What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, February 19, 2019

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 must begin this review with a shout out to FoodAnthropology co-editor Amy Trubek, who was interviewed by Evan Kleiman on her wonderful show “Good Food” about her recent book “Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today” (2017, University of California Press). This is why the anthropology of food and nutrition is great! You can (and should) listen to Amy’s interview here, or to the whole episode, which looks broadly at modern home kitchens and cooking, here.

What varieties of rice did enslaved Africans grow and cook when they were first brought to the Americas? That question has been explored in a lot of recent research. One of the more fascinating threads in this research is traced out by Kim Severson in this recent New York Times article about “hill rice,” a variety that may have been common among West Africans living along the Atlantic coast. Chef B.J. Dennis and historian David Shields found this variety still growing in a region of Trinidad settled by Africans who had been enslaved in the U.S. The story is interestingly complex and provides great insight into the history of African foodways in the Americas.

You may already know that “services,” broadly defined, make a growing contribution to the U.S economy. Within that, however, it seems that restaurants are now one of the largest sectors. In this article from The Atlantic, Derek Thompson points out that restaurant jobs make up a stunningly large amount of all job growth in some cities in recent years (more than a third of the new jobs in New Orleans since 2010). What does the growth of often poorly-paid jobs of this sort mean for the future? Thompson is not optimistic.

As we have noted in other recent columns here, cases of sexual misconduct have roiled the restaurant industry in significant ways in the last year. Generally, individuals have been accused of anything from bad behavior to actual crimes, but whole businesses have suffered as a consequence. This may or may not be just—after all, if an owner or chef is accused, should all the waiters, bartenders, line cooks, etc. pay the price? In this article from The New Yorker, Helen Rosner raises the question of the responsibility of restaurant critics in this situation. Should they write about restaurants owned by bad actors? For another view, read this article by Tim Carman, from the Washington Post.

The politics around pesticides and organic food is always complex. This article, by biologist Allison Wilson, reviews a recent book by Philip Ackerman-Leist, “A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement” (2017, Chelsea Green Publishing). The book tells the story of how an Italian town decided to declare itself pesticide-free as a growing non-organic apple industry grew nearby. You can also watch an interview with the author from KPFK’s “Rising Up With Sonali” here.

Meanwhile, President Trump and his colleagues continue to pursue some of the favorite policy dreams of the American right, including undermining or getting rid of programs for poor Americans whenever possible. This includes SNAP, also known as food stamps. The president recently proposed replacing the program with a service that would deliver food directly to people’s homes and the White House budget has proposed sharp cuts to the program. The politics of SNAP and the program’s notable effectiveness are analyzed by Kriston Capps at Citylab, here.

On a somewhat-less-serious note, consider the question of how to translate menus. There are often curious translations on menus in restaurants owned by recent immigrants, but even fancy white table cloth restaurants feature menus that are (sometimes willfully) hard to interpret, even for native speakers of the language in which they are written. Emily Monaco explores this entertaining issue in this article, from Atlas Obscura. I was interviewed for this article and pointed her toward the charmingly obscure menus of Terre-à-Terre, in Brighton.

It is Presidents Day here in the U.S. and Civil Eats has reprinted an analysis of the 8 presidents who they think most shaped the U.S. food system. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama are the 8. The contributions each president made are not all positive and this is not about cheerleading.

It might seem odd to put a neighborhood guide in this reading digest, but between the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the distressing anti-immigrant discourse drifting hysterically out of Washington D.C., I think it is worth noting that some of the most impressive additions to America’s culinary diversity are Korean. So, with that, note this stunning guide to Koreatown, in Los Angeles. I have seen whole cities with less interesting guides. For those of us who are not in LA, we can dream. If you are there, get busy.

Sometimes I think that it is important to remind the world why New Orleans is such a great food town. So let’s end with a few items that confirm that assertion. First, this article by Brett Martin about “family meal” at the iconic restaurant Commander’s Palace. You may want to change careers. Second, an ode to the lost fried pie maker, Hubig’s, which burned down in 2012 and may never come back. These little fried hand pies were mostly distributed in gas stations and hardware stores and not something you would have been likely to encounter as a tourist…but, as the author, Sophie Lucido Johnson notes, they were objects of much affection and are greatly missed. On another sad note, the city has been in mourning since the passing, last week, of Arthur “Mr. Okra” Robinson, one of the last itinerant vendors of produce in New Orleans. For the last several decades, Mr. Robinson drove his iconic truck through the city’s neighborhoods, calling out the produce he carried in a style that has its roots in the old mobile vendors of products and services that worked for centuries in cities around the world. His loss is keenly felt and his voice will be missed.

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