Author Archives: foodanthro

CFP: Special Issue for Food, Culture, & Society on Food and World’s Fairs/Expositions

A call for papers that could be of particular interest to SAFN members and FoodAnthropology readers who study festivals, fairs, and other events. 

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Food at the Fair

Bonnie Miller

This special issue of Food, Culture & Society will examine how fairs and expositions – at local, regional, national, and international levels anytime from the nineteenth century to the present – reflect and shape perceptions of food production and consumption for mass audiences. It will consider the perspectives of fair organizers, publicists, exhibitors, concessionaires, restaurateurs, and consumers in constructing and experiencing the diversity of food cultures on the fairgrounds.  Articles might consider questions like: how did (or does) the exhibition of food reflect transformations in food manufacturing or production over time?  What impact did factors like audience, location, funding, or managerial oversight have on the exhibition of food?  What techniques did food exhibitors use to attract the attention of visitors and how did these techniques shape fairgoers’ experiences?  Were there any significant differences in the food experiences of local vs. international tourists or of visitors of different gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, etc.? How did food exhibits function to reinforce or challenge ideas about progress, technology, agriculture, industrialization, race, region, class, nationality, ethnicity, or gender? What was the relationship between corporate and government food messages at the fair? How did fair exhibits and concessions strive to shape perceptions of the palatability and edibility of foods from around the country or the world and were they successful? How did the concessions and amusement areas of fairs represent food in comparison to more formal exhibition halls?  How did physical space within exhibition halls or of the fairgrounds as a whole impact depictions of food at the fair and its potential appeal to consumers? How did expositions allow for a more diverse, multicultural food experience for fairgoers while also replicating stereotypical and ethnocentric conceptions of specific cuisines? In answering these questions, this special issue invites authors who might take a comparative approach to the study of fairs and expositions, crossing regional or national boundaries or considering fairs of varying audiences and historical periods.

This special issue welcomes papers that place the scholarship on food and on expositions in conversation in order to demonstrate the importance of these mass cultural events as sites where local, regional, national, and corporate food identities were simultaneously made and unmade.

Submitted articles are usually between 8000-9000 words (including all notes, references, etc.) and must not exceed 9000 words in total.

Special Issue Publication Schedule:

Essay abstracts due:  March 15, 2019

Notification of preliminary acceptance (pending peer review): April 1, 2019

Full drafts due: November 1, 2019

Peer review process (4-6 months to review, revise and review again): up through June 2020

Copyediting:  Early 2021

Published: Mid-2021 (April or June issue)

If you are interested in submitting a paper to the special issue, please send a 300-word abstract to guest editor, Bonnie M. Miller (bonnie.miller@umb.edu), by March 15, 2019.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, CFP, farmers market, festivals, food history

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 26, 2019

David Beriss

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 or hunterjo@gmail.com.

Let’s start with a cheery report that argues, as we often do here, that whatever you are doing to improve the planet is probably not enough. Sorry. In this article, from The New Republic, Emily Atkin looks into companies (Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce) who send out boxes of damaged produce directly to consumers, as an alternative to the produce being destroyed or left in the field. This seems like a great way to prevent waste in our food system, which is a huge problem. Atkin, drawing on her own research and on analyses from a few food activists, shows that these companies may not actually be helping. This is not a simple story, however, so read it before you drop your subscription to one of these services.

Apparently many citizens of rich countries are worried about getting enough protein. Which seems truly weird, given the amounts of meat people consume, but what do I know? In this article from the Guardian, Bee Wilson writes that “anxiety about protein is one of the things that drives a person to drink a flask of vitamin-padded beige slurry and call it lunch.” Gah! Seriously, however, Wilson’s article explores this situation from a lot of angles, from debates about faddish nutritionism, to the dietary needs of athletes, to people with protein obsessions, and even a strange store called Protein Haus. This could be a really useful article to spark a fad diet discussion in a class!

