Category Archives: anthropology

Some Pig

David Beriss

What is it we fear most in our food supply in the post-industrial West? Food shortages? Industrialized food? Genetic manipulation? Ecological disaster? Globalized food systems? The idea that we are either in or rapidly approaching some sort of food-related dystopia is certainly widespread, yet relatively hard to define. Wandering the aisles of American and European supermarkets, overflowing with astonishing plenty, it is hard to imagine what fuels our fears. Yet there is no doubt that many people have at least a nagging sense that something is deeply awry. There is a huge literature to reinforce those fears, of course, and a filmography to stoke our imaginations.

The film Okja, directed by Bong Joon-ho, puts many of our contemporary fears into one neat package. It is the story of a big corporation’s effort to develop and market a genetically modified pig in a way that will make it appealing to the masses (an effort remarkably similar to Chipotle’s little films). To do this, the company distributes baby pigs to farmers around the world, who will raise them for ten years. The pigs, now “localized” thanks to the farmers, would then be celebrated and turned into food. The film focuses on one pig, named Okja, raised in Korea by a young girl, Mija, and her grandfather, in an idyllic mountain setting. The fully-grown Okja dwarfs hippos, but frolics in the forest in a way that is reminiscent of a very large and exceptionally intelligent dog. In fact, Okja is clearly Mija’s companion and not livestock. This proves to be a problem when the corporation comes to collect the pig.

In addition to the first two elements of the food dystopia—the evil corporation that controls our food supply and the genetically modified animal—the film also depicts cruelty to animals by buffoonish corporate scientists and the horrors of industrial slaughterhouses. This being a neo-liberal horror film, the government is present only in the form of police enforcing the will of the corporation (although there are also private mercenary goons in the pay of the corporation, because that too is part of a good dystopia). Okja is taken by the evil corporation, first to Seoul, then to New York, for study, celebration, and marketing. Mija, determined to rescue her friend, sets off in pursuit. She is aided, and betrayed, by a group called the Animal Liberation Front. There is an element of Citizen Ruth in the struggle between the corporation and the ALF activists for Mija’s loyalties.

In the end, capitalism wins, although not in an entirely predictable way. The film is depressing, hopeful, and a little funny. There is no sense that Mija’s struggle to save Okja will prevent the coming food dystopia, even if she may get to carry on her idyllic forest farm life. The film points to the ways we are manipulated by corporations, as they greenwash their products so that we can feel comfortable buying them. It suggests that the efforts of groups like the Animal Liberation Front are engaged in a futile struggle (although this review, from the real ALF, suggests they do not see it that way). It also may raise the hackles of anyone engaged in food science. It might—or might not—be an argument against eating pigs.

No doubt everyone in the film gets what they deserve, except, of course, the pigs. Or maybe not. Show it to your students and see what they think. Since it premiered at the Cannes film festival last spring, it has been available through streaming on Netflix. Be sure to watch until the very end of the credits.

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SAFN Award Deadlines Extended!

SAFN is pleased to announce that we are extending the deadlines for both the Christine Wilson Award and the Thomas Marchione Award to July 28, 2017.

Thomas Marchione Award

Honoring the seminal academic and humanitarian work of Thomas J. Marchione, this award is given to an MA, MS or Ph.D. student whose active engagement in food security and food sovereignty issues continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food access, and food as a human right. The award can be in recognition of exemplary work completed or in progress, or for proposed work in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.

Ideally, the recipient will be working towards, in Dr. Marchione’s words, “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.” There will be one annual award of $750 (this will include a 1 year student membership to the American Anthropological Association and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition).  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work. 

Eligibility: Open to Masters and Doctoral level students who will have completed their coursework and research proposal by the time of the annual American Anthropological Association meeting in the discipline of anthropology or allied fields (e.g. sociology, food studies, nutrition, etc.).  Students already engaged in relevant research, action or advocacy may apply in acknowledgement of their accomplishments.  Proposals must be focused on migrant and/or refugee communities in the United States or on developing world countries.

For more details on the award requirements, please visit: https://foodanthro.com/thomas-marchione-award/

NEW DEADLINE: JULY 28, 2017

Submit your application to Amy Trubek via email at atrubek@uvm.edu.

Christine Wilson Award

 The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to invite students to submit papers in competition for the Christine Wilson Award. This award is presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives of 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 the submitting student is the 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 a cash award at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.

