Category Archives: anthropology

Review: Organic Food, Farming and Culture

Chrzan, Janet and Jacqueline A. Ricotta, eds. Organic Food, Farming and Culture. An Introduction. Bloomsbury Academic. 2019. 332 pp. ISBN 1350027839, 9781350027831

Organic Food, Farming and Culture

Ellen Messer, Ph.D. (Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, and Boston University Program in Gastronomy)

On a recent walk through the Portland (Maine) lower port area, I happened upon a burger joint announcing its 100 percent organic grass-fed beef, ground and shaped into a patty that was broiled and served with any other number of “value added” ingredients. The place was relatively empty on this not yet high tourist season day and pre-dinner hour, so I initiated a conversation with the young man taking the orders. “What’s the simplest burger you have?” I asked. The answer was that the default option was with cheese and one sauce + relishes. If I wanted just a plain burger, I would have to specify “no cheese”.

“What about the sauces and toppings—are they all organic?” I asked. He honestly didn’t know. Were the buns organic? Someone else would have to check. From the consumer’s value-driven perspective, such limitations on the boundaries of organic foodstuffs are confusing, not to say, troubling, as concerned, values/ideology-driven eaters try to negotiate dietary intakes that are healthy, respectful of the environment, and caring regarding biological food sources; kind and committed to labor and justice issues, and also wary of contributing to local or larger world food and hunger problems. Local food and sustainable farming advocates, additionally, emphasize the dangers of transferring one’s nutritional loyalties and food dollars to non-local, transnational food corporations that access their ingredients or processed foods wherever they are cheapest and for whatever reasons, never mind injustice to labor or damages to the environment, so long as they don’t enter into the profit-accounting assessment.

These are the conundrums and issues that Organic Food, Farming and Culture. An Introduction. edited by Janet Chrzan (and anthropologist) and Jacqueline A. Ricotta (a professor of horticulture) seek to clarify. The reasonably well-organized volume deliberately begins with some history of organics and ends with an essay contrasting GMOs and organics. Sandwiched in between are short profile pieces by organic farmers, chefs, and consumers, juxtaposed with scholarly essays by academics, policy-makers, industry leaders, cooks or chefs, and other users.

Part One provides multiple “History” entries that succinctly explore the origins of organic food science and technology practices and the organic food movement in the US, Europe, and other places. Gene Anderson’s lyrical chapter on traditional foods as organic foods, with special attention to Chinese and Mexican food systems that are his main areas of ethnographic research, will serve admirably as a classroom basis for understanding the particulars of these histories, and could also be used to encourage students to write their own comparative chapters, based on other world places Anderson has not treated.

Part Two examines “Organics in Practice,” with separate chapters considering agronomics, markets and evolving monitoring standards all along the supply chain. The two-part “Consumers, Citizens, and the Participatory Processes on Organic Food: Two Case Studies from Denmark” compare and contrast bottom-up municipal organic food efforts with top-down Copenhagen government organic efforts and are well worth reading in any course dealing with comparative food-policy (or other policy), government-community relationships, and networking.

Part Three considers “Organic Food Values, Sustainability and Social Movements” reviews and updates evidence on the “Farming for Food or Farming for Profits” controversy. Simply stated: how can and do organic farmers manage to make a living, which starts with gaining access to land and then matching production to effective demand. Syntheses of the demonstrably incomplete and variably framed scientific evidence tying organic foods to (as yet unproven) superior nutrition and health benefits, or the additional controversy surrounding whether organic food-production has the capacity to feed the world, allow readers to access the evidence and draw their own conclusions. Particularly the organic food and “food security” issues suggest good research or exam questions on whether the evidence supports the “yes” or “no it can’t” point of view, and also what additional studies are necessary to move this debate forward.

The final section Four continues the examination of user understandings when choosing organic over non-organic or unmarked foods and “organic food culture,” that encourages eaters to associate with others who favor eating organic as a cultural identity. Here, chefs and academics together raise the usually contentious question— “Is there Really a Difference Between Conventional, Organic, and GMO?”. Here the authors agree in principle and practice with Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle, who advises: Much depends on which foods, which measurements, and which values make a difference. In their concluding chapter, authors Anderson, Chrzan, and Ricotta summarize the plethora of values and challenges facing food producers, processors, purveyors, and consumers in their multiple value-laden choices to eat healthy, environmentally sustainable, socially just, affordable, palatable, and culturally appropriate food. Take-aways, not surprisingly, are that people do not always act on their stated values; also, that chefs and consumers probably care more about the trusted relationship with the farmer who assures them that the produce they buy is farmed organically, and less about official (USDA) certification. Overall, it “takes a community” and reliable partners all along the food value chain to keep organic production viable and attract new entrants. From beginning to end, this book provides numerous examples of such growing relationships (multiple entendres intended), and encourages readers to seek and share more profiles and vignettes from their personal experiences. Unfortunately, readers like me will likely complete the historical, operational, social-organizing, and concluding chapters with no clearer answer to the question whether organic food can feed the world? I have never been convinced by conventional and GMO proponents that it could not, but most pro-organic examples, including those here, lead or leave me to wonder about the limits to livelihoods, dedicated labor and enterprise for most organic practitioners, however passionate.

