CFP: Southern Cultures Special Issue on Coastal Foodways

This is a bit last minute, but seems like it may be of interest to SAFN writers and other readers of this blog:

Call for Papers
Special issue of Southern Cultures: Coastal Foodways
Spring 2018

Southern Cultures, the award-winning, peer-reviewed quarterly from UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, encourages submissions from scholars, writers, and artists for our Coastal Foodways Issue, to be published Spring 2018. We will be accepting submissions for this special issue through October 3, 2017, at https://southerncultures.submittable.com/Submit .

This call aims to gather work that documents and understands the food and foodways-related issues of the southern coast, in its present moment, and in the voices of scholars, fishers and fishmongers, coastal activists, environmentalists, and communities broadly defined. We understand southern foodways to exist across many genres, disciplines, and collaborations and seek to expand the conversation to the interaction of peoples and cultures with the broader forces of political, social, historical, and economic change at work in the Atlantic and Gulf Souths. Global South analyses are welcome as well.

Submissions can explore any topic or theme related to southern coastal life, with a special interest in pieces that seek new understandings of the coast and its food cultures, identify current communities and concerns, and address its ongoing challenges. We welcome explorations of the region in the forms Southern Cultures publishes: scholarly articles, memoir, interviews, surveys, photo essays, and shorter feature essays.

Possible topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • The politics of evolving coastal food economies
  • Changing labor and fishing industry scenarios
  • Coastal tourism and real estate development issues
  • Climate change and sea rise, wetlands loss, and environmental degradation
  • Local seafood movement

As we also publish a digital edition, we are able to supplement essays with video, audio, and interactive visual content. We encourage creativity in coordinating print and digital materials in submissions and ask that authors submit any potential digital materials with their essay or introduction/artist’s statement.

We encourage authors to gain familiarity with the tone, scope, and style of our journal before submitting. Those whose institutions subscribe to Project Muse can read past issues for free via http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/southern_cultures/ . To read our current issue, access our submission guidelines, or browse our content, please visit us online at http://www.SouthernCultures.org/ .

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, September 15, 2017

Jo Hunter-Adams

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.

To begin, Raj Patel writes of the devastation of industrial agriculture. Local is one important avenue in the face of industrial ag, and Strongtowns is an interesting place to go to find stories of strong local food systems: Firstly, this article describes some of the challenges of building local food systems to the point where they actually provide significant calories (and the long years of hard work and no income that often precede this point). Also on Strongtowns was this piece about nuns running a farm in western New York, which offers a glimpse at the many ways that small farms can be transformational. Brian Williams also offered some very helpful ways of thinking about local food in the context of food systems. Citiscopes also had this article on building resilience into local food systems in Baltimore and Washington D.C.. Across the world in Australia, Karenni refugees are showing what is possible by cultivating food in suburban spaces. Perhaps a little tangentially linked, insects continue to be a very hot area of (local) food systems change, as described in this NPR article about teaching kids about entomophagy.

I’m always struck by the various food “worlds” we’re trying to make sense of, and our role as food researchers showing how these worlds are connected and influence one another. For example, check out this video on surviving on R1000 ($74)/month in South Africa. This is juxtaposed with the power of South African breweries (SAB) and the recent StatsSA article in honour of our national beer day, which tracked spending and told us that we’re spending more on beer than on vegetables. In Venezuela, chronic hunger is currently affecting large portions of the population, and this in-depth article frames hunger politically.  Which is not to sidestep the persistent issue of hunger in wealthy countries, as described in the U.S. context here.

There are so many people working on food and nutrition, and here are just a couple of stories about food educators: Forbes interviewed Tambra Raye Stevenson about her work bringing together different threads of food activism. There was also this NYTimes article about nutrition education as a medical intervention.