As something of a corrective to the above fad, the medical journal the Lancet has recently published an article that looks at food systems and healthy diets around the world. They note that “unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.” Which is impressive. By the way, this article is a product of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, whose web site you should visit for a lot more interesting content of this sort.

The debate about cultural appropriation and food has been raging for a long time now, on multiple fronts, at least in the U.S. In this intriguing blog posting, food historian Ken Albala raises some questions about the relationship between ancestry and the right to cook particular foods. If you are keeping a list of relevant public debate pieces on this topic, then this is another one to include. The big question, which is not addressed here, is what the debates about food and cultural appropriation are actually about. Probably not food, really.

But wait, there is more. Writing in Eater, Sara Kay draws on her studies of thousands of Yelp reviews to argue that those who comment on the authenticity of restaurants are often writing in support of white supremacy. She writes that “the word ‘authentic’ in food reviews supports white supremacism, and Yelp reviews prove it.” She is pointing to a wide range of expectations that focus mostly on restaurants associated with immigrants or with specific ethnicities (Mexican, Chinese, other Asian cuisines), that build on stereotypes about food and people and that reinforce a kind of casual racism. She is also pointing to a hierarchy of cuisines (with Euro cuisines at the top) that reflects U.S. social structure. This is an important observation and worth making. However, I wonder if the term “white supremacy” is what we should be using to describe this. I admit to having used it myself to describe the massive system that has kept structural racism in place in the U.S. for centuries. But in a moment in our history when the far right—people who explicitly call for and support white supremacy—is resurgent, perhaps we want to be more careful. It is one thing to call attention to and even denounce structural racism (the hierarchy of cuisines) and those who support it (perhaps these Yelp reviewers), it is quite another to associate those reviewers with the people who marched in Charlottesville. Unless you believe that the only ideological positions possible are “woke anti-racist” and “Nazi,” maybe we should use slightly more nuanced language.

Or perhaps invoking white supremacy requires building a more detailed argument. Writing in Civil Eats, Megan Horst looks into the reasons why farmers of color seem dramatically underrepresented in agriculture today. She explores the history of farming and land access in the U.S., discusses policies supporting different kinds of farming, notes the history of slavery and other forms of exploitation, and puts this into the broader context of the challenges faced by farmers today. Horst considers all of the history and policies together to form a kind of actually-existing white supremacy, which seems distinct from the far-right ideologues in the media of late. Perhaps juxtaposing these two uses of the concept would generate an interesting debate.

Returning, briefly, to those Yelp reviews: the stereotypes that associate the foods of certain non-European groups with both cheapness and a problematic “authenticity” have been the object of a lot of criticism recently. In scholarly work, Krishnendu Ray’s writing has contributed significantly to focusing the debate. Diep Tran’s piece on NPR raised the question of cheapness in 2017. And this has had an impact, I think, on the discourse about food. In the Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman has recently announced that he is dropping the title (“the $20 diner”) because it does a disservice to the restaurants he writes about.

Switching topics: Airport food is generally awful. It helps, when traveling (at least in the U.S.) to have low expectations. I don’t know if Tortas Frontera, a chain of restaurants owned by Rick Bayless, located mostly in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, is any good, but the story of the pork they use is itself quite interesting. Writing for Fooditor, Michael Gebert describes the steps that turn pig into sandwich, most of which occur on a farm owned by Greg Gunthorp, in Indiana. This is not only farm-to-table airport food, but also a very inspiring story of challenging the industrial food system. Maybe the story makes the food taste better too. Let us know if you happen to go through O’Hare and try it.

