Category Archives: anthropology

Book Note: Best Food Writing 2017

Ellen Messer

best food writing cover

Hughes, Holly (ed) 2017. Best Food Writing 2017. New York: Da Capo Press.

Highly recommended as enjoyable, informative companion reading for your travels, because it can be consumed a few pages at a time.  Food & Identity is the overall theme; most essays address identity politics related to foodways (e.g., ethnic American), often specific food items (e.g., burritos, interpreted in multiple ethnic ways). There are also some very nice human-interest stories (whole sections, with sets of essays dedicated to chefs, restaurateurs, and the folks who wash dishes or serve rather than cook the food).  Most entries are very short; some are what my Boston Globe food-writer/editor colleague Sheryl Julian would call “overwritten” (readers can decide whether or not they like unctuous style).  There are also numerous entries that would serve well as required or recommended readings for various food-studies courses, including “food and culture,” “food and the senses,” “local food,” or “food and the media.”  “History of food” aficionados (or instructors) will also find critical methods usefully woven into some chapters (e.g., who really invented the “Reuben” sandwich).  The volume as a whole obviously could serve as textbook reading for courses on food journalism.

The volume is divided into nine sections, each containing four to eight short entries, which are blogs or featured journal articles. I teach an intensive six-week summer graduate seminar, “Local to Global Food Values: Policy, Practice, and Performance,” in Boston University’s Metropolitan College Gastronomy Program.  The course during the first week explores how food values are defined and measured, and then dedicates individual weeks to considering environmental, economic, sociocultural, and biocultural values.  For the week on cultural values (which already covers Kosher, Hallal, Vegan, and certain other cultural-identity values, standards, and certifications) I was very pleased to find a section entitled “Whose Food Is It Anyway?” which included Laura Shunk’s short reflection, “Who Has the Right to Capitalize on a Culture’s Cuisine?” (from food52.com) in which she explores different types and levels of respectful awareness of particular foods’ cultural origins. I might also find place in the course readings to insert, from the book’s opening section, “The Way We Eat Now”, for J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “Let It Bleed (Humanely)” from SeriousEats.com , which analyzes materials and symbolism of meat-alternative burgers.  From the section on “Foodways,” I highly recommend Elizabeth Weil’s “Who Really Invented the Reuben?” from Saveur, a piece that exhaustively investigates the origins of this elaborated corn-beef on grilled rye sandwich (Nebraska wins) and skewers well-known food writer-editor Andy Smith for his obsessive pursuit of (New York) authenticity.  In the section, “How My City Eats” I particularly enjoyed Danny Chau’s “The Burning Desire for Hot Chicken”, from TheRinger.comIt cleverly mixes cultural politics and several layers of biochemically-informed sensory experience (which left me wondering whether Hot Chicken or some similarly highly piquant dish might be a good remedy for a very grumpy friend who was “on the wagon”).

The four selections in the section, “Updating the Classics” include short entries on interpretations of “Burritos” by non-Mexican cooks, and an exploration of the inexplicable delights of “Chicken Pot Pie.”  The final four sections focus on restaurant and cooking-show professionals. “Someone’s in the Kitchen,” is about chefs, “They Also Serve” includes profiles of non-cooking restaurant personnel: a dishwasher, a piano man, and a food-science writer (profiling Harold McGee, well known author of Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen). “Down the Hatch” deals with beverages and people who serve and judge their quality; the entries here cover a full range of sensory (dimensions of wine pairing), political (local authenticity), economic (how much is too much for a glass of wine?), and cultural dimensions. The final section, “Personal Tastes” contains a grab bag of food stories,  from gluten-free diet to intergenerational ethnic food communications, which concludes with a longitudinal memoir the way restaurants (including the foods they served) connect people to place.

As you can tell from this overview, there are many overlaps connecting the sections.  The volume has the virtue that most of the journal and blog pieces are very short and likely to capture the attention of readers with very short attention spans.

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Before Farm to Table Fellowships

See below for information on semester-long fellowships at the Folger Shakespeare Library on early modern foodways. Follow the links for instructions on how to apply.

Before Farm to Table: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures, the inaugural project of the Folger Institute’s Mellon initiative in collaborative research, announces a competition for semester-long fellowships to be held in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library in one of two semesters: either Spring 2019 or Fall 2019, for three to four months.  Each Before Farm to Table fellow will be awarded $10,000 for work in the Folger collections on topics relating to early modern food and foodways in the British world, broadly conceived.

