Tag Archives: Anthropology

Fundraiser Jambalaya

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

I recently asked my food and culture students to write short essays about foods that remind them of places. The objective was to get them to think about the relationship between the two, about how foods evoke particular places, but also about how place can determine how people experience food. This is one of several short informal essays the students write in the class, all of which are meant to get them to personalize particular issues raised by their readings. The students seem to enjoy writing these essays and I certainly enjoy reading them. Most of the students are from New Orleans or from nearby south Louisiana, and the foods they draw on definitely reflect the local cuisine. These little vignettes give me a chance to learn new things too and never fail to spark a lively class discussion.

Sometimes the foods evoke local stereotypes, but in unexpected ways. One student wrote that in her family “we would always boil seafood more than we would barbecue because who wants barbecue when you can have crawfish,” providing some potential insight into why south Louisiana is less invested in smoked meats than other parts of the South. That particular insight was a preface to a story about the experience of buying crawfish at a neighborhood shop on those occasions when the family did not want to boil their own. Another student wrote lovingly of the ambiance at the local grocery store, which is linked to the sublime shrimp po’boys she buys there. Students linked their food experiences with festivals, of which there are many in the area, all of which feature food, even when food is not the theme of the festival. One student IMG_4520evoked his annual pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in pursuit of crawfish bread, an experience so transcendent that “eating this Louisiana delicacy, is like seeing God in my food.” If the food in south Louisiana is divinely inspired, perdition may lie outside the region. One student recalled her visit to Grapevine, Texas, through the deeply disappointing New Orleans-style food she ordered at a restaurant, an experience that resulted in tears and anger. Lesson learned: the foods of south Louisiana are best when produced and consumed in the region.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, kin relations are often linked to food and place. “Mawmaw’s shrimp stew,” only available at one grandmother’s house, for instance, recalled fondly by one student. Another asserted that there is a special terroir for the only cornbread she tolerates, which is made by her grandmother in North Carolina, during family Christmas visits. Efforts to reproduce the recipe out of season in New Orleans have been dismal failures. Consuming sacks of oysters, both raw and cooked, accompanied by beer and duck gumbo, is linked to an uncle’s driveway. Another student wrote about eating seafood of all sorts at a hunting and fishing club in New Orleans east, where her uncle lived with his family and worked as the club’s keeper. The club, it turns out, is nearly 200 years old, linking my student’s family to very interesting parts of American history.

One of the most evocative ethnographic vignettes to come out of this exercise this year was written by a student from a jambalaya potsmall town in Livingston Parish, not far from Baton Rouge. Summer time, she wrote, was jambalaya season. And not just any jambalaya. This summer dish was “fundraiser jambalaya,” “prepared on the side of the road, under a white pop up tent, in huge pots heated by propane burners, and always accompanied by Hawaiian Rolls and the chatter of eager volunteers.” She notes the faint whiff of roadside emissions or propane in the food, the mix of overcooked rice, the heaps of jambalaya that was somehow always mushy in the middle, maybe an effect of the Styrofoam clam shells in which it is often served. Eating the jambalaya was part of doing good, the tickets sold by kids, to support the local baseball team or some other cause. And eating it was a social occasion, an opportunity to stand around and chat with the neighbors.

At their best, these essays are not generally about praising the wonderful foods of south Louisiana. Instead, they evoke the atmosphere of place and the social relations the students think about when they describe certain foods. “Fundraiser jambalaya” is unlikely to turn up in any of the guide books or cookbooks published every year for people who want to learn to cook the foods of Louisiana. But its existence tells us a lot about the way of life of people who live in the region. I suspect there are other dishes performing similar roles all over the place. Ask your students.

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Filed under anthropology of food, louisiana, New Orleans, pedagogy

Cannabis Culture in Denver

From the editor: Attending the AAA meetings in Denver? The announcement below is for an event that looks into legalized marijuana in Colorado. This will no doubt touch on many aspects of the new legal and business context for marijuana, including the culinary and nutritional…and so may be of interest to SAFN members attending the conference.

The Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group, the Association for Legal and Political Anthropology and Culture and Agriculture have organized a free tour of the cannabis industry and a public anthropology forum to enable anthropologists to learn firsthand about the possibilities and risks accompanying legalized marijuana. Cannabis Cultures is a formal event of the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. The organizers have created and sponsored this free event to bring together anthropologists and colleagues from across different subfields to engage with issues of timely concern for our host city.


When: Wednesday, November 18, 4:30-10 p.m.

Where: AAA meeting, Denver, CO

This is a free event open to participants in the conference. Given limited space and transportation, we ask that you please register in advance at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/cannabis-cultures-tour-discussion-reception-in-denver-registration-18811244940?utm_term=eventurl_text

Space is limited to the first 150 registrants.

Tour buses will depart from the Colorado Convention Center at 4:30 pm. Buses will leave promptly on schedule, so please arrive at least fifteen (15) minutes before departure. Buses will transport guests to tour a grow house and dispensary. After the tour, participants will be transported to the History Colorado Center for a discussion, forum, and networking event. At 7:15 pm, local experts will present a moderated forum about the environmental, economic, political, legal, social, and health dimensions of recent cannabis legalization, and AAA members will have the opportunity to learn from their experiences and ask questions. Food and a cash bar will be provided. After the presentations, guests are welcome to network and visit demonstrations until 10.00 pm when buses will return guests to the convention center.

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Filed under AAA 2015 Denver, anthropology

Food in Culture and Social Justice at Oregon State University

Today, we will hear from Joan Gross, Professor of Anthropology discussing Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program. This post is part of SAFN’s Food Anthropology Program series, which features an undergraduate or graduate food anthropology program in each post. If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate a food anthropology program for the series, please email the series coordinator, M. Ruth Dike.

Ruth Dike: How did the Food in Culture and Social Justice program begin?

Joan Gross: After Oregon was discovered to be the hungriest state in the nation according to the USDA food security survey in 2000, Nancy Rosenberger and I were asked by a local task force to research food insecurity in rural Benton County. We conducted 66 interviews with low-income residents in two rural communities in the Willamette Valley that were known to be low on emergency food services. This effort brought us into contact with other community organizations and brought food into both of our research agendas. Several students in the Applied Anthropology program were already focusing on food and agriculture-related topics and when we did an inventory of Food Studies type classes around the university in 2011, we saw that with the addition of a few core courses, we had a program. The curricular proposal process was long and sometimes contested, but in the spring of 2012 we were approved to offer a graduate minor and an undergraduate certificate in Food in Culture and Social Justice.

Garden from one students’ Food Project.

Garden from one students’ Food Project.

MRD: What is the focus of your program? What are its strengths?

JG: The fact that Oregon has become such a food mecca, but still experiences high rates of food insecurity offers myriad anthropological research questions and leads to a focus on social justice. What better place to explore these issues than at the state’s land grant institution? Ours is an interdisciplinary program with coursework in and outside of Liberal Arts.  Credits for the undergraduate certificate can also be counted toward majors, minors, and selected general education requirements. Credits for the graduate minor (15 for MA, 18 for PhD) are selected by students in consultation with their committee, which allows for great flexibility in support of particular thesis/dissertation topics.  Through the “out of the classroom” Food Projects that all students are required to complete, our students have worked with campus and community partners doing things like leading cooking classes and gardening workshops, conducting program assessments, event planning, and creating resources like maps and guides. We also run an Intercultural Learning Community on Food in Culture and Social Justice in Oregon and Ecuador every other year, which incorporates students, community members and professors from both countries. You can find out more about this program here. Applications will be accepted until Nov. 13th.

Intercultural Learning Community helping with Pachamanca.

Intercultural Learning Community helping with Pachamanca.

MRD: What roles does anthropology play in your program?

JG: The program was conceived within anthropology and anthropologists teach more program courses than any other discipline. Joan Gross and Nancy Rosenberger teach Anthropology of Food; Melissa Cheyney and Kenny Maes teach Nutritional Anthropology; David McMurray teaches Agrifood Movements; Lisa Price teaches Food Justice and Research Methods in Food Studies; Sarah Cunningham teaches Food in American Culture. Garry Stephenson runs the Small Farms program in Agricultural Extension. Other anthropologists incorporate food-related issues into their classes.

