Author Archives: foodanthro

Review: Making Milk

Making milk cover

Cohen, Mathilde, and Yoriko Otomo. Making Milk: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Primary Food. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. ISBN: 9781350029965

Kerri Lesh
Center for Basque Studies
University of Nevada, Reno

This interdisciplinary book offers a unique view on the scholarship of milk, which is enhanced by the diverse academic backgrounds from which the authors come. By loosely combining each author’s expertise, to include juridical, political, social, economic, artistic, historical, biological, and environmental perspectives, Making Milk examines ways in which milk embodies meaning, from production to consumption, through the lens of various intersectionalities. It provides food for critical thought by emphasizing the influential role that humans play in supporting or deconstructing the current systems in which milk exists.

The book is organized into four parts and starts by including a historical, theological, and political look at milk, continuing into the technological and natural means of milk production, all while cross-referencing and comparing milk within the dynamics of gender, race, class, and species. The book concludes in the last and fourth part by discussing plant milk, which in the final chapter emphasizes the influential role that humans play within the production and consumption of milk, offering a “DIY plant milk” recipe for those who might wish to more carefully ponder the relations they engage and resist in through milk.

New interpretations and ideas about milk are revealed throughout the book that make the reader reflect on our current, narrow interpretations of its importance, where it comes from, and how we formed a taste for it. For example, in Chapter 11, Gaard shares the passage from the Hebrew Bible in which the Promised Land is referred to as a “land flowing of milk and honey,” for humans that were the “chosen people for an exploitable land.” She explains that, according to the Talmud, the “honey” mentioned was actually plant honey, citing that the milk was derived from goats (not cows), and is interpreted by some as not being milk at all, but white wine. This passage forces the reader to acknowledge various interpretations of what milk is, in turn, questioning its modern standardized forms. Historical (mis)interpretations such as this, along with other accounts, demonstrate the ever-changing views on what milk has been, does, and should be.

In chapter one, Maillet notes that the Medieval medical interpretation of milk was considered to be “blood whitened in utero through the process of dealbation” transmitting characteristics of resemblance from a mother to the fetus, as “Milk is blood cooked in the uterus.” During and shortly after the Medieval period, the spiritualization of milk and its ability to take the place of blood was of great importance. Religious images of the lactating Virgin Mary can be seen on almost every wall of late Medieval churches, while stories of martyrdom liken the “realm of heaven” to having received mother’s milk.

Yet, in chapter four, the book juxtaposes such positive notions of receiving a mother’s milk to the inappropriateness of such practices in eighteenth-century Europe. There, Jackson and Leslie describe how breastfeeding practices were largely determined by race and social class. They explain that “Wet nursing was considered an acceptable occupation of working-class and non-white women—whose bodies were deemed closer to those of animals,” and that aristocratic women believed that breastfeeding would ruin their figures and interrupt social activities.

Modern day discussions surrounding the idea of breastfeeding include the concept of male lactation. In chapter eight, titled “The Lactating Man,” various ways in which males can participate in breastfeeding are detailed. The chapter discusses socio-cultural assumptions as to the gender of breastfeeding, explaining that fathers can breastfeed through a supplemental nursing system (SNS). The authors also explore the idea that males can participate in the breastfeeding act by taking part in other behaviors, such as supporting the breastfeeders to ensure their comfort and health, or by doing more childcare and housework to compensate for the time breastfeeders spend nursing.

This book encompassed a wide range of ideas surrounding the making of milk, supporting modern day ideas of milk-making through historical documentation. My own dissertation chapter, titled “Milk,” will benefit from this book by using a comparative analysis to understand its importance among different cultures and across time. In the book and in my own work, milk producers struggle to find balance between profit, authenticity, and safety as they consider these elements through processes such as industrialization, marketing, and pasteurization. Such issues demonstrate how milk can be used as a lens to highlight a culture’s political, social, economic, and even linguistic values to create a meaningful product for consumption.

This book analyzes milk in a new way by incorporating multiple frameworks used for studying gender power relations, sex, ecofeminism, and “tranimalities.” These frameworks force us to consider a larger picture and address issues that include how we view relationships between humans and other mammals and plant species. Such discussions would be relevant in a wide range of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, food studies, environmental studies, and gender studies, reading the book as a whole, or by using one or more sections for a more focused study. Making Milk proves through its carefully researched and detail-oriented descriptions to be a helpful resource to those wanting an understanding of what milk has been over time and place, for whom it is intended, the problematic issues behind how it functions symbolically in modern societies, and finally, suggestions on how to view milk going forward.

