Tag Archives: food

Good Foods and Foods Good for Health: Hunger and Obesity in Samoa

Kitchen counter with (from left to right) large pot with rice, sugar, teapot, and a bowl with boiled bananas with coconut cream (fa'i fa'alifu). Photo by Jessica Hardin.

Kitchen counter with (from left to right) large pot with rice, sugar, teapot, and a bowl with boiled bananas with coconut cream (fa’i fa’alifu). Photo by Jessica Hardin.

Jessica Hardin
Brandeis University

After a cup of sugary tea, John, a Samoan physician, explained to me that the major cause of metabolic disorders in Samoa is the lack of “access to a lifestyle where you can pick your own food.” He immediately offered himself as an example; “My own battle is with food, because we are family oriented and I find that I am healthiest when I am overseas working.” In other words, John found himself “pining for healthy foods” because when eating with his family he had to eat what was available. John felt he was “healthier” when he was traveling because he could choose his own foods, which were “foods good for” health. Others I interviewed would often bring up craving “good foods,” that is fatty, salty, and sugary foods. One diabetes patient, Iona, explained his difficulty with changing his diet: “I can see the piece of pork lying there, and the fried chicken leg. Well, I crave it. It is tempting you, even when I am given food cooked with vegetables. That’s good because it helps with my diabetes. It is best for me.” These vegetable options were good for health but were not the good foods (meaai lelei) Iona craved. Both John and Iona felt unsatisfied and hungry even though they had access to food; they also both struggled with their weight and controlling their diabetes.

***

Obesity research in Samoa tends to obscure the experiences of people like John and Iona, that is the experience of hunger and craving in a environment known for imported food dependence and obesity – Samoa. Anthropologists are increasingly calling for bringing obesity and hunger research together as “contingent circumstance[s] of inequality” (Pike 2014). Obesity research in Samoa has documented why obesity and related metabolic disorders have increased so rapidly. This research tends to focus on the culture of eating, feasting, and access to imported foods. However, the other side of food dependence is a story of craving, hunger, and desire, which needs equal attention. The lack of attention to the experience of hunger in obesity research reflects the drive in obesity research ‘to do something’ about obesity. The “war on fat” is waged domestically and globally and the rhetoric of epidemics reinforces the idea that all fat is unhealthy, that excess weight is a disease, and stigmatizing weight and eating is an acceptable, and even desirable, way to address said epidemic. As a result, the medicalization and moralization of fat can obscure the co-presence of the abundance of imported, fatty-salty foods and (the experience or fear of) hunger.

In other words, while Samoa is dependent on imported, highly processed foods, and these foods have become incorporated into food sharing and food values, not everyone across Samoa has equal access to those foods. Fear of hunger and desire for satiety encourages many Samoans to eat good foods, when they are available, even when these same foods are not considered good for health.

***

Family meals: Chicken with cucumber and white rice. Photo by Jessica Hardin.

Family meals: Chicken with cucumber and white rice. Photo by Jessica Hardin.

Many of the diabetes patients I interviewed understood they needed to eat differently than the rest of their family, but by eating differently they felt different––hungry or left wanting––even if they had plenty of food to eat. Manu, in his sixties who visits the diabetes clinic every month (indicating that he is not in control of his diabetes) said: “everything I like is not allowed. But if you want to live you have to exercise and eat, well not eat, because your life is in trouble. Sometimes it’s hard so I just eat.” When I asked Manu to speak more about why he “just eats” it became apparent that Manu struggled because he felt there was no food for him to eat, “I eat what [my family] gives me.” Another diabetes patient iterated this: “whatever foods I get that’s it, if they give me pork I eat it all.” For Manu, not only were the things he liked off limits but also in his household there were no alternatives. For alternatives foods to be available, he would have had to request different foods or preparations styles, which may have required the family to spend resources differently. Manu did not cook and did not earn cash and so despite being an elder in his family, who presumably could make demands to change household consumption, he refrained. Just as Iona desired chicken legs, many of my interlocutors experienced deprivation when changing their eating habits. “It’s the kind of thing where you love eating salty food so it’s difficult to change,” explained a nurse in a district hospital. She laughingly said, “this hunger, this appetite continues,” even after eating.

