Category Archives: culture

“It’s Kind of Cool to be a Turnip Expert”: Dr. Clare Sammells on Experiential Learning through Field Trips and Food Experts

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

For the May installment of the Food Pedagogy Interview Series, we hear from Dr. Clare Sammells, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bucknell University. Her popular 200-level course “Food, Eating, and Culture” asks each student to become a “Food Expert” on one particular food over the course of the semester—a technique which brings topical depth to the theoretical breadth of the course.

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

Dr. Clare Sammells

Dr. Clare Sammells

Lauren Renée Moore: I’d like to get started by hearing a little bit about your research.

Clare A. Sammells: I conduct ethnographic research in highland Bolivia and with Bolivian migrants living in Madrid, Spain. My main research areas are the anthropology of tourism and the anthropology of food. I’m especially interested in how food is used to construct touristic experiences and ideas about heritage. So, I consider touristic restaurants and how the cuisine that’s served to foreign tourists in Bolivia is in conversation with the food people are eating in their homes and in other contexts. In Spain, I researched Bolivian restaurants that cater largely to Bolivian migrants, and investigated the challenges of producing Bolivian food in that context.

LRM: What kinds of student does the course attract?

CS: I have a lot of second semester seniors, some of whom are interested in food from the point of view of other disciplines, and some of whom have an open elective and think food sounds awesome. I agree! Most of my students are not anthropology majors, and many have never taken a course in anthropology before.

LRM: Could you tell me a little about your institutional context?

CS: Bucknell is one of the largest liberal arts colleges, located in Lewisburg, PA, which is a town of about 12,000 people surrounded by agricultural areas. We have a large Mennonite population in the area. Many who live here participate in Community Supported Agriculture programs, where they buy vegetables and fruits directly from farmers. Many people here garden, can, and engage with producing food very directly.

LRM: What do you want students to get out of this course?

CS: One of the things I do want them to get out of this is a basic understanding of the subdiscipline of the anthropology of food…. so the things that we anthropologists take for granted like, how is food a symbolic part of human existence? What do food taboos mean? How can we think about commodity chain relationships? What are the economic structures that influence what foods we have access to? Those kinds of questions.

But given that so many of my students are not anthropologists, I have a more general goal, too: I want them to think critically about where their food comes from, who’s growing it, and how one can be an ethical consumer. I would hope that after this class, they wouldn’t just go to the supermarket and pick up strawberries and buy them, but might actually think about who is growing them, what kind of chemicals are going into their production, and whether people are getting a fair wage. And I hope that my students would have some idea of how to go about finding answers to those questions.

I want them to have a better understanding of anthropology, but I also want them to be ethical eaters.

LRM: Do you feel like students leave the class as more ethical eaters?

CS: Oh, absolutely. Many students take the class because they’re already concerned about this issue. I have a lot of vegetarians in my class, for example. All the students bring in a dish once during the semester, and they socialize each other into being explicit about whether the dishes have meat in them, or dairy, or gluten, etc.

One of the things that a lot of students begin to realize in this class is how little they actually know about their food. When I point out that they don’t know where the cucumbers that became the pickles on their hamburgers were grown, or where that cow was raised, then they can see that they really don’t know that much about their food. My goal isn’t necessarily to change their food habits, but rather to encourage them to ask more questions about what they are eating.

LRM: Let’s get into your syllabus. I noticed that you incorporate a field trip. Can you tell me about it?

CS: [I take students to] Owens Farm, about 40 minutes from here in Sunbury, PA. It’s an interesting farm because they are engaging in sustainable meat production of sheep and pigs. The Owens also do a lot of pedagogical events, including a Sheep Camp, where kids stay overnight at the farm during lambing season. When the sheep go into labor, they wake the kids up to help the sheep give birth. They do a lot of programs to get people engaged in agricultural work.

It’s always interesting for me to take my students there. I’ve had students who had never seen a horse in person, who didn’t know that sheep made noise. I lived on a farm in Bolivia, so all that seemed really obvious, but it’s not necessarily part of all college students’ experience to interact with animals in that way.

LRM: There’s an assignment attached to that field trip. What do you have students do in that assignment?