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ASFS/AFHVS 2019 CFP: Finding Home in the “Wilderness”

 

2018-zerbetz-logo

Very cool conference logo

 

It is time to start thinking about the best annual food studies conference. The annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society will take place in Anchorage, Alaska, June 26-29, 2019. The call for papers is available and along with it, a somewhat confusing set of submission deadlines…you can submit “early” by October 21, 2018 (yeah, I know, just a few weeks after the CFP came out) or you can submit “late” by January 6, 2018. You cannot, it seems, just submit on time.

It is bound to be a great conference. The full theme is “Finding Home in the “Wilderness”: Explorations in Belonging in Circumpolar Food Systems,” but they will accept as usual any promising research on topics related to food studies. This should be a truly stunning setting for the conference. Let’s make sure there is a good turnout from SAFN members!

Here is the full CFP from the conference web site. Go to the site for more details on how to send in your proposals. See you all in Anchorage!

The University of Alaska Anchorage, in collaboration with Alaska Pacific University, is pleased to host the 2019 Joint Annual Meetings and Conference of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).

Alaska is a changing landscape of modern diversity, evident in indigenous cultures that have called this circumpolar region home for thousands of years, frequent urban turnover, and rapidly growing immigrant populations that contributed to the most diverse census tract in the nation (Farrell 2015). Alaska Native cultures’ presence and contribution in the state is highly valued and particularly important for the food systems concerns. This special relationship between the land and people is also evident in urban and peri-urban settings. As in many other settings with high levels of diversity, Anchorage tackles its food and climatic constraints and opportunities in a complex web of relationships that spans from land management, health and environmental impacts of food production to diverse cultural practices within the rationalizing context of globalization.

The conference theme, Finding Home in the “Wilderness,” invites attendees to critically engage with and problematize the idea of wilderness. We acknowledge the concept of wilderness as a contentious one, influenced by Western notions of separation, dominance, and later, preservation. The conference taking place in the Circumpolar North, and specifically in the diverse, multiethnic urban setting of Anchorage reminds visitors that wilderness is not something to be sought after on a hiking excursion. Rather, it is a factor that may influence our food practices, such as the harvest of wild foods, economic and climatic constraints on production, and issues around access, storage, utilization, and distribution. Additionally, philosophical conceptualizations of nature exist in a specific power hierarchy, where rational and neoliberal systemic approaches push against traditional and ecological ways of knowing that problematize the distinction between “wilderness” and “civilization.”

We invite attendees to consider our conference’s unique location through metaphors such as frozen foods and wilderness in the context of worldwide food systems issues: the relationship between tradition, innovation and technology, gridlocked food policy discussions, ecological concerns, and reflections on our identities and belonging–especially as complicated by migration. The challenge of getting food on the table is a universal one that requires innovative solutions at the local, national, regional and global levels. Finding nourishment in this wilderness is no easy task but we search nevertheless.

A Native-serving institution, UAA has over 17,000 students and offers over 100 programs. With its focus on diversity, international and intercultural initiatives, UAA is a central institution in Alaska. UAA is connected to 250 miles of trails with woods, mountain vistas, and ocean views, yet is also located in an urban center, Anchorage, a.k.a. Alaska’s largest village. This conference is hosted in partnership with Alaska Pacific University, an Anchorage-based liberal arts university with a mission to provide a world-class, hands-on, culturally responsive educational experience in collaboration with our students, communities, and Tribal partners. Campuses are located on the traditional homelands of the Dena’ina and Ahtna Athabascan, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq, and Eyak peoples.

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Food and Cooking on Early European Television

We received the following call for abstracts from Dr. Ana Tominc, of Queen
Margaret University Edinburgh, and thought it would be of interest to SAFN members. 

Food and Cooking on Early European Television
Call for Abstracts

Food has been part of television from its beginnings. As technology that supported producing and broadcasting television pictures developed through the 1920s in both Europe and US, the first experimental TV service was established in Britain and then Germany in 1935 (Hickethier 2008). A year later, a Miss Dickson, also known as a singing cook, first cooked on British television  (Geddes 2018), followed by the more recognised chef Boulestin. But it was only in the decades following World War II, when broadcasting technology was further improved and the European nations slowly started to come to grips with the new realities of postwar Europe that food and cooking became firmly established as one of the most regular programmes on European televisions, both East and West.

