CFP: Less Palatable, Still Valuable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Cooking for Crowds

cooking for crowds cover 2

White, Merry. 2013. Cooking for Crowds: 40th Anniversary Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Merry (Corky) White has produced a 40th anniversary edition of Cooking for Crowds, which she produced in 1974 for Basic Books, a volume re-issued by Princeton University Press. The backstory: the Basic Books editor discovered her recipes as a guest of Harvard’s Center for West European Studies (this was the Cold War era, distinguishing East and West). Corky, earning money for graduate studies, had decided to try catering, in lieu of office work, on a dare, and was wildly successful. Her international menus, based on family recipes she gathered from colleagues and friends, proved a big hit at the Center, where she catered weekly lunches for fifty and occasional dinners for twenty. They were colorful, not “white,” a language that contrasts both the hue and total sensory experience of what she despised as flavorless New England beige dinners: unseasoned white-meat chicken, white starchy vegetable (potatoes or rice), and cauliflower. This was the era immediately following the publication of FML’s Diet for a Small Planet and the kind of international cuisine and still unusual grains and vegetables that she offered were not yet expected or standard restaurant offerings. She figured that she couldn’t compete or measure up on cuisine that her distinguished guests knew well, such as French, but she could entertain their palates with relatively exotic fare from Ukraine (cabbage and pork stew) or Scandinavia (almond cake), and she always left a pile of recipes for those who might want to try cooking these dishes at home. The Basic Books editor, without consulting her, grabbed the packet of recipes, returned to NYC, and there engaged his close friend, New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren, to draw captivating cartoons, which included identifiable and anthropomorphized vegetables having friendly chats, and disgruntled looking miniature chefs pushing enormous rolling pins, or toting enormous oversized tubers or peppers. The drawings capture the essential ideas of fun, spices, and colors, which the recipes exemplify. Almost all contain bright capsicum other peppers, flavorful greens as basic ingredients or herbs, fragrant olive oil, and a host of other spices that color and complexify the results. She points out that the recipes are relatively simple, although one might imagine that in 1974 , many ingredients would have required a specialty food shop, in her case, Savenor’s, which was conveniently located down the street. For Asian ingredients, such as sesame oil, she directs readers to Chinese and Japanese markets. Many of the recipes are derived from her own post-college travel and eating experiences on a tight budget. Especially the Asian recipes appear to be diaries from her own travels, with additional consultations with local ethnic-American sources. Where she garnered the recipe from a friend or colleague, as in the case of “Dirty rice” which was a Louisiana creole specialty, she tells the story.

What may have added to the allure for the editor’s acquisition are Corky’s querky and delectable culinary images, for example, “sweet meatballs for couscous” contain prunes, which “add a mysterious sweetness” (p.63) Or, “Pumpernickel is a bread with a secret” that some say are prunes but in her recipe is chocolate (p.20). A third example concerns “Cocido Valenciana: “This is a Spanish version of a boiled dinner, superior, in my view, to the New England variety. … The bright yellow coloring and rough chunks of vegetables and meats inspire a hearty appetite.” (p.112) Her cuisine also cuts right across class lines, as in “an elegant yet hearty” artichoke and chickpea salad, which will go equally well with an elegant pate-stuffed squab — or charcoal-broiled hamburger! (p.125). In the course of cooking completely new recipe ideas from scratch, plus consulting with grandma’s-recipes experts, she also discovers certain flavor secrets, such as sugar binds and improves tomato-based spaghetti sauce, and kitchen utensil improvisations: “Couscous is traditionally made in a two-part steamer called a couscousiere, which is available but not necessary, as you can improvise a steamer by lining a colander with cheesecloth, fitting it over a kettle, and covering it with a tight-fitting lid.” (p.60).

Whether buyers purchased the volume for the relatively exotic food, the delightful cartoonish illustrations, or the revolutionary cooking ideas for the busy working person (“one of the best places to work is the floor: if it is clean … it (is) much more convenient than juggling pots and pans and mounds of vegetables on small counter spaces” (xxviii) is unknown: whatever the motivation, the book was a hit. It helped also that the text included friendly references to Julia Child, who was a rising culinary star, and conveniently Corky’s neighbor, who occasionally salvaged her cooking disasters. One noteworthy incident involved a burnt cabbage stew, which Julia directed Corky to repot, calm the acrid with sour cream — which coats the tongue to keep nasty sensations out, flavor-modify with extra lemon — which then minimizes the charred flavor, and beautify with lots of green parsley on top. The clever integrating concept, which made the remaining off flavors a virtue, was a name change: to Ukrainian smoked cabbage stew! The heavy cream and substantial butter base also are redolent of Julia, ingredients that enriched otherwise simpler vegetable or low-meat soups into filling and satisfying meals.

