Author Archives: Jo

What FoodAnthro is reading, March 8, 2019

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 or

The linkages between food, planet, and health have been drawn in sharp relief with the EAT-Lancet commission’s report, which includes a recommendation to drastically reduce meat consumption. It’s been interesting to follow media’s response to the report, now a few months old, and the pushback from certain interest groups. NPR included an overview. A critique of the diet, including one here and one here, is that it doesn’t meaningfully include impoverished people, and indeed, the process of creating the recommendations itself has been touted as Northern and fairly hegemonic. The New Food Economy included a story from a Sam Bloch, who tried to follow the EAT-Lancet recommendations for a week, and concludes that far beyond the challenge of the diet for an individual, the buy-in needed for food companies to shift would be massive (and maybe that’s the whole point). On Earther, there were two reflections on the diet, both by Brian Kahn:

“A flexitarian diet would reduce diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by almost 80%, whilst a vegan one would lead to reductions of over 90%,” Marco Springmann, a researcher at Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food who has conducted research on the topic, told me. He also said focusing on a more plant-based diet has clear human health benefits in terms of mortality.

Over on CivilEats, Eva Perroni conducted an interview with Tim Wise about the picture of Big Food and Farming, which I found interesting and helpful in the ways he bravely takes on the Gates Foundation:

I honestly had hope coming out of the 2007-8 food price increases that they would serve as a wake-up call to donor governments and foundations to shift policies to favor small-scale farmers and support more sustainable farming practices. Indeed, in international forums like the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the narrative did change. But agribusiness hijacked the policy agenda. I saw it everywhere I traveled. And the Gates Foundation deserves much of the blame for such technology-driven policies.

I’ve recently been encountering quite a few mainstream articles reflecting on the recent book,  Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It by three sociologists: Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott. One in Vox, one in The Atlantic, and one in Civil Eats, and all three an interesting read. The findings won’t be surprising to many of us who are parents or food researchers. I liked this summary by author Sinikka Elliott:

This idea that if we all make time for food and cooking good food at home, we’ll be healthier and stronger families—it’s an empowering idea. It gives us the sense that we can transform something in our lives. But it overlooks how so many aspects of family life are really thrust on to the shoulders of women.

Lastly, this long piece on taste used Trump’s use of ketchup on steak as a starting point, but ends up making a much more expansive point:

Context is king in interpreting food. “You’ve got to break on through,” Gold said. “There are French cheeses that, if you accidentally stepped on them in the street you would spend a half hour trying to scrub off your shoe, but yet when you eat them in the proper context … it’s just completely delicious.”

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What Foodanthro is reading, September 25, 2018

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 or

This long-form article over on Huffington post’s Highline has been making the rounds and may be a sign that public perception of fatness may be shifting, slowly.

More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.  And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. It shows that the prevalence of undernourishment continuing to increase, alongside adult obesity, which is also increasing. In this publication, the FAO makes explicit connections between obesity and undernourishment, as well as highlighting climate variability and extremes. The scope of these kinds of reports is necessarily massive, and I sometimes struggle to connect them to the experiences, approaches and understanding I encounter in our day-to-day work. Still, the report is very readable, with helpful graphics, and it reflects some of the narrative of the international discussion.

At the same time, in the U.S., the administration seems more focused on spending than hunger, and wants to impose stricter work requirements on SNAP recipients.

In the Farm Bill passed by the House and currently under debate in a conference committee, there are major proposed changes to snap that would substantially diminish its ability to fight hunger.

On a lighter note, I loved this article about adding a lot of vegetables and herbs to colorful and tasty sausages:

See, nowadays this butcher doesn’t actually eat a lot of meat (grains, veggies, fish and “so many herbs” are her day-to-day sustenance). The reason is simple: as the daughter of butchers, Nicoletti admits that vegetables were MIA in her life until she started working in restaurants—and now she’s doing her sneaky part to get everyone eating more vegetables as well.

Also over at Modern Farmer, another story of refugee farmers, where they briefly mention the issue of market access- which seems to always be a major challenge in the age of big ag:

Global Growers provides training — their growers, while horticultural experts need help adapting their skills to Atlanta’s climate. But most importantly, the organization provides market access, selling the produce through a farm share program, at local farmer’s markets and to chefs. The growers keep 75 percent of proceeds, which has allowed some to make “urban farmer” their full-time occupation.

