What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 2017

David Beriss

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.

We have not written here (yet) about the movement against sexual misconduct currently sweeping through the restaurant world, along with many other industries. It has been striking, however, to observe how different writers have grappled with the complexities of power (and its abuse) as deployed in the food world. In this piece in the New Yorker, for instance, Helen Rosner takes on the discourses of sensuality, appetite, and gender that have framed the careers of chefs like Mario Batali. Julia Moskin and Kim Severson’s article in the New York Times provide insight into the working of raw power in the restaurant industry, this time in the case of Ken Friedman. This is, of course, not just a New York story, as this earlier piece by Brett Anderson at the Times-Picayune regarding the behavior of New Orleans chef John Besh demonstrates.

Women are not just victims in the restaurant world – they are also accomplished workers, leaders, and owners. This article from Southern Living provides brief vignettes about thirty women in the world of Southern food and their accomplishments. Helen Freund provides a New Orleans-focused analysis of women working in food here. As these women point out, there are a lot of gender related issues that need to be addressed in the industry.

Changing topics dramatically: Pen Vogler provides this article about the idea of “clean eating” in Dickens’ writing and time. Although a seasonal reference to Christmas dinner is included, this is not an article with which to work up an appetite. Consider this, from The Pickwick Paper: “’Weal pie,’ said Mr. Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. ‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens; and arter all though, where’s the odds, when they’re so like weal that the wery piemen themselves don’t know the difference?’” Look it up to consider the seasonality of kittens in pie. Ah, England.

More Dickens related material, but also more appetizing: Mayukh Sen makes the case for why “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is one of the best food movies ever made. There is certainly a lot of food in the movie. We will need to see it again to determine if this argument is persuasive.

At this time of the year, many people are compiling best-of lists for all kinds of things. From the Longreads web site, here is a short list of their favorite food writing from 2017. It includes a piece on the local food movement in post-coal Appalachia, an article about chef Angela Dimayuga, who brings together queer theory and restaurant management, a surprising take on Olive Garden, Christianity, Gaugin, and more from Helen Rosner, and more. The painting she refers to, Gaugin’s Christ in the Garden of Olives, seems to have very few breadsticks.

Everything has a history, including the chilled premade sandwich in the United Kingdom. It seems that before the 1980s, these ubiquitous convenience foods, available all over London (and beyond), were not something people there ate. Sam Knight, writing in The Guardian, presents this is amazing story, involving marketing, clever invention, changing eating habits, convenience, and, of course, the famous Earl himself. Sandwich factories, sandwich empires…it is all here.

Food writer and historian Adrian Miller wrote this article about gatekeepers in the world of food writing for NPR. He explains some of the very curious limitations encountered by writers of color in the world of food and proposes a few ways to address them. Miller’s view is complex and provides a useful addition to the ongoing debates about who speaks for different kinds of foods and the communities they may represent.

Fabio Parasecoli has written an additional critique of the world of foodies and food writing in this short piece on HuffPost. Maybe we can call this transnational cosmopolitanism in the service of a localist ideology? Or making the world safe for Brooklyn? There is a lot to think about in this article and it would make for a wonderful discussion starter in your next food studies class.

Restaurants, as we have often noted here, can be a kind of total social phenomenon, where many of the social concerns of society are brought together in one space. This includes the creation of new families in which people, workers, and customers alike, can create deep social bonds. This lovely article from Kara Baskin in the Boston Globe, illustrates the kinds of relations some older customers develop with restaurant workers and owners in Boston.

We have been meaning to call attention to SAFN VP Amy Trubek’s recent book “Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today,” which was published by the University of California Press a few months ago. While you are at it, you might read this blog entry Amy wrote about home cooks for National Cooking day.

A few years old, but new to us: the story of Oedipus, told with vegetables. This is a short film by Jason Wishnow. Spoiler alert, it does not have a happy ending. Tragic. Be careful with potato peelers.

Happy holidays!

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

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