Such ambiguities and ambivalence aside, students will probably enjoy the design and organization of the book, which includes brief profiles, personal stories, and inter-personal intersections among them. The wide-ranging subject matter, which touches on everything from minute technologies of soil regeneration to alleged spiritual values of eating or growing organic food, will appeal in places to particular readers, who can pick and choose to read what interests them. I agree with the glowing, collegial endorsements printed on the back cover that the volume’s “strength .. is the explicit connection of abstract food studies with the hands-in-the-dirt [or cooking pot] practices of living farmers, chefs, and purveyors” (Ken Albala, Food Studies historian). Also, that this book provides an “accessible source of information on the agronomic, nutritional, political, and economic dimensions of organic food and agriculture” (Lisa Markowitz, Anthropology, Culture & Agriculture), to which I would add social and cultural dimensions throughout.

Students will likely also relate very well to the repeated profiles, which show how a young organic farmer became engaged in this livelihood, who helped (him) along the way, energetic and continually evolving partnerships with chefs who value the rare and wonderful products he nurtures, and learn to appreciate how conservation initiatives are connecting new entry to retiring farmers, and helping young entrepreneurial farmers gain access to farmland while giving the older generation peace of mind that the farmland will be cared for in perpetuity. Anecdotes describing some of the difficulties, such as removing the organic slugs that also enjoy the pricey organic produce or figuring out ways to use abundant organic root and tuber crop deliveries from CSAs, some of which go to community operations that feed the hungry, add humanity to the mix, and put a human face on the numbers of hungry that organic food can potentially feed. The human faces of the profiled individuals, and partnerships between farmers and chefs, gardeners and their food products, are also presented in numerous photographs, which are not always in sharp focus, and in some cases, present multiple views of the farm, produce, or producer-chef relationship that could have been reduced to one.

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Gastronomica: 19.2 and the Launch of a New Editorial Collective

University of California Press is proud to announce that Gastronomica, a leading food studies journal, has just published the first issue under new leadership – an editorial collective of food scholars from around the world who represent numerous scholarly disciplines and perspectives. This issue (19.2) explores what our collective and contributing authors have imagined is what’s new and what’s next in food studies—it reflects tremendous changes since the beginning of the field, as well as the future of a multidisciplinary field that depends on academic and public engagement.

Gastronomica represents the space where the breadth of academic scholarship on food cultures meets a public that is increasingly interested in questions of food, gastronomy, and the culinary arts. With a long history of accessible scholarship, exceptional production values, and varied, long-form writing, Gastronomica is uniquely positioned to enable food scholars to interact with our profession and the public.

For this issue, we highlight ‘New Voices’ (including young scholars, dedicated activists, and  varied artists) to identify exciting new areas of inquiry, methods, forms of presentation, and approaches. Compelling pieces include Leigh Chavez-Bush’s investigation of the new digital mediascape of food culture and fame, and how it has transformed what it means to be a chef today. And as China intensifies government scrutiny of ethnic minorities, Rick Halpern’s images of a Muslim market in Xi’an prompts us to consider the potential and pitfalls of street photography.

Editorial Collective co-chairs Daniel Bender, Simone Cinotto and Amy Trubek agree that the engaged collaboration of the new collective allows for an expansive vision and creative offerings. They also acknowledge that “we are new eggs in a basket – that new lifehatches from old. As we consider the future of the study of food, we turned to our two ‘editors emeriti’ – Darra Goldstein and Melissa Caldwell – and asked them to share their stories. The new Gastronomica emerges from their efforts.” Almost two decades since it was founded, Gastronomicais poised to be the leader in the ever-expanding field of food studies, a must read for scholars, food practitioners, food activists and the general public. “As a field,” notes Dan Bender, “the study of food in universities, colleges, cooking schools, and secondary schools recognizes the vital connections to what is happening in fields, kitchens, markets, and food factories. Gastronomica is a crucial place where essential and open conversations about the past, present, and future of food can happen.” Those conversations begin with this issue, highlighting new voices in the study of food, and continues with the next issue: a provocative special issue about “saving food” – the ways we seek to preserve food (as both ingredients and as traditions) and as well look to food for personal and community salvation.

To learn more about Gastronomica, go to our website, www.gastronomica.org, where you can find details on how to submit and subscribe for print or digital access to the journal. You can also follow the journal on Twitter at @gastronomica, on Instagram at @gastronomica_food_studies or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Gastronomica.

