Eating Like an Alaskan?: Quarantine Reflections on the Anchorage Museum’s “What Why How We Eat” Exhibition

Abigail Adams
Central Connecticut State University

I’m writing from my dining room table and the CostCo bulk carton of matzoh peeks at me from a kitchen cupboard. I’m reminded of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread. Interbake Foods manufactures these simple, tough, oversized crackers in Richmond, Virginia and sells 98 percent of them in Alaska.

I’ve been eating essentially the same menu since March 12. There is some variety—I am an anthropologist and my larder is stocked with the basics for world-curious cuisine. But I’m not a foodie and I’m happy treating food like a uniform. My mind is on other decisions now. Except for a pharmacy foray for Easter candy and milk, I shopped four times for groceries during the two months of Connecticut’s “Stay Home Stay Safe.” I was focused on teaching online and trying to save my department–and higher education while I’m at it.

And I can’t stop thinking about Alaska.

This time last year, I had just returned from the AFHVS/ASFS conference in Anchorage, which included an evening reception at the Anchorage Museum and tour of its spectacular What Why How We Eat exhibition. That is where I first saw the Pilot Bread now evoked by my own stores of shelf-stable matzoh.

Pilot bread!

The exhibition closed this January but lives on in the The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska (University of Washington Press/ Anchorage Museum, December 13, 2019), written by Julia O’Malley and edited by Julie Decker, Director, Anchorage Museum.

I missed posting in FoodAnthro last summer about the exhibit, but I am seizing this moment now, given the resemblance between my/our COVID-19 subsistence strategies and Alaska’s regular food reality, realities that were curated beautifully in the Anchorage Museum exhibit.

The exhibit was interactive to its very core. We missed the urban harvest classes (I could use those urban harvest classes now!), cooking demonstrations, bike tours to community gardens, recipe swaps and workshops, but I jump-scared when I opened a cabinet in the exhibit’s first room and a Native woman began speaking to me: it was a video but it took me a moment. This space was a working kitchen, with cabinets, fridge, freezer and drawers filled with videos, photos.

That first area highlighted another key exhibit theme, “the changing story of food culture in Alaska — from the subsistence whale hunt in Point Hope to the Halal market in Anchorage…. one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US., thanks, in part, to an influx of refugees…”.

The kitchen utensil drawer paid homage to the Alaskan and traditional skills of self-provisioning. It was really a toolbox, with unique items for processing wild foods, canning, dining on crab, etc. The next room was a journey through the different landscapes, traditional harvests and subsistence work where people live close to the land and the weather to catch and process food: caribou, whale, crab, salmon. 

And the new Alaskans, their foods and experiences, were integrated throughout the exhibit. The exhibit designers made the kitchen “work” for all Alaskan peoples, for example, they stocked the shelves with a variety of culturally-favored carbs. Another room featured Everyone Is Welcome Here, a 2018 project by artists Sergio De La Torre and Chris Treggiari, which “used food as the lens for exploring the immigrant and refugee experience in Alaska.” There was also exhibit space for Alaskan fusion cooking and creativity, resonating with the “multi-cultural” condiments of my quarantine cabinets. During last June’s conference, we met and ate with many of these “new” Alaskans as well, thanks to Liz Snyder, UAA professor, conference organizer, co-director of the Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub and one of the exhibit co-developers.

Shelves of culturally-favored carbs, photo credit Emily Yates-Doerr

Beauty informed the exhibit, not a surprise, given curator Francesca DuBrock’s usual métier of fine art. At one point, I stood entranced by a wall that I thought was an art installation: an enormous-format arrangement of seed packs—including fictive seed packs for edible wild plants that Alaskans regularly forage. Behind me, hydroponic wall panels planted with mint and salanova lettuce grew, adding to the smells and aesthetics of the space. The exhibit was also acknowledging the growing numbers of Alaskan farmers. This spring, along with record numbers of US-Americans, one of my sources of delight during the dark coronavirus isolation was sorting through seed packs, planning the vegetable and cutting gardens that now grow around me.

Grocery prices across Alaska Photo credit: Emily Yates-Doerr

After visiting Alaska during the summer weeks when the state’s soaring temperatures and searing forest fires made national news, I took home the example of Alaskans’ food resilience in the face—in the teeth—of climate change.  I posted in FoodAnthro, “We are all facing harsh, stark, extreme environmental change, and Alaskans may be well-positioned to weather the Future that is coming.”

I did NOT foresee this pandemic Future! But the museum presciently tackled Alaska’s fundamental food insecurity, and its exhibits were instructive for our current COVID-19 moment. I wrapped up this blog post listening to a radio essay about skyrocketing food prices in the coronavirus lower 48.  One of the exhibition’s closing walls showcased the price of groceries in different Alaska communities. A gallon of milk in Anchorage costs about $4 while the same gallon would cost closer to $10 on the North Slope. If a natural disaster disabled the Port of Anchorage, Anchorage grocery store food shelves and cold cases would be bare in just five days.

That natural disaster arrived, in the form of the coronavirus. The pandemic plopped Alaska’s food dependence squarely in the middle of its residents’ plates. Faced more than panic-picked-over grocery shelves; food supplies to remote communities stopped when the small-plane business that serves those communities went COVID–bankrupt. One grocer made “the 14-hour boat trip to Costco every week to supply his small remote city with groceries amid the pandemic.” Alaska’s fossil fuel-dependent economy and state budget (already struggling since the 2014 slide in oil prices) crashed, directly due to the pandemic. Last summer, as I celebrated Alaskans’ resilience, flexibility and subsistence skills, I overlooked Alaska’s contribution to the global climate crisis.

But I did not miss it completely: during our conference, our incredible University of Alaska hosts learned that their university budget was to be cut by 40%. Appropriately, the metaphors deployed by the media were food metaphors, as in Governor Dunleavy ordering the university to “trim,” as in “trim budgetary fat,” when in truth he was ordering a butchering.

His solution? Essentially economic stimulus payments. Dunleavy proposed nearly doubling the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend to residents, the yearly dividend that Alaskans receive from the state’s formerly enormous oil wealth.

In the end, UAA’s budget cuts were 7% and Alaskans received the same dividend as the $1600 of the previous year. But as I received my pandemic economic stimulus payment this Spring (my own… Pandemic Dividend?) and watched my university’s enrollment and budget tank, I look once again at the matzoh in my cupboard.

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Op Eds

Dear SAFN members,

Now is a good time to write op eds about the food system in the pandemic. Here is one we published in the Eugene Weekly in Oregon. Feel free to send us links to add yours.

Racialized Inequality 

Social justice is the vaccine we need for Oregon’s food system

GUEST VIEWPOINTBY GUEST VIEWPOINTPOSTED ON 

By Joan Gross and Emily Yates-Doerr

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the racialized inequality that permeates Oregon’s food system. 

The conditions of slavery and genocide upon which the U.S. was founded have been neither reconciled nor repaired, leaving our state with a food system that increases vulnerability to the spread of viruses like COVID-19. 