This interest in food programming and especially food cooking shows, was partially to do with a particular focus of the European public broadcasters on educational contents of its television schedule, although this was not the sole reason for popularity of food and cooking on television screens. The audiences were often fascinated with television as a new medium in itself, and shows involving cooking became a familiar genre through which they could receive information about new foodstuffs that became popular in Europe through the postwar decades and popular recipes, but also educate themselves about manners and appropriate use of new household products that European industries produced after the War. Apart from offering a window to tastes and lifestyles that allowed Europeans of all walks of life to strive for self improvement (Bell and Hollows 2006; Lewis 2008; Naccarato and Lebesco 2012; de Solier 2005), food television also provided a narrative for self identification in terms of nation as it introduced dishes that “we”  eat, while also allowing for getting to know the “other”. It affected gender roles as it either reconfirmed women’s role as a homemaker or introduced novel gender patterns that transcended the previous divisions (Moseley 2008).

Food programming was one of the TV genres that features on almost all European televisions from early on, although in different formats, genres and quantities. The aim of this edited volume will therefore be to critically examine the role of food programming on European early television and the impact it might have had on food habits and identities for the European audiences.1 The role of television in this process was unprecedented, since, as Turnock (2008: 6) argues for Britain, “[e]xpansion of television institutions promoted social and cultural change through the development of production practices, technologies and programme forms that made culture increasingly visible in this new way; and this visibility promoted consumer culture.”

However, notwithstanding the importance of food programming on early television, research into early food television in Europe is surprisingly scarce, despite considerable interest in early television history on both east and western sides of Europe (see, for example, Bonner 2009; Buscemi 2014; Comunian 2018; Eriksson 2016; Geddes 2017; Moseley 2008; Tominc 2015; and for US, Collins 2005; Oren 2019). To an extent, this is understandable, given the potential lack of audiovisual sources related to early television overall (O’Dwyer 2008; Holmes 2008) where many programmes have not been preserved due to the nature of early television broadcasting.  However, this gap in scholarship is also surprising amid current scholarly interest in food media and their relevance for contemporary societies (e.g. Adema 2000; Bradley 2016; Hollows 2003; Ketchum 2005; Leer and Povlsen 2016; Oren 2019; Rousseau 2012; Strange 1998;  and so forth).

This collection therefore, first, looks to address this major gap in research on early food television in Europe; and second, to provide important material for a comparative study into European food broadcasting and the impact this might have had on ways of consuming food in Europe. In this volume, the aim is therefore to explore early cooking on European television in terms of its differences and similarities but specifically focusing on:

  • national contexts that allowed for development of specific food programmes and how this was reflected in the content
  • genres of food programming across Europe (e.g. various variants of cookery shows, travelogs, documentary-like representations of foods and so on)
  • content of these shows in terms of food: Who cooked? What did they cook?
  • who was the intended audience of the television programmes?
  • what was the impact of these shows on national or supra national food cultures?
  • what was the overall narrative of these television programmes in terms of identity, social change, modernity etc.?
  • to what extend did national broadcasting regulations influence the kinds of television programmes made about food and cooking?

Case studies from all European countries are encouraged.

Submission of Abstracts

If you would like to participate in this edited volume, please send:

  • a 300 word abstract that contains aim and brief background, sources of data & method, and potential argument/results if already known, and
  • a 50 word bio

to Dr Ana Tominc (atominc@qmu.ac.uk) by Friday, 26 October 2018. Notification of acceptance of abstract will be by 31 October 2018. Any queries should be addressed to Dr Ana Tominc (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh).

Information on Publication

The collection will be published with a major English language academic publisher, likely in 2020.

If the abstract is accepted, the authors will deliver the final article in good English by 1 October 2019. The length will be between 6-8,000 words including references and footnotes, depending on the final arrangement with the publisher. The exact length and formatting style will be communicated to the authors once the abstract has been accepted. An example of visual material is encouraged, although seeking permissions for publication remain with the author.

1For the purposes of this collection, early television will be defined dependent on the context of national television and the start of their national broadcasters. While attempts to established television started already before 1945, it was only in the two decades following WW2 that the majority of the European nations established their TVs, mostly through the 1950s and 1960s (Hickethier 2008: 56).

References

Adema, Pauline (2000): Vicarious consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity. Journal of American and Comparative Culture 23(3):113-124.

Bell, David and Joanna Hollows (2006): Towards a history of lifestyle. In David Bell and Joanna Hollows (eds): Historicizing Lifestyle. Mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bonner, Frances (2009): Early multi-platforming. Television food programmes, cookbooks and other print spin-offs. Media History 15 (3): 345-358.

Bradley, Perri ed. (2016): Food, Media and Contemporary Culture. Palgrave.

Buscemi, Francesco (2014): National culinary capital: How the state and TV shape the ‘taste of the nation’ to create distinction. PhD thesis. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Collins, Kathleen (2009): Watching what we Eat. The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. New York, London: Continuum.

