Author Archives: Agyoung

Identity, consumption, and the politics of food in the Occupy Wall Street movement

by Alyson Young

An excerpt from the upcoming January 2012 SAFN column for Anthropology News

Photo credit: David Shankbone

By now most readers are likely familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement. What few are aware of, however, is the central (yet contested) role that food has come to play in the identity of this protest movement.

Anthropologists and other social researchers have long understood that the relationships between food identity, and politics are complicated. Such is the case with the Occupy movement as well. As Carey Polis points out in her Huffington Post piece on food, politics, and Occupy Wall Street, “like the sometimes nebulous demands of the protesters themselves, there is not a consensus in regards to how food should be eaten, prepared, or even protested against.” (www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/12/occupy-wall-street-food_n_1007172.html)

With companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Katz’s Deli among the companies providing food to support the protests, the movement is increasingly becoming known for the quality and quantity of food available. For example, in an October New York Times article the author stated, “The makeshift kitchen has fed thousands of protesters each day. Along the way, it has developed a cuisine not unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement itself: free-form, eclectic, improvisatory and contradictory.”

Discussions about Occupy Wall Street’s food consumption are often highly politicized, however. While supporters of the movement say that the availability of locally grown organic produce, and the movement’s ability to create diverse meals out of donated food represents a response to genetically modified and processed foods (see www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/10/occupy-wall-street-zuccotti-food-activist_n_1085111.html); detractors highlight the hypocrisy of anti-corporate protesters who gorge on pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, eat at McDonalds, and use the free bathroom at Starbucks. In the midst of this debate, the multinational companies marketing fair trade and social responsibility have an opportunity to bolster their public relations campaigns by affiliating with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and may benefit from the lack of an organized response to their affiliation by protestors.

The relationships between food, identity and the Occupy movement will surely evolve quite rapidly over the coming months. What are your perspectives on the role of food and consumption among the various Occupy movements? Do you think that multinational corporations are using the Occupy movement to market their products?

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SAFN at the 2011 AAA Meetings, Montreal

Our annual business meeting and Distinguished Lecture will take place Saturday, November 19, from 6:15 to 8:00 pm in room 510C in the Montreal Convention Center. Continuing our tradition of honoring an anthropologist whose research has enhanced our understanding of food and nutrition, the Distinguished Lecture this year will be given by nutritional anthropologist Dr. Darna Dufour. The title of Dr Dufour’s talk is “Anthropological Perspectives on the Nutrition Transition” – it should be great!

SAFN is sponsoring or co-sponsoring the following sessions this year:

  • Breaking Bread with the State: Exploring Food, Diet, Economy, Politics, Identity and Citizenship (3-0865)
  • Changing Contexts and Responses to Food Insecurity (4-0935)
  • Feeding and Food among Babies, Children, and Adolescents (5-0135)
  • Before the Baby Comes: Dietary Provisioning During Pregnancy (5-0725)
  • The Working Animal Body: Recovering and Suppressing Visceral Traces (5-0990)
  • Taste the Difference: Food Futures and the Politics of Eating (and Writing) Food (6-0120)
  • Anthropology of Wine: Ethnography from the Vineyard to the Glass (6-0570)
  • Food and Identity: Are We What We Eat? (6-0575).

We have two invited sessions:

  • Traces of Resilience: Food Security and Wellbeing over the Life Course (5-0430; Saturday, November 19)
  • Ethnographic Approaches to Food Activism: Agency, Democracy, and Economy (5-0805; Saturday, November 19)

There will also be a panel discussion on the “Immense New Challenges to the Future of Food: Reports from the AAA Task Force on World Food Problems,” led by Sol Katz (2-0590).

Please check the AAA website: (http://aaa.confex.com/aaa/2011/webprogrampreliminary/start.html) or meeting guide for up to date information on the times and locations of these sessions. As always, check out our blog: https://foodanthro.wordpress.com/ and feel free to send us blog contributions. We love to highlight members’ work, ideas, thoughts, etc.

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