Tag Archives: food studies

Kitchens, Detroit, North Korea, Farmers Market Policy & More!

GradJournalFoodStudiescover

 

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

We recently renovated our kitchen. As anyone who has done this knows, the process can be expensive and traumatic. You learn things about your house, your family, and yourself that you might not want to know. You spend more money than you expect, eat out more often than you should (or can stand), and drive your friends nuts. However, if you can step back and view the process more objectively, you might learn that the contemporary American “trophy kitchen” is a monument to social distinction, to the glories of consumption, to the ways of households, kinship, and social life. This ought to be obvious, I suppose, but I owe that insight not to my own hard won experience of kitchen renovation, but to an article by Emily Contois, “Not Just for Cooking Anymore: Exploring the Twenty-First-Century Trophy Kitchen,” which is in the new Graduate Journal of Food Studies (2014, volume 1:1-8). Contois examines the history of these kitchens, drawing on design books, popular culture (MTV Cribs!), and other sources, producing a nice overview of what these kitchens mean today. I think her analysis is on target and definitely worth a read. Maybe while sitting at the island in your new kitchen.

Not interested in conspicuous kitchen consumption? There is more! The Graduate Journal of Food Studies has articles on food justice and activism in Detroit, gender, patriarchy, and food propaganda in North Korea, and an analysis of best practices for farmers market incentive programs. The journal also features art work in between the articles and has a book review section.

So, this is a new food studies journal, which is no doubt a good thing. But this one is produced and edited by graduate students in Boston University’s Gastronomy Program. The journal is peer reviewed and published twice-a-year on-line, so you can access it immediately. The articles, reviews, and art are by students studying food (although not necessarily in food studies!) from a variety of universities, not just BU. In fact, the call for papers at the end of the journal encourages graduate students to submit their food-related essays to the journal. The deadline for the next issue is May 31, 2014. Submission guidelines are here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Announcements, anthropology, Food Studies

CFP: Less Palatable, Still Valuable

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA 2014 Washington DC, anthropology, Call for Papers, culture, Food Studies

Book Review: Cooking for Crowds

cooking for crowds cover 2

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

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, cooking, Food Studies, recipes

AAA 2014, Call for SAFN papers and panels!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA 2014 Washington DC, anthropology, Call for Papers, Food Studies

Global Food Security Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

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

A Binational Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice

eduador field image

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

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

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

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

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

ecuador fruit

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

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

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

Leave a comment

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

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)

Leave a comment

Filed under Call for Papers, CFP, Food Studies

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.

4 Comments

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, awards, Call for Papers, CFP, Food Studies

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, jobs