Category Archives: SAFN Member Research

Do you know if your seafood is “sustainable”? (Don’t worry, neither do I)

Seafood photo

Post by Lillian Brown, PhD student in Anthropology and Food Studies at Indiana University

I recently started a crowd-funding campaign for my dissertation research on sustainability in the seafood industry. I want to know if I can, and how I would, determine whether or not the seafood on my plate is “sustainable”. To answer this question, I need to have a pretty clear picture of where the particular seafood in question comes from. Then I need to decide how to define and measure its sustainability. Most consumer-driven seafood conservation efforts encourage individuals to engage in this type of informed decision-making, which is why I chose to start my research at this stage of inquiry.

Having already worked on sustainable food systems and seafood research for a notable portion of my undergraduate and graduate careers, I knew this would be no easy task—therein laying the research potential. But I also knew that by the time we consumers order seafood off a menu or a display case, someone else has already significantly narrowed our options. This process limits the access we have to information about how this seafood got to the marketplace, and what other options exist. Even the most intrepid consumers would have to work pretty hard to fill in the gaps.

The Author.

The Author.

I wondered where this hypothetical intrepid-consumer would start. So I decided to ask restaurants how they decide what fish and shellfish they serve. Imagine the seafood supply chain. Fishers and fish farmers capture and produce fish. Suppliers and/or distributors buy this fish and sell it to restaurants and markets, which in turn sell and serve it to their consumers. So when consumers purchase seafood from a retailer, the middlemen in this supply chain have already in large part determined our choices for us.  My question, then, is what can these middlemen tell us about sustainability in the seafood industry?

Working in restaurant kitchens, and with seafood distributors and wholesalers I will ask what really matters to them when they buy seafood to sell and serve to their customers. What are their options, and how do they determine their priorities? How do they quantify, or qualify, their criteria? I want to know if they care whether or not seafood is “sustainable”—if so, why, and how do they define it? Then, I will do an archival analysis of federal US and International policy documents, as well as popular conservation efforts and scientific research focusing on sustainable seafood to see if the rhetoric these groups use matches my results in the field.

I expect to find that industry professionals and fishers can talk about eating seafood as well as where it came from at the same time, even in the context of sustainability. A cook’s preference for fish, for instance, will depend on the cut of the fish (fillet or a steak), how it is preserved (fresh, currently or previously frozen, smoked, pickled, salted and dried), and its origin (cold vs. warm water, fresh vs. salt water, farmed vs. wild caught). It will also depend on the technology they plan to cook it with—whether they will deep-fry it, pan fry it, cook it on a grill, or put it in a soup. Many types of seafood taste better, cheaper, or only available at certain times of year due to seasonality, and will often correspond with holidays or family traditions. Specific types of seafood fare better in certain recipes, or culinary styles (paella vs. ceviche, for example). All of these factors contribute to the way a fish will taste on a plate. And, in any case, restaurants and fishers alike may value price and the ability to move product over other variables.

Most policy-makers and scientists consider seafood production and consumption independently from each other. And these conversations usually revolve around how much fish we are eating. But we don’t know very much about how seafood values shift in the marketplace. This is because current fishing research and policy focuses almost entirely on modes of production. What I would like to find is a way to bridge communication between the seafood industry, policy-makers, scientists through conversations about eating sustainable seafood.

For more information on the project, please visit the Microryza site here.

Note from the editor: Readers will notice that the author of this post has provided a link to a Microryza web site. This is a crowdfunding web site for science research. It seems that at least some graduate students in anthropology are using this as a way to fund their research. SAFN welcomes blog postings from graduate students whose work is related to the anthropology of food and nutrition that follow this model. Such postings must, of course, follow our other guidelines (see the Blog Contributors page for more details) for contributions to the blog.

