Summer Reading Lists for Food Anthropology

David Beriss

Here in North America, the academic year is winding down for most of us and we are planning our summer research, writing, and, hopefully, vacation schedules. Somewhere in there, you are probably hoping to do some reading. What are you reading? Is there some exciting book that you have been meaning to get to that you now will have time to read? Something serious and scholarly? Something fun?

I am surely not alone in having a large backlog of research-related scholarly books I want to read. But this particular blog entry was inspired not by that list, but by three items I encountered just this week. The first was a fascinating event I attended last night at the Garden District Book Shop here in New Orleans. John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, read from and discussed his new book, “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South” (Penguin, 2017). Brett Anderson, the restaurant critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, led the discussion at this well-attended event. Given the rather fraught context created by debates around Confederate monuments and American racial politics, the ongoing debates around cultural appropriation in food (especially here in the South), and the unending re-discovery of the South by food writers (which Brett, citing someone else, referred to as “the Northern gaze”), there was a lot to discuss. I am very much looking forward to reading this book almost immediately.

I also saw this reading list from Food Tank yesterday. They propose a rather varied collection of books for food activists. I don’t think I am ready for a book about “vermiculture and vermicomposting” but I think I know some people who would be eager to read that sort of thing. This is an inspiring list for all kinds of readers, but especially those who want their summer reading to motivate them to get more politically active, garden better, and eat in a way that will save the world. Also, those who want to think about their microbiome. Many of these are serious books that promise to make you a better person, which is probably more appealing in January than in June.

Sometimes you need to read something that is just pure fun and that won’t improve you at all. Although I enjoy my academic reading as much as the next professor, I am trying hard to get more fiction in my life. I am currently reading Lily King’s “Euphoria,” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) which is a novel based on the lives of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson. But that is not about food, so I shall say no more here. I recently found this list from Katherine Sacks, on Epicurious.com, of food-related novels that Sacks asserts could be the next “Sweetbitter.” I admit, I have not read “Sweetbitter,” (Vintage, 2016). I remember the New York Times review, which declared it “the ‘Kitchen Confidential’ of our time” (I naively thought “Kitchen Confidential” was the “Kitchen Confidential” of our time). By Stephanie Danler, it is the story of a young woman working as a back waiter (yeah, a busboy) in a New York restaurant that was very popular last summer. Should I put this on my reading list? Let me know. Meanwhile, Sacks’ new list of food related novels looks like fun.

What is on your summer reading list? FoodAnthropology readers want to know. I want to know. Send us ideas (foodanthro@gmail.com), post comments (below). Maybe we can get some reviews of the latest food fiction up here on the blog. What should we be reading?

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American Food

There is a lot of innovative teaching being done in food studies and we like to feature it here whenever we hear about it. Last year we noted that Emily Contois’ students at Brown had produced an interesting blog about Food and Gender in US Popular Culture. We were interested to see what she might come up with next. This year it is a student blog on the idea of American Food. The project grew out of a class she co-taught with Professor Richard Meckel on “Food in American Society and Culture” at Brown University. The texts range from thoughts on immigrant foods, to the role of convenience foods, American food in cross-cultural context, and much more. Interesting contrasts—between health and indulgence, for instance—are explored. There is a pretty nifty Pinterest board to go with it as well.

Go check it out. And send us your student projects! We would be happy to share them with the world.

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VOTE!

David Beriss

The time has come to vote in the annual AAA elections. (And this posting is not about food, apologies to non-anthropology readers.)

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is a section of the American Anthropological Association, the main professional organization for anthropologists in the United States. If you are a SAFN member, you are also a AAA member. And that means you should vote.

Anthropologists are often heard complaining about the AAA, about positions it takes or positions it does not take, on issues that concern them. We have had fierce debates in recent years over the AAA’s position on Israel/Palestine, on open access publishing, and on a few other issues. We need even more fierce debates about the increasingly awful working conditions in public higher education, about the place of the social sciences in the public sphere, and much more.

