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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several weeks ago, we posted a link here to a New York Times op-ed by Bonnie Tsui that explored the strange case of “Asian Salad” on restaurant menus as part of a broader reflection on food and racism. It is perhaps not surprising that Tsui’s article generated quite a lot of commentary around the food world, especially the American food world. One of the more interesting set of commentaries on both Tsui’s piece and on the reactions to it can be found here, in a set of brief notes by Tsui, Shakirah Simley, Stephen Satterfield, Dakota Kim, and Tunde Wey. Along with the original salad editorial, this could be a great framework for a discussion in any number of classes.
The acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon has been the talk of the food world since it was announced a few weeks ago. What it may mean for the American food system, for food activists, for the food movement, is hard to determine, but there is no shortage of opinions. For instance, over at Slate, Joshua Clark Davis argues that it signals the demise of Whole Foods’ ability to be seen as a company with a somewhat different approach to capitalism. Derek Thompson analyzes the purchase as a business strategy in the Atlantic. On the NPR food blog, Mollie Simon examines small business owners who work with Whole Foods and finds their reactions surprisingly positive. And in the National Review, Henry I. Miller and Jeff Stier examine the purchase by raising some harsh questions about Whole Foods’ business model and ideology.
Soon after the 2010 BP oil spew in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the food critics here in New Orleans mused that seafood from the Gulf, long central to the local cuisine, would return to normal within a year. In this instance, he defined “normal” by saying that the seafood would not have any more oil in it than it did before the spill. A recent investigative article by Michael Isaac Stein, in the Lens, revealed what may be a very disturbing truth behind that comment (one probably not known by the critic, I should add): a surprisingly large number of the oyster leases off the coast of Louisiana are actually owned by oil and gas companies. The companies buy the leases in order to prevent lawsuits from oystermen from damage created by oil and gas exploration. Oil in seafood indeed…
There are a lot of different ways to try to capture a sense of place through food. Over at “First We Feast” there is a new series of food videos, Food Grails, devoted to exploring the “flavor” of different cities through iconic and somewhat less-well-known foods. These are variations on the kind of food television pioneered by Anthony Bourdain, with a focus on communities not often seen on more mainstream food networks. Miss Info (aka Minya Oh) is the presenter for each of the episodes, which explore Vietnamese Po’boys in New Orleans, mumbo sauce in Washington D.C., Jamaican beef patties in New York, and African-American tacos in South Los Angeles.
The Culinary Historians of New York have a journal and that journal has a new issue. You can read it here. Articles by/about Joy Santlofer, Paul Freedman, Charity Robey, and Kian Lam Kho, along with a list of (and links to) recent books by members of the association.
The most recent issue of Practicing Anthropology (volume 39, number 3, summer 2017) features research in applied anthropology from graduate students at the University of Maryland. Two of the articles should be of particular interest to our readers. First, Amber Cohen, Noel Lopez, and Katie Geddes reflect on subsistence fishing in rivers in the Washington, D.C., area. Second, Ashley Dam looks at the ways in which elementary school children in Maryland engage with federal nutrition education guidelines. In both of these cases, ethnographic research is used to make the case for particular kinds of social policies. These are both great examples of the kind of research we should be showing people when they want to know whether or not the anthropology of food and nutrition can be useful.
Want to buy domestic fruits and vegetables in the United States? There are farmers who grow such things, but they need workers to do that and for a long time many of those workers have been immigrants. As Tom Philpott has documented in Mother Jones, the Trump administration crackdown on undocumented workers has resulted in crops rotting in the fields. You can still get produce…it just has to be imported from Mexico.
Meanwhile, the fight for a livable minimum wage continues. Apparently one recent study seemed to suggest that raising the wage to $15 per hour actually hurt workers. But a review of a wider variety of studies by Michelle Chen at the Nation suggests that raising the minimum wage is particularly beneficial for workers in the restaurant industry. In addition, Michael Reich and Jesse Rothstein provide a very useful overview of some of the arguments and data in this debate here.
There seems to be a lot of industry interest in innovations in the food world. This may be a way of looking like a good corporate citizen or it might be about finding new products and new markets (or both). Certainly, the broad discourse around innovation, entrepreneurship, social marketing, disrupters, and all that is enough to make one wonder if companies are doing good or just trying to look good (refer back to the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon for an example of all of this). So it is with caution that we offer this link to an effort by Swedish furniture giant Ikea to help support startup businesses. They are looking for business ideas that will “challenge known truths in a world of ideas and technology.” Among the big thematic areas they want to disrupt: sustainability and food innovation. Got an idea? They might have resources for you.
You are going to want to wash your hands after you read this. It is a piece by Wayne Roberts, on Medium, about the effectiveness of soap and cool water washing of hands for food safety. But more than that, it is about the meaning people often bring to putting hands on food, in preparation as well as in eating. And it is an argument for thinking about food production as practice. Now, go wash your hands.