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Review/Interview: Food and Animal Welfare

Food and Animal Welfare 

Food and Animal Welfare Henry Buller and Emma Roe. Contemporary Food Series, Bloomsbury Academic, London. 2018. ISBN 9780857855787

Sharyn Jones
(Northern Kentucky University)

Most people in Western countries eat meat and consume at least some form of animal products every day. Yet, pausing to consider the animal lives involved in our food systems and the complex web of human and non-human interactions that produce what we ingest is a rare occurrence. We have a long history of segregating food animals from our lexicon of items on the table and in the supermarket aisles. For example, cattle products are referred to by the generalized terms “beef” or “steaks”, or “burgers”; pigs are referred to as “pork”, or “bacon”, or “ribs”. One rarely notes that one is eating a “steer” or a “barrow” or “gilt”. Moreover, the way that animal food products and animal lives (their value and quality) are described, marketed, and sold reflects a distancing of living creatures from animal products and human consumption practices.

Henry Buller’s and Emma Roe’s new book, Food and Animal Welfare deals directly with this disconnect and the “de-animalization” of food animals from products and consumers. Buller’s and Roe’s central thrust, and their most fundamental argument, is that a concern for farm animal life and welfare is the critical link between consumption and production. Their text provides ample support for the assertion of essential human and animal interconnections and the prevalence of animal welfare issues which permeate our global food chains. I intentionally read this book slowly, digesting the details over several months and I relished every moment of it (as an aside it should be noted that my husband and I co-manage a humane, small-scale heritage hog and poultry farm, a fact which makes the subject of this book particularly important to me). After reading Buller’s and Roe’s book I had many questions for them. They generously agreed to share their thoughts with FoodAnthropology readers and I have included my interview with the authors below, following my general summary and impressions.

Buller and Roe, who are geographers, take a broad interdisciplinary approach to their subject, integrating information from economics, ethics, agriculture, politics, policy, animal science, animal studies, veterinary science, post-humanism, and ethnography. The perspectives presented in the text are primarily focused on the UK and Europe, however case studies from China, and Hungary are also provided and the authors often mention comparative situations in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Importantly, the book incorporates narratives and participant observations from farmers, animal caregivers, and animal welfare specialists in the UK and China.

This dense yet compact text includes seven chapters and 222 pages. The first chapter focuses on the disciplines of food studies and animal studies and explores the idea of animal welfare as a link between these academic fields. Buller and Roe advocate for bridging the divide between production and consumption via recognition of animal subjectivities (their lives, realities, relationships, and roles in food systems). The second chapter explores three formal trajectories of concern and measurement for animal welfare, including: scientific, ethical, and economic. In the third chapter, Roe’s observational and ethnographic fieldwork on farms and with animal caregivers is shared. The fourth chapter is entitled, “Selling Welfare” and it addresses how animal welfare materializes into commodified, marketed, and consumed products. The fifth and sixth chapters take a comparative global view of the evolution of social interest in food-animal well-being as it relates to production and consumption. Finally, the last chapter returns to the idea of how producers and consumers might ethically engage with the lives of animals who become human food.

In general this book presents a case for the deep connection, affiliation, and mutual dependence between nature and culture, humans, animals, and our environments. The major strengths of this text are many, but several stand out to me personally. First, the authors’ skillful use of ethnography provides insights into the deeply empathetic and challenging relationships that animal carepersons have with farm animals. This approach contributes a provocative dimension to the research presented elsewhere in the book and it adds a great deal of detail about real life situations that animals and their carepersons experience. Roe worked with animal caregivers on a mixed-use farm in the UK for several weeks. In the process, specific on-farm practices of animal care, welfare assessment, daily maintenance, inter-species (or animal-human) communication, and decisions about animal killing were documented are described through participant observations and interviews. The day-to-day demands of caring for animals are explored in relation to how these practices are embodied in the animals themselves, and how they later translate into the value and quality of food products. Buller and Roe intentionally use the term “careperson” vs. “stockperson” in order to illustrate a shifting understanding of farm animals from mindless objects of property to sentient feeling beings. This ethnographic approach allows us to empathize and to better understand farm animals life on a daily basis.

Second, Buller and Roe masterfully incorporate massive amounts of data from many lines of evidence. At the same time, they succulently make a powerful case for valuing and thinking deeply about the relationships we all have with food animals as well as the materiality and sentient nature of these creatures. Third, the authors have a great deal of empathy and concern (both for carepersons and the animals for whom they care) which is clearly expressed throughout their work. In this way they straddle the line between being objective social scientists and humane, caring, real people. This approach has become increasingly common and it supports their case as well as enhancing their writing, making this book easy to read and enjoyable.

Appropriate audiences for Food and Animal Welfare include anthropologists who study food or human-animal interactions; scholars interested in post-humanist approaches; anyone who wants to understand the nuts and bolts of what processes and practices deliver animal products to the table; graduate students, and advanced undergraduates. I think this book, in all or part should be required reading for students of food anthropology, economics, animal science, biology, and food systems ethics. Somewhat less traditionally, individuals who are either directly participating in, or perhaps simply interested in the sustainable food movement would find this book to be extremely revealing.

