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Paper Competition: 2012 Christine Wilson Award

2012 Christine Wilson Award
The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is pleased to invite students to submit papers in competition for the 2012 Christine Wilson Awards presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers on that examine topics within the perspectives in nutrition, food studies and anthropology.   Papers may report on research undertaken in whole or in part by the author. Co –authored work is acceptable, provided that submitting student is first author.   Papers must have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of food and/or nutrition and must present original, empirical research; literature reviews are not eligible.   Papers that propose a new conceptual framework or outline novel research designs or methodological approaches are especially welcome.  Winners will be recognized and presented with an award at the 2012 AAA meeting in San Francisco, California and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.  Eligibility is further restricted to students (undergraduate or graduate) who are currently enrolled or who were enrolled during in the past academic year (Fall 2011 to present).  The text of papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced and follow  AAA style guidelines.  Please delete identifying information and submit along with the CWA cover sheet-
( Deadline: October 5, 2012
Please submit as an email attachment to:
Michael R. McDonald, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
College of Arts and Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd.
Ft. Myers, Florida 33965

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Call for Papers: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

Your opportunity to present at the 111th American Anthropological Association annual meeting in San Francisco, November 14-18, 2012

The theme of this year’s conference is “Borders and Crossings”. The AAA executive committee asks us to consider “border crossings across time, space, embodied differences, language and culture” and the fluidity of borders. In particular, we are asked to reflect on “our discipline’s borders and those borders’ permeability to relevant transgressions”. SAFN members are particularly well situated to contribute to discussion around the theme, as many, if not most of us, work across anthropological sub-disciplines and/or with colleagues in other disciplines. For more information about the national meeting, including elaboration of the theme and important dates, see

SAFN is seeking proposals for Invited sessions, Volunteered papers, posters and sessions, and Alternative session formats including Public Policy Forums and Inno-vents.

 For an Invited session, please send your proposals to Helen Vallianatos ( and Neri de Kramer ( no later than March 15. You must also submit your proposed session on the AAA meeting website by March 15. Session proposals should include a session abstract of no more than 500 words, key words, number of participants in the session, anticipated attendance, as well as the names and roles of each presenter. Invited sessions are generally cutting-edge, directly related to the meeting theme, or cross sub-disciplines, i.e. they have broader appeal. One way to increase your and our presence at the meetings is to have a co-sponsored invited session between SAFN and another society. Invited time is shared with the other sub-discipline and the session is double-indexed. Please include any other societies we should be in contact with.

Volunteered sessions are comprised of submitted papers or posters that are put together based on some common theme as well as sessions proposed as invited that were not selected as such. Volunteered session abstracts should be 500 words or less, individual paper abstracts 250 words or less. Both must be submitted via the AAA website ( by April 15.

Public Policy Forums and Inno-vents: Public Policy Forums are a place to discuss critical social issues affecting anthropology, public policy issues of interest to anthropologists, and that could benefit from anthropological knowledge. They engage panelists (no more than 7) and audience members in a discussion of public policy issues to enhance the application of anthropological knowledge in society at large. Public Policy Forums are reviewed by the AAA Committee on Public Policy; the deadline for forum submissions is March 15. Inno-vents are aimed at exploring anthropological knowledge outside the more familiar arenas and bringing together people, activities, materials and ideas that might not normally coincide. Inno-vents can occur outside the main conference venue in San Francisco. Because of their unique and innovative nature, inno-vents may require additional time to work out logistically. If you have an idea that might require some organizational creativity please contact the Executive Program Committee as soon as possible at

In order to upload abstract information and to participate in the 2012 Annual Meeting you must be an active AAA member who has paid the 2012 meeting registration fee. (Membership exemption is in place for anthropologists living outside of the US/Canada or non-anthropologists.) Discussants and Chairs must be registered by April 15, 2012 in order to appear on the 2012 Annual Meeting Program.

If you’d like to discuss your ideas for sessions, papers, posters, roundtable discussions, forums or inno-vents feel free to contact the 2012 Program Chairs, Helen Vallianatos ( or Neri de Kramer (

We look forward to another exciting annual meeting with a strong SAFN participation!

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Reflections on Food and Gastric Bypass Surgery Assessments

I’m writing this piece wearing two hats.  Yes, I am a card-carrying anthropologist with all that entails.  I’m also a licensed clinical psychologist.  In the latter role, I’ve been doing psychological assessments for gastric bypass and laparoscopy. These surgeries are increasing in number.  Furthermore, they are being given to teenagers and contemplated for younger children.  For many years, a patient who was going to get these surgeries had to go through a psych assessment before proceeding. I wanted to tell you what I do in these assessments. My questions involve food and the person’s relationship to food.

