What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 6, 2016

 

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.

The recent floods in Louisiana have had a significant impact on small farmers. You can read about that here, in an article by Brian Barth in Modern Farmer that also provides some ideas about how you can help. Vendors and farmers who sell at the Crescent City Farmers Market were hit hard by the floods, which Judy Walker writes about here. The Crescent City Farmers Market has established a fund to directly assist in their recovery. Click here to contribute.

We note with sadness the passing of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose writing and commentary on foodways on NPR played a significant role in inspiring many people to think more seriously about food, culture, and history. Of course, she is perhaps best known for her writing on African American foodways and on the foods of the U.S. South. There was a nice remembrance on All Things Considered here and on Morning Edition here. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2013 and you can watch her acceptance speech for that here. Or just search the web for her many commentaries and writings. You may lose days, but it will be worth it.

The presidential campaign dust up over taco trucks has provided much needed levity in an otherwise unhappy electoral season. This tasty controversy started with an MSNBC interview with Marco Gutierrez, leader of an organization called “Latinos for Trump,” in which he asserted, in reference to the immigration debate, that “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” This delicious threat was met with a tidal wave of hilarity on social media and in the press, including this semi-serious economic analysis from the Washington Post of the benefits and costs associated with a massive influx of new taco trucks. A great deal has of course been written more seriously on food trucks, including this piece on the history of food trucks in Los Angeles from a few years ago. It is heartening to see Americans rally behind the idea of taco trucks, but it is also worth remembering that ideas about immigrant foods have often been used to stigmatize, exclude, and threaten people, so there is a dangerous undercurrent to this sort of statement.

We have written before here about the work of Saru Jayaraman and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. Jayaraman has worked relentlessly to inform the public about the dismal labor circumstances confronted by many people in the restaurant industry. Her organization has developed a number of programs that are meant to improve those conditions. In this review of her book and other work, Patrick Abatiell provides a useful history and some critiques of her approach.

Ian Parker has written a portrait of New York Times food critic Pete Wells for The New Yorker that portrays the relationship between Wells, the Times, and New York’s high-end restaurateurs as a mighty struggle. This is particularly interesting to read in the age of social media, when nearly everyone is a critic.

Have you tried one of the “Tasty” recipes (from BuzzFeed) that pop up relentlessly on Facebook and in other social media? It turns out that some people think that these things are the death of food culture. And who knows, maybe they are right. After all, the Food Network was apparently also the death of food culture, back when Emeril Lagasse ruled the airwaves. Read about the controversy here. Then go look at some of the recipes here.

Students are increasingly conscious about the kinds of foods that their university provides. There have been efforts by various food services to make their foods healthier, more seasonal, local, etc. But not everyone is apparently on board. Here is a story from a student who has decided to drop out of her university rather than be forced to subscribe to the school’s meal plan. Discuss this with your students (and don’t tell the upper administration, when they get back from golfing with the Aramark guys, that you heard about it from us).

Sometimes satire resembles a satire of itself. The New Yorker provides us with this article about the work of two Austrian performance artists, Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, apparently calling attention to the unsustainability of modern dining.  If you don’t get the satire in these odd performance pieces, we recommend searching for some Saturday Night Live Sprockets sketches.

On a rather more serious note, this article outlines what the author, Doug Gurian-Sherman, calls an inconvenient truth about industrial agriculture. In this instance, Gurian-Sherman discusses the reemergence of corn rootworm in fields planted with corn that is supposed to be engineered to be resistant to rootworm. The author argues that this problem demonstrates the failure of a genetic engineering approach to farming. This is definitely worth a read.

On a related topic, Marc Bittman recently wrote a column about a new food labeling law that may eventually make information about what goes into American food more transparent. The law in question is meant, in a weak sort of way, to require companies to make available information about whether or not a product contains genetically modified ingredients. However, it does not really require that information be easy to get, just that it somehow be more or less available. Bittman thinks that despite the law’s weakness, it could be the start of efforts to really make food more transparent.

As we have mentioned before, the folks at the food activism think tank Food Tank love to make lists (not that we are against that, of course). Here is an inspiring list of interesting books (with handy synopses) that you might want to read or assign to your students. There is even a smattering of anthropology among them.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

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