As noted at the beginning of this review, Henry Buller and Emma Roe answered my inquiries about their text and work. Here are the questions that I asked them and their thoughtful responses regarding Food and Animal Welfare:

  1. In a couple sentences please explain your approach (multi-disciplinary and theoretical?) to studying human-non-human interactions.

“Our approach is to study the sentient materialities of animal bodies as they are mobilized by the agro-food supply chain, along the process of going from a living farm animal through to becoming a packaged and labeled food product which is then bought and eaten. We are interested in bringing attention to care practices in the supply chain from stockperson, regulator, retailer, consumer, that has developed the market in higher animal welfare meat and dairy products. We also bring our interest in studying the performance of how farm animal welfare is being known, made and performed by discussing the sociology of animal welfare science as it has developed to offer scientific credibility for a topic that has had considerable civil society concern that farm animals have feelings that matter to them.”

2 . What personal experiences motivated you to write about this subject and the issuescovered in Food and Animal Welfare?

Emma Roe – “My mum has always been passionate about caring for animals and to try to improve the quality of animal lives’. We had a pet rabbit when I was growing up that she felt was unhappy in its cage, it ended up running wild in our Norfolk garden and mating with a wild rabbit. For her it has been about putting quality of life before health and safety. However, her concerns were never directed towards farm animals when I was growing up. Meanwhile my dad was the village shop keeper and so I became interested in food retailing, and where our food comes from, from quite an early age. I remember him boiling a leg of ham in the back of the shop. Growing up in Norfolk the connection between the food we eat and what was growing in the fields and the hens/veg patch/fruit trees in our garden definitely made an impression on me.”

Henry Buller – “I have long been fascinated by the role of veterinary medicine and veterinary action in mediating forms of human/animal relations. My mum wanted me to be a vet but I couldn’t do the math. So I have returned to it, many years later from the angle of social science.”

  1. What has the response been to your book in the UK and elsewhere?

“Silence! Amongst the community with which we work, there has been some (though limited, response). The social science of farm animal welfare sits uneasily between disciplines and ideologies. Although that is a space we enjoy occupying, others find it problematic.”

  1. What research findings that you share in the book do you consider to be the most profound or surprising?

“The men and women who actually work with the living farm animals and who work to give them a better quality of life are often having to negotiate the cultural, social and personal challenges of improving the life experience of the farm animal whilst keeping within the constraints of what the food market is willing to pay for higher welfare farmed food and caring for their own sentient sensibilities. These people understand a lot about the animals they work with, they are sensitive to what the animals may be communicating through bleat/cheep/grunt or moo. The same is often true for those men that handle and manage the living animals in the abattoir. These folk are too often forgotten or represented as complicit if there are occasions of poor animal welfare.”

  1. Based on your research and experiences what predictions do you have about the future of animals as food in the UK and/or beyond?

“The growing momentum behind finding alternatives to animal-based protein to address the environmental damage that livestock production is doing to the planet coupled with the ongoing concern about the welfare of animals produced by the meat and dairy industry, offers the prospect of a future with a reduced number of farmed animals. It may take some time to get there however, currently meat consumption is steadily rising in China for example, despite high-profile adverts urging reduction primarily from links to non-communicable diseases. In the short term we wonder how the market in higher welfare meat and dairy products may be affected by ‘so-called’ ethical consumers opting to not eat, or to eat less meat and dairy and what the consequence will be for work to continue to raise welfare standards. Meanwhile there are many low and middle income countries in the world with still much work to address farm animal welfare and to meet UK/European animal welfare standards and where the western diet of high-meat and dairy consumption is an aspiration which at a planetary level seems deeply undesirable.”

  1. What do you think is the single most effective change that the average consumer of meat and animal products could make to improve some of the problems you have identified in the book?

“To always buy higher welfare meat and dairy products and to ask if something is not labelled – not only in the supermarket but also when you eat outside of the home whether fast food van, cafe or restaurant chain. And perhaps ultimately to eat less meat and dairy and if one does ensure it is from a higher welfare production system.”

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Food Without Borders

Food without Borders: Proustian Anthropology and Collaborative Storytelling with an Experimental Sixth-Grade Class in Paris

Dr. Christy Shields-Argelès, in collaboration with Beth Grannis

“Food without Borders” is a collaborative ethnographic film project that I, along with filmmaker Beth Grannis and students from the American University of Paris, carried out with a mixed bi-lingual/mono-lingual sixth grade class in Paris. In this blog post, I discuss the manner in which David Sutton’s work on food and memory provided a theoretical and methodological frame that allowed us to identify and use co-feelings related to the shared experience of displacement as both a platform for collaboration and a frame for storytelling. In the conclusion, I also discuss collaborative tensions that characterized the project and make suggestions for using the project’s films in food anthropology classes.