As always, the medicalization of food and the quest for the perfect diet can lead us astray. This article in The Atlantic examines misinterpretation of nutritional studies:

When measuring diet, for example, lifelong randomized, controlled trials are impossible. Even if people would volunteer to change their diets for a decade or so—a period long enough that rates of death and cancer and heart attacks could be meaningful—it would be impossible to keep the research subjects blinded. Our perceptions of how well we’re eating change how we behave in a lot of other ways.

Relatedly, Bee Wilson had this excellent article about the [debunked but cultlike] phenomenon of Clean Eating :

But it quickly became clear that “clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole universe of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged.

It’s in this world that dieting remains a big business, and now Oprah’s has some big stakes in the business.

I’ve been reading my way through the long list of food histories recently, and this article about strawberries caught my eye. It’s always a bit startling to see how much science is involved in growing and transporting just the right fruit.

Lastly, this article was a beautiful view of how daily acts of love are enacted in food:

There are so many different ways to show love through food — you can cook for someone, you can feed them.

Or you can just make a little room at the table for what they love to eat.

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CFP: Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

A call for papers for an annual conference in France that may be of interest to our readers:

IEHCA logo

Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

Conference organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 November 2018 – Tours (France)

For several years now, many scientists have taken an interest in the relationship between food and heritage: from historians to anthropologists, sociologists to geographers, experts in the field of tourism science, and more. This interest has spawned a host of new publications, and with it a number of mono-disciplinary case studies.

There is a need to review these actions and this work. With the European Council and Parliament deciding that 2018 will be “European Cultural Heritage Year”, there is now a drive to “raise awareness of European history and values and to strengthen a sense of European identity”, while also “drawing attention to the opportunities offered by our cultural heritage, but also to the challenges it faces”. Viewing food in all its aspects as a cultural heritage clearly follows from the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This includes “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity”. The terms of this definition inspired the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food to initiate and carry through the Repas gastronomique des Français (Gastronomic meal of the French) nomination project. Furthermore, UNESCO has added 14 “food” elements to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and many other applications are being prepared. The time has come for a comprehensive and coordinated process of reflection.

Lines of enquiry

The first objective of the conference will be to advocate a multidisciplinary approach to the various aspects covered by food heritage. The second innovative trajectory will be to take a European and international standpoint, with a particular reference to countries that have successfully added food elements to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Finally, we will focus particular attention on the differing time frames, including those that are more long-term in nature.

This comprehensive approach will first focus on challenges: providing a precise definition of concepts such as intangible and food heritage, identifying the scientific and professional communities concerned by these concepts, while also taking the fragile nature of food heritage into account.

Understanding processes is key, in terms of developing the concept of intangible heritage or the historic development of food heritage (compared to concepts such as terroir), and preparing applications for inclusion on UNESCO’s Representative List. The national inventories are essential tools in this regard.

And finally, perspectives consider the fact that, as with any other intangible cultural heritage, food heritage is covered by safeguarding measures. The establishment of a global network of intangible cultural heritage food elements can, clearly, provide robust support for any collective action. We intend to lay the foundations for this network with the 2018 symposium.

Topics (non-exhaustive)

  • Typicality, in terms of the link between the product (and the know-how it takes to produce and transform it) and its place of origin, is a value whose characteristics change based on place and time. Typicality and tradition both contribute to shaping the concept of heritage. Here, too, recent case studies are available.
  • It is now impossible to discuss the notion of food heritage without due consideration of the UNESCO Convention and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Strictly speaking, the Urgent Safeguarding List still contains neither food nor gastronomic elements. Nevertheless, food does play a significant role in, for example, the Yaokwa ritual of the Enawene Nawe people of Brazil (2011), and Guatemala’s Nan Pa’ch ceremony (2013). While studies have already been published, this phenomenon calls for more in-depth research.
  • The notion of food heritage (or culinary, or gastronomic) is a recent development, but its roots stretch back in time. A preliminary work on the French case was published recently, and The French Culinary Model: dissemination, adaption, transformation and opposition worldwide (17th–21st centuries) was chosen as the topic of the IEHCA’s 2014 Conference. But here again, much remains to be done, particularly in a global and comparative sense.
  • Where heritage exists, there is also a need to understand, safeguard and transfer this heritage. This requirement is explicit in the UNESCO Convention, but its roots can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Such a need explains both the existence of inventories and political action taken by public authorities at a national, regional and local level.
  • Food heritage appreciation and interpretation was also the subject of an innovative museological and museographical project using virtual technologies. However, areas remain to be explored, and the use of certain techniques has often generated discrepancies or impossibilities that are yet to be identified to improve public information.
  • The process of heritage designation loads the standard product (and its cuisine) with added values derived from history and mythology; mythology often merges with history, to the point at which it acts as a substitute. The fact that sociologists have developed the expression “nostalgia marketing”, which refers to these aspects, is no coincidence; the consumer is reassured, and recognises a reminder of “the good old days” in the product, a guarantee of quality. There is also a clear economic aspect inherent in this example.