Comunian, Cristina (2018): The Italian culinary identity shaped by early television broadcasts of Mario Soldati and his Viaggio nella Valle del Pol alla richerca di cibi genuine (Journey along the Po Valley in search of genuine food). Masters Dissertation. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Eriksson, Göran (2016): The ‘ordinary-ization’ of televised cooking expertise: A historical study of cooking instruction programmes on Swedish television. Discourse, Context & Media, 3: 29-39.

Geddes, Kevin (2017): ‘Above all, garnish and presentation’: An evaluation of Fanny Cradock’s contribution to home cooking in Britain. International Journal of Consumer Studies,  41(6): 745-753.

Geddes, Kevin (2018): Nailed It! The history, development and evolution of entertainment in British Television Cooking Programmes 1936-1976. A Presentation at the 1st Biennial Conference on Food and Communication. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University, 6-7 September 2018.

Hickethier, Knut (2008): Early TV: Imagining and Realising Television. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 55-78.

Hollows, Joanne (2003): Oliver’s Twist. Leisure, Labour and Domestic Masculinity in The Naked Chef. International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (2): 229–248.

Holmes, Su (2008): Entertaining television. The BBC and popular culture in the 1950s. Manchester: MUP.

Ketchum, Cheri (2005): The Essence of cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies. Journal of Communication Enquiry, 29 (3): 217-234.

Leer, Jonathan and Povlsen, Karen K. eds. (2016): Food and Media: Practices, Distinctions and Heterotopias. Routledge.

Lewis, Tania (2008): Smart living: lifestyle media and popular expertise. New York: Peter Lang.

Moseley, Rachel (2008): Marguerite Patten, television cookery and postwar British femininity. In: Gillis, Stacy and Hollows, Joanne (eds.), Feminism, domesticity and popular culture. Routledge advances in sociology . London: Routledge, 17-31.

Naccarato, Peter and Kathleen LeBesco (2012): Culinary Capital. London, New York: Berg.

O’Dwyer, Andy (2008): European Television Archives and the Search for Audiovisual Sources. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 257-263.

Oren, Tasha (2019): Food TV (Routledge Television Guidebooks). London: Routledge.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference. London and New York: Berg.

de Solier, Isabelle (2005): TV Dinners: Culinary Television, Education and Distinction. Continuum, 19 (4): 465-481.

Strange, Nikki (1998): Perform, educate, entertain: ingredients of the cookery programme genre. In Christine Geraghty and David Lusted (eds), The Television Studies Book. London, New York: Arnold, 301-312.

Tominc, Ana (2015): Cooking on Slovene national television during socialism: an overview of cooking programmes from 1960 to 1990. Družboslovne razprave,  XXXI (79): 27-44.

Turnock, Rob  (2007): Television and Consumer Culture. Britain and the Transformation of Modernity. London: I.B. Tauris.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 10, 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.

I have been on a bit of a vacation from the blog, but that does not mean I have not been reading…and the result is an overstuffed collection for you to enjoy. A lot of these items may be of use for class readings, which should come in handy for the new academic year.

Let’s start with an interesting article from Finbarr O’Reilly, in the New York Times, on the production and distribution of vanilla in Madagascar. The article notes that about 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from that country, but the production and sales are subject to both crime and corruption. There are some great photos here too, although at least one recent visitor to the area tells me that the article makes the region look gloomy and scary, which she insists is a misrepresentation. A critique of this representation could be a great class exercise.

Making a non-meat burger that tastes anything like a real burger has been a mostly impossible task. I have long thought that the best vegetarian burgers would sell better if we all just agreed they are more like falafel in puck form and stopped pretending they are hamburgers. And yet, there is the “impossible burger,” a fake burger that “bleeds” like one made of meat and that has a taste and mouthfeel (in my opinion) remarkably like the real thing. Could this be a really sustainable food product destined to help us reduce our meat consumption? Maybe not, according to this article by Clint Rainey, that appeared on Grub Street.

If you want to help your students think about how science works, you might have them read this article, by Joel Achenbach, from the Washington Post, which reports on a study that claims that the “optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none.” It is a both an interesting report on a study and an opportunity to discuss the difference between studies of populations and conclusions about what might be best for individuals, along with ideas about health, risk, quality of life, etc. One useful corrective appeared in this article, by Aaron Carroll, in the New York Times.

Blog editor Amy Trubek recently wrote here about the implications of meal kits for American culinary culture. There have, of course, long been efforts to simplify cooking for Americans, including meal kits that you can buy in the grocery store. In this blog entry on the Historical Cooking Project web site, Katherine Magruder presents the fascinating and bittersweet history of Old El Paso taco kits and their associated products. Back in the 1960s and 70s I think a lot of Anglo Americans probably thought that this was the only way to get tacos outside of a Mexican restaurant.