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Filed under anthropology, economics, fish, food policy, Food Studies, foodways, markets, SAFN Member Research, seafood

Zucchini as a Gateway Drug: Cultivating food security in Iowa through gardening

cultivateia_fbook_cover2

Elizabeth Danforth Richey, PhD, MPH and Angie Tagtow MS, LD, RD
Iowa Food Systems Council, info@cultivateiowa.org

Do more with less. This mantra has become virtually universal in public health and social programming. In the face of the obesity epidemic and rising food insecurity, food pantries are increasingly taking on the role of nutrition educator and healthy lifestyle coach. Unfortunately, this work is expected to be done without the necessary resources. When healthy eating messages are provided in emergency feeding settings, too much of the food distributed through these networks is processed, shelf-stable foods with limited nutritional value. A food pantry staff explained, “It’s hard to ask clients to do something and not be able to give them the right foods to do it.”

One approach to creating accessible, affordable and healthy food environments is food gardening. Food gardening has become increasingly popular among community-and faith-based organizations, workplaces, schools, and among the general public. Food gardening can not only provide food insecure household with fresh local produce, but it can also infuse food bank and pantry food supplies with healthier foods through produce donation.

cultivateia_newspaper_ad_gardenersIn 2012, the Iowa Food Systems Council (IFSC) received a grant from the Wellmark Foundation to create a social marketing campaign to encourage food gardening as a way to increase the amount of healthy local produce in the food system accessed by food insecure Iowans. The goals of this campaign are to encourage: 1) low-resource Iowans to engage in food gardening and 2) gardeners to donate extra produce to emergency feeding networks (food banks and pantries) in their community. The project was designed and implemented by the IFSC’s Food Access and Health Work Group, a community of practice of 250-some partners engaged in some aspect of household or community food security research and/or programming. The multidisciplinary nature of community-based food security programming lent itself to an anthropological approach to understanding target communities within political, economic, historical, cultural and environmental contexts.

Project funding provided the luxury of 12 months of initial mixed-methods research to assess how messages could be effectively conveyed and the content of a social marketing campaign for each target audience. The assessment investigated the multi-layered challenges related to accessing healthy food, perspectives on gardening and produce consumption, produce donation, accessing fresh produce at food pantries, and other factors that could influence message distribution.

Key findings from the assessment were used as the basis for the state-wide social marketing campaign, including:

  • Broad partner support exists for the campaign, but financial and staffing challenges limit the expansion of garden promotion at an organizational level. 
  • There is low staff/client interaction time at emergency feeding locations.
  • Cost is the main barrier to housing, household resources, and food choice, all of which impact produce consumption rates among food-insecure Iowans.
  • Low-resource Iowans lack space for yard-based gardening, and perceive gardening as a time consuming activity.
  • Gardeners lack awareness of produce donation activities in their community, but are very supportive of the idea.
  • Gardeners are have specific concerns related to produce use and liability.

An executive summary of the initial research can be accessed here.

A marketing team took the key findings identified by researchers, and created the Cultivate Iowa campaign. This campaign was designed to be fun, positive and broad based. Rather than explicitly focusing on gardening as a way for resource-poor people to become less food insecure, it aims to provide general messages about cost savings, ease, and low-input gardening strategies. Implementation strategies, rather than the messages themselves, will target desired audiences. For example, materials will be distributed at WIC clinics and food pantries, and billboards will be placed in low-resource areas. Produce donation messages will focus on community engagement and donating any amount available. Cultivate Iowa aims to empower both low-resource and gardener audiences; a main concern is to avoid paternalistic or negative messages. As a key informant explained, “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign was launched on April 19, and will continue through the 2013 growing season. It will be promoted statewide through the Food Access and Health Work Group. Partner resources include campaign talking points, promotional items, brochures, postcards, posters, and vegetable seeds. In addition, a public and social media strategy will be implemented, including radio and TV, billboards, newspaper ads, Facebook and Twitter.

Beyond the marketing campaign, the initial research identified other issues cultivateia_poster2integral to the success of the campaign, such as supporting food pantries to expand their produce acceptance practices, promoting food panties to register at AmpleHarvest (think on-line dating for gardeners and food pantries), and creating educational materials about safe produce handling and storage practices.