CS: At the time we do this field trip, we’re also reading Warren Belasco’s Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food. It’s a wonderful book, and he talks about how people have historically thought about the future of food. So I ask my students to think about Owens Farm as a very direct response to some of the industrial agricultural practices we see in our world. What is the alternative this farm presents for the future, in terms of how we could think about meat production? So I have them write a reflection paper on that experience.

LRM: You don’t allow computers in your classroom. Could you talk a little about that?

CS: I don’t allow computers in any of my classes. If I had my computer on in the classroom, I know I’d be on Facebook. So, I think it’s unfair for me to expect my students to not be on Facebook. It’s my personal quirk. I feel that for 55 minutes they can pay attention to me and to each other. I don’t spend most of my time in class lecturing, so I’m not expecting them to transcribe what I’m saying… instead, I have them sort through problems or analyze readings with each other.

I know people feel differently about electronics in the classroom, and I do make some exceptions. For example, I have them take a modified version of the Food Stamp Challenge. For that class, they bring in computers and work with one computer per group to go online shopping with a budget. But I find for the most part prohibiting electronics works pretty well. I find that if that policy is in the syllabus and I am consistent and clear about it, students accept it. It makes an enormous difference in terms of making sure students are engaged with the class. They’re paying attention, and they’re not distracting each other. I think it’s working pretty well.

LRM: Can you tell me about the “food experts” component of this course?

CS: That’s actually one of my favorite parts of this class. I think it may be part of why so many students might take it… they have snacks in class everyday!

The very first class I bring in food. I try to bring in something that the students won’t immediately be able to identify. I tell them, “If you have an allergy, you can tell me, and I will assure you that this will not kill you. But, other than that, I’m not going to tell you what this is.” Then, I have them write a description of it. I tell them that one of the challenges of writing about food is trying to describe foods to people who have never tried them. Talking about food is always audience-dependent. This time I brought in chuño (Andean freeze-dried potatoes). It was interesting to see which ones of them liked it and which ones were not as enamored.

During the first week I bring in a box with paper slips naming 50 foods. They’re all basic ingredients: chicken, spices like cardamom or cinnamon, grains like wheat or rice, tubers like potatoes or manioc, fruits and vegetables. I have them pull one name out of a hat, and then I give them a week to trade with each other or with the “leftovers” at my office. There’s a little bit of choice, but they all end up with a unique food. That’s the food they follow through for the rest of the semester.

I want them to think of it as a field-to-fork kind of assignment where they are becoming the class expert on something. They address the theoretical themes that we are talking about in class through short papers that are focused on their own food. Once during the semester, they bring in a dish that highlights their food to share with their class. Then they write a paper about the experience of working with that food, and how people responded to it.

They don’t generally cook a lot, and some students have told me, “This is my first time cooking something on campus.” It’s really interesting to see them engaged with the food in an experiential kind of way. That’s really different from just writing about something.

LRM: Can you tell me a little more about the short essays related to the theoretical components of the course?

CS: Each of the paper prompts deals with the themes for the week. Early in the class we deal with things like domestication: what’s the relationship between humans and their food? The first prompt is “Discuss the agricultural and/or environmental context of the production your food, and how that has changed over time.”

Another paper asks them to compare two dishes with the same ingredient that are eaten in different cultural contexts, and to talk about the difference in symbolism between those two dishes. So, they think about how the same food can be invoked in different meaningful ways. Another paper is to think about how their food is affected by globalization, and how it moves through global networks of people and economic systems. They follow one food all the way through.

At the end, I had one student say to me, “I never thought I’d know this much about turnips!” But that’s kind of cool, to be a turnip expert.

LRM: How do you select the foods that make that 50 foods list?

CS: I pick foods that appear in multiple cultural contexts, so they can be compared cross-culturally, and that are part of a global commodity chain of some kind. I also pick foods that I think they’ll be able to find, work with, and cook. For example, I don’t include lobster, because that’s expensive. I also don’t include foods, like llama meat or guinea pig, that would be extremely difficult to find in central Pennsylvania.

LRM: I wanted to jump to a different aspect of the course. I see that you have listed a teach-in day for Martin Luther King, Jr. day. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about that?

CS: That was a campus-wide event at Bucknell University in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day. The challenge to all of us as faculty was to discuss questions of structural racism and structural inequality in the context of whatever classes we were teaching at the time.