Students (undergraduate or graduate) must be currently enrolled or enrolled during the past academic year. The text of papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced and follow AAA style guidelines.

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.

NEW DEADLINE: July 28, 2017

Submit your application to Amy Trubek via email at atrubek@uvm.edu.

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Filed under anthropology, awards, Christine Wilson, Food Studies, human rights, Thomas Marchione

What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, July 11th 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 dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

Alex de Waal wrote recently about famine as a weapon of war, in historical context:

Drawing on a long Anglo-American tradition of economic warfare and blockade, the counter-humanitarian trend in London and Washington is both morally distasteful and practically stupid. When international aid fails to feed the hungry and treat the sick, extremist projects flourish. If security strategists and xenophobes think that humanitarian crises will burn themselves out at a safe distance they are mistaken: the biggest demographic outcome of famine has always been migration

Roxane Gay’s moving piece on her size is taken from her recent book Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body  :

Today, I am a fat woman. I don’t think I am ugly. I don’t hate myself in the way society would have me hate myself, but I hate how the world all too often responds to this body. It would be easy to pretend I am just fine with my body as it is. I’m a feminist and I know that it is important to resist unreasonable standards for how my body should look.

This piece of research on junk food challenged the stereotype that the poor are eating more junk food (at least in high-income countries). The not-so-great finding is that, in fact, everyone is eating lots of junk food:

the guilty pleasure of enjoying a McDonald’s hamburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken popcorn nuggets or Taco Bell burrito is shared across the income spectrum, from rich to poor, with an overwhelming majority of every group reporting having indulged at least once over a nonconsecutive three-week period.

Sometimes regulated away, deemed unsafe, or forced into various grey areas, one of the most important sources of food here in South Africa, and across much of Africa, are informal. This recent article highlighted the vital role of informal traders in supplying African cities with both food and employment:

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the average size of the informal market as a percentage of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa is 41%. This ranges from under 30% in South Africa to 60% in Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The informal market is also one of the biggest employers, accounting for 72% of non-agricultural employment in Africa. It is therefore an important source of income for many and enables financial independence, especially for women.

I am always amazed by the complexity of global food systems. This recent report from Chatham house represents a major piece of work on “chokepoints” in the food system, points at which disruptions in the food supply potentially affect how food moves around the world:

Moreover, these risks are increasing, driven by three distinct trends. First, dependency on chokepoints is growing (see Figure 2). For example, in the past decade and a half the share of internationally traded grain and fertilizers passing through at least one of the maritime chokepoints has increased from 43 to 54 per cent. A smaller but nonetheless significant share – 10 per cent – now depends on transit through one or more of the maritime chokepoints as the only viable shipping route, up from 6 per cent in 2000.

The report fails to make any mention of increasing food sovereignty, or instituting policies that reduce dependence on a handful of crops. They do mention the need for developed countries:

to reform trade-distorting farm support. Such support promotes systemic reliance on a handful of mega-crops and a small number of grain-exporting regions. Instead, public funds should be directed to supporting alternative sources of grain production around the world, in order to diversify global production and reduce import dependence elsewhere. A priority should be to direct such funding to farming in sub-Saharan Africa, where yield gaps remain while cereal demand is growing rapidly; this could be complemented with funding to support production of alternative crops.

Some challenges of farming organically are shared in this story from Northwest public radio. One question that comes up for me after reading this article is to what extent it really is possible to farm multi-acre monocrops organically:

“You have to be more persistent than the weeds, and we know they are really persistent,” says Ian Burke, a professor of weed science at Washington State University. “It’s all about having the people to be out there and be actively managing.”

It’s a bit hard for me to be convinced he had anything more glamourous than a pre-industrial diet shared, until recently, by most people across the globe; still, over at the Salt is an article about Henry David Thoreau’s diet:

By today’s standards, the polite vegetarian didn’t have the most balanced diet, but he did have remarkable foresight. Long before Pollan penned his popular dietary prescription, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” Thoreau was doing just that.

Amazon continues to pursue some kind of food takeover, receiving permission to stock and sell food in India!?

Check out this floating food forest New York, created as a provocation to New York’s policy prohibiting foraging in public parks. Imagine how much could be grown in New York City’s 30,000 acres of parks:

But compared to the concrete pier, Swale’s blueberry bushes, sage, and apple trees provided an island of green. I tried a blackberry from the garden, as well as a bright orange daylily that Gallahan promised me was edible. (There was a little bug inside it, and I ate that, too.) The produce tasted fresh and sweet — if only it didn’t cost so much to grow.