 Lea, a woman in her late forties, lived alone with her son. Instead of insisting that her son work the plantation, which would be a reasonable

Family meals: Instant noodles (saimini) with tinned corned beef (pisupo). Photo by Jessica Hardin.

Family meals: Instant noodles (saimini) with tinned corned beef (pisupo). Photo by Jessica Hardin.

response given that would be the family’s only access to cash (from the sale of crops) and starchy foods, Lea insisted her son stay in school. This meant Lea tended to the plantation. She said sometimes “there is nothing, I don’t know where to find food, maybe in the ocean sometimes. Sometimes I only boil a bunch of bananas for the whole day and night.” Only bananas is an idiom of hunger because it suggests that meals are incomplete. Starches alone without good food does not constitute what Samoans would consider a “meal.” The incompleteness leaves the person feeling hungry, despite access to some food. Another woman, I interviewed noted that sometimes her household has “only taro” to eat. She said, “it’s better to eat even when it’s bad food.”

***

This desire, or hunger for complete meals or good food, may encourage some to eat good foods when they are available, even if they are “bad” for health. These decisions reflect social and economic constraints, but satiety, desire, craving, and hunger for good foods also influences food choices. Epidemiological research has richly documented this “natural experiment” but in documenting these factors and features of global change, the experience of those suffering from cash-poverty and disease are often omitted. Inequalities generate hunger and craving, even when there is food available.

Jessica Hardin is a PhD Candidate at Brandeis University and incoming Assistant Professor at Pacific University. She is the co-editor of the volume Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures, the Measure of Meanings . This post is based on a chapter, which will appear in the volume, The History of the Ethnography of Hunger: Research, Policy, and Practice, edited by Ellen Messer.

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Filed under anthropology, diabetes, food and health, hunger, obesity, Samoa

Collaboration and Innovation Across the Food System

Annual Joint Conference

Association for the Study of Food and Society and

the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society

June 18-22, 2014, the University of Vermont

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS

Submission deadline: February 1, 2014

Decisions will be made by March 15, 2014

Overview

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

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

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

Submissions are strongly encouraged in the following four formats:

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

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

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

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

Student Involvement

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

Abstract Submission

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

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Will Work For Food?

Making Cheese Eataly

Food and Work

Call for Papers

 Special issue of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas

Susan Levine (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Steve Striffler (University of New Orleans), co-editors

Food studies has become an important field for research as well as for activist-oriented students and faculty.  A spate of new literature looks at foodways and identity, agricultural policy and the industrialization of the food system, commodity chains and globalization.  What is missing from this new work is a historical look at food and agriculture as sites of work.   The classic labor histories of meat-packing, restaurant work, or food boycotts, for example, have yet to be up-dated in response to this new research.

We will be editing a special volume of Labor focusing on the history of food work broadly defined.  Possible topics include:

  • Cooking as domestic labor (slaves, servants, maids)
  • Agricultural labor in the context of globalization
  • The impact of fair trade on local agricultural labor
  • Food workers as political actors – eg, the anti-GMO movement in Mexico; the role of food workers in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Restaurant/food-service worker organizing
  • Working class diets – nutrition, malnutrition, and obesity as class issues
  • The work and industrialization in food service corporations
  • Agricultural policy (eg, the Green Revolution) as labor policy
  • Military rations – keeping soldiers healthy
  • Food politics – boycotts, food-strikes
  • Home Economics – gender and professional work/the de-skilling of cooks

Prospective authors should send abstract (300 words) and short CV to slevine@uic.edu andstriffler@hotmail.com by October 1, 2013.  The editors will determine whether the proposed work fits thematically in the special issue.  Articles will be due June 1, 2014.   The special issue will appear as the Spring 2015 volume of Labor.

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CFP: Devouring Japan

UT East Asian Studies Logo

The Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin invites paper proposals for “Devouring Japan,” a 2-day interdisciplinary conference on Japanese food and food cultures, to be held in Austin on February 21-22, 2014. Building on growing academic interest in food studies, the conference seeks to explore five themes that will serve as analytical frameworks for the proceedings: Production, Consumption, Circulation, Representation, and Identity. We seek to include innovative research that explores Japanese foods from a variety of perspectives including:  the material culture of cuisine; histories of iconic foods, beverages or key chefs/restaurateurs; ethnographic and ritual practices involving foods; government policy and the regulation of food; representations of food in art, literature and film; globalization and/or transnational hybridization of foods; and how local, regional and national identities are shaped by foods.