Submission guidelines

If you would like to present a paper at this conference, please send a proposal including an abstract and a CV (1 page maximum, in total) in French or English to be submitted to loic.bienassis@iehca.eu by 15 December 2017.

L’alimentation comme patrimoine culturel : enjeux, processus et perspectives

Colloque organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 novembre 2018 – Tours (France)

Depuis quelques années, les relations entre nourriture et patrimoine ont suscité l’intérêt de nombreux scientifiques : des historiens aux anthropologues, des sociologues aux géographes jusqu’aux experts des sciences du tourisme, etc. En témoignent de multiples publications récentes, qui présentent autant d’études de cas mono-disciplinaires.

Un bilan de ces actions et des travaux effectués s’impose. Le Conseil et le Parlement européen ayant décidé que 2018 serait l’« Année européenne du patrimoine culturel », l’initiative a été lancée de « sensibiliser à l’histoire et aux valeurs européennes et à renforcer un sentiment d’identité européenne » tout en attirant « l’attention sur les possibilités offertes par notre patrimoine culturel, mais également sur les défis auxquels il est confronté ». Considérer l’alimentation et tous ses aspects en tant que patrimoine culturel découle évidemment de la Convention UNESCO pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel, qui, rappelons-le, inclut « les pratiques, représentations, expressions, connaissances et savoir-faire – ainsi que les instruments, objets, artefacts et espaces culturels qui leur sont associés – que les communautés, les groupes et, le cas échéant, les individus reconnaissent comme faisant partie de leur patrimoine culturel. Ce patrimoine culturel immatériel, transmis de génération en génération, est recréé en permanence par les communautés et groupes en fonction de leur milieu, de leur interaction avec la nature et de leur histoire, et leur procure un sentiment d’identité et de continuité, contribuant ainsi à promouvoir le respect de la diversité culturelle et la créativité humaine ». Ce sont les termes mêmes de cette définition qui avaient conduit l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation à initier et à mener à bien le projet d’inscription du Repas gastronomique des Français. Outre celui-ci, quatorze éléments « alimentaires » ont été classés par l’UNESCO dans la liste représentative du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité et de nombreux autres dossiers sont en préparation. Le temps est venu d’une réflexion globale et coordonnée.

Orientations

Le premier objectif du colloque sera de promouvoir une approche multidisciplinaire des différents aspects que recouvre le patrimoine alimentaire. Sa seconde originalité sera d’adopter une perspective européenne et internationale en s’appuyant notamment sur les pays qui ont fait inscrire des éléments alimentaires au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité. Enfin on sera particulièrement attentif aux différentes échelles temporelles, y compris la longue durée.

Cette approche globale abordera d’abord la question des enjeux, qui suppose de définir précisément des notions comme patrimoine immatériel ou alimentaire, de délimiter les communautés scientifiques et professionnelles concernées par ces notions, sans oublier la prise en compte de la fragilité des patrimoines alimentaires.