The reasons to re-issue the book are tied not only to burgeoning popularity of thematic cook books and culinary memoirs, but also the current healthy eating and nutritional guidelines, which favor hearty vegetables and whole grains (although not butterfat), included in these soups, stews, and salads. Each recipe is a satisfying construction on its own, with suggestions for variations or substitutions in ingredients; with a brief account of its role(s) in a fully satisfying meal; e.g., leguminous soups and stews, especially if complemented with a little wurst, require only bread, salad, and dessert to form a rich and filling lunch or supper. Such appetizers can be easily stretched into main courses, e.g., “Garlic soup can be a light first course or a thick main dish” (p.31), with the resulting soup, bread, salad, dessert theme again suggesting how she concocted so many of her luncheons. Each recipe gives directions for adjusting ingredients to scale, to feed 6, 12, 20 and 50, and suggests how best to preserve, prepare, and serve leftovers.

This book might well serve as supplementary reading for food anthropology courses.

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AAA 2014, Call for SAFN papers and panels!

Call for Papers: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

Your opportunity to present at the 113th American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington, DC., December 3-7, 2014

The theme of this year’s conference is “Producing Anthropology”. The AAA executive committee asks us to examine “the truths we encounter, produce and communicate through anthropological theories and methods.” In particular, we are asked to consider how we create and disseminate knowledge to diverse audiences, and “how will the truths we generate change as we contend with radical shifts in scholarly publishing, employment opportunities, and labor conditions for anthropologists, as well as the politics of circulating the anthropological records we produce?” SAFN members are particularly well situated to contribute to discussion around the theme, as many, if not most of us, work across anthropological sub-disciplines and/or with colleagues in other disciplines, and sharing knowledge for diverse academic and non-academic audiences. For more information about the national meeting, including elaboration of the theme and important dates, see: http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/index.cfm

SAFN is seeking proposals for Executive Sessions, Invited Sessions, Volunteered Papers, Posters and Sessions, and alternative session formats including Roundtables and Installations.

There are two deadlines for submission: Executive sessions (noon EDT, February 15), and all other sessions and papers (5 PM EDT, April 15).  See http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/presenters/ProposalSubmissionTypes.cfm for more information. A summary is provided here:

The deadline for proposing an Executive session is coming up fast. An Executive session is a unique, highly visible forum on a topic of interest to a wide audience that connects directly to the conference theme. There are two possible formats: panels and roundtables. Anyone interested in organizing an Executive panel or roundtable needs to submit a session proposal on the AAA meeting website by noon EST, February 15. Decisions will be announced on March 17th. (Note that if the decision is negative, you can submit the panel for invited/volunteer sessions—see below.) If you are interested in submitting an executive session, please let Helen and Arianna know ASAP. To apply, you will need: a session abstract (of no more than 500 words), keywords, length of session, anticipated attendance, presenter names and roles. The organizer(s) must be a current AAA member unless eligible for a membership exemption (anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists) and have registered for the 2014 Annual Meeting. Individual presenters must submit their own abstracts (250 words), paper title and keywords via the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, April 15. Any discussants or chairs must also be registered by April 15th.

Invited sessions are generally cutting-edge, directly related to the meeting theme, or cross sub-disciplines, i.e. they have broader appeal. Session proposals must be submitted via the AAA meeting website by 5 PM EST, April 15. Session proposals should include a session abstract of no more than 500 words, key words, number of participants in the session, anticipated attendance, as well as the names and roles of each presenter. Individual presenters must submit their own abstracts (250 words), paper title and keywords via the AAA meeting website also by 5 PM EST, April 15. Any discussants or chairs must also be registered by April 15th. Please note there are no double-sessions this year! One way to increase your and our presence at the meetings is to have a co-sponsored invited session between SAFN and another society. Invited time is shared with the other sub-discipline and the session is double-indexed. Please include any other societies we should be in contact with about possible co-sponsorships.