One of the best ways to make all this happen is to participate in governance of the AAA. As it turns out, nearly everything the AAA does is the result of work by elected members. And the first thing you can do to make things happen is to vote.

Which you can do now. If you are a AAA member in good standing, visit this site. Follow the instructions.

There are association-wide ballots and section ballots. SAFN is voting for a treasurer and for a change in our by-laws (the details are on the ballot).

You have until May 31, 2017 to vote. Only by participating can you make the AAA an effective voice for anthropology and anthropologists. Do not miss your chance.

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Good Food Talk Webinars

Every now and then we run across resources for researchers and activists interested in food systems that may be of interest to our readers. We recently received notice of a series of webinars, organized by the North American Food Systems Network, that provide a forum to discuss food systems issues. The range of issues discussed so far is quite wide: race and agriculture, urban farming, anti-hunger groups and corporate America, etc. The North American Food Systems Network looks to be a very useful resource itself and worth looking into.

There is a webinar coming up on May 25, 2017, that will focus on measuring the economic impact of local food activism. It is free and open to the public, so here are the details:

Upcoming webinar:

Topic: Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems: Measuring Outcomes

Date: Thursday, May 25, 2017

Time: 1:00–2:00 pm Eastern Time (10:00–11:00 am Pacific Time)

Panelists:

  • Rich Pirog— Director, Center for Regional Food Systems, Michigan State University
  • Dawn Thilmany— Professor, Agricultural & Resource Economics, Regional Economic Development Institute, Colorado State University
  • Ariel Kagan— Senior Program Associate, Sustainability Collaborative, Food Institute, George Washington University
  • Kathleen Liang— Director, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University
  • Becca Jablonski— Assistant Professor and Extension Economist in Food Systems at Colorado State University

    Moderator:
    Jeffrey K. O’Hara — Agricultural Marketing Specialist, Local Food Research & Development, USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service

Please register here.

Abstract

In recent years, a considerable effort has been made at improving data collection for local food systems, engaging and developing resources for practitioners to evaluate local food system activity, and to standardize the metrics used in reporting the impacts of local food grant and loan programs.  The presenters will provide an overview of some of these initiatives.  The objective of the webinar is to engage local food funders, researchers, and practitioners in a conversation about the effectiveness of these initiatives; if and how they have impacted local food system activity; whether there are merits to formation of a “community of practice” that would educate, share, review, and critique local food system studies and data collection processes; and if so, to discuss how such a community of practice could be structured.  A number of questions have arisen:

  • How effective are communities, local food practitioners, and researchers at evaluating local food system activity?  What are the strengths and weaknesses?
  • Has the capacity to evaluate local food market activity improved in the previous five years?
  • How strong and mutually reinforcing are the partnerships between community practitioners, researchers, and food system funders (like government agencies) at collectively and satisfactorily evaluating local food projects?
  • Are there opportunities to advance such a community of practice?  How would it look?  What are effective strategies for doing so?

Additional Information

This webinar will bring some high level insights from the Local Foods Impact Conference April 3-4, 2017.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in partnership with George Washington University, hosted this conference that was designed to explore how to best measure the impacts of local food investments, improve coordination across USDA agencies, and evaluate the extent to which disparate local food investments are complementary and reinforcing. Over 300 people attended with  and another 500 tuning in via livestream for the plenary sessions. FYI, here are videos of the mainstage presentations, photos and slide presentations.

As background, the discussion for this webinar  grew from a 2013 meeting to address the state of economic analysis of local and regional food systems convened by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment Program (http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/econ-analysis-webinar). Subsequently, in 2014, the USDA AMS convened a team of regional economists and food system specialists to develop a best practice Toolkit for evaluating the economic impacts of local food system activities. This NAFSN Webinar will provide an update on the thinking since that conference and the experience with the Local Food Systems Toolkit.

