Tag Archives: economics

Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students

SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market

Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food activism, food politics, students

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

cultivateia_fbook_cover2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting Students with Real Food and Real Farmers

By Kellen GilbertDavid Burley, Bonnie May, Timothy McCarthy, Sole Sanchez, Erica Dickerson, Danate Moses and Benny Milligan (Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana)

Part One

Last fall, the students in a graduate class in Applied Environmental Sociology at our university took on a food-based project that has outlasted the one semester class.   The instructor, David Burley, an environmental sociologist interested in sustainability issues, and his students saw this class as an excellent opportunity to put applied sociological (and anthropological) concepts and methods to work on a very local issue: the campus cafeteria food.

One of the graduate students in the class, Bonnie May, was the president of Reconnect, a campus organization for students interested in environmental and sustainability issues. Reconnect had been a part of the national program, The Real Food Challenge (RFC) since the previous semester. The RFC’s goal is to have local, sustainably and justly produced food in campus cafeterias instead of industrial agricultural products.  RFC is a student created and run organization that engages students on their own campuses to organize “real food campaigns” and other activities on campus to educate and implement change.

At the time, Reconnect was a small and dedicated group but limited in terms of time and energy its members could spend.  Finding time for extracurricular activities is an ongoing challenge for many of our students in part because so many commute to campus and work full time or, at the very least, part-time jobs.  So a student-led project to change the campus cafeteria food was perfect for our applied graduate class.

The graduate students prepared by reading articles about urban agriculture and food justice, ecological identity, and seminal works like Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan’s (2002) article on locating weaknesses in the global food system and yes, of course, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Then, the class employed information from the readings, consultation from RFC coordinators via Bonnie May, and advice from independent market consultant Darlene Wolnik, to develop a university community outreach plan. Students took on individual tasks such as designing attractive educational pamphlets and information cards. Others put together a presentation on local, sustainably produced food and spoke to over 30 undergraduate classes and student organizations.  The students also gathered over 1000 signatures on campus in support of the “real food” project with over 600 email addresses of students who wanted to stay informed and over 100 who said they would volunteer in some capacity.

But the biggest part of the class’s project was planning a farmers market to raise awareness and build support in coordination with National Food Day on Oct. 24th.  This would become not only the first ever farmers market on our campus but, at least according to our research, the first on any Louisiana college campus.

Southeastern Students at market

Students purchasing greens at the Southeastern Farmers Market.

To be continued…

Next:  The Farmers Market—farmers cooperatives versus corporate intruders.

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Solving the World Food Crisis

IRAS image
THE INSTITUTE ON RELIGION IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE
Fifty-ninth Annual Summer Conference
Silver Bay, New York
July 27 to August 3, 2013
 

Co-Chairs: Solomon H Katz and Pat Bennett

Food occupies a central place in human life. Not only are its nutrients necessary for our survival, but feasting, fasting, and sharing are integral to our history, cultural identity, and religious traditions. Yet, today, and for the foreseeable future, nearly half of the world’s people cannot enjoy the fullness of their potential due to problems with food affordability, safety, and access. Serious problems with food production and price increases currently leave about one billion people experiencing hunger, and many of them facing starvation. Another billion spend over half their entire income on food, but still have only marginally enough to eat. Yet, concurrently, at least another billion people in the world are experiencing problems from consuming too much food and/or from dietary imbalances and safety problems that result in serious chronic diseases and infections.

Among the questions to be addressed at this conference are the following:

  • What are the origins and evolution of human diet and the food system, and how does this knowledge provide new insights about our contemporary food problems?
  • What is the status of world food resources? How does it relate to macro and micro food problems locally and nationally in the United States and throughout the world?
  • How does food serve as a symbol and a substance of various religious traditions? Has the loss of social traditions surrounding food production, preparation and consumption contributed to the problems noted above?
  • How can the human food system be made more sustainable? How can healthy diets be safely and economically made available to all humanity? How can new scientific and medical knowledge optimally help with sustainability, safety, and access?
  • What are the tensions created by climate change; population growth; demographic change; global trade and commodity pricing; market and business forces; water management; energy resources; food to fuel; new GMO technologies; agricultural practices; land use and agricultural practices; increased meat, dairy, and egg production; food sovereignty at local, national, and international levels; increased socio-political interests; and the demands for human rights and just food policies?
  • What secular and religious ethics and values can help to balance and/or solve food problems at all levels of the food system? What human and institutional resources are now available or need to be developed to catalyze meaningful solutions to food problems?
  • What are the potentials of a combined science and religion approach to achieving sustainable solutions to world food problems?

