Category Archives: Food Studies

“You can’t talk about food without talking:” Aimee Hosemann with a Professor’s Perspective on the Course “Food and Culture”

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

This month, the Food Pedagogy Series is pleased to offer a special pair of interviews. Doctoral candidate and instructor Aimee Hosemann was recommended by one of her students, and both Hosemann and the student, Clara Broomfield, agreed to be interviewed about the class. We will hear first from Hosemann, and then we will hear from Broomfield for a student’s perspective on the same course.

In this interview, Hosemann discusses the use of commensality practicums and a class cookbook in her course “Food and Culture” at the University of Texas at Austin. She also reflects on professors’ responsibilities when discussing their own diets, and the challenges of teaching as a doctoral candidate.

LRM: Before we start talking about the course, I would love to hear a little bit more about your work. 

AH: My work is linguistic and sociocultural anthropology with a Brazilian indigenous group called the Wanano/Kotiria. I’m specifically interested in women’s expressive practices.

About a year and a half ago, I was drawn into reading a bunch of stuff by vegan ultra athletes. I noticed how many professional athletes were moving into vegan or whole foods plant-based diets. They were telling stories that sounded like religious conversion narratives: they reached a moment of crisis in their lives, and found plant-based diets. They’re very powerful in the same way that religious testimony is. What started as a hobby turned into what I’m going to focus on for the next couple of years.

LRM: Looking at your course description, I noticed that the last statement says you will focus on “how flows of dietary images and discourses shape race and ethnicity, gender, social class, and other identifications.” I found that an interesting phrasing, because it seems that many food-related syllabi invert that—they look at race, ethnicity, gender, and social class shaping dietary practices rather than the other way around. Can you talk about that phrasing in particular, and about your goals for the class more generally?

AH: That’s such a great question! One of the things I’m interested in is how all manner of things have semiotic content that people interpret. Thinking about food as a globalized thing, you can imagine food and images of food moving around in different social networks. When people take those things on, there’s something appealing about those objects. I think about how people respond to these things, and how that shapes some of their ideas about themselves.

I think it would have worked equally well if I had inverted those things, but I guess I’m trying to play with the concept that dietary practices, and talk about dietary practices, are enactments of something—like the discourse-centered approach to language and culture, where language, culture, and society aren’t necessary the same thing, but they are constantly reconstituting each other.

I think that that plays in really well to my general goals for the class: more than anything, I want the students to adopt an anthropological mindset, and learn to think about things, ideas, and people as reflective of, and constituting, networks of relationships. The way that I wrote the description and my goals for the class work hand in hand with each other.

LRM: Does that approach shape the topics you address or the order of the content of the course?

AH: They did, sort of. I tried to think about things that students had ready experience with. So we have readings about coffee, and a discussion about the Paleo diet and physical anthropology evidence for or against it. Then, there is another structural element to consider, which is that we used Gillian Crowther’s textbook Eating Culture. I looked in that book for inspiration about things that students might really want to know, and things that are my interests—for example, readings toward the end of the semester, about vegan sexuality, about lacking food when you’re in a detention center a migrant, or the cultural and environmental impacts of the BP oil spill. These were things that I was really interested in at this particular moment.

LRM: It sounds like you are working to keep the content fairly current—these are very current issues, migrant detentions, and the BP oil spill.

AH: Yeah, and those two things especially, it’s not too difficult to think about how they would apply to a student body that largely comes from Texas. The oil industry is absolutely integral to a lot of people’s livelihoods here, and then in Texas we have some family detention centers that got a lot of media attention because they were not doing a very good job of housing people in a humane fashion. I really wanted to be able to think about those things, and the lens of food and food practices is a way to sneak at controversial topics.

LRM: Did you feel like that was effective, like you were able to broach more controversial topics successfully this way?

AH: I think it definitely helped. One of the things that I hammered constantly in my class was the need to understand where our food comes from, and how it is interrelated with other things, like immigration. Migrant Farm Workers AlabamaIf people want immigration reform, they need to be willing to pay more for their tomatoes. In class, we talked about: How important is a tomato to a particular cuisine? Would you pay for this cuisine that includes tomatoes, and what happens if you only want to be able to pay very cheap prices for your tomato? Who actually paid for that?

LRM: I want to back up a little bit: how big is the course, what kind of students enrolled, etc.?

AH: The class had 46 students. They were a lot of upperclassmen. It was not meant to be a super high-level course, but it assumed that students had some background in anthropology. Anthropology students got the first seats, then people from other departments. There were a number of ethnic and racial backgrounds represented, as well as traditional and non-traditional college students. Many people had worked in some kind of food-related industry, and had some experience with the work of food. That gave us the ability to really talk at a higher level about what the world of food is like.

