepping a new course, it’s very time intensive…how does this kind of project affect your course prep?

RB: The project kind of takes over my life. It gets really crazy during the data collection. Once we have the data, the analysis is pretty easy. I leave a couple of classes totally free for analysis. So, there’s usually about 2-3 weeks at the beginning of the semester of set up, and then I allow about 4-5 weeks for data collection, then it stops, and then at least 5 weeks for data analysis. It’s those 5 weeks of data collection, which are really crazy. I always have back ups, if we have more data to collect and none of my undergraduates can do it, some of my graduate advisees will come help me out, or I’ll do it.

It takes a lot of planning. I hear about people who do community projects on the fly… I don’t know how they pull it off. Mine take a huge amount of planning. For example, the one that I’m doing in this next Fall on adult weekday food… adults are hard to get a hold of, so I’m going to throw 2-3 meetings on Saturday nights, and invite the entire community to come. We’ll do recalls from Friday’s food consumption. I’ll bring some snacks, and while people are eating, we’ll weigh people, measure them, and do food recalls.

LRM: You said you take a couple of weeks in the semester for what you called “set up” in the beginning. What does “set up” include?

RB: Set up is a little bit of background on whatever group we’re dealing with. Students will read the reports done by previous classes about what we already know about the community and their diet. Depending on the situation, I either have to go through IRB in the beginning or not. If it’s a class project I often don’t, which mean the students can create our instruments. So, if we’re doing some sort of qualitative questionnaire, they get to create that. Focus group guides, they get to create that, with of course my input. I also teach them how to do 24-hour recalls. I teach them all of the skills that they’re going to need to be able to do the data collection.

On one project, I actually got a small grant, but to get the money, I had to do IRB first. I created a bunch of the instruments, but I’m going to let the students tinker with them, and then send it in for a modification request. It’s very interesting for students to start with a problem, create a questionnaire, collect the data, do the analysis, and write a report. Sometime they think that stuff in books…I don’t know, God does it or something…so for them to see the actual process is really valuable for undergraduates. It teaches them to be critical of knowledge and critical of information. Critical of data.

LRM: Can you tell me about the other content in the course? What are you doing while the data collection takes place outside of class?

RB: During that time in class, what we’re doing is discussing the readings. The readings look at all sorts of factors related to food consumption patterns. We read studies on ethnicity, and religion, and subsistence patterns, we look at contemporary issues of malnutrition and obesity. The role of income, prestige… we do readings on all of those things, and some of that may have been worked in to a questionnaire. They don’t recognize it when they are doing the questionnaire, but when they do the readings, they see it. “Oh, yeah, that’s why we asked people, ‘what do rich people eat, what do poor people eat?’ ‘What do you serve when you have an American guest? What do you serve when you have a Burmese guest?’” And they start to understand why some of those questions are there, and the larger literature to which those questions actually pertain.

LRM: To what extent are you talking about the project while you’re doing this other content and addressing readings in class?

RB: It’s all a back and forth. At the beginning of each class, we’ll talk about, “People who did data collection at church last Sunday night, tell us what went on, how did it go, what were you hearing? People who came to the focus group on Friday night, what kinds of things were you hearing?” It’s back and forth all the time. And remember, not every student is involved in all the data collection. I usually have the ones who go to the focus group do the focus group analysis, but then they all present to the community organizations on the last day of the semester. So everybody gets to hear the results, and everybody’s really interested!

LRM: How does the project factor into the grading for the course? What other kinds of graded assignments do you have?

RB: There’s a couple of other individual assignments, because undergraduates freak out if it’s all group assignments. They hate group assignments. One individual assignment is the 3-day recall and analysis of their own diet. There’s at least one other project related to ethnicity, or religion and food, or income and food. So, there are two individual projects, and then they have to participate in the group project, and they have to participate in the analysis and the presentation, and I think that’s worth 25% of their grade. I have them do a reflection paper at the end on what they thought of the project. Then I have also another individual assignment, which I call essay sets. Essay sets are sort of like a take-home exam. I give them some questions, they take them home, and I ask them to synthesize themes from the readings and lectures. That’s my way of making sure they did those assigned readings.

LRM: I would love to know a little bit about what students have gotten from this project, and what you’ve learned from those reflection papers. 

RB: Basically, that the project really made them understand different perspectives on food. They love the opportunity to work with a very different cultural group outside of class. So that was always very successful.