La compréhension des processus est cruciale, que ce soit la construction de la notion de patrimoine immatériel ou bien la construction historique du patrimoine alimentaire (par rapport à des notions comme celle de terroir) ou encore l’élaboration des dossiers présentés pour l’inscription sur la liste représentative de l’UNESCO. De ce point de vue, l’instrument représenté par les inventaires nationaux se révèle essentiel.

Enfin les perspectives intègrent le fait que le patrimoine alimentaire, comme tout le patrimoine culturel immatériel en général, fait l’objet de mesures de sauvegarde. La mise en place d’un réseau mondial des éléments alimentaires du patrimoine culturel immatériel peut sans aucun doute être un puissant appui à une action collective : le colloque de 2018 entend en être la première pierre.

Thématiques (non exhaustives)

  • La typicité, en tant que lien entre le produit (et le savoir-faire qui le réalise et le transforme) et son lieu d’origine, est une valeur dont les caractéristiques changent selon le lieu et le temps. Typicité et tradition participent ensemble à la construction du concept de patrimoine. Dans ce cas, aussi, nous disposons d’études de cas récentes.
  • Il est maintenant impossible d’aborder l’idée du patrimoine alimentaire sans prendre en considération la convention UNESCO et la liste des éléments du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité qui nécessitent une sauvegarde urgente. Dans cette dernière, on ne trouve pas encore d’éléments alimentaires ou gastronomiques stricto sensu. Cependant, la nourriture occupe une place importante, par exemple, dans le rituel appelé Yaokwa, du peuple brésilien Enawene Nawe (2011) et dans la cérémonie de la Nan Pa’ch du Guatemala (2013). Des études ont déjà été publiées mais ce phénomène demande un approfondissement des enquêtes.
  • L’idée du patrimoine alimentaire (ou culinaire, ou gastronomique) est le résultat d’une construction récente, mais ses origines se situent dans l’histoire. Des travaux existent mais là aussi il reste beaucoup à faire, notamment dans une démarche globale et comparative.
  • S’il y a patrimoine, il y a aussi nécessité de le connaître, de le sauvegarder et de le transmettre. Cette nécessité est explicite dans la Convention UNESCO, mais elle plonge ses racines dans un passé qu’on peut faire remonter bien en arrière, parfois jusqu’au Moyen Âge. Une telle nécessité est à l’origine des inventaires d’un côté, et d’un autre côté des mesures politiques prises par les pouvoirs publics à l’échelle nationale, régionale ou locale. Les inventaires eux-mêmes dépendent des implications culturelles et économiques véhiculées par le patrimoine et souvent présentes aussi dans le développement de son inventorisation.
  • La médiation du patrimoine alimentaire a également fait l’objet d’un travail novateur en matière de muséologie et de muséographie, grâce à l’apport des technologies virtuelles. Mais tout n’a pas été encore exploré, et l’emploi de certaines techniques a pu parfois générer des contradictions ou encore des impossibilités qu’il reste à identifier pour améliorer l’information des publics.
  • Le processus de patrimonialisation charge le produit typique (et sa cuisine aussi) de valeurs ajoutées qui proviennent de l’histoire et de la mythologie ; la mythologie se mêle souvent à l’histoire, jusqu’au point de s’y substituer. Ce n’est pas un hasard si les sociologues ont créé l’expression de « Nostalgia marketing », qui renvoie à ces aspects ; il s’agit de rassurer le consommateur, qui reconnaît dans le produit l’évocation du « bon vieux temps », garantie de qualité. L’aspect économique est évident en ce cas aussi.

Conditions de soumission

Si vous souhaitez présenter une communication à ce colloque, merci d’envoyer une proposition comprenant un argumentaire et un CV (au total 1 page maximum), en français ou en anglais, auprès de Loïc Bienassis loic.bienassis@iehca.eu avant le 15 décembre 2017.

___________________________________

Ce colloque est organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours) qui a porté la candidature du « Repas gastronomique des Français » au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité établi par l’UNESCO.