First, the intake questions focus on the person’s family history.  How does the patient view food culturally? How does it fit into their social life?  What specifically do they eat that we can see as “culturally-based eating?” Is the person’s family of origin prone to obesity?  (BTW, the politically correct term is severe, not morbid, obesity.)

Is there a psychiatric history of the person and family members? At times I’ve given a test to assess stability. Then I’ve asked what medications the person is taking.  This last point is crucial, because many medications, such as anti-depressants put on weight.  Is there a family history of Type II diabetes?   Has the person gone to the primary care physician and been tested for any kind of thyroid abnormalities?  What natural supplements are the person taking (and have they told their physician), since these supplements, too, can have side effects affecting weight, diet, and other medical conditions?

Second, the questions focus on the success or failure of different kinds of diets.  For the most part, the person has gone through many diets, none of which has worked.  The question is why.  Yes, the patient has told the doctor this.  But I ask them about their present eating habits.  I review their daily meals.  Despite the fact that they are preparing for surgery, many of them are still eating “badly” too much fat, salt, and random and inadequate meals.  Many people tend to drink caffeinated drinks.  Even though they don’t have sugar, caffeine can stimulate a sugar response as well as a cycle of highs and lows.

Third, the questions focus on whether the person has had a significant psychiatric and substance abuse history. Quite often, for example, the person has been sexually abused.  The purpose of these questions is to find out whether the person will follow instructions post-surgery, since violating instructions, i.e., eating too much and the wrong kinds of food can put the surgery at risk.

Fourth, the questions focus on how the person chooses to get medical information.  Does the person want it in written form, orally, and/or visually? Does the patient want a friend to come to the doctor’s office to help them with information?

Fifth, the questions focus on who is going to help the person post-surgery.  This is particularly important since the person may be incapacitated for a while.  Equally important, the patient is queried on family dynamics. One often finds that a patient’s partner “enables” the obesity by wanting the person to be overweight. There are lots of reasons for this.  The partner may want a larger person as their significant other.  The partner and the patient may be avoiding having sex because of the weight issue and other factors. I also ask the patient how s/he will deal with their new body at work and in their social life.  As is often the case, obese people are ignored, and changing one’s weight makes a person visible.  My impression after doing these assessments for over ten years is that this is a more sensitive issue for women than men. Men tend to be seen as more visible, women, less so.  Again, this gender difference worsens as people get older, more so for women.

I follow up several months later to see how the person is doing.  The follow-up reviews both weight and food compliance and family dynamics.   The purpose of the follow-up is to help the person maintain compliance and achieve success.

I’ve tried to be general here.  I look forward to specific comments and questions, because there are more physical and psychological concerns that are involved.  I’ve noticed that they can affect each gender differently.

Comments by Richard Zimmer


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The Three Pillars of Food Insecurity: Getting to the Guts of Utilization

Food insecurity is a hot topic right now given the turbulent food prices that have marked the last three years. Food insecurity occurs whenever a household or individual lacks predictable access to foods in sufficient quantity and quality to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. The concept rests on three pillars: availability, access, and utilization. Availability refers to the overall abundance of food but as Sen and others have pointed out, availability does not ensure access. The world produces more than enough food, but an unknown (but probably quite large) number of people cannot reliably access this food. Accessing food is critical and it is for this reason much research has focused on measuring the access component of food insecure. As more studies are conducted examining the relationship between new food insecurity measurement tools and children’s nutritional status, I have found it to be quite striking how little of the variation in children’s nutritional status is accounted for by household food insecurity. This got me thinking last night about the third component of food insecurity.

This third component is utilization of food. This pillar represents how well individuals utilize the food that they can access. When this pillar is discussed or assessed in the food insecurity literature it has often been in reference to dietary quality and dietary choices: What foods do people actually consume? Rarely have researchers explicitly linked one’s ability to absorb the nutrients they are consuming but if one were only absorbing a fraction of their dietary intake then this would indicate reduced utilization, and thus food insecurity. In other words, if there is sufficient availability of food and one can access it but only utilize a portion then one would, by definition, be food insecure, right?