The Guardian had this moving article about the culpability of employers when it comes to consumption of junk food:

In fact, it’s employers who steal billions from workers every year by refusing to pay minimum wage or overtime. Wage theft causes hundreds of thousands of employees to fall below the poverty line and into the food stamp program. Forced to work 14-hour shifts without any breaks to eat, these underpaid workers get by on cheap candy bars and energy drinks that lawmakers then call them irresponsible for purchasing on their benefit cards.

In the UK, they are asking whether to have a traffic light labeling system on supermarket receipts. They admit it won’t end obesity, but I’d be more worried about implementation, and whether the information it provides really leads people in the right direction?:

“Labelling is not the solution to the obesity crisis,” says Anna Taylor, executive director at the Food Foundation. “But what’s important about the traffic lights system is it encourages businesses to reformulate because they don’t want to have a product with lots of reds.” As Morrow puts it, whether or not it makes people eat more healthily, “it’s still important to have the information in terms of consumer rights. The traffic light system is a massive improvement because it’s accessible to everyone, not just those who are nutritionally literate.”

Lastly, this fascinating story of Eva Braun’s food habits brings the contradictions of food in the third reich into sharp relief:

At the very outset, Shapiro highlights the “moral distance” between Braun and her other five subjects. She sets the story of Braun’s appetites – and Hitler’s food oddities – against that of the war and Holocaust, intertwining the two narratives into a penetrating essay that neither romanticizes nor gratuitously indicts Braun.

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CFP: Industrial French Food and Its Critics

A call for papers of potential interest to FoodAnthropology readers:

Industrial French Food and Its Critics

French food is steeped in contradictions. The French are often admired for their food culture and superior eating habits, which are in turn associated with artisanal production and convivial consumption. But the French agroindustrial food complex is a global powerhouse that runs on chemical inputs, intensive production methods, and international dumping practices. In this special issue of Modern and Contemporary France, titled “Industrial French Food and Its Critics,” these contradictions will be put into conversation with each other. By exploring the postwar evolution of French food, in all of its inconsistency, this special issue will call into question our assumptions about French food culture by revealing the multiple food cultures that have developed simultaneously through the postwar period.

Possible topics that contributors might explore:

  • French farming in European, colonial, and global contexts
  • The rise of restauration rapide
  • The industrial model and its economic and ecological discontents
  • Colonial and postcolonial production and consumption; transculturation through foodways
  • Organized resistance to the industrial model: Confédération paysanne, protests
  • Non-industrial forms of food production and consumption: organic agriculture, urban agriculture, jardins ouvriers, Slow Food, AMAP
  • Eco-critical approaches to food and its producers in literature, cinema, and popular culture
  • The contraction of agriculture and the rewilding of the French countryside
  • Haute cuisine, gastronomy, and terroir
  • Challenges to French agricultural power: BRIC nations, GMOs and trade deals, lawsuits at the WTO

This list is not exhaustive and potential contributors are invited to submit proposals on any and all aspects of the industrial food system in postwar France.

Please send abstracts of approximately 250 words, along with short CVs, to the guest editors, Venus Bivar and Tamara Whited, at vbivar@wustl.edu and twhited@iup.edu by August 15th. The list of contributors will be finalized by September 15th. Papers, not to exceed 8,000 words (excluding notes) will be due April 15th, 2018.

APPEL A CONTRIBUTIONS

La pratique alimentaire française est imprégnée de contradictions.  On admire souvent les Français pour leur culture de la table et leurs habitudes alimentaires supérieures, souvent associées à des choix de produits artisanaux et au repas convivial.  Paradoxalement le complexe agroindustriel français est une puissance globale fondée sur l’utilisation systématique d’engrais chimiques, des méthodes de production intensives, et des pratiques de dumping à l’échelle internationale.  Dans ce numéro spécial de Modern and Contemporary France, intitulé « l’Alimentation industrielle française et ses critiques », ces contradictions seront mises en dialogue les unes avec les autres.  En explorant les transformations de l’alimentation française et ses incohérences depuis la deuxième guerre mondiale, ce numéro remettra en question nos a priori relatifs à la culture alimentaire française et révélera des cultures alimentaires multiples qui n’ont cessé de se développer simultanément depuis la période d’après-guerre.

