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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
In the United States, food activists love to point to the French and their carefully demarcated terroirs for wine, cheese, and other products as an example of how to manage the relationship between food and place. Behind this image of careful attention to land and culture there is often a rough and even violent political history. To get a taste of that, listen to this interview with historian Andrew Smith about his recent book “Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France” (Manchester University Press, 2016) from the New Books Network. This interview is conducted by Roxanne Panchasi and is part of the New Books in French Studies series.
On the subject of food and terror, New Books in American Studies has an interview with Bryant Simon, author of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (The New Press, 2017). The immediate incident that is at the heart of this history is a fire in 1991 at a food factory in Hamlet, NC that resulted in the deaths of 25 people, but the broader framework is the combination of American tastes for cheap processed foods and the deregulated industry that produces them. Stephen Hausmann conducts the interview. There is also a New Books in Food series that is always looking for hosts, if you want to get on the ladder to podcast fame.
The popularity of those cheap processed food has been linked to the rise in obesity and other diet-related health issues in many countries. If you have read Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz’s 2013 book “The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century,” (University of California Press), then you are familiar with some of the ways those foods have become popular around the world. The New York Times Magazine published an excellent overview of this same process a few weeks ago, along with some rather stunning graphics. Share it with your students, start a great conversation.
In a related story, this piece from Bloomberg provides data on what Americans have been eating for the last few decades. When did we start eating more chicken than beef (sometime in the 90s)? What has happened to coffee consumption? Whatever happened to those California raisins? Americans are eating more mango, but fewer canned cherries. And we still love peanut butter. Enjoy the graphs too.
The survival of the American family farm is an ongoing struggle, as endless books and articles demonstrate. But the best of these also reflect on the broader historical and social context of that struggle. One of the more recent books in this genre is Ted Genoways’ book “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm” (W.W. Norton, 2017). The book was the subject of a short piece on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, as well as an extended discussion on the NPR show On Point, both of which are worth listening too.
We have two strange and unexpected origin stories this week. First, the recent death of Hugh Hefner elicited a wide range of responses, which is not surprising, given his ambiguous legacy. However, one rather unexpected bit of history that popped up during all the discussions about Hefner’s history was his role in the start of Food and Wine Magazine. Food porn is not, it turns out, entirely metaphoric.
The Reuben Sandwich is a midwestern invention, at least according to this charming story from Elizabeth Weil, at Saveur. The story involves a conflict between Weil (whose grandfather seems to have invented the sandwich at a family-owned hotel in Omaha) and food historian Andrew Smith (not the same historian as the one above, by the way) that involved the New York Times. This also helps explain how a very un-kosher sandwich became an iconic Jewish deli food.
Is eating alone a bad thing? Some people think so, including writer Lloyd Alter, who begins his article with a citation from Baudrillard, “Sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” Baudrillard meant this to be a critique of American society, but Alter takes it into the realm of actual physical health and links it to the aging population. There is probably an interesting theoretical point to be made related to French theory and American journalism, but meanwhile, it is an interesting read.
The debate around cultural appropriation may be a classic example of what the French mean by the phrase “dialogue de sourds” and we are happy to keep documenting it here. This piece, “Craving the Other: One Woman’s Beef With Cultural Appropriation and Cuisine,” from writer Soleil Ho, was originally published a few years ago and was recently republished in the 20th anniversary edition of Bitch Magazine. Has anything changed since it originally appeared?
Is the great American casual dining chain doomed? Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, Houston’s, TGI Friday’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Friendly’s, and more, restaurants known for walls full of strange junk, waiters wearing flair, and huge piles of mostly inoffensive food, may be facing a crisis. This series from Eater.com explores the situation, raising questions about the American palate, the American middle class, and the fate of suburbia.