What FoodAnthropology is Reading Now: January 10 Edition

Hello FoodAnthro readers, we’ve got a great collection of readings this week. As always, if you have something you’d like to share on a future round-up, please email it to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

The federal 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released the 2015-2020 federal dietary guidelines. The official guidelines can be found here. FoodAnthropology will publish a commentary on the changes soon, but in the meantime readers may want to peruse general coverage from The New York Times or check out Civil Eats’ report Shaping the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: A Timeline, which traces how the guidelines came into being.

Alongside commentary and critique of the guidelines, Marion Nestle published an article analyzing the relationship between nutrition research and funding from the food industry. This link is to her blog, but it was also published in JAMA Internal Medicine: Viewpoint: Food-Industry Funding of Food and Nutrition Research

There were some incisive thoughts by Psyche Williams-Forson on the relevance of food and justice to the current American debates about race and justice. While there, check out the entire Food, Fat and Fitness blog, it’s all great: Black Lives Matter, even in Food Justice

Erin Griffith over at PS Mag published a fascinating tale of her experience working at a well-known (but unnamed) American cookie factory: My Summer at the Junk Food Mill

Grist featured a fantastic line up of food writing from 2015–all of the pieces are worth reading, from Cheeseburger Ethics to an article advocating eliminating all tipping in the food industry: The food writing that set my brain on fire this year

From the Financial Times, a story on the “Great British Curry Crisis.” South Asian food in the UK is changing and some see it as a crisis, while other see it as a challenge to evolve with changing tastes, different migration patterns, and new generations of cooks, eaters, and entrepreneurs: The Great British Curry Crisis

From December, there was a Scientific American article about concerns over antibiotic resistance as Antibiotic use in food animals continues to rise 

Finally, there was also a report on new agricultural testing in the United States, examining the impact of microbial seed coatings in hopes of boosting crop production: Microbes added to seeds could boost crop production

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King Cake!

whole king cake UNO

King cake, New Orleans style

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

I ate three pieces of cake on Wednesday. All in the name of research, of course. I took pictures, just to prove how hard I was working. Three pieces of cake is somewhat more cake than I eat on an average day. But Wednesday was Epiphany or Kings Day and in New Orleans that signals the start of Carnival season. And that means we eat king cake.

Piece of cake, CC's coffeehouse, New Orleans

Piece of cake, CC’s coffeehouse, New Orleans

Mardi Gras is, of course, a day (Fat Tuesday is February 9, this year). But at least in New Orleans, Carnival is a season that starts with Kings Day and ends in ashes, on Ash Wednesday. The opening day of the season is marked by a few parades, including the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc in the French Quarter and the Phunny Phorty Phellows riding the St. Charles streetcar line. We also have an abundance of local and seasonal foods at this time of year. Crawfish are already available all over town, for instance and strawberry season kicked into gear a few weeks ago, so there are plenty of those to be had in the markets. There is great Louisiana citrus around as well. It may seem a little odd, but I would like to suggest that king cake should also be considered a local and seasonal food in New Orleans.

Local and seasonal usually refers to plants that are grown by local farmers and gardeners, especially those plant varieties that are native to the region. Or to species of animals traditionally raised in a region or that are native to the region, including, for instance, heritage cattle or those crawfish I mentioned. Of course, as with many cultural categories, when you look closely, such things can become hard to define. This is true about heritage pigs in North Carolina or about traveling plants like okra or potatoes. The thing, in the end, that makes a food local is that it is important to local foodways. I would subscribe to the idea that if people say something is local, then it is. I realize that this logic can lead to thinking about things like McDonald’s French fries as a local food in Moscow. But why not? As Melissa Caldwell so aptly demonstrates, it is the way in which people lay claim to the food that is interesting.

Piece of cake, faculty reception, UNO

Piece of cake, faculty reception, UNO

The same sort of thinking certainly applies to king cakes in New Orleans. The king cake tradition here is clearly related to practices in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Long before I lived here, I was introduced to the French galette des rois. The French version I am most familiar with is a puff pastry cake with an almond paste filling and a little figurine hidden inside, most often consumed exclusively on Epiphany (although bakeries make them available for a few weeks before and after that day). The person (usually a child) who ended up with the figurine also got a paper crown. There are several varieties of cake found in different parts of Europe, as well as in Central and South America. Like other globalized foods and traditions, each place makes the practice their own.