As professors in Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program we have spent decades studying how social inequities are reproduced through every stage of the food system. The pandemic is exposing the brutal effects of these inequities. Now, more than ever, we must seek treatments that emphasize systemic change and social justice. 

Let’s begin with the production of food on Oregon farms, on lands stolen from Native Americans. The vast majority of farmland in our country is owned by white men, and the people who plant, care for and harvest the food are mostly people of color, many of whom were forced to leave their own land in other countries due to political situations beyond their control. Working conditions in the fields often lack sufficient handwashing stations and underpaid migrant workers are housed in substandard structures where social distancing is impossible. 

On some farms in the U.S., every single farmworker has tested positive for COVID-19 and Oregon farms could easily be next. 

Moving on to food processing, we find that many of the hotspots of COVID-19 outbreaks occur in factories where food is processed. With people working shoulder to shoulder to increase efficiency, the virus can spread quickly. 

The next stage of food processing occurs in restaurants or institutional cafeterias, where cooks, servers and dishwashers prepare, deliver and clean up after meals for the enjoyment of others. The work is precarious and usually without health care benefits, so workers are compelled to come to work, even when sick. Closing these businesses may protect potential customers, but it puts huge numbers of already vulnerable people out of work. Additionally, farmers who produce for that supply chain have no market and are left to destroy edible food — all while people go hungry. 

This brings us to the final phase of the food system, when food enters people’s mouths. 

Food workers are twice as likely to be food insecure as others, but during the pandemic, they find themselves in good company given the high rates of current unemployment. U.S. citizens can apply for SNAP benefits, but many food workers are not citizens. They are not banned from accessing food at pantries and free meal sites, but many fear that if they do make use of them they will be arrested and separated from their families. 

Today, the fact that COVID-19 is widespread in penitentiaries and deportation stations adds to their fear. 

Oregon relies on the cheap labor of Latin American migrant workers to grow and process food, and these farms and factories have become centers of infection in our state. Only 13 percent of the state identifies as Hispanic, but 36.6 percent of identified COVID-19 infections have occurred within this population. 

In light of the recent outbreak at Pacific Seafood, where more than 181 employees tested positive for the virus, news headlines reported that “language barriers” were delaying the ability to track and trace people with COVID-19, with many of the impacted workers speaking Latin American Indigenous languages. 

These language barriers must be understood within broader violations of human rights exemplified by an abusive immigration system that too quickly imprisons and deports — even when people have the legal right to stay. Testing and tracing will not be effective unless there are labor protections in place that make it safe for all people who worry they are sick to come forward. 

It’s tragic, not to mention dangerous, that agricultural workers and food processors are considered essential, and yet they are unprotected. 

As the world clamors for COVID-19 magic bullets — vaccines, antibodies, llamas, medications, face shields — the one thing that will make a significant and lasting difference is a large injection of social justice. 

We must work to increase land sovereignty among marginalized communities, support universal health care and guaranteed wages, and put an end to racist police brutality and extortionist farmworker immigration policies. A vaccine for COVID-19 may never eliminate coronavirus, but these structural changes are within our reach. They are fundamental to creating an equitable food system that feeds us all.

Joan Gross, Ph.D., and Emily Yates-Doerr, Ph.D., are professors in Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program, which educates students about the food system and the complexities of foodways around the world. The program encourages students to actively strive to create a more equitable and environmentally sustainable food system, and many of our graduates are currently involved in that work.TAGS: COVID-19 / FOOD INSECURITY / LOCAL AND VOCAL

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Review: Religion in the Kitchen

Religion in the Kitchen

Pérez , Elizabeth. (2016). Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions. New York University Press. 320 pp. ISBN #9781479839551

Kristina Wirtz (Western Michigan University)

Does it surprise you that an ethnographic study of a religious community would be centered on the kitchen? In Religion in the Kitchen, Elizabeth Pérez makes a compelling case that religious communities are molded and religious sensibilities are seasoned in the kitchen. Her chosen site of the Black Atlantic is a religious household in the Chicago orisha community: its head is Ashabi Mosley, who was initiated into Cuban Santería by a Chicago-based Cuban-American priest, and whose home is an active “house-temple,” where ritual activities and sacred space-time infuse the domestic space with the spiritual imperatives of deities, ancestors, elders, and those who serve them.

In detailing the ethnographic particulars of this site, Pérez argues that the religious significance of the kitchen—the physical spaces and practices of food preparation, and what people talk about while so engaged—has been overlooked, and not just in Black Atlantic traditions. I hope that her book will stimulate much-needed corrective ethnographic attention—not just to special religious foods and the rules for their consumption in religious contexts, but to the often-marginalized work of food preparation for its moral and world-making contributions. Food preparation—and in particular the routes of live animals and raw ingredients that arrive at the house to become ritual offerings and spiritually-nourishing “food of the saint” connect the different spaces of the house-temple to produce a sacralization of private homes and a materialization of religious family.

As the book emphasizes from its first page, the sensuous engagement of orishas—African deities—in the world and their demands for savory and substantial offerings to provide the sacred energy—aché—that activates their worldly interventions, makes the kitchen especially significant in ritual work. But religion is not only in the kitchen. To venture into the kitchen and the realm of “ordinary home cooking” (the title of Part I) is to witness the confrontation between the time-space affordances of domesticity and the demands of religious observance in the house-temple. The name of Ashabi Mosley’s house-temple, Ilé Laroye, or House of Laroye (a reference to the orisha Eleggua) is also the name of the religious family of which she is matriarch. Domestic life is family life, and so Pérez closely attends to how bonds of kinship are forged and tested through religious practices. The religious lineage and family encompass vectors of religious authority and mutual obligation binding deities to the devotees whose “heads” they rule and devotees to one another.  And the house-temple is the physical space that materializes this ideal of the religious lineage, in an ongoing cycle of ceremonies cementing and expanding the familial network based on reciprocity. Deities demand offerings and discipline from those who serve them, and in turn offer tangible blessings of healing and resolved problems.

Pérez examines the physical layout of the house itself and how its spaces are used. Notably, Iyalocha Ashabi bought the house in large part because of its generous kitchen. The house’s  location in a Southside Chicago neighborhood also matters, in relations with neighbors and in instantiating a history of race relations and membership in an embattled Black community. The orishas point to a Black Atlantic context more rooted in the Caribbean and less understood amid the Baptist congregations and mosques of African American communities. But the labor—the servitude and sacrifice—that the orishas demand resonates with all-too familiar racialized and gendered regimes of Black life in America and their roots in transatlantic slavery. Serving the orishas and ancestors resignifies such regimes as spiritually charged, with the power to remake diasporic identities. Pérez seizes on evocative moments in which Ashabi and others in Ilé Laroye point out rhizomatic connections to other African diasporic experiences, from depictions of “conjure” in African American popular culture to “gangsta-code” moments of protecting the community from police interference. The food cooked up in the kitchen of Ilé Laroye, too, is a fusion of African American, Latinx-Caribbean, and West African cuisines diverging from common “roots” and remixed in the kitchen.

