What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now

Wendy Yared from Evolve.ag

Picture of an open book with a person’s legs underneath of it on top of a cozy yellow blanket. Photo by Emily Rudolph.

This March, we’ve been celebrating women, slightly warmer weather in the Northern hemisphere, and covid-19 vaccine distribution. In the food world, spring means more seasonal vegetables sprouting up at our farmer’s markets and the return of outdoor dining in some places. 

In honor of Women’s history month, I wanted to share with you some women who are doing important things in the food world. If you don’t already follow Marion Nestle on Twitter or her blog FoodPolitics, I would highly recommend it. She has been a bastion for unearthing the truth about food policies and supporting food justice for decades. Anthropology professor, Traci Ardren, was the editor of a recently-released volume that looks at the many ways cacao was used in ancient Mayan culture called “Her Cup for Sweet Cacao“. For a monthly deep dive into the history of specific fruits and veggies, sign up for the “Seasonal” newsletter. Andrea Castillo is a self-described “food nerd,” and in each installation, she shares the history and self-tested cooking advice for exactly one fruit or vegetable that’s currently in season.

If you’re looking for some Instagram-worthy culinary inspiration this season, you can follow these 9 female vegan chefs taking the plant-based world by storm. For a look behind the scenes at cookbooks, check out this article from the Atlantic. It discusses how, historically, being great in the kitchen had nothing to do with the end result’s taste. Instead, it was calculated by whether or not you measured your ingredients (and, in most cases, if you were male). The author also weaves together the shifting philosophies behind recipe documentation with a review of a new cookbook by New York Times Cooking columnist, Sam Sifton, where recipe directives are presented like artistic prose, again without exacting standards or measurements. It’s a curious analysis of something so ingrained in food culture that many of us don’t even think twice about them.   

In the food tech world, I want to highlight Muriel Vernon, a food anthropologist focusing on cellular agriculture. She has a blog at followthefuture.org and recently authored a thoughtful article comparing and contrasting the cultural narratives of veganism with cellular agriculture. Shameless self-promotion here… If you want to learn more about what’s going on in the world of cellular agriculture, check out the recording of Evolve.ag’s latest online event. It features female founders Sandhya Sriram of Shiok Meats and Fengru Lin of Turtle Tree (as well as some men too). We discussed why the culture of Singapore, explicitly, has allowed cellular agriculture to flourish. Then there’s one of my favorite women in the food space, Veronica Fil, co-founder of Grounded Foods and marketing extraordinaire. She’s creating plant-based cheeses from fermented vegetables and seeds and shared this humorous post on International Women’s Day, shedding light on the unglamorous aspects of founding a company. 

In more brooding food news, an experiment with aging beer underwater was upended by some sneaky beer pirates. But it’s not all morbid news, Atlas Obscura shared the surprising tale of “Yorkshire’s death spoons”. These utensils were created in the 1600s and decorated with skulls on them. Originally it was thought that they honored people’s passing when in fact, they were commissioned in celebration of new births. 

A key theme in anthropological solutions to food system resilience has been bottom-up, neighborhood-based approaches, and you can see an example of this working in a municipality in Quito, Ecuador. They had set up local food policies, gardens, and partnerships before covid-19 hit in order to address food insecurity and equity. When the pandemic forced most public markets to close, they were able to (and continue to) keep their population fed. This case study shows the power of collaboration with the people on the ground to foster positive outcomes.

And just for fun, check out these artistic masterpieces created solely from agricultural satellite imagery.  

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