What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, February 10, 2021

Wendy Yared

A person’s arms holding a cup of tea and turning the page of a book. Photo by THE 5TH

I’m so excited to share my first list of what food anthropology is reading now. Before we begin, a little about me. I’m a food anthropologist and founder of Evolve.ag–a site dedicated to helping people understand where their food comes from. Specifically, I look at how new food technologies have the potential to shape culture and change people’s lives. My posts might be from sources and topics outside of the usual because I just can’t help but share some of the crazy things happening with the future of food right now. 

Don’t forget that Anthropology Day is coming up on February 18, and SAFN is hosting a fun photo contest. Check out the details here.  

February is Black History Month. One way we’re celebrating is by reading “Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice,” edited by Hanna Garth and Ashanté M. Reese. This thoughtful and timely collection was published in October 2020. In November, the AAA held a session with the editors and several of the chapter authors. The book discusses the intersecting themes of food justice, politics, food distribution, health, identity, and much more. What makes this book stand out is that the chapters are written by people identifying as Black, which the authors note is not often the case in other publications about Black cuisine.

When you’re ready to dive into the kitchen, we highly recommend reading “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” by Marcus Samuelsson. Released at the end of 2020, this book combines recipes with storytelling and chef interviews resulting in a delightful and tasty volume. 

Dig: A history podcast released a four-episode series on food topics that may be top of mind this month and some that are a little taboo… Episode 1 covers the imperialistic history of everyone’s favorite aphrodisiac, chocolate. Episode 2 offers a fairly hypocritical look at how cannibalism was looked down upon by conquering people when engaging in similar activities. Going back to sweets, Episode 3 looks at the colonial history of sugar. Episode 4 couldn’t be more timely. It describes the continuing intersection of slavery and soul food–how some nostalgic Southern food still holds onto a legacy of slavery. Just yesterday the brand known as “Aunt Jemima” announced they would be changing their name to “Pearl Milling Company”. 

Zooming out to world news, the UN Food Systems Summit recently put out a refreshing review of five things they consider to be ‘game-changers’ for our food system. Full of hope and logic, the authors discuss topics like showing the actual price of food and taking advantage of food system shifts inspired by COVID-19.    

In the food tech world, I mentioned at the beginning that things were starting to get weird. Here’s an example. Scientists at MIT have figured out a way to train spinach to detect the presence of explosives. They hope to eventually use this technology to warn people about pollution and other underground environmental conditions. 

Cellular agriculture, or animal protein grown in a lab using cells, has been advancing really fast.  Just this week, Israeli prime-minister Netanyahu tried out lab-grown chicken for the first time. The Good Food Institute compared the need for quicker commercialization of cellular agriculture to a modern-day “space-race.” Singapore has already given regulatory approval for the consumption of cellular agriculture. In December, a restaurant there served the very first lab-grown chicken. In similar but not food-related news, Sapiens released an ethical discussion of the application of CRISPR for human gene-editing possibilities and the new forms of power it bestows to scientists, doctors, and more. 
I’ll end with the resurgence of interest in weird foods from American history. Maybe it’s covid cooking at home fatigue or a profound lack of restaurants to get takeout from, but there’s been a renewed interest in TV dinners lately. You can learn about the history of them in this Gastropod episode. And just in case you were wondering, National TV Dinner Day is September 10, 2021. For a good, educational laugh, check out Kelgore on YouTube as she explains how people were brainwashed into eating processed foods from advertising in the 1950s (bonus: it’s chock full of vintage commercials too).

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