MRD: Tell us about the students currently enrolled in your program.

JG: Presently there are 10 undergraduate and a dozen graduate students in the program.  The majority of the students are in anthropology, but we also have students in public health, nutrition, food science, forestry, natural resources, fisheries and wildlife, horticulture and agriculture. Find out more about our students here.

Preparing chestnuts for a Native Foods course that Dr. Joan Gross recently taught.

Preparing chestnuts for a Native Foods course that Dr. Joan Gross recently taught.

MRD: Where is your program located and what ties do you have to the local community?

JG: We are located in the heart of the Willamette Valley between the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, an hour’s drive to the Pacific Ocean. The Willamette Valley, with its rainy winters, gorgeous dry summers and rich soil, was the coveted destination at the end of the Oregon Trail. We have a superb farmers’ market, lots of artisanal food and drink producers, small and medium sized biodiverse, organic farms. Our students have worked in all of these places and more and our faculty serves on boards of several community organizations.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

Food, Culture, and Social Justice in Oregon and Ecuador

osu pic 1

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

2016 Intercultural Learning Community with Oregon State University

The goal of this learning community is to gather a multicultural group of people (undergraduate and graduate students, professors/instructors and community members) who are passionate about food and social justice and who are interested in joining with others to learn more about cultural aspects of food, food systems and alternative food movements in Oregon and Ecuador. Through cross-cultural dialogue, collaboration, and experiential learning, participants will further develop their knowledge, social networks and their capacity for engaging food systems issues as global citizens, rooted in local realities. In addition, past participants all reported an increase in their communicative competence in Spanish or English.

The group will be composed based on the following criteria

  • ability to enlighten the group about some aspect of the food system
  • gender equality
  • cultural diversity
  • age diversity
  • generosity of spirit

Program Cost:

US-based participants – $2110

Ecuador-based participants – $1710

This does NOT include tuition, transfer fees, airline ticket, miscellaneous meals/entertainment, passport or visa fees for Ecuadorians. Some scholarships are available.osu pic 2


Before beginning the program, participants must take the 4 credit Oregon State University online course “International Perspectives on Food Systems” (FCSJ 454/554). The cost of this course is $1120 for undergraduate credit or $2084 for graduate credit. Community members (including professors) who are not interested in transcript-visible university credits will be able to take a version of the course. OSU students will sign up for 6 credits of FCSJ 422/522 in Fall term 2016 to cover the 180 hours of field study and reflection exercises.

Credits, Certificates, Professional Development:

Every participant who successfully completes the program will receive a Professional Certificate in Food, Culture and Social Justice offered by the School of Language, Culture and Society of Oregon State University. Students who are enrolled in Oregon State University can count the credits towards either an undergraduate certificate or a graduate minor in Food in Culture and Social Justice. We will gladly work with other universities to establish equivalencies.

Professors, instructors and other community members will be supplied with a letter delineating the professional development aspects of the program that they can submit to their directors. We will encourage directors to compensate participants with a course down, airline tickets and other program costs.

Important Dates:

  • November 132015 – Deadline for applications
  • December 15, 2015 – selected learning community participants are notified
  • January 8, 2016 First installment of $100 is due for participants
  • March 15, 2016 – Scholarships will be announced
  • April 15, 2016 – The remainder of the bill is due
  • July 18, 2016 mandatory meeting for Ecuador group (must have passport, visa, travel insurance and airline ticket by this time. It’s possible to meet by skype)
  • October 28, 2016 mandatory meeting for Oregon group (must have passport, travel insurance and airline ticket by this time. It’s possible to meet by skype)

The tentative dates for the program are August 30 to September 13, 2016 for the field stay in Oregon and December 9 to December 23, 2016 for the Ecuador field stay. You are expected to be available for the entire field stays in both Oregon and Ecuador and to participate in certain exercises online following the two field stays.