Pérez argues that the routes of religious activity through the house-temple, and especially turning the raw and live ingredients of offerings into cooked food, also fashion the trajectories of people into deeper engagements with the religion. Most centrally, talk accompanies food preparation tasks: instructions, reminders, and coaching in techniques, along with explanations, corrections, praise, complaints, and admonitions, but also chitchat that passes the time with humor and stories that all together serve to deepen social bonds and religious knowledge. The religious person is “seasoned” and cooked along with the food they help prepare, in a blending of talk and other embodied kitchen practice. This is the topic of parts two and three of the book, on “kitchen work” and “kitchen talk,” although the implied distinction between talk and other practice cannot be so clearly delineated.

If the cooking up of communal, religious sensibilities sounds idealized, in practice it is hard, unglamorous work that tests the self-discipline and religious dedication of those conscripted into it. Those entering the religious domain of Ilé Laroye quickly find themselves put to work with the labor-intensive, menial tasks of chopping, carrying, cleaning, stirring, and sorting, under the watchful eye of those with specialized religious knowledge. This knowledge is gained primarily through practical instruction, working alongside others. During major ceremonies, the hours are long, extending all day and even all night, people’s nerves fray as they work into exhaustion, and the stakes of errors are high, lest an orisha be offended. Each orisha’s offerings must be kept separate from as many as a dozen others at a time. The work of draining blood, plucking feathers, butchering carcasses, and separating viscera is arduous and messy. This time in the kitchen is utterly essential to successful ceremonies, and yet the kitchen and other food preparation areas are separate from and peripheral to the dedicated ritual spaces. Some of the marginality of the kitchen is gendered, but gender dynamics are crosscut with other measures of religious authority, such as lineage seniority.

In slicing, plucking, and cooking her way through her fieldwork, Pérez garners important insights. For example, she comes to realize how the initial steps of butchering a chicken highlight exactly the parts of the body—head, nape of neck, shoulders, feet—that are the focus of the basic rogation or purification ceremony performed on a devotee’s body. She contemplates not just taste but disgust, which she considers with sensitivity and insight. She suggests that overcoming one’s disgust, especially of the blood, guts, and gore of butchering sacrificed animals, plays a key role in socializing religious newcomers to new regimes of self-discipline that will be necessary to their religious development. Her central metaphor of seasoning materializes historicizing, engendering, incorporative kin-making work through which “strangers” join the ever-expanding religious family. The talk that accompanies all of this activity also is a seasoning and socializing mechanism. In the kitchen, talk moves between topics of food preparation, ritual activity, questions and explanations, personal stories, joking and teasing, gossip, pop culture references, and more overt efforts to teach through the sacred stories about the orishas, where these topics are braided together in the flowing conversations that produce lasting relationships and shape spiritual subjectivities. In the seeming banality of this “chitchat,” Pérez identifies a speech genre, the initiation story, as proper to peri-ritual activity, in contradistinction to the many genres of properly ritual speech. Akin to Black Christian “testifying,” initiation stories emphasize the paths of suffering and salvation through which orishas claim devotees. Whatever those drawn to Ilé Laroye might want or expect, their time laboring and listening in the kitchen teaches them to recast religious commitment as submission to the will of the orishas.

In this accessible ethnography of an often unrecognized and marginalized religious community in the U.S., Pérez develops novel perspectives on a variety of themes at the nexus of food and religion. Through detailed, situated descriptions of her participation in a religious household, she emphasizes the importance of the embedded, embodied, sensory, and social involvement in kitchen-work and how it resonates with other aspects of diasporic religious participation. The book could readily be assigned to undergraduates as well as graduate students to highlight the importance of food and food preparation in classes in religious studies, the anthropology of religion, and African Diaspora Studies, and to draw out productive connections between food, spirituality, and community in classes on the anthropology of food.

 

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Review: Women on Food

Druckman, Charlotte + 115 Writers, Chefs, Critics, Television Stars, and Eaters (2019) Women On Food. New York: Abrams Press. 400 pp. ISBN 978 1 4197 3635 3; eISBN 978-1-68335 681 3.

Ellen Messer (Tufts University)

The day before all the libraries closed down to reduce spread of COVID-19 infections, I happened upon this collection of Women on Food writings in my local Newton (MA) Free Library. This multi-colored, 400 heavy-weight-page volume assembles an extraordinary variety of women’s voices, which present themselves in multiple sizes and sexual orientations, livelihoods and lifestyles, and span multiple generations and racial/ethnic/ religious identities, priorities, and themes.  As Druckman indicates in her introduction:

What you’re getting into is an anthology about women in—and on—food. That means women who work in or around food in some capacity, and what they think about that…and what they think about what you expect them to think about that.

Her interview questions encourage these women to “speak the truth…completely…[to] be analytical, furious, funny, serious, sad, harsh, silly, challenging, old-fashioned, avant-garde, creative, macho, pensive, unforgiving, unforgivable, opinionated, neutral must plain weird…[to] talk about what it’s like, really, to work in the food industry or food media, to get a meal on the table, or feed a community…[to] write about that without having to match the format or adhere to a particular genre or style” (p.6).

The anthology collects original stories, told mostly in prose although occasionally in poetry or  in visual forms (drawings, photography, pictures of food, or food people or places). These single-authored pieces are mixed in or “up” with two-person “conversations” (Druckman interviewing respondents) and multiple short-responses to Druckman’s provocative queries on leading topics. Two early examples of this Q&A are:  “LEXICON. Are there any words or phrases you really wish people would stop using to describe WOMEN CHEFS (or really, women, period)?” (p.8) and  “COOK THIS, NOT THAT! What is a type of FOOD you wanted to cook  and were told you couldn’t—or are made to feel as though you couldn’t…and you’re pretty sure it’s because you’re a women?” (p.67).

Cross-cutting themes across formats include female chefs’, but also food writers’ and editors’ experiences with sexual harassment and gender discrimination, personal and professional relationships (negative and positive) with ethnic foods, identities, and heritages, and their reflections on the significance of their mothers (occasionally grandmothers, less often fathers) on their food-focused career choices and signature dishes.   Not one to steer clear of controversy, Druckman at the end of the volume also asks respondents to self-reflectively share their own personal experiences of complicity—“The C-word”—where they imagine how they, by acts of commission or omission, intentionally or incidentally contributed to women’s subjugation and harassment, particularly in the restaurant business, but also in media.