The conference will include keynote lectures by Ken Albala (Professor of History, University of the Pacific) and Eric Rath (Professor of History, University of Kansas). It will culminate in a keynote roundtable discussion by Professors Albala and Rath, together with select panelists, to reflect upon the potentials for cross-disciplinary research between Food and Japan Studies.

In addition to presenting original research, invited scholars will be asked to actively participate in panel discussions by acting as respondents and in the culminating roundtable session.  Participants will also be asked to submit a draft (12-15 pages) of their papers by January 25, 2014 for distribution to other conference participants. A select number will be invited to revise their papers by August 31, 2014 for publication in an edited volume.

Thanks to the generous support of the Japan Foundation and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies, UT will cover all ground transportation, meal and hotel expenses in Austin.  As befits the themes of the conference, participants will have several opportunities to sample some of Austin’s best food offerings.  Invited scholars, particularly junior scholars with little access to travel support,will also have an opportunity to apply for additional travel funding in fall 2013.

Interested scholars are asked to submit a short (max. 3 pages) CV and a paper proposal of max. 400 words to Dr. Nancy Stalker,  nancy.stalker@austin.utexas.edu, by August 15, 2013.

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CFP: Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

Israeli Assoc Culinary Culture Logo

Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

International Conference

19 – 21 November 2013 

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

The terms “Desert” and “Food” seem irreconcilable: deserts are associated with aridity, scarcity, and the struggle to survive in inhospitable environments, and are rarely related to the pleasures of fine cooking and dining. Research of desert societies, however, reveals time and again the ingenuity and resourcefulness of desert dwellers, who manage to eke out of their meager environment much more than the calories and nutrients essential for their survival. Indeed, desert cuisines, whether Mexican, Native-American, Bedouin, Mongolian, Aboriginal-Australian or Inuit, may seem simple and even coarse to the uninitiated, yet are surprisingly complex and varied, making for an outstanding human achievement.

If desert foods represent human ingenuity at its best, food deserts, defined as disadvantaged urban areas with poor access to retail food outlets, or as areas where food retail is scarce and expensive and where much of the available food is industrialized, processed, expensive and of low nutritional quality, stand for the degradation of the human condition in the context of modern urbanism.

The distinction between “desert foods” and “food deserts” is not without ambiguity. Processes of modernization undergone by some groups living in desert areas have indeed undermined local and traditional culinary practices and hastened the expansion of fast-food chains into those areas. However, at the same time, a counter-reaction to this process has brought about creative and innovative ideas and practices which seek to produce and distribute quality food in a non-alienated environment. Examples of this include community vegetable gardens, farmers’ markets and social networks for the exchange of knowledge and information regarding the cultivation and procurement of fresh food products.

Beer Sheva is the perfect venue for hosting such conference. Israel’s “Capital of the Desert” is located at the heart of the Negev Desert and constitutes the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the surrounding desert communities. The city draws Bedouin semi-nomad shepherds and town dwellers, Jewish farmers in communal and private agricultural settlements, as well as large numbers of migrant workers from different countries, and serves as their culinary centre.

Up until recently, Beer Sheva was a typical “food desert”, featuring mainly cheap local fast-food venues as well as small and medium size grocery shops (“minimarkets”). Rising income, the influx of immigrants from the former USSR, the expansion of Ben-Gurion University and the growing communities of migrant workers from Africa and Asia, have led to new and diverse culinary demands. Beer Sheva is now an exciting hub of culinary experimentation and innovation, influenced by its multicultural and multiethnic social mosaic.

The conference seeks to unravel and discuss the rich and diverse culinary concepts and practices in both actual deserts and symbolic ones. To that end it will provide a platform to both scholars and practitioners. Keynote speakers at the conference will be: Prof. Sammy Zubaida, Chef Israel Aharoni. 

We seek sessions and individual papers that deal with various aspects of desert foods, food deserts, and possibly their interface. “Deserts” are understood in the broadest possible sense of the term and include any region, territory or era where food is/was scarce and hard to get.

As the conference will also include a non-academic session with the participation of culinary practitioners from various fields proposals are also welcome for that session.