How might we assess this level of utilization? In a series of papers Lunn, a biological anthropologist, and colleagues argued that the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract represents a major interface between the body and the environment. A series of historical studies with severely malnutrition and hospitalized children have shown that among these children, the interface, the intestinal villi of the mucosal lining, was frequently severely atrophied – a condition known as tropical enteropathy (see figure above). Such atrophied villi were thought, initially, to be an outcome of severe malnutrition but subsequent thinking has reversed this order and suggested that degradation of the mucosal lining preceded severe malnutrition. In a fascinating cross-cultural study, Menzies and colleagues compared estimates of mucosal damage among adult visitors and residents in tropical and temperate countries.  Residents and visitors to tropical areas showed “higher intestinal permeability and lower absorptive capacity” and all of the evidence indicated that compromised gut function was due to environmental factors. Even among affluent travelers, traveling in the tropics was associated with sub-clinical intestinal damage. Menzies et al’s work and others strongly suggested a link with poverty and unhygienic conditions. Lunn and others followed up on this work and outlined two pathways through which degradation of the mucosal lining could lead to malnutrition. First, lactase, the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down lactose, is found in the brush border of the intestinal lining. If the intestinal villi were damaged then lactase production might be curtailed and lactose unable to be absorbed. This would be a particularly important pathway for infants who were deriving a substantial portion of their energetic intakes from milk. Second, the damage to the intestinal villi may allow translocation of molecules into the body, which would trigger the immune system, which itself requires energy (which would in turn not be devoted to growth, a classic life history tradeoff, see McDade et al)). This would predict a link between mucosal damage and immunostimulation, which has been confirmed.

As mucosal damage increases (L:M, left axis)), growth slows. From Lunn 2000

Consistent with these predicted pathways, Lunn and colleagues assessed the mucosal damage among Gambia infants and children and showed that by 6 months of age, 50% of the children showed evidence of damaged mucosa and this rose to 96% among infants aged 10 months. The degree of damage was directly related to the degree of stunting and in the statistical models mucosal damage explained ~40% of the variation in length growth and weight gain over a 9 month period. Subsequent work by Lunn and colleagues suggest that both pathways were important. Work from Nepal and the UK by Panter-Brick and colleagues also showed a high prevalence of mucosal damage and this was higher among children living in squatter settlements when compared with middle-income children.

All of this suggest that unhygienic environments, perhaps more so than access to food, contribute to childhood growth. At least among children, there is other evidence that dietary quality and quantity (and disease), standard measures of food insecurity, are not necessarily responsible for the high prevalence of stunting and underweight observed in many low-income, high mortality countries. Part of this evidence comes from nutritional supplementation trials that tend to show limited positive impacts on nutritional outcomes. And part of this evidence comes from data showing that secular improvements in diarrheal prevalence are not associated with parallel improvements in nutritional stunting, or within-children that diarrhea episodes appear to have limit if any detectable impact on children’s growth outcomes several months after the episode. Finally, and intriguingly, data from at least two studies that actually measured the amount of food that children did not eat (but were offered) reveal that stunted children ate only ~70% of what they were offered. In a study from Huascar, Peru in the 1990s  stunted infants tended to consume more each day than the non-stunted but both groups only consumed 65-70% of what they were offered. Similarly a study of 2-5 year olds in Mexico also showed that despite being stunted, which would classify them as hungry by some measures, these children consumed only 1528 of the 2029 kcals that were available to them. Of course, if stunting was directly equated with hunger or lack of food then food waste would not be expected. All of this suggests that utilization is potentially more important than once thought (or, at least more than I thought) – or rather that access and availability aren’t the whole story.

If food utilization is compromised by damaged mucosa in children living in unhygienic settings then this may help explain why the relationship between measures of  food insecurity and the prevalence of undernutrition varies widely between sites and is often only weakly related. It also suggests that questionnaire based methods of food insecurity (or even observations of food intake) will routinely underestimate the utilization component of food insecurity and this will be biased such that less hygienic environments will typically show a greater mismatch between subjective measures or experience based measures of food insecurity and measures of undernutrition. This complicates the utilization components of food insecurity too, and suggests that we need to look not only at the food choices that people make but also at to what extent those foods are actually absorbed into the body. Finally, thinking across the pillars suggests that different components of food insecurity may differentially impact on health and wellbeing outcomes and these might interact with one another. Does this mean that access scales are missing a (big) piece of the picture or that they will be most effective when additional measures of hygiene exist?

– Craig Hadley

Some references

Briend A, Hasan KZ, Aziz KM, and Hoque BA. 1989. Diarrhoea and malnutrition. Lancet 2(8672):1150.

McDade TW, Reyes-Garcia V, Tanner S, Huanca T, and Leonard WR. 2008. Maintenance versus growth: investigating the costs of immune activation among children in lowland Bolivia. American journal of physical anthropology 136(4):478-484.

Menzies IS, Zuckerman MJ, Nukajam WS, Somasundaram SG, Murphy B, Jenkins AP, Crane RS, and Gregory GG. 1999. Geography of intestinal permeability and absorption. Gut 44(4):483-489.

Panter-Brick C, Lunn PG, Langford RM, Maharjan M, and Manandhar DS. 2009. Pathways leading to early growth faltering: an investigation into the importance of mucosal damage and immunostimulation in different socio-economic groups in Nepal. Br J Nutr 101(4):558-567.