Volunteered sessions are comprised of submitted papers or posters that are put together based on a common theme as well as sessions proposed as invited that were not selected as such. Volunteered session abstracts should be 500 words or less, individual paper abstracts 250 words or less. Both session and individual abstracts must be submitted via the AAA website by 5 PM EST, April 15.

NEW this year! Retrospective sessions are intended to highlight career contributions of established leading scholars (for example, on the occasion of their retirement or significant anniversary). A session abstract of up to 500 words is required. Participants are bound by the rules of the meeting and must submit final abstracts, meeting registration forms and fees via the AAA web site by April 15.

Installations are a creative way to present ideas that capture the senses, and may include performances, recitals, conversations, author-meets-critic roundtables, salon reading workshops, oral history recording sessions and other alternative, creative forms of intellectual expression. Selected Installations will be curated for an off-site exhibition and tied to the official AAA conference program. Organizers are responsible for submitting the session abstract (of no more than 500 words), keywords, length of session, anticipated attendance, presenter names and roles by 5 PM EST, April 15.  Presenters must also be registered by the April 15 deadline. If you have an idea that might require some organizational creativity please contact the Executive Program Committee as soon as possible at aaameetings@aaanet.org.

Public Policy Forums are a place to discuss critical social and public policy issues. No papers are presented. Instead, the ideal format is a moderator and up to seven panelists. The moderator, after introductions, poses questions that are discussed by the panelists. It is recommended that at least one panelist be a policymaker. Proposals should include a 500-word abstract describing the issue to be discussed, and the moderator and panelists’ names. Submissions are reviewed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy; the deadline for forum submissions is 5 PM EST, April 15.

Roundtables are a format to discuss critical social issues affecting anthropology. No papers are presented in this format. The organizer will submit an abstract for the roundtable but participants will not present papers or submit abstracts. A roundtable presenter is a major role, having the same weight as a paper presentation. All organizers and roundtable presenters must register by 5 PM EST, April 15.

For further information or to log in to submit proposals, go to http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/Call-for-Papers.cfm. Remember that to upload abstracts and participate in the meeting you must be an active AAA member who has paid the 2014 meeting registration fee. (Membership exemption is in place for anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists.)

If you’d like to discuss your ideas for sessions, papers, posters, roundtable discussions, forums or installations feel free to contact the 2014 Program Chairs, Helen Vallianatos (vallianatos@ualberta.ca) and Arianna Huhn (arihuhn@gmail.com).

We look forward to another exciting annual meeting with a strong SAFN participation!

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Global Food Security Opportunities

Interested in global food security? Here are two opportunities to deepen your knowledge and pursue your research.

The U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program, based at Purdue University, offers a graduate research grant program and a summer institute. Funded by United States Agency for International Development, the programs are intended to develop the pool of American scientists with expertise in food security issues. Details on the program objectives are here.

The research grant funds research projects for U.S. citizens to study in foreign countries, in collaboration with mentors at an International Agricultural Research Center (IARC), or a  National Agricultural Research System (NARS) unit (visit the website to find out what those are, exactly). Applications are due on April 14, 2014. Details, including application materials, are here.

The Summer Institute on Global Food Security will be held from June 8, 2014 to June 21, 2014 at Purdue University. It is meant to help graduate students from U.S. institutions learn about the fundamental concepts and issues in the study of global food security. Except for travel to the institute, food and lodging are provided to anyone admitted to the program. Applications for the summer institute are due on March 10, 2014, with materials and details here.

Questions? Visit the website or send an email to borlaugfellows@purdue.edu.

