Category Archives: Food Studies

Wandering Washington: Food Journeys

Beer and Welding’s sandwich board outside Oasis grocery, Washington, DC.

Beer and Welding’s sandwich board outside Oasis grocery, Washington, DC.

Joel Denker
Washington D.C.

The country’s largest Ethiopian community. The second largest concentration of Salvadorans in the U.S. The demographic details about the Washington metro area don’t square with the popular image. Washington had always attracted immigrants, but in the past, the settlers were small in number, relatively select, and barely visible. Foreigners were mostly students, embassy retainers, and affluent professionals. Now, Washington has not only become an immigrant city, but also a distinctive one. Unlike old immigrant towns, such as New York and Chicago, with their neighborhoods of people from Southern and Eastern European backgrounds, Washington is strikingly a haven for Third World newcomers. Metro Washington may not have a Hungarian restaurant, but it does have a score of Peruvian ones.

When I first arrived in Washington in 1967, after a year teaching in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was struck by the city’s small town qualities. Its sweltering summer heat and southern folkways were unsettling for this northeasterner. I soon realized how apt was John Kennedy’s barbed description of the capital as a “city of northern charm and southern efficiency.”

The food mirrored the atmosphere. A few swank, French outlets like the Sans Souci catered to Washington’s political and social classes. The sports crowd and city insiders congregated at the Connecticut Avenue restaurant, Duke Zeibert’s, which my father, an inveterate New Yorker, called a “poor man’s Toots Shor’s.” Baskets of onion rolls on the tables reflected the owner’s Jewish origins. The kitchen turned out chicken in the pot and, sometimes, matzoh ball soup. However, Washington could not boast a Lindy’s, Nathan’s, or a Luchow’s, culinary monuments of my father’s days in the Empire City.

More typical were southern-style lunchrooms and cafeterias. Sholl’s was a chain of cafeterias where ordinary government and office workers were offered breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals at rock bottom prices. The business, whose K Street location I frequented when I taught evening classes across the street, was founded by Evan H. Sholl, who grew up on a Pennsylvania farm. The entrepreneur, a man of strong religious conviction, established his first eatery in the late twenties, at the end of the Coolidge administration. Sholl’s shops served up hearty comfort food, daily specials like veal cutlet with tomato sauce and liver with onions. The dining tables were adorned with prayer cards. Its breakfasts were popular with Harry Truman, a country boy like Mr. Sholl.

In this “white bread” era, unusual ethnic restaurants stood out. Going with friends to the Omega, a Cuban restaurant on Columbia Road, had all the elements of an exotic excursion. The menu highlighted such Spanish specialties as paella and mariscada (seafood stew), along with such Cuban standards as ropa viella (“old clothes”), shredded beef. Like many such early Latin places, its dishes spanned the Americas. I hungered for their chicken enchiladas with a large helping of black beans and rice. The legend that the Bay of Pigs invasion was plotted there accentuated the Omega’s appeal.

The Omega was the first in a parade of Hispanic restaurants that opened their doors to curious Washingtonians. The El Caribe and El Dorado, both pan-Latin spots, also set up on Columbia Road. Not far away, in 1973, the Churreria Madrid began selling churros, Spain’s popular twisted crullers, and making gazpacho on weekends. Other Latin outposts are etched in my memory: Pancho’s, a Mount Pleasant night club with a rollicking mariachi band; Carlos Gardel, a bar owned by an Argentinian, where you ate empanadas in the balconies and reveled in the dance music pounded out by the band below. A nearby Cuban luncheonette, whose name I have forgotten, served media noche, the crusty sandwich of pork and melted cheese, and batidos, drinks made from soursop, mango, and other tropical fruits. A visit to the Calvert Café, a pioneering Middle Eastern eatery, was another adventure. Mama Ayesha, a Palestinian woman who was the room’s guiding spirit, prepared grape leaves at a corner table. Before it became a full-fledged restaurant, the café’s bar enticed drinkers with what were then unusual appetizers—hummus and baba ghanouj.

There were few ethnic food groceries in the early days. Skenderis, a Greek grocery near Dupont Circle, was a haunt of mine. In the cluttered upstairs space, Dino Skenderis started a gift shop which rode the Greek shoulder bag craze during the sixties. It blossomed into a purveyor of feta cheese, olives, nuts, dried fruit, and similar items. Dino carried what was then an unfamiliar product, Colombo Yogurt. I was to learn later and to write about the story of this product. Colombo, the country’s first commercial yogurt, was begun by an Armenian family in Massachusetts, the Colombosians.

