Food, Identity and Social Change, Copenhagen

2014 ToRS International Food Workshop

Food, Identity and Social Change

25-26 September 2014

Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS),

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Call for Proposals

Food draws people into the web of life and touches upon everything that matters: it expresses personhood, marks membership (or non-membership) in practically any kind of social grouping and draws lines of where morality begins and ends. Yet, food can also signify very different things from place to place, from kitchen to kitchen and from one time period to another. Social changes – such as peoples on the move (nomads, migrants, tourists), changes in intergroup relations within societies, new technologies (in mass media, biotechnology), mass production of foods and increasing globalization of foods and war – have been relatively neglected in food studies.

Food is a powerful lens for analyzing identity. This is clearly illustrated in the works of food studies that include Bourdieu’s inquiry into the taste and preferences of the French bourgeoisie and Mintz’s pioneering historical study of how high status sugar produced in the Caribbean became a working class staple to the exciting growth of more recent works by Appadurai on how to create a national cuisine and Wilk’s scrutiny of the complex culinary reactions of Belizeans to colonialism, class differentiation and modernity. 

Keynote Speakers

Professor Tamara L. Bray, Wayne State University

Professor Mandy Thomas, Queensland University of Technology

Professor Richard R. Wilk, Indiana University

We welcome contributions on food, identity and social change: Why do we eat what we eat and why have different cultures and societies at different times eaten other things? What fosters social change to affect dietary patterns and changing identities? How can food offer the lens to understand the cultural and social affinities in moments of change and transformation? The topic offers an opportunity to excavate the past, to examine the present and to project into the future.

Anyone interested in presenting a paper at the ToRS 2014 International Food Workshop should submit a proposal of 300 words and relevant contact information by 1 April 2014 to Katrine Meldgaard Kjær (katrinemkjaer@gmail.com)

Organizers: Cynthia Chou (cynchou@hum.ku.dk)  and Susanne Kerner (kerner@hum.ku.dk)

Organizing Assistant: Katrine Meldgaard Kjær (katrinemkjaer@gmail.com)

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Anarchist Table Manners

The East Poster

David Sutton
Department of Anthropology
Southern Illinois University

So you’re seated at a table with a dozen strangers. Hungry, you’ve got a bowl of some sort of stew in front of you, and a large-handled, wooden spoon. The only problem—like everyone else at the table, you’re wearing a straightjacket. What do you do?

This was the problem posed to the main character of the 2013 movie The East. And spoiler alert, this is a good scene that I don’t want to ruin for the reader, so I urge you to see the movie before you read on. The East, by the way, might have flown under your radar screen. Released in the spring of 2013, it is a tense thriller focused on an eco-anarchist group and a private security firm’s attempt to infiltrate it, from the pen of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij (Marling also stars in the film, along with Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard). While the film got mixed reviews (some complaining about the idealistic ending), I found it to be a compelling story and a meditation on different kinds of political action in the present.  

The scene comes fairly early in the movie when the main character Sarah (Brit Marling) has been taken to the hideout of The East by faking a serious injury as part of her plan to infiltrate the group. She is treated for her injury and while recovering she is invited to dinner, but not before she has donned the straightjacket. The putative leader of the group, Benji (Skarsgard), suggests that as their guest, Sarah should begin. This is the part of the scene where the viewer is put into Sarah’s perspective, trying to figure out how to proceed. After lifting the spoon with her teeth and seeing the seeming futility of this, Sarah drops the spoon. Then she puzzles for a bit longer before finally grabbing the side of the bowl in her teeth and lifting it up so that she is able to slurp a little bit of the stew into her mouth. Sarah looks up at the others, chewing in a seemingly self-satisfied manner. They all nod at her politely, then they pick up their spoons in their teeth, and, turning their heads to the side, proceed to feed each other. Sarah storms off feeling humiliated by this “lesson” in her own selfishness.

