On Food and Labor, Briefly

David Beriss

Andrew Puzder has decided to withdraw his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, nominating a fast-food executive who opposes raising the minimum wage and likes the idea of replacing workers with machines raises a lot of questions. Yet even without Puzder, most of those questions remain relevant, especially since Mr. Trump has, in his other cabinet picks, pursued an agenda that favors big corporations and their leaders over improving the lives of workers. As a consequence, the conditions faced by workers in the food industry need to be at the core of the food movement for the foreseeable future.

When I posted the weekly reading digest earlier this week, I forgot to include a link to an important editorial on immigration, restaurant work, and low wages. Written by Diep Tran, for the NPR food blog, the piece focuses on the problematic idea that foods associated with certain ethnicities and immigrants should be cheap. Tran, who runs Good Girl Dinette in Los Angeles, points out that the expectation of cheap food in Vietnamese, Mexican, or other restaurants can only be met if workers in those restaurants are very poorly paid. His article is a call for better pay and working conditions in “ethnic” restaurants, linked to a willingness by consumers to pay a more reasonable price for the food they serve.

There are many reasons to call attention to the issues raised in this editorial. Questions of low pay and bad working conditions are critical in many parts of the food industry, not just in restaurants. A number of anthropologists have in fact written about these issues – Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, for instance (on undocumented Mexican workers in Chicago restaurants), or Steve Striffler (on workers in a chicken processing plant, mostly immigrants), or Seth Holmes (on migrant farm workers). As these authors (and others) all indicate, the struggle over wages and working conditions in the food industry is also related to debates around immigration in the United States.

Although many of us like to celebrate the idea of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, it is worth keeping in mind that it has long been a nation in which those immigrants are exploited and abused, especially if they are undocumented. People often seem to remember Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” for its depiction of the horrors of the meat packing industry in early twentieth century Chicago. Those horrors were inflicted mostly on immigrant workers. In fact, virtually every way in which those workers were exploited in the novel is still being practiced somewhere, either in the United States or elsewhere, today, as we have pointed out on this blog before. We should keep that in mind whenever we wonder about why food at the grocery store, the fast food restaurant, or “ethnic” eatery seems ridiculously cheap. Perhaps what we should be celebrating is that, historically, the U.S. has also been a nation of labor activists, in which workers have mostly received better wages and working conditions when they have successfully organized for them. That is happening now in much of the food industry and seems more necessary than ever.

Anthropologists will no doubt continue to do an excellent job of documenting the exploitation and dangerous conditions that workers—immigrant or not, documented or not—encounter in the food industry. We also need to remind people that if workers are going to have living wages and decent working conditions, all of us may have to pay more for our food. This points to a broader issue, since food industry workers are far from alone in being poorly paid. The struggle for a living wage for all workers, linked to access to affordable housing and health care, should be central to the food movement itself. And, of course, it remains the core issue confronting the future Labor Secretary, whoever that turns out to be.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, February 13, 2017

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.

Where else to start but with the outlook for nutrition and agriculture policy in the new administration? This account from Civil Eats of a recent panel discussion on the 2018 Farm Bill gets to some of the essential questions: what will happen to farm labor? What is going on with SNAP? Any reason for optimism? Probably not. But this could be a good read to start a discussion with students about setting U.S. policy priorities.

For additional perspective on where the Trump administration may be going, listen to this interview that Evan Kleiman conducted with Helena Bottemiller Evich, from Politico. From Sonny Perdue’s background, to crop policies in the Farm Bill, SNAP, to soda taxes, food safety and regulation, immigration, and even the White House garden, there is a lot here. The same author has written about President Trump’s personal relationship to food here. This is a pretty detailed take on Trump, his family, and their history with food and well worth reading.

Hearings on President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, have been scheduled for later this week, but the debate about his qualifications seems to be picking up steam. In this Washington Post editorial, a long-time Hardee’s employee discusses wages and working conditions in Puzder’s company. Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren persists in her efforts to raise important questions about Trump cabinet nominees. In this case, she has written a very long list of questions about Puzder’s qualifications that you can read about here.

As you may have heard, since the U.S. presidential election, George Orwell’s novel “1984” has returned to the bestseller lists. If you want to stoke the fires of your own paranoia, read this article, in which the very serious New York Times examines the strange deployment of military grade spyware (the kind deployed by agencies like the NSA) into the phones of soda tax activists and scholars in Mexico. Someone is taking food studies scholarship very seriously. At least in Orwell’s novel, everyone knew they were being watched all the time.

