Author Archives: foodanthro

Which Language for Local Food in Wallonie?

Joan Gross

I just returned to my dissertation fieldwork site after 38 years.  Back in the 1980s I examined the use of the regional Gallo-Romance dialect, Walloon, in Liège, Belgium and particularly in the puppet theater.  Over the past couple decades I’ve gotten increasingly interested in how people resist the global industrial food system. Upon arriving at the Liège train station last week, my interest was piqued by the poster announcing a show of local alimentary products called CBon, CWallon. It took a minute to understand that they were not using aberrant initial consonant clusters, but the practice of using a letter (or number) to stand in for the name of that letter, like the francophone usage of K7 for “cassette.”

I went to the C’est Bon, C’est Wallon Fair today, wondering whether the Walloon language would appear as well as the products of Wallonie. One of the first booths I saw was a beer cooperative called Badjawe. My husband asked one of the festival workers walking by what “badjawe” meant and he didn’t know, but a woman in the booth quickly said that it was the Walloon word for a talkative person. The publicity announces that the beer will loosen your tongue and facilitate conversations.

They call it a farm beer and advertise that everything comes from the farm on which they built the brewery. It’s organic too. Later I found that they even put together a short video in Walloon, explaining the name.

This highlighting of the Walloon language, however, was far outweighed by the presence of English at the fair. In fact, this same brewery is sponsoring a festival of microbreweries in April and the advertisement reads “Soif the Date” emphasizing the similarity between the English word “save” and the French word for thirst. Below the date is a list of what will be there including the English words “food” and “more.”

I photographed several other signs that used English in their advertising, usually mixed in with French. I asked the croquette sellers why they chose to put “Home Made,” “Authenticity,” and “Diversity” in their logo and they said that their graphic designer proposed it, so that they could maybe eventually export their product to other countries. It’s true that “Belgian Single Malt Whiskey” and “Cookies” tell you what the product is, but the use of English in the advertising of the fair was not necessarily descriptive. “Feel Inspired” or “A Life in a Drink” does not tell you what the product is, facilitating referential understanding across linguistic borders. It fulfills more of an aesthetic or emblematic function, implying modernity and global connections. I’m not sure what to say about “Tits,” but I’m sure that it wouldn’t fly in an American context.

In Belgium, however, there is an additional motivation for the use of English. It avoids the age-old struggle between the two main official languages, Dutch and French. (German is a third official language, but is only spoken by 1% of the population.) Flemings and Walloons will often choose to speak to each other in English, even though one or both of them may be fluent in the other one’s native language. Truth be told, it’s usually the Fleming who is fluent in French. Walloons still seem to be reluctant to devote enough time to learning Dutch when they can learn English instead. Learning English is also far more popular than learning the Walloon that their grandparents spoke.

So, here was a fair meant to bring attention to local products, but many of the makers of these products relied on global English for their advertising. I can’t help but notice that the majority of products using English in their advertising are forms of alcohol. The Thomsin family who have been making the famous Sirop de Liège since 1884 did not use English in their advertising (but they didn’t use Walloon either). Belgium’s reputation for beer is very well known. In fact, Belgian beer culture was recognized as a UNESCO intangible heritage this year. There has been over a 50% rise in exports of Belgian beer in the last ten years, even overtaking Germany in 2017. The whiskey and wine industries in Wallonie are probably trying to ride on the coattails of Belgian beer. Meanwhile, Badjawe is using the local language, Walloon, to promote the conviviality of drinking beer together and talking. I wish them success.

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Filed under anthropology, beer, Belgium, Food Studies, Language

AFHVS/ASFS Conference Deadline Extended!

Note the new deadline for this great conference. Also: SAFN members can register for the conference at member rates!

ABSTRACT DEADLINE EXTENDED TO FEBRUARY 7th

The University of Georgia’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative is pleased to host the 2020 joint annual meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).

The conference will be help May 27-30 in Athens, GA. Abstracts are now due February 7, 2020. We invite the submission of abstracts for organized paper sessions, individual papers, lightning talks, roundtables, posters and exploration galleries, and working sessions. The Abstract Submission Portal is now open.