Echos of slavery and of the Civil War continue to inhabit American life. Perhaps our inability to make sense of the past is rooted in an unwillingness to fully confront the consequences that echo even today. In this article from the Oxford American, John T. Edge explores why a new Southern vodka (Dixie Vodka, originally called Beauregard Dixie Vodka) raised these issues for him. While we are on the subject of the U.S. South, you might also want to read this tribute to John Egerton, also by John T. Edge, from The Bitter Southerner.

If you are thinking about the U.S. South and the Caribbean and the legacy of slavery, then you might as well think about sugar too. In this wide-ranging bit of art and social criticism and history, Ruby Tandoh (on Eater), looks into the material and metaphorical place of sugar across both time and cultures. There is some amazing art in all of this too.

I have lately been obsessed with the possibilities of podcasts and audiobooks. There are a lot of good food podcasts out there, but one of my recent favorites has been the oddly named “Racist Sandwich.” They deal with questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in the world of food. Here are links to three recent episodes that I found interesting and that you can use to start discussions with students. First, in this episode, author Lilian Li talks about growing up in the U.S. and Chinese restaurants. Next, Darnell Ferguson, one of the few black chefs in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses his career and mentoring in the industry. Finally, an exploration of why Asian communities may be making Houston the most interesting food city in America. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.

Part of the allure of Houston these days (which David Chang also promoted in his Ugly Delicious Netflix series) are the innovative ways in which Vietnamese-American chefs are approaching Cajun and Creole dishes. This has resulted in a debate over who makes the best boiled crawfish (which, just FYI, are out of season now, so you can’t have any). In this article from GQ, Brett Martin argues for everything being in its place and peace among crawfish eaters. He may have a point. By the way, over at the New York Times, Pete Wells has recently argued that David Chang “matters” to the food world today, but less for what he says than for how he manages his many restaurants. Wells does not take a stance on crawfish in this article.

Kenny Shopsin, owner of the eccentric restaurant Shopsin’s General Store, died a few weeks ago. A great lamentation was heard across the food world, especially from chefs and others who admired the history and management and food, along with the owner and his interesting writing. Neil Genzlinger wrote a helpful obituary in the New York Times. Perhaps an even better way to understand the significance of Kenny Shopsin would be to read this article by Calvin Trillin, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.

It is always interesting to think about the foods people could eat, but mostly do not. Goat, for instance, is relatively popular around the world, but not so much in the United States. According to Jan Greenberg, from the New Food Economy, this may be changing as both immigrants and farmers work to popularize the meat (goat cheese is already popular in the U.S.). In New England, figuring out how to market an underappreciated crab—the Jonah Crab—is a problem confronted by fishers, according to Dan Nosowitz, writing for Modern Farmer. By the way, the goat article makes the claim that goat is the most popular meat in the world. In this article from the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson disputes that claim.

Debates about whether certain kinds of foods are in fact drugs or if certain drugs are in fact food are, it turns out, pretty old. In fact, a few of Sidney Mintz’s old “proletarian hunger killers” were included in those debates in Europe in the seventeenth century, as historian Ken Albala explains in this article, from EuropeNow. Go get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate (or, if you are in the right state, some marijuana infused versions of these, just to enhance the point) and read the arguments for and against the drug or food nature of these items. The humors may be different, but the core of the argument really seems not to have changed for a few hundred years.

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Archival Fellowship at the Vermont Folklife Center

The Vermont Folklife Center announces a fellowship (either dissertation or post-doctoral)   for those with ethnographic and archival experience. The Vermont Folklife Center has a rich history of work on food and farm work in Vermont.

Dissertation/Post-Doctoral Fellowship

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Call For Papers: What’s Next in Food Studies?

Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies invites submissions for a special issue (to be published in May 2019) on “What’s Next in Food Studies.” Globally, food studies as a multidisciplinary area of inquiry has attracted research interest and public curiosity. This special issue seeks to present what’s next for a vibrant field of inquiry and as such encourages submissions considering key questions, methods, and concerns in the global study of food.

Gastronomica has always provided a forum for transformational discussions crucial to an emerging field. This special issue will continue such a tradition. The vision presented in this issue of Gastronomica will emerge from dialogue. Specifically, we seek to identify the next wave of big questions that are emerging in food studies among food scholars from across the globe and representing multiple disciplines, institutions, and areas of inquiry. This special issue invites multiple voices (including students, junior faculty, innovative activists, emerging artists, and starting food practitioners) to submit scholarly articles that identify exciting new areas of inquiry, methods, forms of presentation, and approaches. Our goal is to feature the voices of new scholars (from any discipline) and facilitate dialogues that bring together these new voices with established food studies scholars and the perspectives of activists, social entrepreneurs, curators, cooks, brewers and vintners, farmers, and others.