So, how can you engage with the campaign? Regardless of where you live, visit the website to learn how you can cheaply and easily increase the fresh local foods in your diet. Pledge to donate produce in your community and find the nearest produce donation site to you. Help to support local and state level policy that creates garden-friendly communities, including public garden space, and tax incentives for commercial and private produce donation. More information about the campaign can be found at www.cultivateiowa.org.

Research will continue to assess the campaign’s impact on food gardening and produce donation in the state. Future strategies may include more focused efforts to promote state and local gardening-related policy, increasing engagement of retail partners, and more targeted messaging to specific populations such as SNAP users. (A little known fact is that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase edible plants and seeds.) Bringing anthropology to the table has worked to create a more effective program that situates the program objectives within the larger social structures in which the target audiences exist. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to encourage Iowans to Plant. Grow. Share. and to Plant. Grow. Save.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food pantries, food security, gardening, markets, methods, nutrition, obesity, policy, SAFN Member Research, sustainability

The NFL Occupation of New Orleans

SuperbowlDavid Beriss
University of New Orleans

The National Football League came to New Orleans a few weeks ago and while everyone else has probably moved on, I am still thinking about it. Part of this is because the big game was here in the middle of Carnival season. In fact, the parade schedule in New Orleans was re-arranged to accommodate the Super Bowl. New Orleans is a party town, but this was a long stretch of festivities, even for us. New Orleans is also a town that has long engaged in very self-conscious self-promotion. The NFL provided a key opportunity for that, allowing the city to put on a show for the entire world to see. I have been interested in the ways in which cities (especially New Orleans) work to create a sense of distinctiveness—for tourism, business, etc.—and this was clearly a great moment to see that happen. The NFL brought us a standardized segment of Americana and New Orleans responded with a cleaned up version of itself.

Perhaps a bigger city can absorb the NFL presence in a way that allows locals to get on with life as if nothing was going on. That would have been difficult here. In fact, city leaders worked hard to raise awareness of the arrival of NFL visitors. Locals were warned about the crowds and traffic to expect in the city center. New Orleans has a relatively concentrated core, with the Superdome very close to the neighborhoods where visitors like to gather. Those neighborhoods are easy to move around in, on foot, via bicycle (a temporary version of the bicycle share programs common in other cities was set up for the Super Bowl) or mass transit (an entirely new streetcar line serving the area near the Superdome was completed in time for the event). The NFL constructed a sort of independent town, with actual buildings and tents near the convention center and took over the vast convention center itself for a variety of events. The French Quarter was occupied by CBS, with banners and temporary structures creating backdrops for broadcasts. At one point people at CBS sparked indignant protests from locals when they decorated the iconic Andrew Jackson statue in the city’s central square with a sign from one of their shows. The sign came down, but the stage was still set. New Orleans was occupied by the NFL and the media. And, with a few exceptions, people were mostly pleased.

The Super Bowl seems to have become a secular holiday nearly on a par with Thanksgiving in the United States. Attending Super Bowl parties and preparing elaborate (if informal) feasts is now part of the regular ritual calendar for many Americans. Some claim that the Super Bowl provides the occasion for the second largest annual food consumption day in the U.S., surpassed only by Thanksgiving. It is clearly more than just a special football game. Spectacular sports events have been used in many countries as part of national holidays and sporting events can take on national significance that transcend the specific sport or game. This is certainly the case with the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, the Tour de France, and other events. Each of these provides an opportunity to showcase sports and promote the event’s sponsors, while at the same time providing a stage on which the event’s location also receives public attention.