The conference is being organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours), which supported the nomination of the ‘Gastronomic meal of the French’ for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, established by UNESCO.

En partenariat avec / in partnership with

L’Association France PCI

Le Ministère de la Culture

La Mission Française des Patrimoines et des Cultures Alimentaires

Le Réseau des Cités de la Gastronomie

L’Université de Tours

Comité de Pilotage (provisoire) / Steering committee (provisional)

Loïc Bienassis (Chargé de mission scientifique, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Francis Chevrier (Directeur de l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Denis Feignier (Inspecteur général de l’agriculture, ministère de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation)

Bruno Laurioux (Professeur d’histoire du Moyen Âge et de l’alimentation, Université de Tours)

Pascal Liévaux (Chef du département du pilotage de la recherche et de la politique scientifique, ministère de la Culture)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Laurent Stéfanini (Ambassadeur, Délégué permanent de la France auprès de l’UNESCO)

Comité scientifique (provisoire) / Scientific committee (provisional)

Chiara Bortolotto (Chercheuse associée au laboratoire d’anthropologie et d’histoire de l’institution de la culture (LAHIC), Paris)

Antonella Campanini (Enseignante/chercheuse en histoire médiévale, University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italie)

Allen J. Grieco (Chercheur associé, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italie)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, É0cole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Sylvie Sagnes (Chargée de recherche, CNRS, Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain, Paris)

 

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Review: The Sociology of Food

The Sociology of Food: Eating the Place of Food in Society.  Jean-Pierre Poulain.  Translated by Augusta Dorr.  Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

This is a wonderful and rich book because it situates food in a central position among a variety of social and behavioral sciences and other fields, such as medical and nutritional sciences.  Jean-Pierre Poulain is one of the foremost French food sociologists. In this book, which is separated into two major parts, with new chapters added recently, Poulain argues that the person who is eating should be the focus of all food studies. Past studies, he contends, were too narrow and missed the opportunity to integrate inter-disciplinary perspectives.  He argues that this person-eater focus enables the beginnings of this interdisciplinary discussion to address both theoretical and practical/policy related questions.

Poulain provides both French and cross-cultural examples to illustrate his conclusions and uses French culinary history and gastronomie as a measure of food changes around France and the world.  In brief, he contends that the person- eater can consume what her or his society, technology and economy. The person-eater eats within pre-existing and changing cultural, commercial, and technological determinants not only as to what to eat, but how to eat it in different social settings.  The person-eater may alter what s/he eats in part under the influence of changes in these areas as well. For example, many people who had previously been concerned about how much to eat shifted their concerns to higher quality food in the last thirty years (p.62.)

Initially, and throughout the two related parts of the book, Poulain addresses the history of the ways in which anthropologists have included food in ethnography.  Functionalists like Alfred Radcliffe-Brown saw food as part of social ritual and the economic system.  Aubrey Richards carried it further, placing food as central to both physical and cultural life (p.119.) Marvin Harris argued that food should be seen in the ways that ecological factors affected what foods a society eats (p.150.)  Claude Levi-Strauss focused on the ways people categorized food in terms of its relationship to eating and other social categories (p.114 et seq.)

This is just a sampling of Poulain’s discussion.  He reviews sociological thinking about food amongst all the major English, European, and American researchers, anthropologists and sociologists. He situates it in the differing perspectives of Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, social fact and social space, respectively. This discussion is extremely useful to scholars unfamiliar with the history and scope of this larger discussion.  Poulain extends Mauss’ approach to a larger social space. This discussion then provides the opportunity for Poulain to address the necessity and desirability for social and behavioral science interdisciplinary studies. Eventually, other disciplinary studies, such as nutritional and medical ones can be included as well.

Additionally, he situates his larger food discussion in more culturally-oriented studies, such as those concerning gender and area studies.. In his concluding chapter, New chapter: Food studies versus the socio-anthropology of the “food social fact,” Poulain contends that institutional funding, national politics, and political trends affect the emergence and direction of various cultural studies and sees food as included as well.