LRM: 46 students…that’s a pretty large class to think about eating together. Could you talk a little bit about the physical structure of the class?

AH: We were in a relatively small auditorium, with about 80 chairs in it stadium-style. When I was lecturing, I tried to move around the room and get people to move around in their seats to engage. For some of the people down in the front rows, they never saw some of their classmates in the back, so they didn’t always know who was speaking. So I tried to move around as much as possible, and sometimes let them take over the conversation and turn their backs on me, and look upward in the classroom. Our eating sessions helped that, because then people could move around a lot more, and talk to different people.

LRM: You’ve mentioned this “commensality practicum,” and the student who recommended you spoke specifically about this a fantastic aspect of the course. Can you tell me more about it?

AH: It’s actually something I drew on from my high school newspaper class. We sometimes had what were called “interpersonal skills test,” which were times to kick back and let the stress melt away for just awhile. I always thought that was such a good idea, because we could talk and have fun together, and get to know each other as newspaper staff in a different way.

My class was scheduled at noon, and because it was a food class at noon, there had to be some way to integrate actual food on a reliable basis. I was really taken by the idea of having something like a discussion period every so often so that if there were things they wanted to talk about, they had a chance to do that.

LRM: Did everyone bring food to share, or their own lunches? 

AH: Everyone brought food for themselves, or somebody might have a little extra something to share with people who were close by. We had a separate day, when their recipes were due, that people made food to share. They liked that so much that the next week we had class brunch.

LRM: Was there a structured discussion topic for the commensality practicums?

AH: I would start out with an idea. One time, we talked about what kind of structure we might like our class cookbook to take on. Another time, I asked them how they feel about the concept of food as a human right. I would think about something that was in the air, and then ask them to get a conversation going. They would take it from there.

LRM: You mentioned a class cookbook. Can you tell me about that?

AH: Every student had to include a recipe. It could be for anything that they wanted, it just needed to be something that they liked, and I requested that they provide cultural or familial information; pictures if they wanted them; information on special kinds of techniques or shopping, and to really have fun with it. And some of them were absolutely amazing! Some were written bilingually, in the home language and in English. Beautiful photography, beautiful stories. People scanned and took pictures of the original recipe cards. They submitted them through Canvas, our course management site, and I am compiling them into a single document that they will all get electronically.

Taste of UT LRM: It sounds like they were excited about it. 

AH: They were very excited about it! Even if they didn’t show it in class, it came out in the writing. They talked about what the food is like, and how meaningful it is to them. I could really feel the excitement in their submissions.

LRM: Could you talk a little about a couple of the concepts you really wanted to get across in the course?

AH: There were a couple that really took on lives of their own in the course. First, “What is the idea of gender in relationship to cooking?” Professional cooking and domestic cooking are valued very differently. They really got engaged in that, especially thinking about it in relation to coming up with recipes that were good enough for class. Often, they went to female family members to ask for things, and it gave many of them a new way to think about what was happening when people were cooking at home for them versus when they were eating at restaurants.

Another was food as a marker of health and a marker of security. Because we were really trying to get to an understanding of health as something that is subjective, and even though there are things that we can say about health that seem like they’re pretty objectively true, that objectivity actually hides a lot of cultural context.

Thinking about food security and how it relates to issues of health, one of the things we discovered in class conversation is that the university has a lot of food available. They could conceivably eat just about any time they want to, but it’s not actually that accessible to them, either because of time or budgetary constraints. The things they want to eat are too expensive or too far away. Even though there is food around, as college students—even at this university that considers itself a Public Ivy—a lot of them are at least temporarily food insecure.

LRM: Can you talk a little about how you bring in linguistic anthropology to teach food?

AH: I love to use linguistic anthropology with food! And I’m a big fan of Jillian Cavanaugh’s work on salami, and her work with the documentary processes around food production. There’s a piece in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, “What Words Bring to the Table: The Linguistic Anthropological Toolkit as Applied to the Study of Food,” which details how anthropologists who do linguistics have found themselves doing food, and about how those things meld together. You can’t talk about food without talking, and the way that people talk about food—the how, the why, the when—all of these are just as important to the cuisine as the food itself. We spent a lot of time thinking about how what people say reflects ideas about food and their bodies, and what they have access to, what’s appropriate. That adds a whole level of analysis, and a lot of richness.

LRM: Did students latch on to the importance of language in relation to food?

AH: I think they did. One of the pieces we looked at was Paugh and Izquierdo’s “Why is This a Battle Every Night?: Negotiating Food and Eating in American Dinnertime Interaction” about dinnertime arguments over food. That piece is so rich because the transcripts are just beautiful, and you really get the sense of the dynamic that’s happening. I was able to show them, by talking through these transcripts, how this discussion about food is emergent but also plays onto particular family histories.

