Applied Food Anthropology in Vancouver

Eugene N. Anderson
UC Riverside

The Society for Applied Anthropology meetings included a very large number of papers on food. Most of them concerned either food security or nutrition programs (often relating to obesity). There were many papers about alternative agricultures, from organic to local and traditional; all such papers supported the local and small-scale as more productive and/or better designed for local conditions than agroindustrial cultivation. 

Many papers concerned Native American groups—called First Nations in Canada—and the need to revive or maintain traditional foodways as an alternative to diets high in processed carbohydrates. We had many First Nations elders and even more students from Indigenous backgrounds.

I went mostly to fisheries papers—SfAA has always had a major focus on fisheries. I started in that area, switching to agriculture and forestry and food history when I found myself teaching at a university in the desert (no fish!). But I get homesick for fish papers, and always go to those at SfAA. Of course fisheries are all about food.

Our own Sol Katz (charter member of CNA, now SAFN) presented a session, with a biologist, on saving genetic resources from marine life. In other sessions, I learned that oysters in Chesapeake Bay have declined 99% under Anglo-American pressure after being maintained for millennia by Native Americans in spite of heavy harvesting. I heard a lot about herring on the Northwest Coast, once a major food resource (locally a staple, or even THE staple), now almost gone. They are processed for roe, which often involves taking the biggest female fish and taking them out of the reproductive pool. First Nations people say these larger herring are necessary because they lead the smaller ones and teach them where to go to feed and spawn; there is now much evidence that this is the case. Salmon are of course the famous Northwest Coast food item, and we heard a lot about those—Steve Langdon reported from Alaska that the Tlingit did a great deal of careful, meticulous stream management, under the direction of elders designated as stream guardians.  Salmon were stocked, and re-stocked after events like landslides. Moving away from salmon, there was a wonderful paper on wild rice among the Anishinabe by a student who is herself a Komi, a reindeer herding minority group (related to Finns) from far north European Russia. And another excellent student paper concerned food taboos in the Upper Amazon, where animals are humans when people aren’t watching them and thus one is always in some sense cannibalistic—this does not inhibit eating most animals, however, since they are in their animal form when being human food. 

One thing that impressed me was how incredibly good the student papers usually were.  We are doing a good job of teaching, in this area at least! Most of the papers I heard, student or otherwise, were data-rich, came to firm and theoretically sophisticated conclusions, and were very well presented, with good visuals. This was especially true of the food papers—some other realms of inquiry were not so well served. (People read dull stuff off PowerPoints, and so on.) 

Applied anthropology is doing very well, and devoted to food among other good causes.

2 Comments

Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, applied anthropology, SfAA

2 responses to “Applied Food Anthropology in Vancouver

  1. troufs

    Excellent summary. Thanks.
    Tim Roufs
    University of Minnesota Duluth

  2. David Y.H. Wu

    Good to know our elder food anthropologist Eugene Anderson is still active and helpful to students.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s