How do climate change, coastal restoration policy, indigenous foodways, community organizing, folk wisdom, seafood, food gardens, and tribal recognition all come together in one disturbing story? Read this article by Barry Yeoman, which uses a holistic perspective to examine how native people in south Louisiana are trying to save their communities and foodways as the Gulf of Mexico rises and destroys their land. Yeoman may not be an anthropologist, but this article would really be useful in any number of anthropology classes. Read it.

This piece by Nina Martyris on the NPR food blog examines the role of hunger in the lives of enslaved Americans. She draws on the work of Frederick Douglass, who wrote extensively about how desperate he was for food as a child. Yet Douglass also ended up using food in order to barter for literacy. This is a good piece for teaching about the use of food and hunger tools for controlling people.

From Lucky Peach TV, food science writer Harold McGee narrates this video on the relationship between pollution and the flavor of foods. He starts with the story of how a flavor scientist in LA became a major researcher and activist on smog, then looks at more recent work by folks from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy (yes, that is a thing) and the blog Edible Geography that use the concept “aeroir,” and “smog meringues” to get at the taste of cities. Quite a lot is packed into this little five minute video – show it to your students and you can discuss it for hours.

It turns out that mushroom hunting can be quite dangerous, but not because people end up eating poisonous mushrooms. Rather, it seems that people are themselves the danger, for a variety of rather disturbing reasons. Read this article, from Joshua Hunt on Eater.com for the details. Foolish behavior, murder, mayhem, and more. None of which is the fault of the mushrooms. Have the Cohen brothers made a movie about this yet?

Who invented Nutella and why? This seems like the sort of question that you could easily answer by visiting the web site of the company that makes the stuff (https://www.nutella.com/en/us, if you must). But this article, by Emily Mangini at Serious Eats, argues that the company’s story is missing details. She provides them in the article and refers determined readers to this blog, for an even more in depth examination of the subject.

If you are interested in the history of the restaurant business in the United States, then looking into fast food is unavoidable. From Andrew Puzder (see above) to Ray and Joan Kroc and, of course, to all the activists and workers struggling for decent pay and working conditions (also see above), it is hard to underestimate the importance of the industry to American culture. The success of The Founder, a film about Ray Kroc, provides at least one fascinating perspective. This interview, in which Russ Parsons talks with Lisa Napoli, author of the book  “Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away” (Dutton, 2016) is equally interesting.

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Fear, Fire, and Solidarity in New Orleans

David Beriss

Someone tried to burn down the Flaming Torch restaurant last week. The restaurant, flaming-torch-menu-signlocated in my neighborhood in New Orleans, is a French bistro that has been in business since 2004. It is small and friendly, with good French food, a little bit fancy (they have tablecloths), but very much part of the neighborhood. It is a reliable place for locals seeking classic French dishes (they make a great coq au vin), not a tourist destination. I have eaten there many times, but I especially remember eating there soon after Hurricane Katrina. The Flaming Torch was one of the first restaurants in the neighborhood to reopen and although they were desperately short-staffed, their presence was deeply appreciated by those of us who had come back to the city, because they provided a much-needed place to reunite with neighbors around good food and wine.

The fire, according to news reports, was deliberately set. The owner, Zohreh Khalegi, says she was upstairs, doing inventory, when someone broke into the dining room, doused the place with gasoline, and set it on fire. At least some of this was recorded by a security camera. She escaped to the roof and was rescued by the fire department. The interior damage is apparently quite extensive, so the restaurant’s future is uncertain.

flaming-torch-doorThe arsonist’s motives are unclear, but suspicions have been raised that this may have been a hate crime. Zohreh Khalegi, who started the restaurant with her late husband Hassan Khalegi, is an American citizen who immigrated decades ago from Iran. Although their origins were no secret, until recently there was very little in the restaurant that might have indicated the owners had any ties to Iran. In the last few years, the restaurant had begun to feature occasional special menus with Persian food. Certainly, for many people, this only made the restaurant more attractive, since there are not many other places to eat Persian food in the area. But the current American political context seems to have encouraged and given legitimacy to prejudice against people from countries like Iran (one of the countries subject to President Trump’s immigration ban). Could such prejudice have motivated someone to act against the restaurant? As far as I know, nobody has claimed responsibility for this act. But there have been threats and incidents of violence against immigrants and minorities all over the country since the presidential election. All of this is of grave concern and if the fire at the Flaming Torch is any indication, such things must be taken very seriously.