***

For the past six years, Maurice Ravel, a public junior-high school in Paris’ twentieth district, has been engaged in a civic experiment of sorts. At Ravel, bilingual students who test into an International Baccalaureate program in English (OIB) share all but their English literature and history classes with local sector students who follow the traditional French Baccalaureate pathway (OFB), and are therefore learning English as a foreign language. As such, these classes contain at least two groups of global youth: the OIB students, who generally travel across borders as the children of middle and upper class professionals, and the OFB students, who are often the children of working-class and immigrant families. Bringing these students together is done with the idea that working together will benefit all, and yet class participants also struggle to live and learn together in a context that is, of course, also shaped by wider social, political and economic structures and inequalities.

I am a food anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Global Communications department at the American University of Paris (AUP). Beth is a filmmaker and Deputy Director of the non-profit Filmmakers without Borders, and at the time of the project was also an MA student in AUP’s Global Communications program. During the 2017–18 school year, we designed and directed a collaborative ethnographic film project for the OIB-OFB sixth grade class at Ravel. AUP’s Civic Media Lab and Filmmakers without Borders provided support for the project. Over the course of several months, we led the class through a series of anthropology and filmmaking workshops, in French and English. Together, we produced a class film, which consists of twenty-eight ethnographic vignettes (one for each student), and is in four languages (French, English, Chinese and Italian). In each vignette, a child tells the story of a food or a dish that connects them to the past, a place, a people and a sense of belonging. The film’s stories were collected within reciprocal OIB-OFB interviewing pairs, and each student took a small camera home to film the preparation and/or consumption of their dish, using the filming techniques taught to them in class.

Working within the traditions of participatory filmmaking and collaborative anthropology, Beth and I aimed at privileging the sixth graders’ voices. We felt this to be particularly important in the current context. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, the centralized French education system became an arena of intense institutional reform. President François Hollande immediately instated mandatory “civic and moral instruction” for grades K through 12, and Emmanuel Macron’s government has followed suit with a series of important structural changes, including an overhaul of the central (and strongly symbolic) baccalaureate exam system. Within this context, OFB-OIB class participants are instructed on civic values like mixité (social mixing) and vivre ensemble (which might best be translated as “living together harmoniously”), but have little opportunity to speak of their own experiences and knowledge of living with difference, within their families, their communities and their school. Beth and I did not want to speak at these sixth graders, but help them to tell their own stories, and reveal the rich and dynamic identities and relations they are building within multi-lingual and multi-cultural environments.

From the onset, we designed the project as a collaborative process. We aimed to work in dialogue with community members (students, teachers, families) as well as encourage collaboration among the sixth graders, who had only just met four weeks prior to our arrival. We framed and modeled collaboration in a variety of ways. For example, as an anthropologist, I paid particular attention to language. I used folk concepts (like vivre ensemble) to create space for the discussion of different experiences and perspectives. Language was also central when teaching in-depth interviewing techniques. Are your words expressing judgment? Do you formulate open-ended questions so your partner can respond in their own terms? Beth relied more on movement and visual imagery. She drew from a Common Core curriculum developed by Filmmakers without Borders in 2014 for students who do not speak English. She adapted this pedagogy to the Ravel classroom. So, when teaching different camera shots, she stood in front of the class and called out technical terms, like “close up”, while framing her face with her hands. The children copied the movement, and repeated the term. They then worked in pairs, and moved around the classroom to practice the different camera shots with a partner. In such activities, a student’s literacy (in English or French) was not an issue, as they were learning together and working towards a shared goal.

 

Beth and the class gesturing a “close-up” shot.

Another important component of the project was getting AUP undergraduate and graduate students involved as “student-mentors”. AUP students are a decidedly international group (with over 100 nationalities represented in a student body of 1200 students). In this particular project, five students were American, one was Columbian, and another was French. They all spoke English (though two were non-native English speakers), had varying levels of French (fluent to beginner), and often spoke one additional language (including Chinese, German and Spanish). In the Ravel classroom, the AUP team modeled a multi-lingual and multi-cultural learning commons as well as positive, global identities. At the same time, however, AUP students learned a great deal from the sixth graders. The experience brought them to reflect on their own childhood experiences and encouraged them to formulate questions concerning the role of education or food in current debates and processes of change.

