What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 3 Edition

An amazing selection of items from around the internet gathered to delight and fascinate our faithful readers. If you have items you think our readers should read, send a note to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu or dberiss@uno.edu.

Here in the U.S., activists are constantly fighting over what constitutes “authentic” cuisine, about who can make or speak for and about the foods associated with various groups or ethnicities. In the real world, the complexities involved in making—and making sense—of cuisines seem hard to contain in neat cultural categories. For one variation on this, read this piece on the history of Chinese cooking in Mexico City.

As if matters of ethnicity and race were not complicated enough (see above), the story of Zarif Khan, aka Hot Tamale Louie, of Wyoming, renders them even more so. Wyoming provides a perfect setting for this very American story of race, citizenship, legal wrangling, capitalism, ethnic networking, Mexican food, immigration, Islam and much more and would be perfect for use in a wide variety of anthropology classes. Tamales, “the cronuts of fin-de-siècle America.” Yes, this may be the best thing you will read this month.

What makes a farming community grow? Northfield, Minnesota is apparently becoming a growth center for small farmers and the area’s success is about people, not soil or climate. Civil Eats examines why.

What can we learn from big data about American food trends? Check out the Google Food Trends report on the United States for 2016. Bibimbap is rising in popularity, while apparently the Rainbow Bagel (a trend we missed here at FoodAnthropology) is in sharp decline. People seem to think turmeric is a miracle food and they really like videos about pho. Seriously, however, there is a lot of material in the report with which one could raise some interesting questions for further (ethnographic) research.

From the American Futures Project, a report by Deborah Fallows on an interesting combination of efforts to make local food work for a working poor community in Arizona. A further report on this community from the USDA’s “Local Foods, Local Places” is also available.

The past week also featured an impressive series of food and nutrition articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, from food labels and how much sugar is hiding in your food, and how sugar taxes can successfully fund city programs, to clever uses for food waste, clever uses for unwanted and voracious introduced species of fish, clever uses for annoying plants and cracking down on the international trafficking of toxic foods.

The US NAS-NRC has just released its huge literature review on GMOs (Genetically-engineered crops: Experience and Prospects), and invites everyone to join the conversation. It managed to strike some balance between the industry and anti-industry views, which contend that GE foods are not/are unsafe or cause health problems; so there is no need to regulate products based on how they were produced by GE (or not). On the risks and labeling issues, the authors assert that their current lack of negative findings do not rule out that possible hazards or additional risks might be evidenced in the future, or preclude the finding that GE foods should be labeled for reasons other than health risks, in response to consumer demands.

Creole tomatoes are in season in Louisiana right now. They are generally thought to draw their distinctiveness from the soils of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, down river from New Orleans, and they are much prized locally. There is a Creole tomato festival and Creole tomato mythology. Perhaps most interestingly, there are farmers and families with good stories, which you can read about here.

Weird news: customers in a vegan café in Tbilisi, Georgia, were attacked by a group of men throwing sausages, grilled meat, and fish at them. Food is a powerful symbol, of course, and in this case seems to be somehow related to questions of sexuality.

Regular FoodAnthropology contributor Ellen Messer has sent us the following brief book reading notes, opening a new section for our periodic reading digest:

Blake, Michael 2015 Maize for the Gods. Unearthing the 9,000 year History of Corn. Oakland: University of California Press.  This is an exciting consolidation of all the new (most recent 30 years) archaeological, archaeobotanical, and genetic information that now allows scholars to trace more accurately the bicultural evolution and diffusion of maize. In the final chapter on material culture (“Daily Tools and Sacred Symbols”) Blake makes an effort to integrate the cultural dimensions, that would have been stronger if he had consulted more with nutritional anthropologists who work on diet and agriculture.

Lusk, Jayson (2016) Unnaturally Delicious. How Science and Technology Are Serving Up Super Foods to Save the World. NY: St. Martin’s Press.  This breezily written volume by an ag economist at Oklahoma State University tries to construct a pro-technology ground on all aspects of agricultural and food-chain questions, while also giving good summaries of the ag-ecological and anti-high tech positions.

Fresco, Louise O. (2016) Hamburgers in Paradise. The Stories Behind the Food We Eat. Liz Waters, Trans. Princeton University Press.  Building on her decades of experience as a leader at FAO and European ag universities, Fresco indulges in a history of agriculture that draws on sources as wide-ranging as the Bible and art history to the latest cutting edge agricultural and related sciences.  Her goal, in addition to synthesizing her historical knowledge, is to move beyond the polarization over GMOs and related chemical-intensive technologies, and provide some bridging positions.  Whether you think she succeeds probably depends on your starting point (Bee Wilson’s review in The Guardian calls it “maddening”).


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