One big problem with working with American college students is that they’re all obsessed with nutrition. Food is all about nutrition for them. It’s really good to plop them down on the floor, without their shoes, in some Burmese refugee family’s home, with people who have no clue about the relationships between nutrition and food and health. The Burmese eat rice, and vegetables, and meat, and chiles, because that’s what they’ve always eaten. They drink soda because that’s what Americans drink. You know… all this [nutritional] analysis that’s so predominant in American culture is just not there. It really makes students stop and think about how culture-bound their own perceptions are.

Students also love doing the fieldwork. I mean, the highest evaluations I’ve gotten in 31 years of teaching came from the Anthropology of Food class, when they were doing the stuff with the garden plants and the weekend food consumption. They just couldn’t believe that class. They just loved it. Undergraduates, as a rule, don’t get to do that. And Burmese refugees are kind of exotic… they live about a quarter of a mile from campus, and I make the students do the whole thing. I say, “at the door, you take off your shoes, because that’s what you do in Asia, you come in, you sit on the floor… people will offer you chairs and you say no, you just sit down on the floor, because that’s what people do.” And having to work through interpreters and all of that… I mean, here we are a quarter of a mile from campus, and people don’t speak English. You know, it reinforces the idea that learning another language might be a good idea.

LRM: Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for other faculty members who might be interested in incorporating a service project into one of their classes?

RB: Well, you need a solid community connection that you can count on. Anything that will possibly screw up will screw up. You’ve got to have real flexibility, because different people will show up than the ones you expected. For example, one day we had a focus group scheduled for one of the ethnic groups, and I had a bunch of Karen interpreters. I expected to get men and women from the Karen ethnic group to come to this focus group. Instead, a whole group of women from two different ethnic groups came, Karen and Kayah, and not a single man. I had to have good enough community connections to scramble and make a couple of quick phone calls and get a couple of interpreters for the Kayah, and then run this quadrilingual focus group.

I’m a very organized person and it takes every bit of organizational skill I can wrest to pull this off. I often have nightmares in the course of the data collection, you know, “is this going to work out?” I get calmer having done more of it, but you know… there’s always that in the back of my mind. “Will anybody show up?” It takes a lot of planning.

I always go to the community long before I do one of these projects. For the Anthropology of Food class that started Spring 2014, I went to church, which is where the community gathers, in December, and said, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking about doing with my students, this is why I want to do it. This is what I’m going to ask the community to do.” It’s basically a short verbal IRB consent. There’s a lot of logistics involved.

A little bit of money is really helpful. The health needs assessment I literally financed by going to the groves and getting bags of inexpensive citrus. Every family we visited, we gave a bag of oranges and grapefruits, which you can do in Florida. But, having a little more money helps. Being able to pay my interpreters. In the community where I work, the standard pay for an interpreter is a $15 Wal-Mart gift card. Not a supermarket gift card, not a different kind of gift card, not $15 in cash… it’s a $15 Wal-Mart gift card. So that’s what I give people. Except, again, for the first project, when I didn’t have any money at all. Since then, for the later projects, I’ve had $750 to run each one. This came from our university’s Office of Community Engagement. I probably spent a bunch of my own money also, because, we just needed more money, so some of it came out of my pocket.

WalMart gift card, the currency of choice for the Burmese community.

WalMart gift card, the currency of choice for the Burmese community.

I also had to buy a smartphone to keep up with the Burmese, who are incredible texters. My flip phone would no longer work. I’ve found that texting is a fabulous way of making appointments with people. I’m dealing with people whose English is not so good, and talking on the phone is really hard. And the family may own one phone, and who knows who’s got it today, who knows who will answer the call. But if you text somebody, and you say, “This is for Bue Lay, this is Robbie from the university, I’d like to come to your house at 4:00 on Friday, will you be home, is that ok?” I text it, somebody gets it, they bring it to her, if she doesn’t understand it, she gets one of the kids, whose English is pretty good, to translate. She then answers, the kid translates that into English and texts me back, and I’ve got my appointment. So, this is a really good way of dealing with language issues, of which we have zillions.

LRM: When you have mixed classes, do you have any differentiation between the roles of the graduates and undergraduates in the class?

RB: There’s more work for the grad students. I also put the grad students in charge of each analysis group, so maybe where there’s six people analyzing focus group data, there’s a grad student or two grad students put in charge of coordinating that.

LRM: Does all of the data analysis happen during class time?

RB: As much as I possibly can, because it’s hard for 5 or 6 students to schedule to get together. They do a fair amount of work electronically, but I try to leave at least portions of many classes for them to connect, organize, go off and do individual parts. So, I would say 50 to 75 percent of analysis is going on in class or is organized in class.

LRM: What do you most want students to get out of the class and the project component?