The Super Bowl is a huge commercial and cultural juggernaut. Although I had an abstract sense of the event that had occupied New Orleans, the real size and flavor became much clearer when Rebecca Turner, of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, invited me to visit the “NFL Experience” in the Morial Convention Center. This turned out to be something like 800,000 square feet of football mania, with displays of everything the NFL and NFL-affiliated sponsors thinks you should think about when you think about football. There were dozens of games, ranging from tests of physical strength and coordination, to football trivia. There were displays of football memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, helmets and uniforms. Performers sang and danced and football players stopped by to sign autographs. The Southeast Dairy Association was there to promote a diet and exercise program it has developed with the NFL. Food offerings were mostly generic American industrial products–there were concession stands selling national beer brands and the usual fast food, while sponsors like Pepsi handed out samples of soft drinks (the dairy folks were distributing cheese sticks and chocolate milk). I suspect that NFL experience, or something like it, appears in every city that hosts the Super Bowl.

cochon de lait po boy

Cochon de Lait Po’Boy

Fascinating as this was, entering the NFL experience felt like leaving New Orleans. Of course, the city also put on a huge show of its own culture for the Super Bowl. This included endless interviews with local officials, activists, artists, musicians and, of course, restaurateurs. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and local chef Poppy Tooker used gumbo to help people think about the nature of New Orleans on one CBS show. The city and the NFL also organized a music and food festival in Woldenberg Park, next to the Mississippi River. I rode my bike over to that festival the day after I visited the NFL experience. Enthusiastic crowds surrounded several stages where local bands played everything from funk to brass band music. Rows of stands sold the kind of food that has made New Orleans famous. The French Quarter was just a few steps away, providing access to even more of the things that attract people to New Orleans (and the Times-Picayune provided an interesting analysis and guide to one of those things).

Crawfish beignets

Crawfish beignets

The distinctive version of New Orleans presented for the Super Bowl was just distinct enough to add some flavor to the dominant American football festival. There are reasons to think that the contrasts between New Orleans and the rest of America run deeper than those on display a few weeks ago. Although the contrasts have attracted attention for a long time, efforts to assert them have become something of a local cottage industry in the last few years. Some of this—including most of what was presented during the Super Bowl—is meant to attract and please tourists. Some of it is meant to challenge dominant ideas about how economic life is organized in the U.S. today. Some evokes parts of American history that challenge how we think of ourselves. I wonder what would happen if we put some of that on display for visitors the next time a big event comes to town?

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Filed under anthropology, city, culture, festivals, heritage, New Orleans, SAFN Member Research, urban

Announcing the SAFN distinguished speaker for 2012 – Penny Van Esterik #AAA2012

SAFN is pleased to announce that our Food Anthropologist of the Year and distinguished speaker for 2012 is Penny Van Esterik. With work ranging from the politics of breast feeding to food culture in Southeast Asia, Van Esterik’s work in the anthropology of food has tread new ground and inspired a generation of young food anthropologists. Van Esterik is Professor of Anthropology at York University. She is the author of Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy (1989) and Food Culture in Southeast Asia (2008), and co-editor of Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd Edition, 2012).

Join us on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 6:15pm at the SAFN Business Meeting to hear Penny Van Esterik speak about her latest research:

The Dance of Nurture

Van Esterik’s presentation takes a personal look at nurture and how its absence in food
studies and anthropology in general robs us of one opportunity to take the
discipline in new directions. She uses breastfeeding and young child feeding to
rethink the importance of nurture and examine how it challenges basic
assumptions in contemporary anthropology. While we are clear on how
anthropology contributes to food studies, how can nutritional anthropology and
food studies contribute to anthropology as a discipline? Van Esterik draws some tentative
answers from The Dance of Nurture, an unfinished interrupted manuscript that
provides a framework for exploring this subject.

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Filed under AAA 2012 San Francisco, anthropology, SAFN Member Research

Joint ASFS, AFHVS & SAFN Conference in New York

Join us June 20-24, 2012 for the Global Gateways and Local Connections: City, Agriculture and the Future of Food Systems conference in New York City. Hosted by New York University and the New School, many SAFN members will be presenting papers at this wonderful event.