We toss around theories of race, class, and gender in the social sciences and often forget, I think, that non-academics do not think about these things in the same way. Take, for instance, this very odd yet alluring article on Waffle House “rockstar” short order cooks. The author, Theodore Ross, appears to be an experienced, thoughtful, veteran journalist and, also, a white guy (he says so in the article). The article is a meditation, often laced with pop psychology references, about masculinity, race, and class, all while observing and talking about (and somewhat with) Waffle House short order cooks in Atlanta. Ross really does not understand academic discussions of gender, as this quote demonstrates: “Yet men do exist — or they don’t, and masculinity is “socially constructed,” as is more generally thought these days, which is likely true but has no bearing on the embedded concepts about manliness that sway my perceptions — and these ideas about ourselves exist, if not intellectually then emotionally.” Ross may have some insights into the contradictory nature of work in places like Waffle House. Students could have great fun critiquing this piece, I think. Also, if Mr. Ross should read this: yes, the “embedded concepts about manliness” you refer to are socially constructed and that does in fact matter for your analysis. Socially constructed is not the opposite of real. Trust me on this.

Let’s finish this opinionated digest with a drink. If you have been to Louisiana, you may have been astonished by the garish neon slushy drinks available all over Bourbon Street, as well as the drive-through versions of the same that we have elsewhere in the state. My late lamented colleague, historian Michael Mizell-Nelson, wrote a rather amusing history of these drinks, which may have been invented at the Wilmart (that is not a typo) Liquor Store in Ruston, Louisiana, which is closer to Arkansas then to New Orleans. The complete story of this invention, which Mizell-Nelson (a Louisiana native) referred to as an example of “the less well-documented genius of Louisiana” will amuse and delight you, probably more than the drinks themselves. You can read the first part here and the second one here. I recommend drinking something else, maybe a Sazerac, after you are done.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, anthropology of food, food history, gender, racism

CFP: Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food 2019

logo ASHF 2019.inddCALL FOR PAPERS

Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food 2019

15-16 November

(Post)colonial foodways: creating, negotiating, and resisting transnational food systems

Because of its manifold effects on individuals, cultures, and countries, from the 15th century onwards the colonial era had far-reaching impacts on existing foodways. Colonial rulers often imposed exploitative food systems upon the colonized, resulting in relationships that have been perpetuated, mediated, and resisted to this day. Because of their troubling and complex legacy, colonial foodways have become an essential theme in recent histories of transnational food production, consumption and trade practices from early modern mercantilism to the present. By shifting the focus from two-way colonizer-colonized relationships towards (post)colonial networks and their various nexuses, truly transnational histories are emerging that decenter Europe and go beyond traditional narratives.

Food history and (post)colonial history intersect in various ways. Theories about exploration and exploitation offer insights into (proto)capitalism and the consumption of commodities, the agency of populations in the Global South, the transfer of food technologies, and the ecological impact of restructuring and repurposing vast areas of land. Studying material culture and (post)colonial food customs, furthermore, advances an in-depth understanding of the historical negotiation of identities and ideologies. The hybridization of national and migrant cuisines, culinary (neo)colonialism, and shifting perceptions of gastronomic ‘authenticity’ all underwrite the continuing influence of the colonial era on how we speak about food and, subsequently, about ourselves.

Topics

This year’s Symposium encourages scholars from all relevant fields of research to explore the continuing relevance of the links between (post)colonial studies and food history. We invite abstracts for papers covering any topic related to the study of this theme including, but not limited to, the following:

  • (Post)colonial food rituals and customs
  • Trade, production and consumption of colonial commodities, such as coffee, sugar, chocolate, and spices
  • Migration, diaspora, and hybridization of culinary cultures
  • Negotiation and ways of resistance: agency in (post)colonial food practices
  • Representation and ideologies: nostalgia, tradition and authenticity
  • Colonialism’s nutritional, economic, political, and ecological impacts on global foodways
  • Colonial exploitative food systems, hunger and resilience

Guidelines Paper Proposals

The symposium program consists of plenary keynote lectures, paper presentations and panel discussions. If you are interested in presenting a paper at the symposium, please submit an abstract before 5 March 2019. Please expect to be presenting to an audience of up to 200 people, including academic as well as professional participants. The symposium language is English. Presenters of accepted papers are asked to speak 20 minutes as lively and engaging as possible, followed by a discussion with the panel and the audience under the supervision of a session chair.