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Filed under anthropology, food policy, food security, Food Studies

Book Review: Food Policy in the United States

food policy cover photo

Wilde, Parke. 2013. Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Routledge, Earthscan Food & Agriculture series, New York and London.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Parke Wilde has produced a concise, encyclopedic text on Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Organized into twelves chapters, the volume could serve as a basic narrative text in agricultural economics for undergraduates, or for anthropologists teaching US food policy courses from multiple cultural perspectives. Chapter 1, “Making food policy in the US” presents the author’s interdisciplinary approach. By “interdisciplinary” he means economics and politics that enter into the evidence base for food policy making, in relation to what he depicts as “a social ecological framework for nutrition and physical activity decisions”, a figure incorporating environmental, social, cultural, and psychological components, drawn from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) formulations. This initial chapter carefully defines terms of analysis: food marketing chains, markets and government agencies; public goods, externalities, and calculations of inequalities and pareto optimal conditions; interest groups and advocacy coalitions and what they do; the various government legislative branches and committees and executive agencies, and how they function with respect to policy planning, implementation, and evaluation; Farm Bill and “captured agency” (one overwhelmingly subject to one group’s influence). In total, Wilde defines in bolded type 31 separate terms in this introduction, which asserts the volume’s theme, that “all of US food policy-making takes place … subject to the push and pull of competing private interests and public objectives”.

The next three chapters describe cases of “Agriculture,” “Food production and environment,” and “Food production and agricultural trade”. Chapters 5 and 6, co-authored with Daniel Hatfield, expand into “Food manufacturing” and “Food retailing and restaurants”. Chapters 7 through 11 consider food quality and nutrition issues: “Food safety,” “Dietary guidance and health,” “Food labeling and advertising,” “Hunger and food insecurity,” and “Nutrition assistance programs for children”. There is a short “Postcript–looking forward”, followed by twelve pages of references and an index.

Each chapter, with clearly articulated learning objectives, is organized with numerical headings and subheadings, so readers stay on track. Plentiful illustrative graphics visually elaborate quantitative and occasionally narrative concepts, and numerous tables describe the different activities of the various food-policy agencies responsible for particular points of policy, and what kinds of actions they take to advance (whose) priority political agendas with respect to the chapter’s issues. Many key policy controversies are presented in “Box” form, including hot-button issues, such as the safety or advisability of GMOs or the costs of biofuels, both summarized in Chapter 3. Non-economists will appreciate that mathematical tools to calculate policy costs, impacts, and tradeoffs are summarized in box form, and do not distract from the comprehensive and comprehensible narrative.

The book offers anthropologists teaching agriculture, food, and nutrition courses a useful handbook, written from the perspective of a policy maker operating inside and outside of USDA. Individual chapters, boxes, and figures provide provocative materials for class discussions; for example, how useful is the “social ecological framework” (Figure 1.1) for describing or evaluating sustainable food systems, and how does it compare and contrast with anthropologists’ models of food systems, and agricultural or dietary change? It might be pedagogically effective, in addition, to pair certain of the chapters with other contrasting policy materials: for example, this book’s chapter on production and environment issues (which defines the terms “local” and “organic” and boxes policy issues related to “GMOs” and “biofuels”), with readings from Food First-Institute for Food and Development Policy, or articles published in Culture & Agriculture‘s journal, CAFE; or Wilde’s chapters on “Dietary guidance and health” or “Food labeling and advertising” with Margaret Mead’s 1940s summary of “Food Habits” research and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics critique of the same topics. Discussions of effective consumer demand and its influence on market supply in chapter 6, and of food safety issues summarized in chapter 7, might make good basic reading and discussion materials, whereas “policy options” discussions related to dietary guidelines, food labels, food-security calculations, and child nutritional regulations could form the basis for policy exercises the instructor might want to tailor to particular class interests and skills levels. The conclusions to chapter 4 (p.76), on “food and agricultural trade,” quite effectively illuminate the commonalities and differences between the concerns of food economics and the anthropology of food and nutrition. How convincing are the ‘real-world data” that allow economists to dispassionately assess potential benefits of exchange across borders, but lose individual or community perspectives on winners and losers?

In sum, whether or not you personally purchase the book, it would be useful to have an electronic copy on hand at your library, where professionals and students can consult its definitions and statistics on demand, and so inform their participation in evidence-based and highly emotional food-policy debates.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, book reviews, farming, food policy, food politics, Food Studies

Book Review: The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence

BieseleJu

Biesele, Megan and Robert K. Hitchcock (2013) The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence. Development, Democracy, and Indigenous Voices in Southern Africa. Berghahn, 2011, 2013.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Biesele and Hitchcock offer a probing and insightful multi-decadal account of social and cultural change among an African people, including critical discussion of the roles of anthropologists and other outsiders in constructing external and internal trajectories of change. Mainly a political analysis, with very thorough discussions of changing cultural and national political institutions and their interactions, this volume should be required reading for any international development, education, food and environmental policy course. It also should be required reading in business school, organization and management courses, which increasingly incorporate ethical discussions. All chapters contain facts and institutional analysis by outsiders and insiders, and feature indigenous voices responding to internal and external challenges. The topics are the most important topics for the twenty-first century, namely, on what or whose terms will peoples be integrated into multi-national states, or be able to move fluidly across international borders? Who will make these determinations, and what kinds of education and political ideology will inform transitions from local to community and trans-local, and finally national or transnational identities?