Indeed, over at the New Food Economy, they tell the story of the New Jersey Senator who is trying to reduce the staggering vertical integration in U.S. farms (which has huge ripple effects globally). Yet this isn’t necessarily a bill that’s poised to change too much, especially in the short term, give that the Bayer-Monsanto merger is more or less certain.

Over on NPR’s The Salt, Gustavo Arellano wrote an excellent article about a program in the ’60s that had highschoolers replacing migrant farm workers:

We know the work they do. And they do it all their lives, not just one summer for a couple of months. And they raise their families on it. Anyone ever talks bad on them, I always think, ‘Keep talking, buddy, because I know what the real deal is.’ “

Lastly, don’t miss this lovely article about crying in public, (even if it reads like a bit like a oddly effective Starbucks ad):

In Starbucks, I was just a body with a need. To cry there was as acceptable as reading the paper. In that moment, I realized that it wasn’t just the pressures of running a business and being a bridesmaid that were stressing me out, but also my self-inflicted obsession with physical, political, and spiritual purity.

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, 26 July, 2018

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 or

First, here’s a fun video about prepping ancient recipes at Yale.

Murtagh-Wu writes a story about running a dumpling delivery service in Vancouver, and how the legitimacy of his efforts are deeply shaped by identity:

I sell dumplings which, in the Chinese culinary tradition, is no-frills fare that’s enjoyed at home (usually made by your grandma) or bought at a grocery store for a discount. I sell mine at a premium, and I add value by making them all by hand, delivering them myself to my clients, and sourcing my pork from a butcher which has been Chinese-owned and operated in Vancouver’s Chinatown for over 40 years.

Over on Medium, Sole-Smith writes about the experiences of people with highly restrictive diets. She describes how clean eating and the whole food movement have coalesced. Interestingly, the whole foods mega-personalities she mentions are all white men, and the people she interviews are all women:

At the height of her restricting, Meg ate only chicken breasts, protein powder, vegetables, and fruit. “And even fruit I began to get nervous about,” she says. “If I didn’t know how food was prepared, I couldn’t eat it. Nothing seemed good enough or clean enough.”

In breaking news, bread predates agriculture!!! I’m getting tired imagining the work it took to gather wild grains by hand.

“Nobody had found any direct evidence for production of bread, so the fact that bread predates agriculture is kind of stunning,” says Tobias Richter, a University of Copenhagen archaeologist who co-authored the paper. “Because making bread is quite labor-intensive, and you don’t necessarily get a huge return for it. So it doesn’t seem like an economical thing to do.”

Also on Atlas Obscura was this story about the evolution of a separate language– amongst multiple groups of people in Papua New Guinea– spoken only when harvesting a particular nut:

“Across Papua New Guinea, different clans with different languages all switch up their speech when they gather pandanus, lest they risk harming the harvest.”

“When you go up into the forest, or in any area that’s unknown, you don’t talk a lot,” says Franklin. “It’s a fairly limited register for the Kewa, mostly objects they wanted to refer to, or the phrases most commonly used. It’s functional language for surviving in the mountains.”

The importance of U.S. social support was palpable in this powerful story of experiencing the U.S. food system, and hunger, and the ways that the U.S. government is making life even more difficult for the poor.

“But sometimes, I feel that familiar feeling—as though I’m under attack. It’s that same threat that pervaded my childhood, from a small but powerful group of people demanding tax cuts for themselves and taking away what little everyone else has. They are The Hunters.”

Civil Eats had another compelling argument against proposed cuts to SNAP, and its importance to farmers, and urban and rural economies:

“The standard USDA model estimates that, during a weak economy, $1 in SNAP spending generates about $1.80 in economic activity. This would mean that the $64.7 billion in SNAP benefits distributed in fiscal year 2017 could have generated an estimated $114 billion in economic activity, creating and supporting more than 567,000 jobs across the country.”

