Category Archives: Food Studies

Integrating Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities in the Food Systems Program at the University of Vermont

Today, we will hear from Dr. Amy Trubek, Associate Professor of Nutrition & Food Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discussing University of Vermont’s Food Systems program. This post is part of SAFN’s Food Anthropology Program series, which features 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.

Ruth Dike: When/how did the Food Systems program at the University of Vermont (UVM) begin?

Amy Trubek: The impetus for developing food systems programs came from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). We started with an undergraduate minor in 2008 which is now established with an average of 50-65 minors every year.  We wanted to create a graduate program that looked at the intersection of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities and extend the way that we understand food and agriculture from a systems point of view. So we wrote a proposal for a food systems graduate program. The program enrolled its first students in 2012 and we have had three years of an MS program and next year will be the first official year where we enroll both MS and PhD students.. We currently have enrolled 17 Master’s students and we have 9 that have completed the MS degree.

During this period, a group of new faculty were hired in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who had background in looking at food and agriculture from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives, but especially new faculty with a social science background. Eventually the interest in food systems extended beyond CALS and became part of a university-wide initiative to promote transdisciplinary research.Vermont flowers

MRD: What is the focus of your program and its strengths?

AT: The focus of our program lies in asking students to think about the interdependency and the complexity of the contemporary food system.  Also, we say that in order to really fully be able to analytically capture what happens in a food system, you have to use a transdisciplinary approach in terms of your conceptual framework and research questions and then use mixed methods in  terms of the form, or the ways in which you do research. So, we’re very interested in imagining research in relation to food systems related problems and creating an engaged learning experience. We don’t tend to have students doing purely theoretically driven theses. We have students do work with philosophers, anthropologists, agro-ecologists and others and they might be doing a mix of theoretical analysis and empirical research. The underlying consistency is that we always want the research frame to be posing a question about what is happening in the food system and what might be able to make it a different food system in the future.

MRD: Great. I noticed you use transdisciplinary- is that different from interdisciplinary?

AT: So transdisciplinary research can be defined as when people work together and to come up with a sort of set of problems and research questions within those problems and in that process you’re not holding onto your disciplinary frame- you’re actually moving beyond discipline to work through an engaged process of inquiry. The inquiry is driven by the problem, rather than the disciplinary frame. There’s a theory that if you have an interdisciplinary research team, the anthropologist says, “Well I’m the anthropologist on the team and this is what I do.” Whereas if it’s a transdisciplinary research team, everyone is in the entire process together.

MRD: What roles does anthropology play in your program?

AT: We are actually sort of unusual here at the university having two anthropologists who focus on food, so there are two of us actively mentoring students.  I also teach one of the required seminars for the Master’s and PhD students and we’ve also required a qualitative methods course. Also, I would say that in our graduate seminars we rely on an emergent open-ended research inquiry approach very similar to the discipline of anthropology. We want to think about understanding food and agriculture not solely from an individualistic frame or a market commodity frame.

MRD:  Would you like to talk about why you decided to do both an undergraduate and graduate degree program?

AT: I think there’s a real consensus here at the University of Vermont that food systems is a very important framework for learning and doing for the future. There’s a commitment to do that idea of addressing the complexity by using systems thinking, of moving outside the box and arguing that it would help both the academy and people on the ground if we could become more sophisticated and complex thinkers around food from a systems point of view.vermont flower

MRD: Could you talk a little bit more about what the systems point of view is?

AT: Well, you don’t want to bracket your thinking, or as is often said “stay in your silo.”  So you don’t say, “I’m interested in consumption, and I’m just going to look at consumption and the meaning of rituals and food, from the point of view of what happens- consumption of food in a ritual. But instead, with systems think you are encouraged to say, “Wait a second, how does that food in that ritual somehow work in relation to other issues in the system such as the way that food is produced or the way that food is transformed?” “How might meaning be produced through the entire system?”  So it’s pushing students and faculty to say, “Wait, am I being too simplistic, do I need to understand and incorporate other elements of the system if I’m going to try to make sense of the structure and meaning of this ritual.”