Social scientists tend to throw around word-concepts implying that “development” and “democracy” are universal goals, without specifying who evaluates them or what paths get people closer to what the international community asserts are universal human rights. Here  indigenous voices illustrate how such ideas conflict with traditional cultural values, and how basic democratic concepts such as “representation” simply do not work routinely in traditional situations undergoing change. Instead, so-called democratic processes introduce new pathways and structures of social, economic, gender, and age inequality and violence, pitting young against old, male against female, and the few privileged individuals and strategically politically-geographically positioned and connected families against everyone else.  Millennium Development Goals suggest important narrative themes, rather than numerical targets.  Certainly poverty- and hunger-reduction, employment, child survival including reductions in malnutrition and improvements in education and health, access to water, health care, and hygiene, and environmental management and conservation are on the agenda, as are more productive connections between localities, developing country governments, and international agencies and agents of change. But such processes do not proceed without conflict at multiple levels, which the authors try to present from contending perspectives.

The most illuminating material here is on conflict-fraught activities of community-based and non-governmental organizations, whose large numbers and interactions are supremely important, ideologically and instrumentally, in shaping this people’s history, their historical communities, and the emergent independent nations who claim and seek to regulate them as citizens.  Given the long and multi-layered anthropological engagement with the San, the authors tell a story that is not entirely upbeat; for example, they witness young educated males learn and integrate less attractive aspects of modernity into their practices and ideas of the good life. These negative traits include gender violence and discrimination against both younger and older females. Educated males may also embrace increasing inequality and concentration of resources and power among their privileged few. As institutions of cultural change scale up, they consequently may benefit some few families over most. The historical ethnography furthermore raises the question of acceptable or unacceptable anthropological advocacy influences, as the narrative uncomfortably showcases some questionable actions and selective reporting on the part of anthropologists, such as John Marshall, whose films record a remarkable history of contacts and interactions with San over three generations, but then stops short of providing a reliable testimony about current politics and future implications.

Such caveats do not in any way distract from the seriously critical record of local cultural participation in the San’s forging their transitions into modern statehood identities, and of the shifting politics of NGO activities, relative to the real politics of states and international agencies. From my “anthropology of human rights” perspective, this is the only volume I know that discusses rights AND responsibilities in a multi-leveled, multi-dimensional, and coherent fashion, and successfully bridges “needs-based” and “rights-based” analysis of changing social structure and content, while incorporating local voices every step of the way.  Let it serve as a model for what is possible and desirable, and inspiration for so many Africanist colleagues, who otherwise choose to tangle, or remain hopelessly entangled in tropes.

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Filed under Africa, anthropology, book reviews, development, economics, food security, history

A Binational Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice

eduador field image

Photo courtesy of the Food in Culture and Social Justice blog, osufcsj.wordpress.com.

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

I recently completed a pilot run of a binational learning community focused on food, culture and social justice in Ecuador and Oregon. I live in Oregon and have been working with food activists there. I took a sabbatical in Ecuador in 2006 and later watched the development and aftermath of the inclusion of “food sovereignty” in their 2008 constitution. I returned on a Fulbright in 2012 and interviewed food activists, along with beginning the work on this exchange program. In September 2013, we received the Ecuador group in Oregon and spent two weeks touring alternative food sites. This was followed by 10 weeks of linked classes and then a two week food system tour of Ecuador in December. I’ve been in Ecuador since the program ended. Last night I attended a talk by Vandana Shiva at the Central University in Quito and in the question period afterwards (which was more like a mini lecture series) one young man asked her how she has used her education. Without missing a beat Dr. Shiva said that her dissertation was on quantum physics and there were two things that underlay both her work in physics and her work in food systems. The first is that everything is connected and the second is that everything is in flux.  I thought that this might be a good way to think about this program on food, culture and social justice.