The growing momentum to ban plastic straws is fascinating. These perspectives on straw use seem to be a really interesting case study in what gets to be considered sustainable within the food system, where does political momentum happen (straws versus a lot of other things making the food system unsustainable), where do people get passionate and press for change? NPR writes about the movement’s impact on people with disabilities:

“You’re putting this burden on disabled people to come up with a solution. You’re not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us,” autism activist Wiley-Mydske says. “You won’t even take the bus instead of driving your car somewhere,” she says, adding, “How many of you are willing to die for the environment?”

It seems every digest there’s something to be said about the soil. This time it is a USA Today story about cover crops. One key dimension of thinking about soil is the time horizon: In large-scale agriculture, one could argue that prioritizing the soil means prioritizing long-term success (and the success of future generations of farmers). This story about Hutterites ran counter to the norms of agiculture-as-big-business and food-as-commodity:

“”When I came on board, I realized there was a strong partnership here with the Hutterites that was more based on friendship and bartering than monetary gain,” says Jin. “We’re trying to keep that relationship going.”

On a related note, values based accounting (and accounting for externalities) is an increasingly important alternative way to evaluate the efficiency of food systems:

“The relevance and impact of import substitution strategy is heavily debated in economics. Indeed, as economics favours efficiency in the allocation of resources, it is more difficult for it to include considerations about other values. As far as local food is concerned, for Philip Watson, who authored both papers, it boils down to a debate over values, namely efficiency vs self-sufficiency.”

Ideas of how to implement urban agriculture are at the forefront of many discussions of sustainable food systems, but at Urban Food Futures this story highlights the problem of trying to use the same strategies in very different places, without a focus on context:

However, they unveil a similar pattern taking place in both settings, namely, the temptation to use references and concepts coming from other countries to legitimize urban agriculture policies instead of building on the rich history of gardening in these cities.

At Civil Eats, Leilani Clark writes about the intersection between food security and faith for black churches based in Baltimore, Virginia, and North Carolina:

Maxine White, executive director of the Coalition for Healthier Eating lives by the motto, “The person who controls the food controls the mind and the wellness of the body.”

“BCFSN is returning the old feeding ways back to our community. People are eating seasonally, preserving what is reasonable to preserve, and Black producers are producing almost year-round what comes to the table—on their own terms.”

At Nautilus, Matthew Sedacca writes about how eating outside of one’s comfort zone can bring peace:

According to anthropologists and psychologists who have studied food in recent years, cuisines from international cultures can take us out of ourselves and help us better understand distinct people and cultures. The secret ingredient is empathy. And the process begins with stirring our emotions.

And lastly, on a lighter note: Feral chickens in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida.

Councilman Harry Cohen, who’s running for mayor this year, also suspects that those drop-offs might be inflating rooster numbers. “In recent years, the rooster population appears to have multiplied” said Cohen. “At this point, the concerns have to do with them making a mess and being very loud.”

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, 11 June, 2018

This has been a sad week in food with the death of Anthony Bourdain, who I feel I know and admire after his death. There’s been an outpouring of grief from the food community, and far beyond it. I especially appreciated this interview with Gustavo Arellano, who discussed how Bourdain considered the experiences to Latinos in all parts of the food system:

By far the most exploited class, from the fields to the slaughterhouses to the lines to the people who are waiters to the people who wash dishes every night, he spoke again and again about their dignity.

This interview said something that came up over and over again: of someone humble enough to learn, and brave enough to speak up. Here are few more articles worth reading: The purpose of eating is to relieve pain, Anthony Bourdain’s extreme empathy, and the 1999 New Yorker article that propelled Anthony Bourdain’s career in television.

Check out this article on Popular Science to learn about growing food in Space. The idea of long space voyages with onboard farms is mindblowing, right?:

Space gardening will be essential someday if space travelers are to go beyond low-Earth orbit or make more than a quick trip to the moon. They can’t carry on all the food they need, and the rations they do bring will lose nutrients.  

As the Russian world cup draws near, we can expect to learn about many aspects of food in Russia, and apparently some teams are bringing vast quantities of food along with them to the competition (Sports Illustrated thinks this is a demonstration of how long Argentina is hoping to stay in the competition…).

Instead of farming food, can we farm carbon? It can be hard to measure, so a company is figuring out how to make carbon farming profitable through tech. Carbon farming is a subject of interest in South Africa, where growing spekboom could be extremely profitable if carbon taxes are widespread.