The Before Farm to Table project uses the pervasiveness of food in everyday life as a window into early modern culture. Food, then as now, is a basic human need. It also has a history and is a gateway to understanding society and culture. In the course of this project, we will investigate big questions about the way food participates in and actively shapes human knowledge, ethics, and imagination. Such issues as the unevenness of food supply, the development and spread of tastes with their darker supply sides of enslaved labor, and the socially cohesive rituals of eating together will be explored. With fresh understandings of a pre-industrial world, this project also gives us purchase on some post-industrial assumptions, aspirations, and challenges encapsulated in any idea of recovering simpler, local, and sustainable food chains.

Questions about the program, details on how to apply, etc. can be found here.

Deadline: September 1, 2018.

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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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CFP: Agricultural History Society Meeting, June 2019

Having received this call for papers twice in two days, it seems necessary to share it here. As the CFP below notes, the Agricultural History Society is interdisciplinary, so contributions from anthropologists would be, we assume, welcome.

Call for Papers

Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting

Washington, DC

June 6-8, 2019

Power in Agricultural History

The 100th anniversary meeting of the Agricultural History Society will be held in Washington, DC, an appropriate location to address the theme of “Power in Agricultural History.” Power, in its multiple guises—whether political, social, economic, or physical—is embedded in every aspect of agricultural production, food and fiber marketing and consumption, and rural society and culture. The organizing theme is meant to encourage historians who refuse to accept that the current and future conditions of farms, food systems, and rural society and culture are the result of autonomous logics. It is worth remembering that among the founders of the Agricultural History Society were rural sociologists and agricultural economists who sought to influence public policy by developing their insights through historical research. The 100th anniversary meeting offers an opportunity to celebrate and extend the interdisciplinary sensibility and public mission of the society, no small matter given the challenges that confront rural citizens and agricultural policymakers in our own time. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • the political power of farm organizations, electoral processes, policymaking institutions, for-profit firms, and third-sector and nongovernmental organizations
  • social power in rural societies as enabled and/or constrained by gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion
  • dynamics of power in rural landscapes, rural and urban ecologies, and between humans and non-human organisms in agricultural systems
  • the application of animal, mechanical, or fossil-fuel based power sources to the production and distribution of agricultural goods
  • historical analysis of economic power imbalances in rural society and agricultural markets
  • theories and processes of modernization and rural development as exercises in power across national boundaries
  • modes of cooperation and conflict, trust and mistrust in rural culture, society, and political and economic institutions
  • social movements that have sought to transform the balance of power in rural environments

As befits the society’s inclusive approach we especially encourage contributions from emerging scholars and researchers covering understudied geographical regions or time periods, and as custom dictates we will also support significant contributions that do not directly address the conference theme.

Information on submission:

•         The Society takes a broad view on what constitutes rural and agricultural history. Topics from any location and time period are welcome.

•         The AHS encourages proposals of all types, including traditional sessions with successive papers and commentary, thematic panel discussions or debates, roundtables on recent books or films, workshops, and poster presentations.

•         If you will need video projection technology for presentations, please indicate this in your proposal.

•         The program committee prefers complete session proposals, but individual papers will be considered.

•         The AHS extends a special welcome to graduate students and has a competitive travel grant for students presenting papers.

Instructions:

1. Session proposals should include a two-hundred-word abstract for each paper and a one-page CV for each panel member (in MS Word).

2. Individual paper proposals should consist of a two-hundred-word abstract and a one-page CV (in MS Word).

3. All proposals should be submitted electronically in Word format. Submit all proposals to the Program Committee by email at: <aghist2019@gmail.com>.

Deadline for submissions is September 28, 2018.

Questions may be addressed to Shane Hamilton at <shane.hamilton@york.ac.uk>

Program Committee Members: Shane Hamilton, University of York (Chair); Prakash Kumar, Pennsylvania State University; Sarah Phillips, Boston University; Maggie Weber, Iowa State University; Nicole Welk-Joerger, University of Pennsylvania.

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Col(LAB) on Food, Risk and Privilege

by Annie Sheng, Cornell University

We experience the world and our food with all our senses, so why not get tactile as we discuss risk and privilege in relation to food? Princeton University’s Col(LAB)—a product of the synergetic confluence of collaborations between the Program in American Studies, the CST StudioLab and the Princeton Food and Agriculture Initiative—immerses participants in the intersecting spatial realms of classrooms, farmer’s markets, food pantries and dining hall kitchens to bring together various perspectives on pressing food issues through a venture involving “creativity and the unexpected,” said Anne Cheng, Professor of English and Director of American Studies. While the concepts of risk and privilege were left relatively open for interpretation, through interactive experiences, participants come together to understand how economic (in)stability, food (un)safety and social stratification may affect personal, everyday habits and decisions surrounding food. Participants included faculty, undergraduate, graduate students, staff, dining chefs, nutritionists and experts from within and beyond Princeton University.