As the years passed, I uncovered other hidden eateries. The Islander was one of the most memorable. The Trinidadian restaurant, then mostly a carryout near Georgia Avenue, was presided over by Addie Green, a proud, voluble woman. On special occasions, she wore a colorful turban. Addie initiated me into the culture and lore of her land and her food, a mixture of Indian, African, French, and Spanish influences. I tucked into many a curry with rice and peas and savored drinks like mauby, a slightly bitter drink made from the bark of a Caribbean tree. The Islander was one of the most colorful of the many Caribbean restaurants in the 1980s that the Washington Post Magazine highlighted in a cover article.

Salvadoran restaurants began to emerge as Central Americans flocked to Washington, lured by the magnet of the “capital” city and a host of laboring jobs in hotels, restaurants, and office buildings. Many of the early arrivals hailed from a single town, the small community of Intipuca, which flourished with funds sent back by the newcomers. Visitors to a Salvadoran restaurant encountered such revelations as the pupusa, the country’s variation on the tortilla, and marañon, a drink made from the cashew fruit.

Washington was gradually transforming from a sleepy southern town to a polyglot capital. I searched out novel eateries and wrote stories about my discoveries in a column for the Washington newspaper, The InTowner. One of the early pieces I did in my column, “The Ethnic Bazaar,” was about the Happy Inn, an Indonesian-Chinese eatery in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. It was owned by Eric C.C. Lin, a man of Chinese ancestry who grew up in Indonesia and studied atmospheric physics at Peking University. My wife Peggy and I spent many an evening there. Oseng-oseng, a dish of tiny shrimp stir fried with tempe and green beans in a heavy soy-based sauce ignited with chilis, was a passion of ours. I loved the ring of Indonesia’s culinary language, of words like nasi goreng, gado gado, and rendang.

Immigrant communities, which might have first arisen in the city, now began taking root in the suburbs. Restaurants serving these groups followed. My forays in quest of ethnic food soon required Metro rides from my home in the Adams-Morgan area to far-flung neighborhoods. I was excited by Jamaica Joe, a lunch room in a small Silver Spring, Maryland shopping center, which served up “curry goat,” one of the country’s national dishes. A long train ride to Ballston, an Arlington neighborhood, took me to the Pakistani café, Ravi Kabob, one of the many kebab joints that would mushroom in the suburbs. I was drawn by chicken tikka, nicely charred on the outside and moist on the inside and served with a spicy stew of chickpeas, nan, a piping hot thick bread, and coriander chutney. I washed the meal down with a creamy lassi, the traditional yogurt refreshment.

Photo courtesy of Bistro Bohem, Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of Bistro Bohem, Washington, DC.

The explosion of ethnic restaurants in the suburbs has rewarded Washingtonians with a wide

array of choices: Afghani, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, Guatemalan. Because of the large influx of Bolivians to northern Virginia, Washington can claim America’s largest enclave of these ethnics. Meanwhile, in the city, dining rooms have sprung up to serve once uncommon cuisines. Domku in the Petworth neighborhood near Georgia Avenue features Polish and Scandinavian dishes. A Czech bistro (Bistro Bohem) in the once unfashionable northwest Bloomingdale section has won a strong following.

Photo courtesy of Bistro Bohem, Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of Bistro Bohem, Washington, DC.

Near Dupont Circle, a long-standing convenience store, the Oasis, is now selling sandwiches created by the operators of a food truck. A young, very affable Salvadoran woman prepares the food in the back of the shop owned by a Persian gentleman. One sunny afternoon at an outside table I enjoyed an El Porco sandwich from the intriguingly named Beer and Welding operation. The sandwich brought together pork shoulder flavored with garlic aioli, pickled spring onions, and ramps with swiss cheese and mixed greens. A Brazilian woman, who worked at a salon next door, sat next to me. We compared notes. I savored the food and mused about Washington’s changing ethnic landscape.

Peppers grilling at Beer and Welding sandwich shop, Washington, DC.

Peppers grilling at Beer and Welding sandwich shop, Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog posting from Joel Denker, a historian of ethnic foodways in the United States who has lived in and written about the changing ethnic foods in Washington D.C. He is author of, among many other things, “The World on a Plate: A Tour through the History of America’s Ethnic Cuisine,” (2003, Westview). Denker’s food writings appear on his website, www.foodpassages.com. This is the first in what we hope is a series of postings about the foodways of the D.C. area in anticipation of the upcoming AAA annual meetings. We would love to hear from more scholars with reflections on food and the D.C. area in coming weeks.