Applications should include:

  • Title of proposed paper
  • Abstract (maximum 500 words)
  • Biographical information (short CV)
  • Contact information (e-mail, telephone and postal address)

Applications should be sent by the deadline of 5 March 2019 to: Foodhistory-ub@uva.nl

Notification of acceptance:

As it may not be possible to include everyone’s submission, the organizing committee and advisory board will make a selection. You will be notified if the paper is accepted by 1 May 2019.

Organisation

The sixth Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food will take place at the Aula of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on 15-16 November 2019. The Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food is the result of a collaborative partnership between Special Collections (UvA), the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (UvA) and the research unit Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Advisory Board

Prof. Dr. Ir. Louise O. Fresco; Mrs. Claudia Roden; Prof. Dr. Peter Scholliers; Prof. Dr. Irene E. Zwiep

Aims

The symposium is an annual point of assembly and an exchange of knowledge in the field of food history. It intends to stimulate debate and research that bridges the gap between different disciplines. Submissions are encouraged to use an interdisciplinary approach, in which theory and methods from diverse (social) sciences are appropriated or from other disciplines that take a historical stance. Another aim is to transfer academic research to a wider public and stimulate research using the Special Collection of the University of Amsterdam. The symposium is therefore targeted at both an academic and a professional audience.

Organizing Committee

IJsbrand van Dijk; Joke Mammen; Antonia Mazel; Jon Verriet; Ingrid de Zwarte

More information and updates about the symposium

http://bijzonderecollectiesuva.nl/foodhistory/amsterdam-symposium-on-the-history-of-food/

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ASFS Deadlines, Awards, Opportunities

There is a slew of deadlines, awards, and opportunities for anyone interested in the activities of the Association for the Study of Food and Society. These include an extended deadline for the best food studies conference in North America, student travel awards, and a search for a new editor of the ASFS flagship journal. See below and apply for whatever works for you. The deadlines are approaching fast for most of these.

ASFS Student Paper Awards

Received from Riki Saltzman, regarding the ASFS student paper awards (follow the link below for contact information):

Student Award Submission Guidelines

http://www.food-culture.org/asfs-student-paper-award/

Deadline for Annual Submission (all required material): February 1. NO Exceptions! Electronic submissions ONLY!

The ASFS invites current undergraduate and graduate to submit a paper for the William Whit (undergraduate) and Alex McIntosh (graduate) prizes, respectively. These awards recognize students’ contributions to the field of food studies. There will be one award each for an undergraduate student paper and a graduate student paper. ASFS welcomes submissions on a wide range of issues relating to food, society and culture, and from the diverse disciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields that ASFS encompasses. The author of each award-winning paper will receive:

* $500

* payment of annual membership and conference fees to be applied to the following year if student is not attending in the current year

* a free banquet ticket for the coming year’s annual meeting or the following year’s if a ticket has already been purchased or the student is not attending the conference in the current year; and

* the opportunity to present prize-winning papers at an ASFS/AFHVS conference. Winners who wish to present the year they receive their award must have submitted a conference abstract by the conference deadline in that same year.

Please note

* Authors are highly encouraged to simultaneously submit an abstract to the ASFS/AFHVS conference by the conference deadline. Conference organizers cannot add your paper to an already completed program; you MUST submit an abstract by the deadline.

* Prize winning papers may be presented at an ASFS/AFHVS conference within two years of award. Those prize winners who submit a conference abstract in the subsequent two years, should indicate their award status (year and name of award) with the abstract.

* Prize winners may also postpone their registration and banquet ticket use for one year following the award.

Follow the link above for additional information!

ASFS/AFHVS Conference Deadline Extended!

From the conference organizers:

The original late submission deadline for the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences has come and gone — but your opportunity to submit a presentation proposal has not!  The schedule is nearly full, but we still have room.  Don’t miss your chance to learn, network, and explore in the breathtakingly beautiful (and delicious) State of Alaska!

The revised submission deadline is Jan 15.  