The three-day workshop started off with a visit to the farmer’s market. Participant teams were tasked with purchasing food for a family of four within limited budget constraints. After interacting with fresh produce vendors, cheesemongers, various sellers and campus dining representatives at the farmer’s market, participants sported pens and texts and gathered to discuss readings on risk and privilege. We prepared analyses that interrogated issues of food production technologies, interspecies dependencies and slow food, drawing from writing by Allison Carruth, Anna Tsing, Angela N. H. Creager and Jean-Paul Gaudillière.

We all were asked to bring a food-related artifact, something that speaks of our own relationship to food to create a jumping off point for engaging in the questions of risk and privilege. Such personal artifacts ranged from coffee to eggs to soy-based cosmetics, as well as non-edibles such as a food scale, a mortar and pestle and a reusable water bottle. We talked of preservation and mechanical reproduction encapsulated in a can of cranberry sauce, the entitlement entailed in a jar of gourmet polenta and the caloric emptiness and capitalistic symbolism of a can of Diet Coke. For example, Tessa L. Desmond noted, “Soda companies have changed their marketing strategies to target low income neighborhoods, and kids in particular. Now it’s kind of like the suburbs. We’re vacating fast food and soda like we’ve vacated the cities for the suburbs…” The central concepts of privilege and risk framed these diverse personal food items and our conversation considered the scales of safe-to-dangerous, pure-to-toxic, sustainable-to-polluting, healthy-to-unhealthy and delicious-to-unpalatable.

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The conversation also turned to issues of culture and identity. What risks might be inherent in transmitting generationally the sense of culture through the vessel of a preserved egg—with some packages labeled lead-free and some, noticeably, not? How can and do ideas about maintaining a sense of cultural identity trump potential health risks?

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, conferences, food security, food systems, Food waste

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, May 31, 2018

David Beriss

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

It is summer, so we are going to begin with something light, at least in spirit, if not in substance. Boston Cream pie, it seems, is under attack. And it really isn’t pie anyhow. Alert SAFN member (and frequent FoodAnthropology contributor) Ellen Messer sent us this story of scandal, outrage, and culinary history, which is by Kara Baskin, writing in the Boston Globe.

On a related pie/cake note, you should read this wonderful piece from the Oxford American by SAFN’s very own student representative, Kelly Alexander. It is the story of half a cake, includes Rick Bragg and Pat Conroy, southern manners, and Jewish wit. And, Kelly, pick up the phone. We want to know.

We eat red beans here in New Orleans, as everyone knows, but sometimes we also eat white beans and black beans. There are a lot more beans out there, as this great article by Burkhard Bilger, writing for The New Yorker, indicates. The focus is on Rancho Gordo, a company that searches out and distributes a huge range of bean varieties, mostly from Mexico. Questions of cultural appropriation, fair trade, and even implications of anthropology are raised. Good read.

While the Rancho Gordo folks source beans from very specific places in Mexico, your local baker in the U.S. is unlikely to be able to source wheat from particular farms. The desire for locally-sourced grain hits something of a wall in the enormous sea of commodity wheat, as Amy Halloran explains in this article from The New Food Economy. This is a fascinating example of the economics of mass grain production versus the growing desire for local products.

In contrast to the problems faced by bakers who want local wheat, public school systems have not been especially picky about where they source their ingredients for school lunches. In this article, from The Nation, Anna Lappé and Jose Oliva argue that they should. They suggest that school lunch makers should attend to more than the bottom line and should make an effort to source ingredients in ways that “promotes public health, community well-being, animal welfare, social justice, and environmental protection.” Citing the example of the Good Food Purchasing Program, developed in Los Angeles, but now used in other cities as well, they show how this approach can achieve their goals. Curiously, and in contrast to the piece above about commodity wheat, they cite a claim that over 80% of the bread products used in LA schools now come from “California-grown, sustainably produced wheat.” Want to chase that number down? Visit this site.

Circling back to globalization, in this article from Civil Eats, Stephanie Strom writes about new processes for extending the life of foods that must be transported long distances. Beginning with cassava, which can be used to make gluten-free tortillas, she focuses on the development of “an all-natural, virtually invisible coating” from Apeel Sciences that can preserve produce. The idea is to help small farmers in a variety of countries get access to foreign markets.