I broke from the regular syllabus a bit to talk about food deserts, and to look at Monica White’s work with African American urban farmers in Detroit, and how they’re dealing with food deserts by farming their own food. The D-Town Farmers have an agreement with the city of Detroit to farm in one of the public parks. I showed the students a video interview with one of their leaders, Malik Yakini, and we looked at maps of food deserts in urban areas such as Baltimore.

I started off the class by asking them a series of questions, and asking them to stand up when they agreed. I began with, “Everyone has the right to eat,” and they all stood up. But then we got to questions like, “People should pay for food,” and “Grocery stores should have the right to open up where they think they can make the most money,” this is where we start to see the contradictions. If food is a right, how do we make sure everyone has access to it?

I don’t have the answers to that question, but I wanted them to understand that access to food parallels other kinds of structural inequalities like racism and class.

LRM: One of the challenges instructors face is getting students to pay attention to the syllabus. I notice that your syllabus has a statement about emailing you with a particular word by a particular date for extra credit. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

CS: Oh, yeah! That’s my Easter egg, and I’ve actually started doing that in a lot of my syllabi. The first assignment for all of my classes is to read the syllabus, and I’ve found that a lot of them were not doing that. So I started adding these things. The word changes every time, and I also change where it is in the syllabus. About 1/3 of the class emails me with the word, and I give them extra credit. Even though it’s not a huge thing, I think it gives them the feeling that they’re starting off on the right foot. And it ensures me that they actually have looked at the syllabus. Of course, we all want our students to know what they’re getting into, and to feel like they are agreeing to engage in the same project that we are as professors.

LRM: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the book selections in the course? I know you use Meals to Come, and it looks like you also rely fairly heavily on Noodle Narratives. Could you talk a little bit about that?

CS: They read the The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century,

picture of ramen

which I like because it takes a food that my students are probably more familiar with than they would like to admit (instant noodles) and puts it in cultural contexts that they would not necessarily consider. Instant noodles were developed in Japan, and are consumed in Papua New Guinea, on college campuses, and by many prisoners in the United States. Here in Lewisburg we’re very close to four major prisons, and it’s a major employer in the town, so this is part of our local economy. Noodle Narratives allows us to address [a wide range of] questions.

LRM: Are there other readings that are particularly successful?

CS: I really like the first chapter of Paul Stoller’s The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology. I open with that. He and his wife are living with the Songhay, and the chapter describes an intentionally disgusting meal and what that’s meant to communicate.

My students really like this piece. It’s beautifully written and it’s a compelling story. I think the idea of being a teenager who has to communicate in non-verbal ways resonates with them to some extent. The main character who’s preparing this meal is a teenager, and she feels powerless; this is how she’s able to express herself. It gets students thinking about food in a different way. This cook’s goal isn’t to make something tasty and delicious, although she can cook. She chooses not to cook well for a specific reason, and her purpose is correctly interpreted by everyone. That’s a piece I really like to start with because it captures first what it’s like to be an anthropologist, and second, the communicative aspect of food that is so powerful.

Another piece that they found really interesting was Michael Owen Jones’ piece “Dining on Death Row: Last Meals and the Crutch of Ritual.” I showed them a short video about the procedures followed on an execution day, and we talk about that as a ritual. Then we discuss what rituals do, and why are so many people interested in what the condemned eat for their last meal. We were able to use that to talk about things like the structural inequality that exists in our incarceration system, who is put on death row, and why people would be interested in what they’re eating. [The students] had a lot of interesting things to say about that.

LRM: One of the things I’m really interested in is how you have interwoven global topics with things that are going on in North America–like freeganism–that students might relate to.

CS: I think one of the challenges for our discipline is how can we talk about big global processes and yet still think about the daily, lived experience of people who are eating meals with others particular contexts.