Potential topics include:

  • Food tourism in the desert
  • Food and Politics in the Desert
  • Migrant and native cuisines in the desert
  • Desert foodways of nomads and permanent settlers
  • Ecology, geography and nutrition
  • Food deserts and globalization
  • Food, nutrition and meaning in scarce environments

The conference is hosted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in cooperation with the Israeli Association for Culinary Culture, and is supported by The Hertzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. The Conference conveners are Dr. Nir Avieli avieli@bgu.ac.il, Dr. Nimrod Amzalak info@culinaria.org.il, Prof. Aref Abu-Rabiah aref@bgu.ac.il and Mr. Rafi Grosglik, rafig@post.bgu.ac.il. Members of the academic committee include Prof. Yoram Meital, , Prof. Pnina Motzafi-Haller, Dr. Julia Lerner and Dr. Uri Shwed.

Attendance at the conference is free and the lectures are open to the public. Pending budget approval, the organizers will provide all speakers with free university accommodation and half board. The program includes study tours in Beer Sheva and the Negev Desert.

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words to desertfood2013@gmail.com by MAY 15 2013.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, CFP, food deserts, Food Studies, heritage, history, indigenous people, Israel, Middle East, sustainability

Foodways and Urban Change in Latin America and the Caribbean: AAA 2013 Panel!

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by Aeleka Schortman and Amy Lasater-Wille

Please consider submitting paper abstracts for our proposed panel on Foodways and Urban Change in Latin America and the Caribbean (see full panel description below). While we focus on urbanism, we encourage the submission of research based in rural or urban areas, so long as it speaks to issues of urban change, planning, development, and the like in Latin America or the Caribbean.

We further encourage non-anthropologists and applied researchers with similar interests to submit, especially as this year’s AAA meeting theme is “Future Publics, Current Engagements.”  This theme encourages us as anthropologists to engage with scholars in related disciplines as well as with issues of pressing social, political, and economic significance.

Working Title: Foodways and Urban Change in Latin America and the Caribbean

Panel Abstract:

This panel addresses food and foodways in Latin America—here, including the Caribbean—to understand the processes, practices, and politics of urbanization and urban change in that region. Exemplifying worldwide trends, Latin America is growing increasingly urban, a transformation frequently associated with: land and resource consolidation, deepening inequalities, mounting security concerns, and growing involvement in—and dependency upon—globalized, industrialized, and inequitable agro-food systems. Today, historically unprecedented numbers of people, and city-dwellers, in particular, draw needed sustenance from novel and rapidly-changing food procurement and preparation networks. Changing metropolitan foodways present urban residents and visitors with new ways and places in which to consume, produce, or sell foods, and in which to (re)assess and (re)make the meanings of such practices. Providing far more than sustenance, food has social, symbolic, economic, and ideological value. Thus, participating in—or, alternatively, abstaining or being excluded from—eating, shopping, or laboring in urban markets, restaurants, kitchens, or informal locales can have profound social, symbolic, and economic significance. Moreover, changes in urban foodways frequently involve rural transformations, as both urban and rural residents engage with—and create—the production and distribution networks that characterize, and quite literally feed, the region’s growing cities.

Food is central to survival, daily life, and the webs of meaning, and power, that color human existence. Consequently, studies of food and foodways offer exceptional entry points through which to explore and engage with pressing issues of our time, including, here, urbanization and urban change. Latin America’s centuries-old involvement with inequitable, uneven, and increasingly globalized political-economies and agro-food systems makes the region a particularly alluring place for contemporary food-related research and scholarship. Moreover, despite great internal diversity, present (and historical) patterns of socioeconomic development, and inequity, unite portions of Latin America and the Caribbean, offering interesting fodder for both food-related analyses and discussions of regional trends. These include patterns of: foodway and demographic change; neoliberal development (and its alternatives, or backlash); deep, persistent (and frequently-racialized) socio-economic divisions; uneven/inequitable integration into regional/global political-economies; and tourism- and/or corporate-led development (amongst others).