You can visit the NAFSN web site for more information on the webinar series.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, May 12, 2017

David Beriss

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

It is 2017, not 1906. At least, that is what the calendar says. But if you read Michael Grabell’s recent article in The New Yorker about work at Case Farms, a chicken processing company in Ohio, you might think you were reading something by Upton Sinclair, from the early 20th century in Chicago. Underaged, undocumented, immigrant workers, working in extremely dangerous conditions, without benefit of unions, always in danger of being fired, living in awful conditions…this article is essential reading. Read it, assign it to your students, discuss, act. Also, after reading this, you may wonder if Mr. Trump and other anti-immigrant advocates have been discussing the wrong problem all along.

Here in Louisiana we are quite used to hearing about the toxic dead zone that appears regularly in the Gulf of Mexico. It is huge—the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined—and deadly to sea life. It is mostly caused by agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River, which drains a huge portion of the United States. As it turns out, such hypoxia zones exist all over the world (the Baltic is actually the largest, the Gulf of Mexico is second). This graphic article from Civil Eats provides an overview of the situation and some forecasts for this coming year. The impact on our food system is enormous. That said, dead zones are reversible. Countries along the Rhine River and the North Sea have reduced pollution sufficiently to diminish their dead zones by upwards of 35% in recent years.

And yet, do we really know if chemical runoffs are creating the dead zones? What if we could find studies, produced by faculty at real universities, that suggested the chemicals used to fertilize, kill pests, etc. on farms are not really harmful? In this article, Bruce Livesey, writing in the Canadian publication “The Walrus,” examines the role of industry in funding research that at the very least tries to create doubt about the impact—on the environment, on food, on humans—of the chemicals used on farms. He looks particularly at industry funding for research at one Canadian university, but this is a persistent issue at many universities and seems likely to be more important as public funds for research are cut.

On a cheerier note, John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance (an organization whose work often turns up in this digest) has recently published a new book, “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South” (Penguin, 2017) and, possibly as a consequence, he is suddenly everywhere. John T. also recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, “The Hidden Radicalism of Southern Food,” which is about food sovereignty and race in the U.S. south (and specifically, the work and life of Fannie Lou Hamer). In addition, Kim Severson wrote an interesting bio of John T. for the same paper, which goes into some of the intellectual battles that have arisen around his work. Our advice: read it all!

Another leading member of the food intelligentsia, Jessica Harris, has published a memoir that we are looking forward to reading. The book, “My Soul Looks Back,” (Scribner, 2017) has already been reviewed by the New York Times, which you can read here.

Can a salad be a racist symbol? In this article, Writer Bonnie Tsui explores the continued existence of the “Asian Salad” on many restaurant menus. This is a useful way to get into a discussion about casual racism in the food world. As she points out, the situation for this (and other) salads with names referring to nations or ethnic groups, is not simple. It is worth noting that there may still be a few restaurants (usually Italian) in New Orleans with a salad named for an ethnic slur for Italians. In this article from a few years back, a chef explains where that fits in local culinary terms.

Ever wonder about the story behind Indian-Chinese cuisine? You should, because the world is full of all kinds of great stories about traveling foods and people. To that end, read this article by Sharanya Deepak, on the development of Chinese cuisine in Kolkata over two centuries ago. And while we are tracing foods across the globe, check out this blog posting from food historian Rachel Laudan about the Islamic influence on Mexican cuisine. She traces a chicken dish from “Moorish” to “Mestizo” over a few centuries.

Following on this theme of ethnicity and foods, we have often featured here articles that take on questions about how foods from different groups are represented. Are they “ethnic” foods, immigrant foods, or just food? And who can speak about them, cook them for the public, etc.? These are important questions because they help (or prevent) thinking about the lives of the people who make the food. And because these discussions are far from settled, here is another one, in which Angela Dimayuga, executive chef at Mission Chinese (in New York), discusses the food they serve as maybe Chinese and maybe “New American Food.” This is the same Angela Dimayuga who was recently in the news for having refused an interview with an Ivanka Trump-affiliated website using very powerful language.

The Trump administration has picked a fight with Canada over milk and apparently both American dairy farmers and Democrats are happy. But should they be? Does the U.S. have a strange policy that generates huge milk surpluses? Perhaps. Read this, from Tom Philpott at Mother Jones, to learn about this situation.