French king cake piece

Piece of French style king cake

King cakes in New Orleans can be found in some stores starting a week or so before Epiphany, but I suspect that most people wait for the official start of the season to get one. They are most prominently featured in a kind of ritual exchange tradition in work places. One person brings a cake to the office to start off the cycle. Cakes are supposed to come with a plastic baby hidden in them (or a bean, or another figure, but a plastic baby is the most common item). The person who gets a piece with the bean is then supposed to bring the next cake to the office. And this exchange goes on until Mardi Gras, after which the cakes disappear for another year. King cake consumption is not, however, limited to the workplace. People bring them to parties, for instance, and the number and variety of cakes on display at even small gatherings seems to increase geometrically as we approach Mardi Gras itself. Sometimes it seems like the entire repertoire of New Orleans cuisine is reduced to king cake and beer during Mardi Gras season, especially for any event involving float decorating, costume making, and parade preparation (for many, Popeye’s fried chicken often adds much needed variety to the typical New Orleans Carnival season diet). And of course, king cake and beer is probably the breakfast of choice for many on Mardi Gras day (one may replace the beer with a Bloody Mary if it is breakfast). King cake consumption really comes to stand for the entire Carnival season, as this advertisement from one local bakery (which I am not endorsing, but they do make very pretty cakes) illustrates with an impressive array of iconic Mardi Gras types.

When I moved to New Orleans, the first king cakes I ate came from McKenzie’s, a now defunct chain of local bakeries that might best be described as a chain grocery store bakery, without the rest of the store. Natives of New Orleans of a certain age can be deeply emotional about the loss of McKenzie’s, which they see as a sign of the passing of those things that made the city unique. The store’s king cake, which I remember as a dry brioche with a modest amount of sweet icing in Mardi Gras colors, was relatively austere (my wife, who remembers these cakes fondly, tells me I am being too harsh). King cakes in this style are still to be found around town and many of my native friends and colleagues claim to prefer them to the over-the-top garish cakes that have come to dominate the market in recent years. Despite the annual protests by nostalgic natives, cakes filled with everything from cream cheese to bananas and peanut butter are everywhere and very popular. The amount of decorative sugar involved is rivaled only by the amount of glitter people in New Orleans use each year on their costumes. These cakes are a long way from the French galette des rois. And they make people very happy.

Galette des rois, from La Boulangerie, in New Orleans

Galette des rois, from La Boulangerie, in New Orleans

People here are very self-conscious about the king cake tradition. There are annual evaluations of the best king cakes by our leading food writers. There are stories about the evolution of the cakes, about the entry of different ethnic groups into the tradition, or about the ways in which particular pastry chefs innovate to create cakes that are always more dazzling. There are strange variations on the king cake theme, including king cake vodka (I really don’t think this is a good idea, but maybe you will like it) and the king cake smoothie (from Smoothie King, of course). You can get the French style king cakes around town too – the one pictured here comes from a local bakery that also makes cakes in the New Orleans style. You can now order one to be delivered by Uber, in case you don’t want to leave your house or office. If you don’t live here, bakeries will be happy to FedEx one to you. And there is even king cake satire, including a series of advertisements from the fake Ragusa Brothers Bakery, done in perfect working class New Orleans “Yat” accents, that skewer king cakes and a whole lot more. You can watch the first one, from 2011, below. You have until Ash Wednesday to eat some cake. After that, you should wait until next year.

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Remembering Sidney Mintz

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Sid Mintz was the greatest food anthropologist of all time.  A dedicated social-justice scholar-activist, he produced path-breaking studies of Caribbean sugar-cane workers (Worker in the Cane. A Puerta Rican Life History (W.W.Norton, 1974), then turned his attention to the larger political-economic context in which sugar transformed diets and lives (Sweetness and Power. The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Viking Penguin, 1985)).

Growing up in Dover, NJ where his father ran a small diner, he developed pluralistic food tastes.  These included a passion for Asian cuisine, which prompted his research and writing about soya beans, their political culture and diffusion.

He followed up both food-commodity case studies with a collection of essays that traced the history of particular foods, such as Coca Cola, and concluded that modern intercontinental warfare was a major force for introducing new foods and tastes, and corresponding food production, industries, and trade.  In the course of reviewing world diffusions of foods, he practiced what he later characterized as a kind of “grounded theory,” which meant that he entered with certain working hypotheses, then modified them as he accessed new information and ideas.  In his preface and introduction to his essay collection, he described his childhood exposure to different cuisines, and also his working methods, which involved framing internal and external trajectories of change and their interactions. Along with political-economic nationalizations and globalization, particular local or regional cultures also displayed their own distinctive dynamics, which informed their “insider” responses to these “outside” forces of change.  He favored such straightforward analytical language, even as he resonated with Marxist and populist social writings.

My personal interactions stemmed from our common passion for food studies in anthropology. Sid and I also shared some multi-generational family background.  The Messer family, moving out of the illness ridden slums of New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1910s, landed first in Whippany, then in Mount Freedom, NJ.  The eight siblings went first to the Ironia public school (one room schoolhouse) and then to Dover for secondary school.  Following up on his very personal, memoir-style preface to Tasting Food. Tasting Freedom (Beacon Press, 1996), I learned that he and my father’s family had indeed overlapped in high school. The Messer boys traveled by horse and buggy (or sleigh) from their distant farm into town, where Sid recalled his high-school classmate, my Uncle Alfred, was always already there early in the school yard, wonderfully rosy-cheeked from having already milked the cows before heading to school.