The freegans are particularly interesting. We spend a week talking about dystopias and how people envision the collapse of food systems. I show them clips from Soylent Green, for example. We move from that to freegans, who are commenting on waste in our society. I show them Dive: Living Off America’s Waste, a documentary about dumpster divers in Los Angeles. dive_poster-87cbd2d9

There’s a really interesting scene in this documentary in which some of these dumpster divers are confronted by the police. These dumpster divers are all clearly middle class, white, young people with nice cars, and they’re in dumpsters getting food. One of them just walks up to the police officer and shakes the officer’s hand while they film him. The police officer’s really polite to them. I challenge my students to think about whether would everyone in this situation feel comfortable doing that. That’s an incredible position of privilege to feel like you can walk up to a police officer and explain to him that, yeah, you’re breaking the law, technically, but see, you have this political project. And the police officer will be like, “Ok, can you just clean up when you’re done?” Especially in our current context, with the national discussion we’re having about the relationship between the police and African-American men, this moment in the film was really striking.

We talk about the difference between dumpster diving with your four-figure video camera and private car, versus someone who actually needs that food. My students talk about how, on the one hand, they want to reduce food waste. But on the other hand, they’re also part of the society we’re in, and their ability to do that is structured in certain ways.

LRM: Do you have any final thoughts?

CS: I think one thing that has really worked for this class is getting students to cook and to eat. I think often, especially those of us who work with college students who live in dorms who might not have their own kitchens, we can be hesitant to insist that they cook because of those structural constraints. At the same time, I have found that they are excited to do that. They come to class and talk about trying out recipes on their roommates, borrowing tools, putting out grease fires. One of the great things about food is that we can engage all the senses. It’s one of the reasons I like to have food in class, because just talking about food makes you hungry!

LRM: This sounds like an engaging and exciting class. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

1 Comment

Filed under anthropology of food, culture, Food Studies, teaching

CFP: Putting the Cult back into Food Culture!

Food Cults

Call for Chapter Proposals

Editor:  Kima Cargill, University of Washington

Publisher:  Rowman & Littlefield/Food & Gastronomy Series

Series Editor: Ken Albala

Chapter Proposal Submission Deadline:  April 1, 2015

Book Overview:

Food Cults is an interdisciplinary edited volume which will explore questions of domestic and international, contemporary and historic food communities characterized by extreme nutritional beliefs, often viewed as “fringe” movements by mainstream culture.  While there are a variety of scholarly accounts of such food communities across disciplines, there is no single collection that pulls together these works, nor that anchors such communities in a theory of why we gravitate toward such groups and the social, economic, nutritional and psychological functions they serve.  Studying the extreme beliefs and practices of such food cults allows us to see the ways in which food serves as a nexus for religious beliefs, sexuality, death anxiety, preoccupation with the body, asceticism, and hedonism, to name a few.  Moreover, in contrast to religious and political cults, food cults have the added dimension of mediating cultural trends in nutrition and diet through their membership.

I suggest the term ‘cult’ as a dynamic one, and not necessarily a derogatory one.  I invite contributors to define culthood for themselves, perhaps ultimately rejecting it for the group they study.  Moreover, some contributors might argue that some of the dominant culture’s beliefs and practices surrounding food should be consigned to culthood, such as the cult of sugar, the cult of meat, or the cult of junk food.  While certainly many contributors will address cultural trends and fads, food cults differ from food fads in that membership in a food cult becomes a central organizer of one’s identity and revolves around a group dogma or ideology.  Cults of any kind function much like religion, often providing a conversion experience, a charismatic leader, collective identity, and a community of “worship” (either in person or increasingly online).  Like religion, cults provide a way to find meaning in confusing situations, like eating.

Pending submissions, the volume will likely be organized into two sections.  Section I (Theories and History of Food Cults) will include general survey chapters from multiple disciplines, such as anthropology, nutrition, theology, sociology, economics, and history.  Chapters in Section II (Historic and Contemporary Food Cults) will have more narrow foci, examining specific groups and practices.  These chapters might address topics such as:

  • Raw food diets
  • Psychoactive foods
  • Biblical diets (and/or other historical replication diets):
  • Disgust (culturally inappropriate food practices)
  • Supplements
  • Exotic game/endangered species
  • Poisonous/toxic food ingestion
  • Pet foods and pet diets
  • Muscle building/masculinity
  • Asceticism
  • Tapeworm/parasite diets

Submission Guidelines:

Length of each complete chapter manuscript: Each complete chapter manuscript must be between 4,000 and (no more than) 5,000 words, inclusive of the main text and references.