One of the conference’s aims is to derive, develop, and disseminate a statement of principles for achieving sustainable solutions to some of these issues, based on such a combined approach;  and to issue an accompanying call to appropriate action at personal and communal levels.

An IRAS conference is a rather unique interdisciplinary experience, combining serious cutting-edge talks with many opportunities for in-depth discussions and workshops, as well as relaxed, informal conversation. Most speakers spend the entire week at the conference, giving plenty of opportunity to follow-up points over coffee and meals. Also, since conferees represent a wide spectrum of disciplines in the sciences and humanities, as well as coming from many different religious traditions, discussions are eclectic, stimulating and sometimes robust! And alongside the hard work of thinking and talking, and our traditional reflective sessions, there’s plenty of less serious stuff to enjoy too – music, art, laughter and jokes at Happy Hour, and all the rich and varied recreational facilities on offer to us guests at Silver Bay.

The deadline for poster proposals is April 19, 2013 and for workshop proposals is May 6, 2013. Visit the conference website for additional information, including a list of confirmed speakers that include several SAFN members.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, culture, economics, farming, food policy, food security, Food Studies, foodways, GMO food, markets, nutrition, obesity, sustainability

Diet for a Big Storm: Reflections on Food, Waste and Hurricane Sandy

Post Storm Trash, Manhattan. Photo by Diana Mincyte.

Diana Mincyte
Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow
Center for European and Mediterranean Studies
New York University

One of the most fascinating articles on food that has been circulating in post-Sandy New York was the New York Times piece that introduced the concept of the “Sandy 5”, referring to 5 lb that the inhabitants of the Eastern seaboard are said to have put on as they grappled with challenges and losses brought about by the storm. This was due to the larger than usual amounts of food acquired and consumed before and during the storm. Not an avid blogger myself, on the day of the storm, I obsessively followed food blogs, Twitter and Facebook where my food loving friends reported how they poured themselves into preparing elaborate meals, from boeuf wellington to home made pasta to Brasilian quindin. Even more interesting was to hear about the indulgence in alcoholic drinks, ranging from the obscure mid-nineteenth century cocktails to cheap wine, a phenomenon that was evidenced in the empty shelves at wine and liquor stores across post-Sandy Brooklyn. As the storm descended upon the city, our kitchen counter too became a non-stop food assembly line, churning out new dishes every hour or so. When the winds calmed down and left behind a devastated landscape, interrupted lives and severed power lines, many shared stories of rushing to the fast food chains to eat “fast” and “bad” foods in search of comfort. As the aforementioned New York Times article documents, the power-have-nots acted “like post-apocalyptic survivalists,” compensating for losses, stress, cold and darkness.

But these stories of indulgence, abundance and over-consumption also have a darker side. They reveal a complicated relationship that our modern societies have with food and waste management infrastructures. In this sense, what Sandy did is expose a particular organization of social and economic relations as well as render the material infrastructures that support these relations visible. It threw into sharp relief the unequal distribution of risks when repair and service teams were sent to the most affluent areas, while the people who manned these teams came from the places that were ravaged and destroyed by the storm. Many in the most devastated communities waited for weeks for the power to come back, and without power there was no water, no heat, no refrigerator, and in many cases, no stove. Stepping up full force, the Occupy movement with its anti-establishment critiques and mutual aid principles brought fresh blood and organizational skills into coordinating relief efforts and delivering food, water and other resources, propelling the questions of justice, morality and responsibility into the public discourse.

Sandy also showed that the early fears of mass food shortages were unfounded. In this sense, drinking water supply and food deliveries seem to have worked surprisingly well. With an exception of several larger supermarkets, most notably in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the low-lying areas of Manhattan, Staten Island, the Rockaways, Queens, and parts of New Jersey that were badly damaged and flooded, food markets opened without major delays and were well-stocked and capable of continuing service.

But while Sandy’s impact on food and water deliveries signaled the resilience of New York’s food delivery infrastructures, it is the removal of waste and recycling materials that stalled. Walking in post-Sandy New York meant not only maneuvering around fallen branches, displaced household objects and crushed cars, but also around the garbage and recycling bags filled to the brim with cans, bottles, milk cartons, food delivery containers and pizza boxes. The first picture I include here was taken from my office window in Manhattan exhibiting a line of black trash bags next to the clear recycling bags on the street curb. Classified as a potential hazard to public health, waste collection was considered a priority and garbage was picked up within two to four days after the schedule. It should also be noted that garbage pick-up trucks were out and collecting garbage even as the storm started in earnest in order to prevent it from flying away.

