What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, A New Year

King cake, baby. Photo: David Beriss

David Beriss

A new year and a new column. As a reminder, this is 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.

If you attended the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Seattle back in November, you may have had a chance to attend the screening of The Salmon People Project at the amazing SIFF Cinema Egyptian theater. The film documents efforts by native tribes in the West to remove dams that have been linked to declines in salmon populations. It turns out that this movement is in fact succeeding, as this story from NPR documents.

How do race and gender intersect with the world of restaurant criticism? The question of anonymity has long been central to debates about restaurant critics. Should critics deploy costumes, fake reservation names, and scrub their images from the internet? Does this allow them to more accurately report on what we can expect in restaurants? Or is this all futile today, with so much of our lives lived on social media? Can anyone, pace Georg Simmel, expect anonymity today? In a disturbing twist on these discussions, it turns out that race and gender may provide effective cover for some, as Detroit Free Press restaurant critic Lyndsay Green argues in an end of year article about her experiences on the job. As a diner and, perhaps more significantly, as a self-described short Black woman, she became invisible even to chefs and others she had previously interviewed. This tells us quite a bit about expectations of who dines out and who is important in the restaurant industry and, more broadly, about race and gender in America. It also illustrates why restaurant criticism needs to be more diverse, a point also made in this related article from Serena Maria Daniels.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had wide-ranging impacts on food systems, both in Ukraine and around the world. Within Ukraine, a group of students, directed by Alla Petrenko-Lysak at Kyiv National University have engaged in a study of the impact of war on food access and practices, which you can read about here. This is remarkable work, given the circumstances. While the war in Ukraine has had an especially broad impact on food, it is worth noting that violence, even without war, can shape food systems, as this article by Tiana Bakić Hayden on Mexico’s food system demonstrates. This article in The Guardian demonstrates the impact on food access in Buffalo after the racist mass shooting at a supermarket there last year. It is disturbing to note that the relationship between violence and food systems could be a whole sub-specialty within food studies.

We all know about aspects of food systems that need changing. Who farms food and under what circumstances? What can make food systems sustainable? How do we make food systems more equitable? In anthropology, with our focus on particular groups and places, we can easily lose sight of bigger picture problems, shared across countries or the whole planet. Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, has written an interesting “Manifesto for Disrupting Global Food Politics.” There is a lot to discuss here, especially when her broad vision meets ethnographic research.

One area where food system politics and practices are often discussed is effective farming. From environmental to health issues, there are a lot of questions raised about how we grow the food we need. One oft-touted solution is vertical farming, which involves controlled indoor environments, most often used to grow herbs, baby greens, and other truck farm crops. Recently, efforts have been made to grow grain crops, like wheat or rice, that usually require large expanses of land, as this article by Miranda Lipton, explains. There are, however, concerns about how much vertical farming costs, especially when energy costs are rising, as Matt Reynolds explains in this article from Wired.

You have probably heard that restaurant wages and working conditions have been improving following the pandemic. However, the struggle to improve labor conditions in restaurants nevertheless continues. Listen to this interview, from Food Sleuth Radio, of Teofilo Reyes, from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, for insights into a wide range of restaurant workplace issues.

The Southern Foodways Alliance offers its annual collection of excellent food writing, film, and podcasts every year in the form of Cornbread Nation. The whole collection for 2022 is here. The SFA always seems to find great poets and this year I suggest you listen to Jason McCall, reading his work at the annual SFA symposium. I also enjoyed the “Genealogy of a Bakery” series from the Gravy podcast. Farhan Mustafa’s lecture “Muslim Barbecue is Local and Global” is both insightful and entertaining. There is much more on the site, so dig in.

Over at the Sporkful podcast, Dan Pashman is thinking about the ways in which food has been represented in some of the more notable television series and movies in 2022. In this episode of his excellent podcast, Pashman interviews the very amusing Ashley Ray about The Bear, Julia, Atlanta, and The Menu, producing some startling insights. He also chats with Chef John Benhase, who consulted on The Menu. Warning: there are spoilers, so only listen after you watch all the shows.

The holidays are mostly over. Still, you need to read this very sweet and solidly ethnographic tribute to bartenders. John Stanton, writing in the Gambit, explains his relationship to bars during the holidays. He has his own traditions, bartenders with great stories, and even a pretty solid Christmas playlist that, honestly, you can listen to anytime. Enjoy.

By the way, the holidays may be over for you, but not for us here in New Orleans. The Southern Foodways Alliance also has a little page devoted to the history of king cake in South Louisiana, which you may find entertaining. Of course, I can’t resist adding my own FoodAnthropology piece on the topic from a few years back too. Be sure to watch the videos.

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