All submissions should include two documents: a Chapter Proposal and a separate CV of no more than three pages. The Chapter Proposal must contain (a) a working title of the proposed chapter, and (b) an 800 to 1,000-word exposition consisting of a clear description of the proposed chapter, including an annotated outline of the proposed chapter. Also include with your submission a separate CV of no more than three pages.

Submission format: All submissions must be written in English and prepared in accordance with Chicago Style. Please submit your documents in the MS Word file format as an attached document.

Please send your Chapter Proposal and CV in the same email on or before April 1, 2015 to Kima Cargill (kcargill@uw.edu)

Notification of acceptance status of chapter proposals: April 15, 2015

Submission deadline of complete chapters: on or before October 1, 2015

Leave a comment

Filed under culture, Food Studies, religion

The New Southern Food and Beverage Museum

SOFAB sign

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Do you live somewhere with a cuisine of its own? How would you know? There have been some famous attempts to define cuisine, including one by Sidney Mintz that has generated a great deal of debate. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that a cuisine requires some kind of self conscious effort by people within a community to declare that their food should be thought of as a cuisine. Who gets to make that claim, what makes the claim legitimate, whether or not it might be disputed…I recognize that there are many questions that could be raised about this definition. But at least for my current purpose, the definition will work because it allows me to suggest that those of us who live in the American South have a cuisine. How do we know?

We have a museum dedicated to proving it.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is an actual free-standing cultural institution devoted to documenting the foodways of the American South. I have visited some fascinating, fun, and sometimes odd exhibits and museums devoted to food over the years. These include the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory in Switzerland (and Hershey, PA as a kid), a mustard museum in Dijon, a beer museum in Prague, a flour museum in Minneapolis, many brewery and winery tours, visits to cheese makers (Roquefort Société puts on a good show), and of course the Coca Cola museum. Fascinating and entertaining as these can be, most are really advertisements for a particular company and its products, often with an excellent opportunity for sampling at the end of the tour. The Mill City museum is an exception. Run by the Minnesota Historical Society, it is built in the ruins of a flour mill on the banks of the Mississippi and really does make an effort to put the history of flour into a social context. But it, like nearly all the others, is still devoted to only one product. This is not where you go to learn about the food of a region or country.

As an effort to document and display the foods and foodways of the American South, SoFAB (yes, that is the acronym) joins a surprisingly robust range of other institutions around the region devoted to similar objectives. The Southern Foodways Alliance, which is part of the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, for example, or food studies as part of a larger program in American Studies at the University of North Carolina, contribute to the idea of distinctively southern culture and foodways.

SoFAB started out as the vision of one woman, Elizabeth Williams, who began work on the idea well over a decade ago. Starting in improvised spaces, she recruited people to build exhibits, participate in conferences, and organize events over the years, eventually landing a space in the Riverwalk shopping mall in New Orleans. I should probably reveal at this point that I am one of the people she recruited and am thus no impartial observer, having enthusiastically participated in a wide range of events at the museum. Liz has worked hard to build an institution that has ties to an immense network of people involved in food studies (including scholars from all over the world), but also to people in the food industry and activists of all sorts.

The museum has a new home, where it may become even more of a cultural juggernaut in the South and beyond. Last week I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new museum, which is now housed in a substantially renovated former market building in a neighborhood of New Orleans that is, as we say, “coming back.” The new site is quite a bit larger and will house permanent and temporary exhibits, a restaurant devoted to the region’s foods, the Museum of the American Cocktail (yes, that has been part of SoFAB all along), and an ongoing series of lectures, cooking demonstrations, conferences, and other events. SoFAB is also home to a substantial research library that is already a very useful resource for scholars interested in the study of food.

The new museum is a big deal here in New Orleans. The ribbon cutting was standing room only, with a surprisingly large media scrum and celebrities from all parts of New Orleans life in attendance. These included chefs and restaurateurs, musicians, scholars, neighborhood activists, and a large number of elected officials (or their representatives) from the state and the city. The museum’s new location contributes to the renovation of a neighborhood that has seen better days and is part of other development in the area, including the future home of the New Orleans Jazz Market (a performance space organized by musician and cultural activist Irvin Mayfield) and other restaurants (including Café Reconcile, a restaurant and institute devoted to training “at risk” young people for the restaurant industry). All of this is part of the ongoing effort to develop New Orleans “cultural economy” by the city and state, turning culture into an economic asset.