LRM: The student who recommended you commented that this course integrates many “culturally relevant internet sources and films.” I wonder if you could talk about those?

AH: What with having a Facebook or Twitter feed, I saw all these interesting things. I’m always looking for interesting snippets to show people the connection between journal articles and real life. Then, I got a Netflix account last semester, and went through their entire holding of food movies. One of the hits of the class was the French movie Haute Cuisine, HauteCuisine-teasebecause it’s such a beautiful depiction of the gender issues between a private home cooking, and high-status chef cooking. The food photography was beautiful, the talk between the characters about food was beautiful, and it just really nicely tied together a lot of things in the class.

LRM: Were there any other films you felt were particularly successful? 

AH: A Year in Burgundy was good. We watched that while we were having brunch, and that was really cozy. Both of these movies are very cozy movies. They just make you feel warm, and want to engage with other people, and so that set a really good tone for talking, and appreciating what landscape does for food, what culture does for food. Both of those worked really well. Jiro Dreams of Sushi also went over really well.

I sent out links to a lot of things through Canvas, or through our Facebook group, so that people could look at them on their own time.

LRM: Can you tell me about the Facebook group?

AH: Yeah! It was a student suggestion in the last few weeks of class. Some of the core members of the class got along together really well, and they really wanted to have a way to keep in touch with each other and keep sharing materials. I think about 16 members of the class have joined up now and have been trading videos and having discussions about different things. I’m hoping to use it to keep touch with anyone who takes a food course with me.

LRM: Do you also incorporate those extra media items into class time?

AH: Yes. Luckily with food, things come up. For example, in Crowther’s textbook, there’s a discussion of Appadurai’s work on gastro-politics, and how being a daughter-in-law in a Tamil family can be a very difficult position around food. Well, the week after we talked about this, this news story came out about a daughter-in-law who was feeling very put upon by her in-laws, and didn’t like them messing around in her marriage. She had been urinating into their tea every day for a year to get back at them. Her mother in law was so angry, and wanted her arrested or to sue her for justice—but part of Appadurai’s point with gastro-politics is that, while the mother-in-law thinks she is having particular impacts on her daughter-in-law’s food experiences, the daughter-in-law can also approach this through subversion and claim her own kind of power in relation to her family food situation. That was one that I brought in, but students like to bring things in, too.

LRM: Do you feel like students’ interactions with the world changed as a result of the class?

AH: One of the questions they could answer on their final exam was about something that they learned about food and cultural relationships, and what kind of knowledge gaps they had before the class started. So far, what seems to be very strongly coming through in their answers is that, for a lot of them, they hadn’t really thought of food as a cultural entity, or that it was bound up in other things.

That’s an interesting thing to reflect on, because if you think of food as existing outside of social and linguistic relationships, that says interesting things about your own food history. A lot of students have starting thinking about the fact that white bread, or Starbucks Coffee, or other things that seem ubiquitous actually refer to a whole bunch of other things that they didn’t even think about.

LRM: Is there anything in the course that you didn’t feel worked well, or that you won’t continue?

AH: One of the things I want to do is get the class down to a size where I can have them doing journal reflections a few times over the semester. I’ve done that in other classes, and it’s one of the single most highly rated pedagogical things that I’ve done in any class.

LRM: Can you tell me a little about how that works in other classes?

AH: The journals are their own personal reflections, on what’s really making them angry or that they have a question about but don’t want to talk about in class. So, they write 3-5 journals over the course of the semester of about 3 pages. They submit them electronically, and then I give them fairly substantial comments so that we have an actual conversation about where they are. At the end of the semester, they have this record of how they’ve change as human beings.

LRM: You’re teaching a 2-2 schedule, and you’re ABD. Do you have any thoughts or reflections on teaching these classes while also working on a dissertation?

AH: I have a lot of thoughts about that! One of the things that teaching a 2-2 does, very obviously, is slow down your progress on your dissertation in certain ways. But it also is a lesson in time management. You have to figure out very quickly what your work style is. Do you need extended periods of time to work on certain things, or can you work efficiently in short bursts? That’s been really interesting, and it’s been interesting thinking about moving on to a tenure track position–because it’s not exactly going to get any easier from this point on. So, it’s been kind of a baptism by fire, and it really does make me consider, “is this something that I actually want to do?” On the positive side, teaching things that I’m very interested in has been actually really beneficial for my research in a lot of ways. The students get excited about it, and they ask a lot of questions, and we have really good conversations. And seeing people who are just getting introduced to my work, and find it interesting and ask me questions, then gives me new things to write about.

LRM: Do you talk about your own work in your classes?