What I see in my own research collaborations is that systems thinking moves me beyond the way that I was trained in anthropology to become a broader and more flexible thinker. It’s been an interesting process for me to increasingly work on mixed methods projects and to really see the benefit of understanding what a larger scale quantitatively-based study might do for capturing some elements of the problem that I’m trying to look at. I’m doing a transdisciplinary project with a number of people from food science and nutrition and anthropology. We’re looking at a concept of food agency where we’re trying to capture how people become empowered to act in relation to meal preparation. I really see the benefits of embarking on both a fine-grained qualitative interview and observation approach but also working on developing a scale of food agency. I think there are things that we can do with the large scale that will both elaborate upon and extend anything that I could do if I just did it as a qualitative project. I think that’s the type of thing that really happens when you take a systems approach.vermont students

MRD: It’s more holistic- you get a broader point of view. Do most students attend the program full time or part time?

AT: For the Master’s program you can choose and we have about 20% part-time students but the PhD will be a full-time program. But we’re definitely moving the design of the program such that you could do it part time and where you wouldn’t always have to be resident here, sort of a hybrid. But it’s going to take a while to move it in that direction. That’ll probably happen over the next 5 years.

MRD: Are any courses being offered online right now?

AT: Yes, Food Systems & Public Health is offered online. We are also going to have an on-line graduate certificate in agro-ecology that students can pursue as part of the Master’s or PhD probably starting next year. It will be almost all online with maybe one or two intense small residency courses.

MRD: How would you describe the diversity of the students in your program?

AT: We definitely have disciplinary diversity with students coming from disciplines as far afield as anthropology, animal science, engineering, and music. We also have both traditional students and returning professional students. In terms of ethnic and racial diversity of the makeup of the student, we track Vermont, which is not typically diverse but we do have Latino students and one international student now.vermont cheese 1

MRD: What ties do you have to the local Vermont community?

AT: We have a number of different ways in which we have ties to the local community. At the undergraduate level, we have the food systems internship program. So you can get internships with different organizations in the area working in food, agriculture and/or food systems change. In the graduate program we have a required applications seminar for the Master’s program and it’s optional for the PhD. The seminar is a service-learning class and every year the students work through issues with a community partner on a project rooted in an issue of Vermont’s food system. In Vermont, we have a universal composting law that’s starting in about a year. So last year students worked with the Solid Waste Management District and the Natural Resources state-level department on social media campaigns and other issues regarding the most effective way to reach consumers. This year students will work on a project with the Vermont Land Trust on persistent multigenerational issues relating to land tenure in the state. One of the great benefits of living in a small rural state like Vermont is that there is a lot of interaction between the university and the community because it’s a small place and everybody knows each other.

MRD: Is the applications seminar the same as the immersion credit?

AT: So the travel immersion experience is a separate thing for Master’s students where students are to have some kind of immersion experience where they’re in an environment where they’re looking at or thinking about the food systems from the view of a particular environment. It can be a class and we’ve had a class that is called Milk to Maple, which is Vermont’s food system and that’s been a travel immersion class all around the state. We have something called the Break Through Leaders class which is a class where people from all over the United States and the world come together and it’s a credit and non-credit course where they have experiences exploring Vermont’s food system and developing leadership skills. This year we’re starting a travel immersion graduate class on food and migration in Mexico and in Vermont. They’re going to experience both what the food system is like in Mexico and examine the fluid dynamic migration system between Mexico and the United States, not just of people but also of foods. The requirement can also be fulfilled through an immersion internship experience.

MRD: How much is tuition for your program? Are there scholarship or fellowship opportunities?