As in any collection of writings, readers will find some topics and narratives of greater interest than others.  Reflecting my interests in food, religion, and human rights, I found “A Conversation with Devita Davison” (interview format) (pp.144-152) profoundly moving because her responses to Druckman’s leading questions touched on the essential roles of institutionalized religion and faith in advancing her Detroit-based food activism.  In its most recent iteration, her activist problem-solving vision and skills for Detroit’s Food Lab, partnered with African American churches, whose underutilized kitchens facilitated and encouraged small-scale food-processing businesses by low-income women of color, helping them climb out of Detroit’s poverty and hunger while preserving traditional culinary knowledge and products, and contributing to the larger challenges of constructing healthy, sustainable, local food systems. Chief among Davison’s “pressing concerns” (Druckman’s final question to her) are the decline of Black churches and a growing awareness that “capitalism is going to destroy every single thing that these grassroots, community-based organizations were able to create.”  Whereas an earlier era saw church women and kitchens as drivers of community programs, civil rights, and philanthropy, “the churches in our community are losing their power…[as] the demographics of the church are getting older” and younger people do not affiliate, participate, or maintain their significant presence and power in Detroit’s communities.  Churches that used to fund social movements are in decline, and as a result, community organizers turn to foundations, but “foundations are not going to get us to freedom and liberation…I want to create an organization and then be able to share a model for other people to create an organization that’s funded by the people for the people.” (pp. 101-102).  This interview, in particular, captures the strengths of the interviewees and the many ways Druckman’s questions and directions, in these and other formats, bring forth the depth and passions of their experiences and reflections.

My second favorite entry was Tienlon Ho’s essay, “The  Months of Magical Eating” (pp. 80-92) which described her parent and grandparent generations’ traditional wisdom and medicinal arts as contributions to her “eating right” (birds’ nest soup, ginger) during the final months of her pregnancy and immediately following her successful childbirth. She ends by noting she still keeps a jar of this concentrated tonic in her refrigerator: “It is a jar filled with a family’s strength, a nascent wisdom, and the memories of ages that allowed me to bear the weight of this new life barely started.” (p.92). Her lyrical writing evoking visceral images and ideas substantively connect the individual female, through food, to cosmic forces and familial relationships beyond her present self or generation.

A third example that touched me particularly in these times of deep reflection on structural, racist violence in US society, was Von Diaz’ story, “Sitting Still.” Set in the South, it unveils the horrific legacy of lynchings through the telling lens of a simple recipe for “Bobbie Hart’s Banana Pudding” (pp.308-316).

As a collection of food writings by more than 100 female authors, the anthology includes interviews and essays with well-known food historians, cook-book authors, and essayists, including Betty Fussell, Jessica Harris, and Bee Wilson. Wilson’s sharply terse and topical piece on the advantages and disadvantages of evolving “Labor Saving” technology (pp.254-263) for getting essential food on the family table, accessibly touches on so many work-life dilemmas involving feeding and food preparation, offering practical advice without being preachy or pretentious.  The words and images of Kristina Gill, “A Fig by Any Other Name” (pp. 375-383), illustrated with luscious and colorful sexual food imagery, is a clever and subtle triumph for all to enjoy.  Some readers may savor the published volume’s bright color coding (strong to paler orangish to greenish yellows setting off two-person, multi-person interviews or Q&A, and essays). I found the varying hues bold, but also distracting, and wish the heavy paged book had weighed a bit less, to make it more physically comfortable to position and read.  These hard-copy features may or may not translate discernibly into on-line, tinted copy, where volume weight is not an issue.  As SAFN (and other) food-studies readers move in and out of quarantines, they might want to access and read the electronic version, and recommend various particular chapters to students and other colleagues and friends. In the meanwhile, now that my local library is allowing (scheduled, outdoor) book pick-up’s and returns, I hasten to review and return the hard copy for other potentially appreciative readers.

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Webinar on COVID-19 and the Food and Agricultural System

Former SAFN President John Brett sends news of this upcoming webinar, of possible interest to FoodAnthropology readers.

nat acads

still life

Upcoming Webinar
COVID-19 Effects on the Food and Agricultural System

Friday, June 19, 2020 10am – 12pm EDT

The National Academies’ Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) invites you to a virtual panel on COVID-19 effects on the food and agricultural system, which has experienced severe stress from a combination of factors. Workers’ health has been placed at risk, producers have lost markets, and animals and crops have been sacrificed. Meanwhile, food prices are on the rise and unemployed Americans have turned in greater numbers than ever to overstressed food banks.

A panel of distinguished participants in the food and agricultural system will offer perspectives on the impacts and how we can learn from them. Speakers include Tom Vilsack, President and CEO, U.S. Dairy Export Council, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The session is open to the public. You must register in advance to attend.

Register here.

related books

food regulatory book

Free PDF of the book here.

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Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition Statement on Racial Injustice

SAFN stands in support of Black Lives Matter. 

The global food system is replete with racial injustice and this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The people who plant, harvest, prepare, process and serve food, as well as those who clean up after processing, cooking, and eating are disproportionately People of Color. Predatory labor practices force people working within the food system into unsafe conditions, costing the health and sometimes the lives of many. White supremacy and systemic racism undergird the theft of Indigenous land and the loss of Black land, undermining these communities’ food sovereignty. The health of Black, Indigenous, People of Color has also been compromised by food insecurity and trauma, creating comorbidities that increase the vulnerability to diseases such as COVID-19.

SAFN is not looking for a return to normal after the pandemic, but for a new set of practices inspired by food sovereignty where the people responsible for our food are treated fairly and are able to live peaceful lives and where everyone has access to healthy, culturally relevant food. Recognizing that our food system is built on systemic racism and white supremacy, the onus is on us to dismantle it. We commit ourselves to the call to defund policing and to refund the dignity and livelihoods of BIPOC communities, bolstering opportunities for joy and celebration.


We pledge ourselves and call on our membership to do the work of dismantling structural racism and white supremacy in the food system and beyond. As a small step in this direction, we are committed to the following actions:

  • We will direct our student research award to focus on decolonized, ethical research on food justice and food sovereignty. 
  • We will sponsor food justice panels at upcoming professional meetings. 
  • While we recognize the service burden on BIPOC, we will actively recruit for diversity on the SAFN board.
  • We pledge to amplify the voices of BIPOC food scholars and decolonize the anthropology of food, starting with our own Section News column and FoodAnth website. 

If you are in a position to donate, check out these organizations: https://civileats.com/2020/06/02/want-to-see-food-and-land-justice-for-black-americans-support-these-groups/

The SAFN Board

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Review: Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Marion Demossier. Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir. Berghahn. New York. 2018. 270 pp. ISBN: 978-1-78920-627-2 paperback. 

Richard Zimmer, (Sonoma State University)

Marion Demossier’s   engrossing analysis of Burgundy—the wine, the place, the brand—should be imbibed (pun intended!)  on many levels—and slowly, for best appreciation.  Terroir, the particular way the specific characteristics of soil, geography and climate affect the taste of wine (and other foodstuffs),       is the focus through which Demossier  examines the history, branding, and rebranding of Burgundy wines.  She also delineates the changing social structure of production over the centuries into modern times.  It is also the prism through which she explores the ways in which that evolution is affected by French history and politics, marketing within France, marketing internationally and in comparison to other wines, especially New Zealand Pinot Noir. She also delineates how Burgundy wines are marketed in non-European markets, in particular Japan and China.