Because everything is connected, I formed a learning community of people with a variety of interests: nutrition, farming, public policy, gastronomy and, of course, anthropology. Our site visits ranged from farm to table with presenters constantly emphasizing connections between soil health, plant health and human health. The economic aspects were ever present as we discussed the thorny problem of how to get healthy, fresh food to people without much income when they can more easily fill their stomachs with cheaper, less nutritious food. As much as possible, we tried to pair sites in both countries. We visited urban agriculture projects in Portland and Quito; agroecological farms with culturally specific CSA programs; farmers’ markets; seed savers. In the Willamette Valley we heard from organic seed producer, Frank Morton, about why the Willamette Valley is a prime area of the world to produce seeds and the threat of GMOs to the thriving organic seed industry there. He summed up how GMOs have been surreptitiously introduced in Oregon as a policy of “contaminate, then negotiate.” In Ecuador, we heard from Xavier Leon of Acción Ecológica about the constant threat of GMOs from agroindustries, even though the constitution declares Ecuador a GMO-free country. We also saw how the two countries are connected. Our natural foods co-ops sell high end chocolate and organic bananas from Ecuador and American brands and fast food outlets are very prevalent in Ecuadorian cities.

Vandana Shiva also spent time talking about oppression and liberation within the food system how food should be a human right. This was another theme of the binational learning community. We talked with Latino farmworkers in Oregon and ex-hacienda workers in Ecuador about the injustices of the industrial food system. It was enlightening and depressing to see similar struggles within very different cultural/historical/political contexts. We heard about the innovative community organizing programs at the Oregon Food Bank and later helped the gleaners do a food re-pack and shared their pot luck lunch. There is no food banking system in Ecuador, but we visited the successful Canastas Comunitarias program in Riobamba where low-income urban dwellers have connected with agroecological farmers. Every two weeks they buy in bulk, directly from the farmers and divide up the produce among the urban buyers. This system has spread around the country.

ecuador fruit

Photo courtesy of Food in Culture and Social Justice blog, http://osufcsj.wordpress.com/

Everything is in flux, and through lectures about changing diets through time, we laid the groundwork for change in the future, a predilection of the people inside the learning community and those who presented to us. Often the change they proposed was a return to earlier patterns of consumption. We focused on the particular situations of Native Americans who had their land stolen and their foodways altered and are now suffering from diet-related diseases at a much higher rate than the rest of the population in both countries. A focus on Native Americans also allowed us to understand the importance of ecosystems in the creation of cultural foodways. We spent a day with the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz on the Oregon coast and another couple days with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla on the high plateau. In Ecuador we visited two Kichwa groups who have started community tourism ventures: one at 12,500 feet in Cotopaxi and another group in Misahuallí in the Amazon basin. In each place, we discovered new plants and animals that nourish people there. The Ecuadorians were shocked to eat elk and the American shocked to eat Chontacuro grubs. Most Ecuadorians are a generation closer to farming and to shopping at open air markets, but we heard about how quickly things are changing. Overweight and obese children are more and more common, as well as non-communicable diet-related diseases such as diabetes.

Learning is not simply an intellectual exercise. It involves our emotions and all our senses and is linked to our daily practices. Learning communities work against the fragmentation of information and the decreasing sense of community by setting up a non-hierarchical atmosphere of collaborative learning that is rich in experience. With a focus on food, practically every meal became a classroom as chefs explained where they obtained their food and how they prepared it. We prepared ceviche with Oregon mussels with Slow Food Corvallis and we roasted and ground chocolate in the jungle. We weathered short bouts of intestinal problems (in both places) and altitude sickness in Ecuador. We had numerous conversations on buses and we sang and danced and joked together. We learned new vocabulary in two languages. Sometimes we struggled to understand and other times we struggled to express ourselves in a new language, but we got better at both tasks. We shared our knowledge and learned many new things together. If any of you are interested in putting together a similar program, I’d be happy to talk with you. You might even want to check out the group’s blog at osufcsj.wordpress.com.

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Filed under agriculture, Andes, anthropology, Eduador, food policy, Food Studies, foodways, Latin America, Oregon