AT: For the Master’s program it’s a 32-credit program and it will cost approximately $45,000 for out-of-state tuition and about $20-25,000 for in-state tuition. We have a limited number of fellowships for the Master’s program and we will have assistantships for the PhD program because we’re going to fund all of the students we accept into the PhD program. We believe in fully funding for four years, if you come in with a Master’s. If you don’t come in with a Master’s we will try to fund you for the full time, which will probably be around 5 years.

MRD: What’s the length of the PhD program?

AT: It’s going to be a 3 to 5 year PhD program depending if you come into the program with a Master’s and what you study. If you’re not going somewhere else to do research, it’s going to be a different experience.

MRD: That makes a lot of sense. How many fellowships are there available for the Master’s students?

AT: It’s variable but we do have a particular fellowship called the Food Systems Innovation Fellows Program. Two fellowships will be awarded per year and these Fellows will do work with UVM Dining to do a series of goals and indicators for creating a sustainable and local dining program at UVM. We use the Real Food Challenge but we’re also adding other indicators for saying what we think a dining program should be like at UVM. It’s a part time one-year fellowship, including a 10-hour a week stipend and approximately 9 credits.

MRD: Is the 32-credits for the Master’s program a 1-year program or a 2-year program?

AT: You can do our program in 12 months. Most people are going to do it in 18 months. Basically you can do it starting September 1st and be done by September 1st or you can do it September 1st and be done by December 15th. It’s really like a 12-16 month program depending on whether or not you decide to take classes during the summer.vermont cheese 2

MRD: What sets your program apart from other food studies or anthropology programs?

AT: I think it’s really the fact that we’re really trying to bridge between natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. We try to get students to become competent thinkers and doers around the food system, giving them the intellectual and practical skills that will allow them to successfully navigate. We also have tremendous engagement with the food system and food systems players in Vermont, so you can really learn a lot by being here.

MRD: What do your graduates go on to do after the program?

AT: We just started so we’ve only had a couple years of students but we have somebody working at the USDA as an agronomist, someone working at the Vermont Department of Agriculture, another working the Health Policy Institute that’s trying to integrate food systems work into health policy issues. We have somebody working at a newspaper, a couple of people working at non-profit organizations that are doing food and food-related work, and somebody is a sustainability manager for an institutional dining vendor. They have been able to access lots of different types of jobs.

MRD: That’s great. Do you mostly see your future PhD graduates as more applied anthropologists or scholars rather than just as pure academics?

AT: Yes, I think that our PhD will be robust and rigorous and you could get an academic job from it, but it will be a mix in terms of transdisciplinary approach and disciplinary specificity so it will look a certain way for a graduate.

MRD: Is there anything else you wanted to add?

AT: I think it’s a really exciting and emerging field, ripe with possibility. Although it is never easy to build new ways of thinking and doing about the world, the time seems right for bringing together the last century of disciplinary based inquiry and integrating the best ideas, methods and precepts in new ways for the 21st century, both in the academy but also beyond.

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Food in Culture and Social Justice at Oregon State University

Today, we will hear from Joan Gross, Professor of Anthropology discussing Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program. This post is part of SAFN’s Food Anthropology Program series, which features 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.

Ruth Dike: How did the Food in Culture and Social Justice program begin?

Joan Gross: After Oregon was discovered to be the hungriest state in the nation according to the USDA food security survey in 2000, Nancy Rosenberger and I were asked by a local task force to research food insecurity in rural Benton County. We conducted 66 interviews with low-income residents in two rural communities in the Willamette Valley that were known to be low on emergency food services. This effort brought us into contact with other community organizations and brought food into both of our research agendas. Several students in the Applied Anthropology program were already focusing on food and agriculture-related topics and when we did an inventory of Food Studies type classes around the university in 2011, we saw that with the addition of a few core courses, we had a program. The curricular proposal process was long and sometimes contested, but in the spring of 2012 we were approved to offer a graduate minor and an undergraduate certificate in Food in Culture and Social Justice.