The application and cost breakdown are available at http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/feature-story/2016-intercultural-learning-community-0

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Filed under anthropology, Ecuador, Food Studies, Oregon, Oregon State University

Eating in the Side Room: Food, Archaeology, and African American Identity

Eating in the Side Room Cover

Review of: Warner, Mark S. 2015. Eating in the Side Room: Food, Archaeology, and African American Identity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Ashanté Reese
Spelman College

Mark S. Warner’s Eating in the Side Room reconstructs the foodways of two African-American families—the Maynards and Burgesses—who occupied the same house in Annapolis, Maryland from the 1850s until 1990.  Using archaeological data, archival research, and previously conducted oral history interviews, Warner crafts a narrative of food as a central site of resistance for African Americans. He illustrates this within several contexts: shifts in consumer culture, anti-black sentiments in the Chesapeake region and broader United States, the politics of freedom for African Americans (particularly those who were free during the early nineteenth century), and the racialization of food consumption.

The book is organized into eight chapters. Chapter one briefly lays out the central focus of the book, which is to: “explore how these families’ daily food choices within a newly emergent mass consumer society served as a relatively safe way to express a unique outlook and history, as well as offer a subtle, yet persistent, commentary of the racist stereotypes and violence that surrounded them (2015:2). Warner centers African American agency as salient to understanding communal and individual identities. Chapter two contextualizes the Maynard and Burgess families, detailing their economic lives within the context of Maryland’s growing and diverse African-American community. Chapter three explains the methods used to excavate the Maynard-Burgess house, detailing some of the politics of excavations in Annapolis, a city with a strong investment in colonial history. Chapter four presents the food assemblages discovered and offers analysis on how the Maynard and Burgess families acquired the pork, fowl, and fish that comprised the majority of the assemblages. Chapters five and six zoom out to contextualize the food choices made by the Maynards and Burgesses, demonstrating how their choices connected to broader trends in African-American consumerism and how they were contrary to choices made by whites. The final two chapters return to the Maynards and Burgesses, examining the legacies of food consumption and what those legacies reveal about sociocultural dynamics.

Warner argues that the Maynard and Burgess’ (and other African Americans’) consumption of pork was not due to economic constraints but was instead a form of resistance to shifts in mass consumer culture in which beef was becoming the meat of choice for whites: “while some might argue that a preference for pork is attributable to economic factors, a detailed examination of the archaeological, oral, and documentary record indicates that this was patently not the case. African American’s consumption of pork within this region was a profound expression of an identity as separate from white society. One need only survey forms of African American self-expression as distinct as quilts, blues lyrics, orally transmitted recipes, and folk poems to see the prominence of pork in the collective black consciousness” (2015:3).

This argument, a critical one, is one of the most ambitious and fascinating arguments made in the book. The archaeological and consumer data support the claim that African Americans consumed pork in greater quantities than beef and in greater quantities compared to whites.  Warner also presents an array of examples ranging from quilts to music lyrics to illustrate pork’s central role in African-American expressions. However, I was left wondering if, in fact, the resistance to beef could have been multifaceted? As he carefully shows in Chapter two, the Maynard and Burgess families were not wealthy, but they were economically stable (2015:7). While their reasons for eating pork may not have been economic, is it possible that—given the diversity in economic means among African Americans—it could have been an economic choice for others? This illustrates one of the challenges of writing about African-American foodways and one of the reasons why this book is timely and important. African-American foodways are woefully understudied and are often uncritically examined. In that way, Warner challenges the essentialization of African-American foodways by providing an alternative view of how and why pork was important in African-American foodways. At the same time, the argument rests on a binary: important because of economic constraints or not. Because no assemblages as detailed as that from the Maynard-Burgess house existed, Warner notes it was difficult to compare his findings with other sites (2015:74).  Even with the compelling evidence Warner presents—both archaeological and otherwise—I wonder about the economics of pork consumption for those who were not as economically stable as the Maynards and Burgesses. Is there room for multifaceted forms and interpretations of resistance?

Eating in the Side Room raises critical, important questions concerning African-American food consumption.  The writing style, range of data, and carefully crafted narratives that contextualize the Maynard and Burgess families make it suitable for a variety of courses on food and culture, African American histories and daily life, or courses that focus on the Chesapeake region or the south more broadly. For courses on African-American foodways in particular, an instructor should consider pairing Eating in the Side Room with the newly released Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama (2015, University of Arkansas Press), which is a collection of fifteen essays that examine forms of resistance in African-American foodways.