In the first part of this work, Poulain addresses in a more specific way how eating patterns have changed through history, particularly focusing on French and American practices. The French, he argues, are now experiencing “gastro-anomie”–eating without the “old” rules of French culinary practices.  The French, for example, are now eating smaller lunches in less time, American style.  Many no longer have all of the dishes of the “classic” French meal, reducing five courses to three (81-184).

Poulain also examines the evolving French eating experience to changes in religion, particularly Catholicism.  Food, for the French, becomes a celebration of this life and is not simply seen as a necessity or as some way of punishing one’s self, as  he contends English Protestantism  does (pp.188-195.)  As another example, except for pagan “holdovers” in some parts of France, the slaughter of animals has been secularized, in large part because, in Catholicism, the sacrifice of Jesus itself required sacralization, and the prayers for the sacrifice of animals therefore did not need any ritual accompaniment (192 et seq.)

As suggested, above, he also reviews changes in French cuisine, the Americanization of food, and the changes in eating among different ethnic cuisines of the world.  For example, meals, commonly shared in Vietnam, when eaten in France, are eaten by an individual person (21).  There are more of these intriguing observations, too many to mention here, and worthy of interest and commentary.

In Chapter 5, Obesity and the medicalization of everyday food consumption, Poulain addresses the ways in which societies define obesity and its relation to the notions of beauty and to changing ideas about nutrition.  I find this presentation worthwhile. There is a related issue worth raising, however, one about which I am concerned.  I am a psychologist as well as an anthropologist. As a psychologist, I assess clients for gastric bypass and laparoscopic surgeries because many have found it impossible to lose weight.  Poulain does not address this issue.   These people run the risk of Type II diabetes and significant collapse of cartilage between their joints, as well as the possibility of heart attacks. Furthermore, no attention is paid to the fact that so many people who are severely obese have been sexually abused and/or have been raped.  (See, for example, Gustafon and Sawrwer 2004). Their obesity is, in part, a response to that trauma and must be respectfully addressed by trained clinicians working with similarly trained physicians and nutritionists.

Overall, this is an excellent book that will stimulate and provoke research and discussion both within disciplines and cross disciplinarily.  As noted earlier, it is an excellent resource for understanding the history of the “food social space” in past and present social science.  In addition, the translation is excellent. Lastly, it is appropriate for professionals in the field and graduate students.  Selected chapters may be useful for upper division students as well.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2004 Gustafon, T.B. and D.B. Sarwer. Childhood Sexual Abuse and Obesity. Obesity Reviews.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2004.00145.x/full

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Smithsonian Food History Weekend

If you expect to be in the Washington DC area between October 26 and 28 you may want to consider attending the Third Annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. The theme is: “Many Flavors, One Nation” (which might work for someone looking to start an ice cream business). From the web site:

Join us for the 2017 Smithsonian Food History Weekend at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Culinary leaders, researchers, practitioners, and scholars will inspire Museum visitors to understand the history of food in America and the role they play, individually and collectively, in shaping the future of food.

Over the course of three days, our third annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend will explore how food has been both a bridge and a barrier to cultural connection in America. From farmers to home cooks to top chefs, how does food migrate with people? Where does our food really come from? And how have people negotiated their differences and celebrated their commonalties over food throughout American history?

From cooking demonstrations, hands-on learning, dynamic conversations, and Smithsonian collections; to powerful evenings, a black-tie gala, local restaurants, and beer history; there’s something for everyone.

A number of notable food studies scholars will be involved, along with opportunities to observe cooking, eat, and drink. Details are available on the web site, which is here.

As always, we would be thrilled to have a report back from a SAFN member on the event. Take a few pictures and send a note for this blog.