Throughout her work, Demossier situates this evolution as a creation of a myth about Burgundy and its cultivation, engaging in the larger question of what constitutes authenticity, in this case, of a particular wine. Furthermore, as part of her study, she addresses her own journey as a female anthropologist in an overwhelmingly male field of study and industry.  Lastly, she speculates about the future of Burgundy as a brand and example by itself and in relation to other wine and food products sold internationally.

Burgundy is seen as a terroir brand, with even more specific reference to climats,  specific special vineyards. The  Burgundy region  is seen as a place “blessed by the gods (p.91)”  Demossier recounts a You Tube clip promoting the region’s attempt to apply to UNESCO for world heritage status.  In the clip, an actor dressed as a monk tells the story of Burgundy, the wine and the region.  Briefly, the actor /monk goes back to the Romans and then to the Benedictines.  The latter “’…tasted the soil…(p.91.)’” What constitutes the Burgundy brand is what Demossier shows through the story of one winemaker:  “…a complex fabrication of authenticity throughout the commodity chain, which in some cases resonates or imbricates into a global and hierarchised [sic—UK spelling is used throughout her work] world of values (p.73.)”

Demossier devotes Chapter 3 to “The Taste of Place.”  “Taste, colour  and nose were emphasised  as central to Burgundian wines…(p.81.)”  She is following the lead of Amy Trubek about terroir: “In her seminal book The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir,   Amy Trubek defines terroir as a ‘foodview’, that is to say a food-centred worldview understand their relationship to the land.  (Trubek: 2009. Cited by Demossier p. 83.; see Bibliography)”  As Demossier notes, Trubek situates terroir in France and “…underlines the role that institutions and social practices play in shaping the ways taste comes to define place and vice versa (p.83.)”  Yes, there is still definitional controversy about exactly what terroir means, as Rachel Black notes (2012; 12-13). But taste (and smell) is crucial to understanding how people connect to food (see Sutton 2010: 211 et seq.)

The “myth” of Burgundy wine is many sided, connected, and evolving, in part to meet market needs, historical forces in France and the world, and the ways in which it has been produced over time.  In France,  specific wine types are regulated by the government.  This regulation changes over time.  It is designed to brand and give authenticity to a particular terroir and cru—a vineyard producing  a wine of high quality.  The myth then “demands”  the authenticity of government labelling.  It  also “demands” a “philosophy” of taste, and that philosophy includes a picture of who produces it and how it is enjoyed (p.97 et seq. ) One novelist, Elizabeth Knox, ironically points out the contradictory notions of the components of authenticity.  A New Zealand visitor (where wine is being made in the most modern conditions [Demossier 201:271])concerned about cleanliness in her/his visit to a winery in France,  is told by the  tour guide: “‘Since when was wine all about hygiene?’ (Knox 2000:281.)”

The iconic image developed for  the Burgundy brand is of a vigneron—the person who makes the wine, the diners who drink the wine, the setting in which they drink it, and, of course, the food that accompanies it. As noted earlier, taste–and sociability p.103) are the tropes of the brand—with a background of the wine grower close to the terroir producing this mis en scene. And, as Demossier notes, until recently, the vignerons were men. Now, many women of the Burgundy families  have made their mark (p.46.)

The reality behind this picture is more complex. Especially in the twentieth century and continuing into the present, different actors play different roles in the production and marketing of the wine.  On the production end, some vineyards had been worked by tractors and then later by hand.  The “hand” workers became workers hired to work the land, often helped deliberately by horses to address environmental concerns.  Initially, the vine growers continued practices from the past.  But younger vignerons, especially women winemakers, concerned with organic concerns and climate change, and having attended higher education and technical training, are setting new directions in Burgundy.  And the  wines they market as a result are redefining part of the brand of Burgundy vintages.

The essence of this Burgundy brand, regardless of the price of the particular vintage, is that it is traditional, authentic, peculiar to a region, and seen as a counter to modernization (even if it is produced using modern methods.) Invited to a wine conference, Demossier  spoke eloquently about this topic: “ …I was able to unpack the construction of a historical narrative around the notion of ‘climats’, a twenty-first century invention, but one that is embodied in imagined notions of an enduring and thus authenticated social configuration (p.232.)”  The evolving  redefinition of the Burgundy brand maintains its authenticity, even with changes  in the nature of its production.  As such, it is one of a series of food products, non-food products, and other events that draw on people wanting what they consider to be an “authentic” experience See, for example, https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  for a business approach on authenticity, including its relationship to nostalgia, and Little for a specific discussion of what constitutes a dispute about authenticity by a prospective weaving buyer and the native producer of that item   (2019.)

Yet the branding and portrayal of Burgundy as authentic and anti-modern can be seen in a very different light as well.  Asian markets offer a fertile field for drinking Burgundy.  Demossier shows how newly affluent people are drinking Burgundy and other French wine as a mark of modernization and Westernization (p.165 et seq.)  Japan offers an additional dimension in terms of the mythologizing of wine, because much of its introduction into that market came from manga, Japanese comic books which are teaching and story  telling  media.  Demossier notes  South Koreans and Taiwanese  have  been introduced to wine drinking through their manga as well (pp.168-9.) Asian drinking of French wines  as a statement of modernization and Westernization is not an  isolated phenomenon. Whiskey was originally produced in  Scotland.  The Japanese entered the whiskey production market.  But they may have even outsourced that, so that “authentic Japanese whiskey Is questionable “…because of loose regulations…( Risen 2020: D4.)

Refreshingly, New Zealand, especially in its production of Pinot Noir, has written its own branding story, one of regionality, in contrast to  Burgundy’s terroir story (p. 190.)  Like Burgundy’s emphasis on food, in a national presentation which Demossier attended and spoke, the New Zealand industry paired tastings with local food specialties.  “’Marlborough…salmon; Central Otago…thyme, wild rabbit and apricots…the Pioneers artisan food (p.191.)’” And, like the newer vignerons in Burgundy, New Zealand producers are highly educated and experimenting with ecological methods—and including that dimension  in their branding 9p.217.)  Through the acquisition of World Heritage status, the Burgundy myth has achieved world status as a model for  production and marketing (p. 242.)

This excellent book is appropriate for upper division, graduate students and  professionals in a number of fields—anthropology, sociology, wine studies, marketing and business and  women’s studies.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2017

Little, Walter E. Whatever We Weave is Authentic: Coproducing Authenticity in Guatemalan Tourism Textile Markets. In  Naomi M. Leite, Quetzil E. Castenada, and Kathleen M. Adams, eds. The Ethnography of Tourism: Edward Bruner and Beyond. Lexington Books. New York. pp.  89-105.

2000

Knox, Elizabeth.  The Vintner’s Luck.  Pacador (Farrar, Straus,  and Giroux): New York.

2020

Risen, Clay. Are Japanese Whiskies From Japan?  The New York Times,  June 3, p. D4.