Preference will be given to papers that expand and consider the multidisciplinary nature of food studies; advance new forms of scholarly writing and presentation; and seek to engage broad public and academic audiences. Preference will also be given to shorter essays exploring new critical and creative interventions into current debates on the political, cultural, economic, ethical, and social contexts of eating and drinking, cooking, farming, and food processing and industries.

WE ENCOURAGE THE FOLLOWING TYPES OF SUBMISSIONS:

1. Scholarly articles based on original research (approximately 7,000–10,000 words) including footnotes and bibliography.

2. Opinion-editorials (approximately 2,000–3,000 words) exploring a critical issue in food studies or in food policy or activism drawing from personal experience.

3. Omnibus reviews of important new works on food, from any or all genres (approximately 5,000 words).

All submissions will be sent to a member or members of the new Gastronomica editorial collective for consideration; appropriate submissions will also be sent for peer review. If you wish to contribute an essay on visual materials, please send any images as low-resolution digital files in a single PDF document in addition to the text by the 10/1/18 submission date. If chosen for publication, you will need to send high-resolution image files and secure permission to reprint all images no later than 2/1/19.

PROCEDURES FOR SUBMISSION OF ARTICLES: October 1, 2018—Deadline for submissions:

Article submissions should be sent to gastroed@ucsc.edu as Microsoft Word documents with: • What’s Next Submission in the subject line • A cover page with a brief abstract that includes reasons for inclusion in this special issue and a single paragraph author bio, attached separately.

 

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Perspectives On U.S. Food Policy: Farm Bill 2018

 

Ellen Messer

An essay inspired by Amy Goldstein’s JanesvilleAn American Story (2017, Simon and janesville-9781501102264_hrSchuster).  What this account of economic decline and increasing social polarization in a post-industrial American town reveals about the limitations of local household and community coping strategies and the failures of government safety nets.

Introduction

At the June, 2018 annual conference of the Association for Study of Food in Society (ASFS) and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) in Madison, Wisconsin, some number of us SAFN members participated in an open forum on the 2018 Farm Bill and also took the opportunity to learn more about the history of the food movement in Wisconsin.

When I proposed this session, I hoped to involve food and nutrition anthropologists and other professionals in run-up and follow-up conversations, sharing information about how these professionals participated in Farm Bill related research, education, and outreach, including advocacy activities.  The round-table session would focus attention on the hot-button issues in the Farm Bill 2018 news, which from January through June included cut-backs and structural changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), reductions in conservation agriculture and community-food security initiatives that threatened to derail promising programs in urban agriculture and grants to support new farmers and ranchers, discussions of crop insurance and who should be able to collect benefits payments (only actual farmers or also non-farming family members), and overall discussion of environmental protection agendas, including permissible pesticides, organic regulations, and payments to users to encourage conservation practices.  The goals of this open forum were practical as well as research and policy oriented: to learn what ag/food/nutritional professionals were doing (and observing) with regard to the Farm Bill, and to learn what information and outreach formats work best to engage populations of farmers and non-farmers, including students and university faculty and administrators, to influence politicians responsible for the final form of this multi-faceted, “omnibus” legislation.  Finally, a question that cross-cut this Farm Bill and other food-movement discussions, concerned what are the most promising platforms for sharing information and perspectives, to generate ongoing exchanges of information.

At present (mid-July 2018), the final form of the 2018 Farm Bill awaits reconciliation of House and Senate versions that have now passed their respective chambers.  A key sticking point are major eligibility and funding-level changes to SNAP, the most important US government program protecting people from hunger.  At our Open Forum, colleagues shared various and sometimes contentious points of view they had witnessed among particular rural and urban populations regarding such government food programs.  Particularly in the midwest heartland, some of these professionals found considerable push-back against government income transfers targeted for food. Some of these hardworking folks (the particular example involved farmers) indicated they expected everyone to work harder and not have to rely on government-sponsored food entitlements at taxpayer expense.  For strong supporters of SNAP food-security benefits, including myself, these ethnographic observations were troubling, and revealed how much we who champion SNAP don’t know about the thinking or situations of opponents.  We read the household-level economic and nutritional studies and are confident that significant benefits are present and assume such results, in some sense, speak for themselves.  This situation, combined with a growing awareness of Wisconsin’s recent history, which showed Wisconsin state government and national electoral politics had shifted from “blue” to “red” raised the question: why do people vote against their own interests, and the well-being and future of their state, by reducing public spending for basic quality education and health care, which inevitably disadvantages everyone who has much to lose from an undereducated, underemployed work force that is also likely to be more sickly and threaten the public health of everyone?