RB: I want the readings to come alive. I want the issues to come alive. I think if they’re doing field research of this type, it all does come alive. When we talk about ethnicity and food consumption and globalization and all that, you know, if all of a sudden Burmese refugees are eating pizza, or drinking sodas… they see those processes playing out. We talk about obesity. Well, they’re analyzing the data, and we have some little kids who are drinking 8 portions of liquid calories in a day. So they’re not just reading about it. It’s like “wow, this is real! Listen to what this little kid is telling me he’s eaten.” You know, it’s that kind of stuff.

LRM: And do you feel like students are able to break out of their strict focus on food=nutrition?

RB: They have to. I have to push them, but they have to be able to do this. It also shows the undergraduates that anthropology can be really practical. It can be really useful. Here’s an anthropology class, and we’re writing a report at the end, and it’s making recommendations to community agencies about what they should be doing for this group of refugees. It’s practical.

LRM: Do you have any particular readings that you utilize in your course that work very well, or that you would recommend to other instructors?

RB: There’s some old stuff that is quite interesting, at least to me. I use John Bennett’s Food and Social Status in a Rural Society, written in 1943, which looked at income and diet in southern Illinois. Then, the lowest status item was fish, because people could get it for free. Now, fish is very expensive, and really wild fish is incredibly expensive. All of these things about prestige related to food go ’round and change over time, and when you read something that goes that far back, it can be really interesting for students to see how it comes around.

There’s a reading on the syllabus by Nancy Rody, “Things Go Better with Coconuts“—it’s a nutrition education program that was done in Micronesia many years ago. Basically, they tried to increase the prestige of local foods over imported commodities. They used the prestige and ethnic identification with local foods and beverages as a way of decreasing soda consumption.

I think some of these themes in the early work in the anthropology of food are still really important. There’s this tendency to say, “well, if it wasn’t written in the past 3-5 years, you know, what could it possibly be good for?” but if you look at some of that earlier stuff, some of it is really great.

LRM: Thank you for your time, and your excellent suggestions regarding service learning and lesser-known readings!

A selection of older and lesser-known articles recommended by Robbie Baer:

Bennett, John

1943   Food and Social Status in a Rural Society. American Sociological Review 8:561-568

Cassel, John

1977   Social and Cultural Implications of Food and Food Habits. In Culture, Disease and Healing. David Landy, ed. MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc.: New York. Pp. 236-242.

Gross, Daniel and Barbara Underwood

1971   Technological Change and Caloric Costs: Sisal Agriculture in Northern Brazil. American Anthropologist 73(31):725-740.

Higgins, Michael

1983   In Somos Tocayos. Appendix C. Pp. 197-207. University Press of America, Lanham.

Lowenberg, Miriam, E.

1970   Socio-Cultural Basis of Food Habits. Food Technology 24:751-757.

Rody, Nancy

1978   Things Go Better with Coconuts – Program Strategies in Micronesia. Journal of Nutritional Education 10(1):19-22.

Theophano, J.

1991   “I Gave Him a Cake”. In Creative Ethnicity. S. Stem and J. A. Cicala, eds. Utah St. Univ. Press. Logan. Pp. 44-54.

Welsh, Roger

1995   Food Chain. Natural History 8(95):62.

Reports on the findings of the class projects—available from Robbie (

Baer, R. et al.

2011 A Health Needs Assessment of the Burmese Community in Tampa, Fl.

Baer, R.

2014     Dietary Issues for Burmese Participants in a Community Garden.

Baer, R. et al.

2015     Weekday Diets of Burmese School Aged Children.


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Letters from Camp: A Reflection on the 2015 Annual Meetings of ASFS and AFHVS

Madeline Chera
Indiana University

Madeline Chera is a PhD candidate in Anthropology with a focus on the anthropology of food. She is the student representative on the ASFS board and a 2011 winner of the Christine Wilson Award from SAFN.

The annual American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings give food and nutrition anthropologists a much needed break at the end of the fall semester and invigorates our minds enough to push through grading final papers in dreary December. However, there is another conference that many of us attend, which takes on an air more befitting summer vacation. It’s somewhat akin to a scholarly summer camp, with critical thinking and good food. It is the joint annual meetings for the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS). Compared to the AAA meetings, it is much smaller, the feeling is more intimate, and the vibe is decidedly jovial. This year’s meetings took place over five days from June 24 through June 28 and packed in ten concurrent panels during each of twelve sessions, but there were plenty of opportunities to meet the same friendly faces throughout the weekend, whether it was at panel presentations, before the keynote, or over drinks.