AH: I do. I trend vegan in my own diet, and there are particularly strong reasons why I feel that way, and I will talk about them. I also have sort of a complicated worldview about food, because I am also in favor of responsibly hunting. I talk about the complexity of that, but I also try to shy away from talking about my own dietary practice too much, until a student asks me directly what I eat.

Partly, that is because my perspective as an anthropologist is, “I’m not here to tell anybody how to eat.” It’s also because I don’t know anyone else’s health or nutrition status, and I don’t want to be seen as giving definitive answers for what is or is not appropriate. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to use my position as the professor to convert people to veganism. I’ll talk about why I think veganism is interesting, and why vegans believe the things that they do across the wide variety of vegan beliefs, but I would never tell a student, “you need to be vegan.”

LRM: These hesitations about not wanting to impose your own dietary views—do you talk to students about that?

AH: Yes. That came up, too, a couple of weeks ago, when there was a story about a professor who was vegan who does use her classroom as a space for evangelizing for the lifestyle. I brought that into class and said, “what do you think my responsibility is, what do you expect to see out of me?”

LRM: And how did they respond? 

AH: They responded that they absolutely did not, under any circumstances, want me to tell them how to eat.

LRM: How would you compare this to the ways some professors might advocate for local, organic, or sustainable foods when teaching about food? 

AH: I have heard about some programs where there is more explicit focus on local and organic food sources, and push people to shift their dietary practices that way. It does seem like a more widely accepted thing, if you were to evangelize for a particular diet.

However, in another class I talked to students about this. We talked about how, once you start talking about local, organic food sources—never mind even vegan stuff—you’re often dealing with people who are white and upper middle class, and their dietary experience may be very disconnected from some of the students in their classrooms.

I may have students from the Rio Grande Valley, or from underprivileged backgrounds. When they go home, they may live in a food desert. I can tell them all the reasons why local and organic food might be preferable, but I also tell them, “If you can’t afford to do those things right now, do what makes you feel like you’re doing the best that you can with the opportunities and the money that you have. You can only do what you can do.”

LRM: How do students respond to that position? 

AH: The students themselves are very critical of a lot of the food discourses that they hear. They understand that people might think them to be good ideas and very socially transformative, but they also understand that there are people who get excluded for structural reasons. They were as openly critical of those kinds of things as I might have been.

LRM: In some of the readings you’ve assigned, you touch on topics of moral judgments of obesity. Do you feel like students’ sensitivity and critiques of local food discourse is extended to the way they understand discourses around obesity, as well?

AH: Oh yeah. There’s a video from Spokane Public TV, “Our Supersized Kids” about supersized kidschildhood obesity. When we watched it, they identified a lot of things that even I hadn’t noticed. For example, while there is talk about the unhealthfulness of obesity, there is also a lot of bullying of kids who are perceived as being unhealthy. A lot of it is framed as their fault. They caused it by virtue of being obese and unhealthy. If they would change themselves, then everyone else would change. That’s a very common logic that underlies a lot of victim blaming. The students were really able to identify those very quickly.

LRM: Aimee, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. This seems like an excellent course, and I am excited you’ve opened your teaching to commentary from a student, as well. It will be wonderful to have varied perspectives on the same course.

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Filed under anthropology of food, Food Studies, teaching

Food Studies at SOAS

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

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

Celia Plender
Doctoral Student, SOAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

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


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

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

Program Features:

  • Panels on best practices in the following educational tracks:

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

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


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

Additional information can be found here. Registration is here.

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

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

Dublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016: Food and Revolution

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

Call for Papers

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

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

–       Impact of the French Revolution on restaurants and hospitality;

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

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

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

–       Influence of Service à la Russe;

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

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

–       The Green Organic revolution;

–       The Micro-Brewery and Artisan Distillery revolution;

–       Revolutionary food and beverage pairings;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please forward this notice to any interested parties.

The DGS Organising Committee

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

“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

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!

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

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

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LRM: How do you have the course organized?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


White pozole with oregano.

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

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

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

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

california burrito

California Burrito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LRM: Thank you so much for your time!


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Filed under anthropology, Food Studies, new mexico, pedagogy

Interrogating the “Authentic” Local Ethnic Restaurant

M. Ruth Dike
University of Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or you can use asking about “authentic” cuisine as a starting point for a deeper conversation about other cuisines. I think all too often we use our knowledge about sushi or pho to show our cultural capital without actually knowing much about another culture. editor Joshua David Stein says that, “there’s nothing more authentically American than inauthenticity.” Perhaps instead of searching for authenticity in ethnic cuisine, we should be searching for the complicated lived experiences of our international friends.

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

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

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

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


Filed under anthropology, ethnicity, Food Studies, foodways