We’ve been psychologically preparing for the Bayer-Monsanto merger for a while now, as it was provisionally approved in competitions tribunal South Africa at the beginning of 2017. The merger was finalised recently by the U.S. Department of Justice. The resulting company will sell 29% of the world’s seeds and 24% of its pesticides. The ruling did mean that the new company must sell certain parts of their portfolio to BASF, though I’m not entirely reassured by that. At The New Food Economy, Joe Fassler reflects on the merger, and in particular the choice to get rid of the notorious Monsanto brand:

Ironically, though, the company that came to symbolize our lack of say also became an excuse to avoid more difficult conversations. It’s that abdication of responsibility—a refusal to take, as a culture, a thorough inventory of the difficult choices we face about how to feed ourselves—that has weakened the American consumer more than any individual company could.

Slow food weighed in on the importance of this merger for global agriculture:

This $66 billion deal is the latest in a global process of consolidation that has already witnessed the merger of DuPont and Dow Chemical, and ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta. Now, three multinational corporations control more than 60% of the seed market and 75% of the pesticide and fertilizer market.

Bayer argues that the merger is in the best interest of feeding an increasing global population. The Guardian tells the story of a farmer trying to preserve seed diversity in the face of these mergers. Many people believe that cheap food is facilitated by large corporations. While this is not necessarily true, in South Africa, there’s a desperate need to better match wages to food prices, as demonstrated by recent protests.

Over at Civil Eats, they have an interview with Marion Nestle on the event of her official retirement…. If you missed it, Marion Nestle was also on the Daily Show talking about Raw Water.  Yes, it’s a thing apparently. In Cape Town the queues for “raw water” (we don’t call it that) have been getting longer and longer over the course of our long drought (we’re happily starting to get winter rain).

Lastly, here are some pictures of hospital food from around the world!

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, May 1 2018

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 or (The common theme in this digest: farming. I need your help giving attention to a broader range of articles!)

Firstly, a study that confirms that vegetables are less nutritious than they were in previous generations:

The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows.

Urban farming has so many different benefits that I think at times we are comparing projects with very different goals, still, it seems important to grow a stronger body of evidence to trace out the contexts and stories that help us understand when and how urban agriculture has benefits. A review looking at the environmental benefits of urban agriculture, found that:

Overall, the review shows that urban agriculture is extremely diverse…It is, therefore, not possible to draw a simple conclusion regarding the environmental benefits of urban agriculture.

When it comes to financial benefit, a Citylab report found that those running urban farms in the U.S. were not making a living:

She and her colleagues found that about two-thirds had a social mission that went beyond food production and profit. She also found that, regardless of their mission, roughly two-thirds of urban farmers say they’re failing to make a living, reporting sales below $10,000 per year.

More affordable urban land is also highly contested, with developers and urban farmers both trying to gain access to ‘vacant’ land:

“People who live near [vacant lots] should have a say in how they’re developed, and most of the time people want to grow gardens, parks and farms,” says Mara Kravitz, director of 596 Acres, an organization that maps vacant lots in New York City and advocates for community stewardship of that land.

While urban farming is not the answer to all the challenges of the food system, it’s an interesting and important thread. In Flanders, the (urban) farm to fork movement is taking off:

Tierens’ father, a retired farmer, was sceptical when he outlined his plans; a small holding, no fertilisers and a few old-fashioned, second-hand tools: “My father told me, ‘Koen what are you doing? You studied at university, you have a PhD! Are you going to be an ancient Belgian farmer doing how they did it in the middle ages?’”


The Italian town of Mals, facing pressure to begin to produce commercial apples, voted to ban pesticide use in their municipality:

It had the backing of the Governor of the South Tyrol Province to which Mals belonged. Two experimental orchards had already been planted; their purpose was to test which apples and other fruits were best suited to the area. The citizens of Mals realized they needed to act fast if they wanted to choose their own future.