Here, then, we explore food to shed light on the challenges, promises, and dynamic processes of urbanization and urban change in Latin America. In so doing, we engage with themes and issues of critical importance in the theory and practice of anthropology and related fields including: economics, social geography, sociology, urban planning/development, socio-economic policy, and nutrition/health. More precisely, individual panelists may address questions including: (How) are patterns of urban change—or development—implicated in shifting food acquisition, production, distribution, and consumption systems? Who benefits, or fails to benefit, from local, regional, and/or (trans)national food-related policies, programs, practices, and/or discourses? How do urban residents conceptualize and negotiate food-related constraints and opportunities, including potential paradoxes of food/nutritional scarcity amidst seeming abundance? How are Latin America’s urban foodways colored by long-entrenched (or newly emerging): socio-economic inequalities and patterns/practices of socio-economic, political, and/or spatial (geographical) exclusion (or inclusion)? And, how do people perpetuate or resist such inequities? How (and why) do city-dwellers ascribe particular meanings, or values, to specific food-related practices, policies, discourses, and/or symbolic representations? Moreover, what can studies of urban food and foodways tell us about changing—or newly emerging—economies, political systems (or visions), social movements, or global interconnections in Latin America, both urban and rural? What might studies of food reveal about the social, economic, political, and/or nutritional consequences—or implications—of existing economic models, socio-economic policies, or development programs?

DEADLINES (and Related Information):

Abstract Submission for Consideration in the Panel: Please submit proposed paper abstracts by Saturday, April 6th, 2013. All submissions should be sent to BOTH: Amy Lasater-Wille (ael337@nyu.edu) and Aeleka Schortman (schortman@uky.edu). We will respond to all interested parties by Tuesday April 9th (4/9/13) at the latest. We kindly ask that everyone abide by the April 6th deadline so that we may respond to all potential participants in a timely manner and assemble a full panel in time for the AAA abstract submission deadline (April 15, 2013).

AAA Submission Deadline: All accepted panelists must submit their own abstracts electronically to the AAA by April 15, 2013. (We will email instructions regarding how to do this.) Please note that participants must register (and pay) for the 2013 AAA meetings by that deadline as well.

Meeting Information: This year’s American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting will be held at the Chicago Hilton in Chicago, Illinois on November 20-24, 2013. The meeting theme is Future Publics, Current Engagements.

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The Anthronaut Farmer (AAA 2013 panel proposal!)

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The Anthronaut Farmer

Session Organizer: Ted Maclin

An increasing number of anthropologists are turning to agriculture as a means of subsistence, a way of living in their communities, and a form of embodied research. Beyond a practice of study, this is a lived anthropology outside of academia: not a research venture bounded by funding cycles, but a journey of engagement with the world. Through their hands-on work, these ”anthronaut” farmers are transforming themselves, their communities and landscapes, and their academic work.

In a recent New York Times article, political scientist James Scott said that his own farming venture has made him a better researcher; but the institutions of farming and the academy conflict and coincide in complex ways. In this interactive session, we will explore how anthropologist-farmers navigate these complexities. We welcome discussions from all theoretical and agricultural perspectives, from apiculture to Actor-Network Theory, from eco-agriculture to ethnobiology, from permaculture to political ecology.

If interested, please submit an abstract (~200 words) to Ted Maclin (tmaclin@uga.edu) by March 1.

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Midwestern Foodways Grant Opportunity!

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SAFN member Robert Dirks has alerted us to a grant opportunity from the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance. The announcement reads as follows:

Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, in collaboration with Culinary Historians of Chicago and with funding from the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, is pleased to announce financial support for the study of Midwestern foods and food-related institutions.

This support is offered as three American Midwest Foodways Scholar’s Grants: one grant is for $3,000, a second is $1,500, and a third is $500.  Each is intended to help underwrite the research of academics and other investigators who intend to publish their findings in books, articles, videos or other media.

The grants are merit based and unrestricted.  They can be used to support fieldwork, library visits, conference attendance, or any other activities related to the applicant’s proposed project.

The American Midwest Foodways Scholar’s Grant is open to all individuals age 18 and older. Affiliation with an academic institution is not required, although students and others affiliated with such institutions are encouraged to apply. In selecting a recipient of the American Midwest Foodways Scholar’s Grant, the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and Culinary Historians of Chicago do not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin.

            The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and Culinary Historians of Chicago would like to increase the amount or number of grants given in the future and contributions to the scholarship fund are encouraged.

Additional information and application can be found at www.GreaterMidwestFoodways.com.  Any queries, please contact Catherine Lambrecht at CulinaryHistorians@gmail.com and telephone: 312/380-1665.

             Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance is dedicated to celebrating, exploring and preserving unique food traditions and their cultural contexts in the American Midwest. By hosting public events, developing archival resources and generating publications, the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance uncovers the distinctiveness of a region that is as varied in tastes and traditions as it is in its geography from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains. Whether indigenous foods such as Wisconsin cranberries and Minnesota walleye, iconographic flavors such as wheat and corn from across the prairies, immigrant cuisines from early Europeans to 21st century newcomers, or fish boils and fine dining in small towns and big cities, the Greater Midwest Foodways promotes and chronicles the diversity of the region’s culinary character.

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The NFL Occupation of New Orleans

SuperbowlDavid Beriss
University of New Orleans

The National Football League came to New Orleans a few weeks ago and while everyone else has probably moved on, I am still thinking about it. Part of this is because the big game was here in the middle of Carnival season. In fact, the parade schedule in New Orleans was re-arranged to accommodate the Super Bowl. New Orleans is a party town, but this was a long stretch of festivities, even for us. New Orleans is also a town that has long engaged in very self-conscious self-promotion. The NFL provided a key opportunity for that, allowing the city to put on a show for the entire world to see. I have been interested in the ways in which cities (especially New Orleans) work to create a sense of distinctiveness—for tourism, business, etc.—and this was clearly a great moment to see that happen. The NFL brought us a standardized segment of Americana and New Orleans responded with a cleaned up version of itself.

Perhaps a bigger city can absorb the NFL presence in a way that allows locals to get on with life as if nothing was going on. That would have been difficult here. In fact, city leaders worked hard to raise awareness of the arrival of NFL visitors. Locals were warned about the crowds and traffic to expect in the city center. New Orleans has a relatively concentrated core, with the Superdome very close to the neighborhoods where visitors like to gather. Those neighborhoods are easy to move around in, on foot, via bicycle (a temporary version of the bicycle share programs common in other cities was set up for the Super Bowl) or mass transit (an entirely new streetcar line serving the area near the Superdome was completed in time for the event). The NFL constructed a sort of independent town, with actual buildings and tents near the convention center and took over the vast convention center itself for a variety of events. The French Quarter was occupied by CBS, with banners and temporary structures creating backdrops for broadcasts. At one point people at CBS sparked indignant protests from locals when they decorated the iconic Andrew Jackson statue in the city’s central square with a sign from one of their shows. The sign came down, but the stage was still set. New Orleans was occupied by the NFL and the media. And, with a few exceptions, people were mostly pleased.

The Super Bowl seems to have become a secular holiday nearly on a par with Thanksgiving in the United States. Attending Super Bowl parties and preparing elaborate (if informal) feasts is now part of the regular ritual calendar for many Americans. Some claim that the Super Bowl provides the occasion for the second largest annual food consumption day in the U.S., surpassed only by Thanksgiving. It is clearly more than just a special football game. Spectacular sports events have been used in many countries as part of national holidays and sporting events can take on national significance that transcend the specific sport or game. This is certainly the case with the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, the Tour de France, and other events. Each of these provides an opportunity to showcase sports and promote the event’s sponsors, while at the same time providing a stage on which the event’s location also receives public attention.

The Super Bowl is a huge commercial and cultural juggernaut. Although I had an abstract sense of the event that had occupied New Orleans, the real size and flavor became much clearer when Rebecca Turner, of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, invited me to visit the “NFL Experience” in the Morial Convention Center. This turned out to be something like 800,000 square feet of football mania, with displays of everything the NFL and NFL-affiliated sponsors thinks you should think about when you think about football. There were dozens of games, ranging from tests of physical strength and coordination, to football trivia. There were displays of football memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, helmets and uniforms. Performers sang and danced and football players stopped by to sign autographs. The Southeast Dairy Association was there to promote a diet and exercise program it has developed with the NFL. Food offerings were mostly generic American industrial products–there were concession stands selling national beer brands and the usual fast food, while sponsors like Pepsi handed out samples of soft drinks (the dairy folks were distributing cheese sticks and chocolate milk). I suspect that NFL experience, or something like it, appears in every city that hosts the Super Bowl.

cochon de lait po boy

Cochon de Lait Po’Boy

Fascinating as this was, entering the NFL experience felt like leaving New Orleans. Of course, the city also put on a huge show of its own culture for the Super Bowl. This included endless interviews with local officials, activists, artists, musicians and, of course, restaurateurs. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and local chef Poppy Tooker used gumbo to help people think about the nature of New Orleans on one CBS show. The city and the NFL also organized a music and food festival in Woldenberg Park, next to the Mississippi River. I rode my bike over to that festival the day after I visited the NFL experience. Enthusiastic crowds surrounded several stages where local bands played everything from funk to brass band music. Rows of stands sold the kind of food that has made New Orleans famous. The French Quarter was just a few steps away, providing access to even more of the things that attract people to New Orleans (and the Times-Picayune provided an interesting analysis and guide to one of those things).