Which leads me back to the original question: how would you know if you have a cuisine? I don’t think having good or interesting food is enough. All food is interesting, at least for anthropologists. Not only that, but every society has its own foodways. To make those foodways a cuisine, people need to be interested and passionate about it. They have to be self-conscious about it. Above all, they must want to call it a cuisine. Here, in the American South and, especially, in New Orleans. we have all that. We have a museum to prove it.

1 Comment

Filed under anthropology, cuisine, culture, foodways, museums, New Orleans, south

Eating Alone? Friends Are One Click Away

Sangyoub Park
Sociologist
Washburn University

Are you getting tired of “eating alone”? Now you have a solution. Just click away. While you’re eating, you can watch someone eat online. And this is exactly what’s happening in Korea. And this has become lucrative business.

chef king biryong

Pictured above is Ji-hwan Choi, known as Chef King Biryong on his Meok-bang show. He is one of the more well-known meok-bang show hosts. He is in military uniform to connect viewers and to bring back nostalgic memories because most males in Korea have to serve in the military. The Diva is another popular host.

This growing new trend of “watching someone eat” (meok-bang: eating on air or eating broadcasts in Korean) can be attributed to a number of factors. Among them, I will highlight four factors behind the soaring popularity of meok-bang.

First, this trend is strongly related to a growing number of one-person households. The proportion of single-person households drastically increased to 35.9 percent in 2013 from about 9 percent in 1990, according to Korean Statistics. Watching someone eat online can be one way of dealing with single-person’s loneliness. They do not want to eat alone. They want to alleviate a sense of “alienation.” While they are watching these shows, they feel connected.

Second, watching someone eat is also an efficient way to relieve stress from a fast-paced and hyper-competitive life style. Korean society has been dictated by a culture of “success at any cost,” which places enormous pressure to many Koreans. Students, for example, are stressed from demanding school life and young Koreans are pressured from hectic work life. By watching someone eat, it can be argued that Koreans are experiencing a vicarious pleasure.

Third, the popularity of meok-bang is attributed to advanced technology, especially super-fast internet connections in Korea. Korea is known as the most wired place on the globe. Hyper-fast internet speed make it possible for viewers to interact with the shows. Meok-bang shows are streamed live, so these shows are not one-way, but rather mutual. Meok-bang hosts and viewers are “emotionally” connected to each other. This explains why the hosts tell stories while they are eating (and cooking). Many stories can be shared with viewers as well. This emotional connection might be made possible due to the high number of smartphone users. Korea has the highest smartphone use with a penetration rate of over 70 percent in 2014. This similar trend of watching someone eat occurred in the 2000’s in Japan, but made use of VCR and DVD, which are one-way technologies.

Fourth, this trend is also associated with a culture of consumption. In affluent Korean society today, food is not simply meant to fill the stomach. In the past, Koreans ate because they were hungry. But today they are able to consume food based on taste and aesthetic. Meok-bang reflects this changing food culture in Korea as well.

I think that these surging meok-bang shows are producing a new way of “commensality without actually sharing the same table.” These shows may transform eating as an individual act in modern society to social eating by providing a platform of bonding and sharing with strangers.

1 Comment

Filed under culture, foodways, internet, korea, public eating

Book Review: Greek Whisky!

BampilisGreek

Bampilis, Tryfon. 2013. Greek Whisky. The Globalization of a Global Commodity. Oxford: Berghahn.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

As a culinary historian who has made several culinary history trips to Greek venues, I looked forward to learning more about the consumption of alcohol as a dimension of Greek food habits and cuisine. Greek Whisky is not the book to gain such knowledge, because whisky, in contrast to indigenous Greek alcoholic beverages including wines, beers, and ouzo, is consumed mostly in social situations without food, in modernizing, Western-gazing venues that intentionally compare and contrast with traditional food and beverage settings. The goal of this volume is to describe “the social life of whisky” as a commodity, whose importation, marketing, representation in the Greek media, and inter-individual ritualistic consumption, has made whisky drinking (occasionally throwing) a Greek symbol of modernity, masculinity, and symbolic break with the past. Whiskey signifies expensive, imported European spirits, primarily Scotch, which tie the Greeks who spend heavily to imbibe them to the rest of Western Europe and symbolic “modernity”. To craft his argument, the author adopts a historical and “performances of consumption in relation to style”-based ethnographic analysis, which “follows the whisky” along historical food chains and media representation and into the drinking halls where he did his research.