As I pondered these questions, I looked for recent books and found two very recent publications on Wisconsin society and politics.  One was Amy Goldstein’s Janesville. An American Story (Simon & Schuster, 2018)Sometimes a book outside food and nutritional anthropology’s immediate, specialized area of interest provides important insights into science and policy issues that may be missing in studies that ostensibly more directly engage our targeted professional interests.  Janesville proved to be a case in point.  Although its evidence extended only through 2016, it offered a context to discuss proposed changes to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”), in the 2018 Farm Bill, which US legislators still hope to finalize by 30 September 2018 when the 2014 Farm Bill expires.

As we found out from participants in our Open Forum, most Americans don’t follow the specifics of this enormous (“omnibus”) piece of agriculture, food, and nutrition legislation. Nor do they realize that close to 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s roughly $800 billion expenditures go to food and nutrition programs, the largest of which is SNAP.

SNAP, as we food professionals know, is the most important US food-security program, an income transfer program targeted toward improving low income household access to food, which expands and contracts according to expansion and contraction of employment and incomes.  The most recent SNAP participation figures, which the government tracks monthly, yearly, and state by state, indicate an estimated 41,240,974 Americans, living in 20,467,521 households, relied in part on SNAP benefits to put food on their tables because their existing income did not suffice. Average benefits per person were $126.76 per month or $255.41 per household.  That said, numbers of participants have steadily declined year by year since 2015, when more then 45 million Americans accessed SNAP in what was then a lower-employment and lower-wage environment, although average monthly benefits remained relatively unchanged.

Key proposed changes in the House Farm bill, which passed in late June, are reductions in overall eligibility and benefits, additional bureaucratic burdens of monthly recertifications, and mandatory work requirements for all able-bodied adults.  These specifics, including financial and social welfare analyses that demonstrate these changes will increase food-insecurity among those eligible and newly ineligible, can be found on the updated Center for Budget and Policy Priorities website.  Instead, consistent with David Himmelgreen’s well-reasoned “In Focus” essay on hunger, which used anthropology to put a human face on hunger numbers, I use Amy Goldstein’s Janesville interviews, which tracked individual and family histories from the great recession of 2008 for five years through 2013 (with brief “epilogue” updates through 2016), as a kind of ethnography, to examine the implications of changing US Food Policy.

The Findings

This book tells a distressing story, a case study showing how post-industrial American cities have fared in situations where their well-paying manufacturing jobs have disappeared.  Janesville, Wisconsin was a General Motors town.  Most of the residents, male and female, worked for the automotive company directly, in their assembly lines, or indirectly, producing parts (e.g., Lear engines), accessories, or services that went into the finished vehicles or provisioned laborers and their families.  Some worked, alternatively, at the other signature employer, Parker Pen, which also ceased operations during the period of study (2008-2013).

The chapters, arranged by years, tell the story of the town institutions, politics, and people forced to adapt to these deteriorating economic times. Each year’s framings also include political anecdotes showcasing the most characteristic stances of leading politicians. These politicians included Barack Obama, who was elected twice over this period, and attracted heartfelt support in this largely Democratic, union (UAW) town.  His stirring promises and commitment to the American automobile industry as an icon of American culture and economy, proved to be largely empty, despite costly federal government bail-outs, which seem to have fattened management and investors, not the workers, who were out of jobs.

The other major political figure was Paul Ryan, descendant of a wealthy Irish “mafia” (a local term taken directly from interviews in the book), who represented the upper class in this increasingly polarized community.  Ascending to Republican leadership positions in Washington, Ryan voted to cut budgets and benefits alongside his fellow Republicans, including Governor Scott Walker, who somehow managed to get elected multiple times and defeat a grassroots effort to impeach (recall) him. Why? The reader never quite learns the answer to this conundrum, which saw the state of Wisconsin withdraw healing or life-sustaining health and education funds at exactly the point where they were most needed.

The book begins with some background on Janesville, which had a long and illustrious history of hard working, civic minded people, who took care of their own, and avoided the violence that sometimes erupted in other union towns fighting for labor rights against management.  The general public and union at first assumed they would weather this shut-down as well, but as weeks and months became years of unemployment, the return of high paying jobs became increasingly unlikely, and people had to find other routes to livelihoods—or lose their houses (many were foreclosed), other major equipment (repossessed—although there was not much discussion of this), or move to where there might be better prospects (a handful of men commuted to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they (nicknamed “gypsies”) worked at the GM plant from Monday morning until Friday evening, then drove back to spend weekends with their families in Janesville.