And, just like you should hustle to submit your abstract(s), you should also begin to explore your travel plan options NOW.  For our part, we’ll hustle to send out remaining acceptance notifications!  Alaska is a popular place to visit in the summer, and you want to make sure you get a good deal on your plane tickets and accommodations!  Note that Alaska Airlines is an award-winning national/international airline loved by Alaskans, and you might find better prices directly on their booking website:  alaskaair.com.  Alaska Airlines is also partners with several other airlines, so you might be able to earn and spend miles on your trip!  It’s a win-win!

We hope to see you this June, and we look forward to sharing so much of what Alaska has to offer.  Don’t forget to also check out the many food-focused pre-conference activities you have to choose from to make the most out of your stay.

Your conference organizers are here to help — please let us know if you have questions we can answer as you plan your trip to the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences!

Here is the link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/academics/college-of-arts-and-sciences/programs/ASFS/call-for-papers.cshtml.

And wait, there is more! Travel grants and other awards have upcoming deadlines:

10 Student Travel Grants Available ($500 each) 

Deadline is January 15

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FMMV2XV

ASFS Local & Regional Grants

The deadline for the next cycle of grant funding is Jan. 15th.

http://www.food-culture.org/ASFS%20Grants/

ASFS Awards

The deadline for all awards (except student papers) is Feb. 1st.

3 book awards, article/chapter, pedagogy, graduate student & undergraduate student paper.

http://www.food-culture.org/awards/

Position Announcement:  Food, Culture and Society Editor-in-Chief

The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) seeks a new editor for its journal, Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research.  FCS publishes five issues per year through Taylor and Francis. The five-year term begins July 1, 2019.

Duties include:

Overseeing the manuscript review process from submission to publication, including initial review of submissions, determining eligibility for peer review, overseeing the peer review process, providing guidance to scholars regarding article appropriateness, maintaining high quality academic scholarship, ensuring publication in a timely manner.  The position also requires communication with the FCS Editorial Board and ASFS leadership, preparation of an annual report, and hosting a journal board meeting at the ASFS annual conference. The position requires on average 8-10 hours per week.

Qualifications:

ASFS membership

An established record of scholarship in the field of food studies

Familiarity with (or willingness to learn) Taylor and Francis’s Editorial Manager article management software

A vision for food studies scholarship that aligns with the journal mission statement.

Compensation:

The Editorship comes with an annual stipend. The Editor may also select a Managing Assistant Editor, who also receives a stipend.

Please submit a one-page statement of interest to Amy Bentley at amy.bentley@nyu.edu  by February 15, 2019.  Qualified candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

Please contact current Editor Amy Bentley (amy.bentley@nyu.edu) for any questions regarding the position.

 

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, ASFS, awards

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 2018

David Beriss

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 or hunterjo@gmail.com.

Hopefully with the holidays looming, you will have time to enjoy these articles. Got any favorites from 2018? Let us know!

One of the top problems confronting the restaurant industry this past year has been what to do about sexual misconduct. Helen Rosner, writing in the New Yorker, provides one small idea for training people who work in restaurants to understand what constitutes unacceptable behavior. Meanwhile, stories about how people are dealing with sexual misconduct and its aftermath in different restaurants continue. Maggie Bullock wrote in The Cut about what happened when chefs Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman tried to take over the Spotted Pig restaurant in New York. Quite a minefield. They are not the only ones struggling across that particular minefield, as Julia Moskin and Kim Severson note in this discussion with April Bloomfield, also from the Spotted Pig. Given that men were the perpetrators of the sexual misconduct in all these cases, it seems a bit odd to leave this paragraph with mostly stories of women struggling with the aftermath. Here is a very recent reminder that the industry is still dealing with the problem itself: Brett Anderson’s article about Tariq Hanna’s resignation from Sucré, a dessert empire in New Orleans, demonstrates quite clearly the deep dangers that come when power, sex, and careers are mixed.