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ASFS Student Paper Awards

The Association for the Study of Food and Society announces its student paper award competition!

Deadline for Annual Submission: February 1. Electronic submissions ONLY!

The ASFS invites current undergraduate and graduate (single authors only) to submit a paper for the William Whit (undergraduate) and Alex McIntosh (graduate) prizes, respectively. These awards recognize students’ contributions to the field of food studies. There will be one award each for an undergraduate student paper and a graduate student paper. ASFS welcomes submissions on a wide range of issues relating to food, society and culture, and from the diverse disciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields that ASFS encompasses. The author of each award-winning paper will receive:

  • $500
  • payment of annual membership and conference fees to be applied to the following year if student is not attending in the current year
  • a free banquet ticket for the coming year’s annual meeting or the following year’s if a ticket has already been purchased or the student is not attending the conference in the current year; and
  • the opportunity to present prize-winning papers at an ASFS/AFHVS conference. Winners who wish to present the year they receive their award must have submitted a conference abstract in that same year.

For further details, please visit the ASFS web site (www.food-culture.org/asfs-student-paper-award/) for the award.

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A Summary of Food Movements @Trent University

Prof and Student, Farm Manager and Project Coordinator tending the fields.

Prof and Student, Farm Manager and Project Coordinator tending the fields.

 

Helen McCarthy
Trent University

Student and faculty involvement in food issues at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario has been long standing, and there are many new exciting initiatives under development.

To begin, the Trent Vegetable Gardens for student research on campus were initiated by a number of students and faculty and they collaborate heavily with the campus vegetarian/vegan student run café, the Seasoned Spoon. These projects and enterprises are not-for–profit, student initiated, and have been running for about a decade.

More recently, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program was born. This is, a 4-year honours degree program with an Arts stream and a Science stream. This program is one for students to challenge and think about the dominant global food and agricultural systems that we are all embedded in.

35lbs of chilis harvested from the Experimental Farm, Purchased by Chartwells Sept. 2014

35lbs of chilis harvested from the Experimental Farm, Purchased by Chartwells Sept. 2014

This year, there have been many more projects in development that are proving to have a great potential to create positive change surrounding food services at Trent. These include a newly founded student organization, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Society, a Trent Apiary, a Campus Food Sustainability Working Group, a new contract with Compass Group campus food service providers (Chartwells), and an undergoing campus Experimental Farm and Greenhouse project.

The SAFS Society is an inclusive student group that mandates to increase student engagement and community awareness in food and agricultural sustainability issues.

The Sustainability Working Group aims to be involved in all matters concerning sustainability in the expectations from Chartwells (Compass Group), specifically these include monitoring the progress of projects that aim to procure local food, reduce food waste, increase energy efficiency and follow up on goals surrounding food quality, affordability, diversity and special food needs (vegetarian/vegan, gluten/dairy intolerance, religious restrictions).

Trent Farm Table

Experimental Farm Table at first ever Campus Farmers Market (Chartwells organized)

The Experimental Farm is a very exciting enterprise that has become Chartwells Key Focus Initiative for 2015 at Trent. So far, the 33 acres Trent has allocated has grown 1/3rd of an acre of vegetables as part of a organic amendments research project; vegetables were sold to the Seasoned Spoon, local Restaurants, and to Chartwells, 1 acre of quinoa, and a research project on reducing inputs in common Ontario grain rotations. The expansion and breadth for the following season are being planned presently.

The KFI means that the new food services provider is committed to supporting Trent in creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable food production enterprise on campus that would directly provide marketable produce for Chartwells to purchase and use in campus meals as well as student engagement, and program collaboration. They have also committed to providing capital specifically to invest in a campus greenhouse.

These recent projects are what I personally find most exciting about food issues at Trent. I feel that there is potential for real, forthcoming and positive change; creating real awareness and community engagement around broader food and agriculture concerns.

Trent Bees!

Trent Bees!

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CFP: Trusting the hand that feeds you

Conference of possible interest to readers of this blog:

The interdisciplinary research group Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel invites papers and panel proposals for its 2015 conference, Trusting the hand that feeds you. Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food, which will held in Brussels from 7 to 9 September 2015.