For more information and the conference program, please see the official web site.

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Filed under Announcements, Food Studies, SAFN Member Research

Dumpster-Divers and the Smoothies of Wrath

by David HGB Giles,
Fellow, Society of Scholars, Simpson Center for the Humanities
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology
University of Washington, Seattle

My favourite Dumpster is locked.

I’ve been coming here for a few years, but now the lid is closed, and there’s a cable lock threaded through it to keep scavengers out. Scavengers like me.

The author researches the Burrito Dumpster, 2011.

Until now, I’ve poked happily about in the soggy detritus without obstacle. Hiding in plain sight at the end of a gravel driveway, outside the chain-link fence of a warehouse in Seattle’s industrial district, the Dumpster always promised at least a few unopened bottles of top-dollar organic fruit smoothies to the intrepid Dumpster-diver. Mango Madness. Orange Carrot. Hermetically sealed and conserved by Seattle’s frigid night air, they were nonetheless too close to their sell-by dates to be worth shipping, so they ended up here. On the right night, there were hundreds of them. There probably still are.

So why lock them up? My research with Dumpster-divers and grocers in Seattle and other cities around the US, Canada, and Australasia, explores the politics and the cultural economy of waste—particularly food waste. It echoes John Steinbeck’s dry observation of depression-era surplus and scarcity in The Grapes of Wrath: “The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price.” According to the USDA, for example, 5.4 billion pounds of unspoiled food are discarded by US merchants each year. A simple thought experiment and some rudimentary economics suggest that, if these edible surpluses were given away indiscriminately, the principles of supply and demand would undercut food prices. To paraphrase Steinbeck: Who would pay five dollars for a smoothie when they could pull ten of them out of the trash for nothing? In other words, what we throw away remains significant in its absence.

Of course, Dumpsters are not locked out of sheer Machiavellian cunning. Nor is food discarded with a calculating twirl of the capitalist’s moustache. Rather, food is wasted because it circulates according to its exchange value rather than its use value. Eleven perfectly good eggs and one cracked one are no longer legible in the way an intact dozen is, for example. And a bruised apple merely takes up space on a shelf next to another perfect one. A thing’s exchange value is, by definition, reckoned through comparisons. The apple that won’t sell, or won’t sell quickly enough, disappears from the shelves to make room for newer stock. So right up until the point of sale (or disposal), its value is virtual. Like Schrodinger’s cat, its fate waits upon one decisive moment.

Of course, what makes that moment decisive is the finality of the Dumpster—the “point of no return” in the social life of a thing. In other words, most people are averse to digging through the trash. And for this reason, businesses often don’t see a need to lock up their waste. Increasingly, however, Dumpster-divers are showing up on their radar. For many of Seattle’s Dumpster-divers, for example, the aforementioned “Juice Dumpster” had become as much a household name as the company’s brand name itself. (Along with the “Chocolate Dumpster,” the “Burrito Dumpster,” etc.) Until now, they didn’t trouble the distributor enough to lock it up. I’ve known Dumpster-divers to openly clamber into it in front of the employees—I even once met a sanitation worker who saved some bottles for himself before emptying the rest into his garbage truck. However the popularity of this Dumpster has grown over the four years in which I’ve been conducting this research. And recently, a threshold has been crossed. Dumpster-divers I have interviewed in other cities have told me similar stories—of certain Dumpsters’ high profile and their consequent enclosure.

The proliferation of locked Dumpsters, then, may be proportional to the growing public profile of Dumpster-divers’ cultural and political activities in general. From the appearance of subcultures like freeganism which embrace Dumpster-diving, squatting, and other modes of surplus living, to movements like Food Not Bombs and Occupy Wall Street which depend on free access to food, space, and other resources to take direct political action, urban scavengers represent an ongoing effort to turn commercial waste into new kinds of food sovereignty, non-market value, and political influence.