Crawfish beignets

Crawfish beignets

The distinctive version of New Orleans presented for the Super Bowl was just distinct enough to add some flavor to the dominant American football festival. There are reasons to think that the contrasts between New Orleans and the rest of America run deeper than those on display a few weeks ago. Although the contrasts have attracted attention for a long time, efforts to assert them have become something of a local cottage industry in the last few years. Some of this—including most of what was presented during the Super Bowl—is meant to attract and please tourists. Some of it is meant to challenge dominant ideas about how economic life is organized in the U.S. today. Some evokes parts of American history that challenge how we think of ourselves. I wonder what would happen if we put some of that on display for visitors the next time a big event comes to town?

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Filed under anthropology, city, culture, festivals, heritage, New Orleans, SAFN Member Research, urban

Call for Papers: “Sugar and Beyond”

Here is a call for papers that may be of interest to FoodAnthropology readers:

Sugar and Beyond

Organizers: Christopher P. Iannini, Julie Chun Kim, K. Dian Kriz
The John Carter Brown Library seeks proposals for a conference entitled “Sugar and Beyond,” to be held on October 25-26, 2013, and in conjunction with the Library’s Fall 2013 exhibition on sugar in the early modern period, especially its bibliographical and visual legacies. The centrality of sugar to the development of the Atlantic world is now well known. Sugar was the ‘green gold’ that planters across the Americas staked their fortunes on, and it was the commodity that became linked in bittersweet fashion to the rise of the Atlantic slave trade. Producing unprecedented quantities of sugar through their enforced labor, Africans on plantations helped transform life not only in the colonies but also in Europe, where consumers incorporated the luxury commodity into their everyday rituals and routines.

“Sugar and Beyond” seeks to evaluate the current state of scholarship on sugar, as well as to move beyond it by considering related or alternative consumer cultures and economies. Given its importance, sugar as a topic still pervades scholarship on the Americas and has been treated in many recent works about the Caribbean, Brazil, and other regions. This conference thus aims to serve as an occasion where new directions in the study of sugar can be assessed. At the same time, the connection of sugar to such broader topics as the plantation system, slavery and abolition, consumption and production, food, commodity exchange, natural history, and ecology has pointed the way to related but distinct areas of inquiry. Although sugar was one of the most profitable crops of the tropical Americas, it was not the only plant being cultivated. Furthermore, although the plantation system dominated the lives of African and other enslaved peoples, they focused much of their efforts at resistance around the search for ways to mitigate or escape the regime of sugar planting. We thus welcome scholars from all disciplines and national traditions interested in exploring both the power and limits of sugar in the early Atlantic world.

Topics that papers might consider include but are not limited to the following:

  • The development of sugar in comparative context
  • The rise of sugar and new conceptions of aesthetics, taste, and cultural refinement
  • Atlantic cultures of consumption
  • Coffee, cacao, and other non-sugar crops and commodities
  • Natural history and related genres of colonial description and promotion
  • Imperial botany and scientific programs of agricultural expansion and experimentation
  • Alternative ecologies to the sugar plantation
  • Plant transfer and cultivation by indigenous and African agents
  • Provision grounds and informal marketing
  • Economies of subsistence, survival, and resistance
  • Reimagining the Caribbean archive beyond sugar: new texts and methodological approaches

In order to be considered for the program, please send a paper proposal of 500 words and CV to jcbsugarandbeyond@gmail.com. The deadline for submitting proposals is December 15, 2012.

Presenters will likely have some travel and accommodation subvention available to them.
For more information, keep checking this site or email Margot Nishimura, Deputy Director and Librarian (margot_nishimura@brown.edu).

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Filed under Call for Papers, Caribbean, sugar