The conference will bring an historical perspective to the study of consumer anxieties about food. Paper proposals are due on December 15, 2014.  For more details, visit the conference web site.

 

 

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IEHCA Conference on Food History and Food Studies in Tours!

26-27 March 2015 – Tours (France)

The European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (the IEHCA, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation) is organising its first International Conference to be held on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 March 2015 in Tours (France).

This is the first event of its kind and aims to become an annual gathering within the scope of a continuation of the IEHCA’s work over the last twelve years, carried out through its publications (Food & History, “Table des Hommes” collection), its support for research (organisation of conferences; awards for young researchers) and its facilitation of networking opportunities among Food Studies researchers (Yearly Summer School…).

The intention is that the symposium will bring together specialists from all over the world. No specific theme as been fixed for this first occasion; all proposals under the broad heading of Food Studies will be considered. In essence, it will be a multi- and cross-disciplinary event covering all historical periods.

All researchers are welcome (doctoral, post-doctoral, research lecturers, independent researchers, etc.).

Two types of submission, with free choice of subject, will be accepted:

Individual submissions, that should include:

  • the name(s) of the speaker/speakers
  • their institution(s) if applicable
  • the title of their paper
  • contact details
  • a 250-word abstract

Submissions for “panel” sessions on a given theme.

  • For each participant, the same information is required as for individual submissions.

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

Papers must not exceed 20 minutes in length and can be presented in English or French.

The Institute would be grateful if you could circulate this invitation to those who might be interested.

The closing date for sending submissions is the 15 December 2014.

Every complete submission will receive a reply within 10 days, irrespective of whether it is sent before or on the closing date.

They should be sent, as well as any questions, to Loïc Bienassis (loic.bienassis@iehca.eu).

Please note that conference participants’ expenses cannot be covered in whole or in part by the IEHCA.

Appel à communications et à sessions

Première Conférence Internationale d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation

26-27 mars 2015 – Tours (France)

L’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (IEHCA) organisera les jeudi 26 et vendredi 27 mars 2015 à Tours (France) sa première Conférence Internationale.

Cette manifestation, destinée à devenir un rendez-vous annuel, s’inscrit dans le prolongement des actions que mène l’IEHCA depuis douze ans à travers sa politique éditoriale (Food & History, collection Tables des Hommes), son soutien à la recherche (organisation de colloques ; aides aux jeunes chercheurs) et son travail de mise en réseau des chercheurs en Food Studies(Université d’Eté…).

Cette conférence aura l’ambition d’accueillir des spécialistes du monde entier. Aucun thème spécifique n’a été retenu pour cette première édition ; toutes les propositions relevant des Food Studies seront examinées : ce symposium est par essence pluri- et transdisciplinaire et couvrira l’ensemble des périodes historiques.

Tous les chercheurs sont les bienvenus (doctorants, post-doctorants, enseignants-chercheurs, chercheurs indépendants…)

Deux types de candidatures, portant sur un sujet libre, pourront être soumis :

Des candidatures individuelles, qui comporteront:

  • le nom du ou des communicants,
  • leur(s) éventuelle(s) institution(s) de rattachement,
  • le titre de leur intervention
  • leurs coordonnées
  • un résumé de 250 mots

Des candidatures par session portant sur l’organisation d’un « panel » autour d’un thème donné.

  • Pour chaque intervenant, devront figurer les mêmes informations que celles requises pour les candidatures individuelles.

Les candidatures seront examinées et sélectionnées par le comité scientifique de l’IEHCA.

Les communications ne devront pas excéder 20 minutes ; elles pourront être présentées en anglais ou en français.

N’hésitez pas à faire circuler cet appel autour de vous.

La date limite d’envoi des candidatures est fixée au 15 décembre 2014.

Les candidatures complètes recevront une réponse sous dix jours quelle que soit la date d’envoi.

Elles sont à adresser, ainsi que vos questions, à Loïc Bienassis.

Notez qu’aucun défraiement n’est prévu pour les participants à la conférence.

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What FoodAnthropology is Reading

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

An occasional and somewhat random list of articles, books, web sites, movies, television shows, and other sources of inspiration from anthropologists of food and nutrition. Feel free to send us items we should include in future installments.

The adventures of a French ethnographic film maker traveling across the United States, exploring local foodways. This is a very intriguing web project and a stunning web site. Settle in and enjoy the experience.

Watch  a lecture by Yale historian Paul Freedman on the history of celebrity chefs, at the annual MAD symposium in Copenhagen. If you visit the Mad site, you will find lots of other interesting lectures.