Collaboration was also built on “co-feelings” related to the experience of displacement. My understanding of co-feeling is inspired by the work of Renato Rosaldo (1989). He writes about how experiencing the death of a loved one – and, in particular, the rage that accompanies it for a time – repositioned him in the field, and allowed him to understand the people he was working with, as well as human death rituals, in a new manner. So, by co-feeling I mean that different people can share a set of feelings that result from a shared human experience. In this way, co-feeling can help form a bridge of understanding and empathy. Of course, this bridge must be built and navigated with care because emotion can also mislead in a number of ways. For thinking through the feelings associated with displacement, and then conceptualizing them as a platform for co-feeling within this project, I also drew inspiration from David Sutton’s work on food and memory in Greece. In what he calls a “Proustian anthropology”, Sutton theorizes the processes first described in Proust’s “madeleine” passage, drawing particular attention to the feelings of estrangement and loss that accompany displacement. He also examines how “foods from home” temporarily assuage these feelings by allowing for a ritual “return to the whole”, or a mutual tuning-in and sense of connection.

In France, sixth grade is the first year of junior high and so involves changing schools and sometimes neighborhoods, as well as changing rhythms and workloads. In addition, in this particular class, many students (and their families) had moved across (or currently lived across) national borders. So, French sixth graders in general – and this group in particular – can be a nostalgic bunch, in the midst of missing other places (e.g. old schools, other countries) and times (“when I was a kid”). We therefore hoped that this particular topic would be equally engaging and meaningful for all. We also hoped in this way to reposition the students away from all sorts of opposed identity categories that frame their daily interactions (e.g. OIB/OFB, English speakers/French speakers, good students/bad students) into a shared subject position of a 6th grader in a new school, who loved a tasty dish that connected them to people they loved.

“Madeleine foods” spoke to other project participants too. I have long included Sutton’s work in my AUP classes because my expatriate students are usually experiencing similar emotional difficulties, and are also toting suitcases filled with foods from home. Their ability to identify with the Greek migrants on this topic often spurs their interest and engagement in class. Within the frame of this project, AUP students tended to see the Ravel kids as fundamentally like them, in large part due to their similar experiences of displacement and food as a powerful vector of reconnection. This, I felt, was an important first step towards working collaboratively. Finally, this entire project took place in France, where “Proust’s madeleine” is a common cultural reference. In initial meetings, for example, when I explained to teachers and administrators that the project aimed at helping the children tell their own “madeleine” stories, this was instantly recognized as culturally and intellectually meaningful. It enabled teachers to become active participants from the on-set and develop, even before we had fully designed our own workshops, a series of related lesson plans.

Of course, it is one thing to use shared experience and feeling as a platform for mutual understanding and investment, but it is another to construct a story, or in our case a set of twenty-eight stories, with a common narrative form and force. Here I was guided by Sutton’s assertion that such “madeleine” foods help us “return to the whole”. I began the first anthropology workshop with a three-minute film Beth made for my Food, Culture and Communication class entitled “This place doesn’t exist anymore: Food and memory among Syrian refugees”. The film is focused on Saad, a Syrian refugee, who talks about his life in France through the lens of cooking and food, and speaks in particular about a dish he calls “rice with peas” in English. After watching the film, I wrote “Saad” and “rice with peas” in the center of the whiteboard, and asked students to share what they had learned about him in the film. Student responses were written on the board. After they were done sharing, I circled groups of words, and named each bubble: people, places, activities, objects/ingredients, time, senses, and emotions. I then gave students a worksheet with an empty “mind map” similar to the one I had just drawn on the board. There was a space for their name and their dish in the center and then bubbles around this center circle in a daisy pattern labeled with the descriptive category names. The AUP student-mentors and Ravel teachers moved around the class and helped individual students brainstorm their ideas and fill out the map. In this way, the first anthropology workshop was spent reflecting upon the self (though in relation to a Syrian refugee). In the second anthropology workshop, I turned to interviewing and drew on Spradley’s descriptive interviewing techniques in particular. I identified the same descriptive categories (people, places, etc.) as areas for which they could elaborate open-ended questions for their interview partners. In other words, the second anthropology workshop was focused on reaching out to another and encouraging him or her to tell their story. During the interviewing sessions themselves, which took place in a separate, longer session, OFB-OIB students, working in pairs, interviewed one another while an AUP student-mentor took detailed notes so as to help the students develop ideas for b-roll images to collect in their homes. B-roll provided a unique opportunity to layer sequences of images that evoked these same descriptive categories. In short, the twenty-eight vignettes in the final film are a product of a collaborative storytelling process that used anthropological perspectives to first frame self-reflection and then an encounter with an “other”.

The “mind map” used in class to help students identify and describe a memorable food.