The narrative is constructed out of household and individual life histories, which detail the disruptions in the lives of four autoworkers’ families; two workers from other local industries (which also shut down), two local politicians (Paul Ryan and Tim Cullen, former and Future Democratic state senator, who tried to negotiate across the growing economic chasm).  There were also three educators, whose efforts to protect homeless students left behind by struggling families, a social studies teacher at the local high school, who created a Closet to provide emergency supplies for students lacking food and sundries for minimally decent and dignified lives because their households’ economies had collapsed.  Two business leaders, who don’t seem to have accomplished very much for the vast majority of those down on their luck, grew in privileged status—self-described “optimists” who distanced themselves from misfortune and unfortunates. Additionally, there were two community leaders who reported on economic situations and tried to bring attention to possible solutions.

Food and Nutrition Implications

For me, a food and nutrition anthropologist, the most evocative vignettes were the descriptions of multi-generational households struggling to put food on the table, once the major wage earners had lost their factory jobs. In these situations, all able-bodied adults and responsible teenagers who worked two or three jobs per person in order to maintain the human dignity and nutritional well-being of their households.  The workers included highly motivated high school kids, whose contributions to household budgets were significant enough to keep families from penury and more extreme food insecurity, but also prevented these households from qualifying for higher SNAP benefits and the college-bound kids themselves from needs-based scholarships.

Households without regular incomes cobbled together food provisions from minimal earnings, savings, and emergency sources, which included a high school emergency “closet,” established by concerned teachers, that contained essential food and sundries the kids otherwise lacked.  Over this period, various local charities, including food pantries and food banks, distributed what emergency food provisions they had and solicited more, but saw their financial resources cut back by what they interpreted to be mean spirited government, especially at the state level. These sections vividly testify to the limits of customary charitable networks, especially where most workers have lost primary sources of income that they have been unable to replace.  Traditionally generous local Christmas and other holiday food efforts continued but had to be scaled back. A community where large numbers were unemployed or had suffered big cuts to wages, saw increasing numbers of people with unmet needs in a context of decreasing contributions.

Social and Moral Dimensions

 The adults’ struggles to find jobs, provision their families, and put food on the table with dignity—as their roles changed from “givers” to “receivers” of charity are forcefully epitomized in these very human stories, short biographies of hard-working and loving families, coping with economic crisis and family disasters through no fault of their own.  For me, the most important findings came at the end of the narrative, which documented the growing bifurcation of what had been a resilient, middle class town, which over a very short time divided into a two class town that separated rich from poor, with the faltering lower class seeing no prospects for regaining their prior middle class life style and culture.

The other major insights were reported in two appendices.  The first, a 2013 survey of household economies in Rock County before and after the recession, showed deep cutbacks in quality of life alongside a reluctance to ask government for greater assistance. This may have been partly cultural but also suggests a deep distrust of government capacity to improve their situations.  Contrary to government officials, most thought the country was still in recession. Specifically, over one third of households had lost jobs, three quarters of the households had experienced a significant decrease in home values (a consequence of the separate but related mortgage and real estate crisis). For those who had found another job, more than half were earning less than before. Only 3-5% responded that they thought Janesville would recover to the financial and job security they had enjoyed prior to the crisis. At least half expressed difficulty at some point in paying for adequate food, and more than half had had to cut back on health care and other necessities.  Many acknowledged symptoms of anxiety and depression. But only about a third overall thought that government should be doing more to help people who were out of work (more out of work favored greater government assistance than those who had not lost jobs).

The second survey, which examined the impact of local community college job training programs, revealed that these job-training programs, which encouraged many workers to go back to school and retool for other jobs, did not put them at an advantage over those who did not access job training.   About 10 percent more of the re-employed workers had found employment without enrolling in community-college training. Those who had not gone back to school also appeared to have steadier work and to be earning more.  Local jobs that would have enabled the retrained group to put their new skills to work, at least in the immediate term, were not there.

Such findings bode ill for job training programs that are supposed to put SNAP or other beneficiaries of public food and nutrition programs to work, to earn living wages so they will not have to rely on government assistance. They also suggest an urgent task for everyone who cares about reductions in food insecurity.  It is time to go out to such heartlands, and listen to what people are thinking and doing, and find ways to emphasize the “jobs” connections to food programs, which otherwise will continue to founder through misunderstanding, resistance, and lack of support for entitlements.

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Filed under anthropology, Farm Bill, food policy, food stamps