We have a great conference planned — with Monica White (U Wisconsin) as our Keynote Speaker, CheFarmer Matthew Raiford as the invited speaker for our Evening Program, and 6 pre-conference workshops and tours. All the info can be found at the conference website.
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The 2020 conference theme, “Cultivating Connections: Exploring Entry Points Into Sustainable Food Systems,” is an invitation to envision a more sustainable and equitable future by critically engaging with the histories and legacies that have framed agricultural food landscapes over time. Cultivating connections means that we are active participants, called to dig in for the preparation of building fruitful relationships with one another to foster greater sustainability within the food system. The food system is an intricate web of social connections, with each node of the web shaping how food is regarded, how it’s grown, how it will be distributed, who will buy it, and what its overall significance is within communities. These elements provide entry points for conversation, reconciliation, and action toward building stronger, more sustainable connections within the food system. Participants are invited to engage in conversations about changes to the current agri-food paradigm to better represent and advocate for a more just and equitable food system – from farm to fork – that strengthens community viability, food security, and the sovereignty of all people.

Abstracts can be submitted at https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9H7Xy41kEjn0n1H

Abstract submissions are now due on February 7, 2020. Authors will be notified of acceptance by March 15, 2020. All presenters must be registered for the conference by April 21, 2020 to be included in the conference program. (The registration portal will be open in just a few days.)

Questions can be directed to cultivatingconnections2020@gmail.com

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The Sophie Coe Prize in Food History 2020

The Sophie Coe Prize is awarded each year to an engaging, original piece of writing that delivers new research and/or new insights into any aspect of food history. We welcome entries of up to 10,000 words on any relevant topic. The Prize is £1,500 for the winning essay, article or book chapter. Authors may submit one entry only each, and they must be delivered to us by this year’s closing date of 25th April 2020.

The Prize was founded in 1995 in memory of Sophie Coe, the eminent anthropologist and food historian. The winner is selected by our anonymous panel of distinguished judges and announced in early July.

Published and unpublished work may be submitted. If the former, it must have been published within 12 months of the submission deadline. If the latter, it must be in immediately publishable form.

Before submitting an entry please read in full the How to Enter” page at our website . Entries that do not comply fully with our conditions of entry will not be put forward to our judges. We also advise entrants to read some of the former winning entries to get a good understanding of the kind of original research work we are seeking.

For full details, and to sign up for reminders and updates on the Prize, please consult our website. Any queries not answered by the information on our website should be addressed to the Chair, Jane Levi, at email address sophiecoeprize@gmail.com.

The Prize is administered by the Sophie Coe Memorial Fund, a registered Charity in England and Wales (no. 1048753). Trustees: Sarah Coe, Phil Iddison, Jane Levi, Candida Macdonough, Kaori O’Connor.

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Rick Bayless, Plucky Jollibee, and Globalization

David Beriss

I receive a lot of restaurant industry email. Despite the deluge, sometimes the emails provide glimpses into the industry that I would not otherwise get. For instance, I recently received an “Eat Beat” newsletter from Restaurant Hospitality with the headline “Rick Bayless opens fast-casual Tortazo in Chicago.” Because Rick Bayless is trained as an anthropologist, but also because he has been at the center of many discussions about food, culture, authenticity, and appropriation in recent years, I decided to read the article. In turn, this pushed me toward some thoughts about how to think about globalization.

According to the article, Tortazo  focuses on tortas. Although Bayless first became famous for his high end restaurants in Chicago, he has since branched out into retail (his hot sauces are available in grocery stores) and other kinds of Mexican food-focused restaurants, both fancy and casual. Tortazo is a logical extension of this career, which you can read about here and here.

What caught my eye, however, was his partner in this new restaurant. Bayless is working with Jollibee Foods to develop these new restaurants. This is not their first endeavor together – Jollibee apparently bought 47% of another of his restaurant concepts, Tortas Frontera, back in 2018. And this is not Bayless’ first collaboration with a multinational corporation either. His company Frontera Foods, which makes, among other items, Frontera salsas, is now owned by ConAgra Brands, a multinational headquartered in Chicago.