Parmi les sujets possibles:

  • l’agriculture française dans ses contextes européens, coloniaux, et mondiaux
  • le développement de la restauration rapide
  • le système industriel et ses défis économiques et écologiques
  • la production et consommation coloniales; la transculturation des habitudes et pratiques alimentaires
  • les résistances organisées face au système industriel: manifestations, la Confédération paysanne, les néo-ruraux
  • les méthodes anti-industrielles de production et consommation: le bio, l’agriculture urbaine, les jardins ouvriers, le Slow Food, les AMAP
  • les analyses écocritiques des représentations de l’agriculture dans la litérature, le cinéma, et la culture populaire
  • la contraction de l’agriculture et la désertification de la France rurale
  • Haute cuisine, gastronomie, terroir
  • les nouveaux défis lancés au pouvoir agricole de la France: les nations BRICS, les OGM et les accords commerciaux, les causes portées devant l’OMC

Cette liste n’est évidemment pas exhaustive, et les contributeurs sont invités à soumettre toute proposition portant sur les enjeux agro-industriels.

Nous vous prions d’envoyer un abrégé de 250 mots, avec également votre curriculum vitae aux deux éditeurs, Venus Bivar et Tamara Whited, à vbivar@wustl.edu et twhited@iup.edu avant le 15 aout.  La liste des auteurs retenus sera annoncée avant le 15 septembre.  Les articles, limités à 8.000 mots (notes non-incluses), devront être soumis aux éditeurs avant le 15 avril 2018.

Venus Bivar and Tamara Whited

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, July 3, 2017

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.

Several weeks ago, we posted a link here to a New York Times op-ed by Bonnie Tsui that explored the strange case of “Asian Salad” on restaurant menus as part of a broader reflection on food and racism. It is perhaps not surprising that Tsui’s article generated quite a lot of commentary around the food world, especially the American food world. One of the more interesting set of commentaries on both Tsui’s piece and on the reactions to it can be found here, in a set of brief notes by Tsui, Shakirah Simley, Stephen Satterfield, Dakota Kim, and Tunde Wey. Along with the original salad editorial, this could be a great framework for a discussion in any number of classes.

The acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon has been the talk of the food world since it was announced a few weeks ago. What it may mean for the American food system, for food activists, for the food movement, is hard to determine, but there is no shortage of opinions. For instance, over at Slate, Joshua Clark Davis argues that it signals the demise of Whole Foods’ ability to be seen as a company with a somewhat different approach to capitalism. Derek Thompson analyzes the purchase as a business strategy in the Atlantic. On the NPR food blog, Mollie Simon examines small business owners who work with Whole Foods and finds their reactions surprisingly positive. And in the National Review, Henry I. Miller and Jeff Stier examine the purchase by raising some harsh questions about Whole Foods’ business model and ideology.

Soon after the 2010 BP oil spew in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the food critics here in New Orleans mused that seafood from the Gulf, long central to the local cuisine, would return to normal within a year. In this instance, he defined “normal” by saying that the seafood would not have any more oil in it than it did before the spill. A recent investigative article by Michael Isaac Stein, in the Lens, revealed what may be a very disturbing truth behind that comment (one probably not known by the critic, I should add): a surprisingly large number of the oyster leases off the coast of Louisiana are actually owned by oil and gas companies. The companies buy the leases in order to prevent lawsuits from oystermen from damage created by oil and gas exploration. Oil in seafood indeed…

There are a lot of different ways to try to capture a sense of place through food. Over at “First We Feast” there is a new series of food videos, Food Grails, devoted to exploring the “flavor” of different cities through iconic and somewhat less-well-known foods. These are variations on the kind of food television pioneered by Anthony Bourdain, with a focus on communities not often seen on more mainstream food networks. Miss Info (aka Minya Oh) is the presenter for each of the episodes, which explore Vietnamese Po’boys in New Orleans, mumbo sauce in Washington D.C., Jamaican beef patties in New York, and African-American tacos in South Los Angeles.

The Culinary Historians of New York have a journal and that journal has a new issue. You can read it here. Articles by/about Joy Santlofer, Paul Freedman, Charity Robey, and Kian Lam Kho, along with a list of (and links to) recent books by members of the association.