This raises a variety of questions about the ways in which businesses, governments, and the scavengers will respond to each other. It seems likely that more Dumpsters will be locked up, for one thing. In turn, Dumpster-divers have always been creative about gaining entry. They’re bound to become more creative. I’m left wondering what will become of my favourite Dumpster.

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Filed under anthropology, economics, food policy, food security, Food waste, garbage, markets, SAFN Member Research

AAA 2011: Montreal Markets!

by Amy Trubek
University of Vermont

Atwater Market, click the picture to visit the market's web site.

Living in rural Vermont, there are many food related pleasures available to me on any given day. Our vibrant artisan food movement means that I can procure delectable farmstead cheese, crusty slow-fermented breads, and grass-fed beef easily and often. However, there are many foods that are difficult to find, especially those that represent cuisines less bland and less focused on wheat, dairy, and beef. Our Yankee heritage remains. And so what to do? For my husband and I, and many of our friends, the solution is to go to our nearest metropolitan center, Montreal, and shop at the two amazing year-round indoor/outdoor markets: Atwater and Jean Talon. Anyone interested in food and food culture should definitely make a visit to one or both of these markets when you are in Montreal for the AAAs!

Atwater Market is in the English-speaking Western part of Montreal. The Lachine Canal bike path goes to the market. Atwater is the smaller of the two markets and specializes in fresh meats, prepared meats and charcuterie. Paté et Terrine is especially good. Another great find at Atwater is Les Douceurs du Marché which stocks amazing olive oils, European and Canadian cheeses, and much more. Of course there is a stand that sells sirop d’erable, or maple syrup, and many maple syrup based products!

Description and directions: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/atwater-market and http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Atwater/.

Jean Talon Market photo

Jean Talon Market, from montrealfood.com

Jean Talon is larger, located in Little Italy, north of downtown off of Rue Saint Laurent. There is a Jean Talon stop on the metro. Jean Talon is the largest outdoor public market in North America. Jean Talon has a huge array of fresh produce, much of it from Quebec, although some is also imported from the United States and beyond. There are a number of fascinating small stands right near the produce section, including Jardin Sauvage that sells locally sourced foraged foods, especially mushrooms. The outdoor market also has several stands selling maple syrup (in Canada sold in cans) and maple syrup products.  In the neighborhood around Jean Talon are numerous ethnic specialty stores, including Maya which sells wonderful corn and flour tortillas.

Click here for a photoessay on Jean Talon in Cuizine, an ejournal about Canadian food culture. For further description and directions, visit: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/jean-talon-market

 

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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, markets, SAFN Member Research

Bread, Milk, and the Greek Parliamentary Record

by Leo Vournelis

Liana Kaneli, image provided by the author.

Two weeks ago the Greek government announced a new round of austerity measures targeted primarily at civil servants, wage earners, retirees, and low middle class families. The picture above shows Liana Kaneli, a member of the Greek Communist Party, addressing her fellow MPs in the Greek Parliament during that same week (you can see a video of her speaking here). As she approached the podium carrying a plastic grocery bag, she requested that her entire speech be recorded to the Parliamentary Record (Praktika) “because she is a woman”. It is not clear if the MP meant that she is bringing in groceries to the Parliament floor because she is a woman, or because she is a woman she might otherwise be ignored if her speech is not recorded to the Parliamentary Record. Then she proceeded to remove a loaf of bread and a plastic bottle of milk and invited the audience’s attention with an expression commonly used in farmers markets by sellers trying to catch the attention of the shopping housewives. The MP wanted to make the point that these items are becoming increasingly unaffordable for large sections of the populace, however she was interrupted by the Chair of the Parliament and was told that food on the podium did not constitute imagery that was appropriate for the Greek Parliament, “otherwise I could bring some chickens in here and someone else can bring some sheep” said the Chairman. The MP sarcastically apologized for offending the dignity of the Parliament and for ruining the “décor” and proceeded to submit the food items to the Parliamentary Record.  Amidst protests from other MPs that physical objects may not be submitted to the Parliamentary Record, Kaneli removed the offending food items from the podium and after concluding her speech she walked away. The next day the Chairman of the Parliament issued a statement condemning the event as “political theater”, while the Greek Communist Party issued its own announcement supporting its member’s actions and, citing Bertolt Brecht, noted that “those who are in high places have always found talking about food to be demeaning”.