However, it was neither Bayless nor ConAgra that really attracted me to this story. Rather, it was Jollibee. I first read about Jollibee in articles by anthropologist Ty Matejowsky. In that context, I thought of Jollibee as a plucky Philippines-based chain of fast food restaurants that resisted the onslaught of McDonald’s in its homeland. In fact, that same company has opened stores around the world, often in countries that have substantial Filipino populations (including the United States).

McDonald’s is probably the American brand most often invoked when people discuss the intersection of globalization and Americanization. George Ritzer famously developed a theory of social organization around “McDonaldization” and that concept has been extended to ideas about the spread of fast food around the world. Anthropologists have (also famously) studied the ways in which local populations around the world have made McDonald’s and other American brands their own, by reinterpreting the American model in their own cultural terms. This interaction between local cultures and global brands has been explored in other areas, including packaged ramen.

By opening their own restaurants around the world, companies like Jollibee might at first seem like the empire striking back. More than making sense of American institutions in their midst, Jollibee, McDonald’s Filipino competitor, is now showing up in McDonald’s homeland. Impressive.

Or maybe this is not exactly what it seems. Perhaps the tendency to associate these global corporations with nation-states sometimes misses other important characteristics. The same article that recounted Bayless’ new concept also pointed out that Jollibee owns the Smashburger and Coffee Bean & Tea chains. So much for plucky little Filipino upstart. Jollibee Foods Corporation is a multinational owner of many brands much like ConAgra. Is this a world of nation-states, cultures, and associated foods, or a world of multi-national corporations?

None of this is meant to criticize Rick Bayless, Jollibee, or ConAgra. But I do want to call attention to the complex realities that are often hidden behind the narratives we read. The entrepreneurial chef, the imperial American multinational, the resilient little company in the post-colonial world are all elements in the story lines we love to read about. But how real are they? In this instance, the chef is definitely real. After that, apparently, it is multinational corporations all the way down.

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Filed under anthropology, globalization

You know kimchi but how about kimjang?

Sangyoub Park and Sunyoung Cheong

At the beginning of the new year, a variety of news outlets and food-related venues usually predict upcoming food trends. USA Today, for example, predicts that “Kimchi will be in” in 2020. As a matter of fact, however, kimchi has been it-food at least over the past 10 years. I became aware that kimchi was next big America’s food when the New York Times stopped using an additional explanation for kimchi about 10 years ago. Before that, whenever the Times talked about kimchi, it followed with an additional explanation like “Korean spicy fermented cabbage.” Kimchi is the most common banchan, side dish, in Korea. When the Times stopped providing “what kimchi is to readers,” it signaled that everyone knows what kimchi is. In other words, there was no reason to describe kimchi as Korean spicy fermented cabbage any longer.

Fresh kimchi

The rising popularity of kimchi coincides with another trend in the culinary world – fermentation. As Americans are obsessed with well-being, they begin to pay extra attention to fermented foods. Fermenting food is not new, of course but it is one of the oldest ways of preserving food. The reason behind the latest trend is that many fermented foods are thought to entail health benefits. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was published around the time this trend was taking off. Kimchi is a probiotic lactic acid bacteria (i.e., good bacteria) fermented food. Many people believe that kimchi has a wide range of health benefits including improving digestion, increasing the body’s immunity, preventing aging, and preventing cancer.

Furthermore, as sociologists highlight how social class affects food preference, food can be a marker of social status. People create cultural distinction through food and eating. In the United States, the upper and middle classes are ready to embrace more “exotic” foods like tofu or sushi to distinguish their cultural identity. From this perspective, kimchi is very exotic. With exoticness and health benefits, it is evident that kimchi will enjoy longevity in the landscape of American food. This is exactly why I describe kimchi as an “Eww” food that has become a “Wow” food in terms of American taste trends.

Sunyoung Cheong, Preparing for kimjang in her home in Topeka, KS. She also pre-prepared for kimjang by washing about 25 heads of cabbage and salting them for 12 hours the previous day and making a huge batch of seasoning.