In response, over 60 residents formed the Promotorenkomitees für eine pestizidfreie Gemeinde Mals (Advocacy Committee for a Pesticide-Free Mals). Their initiative asked the mayor of Mals to pass legislation that would (1) protect the health and diversity of people and the economy; (2) promote organic and biodynamic agriculture; and (3) prohibit toxic chemical pesticides within municipal boundaries.

This is tangible evidence of the momentum to move towards agroecological farming, as this article argues for:

“We have to leave behind the idea of “coexistence” [between industrial and agroecological farming],” Peterson said. “The dominant paradigm must change; there is no possible combination of paradigms here. You can’t scale up agroecology if policies continue to support agribusiness.”

Here’s a really interesting interview with a veteran farmer reflecting on his years of farming, which he’s recently turned into a book:

The industrial farming of today is almost unrecognizable compared to the artisanal scale farming that I knew in the 1950s. The changes could be summarized as mechanization, commodification, and globalization. And it’s not done yet. An engineer friend tells me that the future of agriculture is drones and robots. Dismal prospect!

Motherjones describes the rather scary rates of phthalate exposures in people who ate out:

We found that people who eat out more at full-service restaurants, cafeterias, and fast-food restaurants have nearly 35 percent higher phthalate exposures than people who bought their food from a grocery store, and are presumably eating at home.


Finally departing from the urban agriculture theme, here’s a really fascinating read about mangos from Munchies– reminding you that your mangoes probably don’t taste very good. Which led me to another beautiful Munchies story, reminiscing about food in Sydney, Australia.

MSG is not as bad as we once thought– and this article tells the fascinating story of how MSG was demonized:

Just because there isn’t a scientific association between a given food and negative health effects doesn’t mean the pain or discomfort experienced by diners is imaginary. People who suffer after eating MSG may be experiencing the nocebo effect, the lesser-known and poorly understood cousin of the placebo effect. The phenomenon is what happens when suggesting that something can cause a negative reaction induces precisely those physical symptoms.

Lastly, the Korean peninsula is suddenly hopeful for peace, and food at the Korean summit was an important part of striking the right tone, as the Guardian shares. Though apparently a map featured on the dessert was controversial, not to Korean delegates, but to the Japanese.

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What Foodanthro is reading now, February 27, 2018

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 or

Got some coffee on hand? It’s hard for me to imagine spending $18 on a cup of coffee, but still, growing coffee in California under a canopy of avocadoes is a really happy image. As we move into new food territory with climate change, it’s interesting to hear of how people experiment, adapt and also push the fringes of what can be grown where.

Science recently published an article about the alleged “sugar conspiracy”, suggesting that the jostling of different nutrition ideas evolved over time in the context of postwar nutrition. It highlights the social forces that shaped discourse at the time, in a way that seems to suggest introspection, as well as a degree of humility and openness (which seems to be what foodanthro is all about):

But ahistorical accounts thwart our ability to critically evaluate the often long and zigzag process of scientific conjecture and refutation. They provide spurious cover for changes to policy by suggesting that old ideas are illegitimate. And, they advance a false impression that doing the “right” kind of science will somehow avert the messy business of making policy based on incomplete evidence, public values, and democratic politics

Another article from The Atlantic asks us whether the planet can feed 10 billion people, talking about the “moonshots” of the wizards (interested in technological fixes) and the prophets (interested in ecological sustainability):

Although the argument is couched in terms of calories per acre and ecosystem conservation, the disagreement at bottom is about the nature of agriculture—and, with it, the best form of society. To Borlaugians, farming is a kind of useful drudgery that should be eased and reduced as much as possible to maximize individual liberty. To Vogtians, agriculture is about maintaining a set of communities, ecological and human, that have cradled life since the first agricultural revolution, 10,000-plus years ago.

Over at EcoWatch, one farmer , growing hydroponically in containers, says that the way you feed a growing population is:

to make millions and millions of people into successful farmers.

This food interview over at the Guardian was just fun, and worth reading for the comments, and this description of soup:

like an enormous vat of what appeared to be water with one chicken claw in it.