We do not know if this crime was related to anti-immigrant prejudice. But the fact that people are ready to believe that it is suggests that the political climate in the United States has reached a point (not, of course, for the first time) of critical danger. From fine dining to neighborhood diners, immigrants from many countries play a major role in the American restaurant industry. In New Orleans, as elsewhere in the United States, there are many restaurants owned and operated by people from predominantly Muslim countries, serving food from those regions. There are also many immigrants (perhaps most) who prepare and sell foods that have nothing to do with their origins, so they may not be visible as sellers of foods associated with immigrants. All of them may be targets for people who want to advance the nationalist agenda that has accompanied the rise of President Trump.

flaming-torch-thank-you

There has been an outpouring of support for Zohreh Khalegi and for the restaurant. People have posted testimonials and statements of support on the restaurant’s doors. Money has been raised to help with expenses. There are many people here in New Orleans who are eager to show their solidarity. The stakes involved are very high. By choosing to stand by owners of restaurants and other businesses that are targeted by racists and nationalists, we make a statement about what kind of community and nation we want to live in. We must all consider where we stand at this moment and what we will do to make sure that heated political rhetoric is not turned into more violence.

So why document this on an anthropology blog? There is a lot that anthropologists and other social scientists can do—and are doing—to help us understand the rise of nationalism and fear around the world in recent years. For anthropologists, this sort of incident can be an opportunity to think about how institutions like restaurants tie communities together, as well as about the ways violence, fear, and terror, can work to tear communities apart. We can call attention to the way such acts are named and discussed. President Trump recently claimed that many acts of terror are not adequately covered by the media and that, as a consequence, people do not take the threat of terror seriously enough. This act of arson, if it turns out to have been motivated by politics or hate, is an act of terror, but one that Mr. Trump will probably not define as terror, either because it is too small or because it had the wrong sort of victims. Yet acts of mass violence, including attacks on restaurants, schools, or religious communities, create exactly the kind of fear that terrorists try to achieve. We need to document the impact of these events and examine why they are interpreted by people as acts of terror. And, in this case, we can also show people coming together to resist and to show solidarity. In doing all of this, anthropology can help increase understanding and help resist those who would sow fear among us.

flaming-torch-rebuild

Resistance.

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CFP: The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography

Got students? Do they do ethnographic research and write papers about it? Check out this CFP, which may not be directly about food and nutrition…but could be. Let your students know!

Call for Papers: The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography

The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography (JUE) is an online journal for research conducted by undergraduates. We distribute original student-produced work from a variety of disciplinary areas. Our goal is to bring readers, especially other undergraduates, insights into subcultures, rituals and social institutions. The JUE encourages current undergraduates or those who have graduated within the past twelve months to submit original ethnographic manuscripts for consideration. Papers may include research on any topic. We also encourage faculty to recommend promising student work.

Submissions are welcomed for our next issues. Deadlines are January 31 and July 31. Please check out our website (undergraduateethnography.org) for submission guidelines and past issues.

For more information contact Martha Radice at radice@undergraduateethnography.org.

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AFHVS/ASFS Deadline Extension

A quick update! The deadline for submissions to the AFHVS/ASFS Annual Meeting and Conference has been extended to February 6, 2017, at 9pm PST.

AFHVS/ASFS Annual Meeting and Conference, June 14-17, 2017

Call for Abstracts

http://oxyfoodconference.org/
foodstudies@oxy.edu
#oxyfood17

Occidental College is pleased to host the Joint 2017 Annual Meetings and Conference of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).

The conference theme, “Migrating Food Cultures: Engaging Pacific Perspectives on Food and Agriculture,” invites us to reflect on and engage with the entirety of the Pacific region. The conference setting of Los Angeles, California, is a dynamic, diverse, and multiethnic global city that serves as a gateway, destination, and waypoint. Much of the food itself in California is produced in part by migrating workers and immigrants; indeed, the food scene in Los Angeles is the result of migrating food cultures. We use our conference’s location to invite participants to imagine and explore how the agricultural and food worlds throughout the Pacific mesh with environmental, social, cultural, historical, and material resources. We likewise invite participants to examine the roles of people, place, innovation, food production, and consumption, with attention to how these roles reflect and reinforce the social, economic, and cultural food landscapes of the Pacific.