So, it is hip that you eat kimchi now. However, do you know anything about kimjang? Kimjang refers to making and sharing kimchi with others (click here for a short video about kimjang). Making kimchi requires collective effort because the process of making kimchi is very labor intensive. It is not unusual that kimjang is performed with large quantities like a couple of hundred heads of cabbage. Kimjang is usually done during November or December to last through the long cold winter. This explains why kimjang can be a communal activity. It is a way of communication, a way of creating memory, and a way of bonding together. The ritual of kimjang, in fact, was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

Kimchi-makers putting the kimchi paste between the layers of cabbage. This is a very important step to make good kimchi.

Over the past few years, we have invited community members, neighbors, and friends to our kimjang to experience firsthand how kimchi is made in a traditional way. We open our home to guests because we can help people broaden their understanding about “others.” We can be making kimchi together instead of “breaking bread together.” This year we invited friends (Akiko, Mary Anne and Luke) to make kimchi. In particular, this time kimjang was better organized thanks to kimjang mats, which we bought in Korea to test out for a potential kimchi festival – I am always dreaming of organizing a kimchi festival in Topeka, Kansas (Click here for the Kimchi Festival in Korea). Imagine making kimchi with strangers. And this might be exactly what we need in the Divided States of America today. During our kimjang, we conversed about children, marriage, changing food culture, and simply gossiped about everyday life. It is a way of bringing people together and creating a community. It can be a way of healing us. It can be a first step to unite a fractured community again. As an immigrant couple, after kimjang, we feel like our community has been extended by sharing our culture.

Making kimchi together.

Yes, it is good that more people are eating kimchi now but I hope that people appreciate kimchi simply beyond numerous health benefits. If kimchi can be used as a diplomatic tool, gastrodiplomacy, to enhance cultural understanding among countries (click here for a NPR story), it certainly can play a role in bringing us together.

Finishing up kimjang.

Let’s roll our sleeves and make more kimchi!


Usually after kimjang, Koreans eat steamed pork with fresh kimchi to celebrate the end of kimjang.

Sangyoub Park is an associate professor of sociology at Washburn University. He teaches Food and Culture and filmed the documentary “A little bit more Korean.” Sunyoung Cheong is a visiting assistant professor of the department of visual art at the University of Kansas. She teaches Casting for Jewelry and CAD/CAM.  She also creates interactive art performance like Wearable Play.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, fermentation, korea

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 9, 2020

David Beriss

After a long hiatus, FoodAnthropology returns with 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.

I am writing this from New Orleans, where food is often used to frame discussions of nearly everything. A few especially good examples of this appeared this week. First, this poignant article by restaurant critic and perceptive cultural observer Ian McNulty on thinking about the New Orleans Saints football season of hope and disappointment through red beans and rice. This is a great example of how restaurant writing has evolved in recent years. Second, this interesting recollection of Leah Chase, by Lolis Eric Elie, that tries to disrupt some of the iconic ideas about that famous chef’s life. A good example of how people resist the narratives we use to box them.

Sometimes journalists manage to combine the discussion of a simple dish and a personal narrative in a way that provides a small insight into a society. Bryan Washington, writing for the New Yorker, did this in his article about omurice, a sort of Japanese fried rice omelet. More recently, Vidya Balachander wrote this beautiful example of how knafeh, a stunning Middle Eastern pastry, can be used to tell a lot of different stories about the region. This is exactly the kind of writing that I like to use to inspire my students to think about the links between food and culture.

Theodore Gioia argues in the Los Angeles Review of Books that restaurant criticism needs to transform itself to remain (or become) relevant for readers today. More than consumer advocacy or guides to taste, Gioia argues for both new approaches (focusing on ethics, politics, and culture) and new formats for restaurant reviews. For once, I suggest reading the comments below the article, which are also interesting…and looking for the twitter storm it generated among food writing professionals.