2010

Sutton, David.  Food and the Senses.  Annual Review of Anthropology. 39. pp. 209-33.

2009

Trubek, Amy.  The  Sense of Place:  A Cultural Journey into Terroir. U California: Berkeley.

Websites

2012 Black, Rachel. A Sense of Place. http://www.bu.edu/bhr/files/2012/11/v1n1-Sense-of-Place.pdf (Accessed 06/13/2020.)

2017

“Modicum[sic]”.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  )p. 19. (Accessed 06/13/20.)

 

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CFP: Special Issue “Geographies of Responsibility for Just and Sustainable Food Systems”

Here is a call for papers for a special issue of the journal Sustainability that we recently received. Note that the deadline for submissions is near!

Deadline: 30th June 2020

Journal: Sustainability

Link to special issue: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/special_issues/just_and_sustainable_food_systems

Keywords: Just and sustainable food systems; Urban food governance; Food crises; Food justice; Food democracy; Food futures; Food policy; Food system; Socio-environmental justice; Alternative food movements; Agroecology

Special Issue Description

Editor: Agnese Cretella, Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities, Trinity College Dublin.

Dear colleagues,

Within various academic fora, there is still much confusion around roles and responsibilities for creating more just and sustainable food systems. Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have further highlighted tensions in these responsibilities, especially in terms of access, production, distribution, and retail. Whilst some (Holt Giménez and Shattuck 2011, De Schutter 2014) have long called for reforming existing power structures for achieving more just and sustainable food systems, many grassroots initiatives have been taking responsibility in their own hands by tackling pressing issues related to food waste, access, sovereignty, and democracy, among others (Goodman, DuPuis et al. 2012, Tornaghi 2017, Davies, Cretella et al. 2019).

At the same time, while food is increasingly at the center of diverse policy discussions from climate change to health and well-being, concrete outputs remain difficult to grasp. Food poverty and insecurity, combined with the environmental hazards caused by the current food system, are far from being resolved. We invite empirical and theoretical contributions exploring any aspect of geographies of responsibility in the food system, which may include (but are not restricted to) the following themes:

  • Power and responsibility in food systems;
  • Disruptions of established forms of power and responsibility in times of crisis;
  • Responsibility and governance across the food system;
  • Disruptive innovations for just, sustainable food systems;
  • Roles and responsibilities of academics, policy-makers, and activists for enacting change in food systems;
  • Cultures of responsibility in food systems;
  • Matters of scale and place in creating just, sustainable food systems;
  • Mechanisms of co-option from and by private sector, policymakers, food movements; and academics.

References

Davies, A. R., et al. (2019). “Food sharing initiatives and food democracy: Practice and policy in three European cities.” Politics and Governance 7(4): 8-20.

De Schutter, O. (2014). “Democracy and diversity can mend broken food systems – final diagnosis from UN right to food expert.” Available online: http://www.srfood.org/en/democracy-and-diversity-can-mend-broken-food-systems-final-diagnosis-from-un-right-to-food-expert.

Goodman, D., et al. (2012). Alternative Food Networks: Knowledge, Practice, and Politics, Taylor & Francis.

Holt Giménez, E. and A. Shattuck (2011). “Food crises, food regimes and food movements: rumblings of reform or tides of transformation?” The Journal of peasant studies 38(1): 109-144.

Tornaghi, C. (2017). “Urban agriculture in the food‐disabling city:(Re) defining urban food justice, reimagining a politics of empowerment.” Antipode 49(3): 781-801.

Papers may be submitted from now until 30 June 2020 as papers will be published on an ongoing basis. Submitted papers should not be under consideration for publication elsewhere. For further details on the submission process, please see the instructions for authors at the journal website http://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/instructions

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CFP: Eating On the Move

We recently received the CFP below for an intriguing looking conference in Rome in September, 2021. This should be of interest to SAFN members. Full details are here: https://icrefh2021.confnow.eu/.

International Commission for Research into European Food History
Call for Papers

EATING ON THE MOVE (nineteenth to twenty-first centuries)

7-10 September 2021, Rome
Roma Tre University
Deadline for application: November 30th, 2020

Since the mid-nineteenth century revolution in transportation, the fall in the cost and duration of travels has favoured the movement of people and goods on a global scale. Numerous and distant destinations have become accessible to a growing number of people from across the social scale. This rapid growth throughout the twentieth century is illustrated by a statistic from the air travel sector where in 2017 more than four billion passengers travelled through airports around the world. 

The introduction of new forms of transport (trains, ships, cars, airplanes) has not only affected the way people travel, it has also led to a transformation in the way they eat. The evolution achieved in little more than a century by on-board and motorway dining services has meant that they are able to cater to a wide range of travellers’ needs, from the meals offered during the nineteenth century on board the first transatlantic passenger ships transporting migrants from Europe to the Americas, to those provided from the second half of the twentieth century in flight and at motorway service areas. Eating on board a train is different from eating on a ship, which in turn is different from eating on an airplane, and the same is true for any other form of transport. Such differences are not simply a question of quality or variations of menu, a unique history has defined each of these different situations, a history which is still largely to be studied.

Food consumed during travel is more than just a means of satisfying the appetite in an uncommon setting, since it is also a transmitter of culture, identity, and emotions. Consider, for example, the food that migrants carried with them in their suitcases which fed their nostalgia as much as their body, or the ‘international’ menus offered to airplane passengers in the midst of the economic boom when the evocative or nostalgic aspect of food was less appealing, or the return, in the 1980s, to menus based on traditional recipes as a response to the preference for healthy eating of an advanced consumer society. 

Naturally, the combination of food and travel has made possible every kind of gastronomic métissage, leading to combinations of different tastes, flavours, and scents. It has changed the way people eat, and affected the food itself and the way that it is distributed. 

In recent decades food is no longer just a means of sustenance and has been placed at the centre of the experience of travelling, with traditional dishes specific to particular territories acting as a means with which to explore the culture and traditions of that territory. The unprecedented growth in tourism that has been made possible by low-cost transport has contributed to the appearance of a wide range of new reasons to travel. Along with cultural and artistic tourisms which are experienced as something more than a holiday, wine and food are a fast growing sector in international tourism, as revealed by recent studies. This rediscovery of local cultures is also, in part, inspired by a renewed interest in ‘slow travel’, involving journeys taken on foot for religious and other motivations and bicycle trips. 

Finally, it is worth exploring whether the relationship between food and travel can be seen from a non-western point of view. What is this relationship in underdeveloped and developing countries? What similarities and differences can be found from Europe? 

This project develops findings from the 7th ICREFH Symposium Eating and Drinking Out in Europe since the late Eighteenth Century held in 2001 at Alden Biesen (Belgium), published in Eating Out in Europe. Picnics, Gourmet Dining and Snacks since the Late Eighteenth Century, edited by Marc Jacobs and Peter Scholliers, and published by Berg in 2003.