The second picture is of a street in a Brooklyn neighborhood capturing the

Recycling, post-Sandy. Photo by Diana Mincyte.

ubiquitous piles of recycling materials that accumulated after the storm. These recycling materials are here because the city workers and vehicles were diverted to work on other, more pressing tasks. After missing just one pick up of recycling, the piles of recycling materials often reached four or five feet in height in front of every residence and business.

It is these delays in collecting waste and recycling due to Sandy that made the wastefulness of the post-industrial consumer lifestyles acutely visible. While the city has one of the oldest and best organized recycling infrastructures in the country with the recycling rate between 16% and 18%, the issue that begs the question is just how much food packaging is necessary. As Susanne Freidberg, Julie Guthman, David Goodman, Melanie E. DuPuis, Zsuzsa Gille and Andrew Szasz, among others have shown, “freshness,” “hygiene” and “quality” have reshaped the ways in which food is produced, transported and distributed, leading to the increased reliance on elaborate and costly packaging technologies. And then there are the water bottles, soda cans, disposable cups, shopping bags and a wide range of produce such as grapes, tomatoes and zucchinis sold in styrofoam trays covered with plastic to make them into fresh-looking display items.

In addition to the packaging materials, a large proportion of food has been wasted. An earlier post on this blog by David Giles, tells us a story of recovering through dumpster diving. And even the city recognizes it as a problem. A study sponsored by New York City finds that almost 18% of all residential refuse is food and food scraps. Another recent study by Kevin D. Hall et al.  shows that one quarter of the total freshwater consumption goes for the production of food that ends up in the trash can.

As we reflect on the piles of waste and recycling materials that dotted New York City after the storm, it becomes clear that the abundance and diversity of food culture that makes this city into a thriving culinary center cannot be understood without the work that goes into maintaining its infrastructures and the large footprint that it leaves on the environment. In this sense, it is ironic that the storm that transformed several New York neighborhoods into a heap of trash was itself fed by the wasteful culture of post-industrial consumer society that defines this city. To put it differently, the sophisticated gourmand and consumer culture and a dizzying array of delicacies available in New York are also its worst enemy that makes it vulnerable to the changing climate.

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Filed under anthropology, disaster, Food Studies, Food waste, garbage, protest, sustainability

Strained Yogurt and People In Greece

by Leo Vournelis

The former district governor Macedonia escorted away after having yogurt thrown at him in during a public speech.

This past weekend another prominent politician became the victim of “yaourtoma”. This time it was the minister of the Department of Interior, Haris Kastandidis. The minister was at a movie theater in his district in Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city) and was watching a movie when a group of angry college students burst in on the theater and threw yogurt at the minister protesting the government’s austerity measures and handling of the economic crisis (click here for video footage). The minister attempted to confront the students without success and had to be escorted away by his security guards.

Even though there is no cultural tradition of “food fighting” in Greece, the act of throwing yogurt at people is not without precedent. Rebel youths in the early 60s in Athens were infamous for throwing yogurt at unsuspecting bystanders. The act became known as “yaourtoma”, and to “yogurt someone” meant to hit someone (usually in the face) with a small yogurt cup. It became such a wide spread phenomenon that harsh laws were passed in an attempt to stop it. The State voted the notorious “Law 4000” that penalized the act with public humiliation. The perpetrators, referred to at the time as Teddy Boys,

Youth being made to march under police escort in the streets of Athens carrying a sign that identifies him as a “Teddy Boy” guilty of throwing yogurt at people (circa 1960).

had their heads shaved and were paraded in public holding signs proclaiming their “crime” for all to see. The act of “yaourtoma” was featured in the Greek cinema of the time, with most movies portraying those engaging in such behavior as alienated youth in need of a more traditional moral code.