Garden from one students’ Food Project.

Garden from one students’ Food Project.

MRD: What is the focus of your program? What are its strengths?

JG: The fact that Oregon has become such a food mecca, but still experiences high rates of food insecurity offers myriad anthropological research questions and leads to a focus on social justice. What better place to explore these issues than at the state’s land grant institution? Ours is an interdisciplinary program with coursework in and outside of Liberal Arts.  Credits for the undergraduate certificate can also be counted toward majors, minors, and selected general education requirements. Credits for the graduate minor (15 for MA, 18 for PhD) are selected by students in consultation with their committee, which allows for great flexibility in support of particular thesis/dissertation topics.  Through the “out of the classroom” Food Projects that all students are required to complete, our students have worked with campus and community partners doing things like leading cooking classes and gardening workshops, conducting program assessments, event planning, and creating resources like maps and guides. We also run an Intercultural Learning Community on Food in Culture and Social Justice in Oregon and Ecuador every other year, which incorporates students, community members and professors from both countries. You can find out more about this program here. Applications will be accepted until Nov. 13th.

Intercultural Learning Community helping with Pachamanca.

Intercultural Learning Community helping with Pachamanca.

MRD: What roles does anthropology play in your program?

JG: The program was conceived within anthropology and anthropologists teach more program courses than any other discipline. Joan Gross and Nancy Rosenberger teach Anthropology of Food; Melissa Cheyney and Kenny Maes teach Nutritional Anthropology; David McMurray teaches Agrifood Movements; Lisa Price teaches Food Justice and Research Methods in Food Studies; Sarah Cunningham teaches Food in American Culture. Garry Stephenson runs the Small Farms program in Agricultural Extension. Other anthropologists incorporate food-related issues into their classes.

MRD: Tell us about the students currently enrolled in your program.

JG: Presently there are 10 undergraduate and a dozen graduate students in the program.  The majority of the students are in anthropology, but we also have students in public health, nutrition, food science, forestry, natural resources, fisheries and wildlife, horticulture and agriculture. Find out more about our students here.

Preparing chestnuts for a Native Foods course that Dr. Joan Gross recently taught.

Preparing chestnuts for a Native Foods course that Dr. Joan Gross recently taught.

MRD: Where is your program located and what ties do you have to the local community?

JG: We are located in the heart of the Willamette Valley between the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, an hour’s drive to the Pacific Ocean. The Willamette Valley, with its rainy winters, gorgeous dry summers and rich soil, was the coveted destination at the end of the Oregon Trail. We have a superb farmers’ market, lots of artisanal food and drink producers, small and medium sized biodiverse, organic farms. Our students have worked in all of these places and more and our faculty serves on boards of several community organizations.

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Food, Culture, and Social Justice in Oregon and Ecuador

osu pic 1

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

2016 Intercultural Learning Community with Oregon State University

The goal of this learning community is to gather a multicultural group of people (undergraduate and graduate students, professors/instructors and community members) who are passionate about food and social justice and who are interested in joining with others to learn more about cultural aspects of food, food systems and alternative food movements in Oregon and Ecuador. Through cross-cultural dialogue, collaboration, and experiential learning, participants will further develop their knowledge, social networks and their capacity for engaging food systems issues as global citizens, rooted in local realities. In addition, past participants all reported an increase in their communicative competence in Spanish or English.

The group will be composed based on the following criteria

  • ability to enlighten the group about some aspect of the food system
  • gender equality
  • cultural diversity
  • age diversity
  • generosity of spirit

Program Cost:

US-based participants – $2110

Ecuador-based participants – $1710

This does NOT include tuition, transfer fees, airline ticket, miscellaneous meals/entertainment, passport or visa fees for Ecuadorians. Some scholarships are available.osu pic 2


Before beginning the program, participants must take the 4 credit Oregon State University online course “International Perspectives on Food Systems” (FCSJ 454/554). The cost of this course is $1120 for undergraduate credit or $2084 for graduate credit. Community members (including professors) who are not interested in transcript-visible university credits will be able to take a version of the course. OSU students will sign up for 6 credits of FCSJ 422/522 in Fall term 2016 to cover the 180 hours of field study and reflection exercises.