As Gioia remarks, a new generation of restaurant critics is taking up the kinds of tasks he suggests, including a bunch of newish critics on the West Coast. But how new is this kind of self-consciousness about criticism and food writing in general? This discussion, from The Splendid Table, between Soleil Ho and Ruth Reichl provides some useful nuance to this history. The interview, from last fall’s radio show is about how different kinds of food-related businesses deal with change between generations. You can listen to the whole thing here.

Many FoodAnthropology readers are familiar with the Racist Sandwich podcast, started by Soleil Ho (see above) and Zahir Janmohamed, which looks into race, class, and gender in the worlds of food. The podcast has two new hosts, Stephanie Kuo and Juan Diego Ramirez, and is very much worth following. Listen, for instance, to this very curious and somewhat clandestine interview with a French convict (yes, he is in jail) who has a viral Instagram page on cooking. And related to the discussion above about the changing world of food criticism, listen to their interview with Soleil Ho, after a year at the San Francisco Chronicle. There are other interesting episodes too, all on the website.

Does every immigrant or minority in America have a story about dealing with being embarrassed, teased, or ostracized for the foods their family made or that their mother packed into their school lunch? I certainly do and I am endlessly fascinated by all the related stories I read in this genre. In this sweet video from The New Yorker, Priya Krishna discusses growing up in Dallas and being ashamed of her mother’s cooking, preferring instead peanut butter and jelly. In a related article, chef Jenny Dorsey discusses the tensions around being Chinese-American, both growing up and as a cooking professional. I would recommend this article for use in a class on food and race/ethnicity. Has anyone put together a collection of essays of this kind? It seems like these are widely shared experiences in the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) and it would be fascinating to see them put together.

Everyone knows that “real” food happens in independent restaurants, not in fast food or fast casual joints. And yet, it seems that work in fast food or fast casual restaurant chains has shaped the experiences of many of our most interesting chefs today. At least, that is what Priya Krishna (cited above) reports in this fascinating article. She argues that working at Applebee’s, Waffle House, or IHOP can often provide training every bit as valuable as culinary school.

It may surprise people in dryer parts of the United States, but hardly a week goes by in New Orleans without some sort of water crisis. Our flooding problems are well-known, but I am referring in this instance to the annoyingly frequent boil water alerts that occur due to problems with our aging water infrastructure. It turns out that New Orleans is hardly alone in this (Flint, Michigan comes to mind, of course, as a much worse example). In this piece from Counter Punch, Andreea Sterea provides an alarming overview of the state of water across the U.S. Read this and allow yourself a brief moment of panic, then start writing and calling your elected officials.

Discussions of obesity and food tend to center on questions of public health and diet, often framed by deeper ideas about race and class. In the case of countries in the Pacific, you could even add in stereotypes derived from colonialism. Yet there are many other ways to frame these issues and, of course, there are anthropologists who study them. Listen, for instance, to this great episode of the Sausage of Science podcast in which Cara Ocobock and Chris Lynn interview Jessica Hardin about her work and recent book (Faith and the Pursuit of Health: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa, 2018, Rutgers University Press) on religion, health, food, and more in Samoa. The podcast covers Hardin’s findings, but they also discuss the research process in ways that could be very useful for students as well.

We end this week with crabs from the eastern shore of Virginia. Or, rather, this excerpt from Bernard L. Herman’s book A South You Never Ate: Savoring Flavors and Stories from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (2019, UNC Press) that appears on the Southern Foodways Alliance Gravy website. Hard crabs, sooks, busted sooks, lemons…this is about the language of Virginia crabbers and the definition of this particular terroir. The pictures will have you longing for crab.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, media

“What counts is the imagination of ham, rather than its actual existence,” An Interview with Joelle Bahloul

In this third installment of interviews with anthropologists about their work on food, David Sutton talks with Joelle Bahloul, whose work on food and memory has inspired many other anthropologists. Family history, Jewishness in France, the influence of Maurice Halbwachs and her return to Algeria. Domestic memories of Jewish and Muslim communities that remain highly relevant today. But also connections between French citizenship and learning about food. And, of course, ham, imaginary and real. Watch and learn!

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, food history