During the past few decades “yaourtoma” had become a rare phenomenon. When committed it was usually against a public figure, and media, politicians, and public opinion most of the time condemned it as an inappropriate act committed by fringe elements.  The last 2 years, however, throwing yogurt at representatives of the government has taken on epidemic proportions. The vast majority of the cases involve politicians, mostly from the ruling party. A traditional variety of Greek yogurt, made from sheep’s milk, is the most common food item used in public acts of indignation and resistance, although occasionally eggs and tomatoes have been used in a similar manner. Unlike the rebel youth in the 60s, modern yogurt throwing is popular with Greek men and women of all ages.  It is not uncommon to see students marching with bags of yogurt cups ready to be thrown at a politician or at a police officer. Quite often retirees indignant at the government’s austerity measures that have had a significant negative impact on their pensions use yogurt against politicians and members of the Greek security forces. At the height of the Greek economic crisis “yaourtoma” went mainstream. It has become so common an act of public indignation that this past week, Socratis Ksynidis,  the vice minister of the Department of Development and Competition, in an interview in one of the most popular radio stations argued that “yaourtoma” is an appropriate “punishment” for the government’s (failed) policies. In addition, the archbishop of the city of Giannena –one of the largest cities in Greece- gave his blessing to those who engage in “yaourtoma” arguing that it is a just course of action. There is even a Facebook page called De-criminalize Yiaourtoma and a word search on Greek online Press reveals a great number of “yaourtoma” incidents this past year, almost all involving either politicians or members of the Greek security apparatus (police officer, special strike forces etc.).

To understand why yogurt is the favorite item to be used as a projectile we need to look at the association it has with Greek ethnic identity. The sheep’s milk yogurt in question belongs to a category of objects (feta cheese, olive oil, etc.) that are strongly associated with rurality and by extension with Greekness. Rurality has long been a target of objectification and fetishization in the service of national identity projects. Moreover, certain food items through everyday practices lend themselves to closer associations with ethnicity. We saw that in the incident in the Greek Parliament last week discussed in my previous post, the Chairman in his comment associated milk and bread with rurality but the MP’s actions linked those very same items with gender and class identity.

The polluting power of food running down someone’s head and clothes identifies “yaourtoma” as a symbolic act of indignation that aims to ridicule and punish those whom the public considers guilty of government cronyism, incompetency, and the continuing mismanagement of the Greek economy. Paying attention to what the demonstrators themselves have to say about the economic crisis brings us closer to understanding why yogurt is the preferred food to be used as projectile. During the past year the crisis deepened and it became increasingly obvious that the austerity program was not working.  The government responded with more and stricter austerity measures, under the direction of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its European equivalent, the EFSF, and the European Commission, the three agencies in charge of the Greek bailout program headed by the IMF. Since the beginning of the crisis these agencies have pressured the government towards a restructuring of the Greek economy based on classic neo-liberal economic principles: reduction of the welfare state, privatization of public services, market deregulation, and lowering wage labor cost. This has been presented to the public as strategy to make the Greek economy more competitive by increasing its exports and revenue and eventually reducing its deficit to manageable levels. In fact these policies, along with the over-taxation of the working class, have led to a deeper recession and reduced standards of living for millions of people. Although, the three agencies in charge of the bailout program have come to be called the Troika, most people refer to the functionaries of these agencies as Troikanoi, an adjective that indicates a person of foreign ethnic or national origins.

During the past year, more and more people who had never before protested in public are finding themselves in the streets demonstrating against the austerity measures based on IMF policies. They are also protesting against a neo-liberal vision of society that they judge to be foreign and incompatible with the local moral economy. Many do not share the IMF’s vision of a country with flexible labor laws, low wages, and high unemployment always ready to provide a work force at a very low cost. The fact that yogurt is strongly associated with ethnic identity has its significance since the victims of “yaourtoma” are the representatives and implementers of policies and ideologies considered to be hostile and foreign. Furthermore, the physicality of the contact between yogurt and the bodies of those doing the throwing and those getting targeted is one way to engender resistance to the foreign and hostile nature of the IMF’s vision for Greece, by literally covering the representatives of these policies in the viscous Greekness of sheep’s milk yogurt. In the video footage showing the students throwing yogurt at the minister of the Department of Interior Affairs the students’ angry comments are clearly audible: “You have ruined our lives! You have condemned us to unemployment! Aren’t you ashamed? You need to leave Greece! All of you need to leave Greece”. A type of yogurt with strong associations to ethnic identity, Greek rural life, and social values embodies the radical clash between the protesters’ vision of a growing economy regulated by a competent and just welfare State and the IMF’s vision of Greece, which as the adjacent political cartoon published this week indicates, is for many Greeks alien and monstrous.

“Do not open the door. The milkman migrated to Australia yesterday”. The alien monster at the other side of the door bears the name “Troika” on its head and the word “Government” on its tail with the head of the Greek Prime minister at the tip of the tail.

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Filed under anthropology, culture, Debt crisis, economics, food policy, food security, Greece, protest