Poskitt EME, Cole TJ, and Whitehead RG. 1999. Less diarrhoea but no change in growth: 15 years’ data from three Gambian villages. Archives of Disease in Childhood 80(2):115-119.

Webb P, Coates J, Frongillo EA, Rogers BL, Swindale A, and Bilinsky P. 2006. Measuring household food insecurity: why it’s so important and yet so difficult to do. The Journal of nutrition 136(5):1404S-1408S.

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Cool tool to track food prices

The price of everything is getting higher and higher these days

– person in Jimma, Ethiopia.

A new tool gives a powerful way to examine food prices around the world and in regional markets. Such a tool is timely: Rising food prices have again been in the news. The FAO food price index, which hovered around 224 in 2008 when food riots dominated media headlines, is currently at 232. The Global information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) Food Price Tool is an easy to use online resource that allows one to track the prices of many different food across the world. I can imagine this would be useful for research and for teaching. For instance, students could explore the food crisis’ impact at specific sites, assess global variation in price fluctuations, track the transmission of global prices to regional markets, compare price differences in net food importing/food exporting countries, and assess variation within countries in market prices.

You can find the GIEWS Food Price Tool here.

Once at the site you’ll see a map with all of the sites where food price tracking is available. You’ll also find international pricing as well.

Clicking on the site of interest will bring you to a national level map and the various sites of data collection. Let’s look at Jimma, Ethiopia. Clicking on this site reveals that there are 10 food price series available including wheat, sorhgum, millet, and teff. Teff is an important component of the Ethiopian diet as is sorghum. Clicking on the teff option produces a time series figure of teff prices over the last three years. Two features immediately jump out from the figure. First is the rising prices beginning in late 2007 and peaking around mid-2008. Second, we see the “stickiness” of food prices: prices reach a new high but only decline a small amount before leveling off. You can add multiple commodities to the figure to compare prices, which gives some sense of how different commodity prices shift.

Another great feature of the tool is that for each food there is an information tab that gives locally relevant information on that food. For instance, for teff we learn:

“Series: Ethiopia, Jimma, Teff (mixed), Retail (Ethiopian Birr/Kg). Commodity Information: Teff (mixed). Preferred staple food in Ethiopia. Teff accounted for 12% of the total dietary energy supply (DES) in 2003-05. On average in 2004-08 per capita consumption (as food) of teff was 30 kg/yr. The self-sufficiency ratio of teff was 101%.”

The price trend for chickpeas, which also play a major role in Ethiopian cuisine (indeed the Information tab tell us: “Pulses are a major staple food used in traditional dish (Wot). Also a significant export crop. Pulses accounted for 5% of the total dietary energy supply  in 2003-05.”), also shows dramatic upward trends. Clearly, the informant whose statement opens this post knows what he’s talking about!

Users can also point and click their way to comparing price trends between two or more countries or sites within countries. This gives some sense for how regional grain markets move together or don’t. For instance, comparing the price of maize in the largest cities in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania reveals similarities and differences; the price of maize shows a much more pronounced spike in Ethiopia than in the neighboring countries.

Of course data are available for non-African countries as well. Wondering how the price of tortillas in Mexico is changing? Simply click on the map, navigate over to Mexico, find Mexico City and click tortillas. The result?  A tortilla crisis. Prices were high, dropped precipitously, and then rebounded with vigor.

The GIEWS Food Price Tool is fun to play around with and I expect will be useful for nutritional anthropologists for both teaching and research. There is much more that it can do and I would be keen to hear about other people’s experiences with its functionality and how they are using it in their teaching and research

– Craig Hadley

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Wheat prices “tumble” — for now?

miles and miles of Washington wheat

Last week I reported on the dramatic rise in wheat prices and suggested that this may be a sign of another food crisis. The rise in price was driven by bad weather and fires in Russia, which is a global player in wheat exports. Russia reacted to the predicted shortfall by imposing export bans on grains. This signaled to markets a reduction in supply, with no change in demand, and prices rose. Speculators moved in and drove the price up further.

Now it looks like things are swinging the other way.  Since that post, wheat prices have “tumbled”, largely in response to new information about the global supply of wheat (including larger than expected US harvests) and the belief that farmers will react to the “shortfall” by increasing production.

This latter point highlights a central tension in global food markets. Limited supply and high prices can generate human suffering in the short term but lead to increased production in the long term.

Grain markets are predicted to remain uncertain for some time as traders try to get a handle on the global wheat supply but given information on the current supply it looks like speculators will ease up, and prices will come down.

Posted by Craig Hadley

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