During the last French presidential election debate, we learned a new word from France’s now-president elect, Emmanuel Macron: poudre de perlimpinpin. That is French for “snake oil” and Macron was accusing his opponent of being a purveyor. Dietary advice is, in America, one area where the poudre de perlimpinpin is regularly on offer. In this recent article from the Atlantic, James Hamblin looks into recent claims that lectins—substances found in plants—are to blame for American dietary woes. He critiques a book by a doctor who advises avoiding foods with lectins and who, as it happens, sells dietary supplements that he claims can help you deal with them. Along with casting serious doubts on the claims made by the anti-lectin doctor, Hamblin does a particularly good job of pointing to the signs and symbols deployed to lend legitimacy to this attempt at creating the next dietary fad. For that alone, this is worth a read.

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Hot Topic: School Lunch Regulation

Kelly Alexander

08welllunch-tmagArticle

Breaking news from the world of U.S. food policy: President Trump’s new ag secretary Sonny Perdue moves to loosen federal school lunch legislation, thereby slowing healthy food standards implemented under the Obama administration. The Atlanta Journal‘s politics blog does a great job covering the implications — Perdue is former governor of the state of Georgia. The Sacramento Bee‘s editorial section has a snarkier take. Prominent school lunch regulation advocate Bettina Elias Siegel argues that it may not be as bad as some fear on her blog The Lunch Tray. In fact, she argues in an article in the New York Times that what folks should be more concerned about are issues of lunch shaming. All food for thought, especially in terms of the intersection of biopolitics and the school cafeteria.

 

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CFP: Food Security in the Pacific

Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Annual Meeting

New Orleans, Louisiana

January 30 to February 4, 2018

Deadline for Submissions: 1 November 2017

As the effects of climate change increasingly shift the conditions of everyday life within the Pacific region, food security has come to the fore as a pressing concern. Changes in ocean temperature have shifted fish populations, rising water tables have changed soil salinity, and an increasingly globalized food system has created economies of import dependence. The organizers of this informal session invite participants working on issues of food security, sovereignty, and indigenous food knowledge, in order to explore how growing, provisioning, and eating are negotiated within Pacific Island communities. We invite these conversations to be wide-ranging, and to engage questions of gendered labor, new technology, epistemology, abundance and scarcity, and changes over time. We are also interested in the historical conditions that make and unmake ways of eating and engaging with the environment, including colonialism, modernity, migration, and trans-Pacific networks. Contributions are welcomed from a range of theoretical perspectives that critically interrogate how food economies, cultures, politics and cultural representations shape lives and livelihoods in the contemporary Pacific.

Themes could include, but are not limited to, critical consideration of:

• Frameworks of food security, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty within Pacific contexts;

 • Analysis of contemporary and historical food politics, including different food and farming movements and campaigns, particular land and resource struggles and other considerations of the political economy of food;

• Changing practices of food provisioning in relation to reproductive work, intra-household inequalities, time burdens and time poverty;

• Informal food exchange and trading networks and the continued importance of subsistence livelihood practices for Pacific food security;

• Changing food security practices and food cultures in relation to diaspora, migration, displacement and environmental degradation of woodsheds;

• Reflections on the changing meanings, uses and uptake of Pacific staple foods, including the promotion of particular crops for food security and nutrition (e.g. breadfruit);

 • Relationships between cash crop economies, food exports and household food production/security;

• Critical perspectives on nutrition discourses and food, health, development interventions and biopolitics in Pacific contexts;

• Food aesthetics, practices and economies of desire in relation to militarization and tourism in the Pacific;

• the status of ocean resources, fisheries and marine management in Pacific Oceania;

• Representations of food in indigenous Pacific knowledge production and cultural representations, as well as in Western production of knowledge about the Pacific.

Participants interested in this session are invited to contact the co-organizers with a suggested topic of interest, intention to participate, or any questions that you might have.

Hiʻilei Julia Hobart: hiilei.hobart@northwestern.edu

Amanda Friend Shaw: a.f.shaw@lse.ac.uk

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