The famous Balti cooking of Birmingham may be vanishing. The reasons range from generational shifts among the owners (the children of Pakistani immigrants do not necessarily want restaurant careers), to changing tastes among British diners, and more. Daniel Stephen Homer and Natalie Grover explore these issues in this article, from Atlas Obscura.

Everything that happens in society seems to happen in restaurants. This is especially true of the growing opioid addiction crisis. In this article from Nation’s Restaurant News, Gloria Dawson explores the ways restaurants are choosing to address the issue. Some have taken to keeping naloxone shots on hand for anyone who needs it. Others are training their staff to deal with overdoses and providing resources for those with addiction issues. The article points out that this is both a staff and customer issue.

Co-operative organization of workplaces has long been an alternative to the usual way businesses are owned and managed. Given all the social issues confronted by restaurants, could co-operative ownership and management help? In this article from Eater, Brenna Houck explores the question. There are several intriguing examples, including bakeries, coffeeshops, and breweries, and mention of useful organizations, like the Democracy at Work Institute.

Apparently everyone in America is on a special diet. Paleo, Keto, Whole 30, not all of which we have heard of here at FoodAnthropology. In this article from the Washington Post, Sophie Egan looks at why this is. Ironically, it seems that a lot of people are following fad diets because they believe that their bodies are unique. Also, people do not trust what they read in newspapers about nutrition, so they read articles about fad diets (in newspapers) and follow them. Yes, this is why we need social science.

We started this with something light and that is the way we will finish. In this lovely short piece by the New York Times’ Samin Nosrat, she describes leaving her mother’s Iranian cooking behind in order to learn all about Italian pasta, only to eventually cook her way back home by bringing the two culinary cultures together. You will enjoy reading this.

 

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Forum Origin, Diversity and Territories

The variety of organizations involved in what is loosely referred to as the “food movement” is sometimes quite astonishing. Even for anthropologists, who are supposed to be trained to think holistically about social phenomena, getting a grasp on the reach of the food movement is difficult. Here, for instance, is a CFP for an event that will be of real interest to anthropologists interested in efforts to emphasize the origins of food, both as a socio-cultural object and as a strategy designed to increase sustainability, enhance the lives of food producers around the world, etc. It is clearly tied to Slow Food, to the FAO, and to a wide range of other organizations, both scholarly and activist.

The “Forum Origin, Diversity and Territories” is an association that organizes an annual event designed to bring together scholars, activists, and professionals to present research and discuss efforts to understand and promoted the idea of linking food to territory and emphasize origins. A detailed and fascinating explanation of the event and objectives can be found here. For Slow Food members and activists, it may be worth noting that the event is scheduled for September 19-21, 2018, in Turin, just before the Slow Food International Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto. This seems like a wonderful opportunity to learn about the global effort to emphasize the local and to meet a wide range of people engaged in the food movement…and maybe get a better idea of how to think about that movement.

If any SAFN members attend this event (or Terra Madre), FoodAnthropology readers would love to read about the experience.

Note that the deadline for submitting an abstract is coming up rather soon! Here is the broad call for contributions, copied from their web site:

Call for Contributions

Submission Deadline: June 5th, 2018

The organizers of the Forum Origin, Diversity and Territories invite researchers, experts, students, and professionals to share their experience, research or participatory experiment findings in the territories by submitting their contribution in relation with the main theme of this year’s edition:

Perspectives on territories in transition

If you are interested to submit your contribution, sent the following documents to the organizers of the workshop, with copy to capucine@origin-for-sustainability.org :

  • One page summary of the content of your contribution (+ bibliographic references)
  • A one page CV of the contributor(s) (max. 2 persons and max. 1 page per person) engaged in the project and who would like to present it at the Forum.

Please find the description of the following workshops in the call for contributions in PDF:

Workshop 1: Origin-linked Products and Sustainable Rural Tourism

Workshop 2: Strategies and tools to plan and manage territorial transitions

Workshop 3: Adding value and promoting origin-linked products by tools as Geographical Indications, Mountain labelling, territorial brands, and territorial initiatives like UNESCO-World Heritage or GIASH (Globally Important Agricultural Systems Heritage)

Workshop 4: Tools and innovations to build the resilience of farmers and territories

Workshop 5: Foodways and Food-related Intangible Cultural Heritage as drivers for sustainable development in rural areas

Workshop 6: Nutritional and Food Transitions in Rural Communities

 

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