Some readers may recognize the basis for this scene in the allegory of the long spoons, a parable that can be found in a number of different cultures and religious traditions. Kirin Narayan discusses her discovery of this story in multiple religious/cultural traditions, and analyses a Hindu version of the story in detail, in her book Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching (1989, University of Pennsylvania Press). In this allegory, retold here by Bishop Desmond Tutu, it is Heaven and Hell that are being distinguished, i.e., Heaven is where people feed each other, Hell is where people are surrounded by sumptuous meals but unable to eat because they have failed to realize their interdependence. This allegory clearly encapsulates the moral significance of reciprocity and interdependence, and suggests that the radical individualism associated with untrammeled capitalism is, in fact, a hell on earth.

Similar techniques are also used in some anarchist groups (David Graeber, personal communication, December 12, 2013). However I think the scene is strikingly effective in the context of a U.S. culture where eating has become a key practice of individual choice and identity. My hypothesis is that the “solution” to this conundrum simply doesn’t occur to most Americans, steeped in a culture in which the recognition that eating involves the labor of other people has been deeply attenuated. Thus all 10 students who watched the movie in my class expressed surprise at this scene. By contrast when I described this scene to a table of Greek anthropologists they immediately guessed the direction of the scene. This perhaps shouldn’t have surprised me as I have been working on a project looking at the food-based responses to neoliberal policies in Greece, all of which center around the symbolic value of food in expressing ideas about social solidarity (see the previous FoodAnthropology posts on food used in Greek politics herehere and here).

Western Middle-Class common sense has often been skewered through challenging table manners, most famously in Bunuel’s film The Phantom of Liberty in which using the toilet is done publicly and is a site of sociability, while eating is seen as a disgusting act only to be done in private. While Bunuel’s point is the cultural arbitrariness of table manners and the scene from The East suggests a potentially universal message of interconnectedness, both scenes are reminders of how central food is to our human sociability, and perhaps together could form a good starting point for courses on food and culture.

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Filed under anthropology, film, food politics, Food Studies

ASFS Student Paper Awards

Students! Got a brilliant paper on some topic related to food, culture, and society? The Association for the Study of Food and Society might have an award for you. Actually, they have two, one for undergrads, the other for graduate students. The deadline is February 1, 2014, which is rather soon.  Details on prizes (which include money and various other benefits for attending the ASFS conference, either this year or next), on what kinds of paper qualify, who may submit, and how to submit are here.

If you have a paper, you should consider entering.

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Anthropology of Food Position, Monmouth College

A job announcement in food anthropology!

Monmouth College, a selective, private, residential liberal arts college in Illinois is creating an interdisciplinary emphasis in Food Security, through coordinated hiring across three disciplines. It is conducting tenure-track searches at the Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor level. Individuals with a background in Anthropology, Biology, or Economics and a strong interest in issues related to the production, uses, and/or accessibility of food are invited to apply. An important element of the work of the Food Security faculty is an understanding of the special role that the American Heartland can play in the emerging global economy. The successful applicants will help create an innovative model for liberal arts education by fostering the integration of knowledge in service of the important issues facing our world. Monmouth’s curricular focus on integrated learning is reinforced by an innovative new academic building that was designed to foster interactions across disciplines. Candidates must show enthusiasm for interdisciplinary teaching and for participating in general education, including Monmouth’s Integrated Studies Curriculum. In addition, they will be committed to undergraduate teaching excellence, to teaching and research focused upon food security, scholarship, academic advising, and the College’s liberal arts mission.

The successful Anthropology candidate will possess expertise in the field of food studies (local and global food cultures, food and inequality, food networks). Potential courses to be taught include Introduction to Anthropology, Anthropology of Food/Food Cultures, an area Anthropology course, or other courses in the candidate’s area of expertise.

Review of applications will begin on January 10, 2014. Please send cover letter, curriculum vitae, brief statement of teaching philosophy, evidence of teaching excellence, research statement, and three letters of recommendation by e-mail to: Dr. David Timmerman, Dean of the Faculty, Monmouth College at facultysearch@monmouthcollege.edu. The candidate’s teaching and research statements should give particular attention to working on Food Security with the other members of the triad as well as other Monmouth College faculty members who will join the effort. Monmouth College, an Equal Opportunity Employer, is committed to diversity and encourages applications from women and minority candidates.

More details on the job can be found here.