Restaurant critics are also learning to deal with writing about these issues, along with all the other social questions that swirl around restaurants. Just two examples for now, but there are many more out there. First, this rather terse review of The Four Seasons from Pete Wells at the New York Times clearly raises the question of whether a restaurateur’s conduct should impact the customer’s dining choices or experiences (and the review may have had some rather interesting consequences). Second, this rather fascinating interview with Soleil Ho, the incoming restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that critics will be (or ought to be) thinking very carefully about ethical and social issues as they do their work.

As long as we are mentioning the work of Soleil Ho, take a look at this article she wrote about the nostalgia that seems to have long framed the restaurant menus of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Of course, the idea that memories of the country of origin and foods of the past haunt a lot of the restaurants run by immigrants of nearly every origin is one of the more fascinating elements in all the unresolvable debates about “authenticity” that will probably be with us forever.

And while we are discussing authenticity and nostalgia, we may want to bring on board appropriation, capitalism, industry, and more. Start with this amusing rant against industry-sponsored food “museums” by Erin DeJesus at Eater. I suppose I can see the point, but I have enjoyed similar museums in both the U.S and Europe (often kitschy, but if there are plenty of samples – chocolate, ice cream, cheese, beer – then I am a happy camper) and I hope we can trust that most visitors are aware that the ultimate goal of these places is commercial rather than educational. The tensions between well-meaning efforts to celebrate food and culture and commercialization are even more evident in this excellent story by Gustavo Arellano about the rise and commercial fate of National Taco Day in the U.S.

We might also want to ask if authenticity and nostalgia have any kind of reliable relationship with quality. Gustavo Arellano also recently wrote this article about the quality of food in small “mom and pop” immigrant restaurants. He points out that the search for the next hidden gem in the world of immigrant restaurants can often turn up restaurants that are not very good. He is correct of course, but this is just as true of any restaurant, not just those run by immigrants. Perhaps the more fundamental issue is that we tend to rely on some very simplistic (verging on racist) stereotypes about the relationship between ethnic identity and the ability to produce good food. Good cooking, like everything else, takes knowledge and practice. You may be born into a group, but you learn about food. And knowledge is not equally shared.

The politics that brought President Trump to power are complicated, but one often hears reference to resentful rural folks, especially in the West, where many feel that the Federal government controls too much of the land. And so when the administration moved to radically scale back the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, it seemed like they were responding to those complaints. This important article by Kathryn Schulz explains the improbable rise of a destination restaurant near the National Monument and the complex cultural politics involved in the reduction of its size. And, by the way, it also demonstrates that the Trump administration’s choice to scale back the monument had little to do with resentful Westerners and everything to do with serving corporate interests. You must read this.

In other stories of complicated food politics, it seems like efforts by cities to manage street food vendors is especially fraught in places known for high tech industry, where free food, a desire to appear modern, and a desire for food diversity all seem to clash. This article, by Christine Ro, compares Silicon Valley, in California, and Bangalore, in India. For some reason, this reminds me of a discussion of the changing landscape of pie shops in London, related to meat, eels, vegans, and gentrification, explained by Ronald Ranta in this article.

We often read claims by amateur anthropologists about the supposed benefits of “traditional diets” for combatting the ills of our modern industrial eating. It turns out that actual anthropologists sometimes do actual research on these issues and, perhaps unsurprisingly, their conclusions are unlikely to support the ideas spread by the fans of fad diets. This excellent article by three anthropologists (H. Pontzer, B.M. Wood, and D. A. Raichlen), provides an overview of recent research on small scale societies and diet, along with some data from original research with the Hadza, in Tanzania, and concludes that we should be careful about how what they learned might apply to people in industrial societies. A very good read.

One of the things that food journalism does best is create authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories of things that we need to know. Here, for instance, is a glossary of southern food terms, provided by the editors at Garden & Gun, a publication whose main purpose is to promote authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories about the South. Know that the accuracy of this list may be disputed and that unless you know how to pronounce the terms properly (“lid,” for example, is a two syllable word in much of the South), it won’t help much anyhow.