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Size Matters: How Semiotics is Making History in the World of Wine

Kerri Lesh
University of Nevada, Reno

A “historic milestone” for the Spanish wine-making region of Rioja has been making headlines in the wine world. A new labeling strategy was approved that will shape the way producers from Rioja can market their wine after the 2017 harvest. This decision illustrates the efforts that have been made on behalf of the Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA) to differentiate the wines of the Basque zone of Rioja Alavesa, and will now apply to all producers in the Rioja wine-making Designation of Origen (DOC).

On August 11, the decision was made by the Regulatory Board of Rioja DOC to allow for wines to be labeled by “zona”(zone) and “villa”(town or municipality), as well as “viñedos singulares” or single vineyard wine. This ruling comes after more than forty bodegas had been working to develop a new Designation of Origin (DO), called Viñedos de Álava or, in Basque, Arabako Mahastiak. The latest decision has, then, been made to halt the efforts to create the Alavesa label, and to allow the DOC of Rioja to follow through with its new agreement.

The Vice President of ABRA, Carlos Fernández, commented on the Dastatu Rioja Alavesa blog that, “This began many years ago with the demand for a font size to acknowledge the distinct subzones of the Rioja DOC.” Up until now, the permitted subzones, now simply called “zones,” had to be displayed using a smaller font size than that of the larger “Rioja” DOC indication. The three zones–Alta, Alavesa, and Baja (the latter recently changed to Oriental or “Eastern”)–can now be listed in a font equal in size to that of the larger designation of “Rioja.”

rioja lobel

Bottle label from Ostatu displaying the previous font specifications

Bittor Oroz, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fishing, and Food Policy for the Basque Government, expands on the importance of making “place” more visible by referencing the concept of terroir, as stated in Noticias de Alava:

“People look for the origin of the wine they consume, they want to link it to the terroir…they are looking for something more than just the quality of the product, but rather the story behind the wine, the histories that lie behind a glass, and being able to focus in on a particular bodega, on the places where it is cultivated and produced.  Because of that, it is important to identify those spaces and give them their due value.”

The importance of this new agreement highlights the challenges of selling wine within various markets, in such a way whereby identity and traceability are not lost. This particular use of semiotics is in part driven by the producers’ and consumers’ desire for a unique, traceable, and well-marketed wine.

A portion of my research in the Basque Country entails the observation of how semiotics and the concept of terroir are implemented in marketing local gastronomic products.  Alongside Anne Lally, I have co-organized and chaired the panel titled Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter. This panel will be featured at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting, to be held this November in Washington D.C.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns at kerri.lesh@gmail.com.

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Filed under AAA 2017 Washington DC, anthropology, Spain, wine

There is no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise: The rights and wrongs of a ragù

Markus Bell

Arguably Italy’s most famous dish, certainly the one most likely to appear on the children’s menu in your local family diner, spaghetti bolognaise is globally consumed and widely misunderstood. I spent a Bologna evening in the company of some hungry Italians to find out what’s so special about bolognaise, why the rest of us are getting it wrong, and what this quintessentially Italian food can tell us about ourselves.

The rules of ragù

Rule #1: There’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise.

Like every good meal the evening starts with some hunting and gathering. A team dispatched to the local store, owned and staffed by a friendly Pakistani family, return with ingredients for the feast to come. Beers are cracked and diced vegetables thrown into a pot that already plays host to a generous splash of olive oil.

Busy hands stir the onions, celery and carrots for 20 minutes before adding first the pork and then the beef. “It’s so the meat breaks up. Later we’ll add the wine and the tomato sauce and let simmer,” our host explains, wielding a spoon stained at the end with evidence of a lifetime of mixing.

“So, dinner in half an hour?” I ask, recalling family ‘Italian nights’ as a child.

“Dinner in 3 hours,” comes a terse reply. “The first thing you’ve got to know,” our host informs us earnestly, measuring out flour and eggs for crafting the pasta, “is that there’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise. We don’t use garlic, there’s no cherry tomato in here, and it’s not fast food. This is tagliatelle al ragù.”