Two detailed ethnographic components focus in on the primary site for whisky introduction, which is Athens, and compare whisky consumption styles there with drinking venues on the Island of Skyros in the North Aegean, which is his mother’s original home. This secondary site, which has been transformed from a farming, shepherding, laboring, and merchant economy to a tourist venue, offers in depth ethnographic analysis of changing gender, kinship, age-related, and occupational categories. All of which, Bampilis argues, are expressed through drinking styles, by which principally males distinguish and separate themselves from the formerly matriarchal culture, where females controlled property and household purse strings. He draws a convincing dichotomy between traditional domestic (meza) and non-traditional outside (ekso) values, respectively expressed through different styles of social drinking and spirits-sharing situations through which individuals literally perform and construct their modern as opposed to traditional identities. In Athens, discriminating drinkers further differentiate themselves through their very expensive tastes in single-malt scotches, and occasionally, “‘out of control’ mentality materialized in scotch” which the author finds representative of “excessive unproductive mentality” (p.149), with devastating economic consequences for the individuals and those who rely on their financial contributions. The ethnography spans the decades after World War II, up through and including the current economic downturn and nation-wide financial disaster.

Food anthropology or other food-studies courses might adopt individual chapters for different pedagogical ends. The preface and introduction provide a detailed synopsis of all major symbolic, exchange, and reflexive anthropological and sociological literature on globalization. This exhaustive social-science and philosophical theoretical framework connecting social, economic, and cultural globalization and localization, might be overwhelming for undergraduates, but provide a comprehensive “crib” for Ph.D. or possibly masters students. Chapters 2 and 3, which offer a detailed evidence base tying together the importation and marketing history with the distinctive, ritualized, consumption patterns surrounding imported spirits, might be useful in communications courses, especially as the reference points in these comprehensive business, advertising, and cinema media histories of Scotch, come copiously and effectively illustrated. The comparative ethnographies in chapters 4 and especially 5, the Skyrian case study, are valuable in their own right. A productive class discussion point throughout might be whether the author needed to ground so many paragraphs in post-modern jargon to make his overall points about localization of global commodities, and what continual reference to symbolic performance of social styles rather than identities, adds to the interpretation.

The volume has been produced without careful copy-editing or a glossary of Greek terms. These are serious omissions that the series editors should take care to correct in subsequent publications. 

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, culture, foodways, Greece, whiskey, whisky

CFP: Less Palatable, Still Valuable

CFP for annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association
December 3-7, 2014, Washington, D.C.

Panel Title: Less Palatable, Still Valuable: Taste, Agro-biodiversity, and Culinary Heritage

Panel Organizers: Theresa Miller (University of Oxford) and Greg de St. Maurice (University of Pittsburgh)

People across the world eat many things that they would readily admit are not particularly tasty. Contexts might include economic boycotts, dietary restrictions, ritual meals, and hunger. Research on the cross-cultural classification of “tastes” reveals significant variation, as societies experience taste in fundamentally distinct ways. Anthropological studies on disgust, neophobia, and avoidance have been productive (Douglas
1966, Wilk 1997), as have studies of food crops that have gained worldwide significance, such as sugarcane, wheat, and maize (Mintz 1985, Pilcher 1998, Laudan 2013). Taking into consideration that taste and palatability are culturally conditioned, this panel explores the relationship between taste and value by focusing upon distinct flavors, acquired tastes, and the less delicious, even the bland. The panel welcomes papers that bring attention to cases in which edible plants and animals, food dishes, cooking techniques, and even cuisines considered less palatable are valued because they contribute to agro-biodiversity, healthfulness or well-being, symbolism, ritual use, or for other socio-culturally relevant reasons. Ethnographic papers on underrepresented crops or foods that emphasize the diversity of social conceptions of “taste” and deliciousness are particularly welcomed, as are those that examine the links between the cultural constructions of taste and biodiversity maintenance or loss.

