More Food Panels, Papers, and Posters at AAA 2017

A week or so ago we posted a listing of the panels sponsored by SAFN at the upcoming meetings of the American Anthropological Association. It is a glorious list, of course, and if you are attending, you could probably build your entire schedule with that alone.

There are many more food and nutrition papers, posters, and panels on the conference program. If you do a search for “food” you will get a surprisingly large number of results. We requested that SAFN members whose work was not reviewed by SAFN send us information about anything they might have on the program. Those that we received are below…and the selection is inspiring! We will not have time to post more here, so check out the conference program for even more. If you are a SAFN member, remember that you can also circulate news about your presence on the meeting program by sending an email to the SAFN listserv. Let us know what you are up to!

Thursday, November 30

Abby Golub: New Plantations, Neo-Slavery, and Successful Incorporation: Towards a Framework for a More Just Food Production System, as part of the poster session (3-0530) “Gallery Session: Social Justice and Education,” 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM.

Abstract: New Plantations, a multi-sited, international collaboration funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, considers migrant agricultural labor, race, and illegality. The project includes case studies in Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. A primary goal of the project is to “develop a framework for more socially sustainable production regimes, and explore approaches that might improve difficult working conditions of migrants in agriculture.” My project fits within the Belgium case study. My goal was to understand life paths of people no longer working in such neo-slavery working conditions, and to understand how they achieved their positions. I specifically focus on South Asian, especially Sikh people in Belgium because they have often worked in agriculture and moved on to other jobs and even farm ownership. I argue that Sikh Cosmopolitanism, a compilation of traits such as openness, generosity, and positive associations with rural, as well as religious habitus, contributes to positive religious, economic, and educational incorporation both locally in Belgium and in transnational social fields.

Session: (3-0730) Famines and Food Crises in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Remediation: How Anthropologists Are Responding. Anita Spring (chair), Solomon Katz, Ellen Messer, Barrett Brenton, Zinta Zommers, John Lamm, Judy Canahuati, David Kauck. 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM

Abstract: Famines and food crises in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries bordering the Red Sea are created and complicated by war, political unrest, climate change, continued population growth, and economic factors. A chaotic decline in food resources for at least 20 million people extends east to west from Nigeria to South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, mostly due to political unrest and instability, with these four countries having the greatest severity in Africa and the world according to the UN. Other climate-related famine countries are in the Horn of Africa and include Sudan and Ethiopia, while political unrest affects food production and distribution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (central Africa) and drought conditions obtain in the southern and eastern Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), where prolonged and serious drought strains the economic and social capacity to cope with and develop new solutions in these recurring drought scenarios. Further complicating relief in many of these countries are the reduced expenditures from multilateral agencies of the UN and bilateral assistance from the US, UK, EU, and Japan. By contrast, China has stepped up to provide public- and private-sector funding and development assistance, but the magnitude, methods and results need to be studied to ascertain the impacts. This session examines from an anthropological perspective the causes, consequences, and their efforts for remedial and action plans developed by participating multilateral, bilateral and NGO agencies aimed at mitigating food and agriculture disasters, and for promulgating new solutions both political and technological. A major problem currently facing famine-relief programs is the uncertainty of UN funding, particularly affecting the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP) and related emergency resources due in part to the proposed US under-funding for UN programs. This round table aims to summarize issues and remedies using the data from several perspectives. Questions to be addressed in this session include, but are not limited to the following issues: (1) How are anthropologists conceptualizing, identifying, and mitigating food-system disasters, using their long-term experiences in studying previous and recurrent calamities? (2) How do current political mishandling of agricultural production and distribution affect outcomes versus what happens if “more enlightened” production and distribution methods, as well as better marketing strategies and financial instruments are introduced? (3) Are any of these likely to mitigate the food crises, and if so how? This round table also considers new and innovative farm-managed methods such as conservation agriculture and carbon sequestration in soils, alternative food sources and better food storage, new financial instruments and index-insurance for farmers, and producer-friendly government policies in terms of production and distribution. The need for greater economic understanding of the food supply is a crucial and missing link between the planning which is often done by Big Ag economics, and the need for “Anthronomics”, that uses the insights and questions of anthropology and the methods of economics to address new solutions for food system problems.

Friday, December 1

Session: (4-1005) Anthropologists’ Retirement Accounts, Land-grabbing, and Deforestation: local and global impacts of TIAA’s agricultural investments. Douglas Hertzler, Marc Edelman, Sidney Greenfield, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Steven Heim, Quinton Robinson, Karina Gonzalez, David Kane.

Abstract: Many anthropologists have their retirement savings invested in the large financial services organization TIAA, which provides plans for many universities and non-profits. TIAA describes itself as “the largest manager of worldwide farmland assets.” The firm is a global leader in the surging interest in acquiring farmland that has occurred over last decade as investors have increasingly seen farmland as a valuable and potentially scarce asset in the future. Separately from its real estate investments TIAA also has investments in the consumption side of the palm oil supply chain, an industry often connected with deforestation and human rights concerns. TIAA prides itself in being a responsible investor and played a leading role in developing the Principles for Responsible Investment in Farmland. These TIAA sponsored principles remain controversial among and civil society organizations participating in the UN Committee on World Food Security which has developed its own more broadly recognized guidelines on land tenure.