Rule #2: It’s not an exact science

IMG_0338Flour blankets the table like snow on a Hallmark Christmas card. Mimicking Mr. Miyagi’s ‘wax-on, wax-off’ motion, our host sweeps it up and shapes it into a miniature volcano. Into the crater he cracks several eggs. “How much flour is in each volcano?” I ask, notepad in hand.

“The second thing to know, Markus: making tagliatelle al ragù isn’t an exact science. You’ve got to feel when the dough is ready to roll. You need to taste the ragù before you add the wine. And you just know when it’s all ready.”

I reluctantly discard my pen and paper.

Our host kneads the flour and eggs until it becomes firm and stops sticking to a rolling board that resembles a dance floor in proportions. Locating an oversized, police baton of a wooden rolling pin he leans with his weight on the dough and lunges back and forth, flattening everything in his path.IMG_0345

“They were my grandmother’s,” he explains, hair pulled back, shoulders pinned forward as he mercilessly shunts dough around the dance floor. “I learnt to cook from watching my grandmother. There were no recipes. Nothing was written down. We learn by watching and doing,” he tells us, brushing flour from his hands and reaching for a beer.

Culinary co-presence

Our host, like so many young Italians, grew up a countryside kitchen. He stood with his grandmother as she cooked every meal for the family using tools she later gifted him. And like so many young Italians, our host had left the family village and left Italy to find employment that had eluded him at home. Indeed, as we watch him boil clutch after clutch of frIMG_0347esh pasta, we realize that of the guests at the feast that evening, all were preparing to go overseas to find work.

A sensation of loss characterizes the performance of the properly cooked ragù. The bubbling ragù and the tools baring grandmother’s hand indentations are trans-temporal objects facilitating an imagined reunion for families separated between rural and urban, Italy and the US, life and death. Like the best performances, the audience participates in nurturing the sentiments of longing for absent people, the desire to be close to kin and an imagined return to the sweetness of a nostalgic past, to a ragù gone by.

In those moments, our host embodies his grandmother through dicing, stirring, rolling and tasting the food as she taught him. In further staining the mixing spoon he fostered a co-presence by-proxy with his kin and family home. During an impatient wait for sauce to reach an unscientifically defined readiness, a heady mix of braised meats and high-tannin red wine elevated the cooking process for participants. Smells, sounds and stories collapsed time, overlapping the now and then into a sensual communitas.

Rule #3: Slow to cook, quick to eat

Thick pasta snakes are encouraged onto plates and swamped with a rich, dark sauce that pulls at the tongue. Around the table, glasses rise and a chorus of the hungry give thanks to the chef and to grandma.

The moment of consumption is short lived. The ceremony of commensality breaking down as the ragù is devoured before I can observe the necessary niceties (‘It tastes just like the real thing, mom’). Forks hit the ceramic and I’m confronted by quizzical expressions.

‘Did you even taste it?’ I ask, incredulously.

‘Rule three, Markus: A good ragù is slow to cook and quick to eat.’ My host smiles, wiping the sauce from his beard and pouring the dregs of the wine.

And this makes perfect sense. It’s through hours of preparation and waiting that a ragù is performed. Consumption is a just a bridge of reflection between the ritual of cooking and being cooked for and the calm of sitting, wine in hand, waiting for the next performance.

The Performed ragù:

1 x Onion, diced

Several sticks of celery, diced

Enough carrots, diced

Ground beef (75%)

Ground pork (25%)

Red Wine

Tomato Sauce

No garlic!

Cook the vegetables in a large pot for twenty minutes with olive oil. Add the meat. Add wine once everything is simmering nicely. Add tomato sauce. Simmer for three hours.

Fresh Pasta:

Flour (100 grams per person)

Eggs (1 egg per person)

Glass of water (if needed)

Author profile:

Dr. Markus Bell is a social and cultural anthropologist at Sheffield University’s School of East Asian Studies. He lectures on food and anthropology, North & South Korean society, migration, and history.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies, Italy