This is a conference for our (i.e. SAFN’s) kind of people: those interested in exploring the local food culture with their minds and mouths, eager to collaborate in a spirit of conviviality, and ready to discuss a wide range of issues, from class and colonialism in the food system to the ins and outs of fried candy bars (my co-panelist, Christine Knight, actually covered both of these topics in her presentation on media representations and Scottish identity!). However, despite the affinities in interest and the numerous shared values of the conference-goers, one of the benefits of this event is that the participants are not all alike–and not all like us. Although SAFN does have a prominent presence at the ASFS and AFHVS meetings through numerous presenters and sponsorship of two sessions and one of the socializing (and snacking!) opportunities this year, this annual conference is not just a SAFN meeting. The meetings of ASFS and AFHVS are a valuable opportunity for SAFN members to spend time with other scholars of food and agriculture and with professionals in related fields, and to gain exposure to different methods, areas of literature, pedagogical techniques, and topics of investigation. In fact, this opportunity was highlighted in the guiding motif of the meetings. Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability and its Food Studies Program hosted the conference this year in Pittsburgh, a city known for its iconic bridges, and the conference theme, “Bridging the Past, Cultivating the Future,” gave a nod to the power of these structures to join together otherwise disjointed entities. The meetings united sociologists, historians, nutritionists and dieticians, philosophers, psychologists, political scientists, media studies and consumption studies scholars, environmental and agricultural scientists, entrepreneurs, non-profit staff, activists, writers, chefs, and–yes–anthropologists.

Any worthwhile conference aims to build bridges between colleagues and across existing research, as well as to cultivate ideas that steer the work that will come afterward. This one just had the good sense to set out these goals explicitly from the beginning, and it had the implicit bonus ambition to help us savor summer with the jubilant vibe–as much as any academic conference can really have–that is the hallmark of the ASFS/AFHVS annual meetings. The following are a smattering of my personal highlights from this scholarly summer camp:

  • Staying with a Falk School alumna and her housemates in the beautiful Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Not only was this a financial benefit to me as a penny-pinching graduate student, but also I got to explore and learn about the city from the perspective of a local residence and residents. I got their tips for a nearby coffee shop and tasted some cherries from their CSA, and then I had the opportunity to hear about how Pittsburgh’s food and sustainability scene impacted their lives as people who aren’t researching such issues full-time. Although it was brief, the chance to be just a bit more embedded into the context of the area made the experience richer for me.
  • Networking with fellow graduate students. Another student was staying at the house with me, and we were able to chat over last minute tweaks to our presentations. During the day, we kept running into each other in between sessions, and in turn, introduced each other to the people we had met. The size and set up of the conference this year, as in other years, was conducive to repeated exposure, which fostered familiarity and led to some potentially fruitful as well as thoroughly enjoyable connections. From discussions with graduate students, I was able to learn about the structures of other food-focused graduate programs, get insight into areas of research I never would have considered previously, and generate ideas about how to market oneself in order to find desirable work (g. When is using a tool like Good Food Good Jobs helpful and when is it not? And how does one manage the feast-or-famine cash flow of consulting work?).
  • Discussing alternative-to-academic career paths. I was part of a group of several graduate students who had all put in proposals for roundtable discussions about professionalization. In the end, our sessions were combined into a super-panel of women with advanced degrees who are not employed primarily as professors but continue to do work related to food and agriculture in some way. The participants had worked as market researchers, writers, and entrepreneurs, and in a food policy council, state extension services, a university, other non-profit organizations, and private business. Each of them traced out her own study and work trajectory, and then they all answered questions from the audience. The discussion yielded tips for translating the skills honed in graduate school to those hiring in the non-academic world and about where to look for positions. Participants also explained their experiences with job training in different types of positions, and assessed the usefulness of more schooling in different scenarios. This session affirmed for me the wide applicability and value of the grant writing, communication, data analysis, project management, and storytelling skills that my professors have helped me develop and to see that there are many ways to apply the content based knowledge of the field right along with these skills. It was heartening to see these professionals maintaining their scholarly ties through participation in the conference, and they were very kind to provide group mentorship in that form.
  • Rubbing elbows with VIPs, who treated me as a peer. Most of the time I can play it somewhat cool, but the glimmer of our own food scholar stars has not worn off for me yet, and I still get a bit excited when Esteemed Professor X listens to my paper and even asks a question, and when Recognized Expert and Author Y chats with me casually by the coffee carafe. So, I get excited fairly frequently, because this conference is usually one in which the friendliness of the group makes it easy to strike up conversations, with undergraduates and senior professors alike. The tone was one of genuine interest and mutual support, and the names from my Food Studies qualifying exams list were not only encouraging my work and the work of my fellow grad students, but also sometimes inviting us to dinner with them! Students echoed the collegial sentiment, and everyone created an environment in which new ideas could be tested out with a response as positive as that given when forthcoming book chapters were read.
  • Catching up on the latest in the field. Given that I am a borderline book hoarder, the fact that I only brought a carry-on bag with me was an important wallet-saving buffer between me and the collection of exciting new literature for sale at the conference. Many of the volumes were written or have been reviewed by conference attendees and they represented a slice of what is new in the studies of food, agriculture, and society. However, the more cutting-edge material was in the sessions themselves, where I heard about a wide range of topics, including the complicated relationships between contemporary chefs and new media; the politics mediated by travel writing and botanical classifications in the colonial period; and the assessment of behavioral and attitudinal changes of students as a result of participation in food studies programs. If only I could have been in ten sessions at once, maybe I would be totally up-to-date!
mad mex burrito