In a more academic vein, Sid’s simple structural insider-outside scheme for analyzing food-culture change provided the inspiration for the chapter I wrote on European acceptance of the potato for Helen Macbeth’s edited volume on Food Preferences and Taste: Continuity and Change (Berghahn, 2007)Sid let me know that he appreciated how effectively I had used his approach; this was exactly the kind of follow-up studies he had intended.

During my 1999-2000 research on anthropologists confronting hunger, we talked at some length about political engagement in the issues.  My format was to ask whether the individual scholars or scholar-activists I was interviewing had engaged with the work of Food First–Institute for Food and Development Policy, The Hunger Project, the Brown University World Hunger Program, or America’s food bank network (then called America’s Second Harvest, since renamed Feeding America).  The conversation provided a thoughtful opportunity for him to distinguish the kinds of organized leftist and Marxist political rhetoric, mobilizations, and leadership from the political-activism and activist-democracy organizing of Frances Moore Lappe, which he found to be something very different and very important, although Marxist theory dominated the academic and political conversations.

Sid also included me in his 2001 activities at John Hopkins University exploring soy as a kind of alternative to meat protein.  A conference there served as a vehicle for the soybean industry to promote its products as social and environmentally protective.  But I had just returned from an Earthwatch Science Advisory Committee tour of that agency’s research operations in the Pantanal, Brazil.  There, we learned, the major threat to wildlife was not expansion of cattle but of soybean cultivation, which was ravaging the forest and grasslands, and removing the corridors that were necessary to maintain biodiversity.  This rejoinder to the soybean promoters, and their appealing claims of virtue for vegetarian, soy-based fare, was not well received by the industry representatives, although I recall I got a welcome boost from Marian Nestle, who agreed with my presentation.

Sid, from beginning to end, was very supportive of the kinds of anti-hunger work we did at Brown, and very gracious in acknowledging contributions in the review, “Anthropology of Food and Eating” that he co-authored with Dubois for Annual Review of Anthropology (2002).

Sid Mintz died 26 December 2015 at the age of 93. We are so glad that he lived so long to enlighten and brighten our anthropological perspectives, and will continue his legacy in our works to come.

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What FoodAnthropology is Reading Now: January 3rd Edition

January 3rd, 2016:

Happy New Year, FoodAnthropology readers! Like every December and January, the internet is ringing in the year with lists–lists of old things, lists of new things, lists of bests and worsts. The world of food is no exception. Here are a couple of the most interesting lists I’ve read in the past week, along with our usual selection of good reads:

First, EcoWatch published a list of “16 reasons 2016 will bring positive change to the global food system.” They link to several interesting stories, and I learned (for example) that 2016 has been declared the International Year of Pulses, there was a Johns Hopkins University report linking animal product consumption to global climate change, and later this month the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture will host an international meeting focused on urban agriculture for food security.

NPR’s The Salt reports that artificial ingredients are waning in popularity, food waste is a gaining attention, and foodborne illness remains a significant concern for Americans: The Year in Food: Artificial Out, Innovation In (and 2 more trends)

And the last list, for fun, comes from Whole Food’s predictions of the top 7 foods of 2016, which includes alternative flours, fermented foods, and canned wine: Whole Foods predicts the biggest food trends of 2016

The New York Times featured a story about Spain’s truffle industry, and efforts to increase Spanish demand for truffles: Spain Has Little Appetite for Truffles, but Plenty for the Truffle Trade

With stunning images, the New York Times also had a story about how farmers are shaping water policy in California: Farmers Try Political Force to Twist Open California’s Taps

Changes in labor laws are shuttering cooperative grocers’ work-for-food programs, which have been mainstays of co-op culture since the 1970s: Will Work for Food? Co-Op Programs End Amid Labor-Law Fears

The U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine is recruiting participants for a study on how MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) influence gut health. Army dietitians have created a special cookbook to help participants consume the “tasteless, if not bad” meals: U.S. Army wants you to eat MREs for 21 days straight

Al Jazeera reported on a study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology stating that globally, sugar intake is increasing, and other nations are following US trends in their desire for added sugars: World’s diet is getting sweeter, catching up with US

Today, Congress repealed a meat labeling law that had been in place in the US since 2002, and has been challenged by the meat industry since that time. Food and Water Watch described the bill as “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress,”though only some segments of the meat industry will benefit from the change: US Repeals Meat Labeling Law After Trade Rulings Against It

Finally, Al Jazeera English released an interesting 25-minute video about Turkish cuisine in Istanbul, describing “how a new generation is keeping Turkey’s centuries-old culinary traditions alive in a modern world”: Istanbul: Turkish cuisine at a crossroads

As always, if you have a link you’d like to share in FoodAnthropology’s weekly round up, please send it to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.