The relationship between food and travel from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century, can be seen in various ways for their interdependence with numerous aspects of social and economic life. The following suggested research areas, to which other proposals may be added, will be covered: 

  • The evolution of dining services offered during travel (19th-21st centuries): dining on board trains, ships, and airplanes and along motorways (from the makers of packed meals for train passengers to companies created to serve travellers like Autogrill and Chef Express in Italy) 
  • Influences on the development of food preparation technologies and industries specialized in preserved, precooked, and packaged foods 
  • The appearance of new professions: the on-board chef, stewards, hostesses, etc. 
  • Food as a vehicle for cultural heritage – Social divisions on board new forms of transport 
  • Travelling in search of food: the development of wine and food tourism 
  • Travelling at home: appearance of ethnic restaurants and cuisine 
  • Food and “slow travel”: the trails of ancient pilgrims (like the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago), mountain trails, cycling paths 
  • Through the eyes of others: travel and food in developing and industrialised countries 
  • Food safety on the move 
  • Supply-side standards: the evolution of the notions “proper meal” and “snack” in the context of  “food on the move” 
  • Service personnel: what was the provisioning of the people who prepared and served “food on the move” but also those who piloted and maintained ships, trains, cars and airplanes? 
  • Food and uncommon forms of travel: from the supply of armies (particularly from the second world war) to that of astronauts in space 

Paper proposals must be sent at the latest by November 30th, 2020 by registering through the conference website: icrefh2021.confnow.eu. The proposal must be accompanied by an abstract (max 2000 characters) and a short cv (max 1000 characters). 

Registration Fee: 300 euros for each speaker; 250 euro for young scholars (persons currently enrolled in a PhD/postgraduate doctoral students/persons who have been awarded a PhD/postdoctoral students, without paid posts). 

The fee includes 3 nights hotel accommodation with meals. Travel expenses to Rome and extra nights are not included. 

Please note that in case of cancellation or no-show, the fee will not be refunded. 

The ICREFH (https://icrefh.hypotheses.org) has a tradition of short presentations (20’) and a long discussion. Participants are invited to stay for the full three days of the conference. 

A maximum of 25 proposals will be accepted. The proposals will also be selected taking into account the need of ensuring the widest participation of scholars from different countries. 

The best papers at the conference will be published by ICREFH 

Official Language: English. 

Timetable

  • November 30th 2020: deadline for on line proposals submission through the conference website
  • December 31st 2020: notification of acceptance
  • June 30th 2021: deadline for registration (fee payment) through the conference website
  • July 31st 2021 deadline for extended abstract submission through the conference website
  • September 7th – 10th 2021: Conference 
  • Registration and all exchange of information and documents will take place through the website: icrefh2021.confnow.eu 

The symposium is organized by Rita d’Errico (Rome Tre University), Claudio Besana (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan), Silvia A. Conca Messina (University of Milan La Statale), Stefano Magagnoli (University of Parma). 

Scientific Committee

Atkins Peter, Durham University (Durham-U.K)

Berrino Annunziata, Federico II University (Naples – Italy)

Bianquis Isabelle, François Rabelais University (Tours – France)

Bruegel Martin, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)

de Ferrière Le Vayer Marc, François Rabelais University (Tours – France)

Fumi Gianpiero, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan – Italy)

Scholliers Peter, Vrije Universiteit (Brussel – Belgium)

Strangio Donatella, Sapienza University (Rome – Italy)

Travaglini Carlo Maria, Roma Tre University (Rome – Italy)

Vabre Sylvie, Toulouse University Jean Jaurès (Toulouse – France)

Williot Jean-Pierre, Sorbonne University (Paris – France)

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Pandemic Ruminations

Pamela Runestad
Allegheny College

Now that it’s mid-May and courses have come to an end, I’ve had some time to reflect. I have been able to mourn some of the events that won’t happen – activities I was looking forward to: research in Japan, presentations in Italy, a friend’s wedding in Hawai`i, and presenting at ASFS for the first time.

But my mind has also been occupied by someone who I did get to mourn (I say, as though the process is over), my maternal grandma. Grandma Wanda turned 90 in November. I missed her party because November is the Month of Academic Hell for me: the end of term (with progressively less light), travel for AAA, juggling kids with my husband who attends AAR, and hosting Thanksgiving. I mean, I love hosting Thanksgiving because we usually do nothing but cook and eat and watch TV, and that is what my extended family likes best about holidays. It is the saving sustenance (literal and figurative) that I gulp down as we head into finals. Anyway, I was able to spend a couple days with my grandma over the summer, so I didn’t feel bad doing my typical, crazy November Plan. We had had lunch at her assisted living home in July, and she watched my daughters color. She was disappointed the servers ran out of “pink fluff” before they reached our table (I’m guessing it’s some Jell-O whipped topping concoction). The kids were thrilled when she handed them grape popsicles from her freezer in return for their art – it’s the thing my 6-year-old remembers most.

Backing out of the garage on our way to my in-laws’ on December 22, my mom called to tell me that Grandma had suffered a fall and sustained several broken ribs. We made it to see her on December 27, and she was surprisingly lucid: she called me by name when I walked into her room, even though she wasn’t wearing her glasses or hearing aids (and has 6 granddaughters). My cousin Blake fed her some of her meals, and she talked to him, too. But then she rapidly deteriorated, and was gone the first week of January. The following week, we could do what most families now cannot: we had a visitation, funeral, and burial. We ate and drank together. A lot.

My grandparents went to the same church for decades. My parents were married there, and my brother was baptized there. These occasions are often followed by lunches or receptions: ham or turkey sandwiches, midwestern salads, potato chips. All manner of cake. Coffee and maybe Crystal Light or punch if the kids are lucky. After the services, I sat down with my parents, brother, and uncle, and we were joined by my dad’s college friends. In a lull in the conversation while everyone was eating their cake, I noted, “I think we all sat at this same table when Grandpa died,” and there was some soft laughter as they agreed.

I have had the strange privilege of writing the obituaries for the three of my four grandparents that I knew in life. To me, it is a task that almost no one wants to do, but for which anthropologists are well-suited. What details do you include so that you can paint a meaningful snapshot of someone’s life? How do you weave together the family fabric of those left behind when there are purposeful severings like divorce, or untimely losses of those who should be mourners, but preceded the deceased in death? Kinship is complicated. But participant observation and the creation of narrative served me well, and I found myself describing the place where we all spent time with my grandparents – the kitchen table.