Enormous local burrito.

Alas, I could not be in ten sessions at once, so I resigned myself to absorb what I could and then enjoy the cruise-like-but-better part:

  • Eating delicious and thoughtfully selected food. It probably comes as no surprise that this crowd loves good food, so there were plenty of opportunities to socialize over delicious and well-curated food and drink, including local stand-outs Wigle Whiskey, Rivertowne beer, Venturi yogurt, and the culinary creations of Chatham students. One of the best things I had was a single fresh peach put out with the morning coffee. I got the sense that the conference organizers’ list of recommended dining options nearby had been deliberated over carefully and vetted by more than one expert. It all added to the excitement and enjoyment that punctuated every coffee break and the end of each day.
  • Sporting my collection of fruit-themed earrings and seeing one of my best friends for the first time in over a year.

    Chera selfie

    The author, with earrings and Leigh Bush.

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, ASFS, Food Studies

New Book: Teaching Food and Culture

Teaching Food Big CoverHere at SAFN we seem to be in the midst of a great rethinking of the ways in which we teach about food and culture. Which makes sense — interest in food and related issues is growing rapidly in anthropology and in other disciplines and we have seen the development of many new interdisciplinary programs in food studies. We are, therefore, pleased to announce the publication of a new book on this very topic. “Teaching Food and Culture,” (Left Coast Press) edited by Candice Lowe Swift and Richard Wilk, is a collection of twelve chapters by anthropologists focusing on strategies they use when teaching about food. Hopefully, we will be able to publish a review of this collection in the near future. In the spirit of full disclosure, many of the people involved in this project are SAFN members and one chapter was co-written by SAFN board members David Sutton (our glorious nominations chair) and David Beriss (your blog co-editor). Meanwhile, here is a blurb about the book from the publisher’s web site, which you can visit to learn more.

“With the rapid growth and interest in food studies around the U.S. and globally, the original essays in this one-of-a-kind volume aid instructors in expanding their teaching to include both the latest scholarship and engage with public debate around issues related to food. The chapters represent the product of original efforts to develop ways to teach both with and about food in the classroom, written by innovative instructors who have successfully done so. It would appeal to community college and university instructors in anthropology and social science disciplines who currently teach or want to develop food-related courses.”

And here is the table of contents.

Part 1: Teaching Food

Chapter 1: Introduction: Teaching With and Through Food, Candice Lowe Swift and Richard Wilk

Chapter 2: Interview with Sidney Mintz, Candice Lower Swift and Richard Wilk

Chapter 3: Relating Research to Teaching about Food, Penny van Esterik

Part 2: Nutrition and Health

Chapter 4: Teaching Obesity: Stigma, Structure, and Self, Alexandra Brewis, Amber Wutich, Deborah Williams

Chapter 5: Are We What Our Ancestors Ate? Introducing Students to the Evolution of Human Diet, Jeanne Sept

Chapter 6: Just Milk? Nutritional Anthropology and the Single Food Approach, Andrew Wiley

Part 3: Food Ethics and the Public

Chapter 7: Teaching the Experience and Ethics of Consumption and Food Supply, Peter Benson

Chapter 8: Ethnography of Farmers Markets: Studying Culture, Place, and Food Democracy, Carole Counihan

Chapter 9: Using Volunteer Service in Courses about Food, Janet Chrzan

Part 4: Food, Identity, and Consumer Society

Chapter 10: Teaching Restaurants, David Sutton and David Beriss

Chapter 11: Developing Pedagogies for the Anthropology of Food, Brian Stross

Chapter 12: Teaching Communication and Language with Food, Amber O’Connor

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies, pedagogy

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