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Happy New Year!


The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

wishes you a happy new year.

May your 2016 be full of joy and delicious!

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What FoodAnthropology is Reading: December 29th Edition

Hello FoodAnthro readers, we have just a couple of news items for this week’s round up.

The first, and most significant, is the death of anthropologist and food historian Sidney Mintz. He passed away on December 26 at the age of 93. FoodAnthropology will post obituaries in the days to come, but in the meantime readers might enjoy this article, All Roads Lead to Mintz, published 20 years ago in the New York times. It weaves together Mintz’s work, cooking, and personal history, and ends with three recipes from “the heart of a Mintz.” Readers may also want to peruse Mintz’s website

Second, the internet was in a tizzy this week when students at Oberlin College protested cultural appropriation in the college’s dining halls, requesting “food that does not trample upon the religions and cultures of various countries.” Innumerable news outlets have covered the story, but a couple of takes can be found at the New York Times (“Oberlin Students Take Culture War to the Dining Hall”)The Atlantic (“The Value of the Oberlin Food Protests”), and The Atlantic (“A Food Fight at Oberlin College”) again.

Finally, readers may also be interested in Ellen Messer’s December 28th post on the Food Policy Blog, “Two Pats and patriotism: Striving for a world, country, and communities without hunger.” The post remembers two heroes in the fight against hunger, Patricia Kutzner and Patricia Young.

If you have a link you’d like to include in the weekly link roundup, please email it to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

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Food Studies Post-Doctoral Position – NYU

The Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU invites
applications from outstanding candidates for a full-time Postdoctoral
Research Fellowship. The position is within the Food Studies Program. It is
available for one year, with the possibility of renewal for one additional
year (contingent on availability of funding). Candidates must have received
a PhD within the last five years, with potential for outstanding research
in an area aligned with the department’s work as specified below:

1. Advance the field of Food Studies
▪ expand the boundaries of the field
▪ demonstrate the importance of Food Studies for other
▪ advance the profile of Food Studies within NYU
▪ strengthen networks with other Food Studies or relevant
departments elsewhere

2. Emphasis will be placed on the cultural elements of Food Studies
▪ historical, modern and critical cultural, sociological, geographical, and
anthropological approaches will be prioritized
3. While not a requirement, selection will reward candidates whose work
addresses local-global connections, particularly in urban centers
▪ boundary crossing and exchange (intra and inter-ethnic,
international, etc.)
▪ global circulations of people, ideas, and products
▪ city geographies, demographics, and food environments

4. Particular attention will be paid to candidates whose work merges
aesthetic/cultural and economic/material dimensions
▪ and projects that engage seriously with taste, pleasure, and identity
alongside issues of regulation, transportation, commercialization, or other
biophysical aspects of food production and consumption
· candidates who can show competency in using mapping software and have
affinity for the digital humanities (e.g. in CartoDB, Omeka, etc.)


Fellows will be expected to:
▪ Continue research and expand their contribution to the field of Food
Studies while at NYU
-publish in appropriate academic journals
-present in appropriate academic conferences
▪ Play an active role in the Program, Department, broader NYU and Food
Studies community
-present their research formally at least once during the year (ideally
once per semester, in different formats and with different audiences)
-attend and participate regularly in relevant talks within the department
and beyond
-nurture relationships with students and faculty
▪ Teach one or two courses in a year (to be determined in discussion with
the Chair and the Program Director)
▪ Support the program for relevant initiatives (such as grant writing,
aiding in partnership development and organizing colloquia).

Applicants must send: 1) CV (2-pages maximum), 2) three reference letters
(to be sent directly to krishnendu.ray@nyu.edu and pvs1@nyu.edu), 3) a
statement (2 pages) describing a one-year research plan.

The application package should be sent to pvs1@nyu.edu and
krishnendu.ray@nyu.edu (electronic submission of one complete PDF file is
required). The deadline for submission is February 15th 2016. If the
search is successful the term will begin September 2016.

New York University is an Equal Opportunity Employer. New York University
is committed to a policy of equal treatment and opportunity in every aspect
of its hiring and promotion process without regard to race, color, creed,
religion, sex, pregnancy or childbirth (or related medical condition),
sexual orientation, partnership status, gender and/or gender identity or
expression, marital or parental status, national origin,
ethnicity, alienage or citizenship status, veteran or military status, age,
disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, domestic violence victim
status, unemployment status, or any other legally protected basis. Women,
racial and ethnic minorities, persons of minority sexual orientation or
gender identity, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged
to apply for vacant positions at all levels.

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