It also has contemporary relevance. As food studies scholars and practitioners continue to grapple with how food consumption reflects economic, social, and health disparities between African Americans and whites, Eating in the Side Room asks readers to step back to think about the roots of such inequalities and consider the ways African-American families have exhibited agency even when alleviation of inequalities seemed nearly impossible. More than just an examination of food remains, Eating in the Side Room places the Maynard and Burgesses’s food consumption in ideological, historical, and contemporary perspective to illuminate power dynamics and resistance.

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Filed under African American Foodways, anthropology, anthropology of food, archaeology, book reviews, foodways, history

Street, Neighborhood, City in the New New Orleans

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Brocato sign

Old and new, Brocato’s and El Rinconcito.

When Angelo Brocato’s gelato and pastry shop reopened in September, 2006, it seemed like a beacon of hope in a neighborhood that was still very much on the mend. I don’t think there were very many other businesses open yet on that stretch of N. Carrolton Avenue. I do remember the large crowds that gathered to get some gelato or cannoli, the band that played as we waited on line, and the sense of happiness at having Brocato’s century old shop back in business. Located in a diverse Mid-City neighborhood, Brocato’s is the kind of place frequented by people who live here and its rebirth suggested that maybe the city would return to some semblance of what it had been.

Within a few years of the 2005 floods, however, the debate began to shift away from recovery to the future. The city’s demographics were changing. Many people could not return to the city, public housing was being destroyed, and the cost of living in New Orleans started to rise. Many Latino workers, having arrived to help rebuild, decided to stay and make lives for themselves here. Young college educated people—often white—were moving to New Orleans and moving into neighborhoods that had previously been mostly black. Now the concern was whether or not the neighborhoods of New Orleans, the site of vibrant cultural life, would survive these changes. New Orleans leading thinkers have developed a cottage industry explaining this situation, either decrying the threats to local culture, celebrating the “resilience” of any surviving parts of it, or arguing that everyone has misunderstood the central issues.

Starting in the summer of 2010, I gathered a group of UNO students to study the restaurants clustered around the intersection of N. Carrolton Avenue and Canal Street, in New Orleans. This area is a kind of microcosm of the transformations that have marked the city since 2005. For a long time, most of the restaurants were local businesses, with very few national chains, although that has changed significantly in the past 2 years. Some of restaurants rebuilt after the floods, while others were replaced by new businesses. There are even a few upscale restaurants in the neighborhood. The changes seem to reflect deeper trends in New Orleans business and consumption patterns.

A number of commercial districts in the city have had remarkable rebirths since 2005. Historian Rien Fertel has written about rediscovering Broad Street, making an interesting case for why that road represents some of the city’s demographic and culinary trends. Freret Street, a commercial strip in uptown New Orleans, has an interesting pre-Katrina history and, in the years since, has become a kind of hipster mecca, but one that some think represents a good side of gentrification. Oak Street, home of the Po’Boy Festival, has also been the site of significant redevelopment in recent years. St. Claude Avenue, at the center of historically black communities, has become a center for controversy about gentrification and redevelopment, but is also home to a lively new array of eating and drinking opportunities. Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, in Central City, has become the site of a distinct combination of restaurants and cultural institutions, including the new home of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Williams Boulevard, in the relatively distant suburb of Kenner might be the best index of the city’s future, with an array of restaurants representing the diversity of the populations in New Orleans today.

empty block

Scars of disaster, 2010, the site is now home to a shiny set of national chains.

My students tried to trace out the commercial history of the Carrollton/Canal area, interviewing owners, workers, and customers. In 2010, the scars of the 2005 floods were still visible, with at least one former strip mall still standing in ruins. The BP oil spill was an ongoing problem and the local seafood purveyors expressed deep concerns for their future. What was particularly striking, however, was the dominance of local businesses. We found interesting stories—how Doson Noodle House, a Vietnamese restaurant, evolved from Oak Street’s wonderfully named Chinese’s Chinese, for instance, or the sad story of Chef Michel Foucqueteau, whose last New Orleans restaurant, Chateaubriand, did not survive the floods. We heard about the changes in the kinds of businesses in the area, as beauty salons, hardware stores, car dealers, and pool halls, gave way to more and more restaurants.