Credits, Certificates, Professional Development:

Every participant who successfully completes the program will receive a Professional Certificate in Food, Culture and Social Justice offered by the School of Language, Culture and Society of Oregon State University. Students who are enrolled in Oregon State University can count the credits towards either an undergraduate certificate or a graduate minor in Food in Culture and Social Justice. We will gladly work with other universities to establish equivalencies.

Professors, instructors and other community members will be supplied with a letter delineating the professional development aspects of the program that they can submit to their directors. We will encourage directors to compensate participants with a course down, airline tickets and other program costs.

Important Dates:

  • November 132015 – Deadline for applications
  • December 15, 2015 – selected learning community participants are notified
  • January 8, 2016 First installment of $100 is due for participants
  • March 15, 2016 – Scholarships will be announced
  • April 15, 2016 – The remainder of the bill is due
  • July 18, 2016 mandatory meeting for Ecuador group (must have passport, visa, travel insurance and airline ticket by this time. It’s possible to meet by skype)
  • October 28, 2016 mandatory meeting for Oregon group (must have passport, travel insurance and airline ticket by this time. It’s possible to meet by skype)

The tentative dates for the program are August 30 to September 13, 2016 for the field stay in Oregon and December 9 to December 23, 2016 for the Ecuador field stay. You are expected to be available for the entire field stays in both Oregon and Ecuador and to participate in certain exercises online following the two field stays.

The application and cost breakdown are available at

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Thinking, and doing: Willa Zhen on Teaching Anthropology of Food at the Culinary Institute of America

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

This month, we hear from Willa Zhen, Associate Professor at The Culinary Institute of America. She discusses teaching anthropology at an applied institution, and many of the excellent hands-on activities she uses to engage her students.

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

Lauren Renée Moore: Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to teach at the Culinary Institute of America?

Willa Zhen: The students here—especially those in the new Applied Food Studies major, which started in January 2015—love food. They love cooking, they love eating, and many want to do more with their careers than become traditional restaurant chefs. They’re thinking about food in complex ways, but also have a very hands-on, grounded approach. They understand food at a very practical and sensory level, and also at a cognitive level. That’s what our program is like, in a nutshell.

LRM: What is it like to teach students with such an applied focus?

WZ: When I taught at my doctoral institution, I taught very traditional undergraduate anthropology classes. We read classic texts—and I was in the UK, so we were reading things like Malinowski, very heavy and descriptive. It was very different teaching those types of students and a lot of the students there were very internationally focused, many of them were international themselves. Me included, I was an American living in the UK. Convincing them to read about far-flung places and cultures was pretty easy.

Here, students are working from a different set of experiences, and I try to ground class in what they already know and have experienced. Many students come from working backgrounds and have limited international and cross-cultural exposure. I’m not able to use the classic ethnographies to the same degree. In fact, I actually ground them in current issues and current debates, to really make it relevant. The goal is to get them to dive more critically and thoughtfully into their everyday experience. So it’s kind of a different way of thinking about things.

All photos provided by Willa Zhen.

All photos provided by Willa Zhen.

LRM: Can you tell me a little bit about the structure of your class?

WZ: My students don’t have intro to anthropology and we don’t have an anthro major. There are other classes which explore anthropology in some way, but this is the only anthro class. So I wrote it as an intro to anthropology. I’m trying to get them thinking about classic anthropological concepts and methods of inquiry, but through the lens of food. I actually have two books that I have them read. One of them is an anthropology textbook, and it introduces concepts like kinship, community, etc., and then I have them read Counihan and Van Esterik’s Food and Culture Reader. Then, we do a lot of activities.