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Collaboration and Innovation Across the Food System

Annual Joint Conference

Association for the Study of Food and Society and

the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

June 18-22, 2014, the University of Vermont

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS

Submission deadline: February 1, 2014

Decisions will be made by March 15, 2014

Overview

This year’s ASFS/AFHVS Annual meeting and Conference invites dialogue about the importance of collaboration and innovation across the food system. Such dialogue can occur at many levels: across disciplines, between locations, amongst community members.

Vermont is a perfect location to consider both the present realities and future possibilities of an integrated and sustainable food system. University of Vermont’s Food Systems Initiative is a new trans-disciplinary initiative which seeks to strengthen the viability of regional food systems for globally scaled issues through research, education, and outreach. UVM faculty affiliated with the Food Systems initiative represent a wide range of disciplines and are engaged in collaborative research, including such topics as gender, class and food work; the economic and health effects of sugar sweetened beverage taxes, dairy cattle health in food production systems and the ethics of the food system.

Food Systems collaborations extend beyond the University. For example, Vermont’s Farm to Plate initiative is designed to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector, create jobs in the food and farm economy and improve access to healthy local foods. What will such collaborations do to help shape our future food system? How do we understand the many innovations occurring every day, not just in Vermont but at universities, government entities, NGOs and on the ground all over the world?

Submissions are strongly encouraged in the following four formats:

  • Lightning talk* (five minutes maximum, similar to Pecha Kucha, Ignite, talk20, etc.)
  • Posters (eligible for awards, including a student category)
  • Pre-organized Scholarly Panels (papers submitted to discussants and panel members in advance)
  • Pre-Organized Pedagogy and Outreach sessions (roundtables, workshops, etc.)

Submissions are also accepted for 15 minute conventional paper presentations to be grouped with 2 to 3 other papers by members of the program committee. We strongly encourage practitioners, activists, government staff, and those with other practical knowledge of food and agricultural systems to participate, in addition to academics. We ask submitters formulating panels, roundtables and workshops to consider including participants whose orientation goes beyond the narrowly academic.

We especially encourage submissions that speak directly to the theme, but also welcome submissions on all aspects of food, nutrition, and agriculture, including those related to:

  • Art, Media, & Literary Analyses
  • Research Methods
  • Environment & Climate Change
  • Agroecology & Conservation
  • Ethics & Philosophy
  • Community Engagement
  • Gender, Race & Ethnicity
  • Globalization
  • Nutrition and Nutrition Policy
  • Social Justice
  • Farm to School; Farm to Institution
  • Pedagogy
  • Politics, Policies & Governance in National & Global Contexts
  • Social Action & Social Movements
  • Sustainability

Student Involvement

Students are especially encouraged to submit proposals. The professional societies include many members who have pioneered transdisciplinary work in food systems. It is our responsibility to encourage and foster this next generation of scholars, researchers and practitioners who will build on those foundations.

Abstract Submission

Please note: Due to strong increases in the number of abstract submissions for this conference in recent years, in 2014, only one submission per person as lead author or submitter will be accepted (in any format).

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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

New Prize: The Thomas Marchione Food-as-a-Human-Right Award

Post by John Brett, President, Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to announce an endowed award that honors the seminal work Dr. Thomas Marchione did on behalf of the poor and undernourished in his scholarly work and through his work as a Peace Corps volunteer, at The Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, The Great Lakes Project on the Economic Crisis and USAID.  Made possible through generous donations of family and friends, this annual award will be given to a student whose work continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food security and access, and most directly, food as a human right.  Students applying for this award should demonstrate active and productive engagement with food security and food sovereignty issues.  The award can be in recognition of exemplary work already accomplished, in progress, or for proposed research in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.  It should show concern for the poor and undernourished and a willingness to take an active role in working on behalf of food sovereignty.  Ideally, it would be given to those who are trying to work, in Dr. Marchione’s words, on “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  Given Dr. Marchione’s legacy, preference will be given to proposals from students actively engaged in the central issues that animated his career as a scholar-activist.

There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work.  The award will be presented to the awardee at the SAFN annual business meeting at the AAA annual meeting.  For more information and application materials, click here. The application deadline is October 4, 2013.

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Filed under Announcements, anthropology, awards, Call for Papers, food security, human rights, Thomas Marchione