I appreciate this column of everything the Guardian loves “about food right now,” for what it says about what is currently perceived as cool, and how distant all these places feel from here in South Africa. I followed a link on the column and learned about Kaki tree project, which sends persimmon saplings of a tree that survived the Nagasaki bombing to sites around the world). It also led me to Ruby Tandoh’s  slightly dated Guardian article, where her baking for an eating disorder outpatient ward was heartfelt:

Those with eating disorders feel the significance of this junction all too clearly, and a mouthful can easily become a transgression. Every single bite opens us up to the world. No woman is an island, as long as she eats.

Big news in global food systems (?): Unilever is sharing it’s supply chain for palm oil. There’s a move towards greater transparency and fewer middle men in a lot of supply chains, it seems.

Lastly, this article about eating pigeons. I appreciated how theoretically the one farmer should be getting lots of pigeons… and wasn’t.

Still, it’s clear that some of squab’s inconveniences are also a part of its charm. Because it’s hard to produce and familiar primarily to foodies, it’s treated with more reverence than a chicken. While this keeps squabs out of the mouths of the masses, it’s actually great for business.

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What Foodanthro is Reading Now, February 6 2018

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 or

Maybe you’re eating this at lunch time. If so, how does your lunch break compare to workers around the world? This story was interesting for the ways it resonated with the narrative of lack of time given the number of hours taken up by work, and also the idea of “junk” and “fast” food around the world.

Civil eats had a story about the nuances that need to be added to the narrative of “Eat less Meat:”

For me and many like me, grazing is our art form—it’s our best tool for breathing new life into neglected land.

While at times it may be important to struggle over what kind of food is the most morally righteous– sustainable or ethical or healthy, Ariel Greenwood makes points about levels of deep investment in food systems:

…few environmentalists who are opposed to grazing animals and eating their flesh have demonstrated either the degree of embodied affection, personal risk, and deep practice or the knowledge of grassland dynamics, plant succession, and wildlife movement that I’ve seen among the graziers in my life. So I urge those who care about the meat industry’s impact on the environment to bring more curiosity and humility to the discussion.

(Also, where was I when “woke” became an adjective?)

As a counterpoint, The California Sunday Magazine ran a fascinating, lengthy article on Steward Resnick, the biggest farmer in the United States, with startling photos of bare-grounded orchards. It’s worth the time to read. From the ability to shape entire communities of labourers (a major public health intervention?!), to thoughts about the productivity of the land, this is a powerful article about big agriculture. When the scale is so large the productivity per acre is no longer important:

“These trees are pruned by a machine that hedges one side and then the other,” he says. “But the smaller farmer still uses a pruning shears to make his most important cuts. If he knows what he’s doing, the shears can make a thousand more pounds an acre.”

And water is at the centre of it all. Water is on everyone’s minds here in Cape Town, too, where we’re facing the worst drought in living memory, our taps are at risk of running dry. Guess who is coming to the rescue? Yup. Coca Cola.  And South African Breweries. I’m skeptical whenever these companies start feigning altruism, but I’m overly cynical. It’s striking that, in a drought, the largest farms (and the largest companies) seem to be above the immediate impact.

I didn’t know Ruby Tandoh before this interview, but now I really want to read her books. Of Samin Nosrat’s book, she says:

It’s about the basic elements of good cooking, but I’ve been reading it like a novel. Everything I’ve been doing so far in the kitchen has been wrong, it turns out, but I’m fine with Samin telling me I’m a fool. I would put my life in her hands.

I also thought her reflection on the global discourse around food was apt:

I think there’s too much focus on hardcore foodie stuff – being preoccupied with provenance and so on. Or else focusing on nutrition. These things are actually pretty interesting and useful in themselves, but what we’ve lost is the focus on just enjoying food. I want to remind people that it’s actually fine to enjoy a ready meal. We live in a time when you can get a macaroni cheese and it’s done in four minutes – that’s pretty amazing.

While it is amazing that you can get macaroni cheese cooked in four minutes, there’s some question as to frequency: Check out this article on ultra-processed food in Europe for a sense of just how ubiquitous these foods are:

Eating biscuits or crisps or drinking cola occasionally does no harm, he says, but these foods are designed to make us want more of them. “It is beyond liking. We are entering the world of craving,” he said. They are also universally available and cheap. The key ingredients are refined flours, cheap oil and fats, sugars, starches, protein isolates and salt.

“We are moving further and further away from food that nourishes us,” he said.