For instance, when we talk about kinship, family, commensality, and family structure, I have them do kinship charts. I have Grinding grains - 5them draw their own kinship chart, and then ask them to think about feeding, commensality, and kinship. They use colors to do this. They take one color—I have crayons or colored pencils—and have them shade in everybody who’s fed them. And then they use another color to shade in all the people they feed. I ask: are there overlaps? For most people, elders feed them, and then when they hit a certain age, they’re feeding younger family members. But sometimes, students’ charts don’t fit that characterization. Maybe they didn’t have anyone who fed them, because their parents were working or maybe their parents were unable to feed them due to physical disability. And it creates ways of thinking about feeding and structure and commensality. With that exercise, we read Psyche Williams-Forson’s work “More than Just the ‘Big Piece of Chicken’: The Power of Race, Class, and Food in American Consciousness” on African American family relationships and chicken. It becomes a very tactile way to think about these anthropological concepts.

LRM:  Can you give me an example how you bring current debates into the course?

WZ: One of the ways I teach them about agriculture, technology, and the domestication of plants, is by sneaking it in through a hands-on activity. What you often hear is that food way back when—like your grandmother’s food, which is what Michael Pollan likes to say—was great and romantic and pastoral. It was wonderful! Or, with the Paleo diet folks, we hear that our ancestors ate so much better, right? They foraged, there was no domestication, and everyone was healthier, leaner, and sexier back then. We talked about these different ideas, and then I have them grind grain by hand. We went to the kitchen, I put them in different teams, I had them set a timer and everybody got different tools to work with. Some teams got mortars and pestles of different compositions, others got stone, other a cutting board. I had them see how long it took to grind the grain down to usable flour. They also measure the start weight, and when they got to a point where they had a usable grind, they weighed it again.Grinding grains - 3

This activity was a little bit evil, because some students were very frustrated. That’s the point. To make them think. Smashing things with stone is not as effective as a mortar and pestle, which is not as effective as an industrial mill. It gives them an appreciation for the amount of labor and time it takes to get usable food. They also gain an appreciation for agriculture and storage technology. This got them thinking about the notion of romanticizing the past and the idea that things were better. They quickly realize that it sucks to do things by hand. But, a lot of people on the planet still have to process food in very backbreaking, difficult ways. Grinding grain in class gave them an appreciation of how physical and backbreaking it is. And these students are people who have a lot of manual dexterity. They have all been trained as cooks, and they know how to use a kitchen and work with food. But none of them were prepared for how difficult it was. We were in the kitchen and they were upset because their hands were hurting and their ears were ringing—because it’s very, very loud to hit things with rocks for a long time. They can see why these different technologies may have developed.

Later, I took mercy on them, and had them mix some store-bought commercial flour with what they’d ground, in order to make it into something cookable. The point of this was to grind your flour and then eventually cook it into some kind of bread. They had an option of making any type of bread they wanted. It was open for them to decide because one of the points about agriculture and the development of technology is that our ancestors had to figure this out. They didn’t have a recipe book. So students started asking questions like, “Are there ways we can make this process happen faster?” I asked them to look at the kitchen. What technologies would they have had available to them in the past? Perhaps they had fire. The students started roasting grains, to see if that would make it easier to grind. Some of them boiled their grain down to a paste to see if that would make it easier. As they did this, I said, “This is what our ancestors did, too. They figured it out, because I’m sure they came to the same conclusion you did, which is: this sucks. I’m hungry, how do I make this faster?”

Grinding grains - 2

LRM:  Do you usually teach in a kitchen setting?

WZ: I’m usually in a traditional classroom, with the whiteboard and computers and desks and chairs. We do have kitchens available. The trick here on campus is that the kitchens are usually occupied. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to finagle my way into a kitchen and use that space, but I try and use activities that work in a classroom setting, as well. If I got stuck and couldn’t get a kitchen, I wouldn’t be able to do the part where they had to figure out other adaptive technologies like fire or boiling, but they could still do the grinding part where they get mortars and pestles and grind at a desk.