Sometimes journalists tell us what we ought to think about and then they check back to see if we really did. Which can be very amusing. Bret Thorn and Nancy Kruse, writing in Restaurant Hospitality, provide us with predictions for food trends in 2019 and look back at their predictions for 2018. For the coming year, Thorn predicts the rise of West African cuisine, lager, oat milk, and kachapuri in the U.S., while Kruse celebrates Juniper Lattes, Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs at Bahama Breeze, and the Maple Bourbon Shake from Krystal (which is a Southern little burger chain, curiously not mentioned in the glossary cited above). Also, Kruse notes that restaurant names are getting more amusing, noting, for example, “Hello, Sailor,” near Charlotte, NC. This article makes for a fantastic reading of the state of American food culture, although I am sure Walter Benjamin would be horrified.

If those trends are not enough for you, Sara Bonisteel provides an overview of the 17 most read food articles from 2018 in the New York Times here. From the Instant Pot to the untimely deaths of Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain, along with stories of sexual misconduct, this is also probably a useful snapshot of the moment.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food

Coffee Culture Comes Home

By Jesse Dart
Anthropology Department, University of Sydney

Milan-interior

Starbucks opened in Italy a few months ago. While the hype has worn off a bit, some days you still find a line of people waiting to get in. It is the first one in Italy and it is meant to respect the Italian coffee culture. Yet, a lot of those who stood in line on the first day was arguably upset over the lack of frappuccinos —  they aren’t served here.

It’s not normal Starbucks like you find in so many cities. There is no drive-through window, there is no stack of newspapers to buy. The plentiful number of staff are polite, courteous and helpful. There is a coffee roaster, there are bathrooms you can use without buying anything (a rarity in Italy) and there are a lot of tourists.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I had an hour to kill before a meeting so I wondered in. It was around 10 am – there was no line. The first person I see is a greeter, who welcomes me in English. I switch to Italian, but they keep up the English. “Is this your first visit?” she asked me. “Yes”, I replied, a bit taken by the space. “I’ll just give you a brief layout of the store”, which she proceeded to do.

On one side, a more typical Italian espresso bar — for espresso drinks only. Like most bars around Italy, people were standing and drinking their coffee while eating a cornetto (an Italian style croissant). It was quick, even if the espresso is €1.80 as opposed to the nearly ubiquitous €1. Next, there was a bean bar with freshly roasted beans to buy and take home. On the other side of the room, a beautiful marble countertop bar in an oval shape with copper flourishes all around and that day’s bean selection waiting in glass urns to be brewed in one of several methods. You could choose between the Clover Machine, Modbar Pour-over, Chemex, Coffee Press or Siphon as well as the usual espresso machine. Upstairs, a cocktail/aperitivo bar and in the middle of the building, the coffee roaster. Running along the ceiling were exposed tubes and pipes for the coffee roaster – with direct access to the urns of beans behind the bar. It is overwhelming but orderly.

I got in line at the coffee bar and waited about five minutes for my order to be taken. I started off in Italian, again, because I am in Italy, but the cashier started off in English, accented in what sounded like a New York accent. “Where am I”, I thought.

milan_roastery_opening_hero_02

At my table, €5 coffee in hand, I took a moment to consider the clientele. There were a large number of Asian tourists and Americans (judging by their accents) and a few Italians – it seemed to be a popular place for a business meeting, despite the lines and noise level. Over at the espresso bar, people lingered at high cafe tables while new piles of pastries were brought out of an oven. A few kids were asking questions to the coffee roaster. By the time I finished my cup and got up to leave, there was a long line of people waiting at the coffee bar, probably close to 50, and outside, a number of people waiting to get into the building past the security guard.

It all felt so produced and constructed. It felt like I was on a film set, not at a cafe in Milan. Cafes in Milan (and across Italy) are usually smaller spaces, for one, and have at its center, the bar itself – where people stand to drink a coffee because it’s cheaper and quicker. There is no security guard, there is usually not vats of freshly roasted beans, let alone a coffee roaster in glimmering copper.