The most recent issue of Practicing Anthropology (volume 39, number 3, summer 2017) features research in applied anthropology from graduate students at the University of Maryland. Two of the articles should be of particular interest to our readers. First, Amber Cohen, Noel Lopez, and Katie Geddes reflect on subsistence fishing in rivers in the Washington, D.C., area. Second, Ashley Dam looks at the ways in which elementary school children in Maryland engage with federal nutrition education guidelines. In both of these cases, ethnographic research is used to make the case for particular kinds of social policies. These are both great examples of the kind of research we should be showing people when they want to know whether or not the anthropology of food and nutrition can be useful.

Want to buy domestic fruits and vegetables in the United States? There are farmers who grow such things, but they need workers to do that and for a long time many of those workers have been immigrants. As Tom Philpott has documented in Mother Jones, the Trump administration crackdown on undocumented workers has resulted in crops rotting in the fields. You can still get produce…it just has to be imported from Mexico.

Meanwhile, the fight for a livable minimum wage continues. Apparently one recent study seemed to suggest that raising the wage to $15 per hour actually hurt workers. But a review of a wider variety of studies by Michelle Chen at the Nation suggests that raising the minimum wage is particularly beneficial for workers in the restaurant industry. In addition, Michael Reich and Jesse Rothstein provide a very useful overview of some of the arguments and data in this debate here.

There seems to be a lot of industry interest in innovations in the food world. This may be a way of looking like a good corporate citizen or it might be about finding new products and new markets (or both). Certainly, the broad discourse around innovation, entrepreneurship, social marketing, disrupters, and all that is enough to make one wonder if companies are doing good or just trying to look good (refer back to the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon for an example of all of this). So it is with caution that we offer this link to an effort by Swedish furniture giant Ikea to help support startup businesses. They are looking for business ideas that will “challenge known truths in a world of ideas and technology.” Among the big thematic areas they want to disrupt: sustainability and food innovation. Got an idea? They might have resources for you.

You are going to want to wash your hands after you read this. It is a piece by Wayne Roberts, on Medium, about the effectiveness of soap and cool water washing of hands for food safety. But more than that, it is about the meaning people often bring to putting hands on food, in preparation as well as in eating. And it is an argument for thinking about food production as practice. Now, go wash your hands.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, applied anthropology, Food Studies

Call for Chapter Proposals: More than the Madeleine

Working title: More than the Madeleine: Food in Memory and Imagination

 

Call for chapter proposals: please circulate!

 

Claude Levi-Strauss posited that food has to be “good to think” before it is “good to eat.” That contemplative moment of judgement compels us both to remember and to imagine, making the two processes an integral part of eating. Memory tells us what is safe (or not!) to eat, provides us with our culinary traditions, and is the source of our cravings. Imagination helps us to determine what to do when confronted with new substances that we have yet to classify as edible, desirable, nutritious, or delicious. Without imagination and adaptation our foodways would be predictable, boring, and static. While memory has to do with past experiences, the abiding, the familiar, and one’s own cultural groups, imagination is about the future, the possible, the alien, the little known, and the other. Yet this culinary dichotomy is not so clear-cut: new foods are often made palatable by using familiar ingredients and techniques, as with sushi rolls filled with corned beef or cream cheese, for example. And not only are our memories imperfect, but they cannot account for change, whether newly developed preferences or foods that do not match up to our sensuously rich memories of them. Other foods, meanwhile, are forgotten or fail to stimulate the imagination.

 

This edited volume interrogates the process of our engagement with food through memory and imagination, be it in anticipation or remembrance of a meal. We wish to include work from a wide variety of disciplines that spans the globe and touches upon different periods in human history.

 

Potential themes may include:

 

Cultural constructions of collective food memories, nostalgic dishes, or imagined cuisines as tied to religion, nation, or class.

The use of memory or imagination in food advertising, literature, or art

The use of memory or imagination by chefs, on menus, or in kitchen/restaurant designs

Food scientists’ approach to recreating flavors, inventing new tastes, etc.

Phenomenological perspectives on taste, the senses, and memory or imagination

Ways in which memory is disrupted, fragmented, or reimagined

Forgetting foods and culinary traditions

The reinterpretation / reimagination that occurs as foods circulate through time and space

Processes (historical, social, biophysical) whereby foods become edible / inedible, palatable / disgusting

 

We have interest from a well-respected publisher who has asked for a full proposal.

 

Please send 250-300 word abstract and 150 word bio to Dr. Beth Forrest and Dr. Greg de St. Maurice by July 15, 2017. Full manuscripts for accepted papers will be due in early spring 2018.

gregdestmaurice@gmail.com

beth.m.forrest@gmail.com

 

Dr. Greg de St. Maurice
Postdoctoral Fellow

Culinaria Research Center, University of Toronto

Air Liquide Research Fellow, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales

 

Dr. Beth Forrest

Professor of Liberal Arts and Food Studies

Culinary Institute of America

 

If you would like to post a CFP on the blog, please contact Ruth Dike.