I try as much as I can to plan things that don’t necessarily require kitchens even though the kitchen is ideal for some of them. I try to think outside the box a lot, how to make this engaging and also pedagogically and academically valid. It takes a little bit of thinking out of the box, and the lot of willingness to trust your gut and experiment and to be willing to have it flop.Grinding grains - 4

LRM:  I wonder if you have other activities you could share that might work well in a traditional classroom setting?

WZ:  One of the things I have done with my anthro class to think about concepts like community and identity is have them look at community cookbooks. You can also do this with ethnic or international cookbooks. One of my favorites is the White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler. It’s a best-seller.  Students can think about how communities self-identify. Who are the self-identified people who buy a white trash cookbook? I have them pull out who the community is, what their values are. Are there certain types of foods that seem to be present? How do they describe themselves? Then, we talk about the narrative of the community, and how we present ourselves, and how much of this describes what the community actually is.

I also have them do mini participant observation either as part of class time or outside of class. It helps them understand sociocultural anthropology methodologies. I find that with students who have been trained as cooks, the challenge is not getting them to do the assignment, it’s actually getting them to reel back that chef’s hat. I have to say, “This is not a restaurant review, you’re not describing the food, you’re not describing the meal, or how you would have plated in it. But, what was actually going on around you?” I often get something that’s more of a restaurant review, and I have to say, “What was actually happening? What was the action, the drama in front of you? Or was there no drama?”

LRM: What do you want students to take away from your class?

WZ:  When I’m teaching the Anthropology of Food, I don’t expect them to remember who Franz Boas or Margaret Mead was. What I want them to get out of it, and remember a couple of months from now, or ten years from now, or maybe when they are very old and in their rocking chairs is: I want them to think outside of themselves for just a moment, and ask, how do I know this? Where am I getting this information? That’s always my key goal. It’s part of the nature of anthropology, to think about where cultural values and norms come from. That’s the one thing I always want my students to think about. To take a step back, and think, where is that coming from?

LRM: Do you feel like you achieve this?

WZ:  I hope so. For one ethnographic project, I had a group study people who drink alone in bars. They went to a local watering hole and they get permission from the owner to hang out there. They started the project assuming different things about why people drink alone. They assumed that these people are losers who didn’t have anybody to drink with. They found in their interviews that why people drink alone is much more complex. Some people didn’t truly drink alone. They went to the bar alone, but they ended up socializing with everybody at the bar. That was their way of socializing. Or people go to the bar alone to socialize without committing to a specific time with specific people. Other people like drinking alone just for the solitude, or it was just a quick drink to get out of the house. The students’ assumptions were really challenged. They always thought that drinking alone was embarrassing, but it wasn’t, necessarily.

LRM:  I wonder if you could speak a little bit to graduate student readers about working in an applied environment like the Culinary Institute of America?

WZ:  For anybody who’s coming from a traditional academic background or institution, teaching at a non-traditional institution can be incredibly rewarding and fun. For me, I’ve always had one foot in applied work anyway, and I felt like that was missing from traditional institutions. Here, I can do a lot of things that I’ve always wanted to do, that I wish I could have done in classes. It’s so rewarding to be able to do these hands on activities. And I think that’s something, particularly with this tight job market, and the difficulties of getting anything in academia. If you want to work in higher education, don’t discount these institutions. The students I have are very focused and driven because they are career minded. They are determined to do well and succeed, and they understand that they have to work hard. Those concepts make sense to them because they have to work in the kitchen from day one here. My advice would be to not dismiss these institutions. It’s so gratifying to be able to do this mixture of academics and also be very grounded. We get to think, and get to do at the same time.