Since the pioneering fieldwork of AAA past-President Walter Goldschmidt in California in the 1940s, anthropologists have been interested in the impact of farm ownership structure on communities and food systems. Brazilian researchers and social movements have been concerned that corporate investment in farmland undermines land access and control by marginalized communities and groups and it has been alleged that companies such as TIAA are circumventing laws that were intended to prevent large-scale foreign ownership of farmland through joint ventures with Brazilian companies with majority ownership. Further, some claim following national legal requirements is not enough to protect rural communities where land tenure is contentious. In the United States, family farm advocates are concerned that the growing scale of corporate farms harms rural communities and reduces farming opportunities for young farmers, immigrants, and farmers of color. This public policy forum moderated by anthropologists interested in the issues, will include representatives of family farm, environmental, and human rights organizations, as well as representatives of organizations involved in responsible investment. In addition to addressing the current situation, panelists will be asked: What can large institutional investors do to support the implementation of human rights norms and best practices in equitable access to land and collective land rights?

Willa Zhen: Chefs Need Anthropology: Critical Reflections on Teaching at the Culinary Institute of America, as part of the panel (4-1270) “Why Anthropology Matters: Making Anthropology Relevant and Engaging a Larger Public Audience through Pedagogy,” 4:15 PM – 6:00 PM.

Abstract: This paper reflects upon the author’s experiences teaching anthropology at the Culinary Institute of America. Founded in 1946, this institution has come to be known for producing some of the top names in the culinary and hospitality fields. Graduates of the Institute routinely top the “best of” lists in the culinary world; names like Anthony Bourdain, Duff Goldman, Cat Cora, and many others. It suffices to say this institution has a strong reputation – just not for anthropology. But as the food industry has come to deal with new social issues like environmental change, cultural sustainability, fair labor practices, the Institute has also had to reshape its curriculum. Anthropology has entered the curriculum in recent years, part of the Institute’s growing recognition of the need for students to be more than “just” chefs. This paper will discuss why it is important to teach anthropology in what are traditionally vocational contexts and how the discipline is uniquely positioned to contribute beyond traditional liberal arts classrooms. Culinary students, who in their kitchen training have been taught to follow orders, are challenged to think critically, to develop intercultural awareness, and to question why actions occur. Anthropology can play a role in shifting students from saying “Yes, Chef!” to asking “Why, Professor?” by training individuals to think beyond the plate.

Saturday, December 2

B Lynne Milgram. Activating Alternatives in a Transnational Trade: Social Entrepreneurship and Frontier Coffee Production in the Upland Northern Philippine, as part of the panel (5-0915) “(Re)Situating Social Entrepreneurship and Transnational Trade in the Global South: Actors, Agency and Alternatives,” 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM.

Abstract: While the fair-trade-certified coffee movement’s roots in social justice created advantageous terms for producers, its current perceived inadequate concern for coffee quality and uneven producer-vendor relations have given rise to entrepreneurial initiatives marketing “fairer-than- fair-trade” coffee. The latter’s practice moves beyond “corporate social responsibility” to champion transparency, high quality, and sustainability. By opting out of the certification system, however, such fairly-traded enterprises raise questions about how consumers can verify vendors’ claims and how to reward those effectively assisting producer communities?

This paper engages these issues by analyzing new northern Philippine specialty coffee enterprises that apply a “fairly traded” mandate to activate the region’s Arabica coffee production. I argue that while these “barefoot” social entrepreneurs (Max-Neef 1992) have established more equitable terms for their transnational Philippine-US/Canadian trade, the complexity of people’s subsistence needs and pre-existing socioeconomic relationships can challenge enterprise sustainability. By shortening commodity chains, paying higher purchase prices, and providing organic cultivation training and processing equipment, Philippine social entrepreneurs enable farmers’ engagement in alternatives to conventional and fair trade markets. Indeed by promoting small-lot coffee production, these entrepreneurs have established a distinctive terroir of place and taste. Yet, Philippine farmers’ lack of income diversity, independent rather than collective production, and fierce competition in which producers sell previously promised produce to another buyer can frustrate entrepreneurs’ efforts to differentiate their practice. Given coffee culture’s growing third wave, I argue that Philippine entrepreneurs’ timely initiatives can still resolve these push-pull tensions to yield an industry for, and more responsive to, stakeholders needs.

Sunday, December 3

Joeva Rock: “The So-Called NGOs, Some of Them are Just Killing Us”: Recipient Fatigue and Agricultural Development in Ghana, as part of the panel (6-0260) “Lives Spaces, Globalized Economies, and Consumption in African Contexts,” 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM.

Abstract: The African Green Revolution is an unprecedented attempt to radically transform the African countryside vis-à-vis commercialized agriculture. It is premised on the assumption that, when provided with education and opportunity, African farmers will purchase “improved,” higher-yielding technologies. In this presentation, I draw on 13 months of ethnographic research in Ghana on one such improved technology: genetically modified seeds.