Perhaps Greek gender politics played into the fact that it was a female MP who chose to criticize government policy in the language of daily food shopping, yet heated discussions like these concerning the affordability of every day staples help us understand the serious economic hardships that many Greeks are facing. It is not surprising, therefore, that references to food are common in Greek public discourse about the crisis. When it first became clear, 2 years ago, that the Greek State was essentially broke, food was widely used as a metaphor in popular calls demanding accountability.  The question of “Who ate the money” was raised by people and politicians alike.  While eating money refers to irresponsible and wasteful spending of money, popular demands to know who it was that “ate the money” were essentially calls for justice. Politicians and state functionaries were called out for their mismanagement of the resources of the Greek economy. David Sutton in “Eating in Times of Financial Crisis” discusses the use of food as a theme in making sense of the debt crisis. He points out that although the economic crisis was not framed always in terms of food issues, food as a theme is becoming increasingly central in making sense and navigating the new economic realities in Greece.

The incident in the Greek Parliament last week shows the ability of food to embody value (a practical way to assess the rising cost of living) as well as values. The heated exchange between the MP and the Chairman was brought about by the polluting presence of food in a space in which political philosophies are debated and bills are voted on. During this exchange which lasted less than 3 minutes we witness, among other things, the power of food to embody meaning, provoke conflict, offend sensitivities, and express ideas about class and gender. Ultimately, this power is derived from the ability of food to bring together diverse cultural domains of experience and practice.

The associative powers of food can also help us understand another prominent use of food in the unfolding of the debt crisis. This past year thousands of Greeks have taken to the streets, following the example of the Indignados movement in Spain. They have used food as a tool, a physical object to be expelled en masse in public marches, protestations, and strikes usually against the police and politicians. The food most commonly used as a projectile is a traditional variety of Greek strained yogurt made from sheep’s milk that bears strong associations with rural lifestyles and values. When the Chairman wanted to mock MP Kaneli, he made reference to rurality through the not very subtle suggestion of bringing livestock into parliament. It is interesting to consider why references to rurality make up a key feature of popular protests as well. In my next post I’ll suggest some of the ways that exploring yoghurt as political protest provides provocative angles on some of the sources of discontent in contemporary Greece.

 

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Filed under anthropology, culture, Debt crisis, economics, food policy, food security, gender, Greece, SAFN Member Research

Christine Wilson Student Award 2011

Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
2011 Christine Wilson Student Paper Award

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is pleased to announce the 2011 Christine Wilson Award competition.

Each year we recognize outstanding undergraduate and graduate research papers in the memory of Christine Wilson- a pioneer in the field of nutritional anthropology, innovator in ethnographic research methodology and inspirational guide to members of the society.

We request the submission of original, single-authored research papers that have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of nutrition, foods, foodways, food security, hunger or similar topics. We will also accept multi-authored papers if the submission is by the first author and the other authors are also students. Papers that present new empirical research designs, evaluate community nutrition intervention programs or propose new conceptual frameworks are especially welcome. (Literature reviews and co-authored papers are not eligible).

Eligibility is restricted to students (undergraduate or graduate) enrolled in the 2011-2012 academic year.  If not a current member of SAFN, applicants are requested to apply for membership along with their submission.   Winners and runners-up in two categories (undergraduate and graduate) will be recognized and presented with an award at the 2011 AAA meeting in Montreal, PQ Canada.

The text of papers should be no longer than 20-25 pages, double-spaced. Please delete identifying information and submit as attachment along with the CWA cover sheet to:

Michael R. McDonald, Ph.D.
Chair, CWA Awards Committee
Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

Email to: mmcdonal@fgcu.edu.