In this article, Hawkes is quoted as saying that our collective taste culture(s) need to change, which seems to be fertile ground for food anthropologists.

Lastly, the labels we give food— “mainstream” and “alternative” food necessarily shapes who consumes it, as well as the direction of the system itself:

The links that surplus food has with waste and commercial loss cause us to see surplus food as inferior food, despite its edibility. For example, some attempt to shame governments into changing social policy by calling it “leftover food for leftover people”. While I agree that austerity and welfare policies are causing great harm to families and communities, I also know that donated surplus food is a resource that supports the resilience of organisations aiming to help struggling communities and households.


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What FoodAnthro is Reading, December 14, 2017

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 or

There is a need for continued land reform in South Africa, and for transformation in the farming sector. Yet having good quality agricultural land with ready market access is often still not enough to make ends meet, which points to broader problems in pricing and the value chain:

Crime costs him dearly. “I haven’t had a salary in the last 12 years. I am living off my savings,” he says.

Yet apparently it is the beginning of the end of Big Food in South Africa?!

Cuba is everyone’s favourite example of a well-developed organic agicultural model. This article describes Cuba’s current food system. While Cuba does not supply all of its own food, it has a large and growing set of farmers using organic practices:

“Organic farming does not bring the kind of large yields that will solve all our problems. But it solves many of our problems, and it is starting to become important,” said Juan José León, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture. “Ecological farming arose as a response to a reality that smacked us,” he continued. That reality was the collapse of the Soviet Union. “They were difficult years. We had to produce food somehow, somewhere.”

Of course, now, Cubans navigate food production in a context where fertilizers and machinery can (and are) once again imported.

The NYTimes ran this article on obesity in Mexico, where free trade is named as an underappreciated cause. Interestingly, the experiences of the sugar tax in Mexico is not discussed in the article:

Since then, the Ruizes have become both consumers and participants in an extraordinary transformation of the country’s food system, one that has saddled them and millions of other Mexicans with diet-related illnesses.

In Paris you can get publicly supplied sparkling water. I’m insanely jealous, not only of the sparkling water and the croissants, but also jealous of a city where this makes it to the top of a to-do list.

In a world where fewer crops are feeding more people, food Policy Councils play a growing role in shaping food systems. This story focuses on the slow, plodding, and important work in building food systems:

“These women don’t give up,” says Ostrander. “They are cooperative, putting aside their egos to walk across the aisle to work with people with different agendas. They are leading from the middle.”

Slow and cumbersome, this is not the food revolution Pollan and other leading food activists advocate. But in the absence of a national food agenda, local food policy councils are meeting immediate needs to improve access to healthy food. They might just build an army of dedicated folks who believe they have a right to healthy food and know how to fight for that right and make those changes stick.

The G7 acknowledged Food Systems at their recent meeting in Milan:

9. We acknowledge that food systems have a huge impact on human health. Therefore, in the context of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, we advocate for food systems that support healthy and sustainable diets, ensuring food security, safety and nutrition for everyone, including vulnerable and marginalized populations.

On a similar note, the Rockefeller Foundation had an article that claimed that food was at the core of the global agenda. This past week also saw the Food Security conference here in Cape Town. This article summed up the challenges of insufficient focus on maldistribution and processing:

The question of why those calories aren’t equally distributed, or what happens to them once they leave the farm gate, did not get equal airtime at the conference, which failed to capture how much the food system has changed in recent decades, and the resulting explosion of poor health outcomes.

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What FoodAnthro is reading now, October 17, 2017

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 or

National Geographic had an article about the Netherlands’ phenomenal agricultural outputs, which complicated some binaries for me: for example where Greenhouse grown doesn’t have to mean energy intensive or unsustainable, or even high-tech. Though sitting here on our little farm in South Africa, the approach still doesn’t ring as necessarily helpful:

But not every strategy is necessarily high-tech. Some tap the power of nature. To reduce the use of pesticides, many growers have turned to what’s known as “biocontrol” to protect their crops, using insects, mites, and microscopic worms to feed on damaging pests.