Doson Noodle House

I have been especially happy to see my students enthusiastically embrace this research. I regularly teach a course in applied anthropology that has a methodological focus. By picking one area, I can treat the class as an applied research team, giving them an opportunity to produce a series of reports that can resemble a real applied project. The students tend to take this project personally, because they live or work in or near the area, have family history there, or frequent the restaurants themselves. The project allows students to learn about a wide range of methods, starting from developing a sense of how to observe the organization of the street, to conducting interviews, oral history techniques, archival research, and more. They also learn about teamwork and about how to put together both written reports and visually interesting presentations.

This is an ongoing project. We will start updating the blog again this spring, when a fresh group of students will return to document changes in the area. There are some important questions we need to answer. The empty lots that marked the area in 2010 have been replaced by a shiny cluster of national chain restaurants. What impact will these new places have on the local businesses? The Lafitte Greenway, merely a dream for activists and planners in 2010, is now open, providing a bike path directly from the neighborhood to the French Quarter. How will this new amenity impact the community? Will the enormous new medical complex—not far from our area of study—change the neighborhood and the businesses in it?

There are also some deeper issues that our research can explore. Why have food (and drink) businesses become so central to reviving (or gentrifying) urban neighborhoods? What does the particular mix of restaurants and people in the Carrollton/Canal area tell us about the future of New Orleans distinctive culinary culture?

The neighborhood itself never stops changing. We have seen a few restaurants come and go, including an outpost of the local pizza chain Italian Pie (replaced by Milkfish, a Filipino restaurant), as well as Juicy Lucy’s, a stuffed hamburger joint that had itself replaced Fiesta Latina, a Central American restaurant (still open in Kenner!). The former Kjean’s Seafood, maker of po’boys, boiler of crawfish, and seafood retailer will soon be replaced with Bevi Seafood, a slightly more chef-driven version of the traditional New Orleans seafood joint (that makes po’boys, boils crawfish, and retails seafood). The announcement that “legendary barman” Chris McMillian will be opening a new restaurant in the Carrollton/Canal area could be a sign that hipster dining is arriving in the neighborhood. According to nola.com, the menu will include “pretzel brioche sticks, bulgogi wraps and chicken chimichurri kebabs” and, in the same article, McMillian states that “Mid-City is ready for craft cocktails.” Maybe. Julia Yocom, longtime neighborhood resident and one of the original members of our research team in 2010, told me that the area is more of a “High Life and a shot” sort of place. Whichever it is, our students will be there to document it.

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Filed under anthropology, disaster, Food Studies, New Orleans, SAFN Member Research

Culture & Agriculture Tech Fellowship

A note from our colleagues at Culture & Agriculture about an intriguing opportunity:

The Culture & Agriculture Section of the American Anthropological Association aims to expand its on-line and social media presence. We wish to highlight the research and policy engagements of our members as well as to promote our peer-reviewed section journal, Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE), within and beyond anthropological audiences. To this end, C&A has created a position for a tech savvy, anthropology scholar/practitioner to manage our site and, in conjunction with the Board and the CAFE editors, initiate new forms of electronic outreach. We envisage this position as particularly appropriate for an Anthropology doctoral candidate or new PhD with interests in agrifood systems, the environment, and digital media, but encourage anthropologists at any stage with appropriate background, skills, and predilections to apply. The position carries an annual award of $1500.00, with a possibility for renewal. Application materials: Please send a current CV with names of at least two referees (both academic and work-related preferred), and a letter of interest outlining relevant skills and experience. The letter should include suggestions for digital projects or activities to heighten and extend the appeal of C&A and CAFE. Examples of previous work are also invited. Please send materials to Lisa Markowitz (lisa.markowitz@louisville.edu). Deadline for applications is September 15, 2015.

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Filed under AAA, culture and agriculture, Food Studies