It is peak globalization, I wrote on the back of a napkin, as a reminder to myself. And while most cafes in Milan don’t seem to have been affected by its opening, there are more in the works including one at the central train station and the airport.

I don’t see a bit of competition to be a problem, in fact, it’s not the first American style coffee house chain to open in Italy. 12oz. Coffee Joint, a franchise company has been around for some time. They serve “American” style coffee, something like a frappuccino, bagel sandwiches and have outlets for your laptop at all the tables – it is a “third space”. Their motto is “L’esperienza autentica del vero caffè americano” (The Authentic Experience of American Coffee). Just recently Five Guys opened their first store in Italy, just down the street from the Starbucks in Milan. There are Burger King’s, Subway’s and of course, McDonald’s. Starbucks’s opening seemed inevitable when you take all this into consideration. But with its opening, and the future stores they are promising, Milan feels like it’s being threatened with the boring nothingness that these companies seem to bring with them – a kind of homogeneity that makes food and drink choices the same everywhere.

Overall, I can’t help but think that one of the reasons people come to Italy is that it keeps and has kept, for the most part, a lot of its historic charm and institutions intact – especially in areas related to food. The bar is one of the most visible and in my opinion, one of the most brilliant institutions around. The bar is humanizing and grounding. There are more luxurious renditions, sure, but overall the best bars are the busy bars, full of regulars with cornetticrumbs on the floor and the clinking of coffee cups coming out of a washing machine. You can pick up gossip, breakfast, an afternoon espresso, evening aperitivoor an after-dinner drink all in the same place. Oh, and if your lucky, they sell gum, lotto tickets and newspapers too. It acts as a hub of social interaction that spaces, like the new Starbucks, struggle to achieve under the weight of the corporate machine behind it. It’s not welcoming, despite the person opening the door for you. Starbucks will always lack a certain kind of community spirit that I think is built through the space itself and a lack of pretension.

When asked about the opening of Starbucks in Milan, I just say that it is complementary to the established cafe and coffee culture – instead of competing against it. Reporters and journalists often overlook that Italy is a country of deeply ingrained food rituals. And while many of those are being challenged, in various ways, Starbucks is not going to change the way people drink coffee overnight. A quick Internet search for Italian coffee culture will give you loads of articles telling you how to deal with coffee culture in Italy. Lonely Planet’s article is titled “How To Drink Coffee Like a True Italian.”

Rituals help guide us in life – they tell us what to do when. They help orient us. Coffee rituals in Italy not only help guide you but facilitate a sense of community with others who share the same rituals. I have no doubt that the local bar will remain the hub of social life in Italy and that Starbucks will find its place in the coffee culture of Milan and elsewhere. But the rituals of daily life are slow to change; I imagine that the local bar will remain a hub of social life and community for a long time.

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Eric Holt-Giménez at AAA 2019!

Alert readers of this blog may already know that Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, will provide the distinguished lecture at the joint SAFN and C&A event at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association later this week.

The title of Holt-Giménez’ talk is “Food, Capitalism, and Social Movements: Recipe for Transformation?” which is likely to be both timely and provocative. Holt-Giménez has an impressive record as an activist, writer, and scholar. You can read a brief bio here. You may also want to read about Food First, which is an impressive organization with a deep commitment to and long track record in building an effective food movement.

You may also know that SAFN and C&A are holding what promises to be a fabulous reception after the distinguished lecture event.

What you may not know, however, is that the AAA schedule (as of this writing) may be a bit confusing concerning which of these events is which. So, officially, here is what you need to know and where you will want to be on Friday, 11/16.

7:45-9:15 PM. Joint Distinguished Speaker and Awards Event, SAFN and C&A, San Jose Convention Center, MR 212 C (This is the event where Eric Holt-Giménez will speak. We will also announce and hand out awards for some amazing work at this event, so come see what people have been up to.)

9:15-11 PM. SAFN and C&A Joint Reception, Loft Bar and Bistro (Off site, but not far…This is where we eat, drink, and have intense discussions about the lecture.)

These are both going to be great events. Hope to see you there!

 

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