The project was successful in many ways. In February 2018, when we turned on the lights after the community screening, parents, teachers and administrators alike were dabbing at the corners of their eyes. This suggested to us that co-feeling was extended to the audience as well (a topic to be elaborated in the future). “Build bridges not walls”, a phrase that quite unexpectedly became the project’s motto, found its way onto the cakes and into the mouths of participants at the final banquet. At a time when Trump’s border wall was all over the French media, this seemed a small but cathartic response. The sixth graders were rightfully proud of their production, and numerous friendships were formed which, I’ve been told, have endured. The class was also invited to present the project at the Premier Festival des Arts de la Scène et du Goût, organized in partnership with the French Ministry of Education and held at a Michelin-starred restaurant and theater, La Scène Thélème. Here the students were able to present their project to other Parisian students and teachers, as well as to the restaurant staff, who then gave them a guided tour of the kitchens and wine cellar. I also feel that the project played a small role in helping Ravel teachers and administrators imagine additional sorts of OIB-OFB collaborations: for example, this year, for the first time, joint OFB-OIB class trips were organized. Beth also went on to write a successful MA capstone thesis about the project, and AUP student-mentors developed a series of “field-based” questions, which some went on to examine in other contexts.

A cake made for the final banquet

However, to represent the project as singularly successful would be both disingenuous and counterproductive. In the future, I hope to also examine the multiple tensions at play in such collaborations. In a recently published article, Yates-Doerr (2019) writes of “awkward collaborations”, where participants use the same words, but mean different things by them. She develops the notion of “careful equivocation”, joining her voice to others who are examining the nature of collaborative work as not necessarily entailing unity of purpose. In the Food without Borders project, “Proust’s madeleine” functioned as both folk and analytical concept throughout, and certainly did not always mean the same thing to all participants. Likewise, as food scholars well know: foods and commensal practices both unite and differentiate. Such tensions were at play through out the project. For example, in an initial meeting, several children expressed the desire to work on crepes. In the final film, however, only a few speak of them. Who came to “own” the crepe stories was part of a negotiation that involved both individual choice and group pressure. The “crepe dilemma”, as we came to call it, could therefore be examined in the future as a space of tension and a process of negotiation. Finally, scholars have recognized the transformative power of emotion, but also examine the manner in which it can reproduce and normalize unequal power relations. What are the limits of co-feeling within such a project? Such questions have yet to be examined for this project.

 I’d like to end with an invitation to SAFN readers to view the project’s films and integrate them into their classes. These days, I assign them in a class on food, memory and identity, along with the readings that originally inspired them, including: Proust’s madeleine, Nadia Seremetakis’ The Senses Still, and Sutton’s Remembrance of Repasts. The class allows for a nice diversity of materials and, when including the films, the opportunity to discuss participatory filmmaking and collaborative anthropologies too. I also ask students to carry out a descriptive and narrative interview with a person they feel might share the experience of displacement (in time and/or space). Sometimes students also produce short films from these interviews (in the style of the Food without Border project), and sometimes they produce a story and a recipe, which we bring together into a kind of narrated and illustrated recipe book.

Finally, I am also curious as to how your students might view the class film. In September 2018, Beth and I presented the project to an audience outside of France for the first time (at a food and communication conference in Edinburgh). After spending so much time navigating complex identity questions among this group of sixth graders, who often do not feel entirely French – either because of their own travels or because others question their “Frenchness” – it was surprising to hear an Anglophone Canadian colleague exclaim after the screening: “I found the film to be sooo French! I mean look at all that cooking! And all those vegetables!” And so it goes in the world, I suppose, as we make sense of each other and our times, in an endless cycle of overlapping identification processes.

View English and French versions of project’s films here: https://www.aup.edu/academics/research-centers/civic-media-lab/food-without-borders

References:

Grannis, B. 2018. Food without Borders: A Collaborative and Participatory Ethnographic Film Project with a Bilingual Sixth-Grade Class in Paris. Capstone Thesis, M.A. in Global Communications, The American University of Paris.

Korsmeyer, C., ed. 2005. “The Madeline.” (excerpt from In Search of Lost Time, M. Proust) The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Rosaldo, R. 1989. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Seremetakis, C.N. 1996. The Senses Still. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Spradley, J. 1979. The Ethnographic Interview. Belmont, CA : Wadsworth Group/Thomson   Learning.

Sutton, D. 2001. Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. Oxford and London: Berg Publishers.

Yates-Doerr, E. 2019. “Whose Global? Which Health? Unsettling Collaboration and Careful Equivocation.” American Anthropologist 121 (2): 297-310.

 

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Review: In Defense of Jewish Food, A Kosher Eater’s Manifesto contra Michael Pollan

schorsch book cover

The Food Movement, Culture, and Religion. A Tale of Pigs, Christians, Jews, and Politics. Schorsch, Jonathan  Palgrave/Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 978-3-319-71705-0  98 pp.text.

Ellen Messer, Ph.D.
Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, Boston, MA

Jewish dietary laws, in particular the prohibition on eating pig, have long fascinated professionals who ponder food taboos and restrictions. Jonathan Schorsch’s nit-picking but far-reaching analysis of The Food Movement, Culture, and Religion. A Tale of Pigs, Christians, Jews, and Politics is the latest addition to this Jewish Studies and Food Studies literature. In  a carefully organized 98 page volume consisting of eight chapters, each with a clearly written abstract and clarifying footnotes, the author, a scholar-activist in Jewish studies, shares his outrage that Michael Pollan, and fellow foodie intellectuals/activists of Jewish descent, irreverently celebrate the joys of eating pig and ignorantly refuse to acknowledge the manifold values in their Jewish culinary heritage.