 

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Food Studies for Anthropologists

David Beriss

I have just returned from the joint annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, which is one of the most interesting Food Studies conferences around. This year’s event, at Occidental College, in Pasadena, California, was organized by sociologist John Lang, who, along with his team, did a great job while also maintaining a kind of relaxed cool. Many participants live tweeted the event, providing an interesting subtext. Emily Contois, who organized the live social media team, has written up an excellent overview of the conference and provided an organized view of the social media feed here.

Food Studies is an inherently multidisciplinary field, which may be what makes it attractive to anthropologists, the Zeligs of the social and human sciences. The opportunity to experience different approaches to the study of society through food is hard to resist. Of course, sometimes these cross-disciplinary conversations can be complicated. Discussing the politics of “cultural appropriation,” for instance, can be difficult when we are not all working with the same definition of “culture.” Yet the value of trying to figure out what everyone means is worth the effort. Three of the trends I noticed at this year’s conference help to explain why.

First, over the last few years, public policy has become an increasingly significant part of the conference. In addition to examining local foodways, increasing numbers of participants have worked to relate their analyses to the broader political-economic context and to the public policies that shape people’s choices and actions. The idea of a “food movement” gained national legitimacy during the Obama years, but that seems to be changing in the Trump administration. Yet the opposite is happening among food scholars, who seem more anxious than ever to find ways to make their research relevant to public policy and public debate.

There are many areas of policy (sustainability, agriculture, public health, globalization, etc.) that can be approached through food studies. There were policy-related discussions of all of these things at this year’s conference, but I was especially struck by a particular focus on labor in the food industry. This was central to the conference plenary panel, which was led by Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food” show. The other participants were Joann Lo, the executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Diep Tran, owner and chef at Good Girl Dinette, and Besha Rodell, restaurant critic for the LA Weekly. Tran wrote a powerful piece about food work and “cheap eats” on the NPR food blog earlier this year. With quite a lot of direct experience in the industry, the panelists made a compelling case for the need to change wage and tipping structures, along with providing better social support for food industry workers. The panelists also insisted on the centrality of gender, race/ethnicity, and immigration to discussions of food industry labor. The struggle for equity and fairness, already significant during the Obama administration, seems likely to become even more difficult—and essential—in coming years.

The influence and responsibility of science and of universities was also a central theme at this year’s conference. The keynote address, by Sharon Friel of the Australian National University, examined the role of research, activists, and corporate lobbies in shaping global food and nutrition policies. The presidents of both of the organizing associations, Leland Glenna (AFHVS) and Krishnendu Ray (ASFS) addressed the place of university research and researchers in the public sphere. Glenna focused on the hazards of corporate control of university research, while Ray raised questions about the politics of teaching and knowledge. From climate change, to vaccines, antibiotics, obesity, nutrition, health care, and, indeed, labor, the need for solid research to support public policy seems more important than ever. Yet the increasing grip of private industry on university research, combined with a delegitimization of scientific knowledge, threatens the role of scholars in helping to shape public policy.

Finally, there was a remarkable number of presentations that focused on research collaboration with the people being studied. Collaborative research has been a central focus in anthropology in recent years, so it was interesting to see that this sort of work, involving students, faculty, and broader communities, has also become more common in other fields. Areas of collaboration included promoting food justice activism, creating food-related museum exhibits, developing local food initiatives, and more. This kind of collaboration may offer an important link to both the making of public policy and efforts to make university research relevant to the public sphere. The national discourse from certain quarters may work to delegitimize the voices and work of university and other professional scholars., Grassroots engagement with the people we study can have the opposite effect, legitimizing research because it is their research as well. This is, I think, a good trend to see in food studies.

There are many kinds of knowledge that can be used to make sense of society through food. I have touched on only a few of the many themes that were reflected in the conference program. As a field of knowledge, Food Studies is clearly growing and thriving. For anthropologists who are interested in finding ways to make their research more relevant to policy debates, there is a lot to learn and many people to collaborate with in Food Studies. Next year’s conference will be in Madison, Wisconsin. I hope to see even more SAFN members there.

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, anthropology of food, ASFS, Food Studies