Submissions

AFHVS and ASFS support scholarship and public presentation on a wide variety of topics at their conferences. For this year’s conference, in keeping with the theme, we encourage but do not require that papers, panel sessions, roundtables, and workshops speak to the theme. These sessions can be from practitioners, activists, and others working in food systems and culture. Submission areas include but are not limited to:

  • Food systems: local and global, past and present
  • Culture and cultural studies
  • Discipline-specific and interdisciplinary research
  • Art, design, and technology
  • Ethics and philosophy
  • Food access, security, and sovereignty
  • Migration, immigration, diaspora and transnational community studies
  • Community studies
  • Cultural, agricultural, and culinary preservation and innovation
  • Governance, policy, and rights
  • Pedagogy, food education, and/or experiential education
  • Labor in the food system, production, consumption
  • Energy and agriculture
  • Health: problems, paradigms, and professions

Submission Procedure

Submission system is open now.

Submission system closes: February 6, 2017 at 9:00am PST

All proposals must include:

  1. type of submission (e.g., individual paper, panel, roundtable, lightning talk, exploration gallery, etc.);
  2. title of paper, panel, or event;
  3. submitter’s name, organizational affiliation, and status (e.g., undergraduate, graduate student, postdoc, faculty, independent scholar, community member)
  4. submitter’s email address;
  5. names, email addresses, and organizational affiliations of co-authors or co-organizers;
  6. abstract of 250 or fewer words that describes the proposed paper, panel, or event;
  7. indication of any special AV/technology needs;
  8. a list of up to six descriptive keywords/phrases for the program committee to use in organizing sessions and events;
  9. any attachments must include the submitter’s name (e.g., Lang_John_restaurant_panel).

For individual papers: Papers will be grouped with similarly themed topics to the best of the program organizer’s abilities. Please submit a single abstract along with contact information.

For panels: Panels are pre-organized groups of no more than 4 papers, with a chair and discussant (who may be one person). Please include a panel abstract as well as abstracts for each individual paper. Conference organizers will make the utmost effort to preserve panels but reserve the right to move papers with consultation from panel organizer.

For roundtables: Roundtables are less formal discussion forums where participants speak for a short time before engaging with audience members. Please submit a single abstract along with a list of expected participants.

For lightning talks: Lightning talks are a short talk format. Each talk will last a maximum of 5 minutes and will be included in a session with other lightning talks. The goal is to quickly, insightfully, and clearly convey your point while grabbing the audience’s attention.

For workshops: Workshops are experiential or focused sessions where participants pre-register. Please provide an abstract as well as a list of organizers, resource and space needs, and any expected costs. We, unfortunately, do not have kitchen space for participants.

For exploration gallery display and poster proposals: Graduate students, food scholars, NGOs, researchers outside the academy, artists, and other members of the community are welcome to propose works for the 2017 Exploration Gallery. All media are welcome, including installations, print and other visual forms, audio, posters, and other works of art and design. A limited number of screen-based submissions will be accepted.

Notifications of acceptance will be provided by Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Attendees are expected to register by Sunday, April 30, 2017. For inclusion on the final program, at least one author from each submission must be registered as an attendee. Attendees must be members of AFHVS or ASFS at the time of the conference. The conference organizers regret that we are unable to provide travel support for meeting participation. Multiple submissions from an author are allowed, though we reserve the right to limit acceptance of multiple submissions by any one author. Space for workshops is limited and will be determined based on available resources.

Follow this link to submit an abstract.

Please direct questions to foodstudies@oxy.edu

Tentative Schedule

Wednesday, June 14

All Day             Conference Begins! Check-In and Registration Open

All Day             Pre-Conference Field Trips

Evening           Official Conference Welcome Reception

Thursday, June 15

All Day             Registration Open

All Day             Concurrent Sessions

Evening           Grad Student Social Event

Friday, June 16

All Day             Registration Open

All Day             Concurrent Sessions

Morning          AHV and FCS Journal Board Meetings

Afternoon        Individual Association Business Meetings: AFHVS/ASFS

Evening           Keynote Address

Evening           Banquet

Saturday, June 17

All Day             Registration Open

All Day             Concurrent Sessions

Morning          Joint AFHVS/ASFS Business Meeting

Afternoon        Presidential Addresses and Awards Presentation

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What Foodanthro is Reading Now, January 31st Edition

This article about a Syrian supper club in New Jersey was a glimpse of bridge-building, centered on food. Hooray for bridges.

And hooray for cooking, with cookbooks, even in a changing world, says Julie Thomson.

Over at Food Dive, they reflected on how Trump’s 120-day refugee ban might affect the meat-packing industry. For refugees who have spent a long time in camps and/or don’t yet speak English, the meat packing industry has long been a very large employer.