This panel will be broad in its geographic scope, exploring the social significance of “less delicious” foods that include yam, manioc, and maize for the Canela indigenous community of Brazil and the Shishigatani squash and other heirloom vegetables for residents of Kyoto, Japan. Papers that complement these case studies will be considered. We ask: How do taste and value intersect and affect each other? When do societies savor less appealing flavors? What do social patterns, semiotics, and historical changes tell us about the place of distinctly less appealing, sometimes even unappealing, flavors? When are they snubbed and excluded, when might they be relegated to a cherished but limited cultural role, and when might they be celebrated and included in spite of–or because of–the flavors they possess, even becoming an “acquired taste”? How do sociocultural factors, including environmental conservation, healthfulness, and the maintenance of tradition, shape the valuation of taste? In pondering these questions, the papers on this panel will suggest ways of incorporating the “less delicious” into the safeguarding of agro-biodiversity and culinary heritage. In this way, the papers will contribute a new dimension to conservation and heritage studies through exploring when and why people eat what their taste buds do not find most delicious.

To propose a paper for this panel, please send a 250 word abstract to Greg de St. Maurice at grd11@pitt.edu and Theresa Miller at theresa.miller@anthro.ox.ac.uk as soon as possible. We will respond within one week of receipt and highly encourage early submissions. If the panel fills up quickly, we may submit for Executive Status (Febrary 15th deadline). Otherwise, we will aim for Invited status and will consider submissions up to March 15th or until all of our slots are filled.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA 2014 Washington DC, anthropology, Call for Papers, culture, Food Studies

Connecting Students with Real Food and Real Farmers

By Kellen GilbertDavid Burley, Bonnie May, Timothy McCarthy, Sole Sanchez, Erica Dickerson, Danate Moses and Benny Milligan (Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana)

Part One

Last fall, the students in a graduate class in Applied Environmental Sociology at our university took on a food-based project that has outlasted the one semester class.   The instructor, David Burley, an environmental sociologist interested in sustainability issues, and his students saw this class as an excellent opportunity to put applied sociological (and anthropological) concepts and methods to work on a very local issue: the campus cafeteria food.

One of the graduate students in the class, Bonnie May, was the president of Reconnect, a campus organization for students interested in environmental and sustainability issues. Reconnect had been a part of the national program, The Real Food Challenge (RFC) since the previous semester. The RFC’s goal is to have local, sustainably and justly produced food in campus cafeterias instead of industrial agricultural products.  RFC is a student created and run organization that engages students on their own campuses to organize “real food campaigns” and other activities on campus to educate and implement change.

At the time, Reconnect was a small and dedicated group but limited in terms of time and energy its members could spend.  Finding time for extracurricular activities is an ongoing challenge for many of our students in part because so many commute to campus and work full time or, at the very least, part-time jobs.  So a student-led project to change the campus cafeteria food was perfect for our applied graduate class.

The graduate students prepared by reading articles about urban agriculture and food justice, ecological identity, and seminal works like Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan’s (2002) article on locating weaknesses in the global food system and yes, of course, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Then, the class employed information from the readings, consultation from RFC coordinators via Bonnie May, and advice from independent market consultant Darlene Wolnik, to develop a university community outreach plan. Students took on individual tasks such as designing attractive educational pamphlets and information cards. Others put together a presentation on local, sustainably produced food and spoke to over 30 undergraduate classes and student organizations.  The students also gathered over 1000 signatures on campus in support of the “real food” project with over 600 email addresses of students who wanted to stay informed and over 100 who said they would volunteer in some capacity.

But the biggest part of the class’s project was planning a farmers market to raise awareness and build support in coordination with National Food Day on Oct. 24th.  This would become not only the first ever farmers market on our campus but, at least according to our research, the first on any Louisiana college campus.

Southeastern Students at market

Students purchasing greens at the Southeastern Farmers Market.

To be continued…

Next:  The Farmers Market—farmers cooperatives versus corporate intruders.

Leave a comment

Filed under agriculture, anthropology, culture, economics, farming, Food Studies, markets, sustainability