Food Research and Political Action: Why I support BDS

Editor’s note: SAFN is a section of the American Anthropological Association. The AAA is currently holding a vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. There has been a great deal of useful debate around the issue, some of which you can read about here. Although SAFN has not taken a position on the resolution, we welcome commentaries from anthropologists that do advocate positions on the resolution (from any perspective). In keeping with the mission of this blog, commentaries related to the resolution should have some relationship to the anthropology of food and nutrition. The election that includes the resolution closes on May 31, 2016. Please send commentaries for the blog to dberiss@gmail.com.

Anne Meneley

As the recently departed and much mourned anthropologist Sidney Mintz argued so persuasively, food links the quotidian needs of humans, inflected by their culturally inculcated memories, desires, and emotions, to wider global political economies that often include exploitation and oppression. In my study of extra-virgin olive oil, I was inspired, as so many of us food anthropologists were, by Mintz’ classic work on sugar, especially his emphasis on the need to understand different moments in a food commodity’s life: in the political economies of production, consumption and circulation. I began work on Palestinian olive oil a decade ago. Even if I had not been trained, as most of my generation was, to critique an anthropology that ignored the overarching structures of colonialism, there was no way to ignore the shocking impact of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. My work on olive oil production required that I witness firsthand the effects of land confiscations, settler violence, the fragmenting effects of checkpoints on people’s time and social ties, and the destruction of their beloved olive trees along with their livelihoods. An Oxfam report noted that the Israeli blockade of Gaza which so strangles the import of food, also blocks the export of olives and olive oil, so essential to Palestinian diet and culture, from the West Bank to Gaza.[1] I was asked by Palestinian activists, olive oil professionals, and academic colleagues, to participate in boycott activities, from consumer to academic, in an attempt to address the injustices of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; it is the very least I can do to reciprocate for the help they have given to me in my research.

Most of you have not had the opportunity to do the kind of research that I have done.  Nonetheless, I hope many of you will join me in voting “yes” to our AAA boycott vote, as part of an ethical stance that we can take as anthropologists to address a grave injustice in our world.

[1] Lara El-Jazairi.  The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to developing the economy of olive oil in the West Bank.  Oxfam International October 2010.

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Filed under AAA, anthropology, Israel, Palestine

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