On the subject of cows, did you know cows sometimes eat skittles? Verified by Snopes, this is apparently not a new story, but it came to the fore again when cow-bound skittles ended up on an icy road in Wisconsin. Eater also helped shed light on the skittle situation with this article:

Joseph Watson, owner of United Livestock Commodities, told WSPD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky that a candy-based feed mixture has “all the right nutrition for them.” This is an argument America’s children have been posing at dinner tables across the country for years. But there are those concerned carnivores who don’t even like the idea of cows eating grain, so the idea of feeding America’s cattle sugary snacks is even worse. “Cows were meant to eat grass, not candy,”

Modern farmer describes the connection between the U.S. and South Korean egg markets, related to outbreaks of avian flu:

Egg prices are lower now than they’ve been anytime in the past decade, which is nice for American consumers but not so nice for egg producers who are trying to earn a living. So perk up, eggmen: South Korea is hungry for your eggs.

Other egg news this week is that the Unilever product, Hellman’s Mayo, is now made with cage-free eggs:

“They are one of the largest egg buyers to reach the point of exclusively using cage-free eggs, and they were also one of the first companies to announce that they were going to do it,” says Josh Balk, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection for The Humane Society of the United States. “I think that maybe at this point, in terms of the very large, national brands, it might be solely Unilever and Whole Foods.”

This is in an industry with very little margin, and in the midst of the cage-free movement. A little old, but the NYTimes wrote about the complexity of this shift:

If shoppers really want to buy eggs and have clear consciences, they may need to pay extra for pasture-raised, organic eggs, which can cost two, three or even four times as much as conventional eggs. Anything less than that means buying into an industrialized system of mass egg production, be it conventional or cage-free.

“It’s the nature of the system itself that is problematic,” Mr. Karcher said.

And lastly, why not pull up a chair and enjoy some hot chocolate while listening to a story about chocolate?

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Assistant/Associate Professor Food Studies/Sociology

u-of-s-maine

 

 

 

Assistant/Associate Professor Food Studies/Sociology

The University of Southern Maine is seeking applicants for a two-year (the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years) non-tenure track Food Studies faculty position with specific expertise in food culture and food systems.  The faculty member will have an appropriate Ph. D. with a record of teaching excellence in a relevant humanities field including history and languages, or in a relevant social science field including anthropology and sociology. The position will have a 3-3 teaching load, with a high expectation for developing an array of new courses, both undergraduate and graduate, that can support the planned curriculum, and serving as an active collaborator in university and community service elements of the Food Studies Program. There is the potential for this position to be renewed as tenure beginning 2019/20 contingent upon program demand and community impact, and also administrative approval.

The University of Southern Maine (USM) is dedicated to providing students with a high-quality, accessible, affordable education.  USM’s strategic focus is in alignment with the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities and we are seeking to become a Carnegie Engaged University by the year 2020.  USM offers Baccalaureate, Master’s, and Doctoral programs, providing students with rich learning and community engagement opportunities in the arts, humanities, politics, health sciences, business, mass communications, science, engineering, and technology.  Further information on USM can be found at http://www.usm.maine.edu

USM’s three environmentally friendly campuses are unique, yet all share the extensive resources of the university — and all are energized through strong community partnerships.  Offering easy access to Boston, plus the ocean, mountains and forests of coastal, inland and northern Maine, USM is at the heart of Maine’s most exciting metropolitan region:

  • Our Portland campus is located in “one of America’s most livable cities,” according to Forbes magazine, which also ranks Portland among the top 10 for job prospects.  A creative and diverse community on Maine’s scenic coast, Portland is nationally known as a culinary hot spot!
  • USM’s beautiful residential Gorham campus  supports and celebrates excellence in academics, athletics, music and the arts and is home to ten Living Learning Communities and six Residential Communities.
  • Our Lewiston campus is home to USM’s innovative and richly diverse Lewiston-Auburn College. This Central Maine campus integrates classroom, community and workplace, and provides a small college experience with the resources of a large university.

Qualifications:

Required: Ph.D. in a relevant field by the date of employment. Candidate must possess a strong knowledge of food systems, have a demonstrated record of teaching success, show strong potential for engaging the wider community, have the ability to contribute creatively to curriculum design and have research potential.

Anticipated salary range – mid $60,000s to 80,000 based on rank

Apply online at: https://usm.hiretouch.com/view-all-jobs. You will need to create an applicant profile and complete an application. You will upload a cover letter, a curriculum vita, a list of names and contact information for three references and a statement of teaching and research interests. You will also need to complete the affirmative action survey, the self-identification of disability form, and the self-identification of veteran status form.

Review of applications will begin March 3, 2017.  Materials received after that date will be considered at the discretion of the university.  Appropriate background screening will be conducted for the successful candidate.

USM is an EEO/AA employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

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