Deadline: October 14, 2011

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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, Announcements, anthropology, awards, Christine Wilson, food policy, food security, nutrition, SAFN Member Research

Eating in Times of Financial Crisis

File it under “strange and unusual.” That’s what Reuters did in putting up the photo of one of many Yemeni protestors who made the link between food and politics explicit. The usually stuffy journal Foreign Policy was also taking notice, as a “first-ever food issue” featured articles on “The Baguettes of War” and “Eat, Drink, Protest.” shows how unstrange and usual are the actual connections between food and protest.

Theodoros Pangalos, via http://en.contrainfo.espiv.net/

This is a picture of Thedoros Pangalos, the portly deputy prime minister of Greece who recently claimed that all Greeks have to pay for the current financial Crisis because “we all ate together.” This expression intrigued me, as it showed the different metaphors used in different countries in Europe to express the idea of sharing the blame. In Ireland, the claim was “we all partied,” whereas in the U.K. it was the more anodyne “we’re all in it together. The food theme, however, resonated in Greece. In Athens in May of this year protest over the so-called “debt crisis” was not framed explicitly in terms of food issues. Taking their inspiration from protestors in Spain, Greeks gathering in the central Constitution Square dubbed themselves the “outraged,” to express their frustration with a political system and a global economic system that had led the country to hopeless solutions that punished ordinary people without touching the wealthy that had brought the system to its current state. But protestors were quick to respond to Pangalos’ claim: after a man wearing a mask of the deputy prime minister repeated the line to the crowd of thousands, their response barely missed a beat: You lying bastard!” They roar back. “You’re so fat you ate the entire supermarket.”

During this time I was involved in my ongoing  research project on changing cooking practices on the island of Kalymnos, one of the Dodecanese islands in the Eastern Aegean. While there were not protests in the streets of Kalymnos as yet, the financial crisis was much on peoples minds as they commented sardonically on the exploits of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Kalymnians went about their daily cooking,and shopping, or held debates via Facebook about the implications of the “Argentinian model” for Greek default. The implications of the crisis for food practices was seen in debates over whether “tradition” could see them through hard times, with some suggesting that a return to the “old days” of beans 5 days a week and everyone gardening was the proper response; and indeed, rumors were in the air that many Athenians were returning to their natal villages (or their parents or grandparents natal villages) to go back to the land. Others insisted that Kalymnians were now too addicted to meat to contemplate a different diet, but that the circulation of cheap cuts of meat due to the growth of multinational supermarkets on the island meant that people needed to be more calculating shoppers. This intrigued me because shopping  has always been a moral act on Kalymnos in which one balances obligations to friends and neighbors and the specific circumstances of shop owners—at this store, the parents were trying to send two kids to University, at that store the owners are Communist so they should/shouldn’t be supported—with a sense that good shoppers don’t allow themselves to be taken advantage of. Was a different social morality of shopping in the process of emerging? Not everything was “new” however, as many Kalymnians pointed out to me that the financial crisis had led to the return of the “debt” (verese)  system of keeping books of accounts at small grocery stores, indeed this helped those smaller stores compete against the big supermarkets that didn’t offer such amenities. Debt with a small “d” meets debt with a capital “D” in contemporary times. Both for Kalymnians and for the Athenian protestors food remained a key idiom and practice to think through some of the outrages of our contemporary political-economic system, even sometimes in cannibalistic terms. As The Guardian reported:

Politicians now walk around with bodyguards,” says Aris Chatzistefanou, the co-director of Debtocracy, a film about the Greek crisis that has become a sensation. He quotes a newspaper report of how restaurateurs are taking down those cheesy framed photos of dining politicians, of how one government spokesman went to dinner a few weeks ago only for the rest of the restaurant to start shouting “You are eating the blood of the people”.

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Filed under anthropology, culture, Debt crisis, disaster, economics, food security, Greece, SAFN Member Research