In The Guardian, there was another call for technology and modernisation in African farms. In South Africa, there was this article about the food sovereignty movement, who are not calling for technical solutions, but for:

the deep transformation of our food system by breaking the control of food corporations and repositioning the state to realise the constitutional right to food, and ensure the creation of conditions and space for the emergence of food sovereignty alternatives from below.

The Guardian tells us that we may not eat chicken again after we read this article. I think they don’t realise the many reasons people eat chicken.
On the subject of meat consumption, here in South Africa the low-carb Banting diet is a big deal amongst the middle-class, led by celebrity academic Tim Noakes, who has said that we need to be eating meat to save the planet. There was at least one response to this, entitled, What does Tim Noakes think cows eat? Not everyone is buying into the meat craze– check out this story about a Cape Town business based entirely out of spinach and spinach products. The spinach story seems to be a helpful contrast to the massive growth of supermarkets and fast food chains in South Africa.
The Lancet is joining the chorus focusing on food in 2018, after the FAO report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World recently came out. The intersections between hunger and conflict, between rapid increases in obesity and stunting, and between food security and climate change all seem very important points of research for food anthropologists; the human experience of these intersections is so difficult to capture in these (still very helpful) reports.
On a more hopeful note, check out this video from NPR about a biologist and master forager. And finally, on Saveur, this story of a cooperative, where growing crops on ex-mafia land represents:
 the tool of a movement against intimidation, an artisanally extruded counterpunch against corruption, a noodle in the eye of organized crime.

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, September 15, 2017

Jo Hunter-Adams

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 or

To begin, Raj Patel writes of the devastation of industrial agriculture. Local is one important avenue in the face of industrial ag, and Strongtowns is an interesting place to go to find stories of strong local food systems: Firstly, this article describes some of the challenges of building local food systems to the point where they actually provide significant calories (and the long years of hard work and no income that often precede this point). Also on Strongtowns was this piece about nuns running a farm in western New York, which offers a glimpse at the many ways that small farms can be transformational. Brian Williams also offered some very helpful ways of thinking about local food in the context of food systems. Citiscopes also had this article on building resilience into local food systems in Baltimore and Washington D.C.. Across the world in Australia, Karenni refugees are showing what is possible by cultivating food in suburban spaces. Perhaps a little tangentially linked, insects continue to be a very hot area of (local) food systems change, as described in this NPR article about teaching kids about entomophagy.

I’m always struck by the various food “worlds” we’re trying to make sense of, and our role as food researchers showing how these worlds are connected and influence one another. For example, check out this video on surviving on R1000 ($74)/month in South Africa. This is juxtaposed with the power of South African breweries (SAB) and the recent StatsSA article in honour of our national beer day, which tracked spending and told us that we’re spending more on beer than on vegetables. In Venezuela, chronic hunger is currently affecting large portions of the population, and this in-depth article frames hunger politically.  Which is not to sidestep the persistent issue of hunger in wealthy countries, as described in the U.S. context here.

There are so many people working on food and nutrition, and here are just a couple of stories about food educators: Forbes interviewed Tambra Raye Stevenson about her work bringing together different threads of food activism. There was also this NYTimes article about nutrition education as a medical intervention.

As always, the medicalization of food and the quest for the perfect diet can lead us astray. This article in The Atlantic examines misinterpretation of nutritional studies:

When measuring diet, for example, lifelong randomized, controlled trials are impossible. Even if people would volunteer to change their diets for a decade or so—a period long enough that rates of death and cancer and heart attacks could be meaningful—it would be impossible to keep the research subjects blinded. Our perceptions of how well we’re eating change how we behave in a lot of other ways.

Relatedly, Bee Wilson had this excellent article about the [debunked but cultlike] phenomenon of Clean Eating :

But it quickly became clear that “clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a whole universe of coconut oil, dubious promises and spiralised courgettes has emerged.

It’s in this world that dieting remains a big business, and now Oprah’s has some big stakes in the business.

I’ve been reading my way through the long list of food histories recently, and this article about strawberries caught my eye. It’s always a bit startling to see how much science is involved in growing and transporting just the right fruit.

Lastly, this article was a beautiful view of how daily acts of love are enacted in food:

There are so many different ways to show love through food — you can cook for someone, you can feed them.

Or you can just make a little room at the table for what they love to eat.

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