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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

Culture & Agriculture Tech Fellowship

A note from our colleagues at Culture & Agriculture about an intriguing opportunity:

The Culture & Agriculture Section of the American Anthropological Association aims to expand its on-line and social media presence. We wish to highlight the research and policy engagements of our members as well as to promote our peer-reviewed section journal, Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE), within and beyond anthropological audiences. To this end, C&A has created a position for a tech savvy, anthropology scholar/practitioner to manage our site and, in conjunction with the Board and the CAFE editors, initiate new forms of electronic outreach. We envisage this position as particularly appropriate for an Anthropology doctoral candidate or new PhD with interests in agrifood systems, the environment, and digital media, but encourage anthropologists at any stage with appropriate background, skills, and predilections to apply. The position carries an annual award of $1500.00, with a possibility for renewal. Application materials: Please send a current CV with names of at least two referees (both academic and work-related preferred), and a letter of interest outlining relevant skills and experience. The letter should include suggestions for digital projects or activities to heighten and extend the appeal of C&A and CAFE. Examples of previous work are also invited. Please send materials to Lisa Markowitz ( Deadline for applications is September 15, 2015.

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Filed under AAA, culture and agriculture, Food Studies

Second International Conference on Food History and Cultures

Call for Sessions and Papers:

Second International Conference on Food History and Cultures

26-27 May 2016 – Tours (France)

The European Institute for Food History and Cultures (the IEHCA, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation) is organizing the second of its henceforth annual international conferences, to be held on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 May 2016 in Tours (France).

The event falls within the scope of the continuation of initiatives carried out by the IEHCA for the past twelve years through its editorial policy, its support for research and its efforts to facilitate networking opportunities among Food Studies researchers.

The success of last year’s conference, highlighted by the participation of almost 120 researchers, has reinforced our desire to ensure it becomes an annual gathering and benchmark event. The conference is organized in partnership with the Food Studies team at the François-Rabelais University in Tours and the UNESCO Chair – “Safeguarding and Promotion of Cultural Food Heritages.”

All proposals pertaining to Food Studies will be considered and all researchers are welcome to make a submission (doctoral, post-doctoral, research lecturers, independent researchers, etc). In essence, the conference is multi- and cross-disciplinary, covering all historical periods.

Unlike last year, this communication is first and foremost a call for sessions: submissions to present thematic panels will be reviewed and selected as a priority. Individual submissions will be evaluated in a second phase.

Each session will last an hour and a half, and each panel will require a moderator and two to four speakers. Three is the ideal number (with papers lasting twenty minutes each).

Submissions should be in French or English and state the following:

  • general theme of the session;
  • names of the moderator and speakers;
  • Brief CV (max. 250 words) of all of the participants
  • institution(s) (if applicable);
  • title of the session;
  • contact details;
  • a 250-word abstract per paper.

The person submitting the proposal can be the moderator. If they are also one of the speakers, they should either choose a moderator themselves or will be assigned a moderator by the organizers.

The eventual individual submissions should provide:

  • title of the paper;
  • a 250 word abstract
  • a brief CV (no more than 250 words
  • contact details.

All submissions will be reviewed and selected by the IEHCA’s academic committee.

Papers can be presented in English or French.

Please do not hesitate to pass this information on to colleagues who may be interested.

The closing date for submissions is 30 October 2015.

Replies will be sent around the 15 January 2016.

Submissions should be sent to Loïc Bienassis ( Allen Grieco ( will also be able to answer any questions.

PLEASE NOTE: although conference participants are not liable to pay a registration fee, no expenses will be reimbursed.

Academic organization :

IEHCA (European Institute for Food History and Cultures, Tours)

LÉA (Food Studies team, François-Rabelais University, Tours)

UNESCO Chair Safeguarding and Promotion of Cultural Food Heritages (François-Rabelais University, Tours)

IEHCA logoLEA logoUNESCO Chair logo

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Filed under anthropology of food, CFP, Food Studies, France, IEHCA