Here are some things I didn’t write there. My maternal grandparents were both good cooks, but Grandpa more so. Grandma was the baker, really. They were both gracious hosts. In their “country house” where they lived for some 40 years, the kitchen faced the gravel road, and Grandpa was an expert at identifying just whose car was bombing down the lane, and whether they were planning to swing into the driveway for coffee or a beer. They had visitors almost daily and they loved it. Grandpa’s place at the head of the table was easy rolling distance to the fridge, and by the time you made your way into the house (the door was never locked) and up the stairs, he’d have a spread laid out for you. If it was coffee hour, there was probably a plate of cookies or some pie or a big bowl of cut melon (if it were summer). If it was beer o’clock, we all knew to go down to the basement and retrieve a couple of beers (or sodas) before coming all the way up. There would probably be crackers and cheese, maybe some sliced roast beef or pork, or maybe some sliced salami. If you stayed longer, you might be lucky and get what my grandparents called “Shipwreck Casserole” and veggies from the garden. Or you might be put to work canning tomatoes or making pickles or picking green beans by the 5-gallon bucket. It was at that kitchen table that I’d sobbed for what seemed like hours, unable to talk, with the passing of my paternal grandmother years before. Grandpa had poured me a glass of milk mixed with Kahlua and slid it across the table like an all-knowing bartender and my grandma Wanda put out a plate of her cookies. But it was also the table where I had countless weekend dinners while my laundry dried, ate my college graduation dinner, and devoured quick meals before my wedding. I don’t know how many holiday meals I ate at that table, or how many dishes I washed. I remember thinking many times over the years that it was strange to have carpet in the kitchen, but even when the 70s pattern wore out, they replaced it with carpet again. I suppose it was warmer on their feet in the winter than the alternatives.

I sometimes wonder who else thinks of that table these days.

Grandma Wanda’s funeral was the first week of classes, so I had to explain to my students why I wasn’t there. One of my courses was a writing and speaking course that aims to teach our first years about genre and audience. I told those students about writing the obituary because… well, I suppose because it was on my mind and I couldn’t help it. But also because it was a good example of having to use your writing skills for tasks that you might not imagine otherwise while taking a writing course. Later in the term, after they had shared some of their writing with me, I read them a reflection piece I’d written about driving around town with Grandma Wanda as a kid. It was the details that they noticed and liked – and I used their comments to remind them to pay attention in structured ways. To use their senses. To take notes. To find good words to describe what they saw, smelled, touched, heard, felt. To plot out their writing plan. To put ideas and descriptions together in ways that other people would want to hear about them. They didn’t disappoint: when we talked about kitchens later in the term (and I stayed mostly silent this time), we heard all about recipes, kitchen tools, the smells of baked goods, and what it felt like to help in the kitchen. And then we talked about my favorite four, something I come back to once a week: race, gender, class, and ethnicity. This time, we talked about how these all play a part in how we gather, prepare, and share (or don’t share) food. We had a special treat at the end of this unit: special guest Michael Twitty lead a discussion about writing, speaking, cooking, and identity.

I basically prepped them to take my course in Ethnographic Methods while at the same time teaching them how to develop their voices as writers, how to choose your voice based on genre and audience, and how and when to cite.

A digression: I’m an anthropologist who specializes in East Asia at an institution that has neither an Anthropology Department nor an Asian Studies Major/Minor. I teach in Global Health, and was hired to teach Ethnographic Methods (among other things). I am cross-trained in medical and nutritional anthropology and much of my research is on HIV in Japan, but I chose to teach Ethnographic Methods as a food course and as an Asian Studies course because it was a way to talk about two things that I love and I wanted the students to love, too – and this way, they fit into our curriculum. I also just find it a really useful way to talk about race, ethnicity, gender, and class – through the 5s’s of food: sociality, safety, (in)security, sovereignty, and sustainability. Because there are other food courses on campus, different methods courses in my department, and various people on campus teaching other aspects of ethnographic methods, I do my best to teach participant observation, field notes to narrative, and how to craft questions.

So where does this leave me (us?) in a pandemic, when we’re faced with the worst versions of humanity that we teach about? We all mourning something, grieving for someone, raging about something. Chronic stress comes from many things:  pushing back against structural violence of state-by-state laws and who is protected and who is not – and the racist, classist assumptions inherent in those policies and how they are or are not enforced; trying to provide food, water, shelter and safety under increasingly difficult economic circumstances;  pushing back against gendered norms of cooking and childcare and professional labor under lockdown; pushing back against conspiracy theories and blatant systemic racism. And there is much, much more. This is just scratching the surface. It is easy to wonder, as a teacher-scholar, what good I’m doing when I see such suffering? Some days I have a hard time thinking and I retreat to my office to clean and organize, because it’s the one thing I can do that will still help me later and doesn’t require much brainpower. I’m also teaching my older daughter to cook and bake. Even with a desk upstairs, I write best in the kitchen. This place, and the things I make and teach here, bring me comfort when a lot is beyond my control. I know I’m privileged to be able to do these things. I hang on tight to them so that I can use my energy to help others find places of comfort, too.

Yesterday, I came across a really old manila file in my home office as I was cleaning. It was marked “Comprehensive Exam Answers” but clearly there were a lot of other papers crammed into it. I dumped it out on the floor to see what I’d hoarded away. Among the papers (and yes, my comps answers) I found a couple of documents that I was given in the first ever graduate course I took. One of them was a set of directions for how to read academic articles. I read it over and realized: I’ve been telling my undergrads to do the same things that I was taught many years ago, without really thinking about where I learned these strategies. (Thank you, Heather Young-Leslie.)

And then my thoughts drifted to a student I had in Ethnographic Methods in fall and Medical Anthropology of East Asia this spring. My goals for the latter were to help students learn about the region, while also learning how anthropologists collect, interpret, and write up their data by reading and discussing 3 book-length ethnographies on health. Students usually co-create the final essay prompt for this course, but this year I just gave it to them: Read Laura Gao’s “The Wuhan That I Know” (a series of illustrations that includes a discussion of dishes from Wuhan). Using the terms we’ve discussed in class, write an essay about how learning about East Asia has made you better able to understand COVID-19.

My student proceeded to write a beautiful essay on food, ethnicity, and discrimination – despite facing many of the challenges we know that the pandemic and subsequent remote teaching and learning poses.

This is not to take credit for his work. He is a brilliant student, and it has been my privilege to work with him. His essay is also one data point, and teaching is only one piece of my fight against All The Unjust Things. But finding these old files and thinking about my student’s work reminded me that food matters, if not always in the ways we predict.

I suppose I have my grandparents (and everyone else who visited them), their kitchen, and the food I experienced there to thank for first teaching me that; my instructors and colleagues for helping me be methodical about my processing; and my students for being so willing to partake in learning as a truly shared endeavor – even during a pandemic.

**

Thank you to David Beriss and SAFN for supporting blog publication of this piece. I was originally slated to give a talk on teaching ethnographic methods as a food course at the Umbra Institute in June. This is rather changed from what I was going to say, but I hope readers find something useful in it. Again, many thanks.

I would like to dedicate this post to my writing group members: Robin Kempf, Amy Nichols-Belo, Debra Thompson, Arielle Selya, and Kirsten Wesselhoeft, with special thanks to Michaela DeSoucey for reading a draft version.

The Wuhan That I Know: https://www.lauragao.com/wuhan

Pamela Runestad is an Assistant Professor of Global Health, Allegheny College.

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