An interview with historian Elizabeth Abbott, author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History, about the role of sugar in contemporary diets, spotted by anthropologist Leslie Carlin.

Anthropologist and former SAFN president Janet Chrzan sends in this article in Mother Jones , which looks at a few recent studies about the American diet and concludes that while some people are eating better, any overall change in national eating habits will need to be driven by changes in the economy (income inequality, for example), rather than in the food system.

From Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, to Green Acres, people have made fun of city folks who want to be farmers. But if you are seriously considering it, this piece from Modern Farmer might be a helpful read.

The U.S. Postal Service is honoring chefs with a new series of stamps. The article that explains this also discusses stamps in other countries that honor iconic foods. It might be even better if the stamps were scratch and sniff (maybe not the chef stamps, however).

School lunch has become one of the battle fields for the American culture wars. This article, by Franco-American journalist Hélène Crié-Wiesner, tries to make sense of the fight for French readers. The article, which is in French, suggests that the debate is less about food and kids and more about anti-Obama propaganda.

We have not seen the first issue of Render: Feminist Food & Culture Quarterly, but the web site is pretty interesting and you may want to take a look. For example, Phylisa Wisdom’s article on loving Mexican food in the context of U.S. immigration debates poses some sharp questions about culture, representation, labor, immigration, and other issues and might help start a robust discussion in a food studies class.

On the subject of journals, there is a new(ish) Canadian Food Studies journal and it is open access, so you can go ahead a read it even now. And if you want, you can also submit articles. Details and issues (well, 1.5 issues, it looks like so far) on the web site.

And on the subject of immigration and labor, this recent article in The New Yorker describes the efforts to organize fast food workers that have resulted in increasingly large protests, sit-ins and strikes in the last few years. The central demand is for a $15 hourly minimum wage in the industry along with recognition for unions, but the industry objects that this is too much. From the daily lives of workers, to the history of unions, the organization of the fast food and broader restaurant industry, there is much in this article for class discussions.

What are other food anthropologists reading? Let us know!

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Food Forward on PBS

Food-Forward-COVE-16x9-288x162

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Food Forward is a new documentary series on PBS focusing on people experimenting with new (and sometimes very old) ways of producing food in the United States. The broadcast schedule is available on the PBS website and you can also watch full episodes there. There is a great deal of information about the show available on the Food Forward website as well.

If you visit the web site, you will see that the directors try to distinguish their shows from the cooking competitions, restaurant rescues, and searches for exotic foods that populate food television. But this is PBS, so that is not really a relevant comparison. Instead, Food Forward differentiates itself by not being another documentary about why our food system is inexorably leading us to nutritional and environmental doom. The makers of Food Forward argue that we need a way out, a plan, a way to save ourselves. The episodes document the stories of people who are trying to make food better. They call them “Food Rebels,” because they are taking on the industrial food system, finding ways to produce foods that they claim are environmentally sustainable, healthy, tasty, sometimes even affordable.

I have watched two episodes and the food rebellion looks delicious, the landscapes look beautiful, even the people seem spiritual and remarkably handsome. It would be easy to be cynical about all this — so much optimism in the face of our massive industrial food system might be a bit quixotic. But there is in fact quite a lot to think about here. There are fascinating food innovations, including sustainable farm raised fish in the very first episode. A lot of the innovations are described as efforts to return to older ways of doing things–from fishing with weirs to raising grass-fed beef without antibiotics or hormones. The farmers and fishers who are doing these things are also finding ways to make these methods profitable. These are hopeful films and, frankly, it is easy (and pleasurable) to get swept up in the optimism.

The two episodes I watched, “Go Fish!” and “The Meat of the Matter,” are about fishers, ranchers, and farmers, documenting both production (on ranches, boats, fish farms, etc.) and distribution (community supported fisheries, community supported farmers, restaurants, markets, etc.). There will be episodes that explore urban farming, GMOs, obesity, school lunch, and even hunting (at least 5 episodes are currently available on the PBS site; I assume more are to come). If all the episodes are as good as the first two, any of them could be usefully shown in anthropology classes dealing with food and culture. There is a great deal here to generate discussion among students, many useful questions to be raised. The length of the episodes (about 25 minutes each) also lends itself to class use. Take a look. Let us know (in the comments section) what you think.

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Filed under anthropology, farming, film, food activism, food and health, food policy, Food Studies, nutrition, sustainability