Using interviews, organizational texts, and participant observation, I show how a growing discontent amongst bureaucrats, civil society, and farmers disrupts the African Green Revolution’s teleological logics of growth, modernization and development. I call this discontent “recipient fatigue,” a dissatisfaction with being subjects of NGO, donor and state interventions, many of which have had little positive impact. I first share stories from farmers in Northern Ghana, many of whom have had negative experiences with “modern” agriculture, and thus remain skeptical of future interventions. Some decide to opt out of projects and interviews, a momentary disassociation from a global development system that denigrates African epistemologies and expertise. Finally, I conclude by showing how Ghanaian food sovereignty organizations attempt to translate agrarian discontent into policy change and practice, with particular regard to seed and seed law.

Session: (6-0235) Categories of Remembrance and Forgetting: Itineraries and Sanctuaries – Itineraries (Part 1). Terese Gagnon, Carrie Emerson, C.Nadia Seremetakis, Hayden Kantor, Tracey Heatherington, Virginia Nazarea, Ann Gold

Abstract: Memory is in our heads, but it is also embedded in things, places, relationships and the senses. What happens when things are destroyed, people are uprooted, and sensuous engagements wane? Collectively, we explore how the valuable contents of memory are tied to webs of socialities, landscapes, and mythologies that call forth complex itineraries and sanctuaries. We query the ways in which emotions surrounding the forgotten and recalled, rather than representing a trauma/nostalgia binary, may most often be “both/and.” How is memory seeded, how is it ceded? In what ways are seeds portable altars of identity and place for indigenous peoples, traditional farmers, immigrants, and refugees, among others? When the seeds themselves are lost, is the opening of that sensuous portal to other times, places, and relationships permanently foreclosed? How does one re-member and re-emplace when faced with the erasure of landscapes of memory and enforced bodily forgetting in the context of various calamities and displacements? How are political economies, and the wide relationships they foster, tied up in all of this in the Anthropocene?

From dislocation of political refugees and traditional farmers to conservation of biodiversity and diverse agro-culinary traditions, we examine milieus and memorials where the past is re-lived, consecrated, or expunged. We consider how, under certain conditions, these subversive and pregnant sites may have the power to re-open or re-create alternant forms of sociality and “affective economies” that encompass humans and other beings alike. We delve into the nature of nostalgia, that journeying back into the memory of things, places, routes, and refuges that at once carry warmth and melancholy. The contributors look at how these associations are linked to temporalities and places that have the potential to be both “slippery” and “transmutable” through the performance of gardening, cooking, and commensality. Such acts are especially fertile ground, as they constitute a re-opening via the senses and memory that substantively alters the present physical/ontological reality. In these often strange journeys of estrangement and sometimes return, the material and the imaginary collide.

Session: (6-0420) Categories of Remembrance and Forgetting: Itineraries and Sanctuaries – Sanctuaries (Part 2) Emily Ramsey, Taylor Hosmer, David Sutton, Milan Shrestha, Melanie Narciso, Jim Veteto, Marc Williams, C. Nadia Seremetakis.

Abstract: How do landscapes and foodscapes, along with everyday practices of preserving or rebuilding knowledge and community across time and space become sanctuaries? How can embodied practices of memory and sensuous engagement call forth connections that bridge “transmission gaps” in the face of rapid changes in the age of Anthropocene? What new forms of sociality do individuals forge in constructing these sanctuaries of memory, and how can they re-shape the knowledge, identity, and even discourse surrounding the politics of food, climate change, and austerity? How does one emplace when (if) there is little left to enact? This panel seeks to delve into these questions, examining the diverse ways that sanctuaries of memory and practice confront the risk of loss and serve to rebuild connections to individuals, places, and times.

Food and beverage become a primary sanctuary and a productive site for memory’s maintenance, whether through the physical preparation of dishes or the value conveyed in commensality. Embodied aspects of food, whether in the preparation of Cathead biscuits, a regional Southern specialty at risk of dying out with the growth of the frozen biscuit market, or in the age-old preparation of mead, a practice revived among participants in the emergent ethnobotanical mead circle tradition of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Memory also confronts an ever shifting foodscape, maintaining connections to heritage and past ways of life, in both tomato festivals that dot the Southeastern United States, bringing farmers and suburbanites into conversation with one another, and among rural Filipinos who continue to produce Aslam Baliti, a slowly fermented sugarcane vinegar, against the many mass-produced vinegars lacking traditional complex flavors. Moreover, cultural memory intersects with and continues to shape action, for example, where Nepali memories of past flood events influences their perception of risk with glacial lake expansion, and how Greek citizens facing political austerity measures and increasing individualism react by enacting coffee shop sociality and preparing traditional meals for refugees. This session explores milieus where the past is re-lived, consecrated, or reimagined, creating sometimes alternant forms of sociality that bring together individuals in diverse localities and circumstances, creating sanctuaries , both fleeting and robust.

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Filed under AAA 2017 Washington DC, anthropology, anthropology of food

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