The first four chapters are best described as a carefully framed rant against the kosher-bashing behaviors of leading Jewish food writers and chefs. These alleged authorities of the modern food movement pointedly ignore the cosmological and more encompassing cultural significance of Biblical and subsequent Jewish dietary laws, which establish which foods are permitted (“Kosher”) or forbidden (“treyf”). The three most important abstention rules can be summarized in order of salience for modern Jewish practice as: (1) no pig, (2) no shellfish, and (3) no mixing of meat and dairy products in the same dish or meal.

Schorsch’s main argument, introduced in Chapter 1, asserts that Michael Pollan and other modern foodies who celebrate omnivory and above all, consumption of pig, are objectionable ignoramuses, who systematically disparage religious and cultural bases of food habits in favor of reductionist, materialist, and rationalist conformity to dominant, allegedly democratic, assimilationist values. They, in Schorsch’s view, ironically, embrace indigenous foods and food systems as valuable contributions to environmental, nutritional, and social-justice values without searching for or acknowledging analogues in their own Jewish heritage and food traditions. Chapter 2 provides a brief history of pig-eating (or not-eating) in Jewish ritual, culinary, and agricultural practice, and establishes how and why pig came to encapsulate and symbolize Jewish experience of anti-Semitic oppression. Chapter 3 bashes the anti-kosher rhetoric of leading (Jewish) foodies representative of the modern food movement and bemoans their studied disinterest in Jewish identity and food history. This diatribe continues in Chapter 4, where the author dissects Pollan’s selective knowledge of religion and demonstrates his ignorance of Judaism.

The next four chapters, while they continue to focus negatively on Pollan, explore more universal themes and show where Jewish food fits into the mix. Chapter 5 considers culinary worlds as cultural cosmologies. Chapter 6 reviews prohibitions of animal species in cross-cultural perspective. Chapter 7 explores omnivory as a universal, but rarely or never practiced ideal. Finally, Chapter 8 considers individual vs. group identity and dietary decision-making through food. These later chapters (5-8) offer a careful exploration of the guiding principles of Jewish omnivory for those who know and choose to follow the rules, and connect food rules and eating behaviors to their larger Jewish symbolic universe and Jewish history. The author did not really need Pollan as a target to present these well-grounded materials, which also contain well-developed historical point and counterpoint comparisons of Christian and Jewish attitudes toward pig-eating, including the well-known example that pig-avoidance was used by the Spanish Inquisition to identify secret Jews who had ostensibly converted to Christianity but nevertheless maintained this Jewish dietary prohibition. Schorsch’s cross cultural exploration of ethical omnivory (Chapters 7-8) finds that most traditional cultures, Judaism included, demonstrate selective construction of diet. So do 21st century foodies, Jewish and non-Jewish, who analogously embrace food restrictions, albeit with selectivity based on adherence to some universal, secular as opposed to sectarian, principles or creed, most often some formal criteria of food-, labor-, and environmental- justice, which now qualify as universal, rather than particular Jewish values.

As a knowledgeable reader in this realm (I have taught Mary Douglas’ “Abominations of Leviticus” and her critics’ responses in Anthropological Approaches to Religion courses, and include in-depth analysis of Kosher-food classifications and certifications in my Gastronomy course on “Local to Global Food Values: Policy, Practice, and Performance,” and also write about American Reform Jewish kosher and non-kosher food rules and practices) I found Schorsch’s questions and answers in the first four chapters rigorous, but irritating. I resented his scolding Pollan as a public intellectual and opinion maker who needs to be enlightened, and his overall tone, which was didactic rant. In my experience, modern Jewish omnivores of self-identified liberal or progressive persuasion often choose not to adhere strictly to religiously-based food avoidances or to seek Jewish sources for their “just-food” practices. This, I concur with the author, does not explain why leading food-movement advocates of Jewish descent obsessively raise, cook, consume, and extoll pig as the most delectable of all foodstuffs. But given their cultural choices and culinary companions, I don’t expect them to act differently or stop eating pig, even if they study and acknowledge the anti-Semitic food history that shows forcing Jews to eat pig made pig-eating a quintessential performative act of political subjugation. Nor do I expect them to give equal time to the Jewish sustainable food movement, which aims to raise the food-justice standards of kosher food. For sure, “relevant insights of concerned food activists such as Michael Pollan and those of cultural traditions are not at odds with one another. They are powerful potential partners” for saving the planet and improving nutritional welfare (p.97). But I doubt that the author’s vitriol will overcome Pollan’s unwillingness to respect, if not revere, his ancestral culture.

Moreover, by centering his essays as a critique of Pollan and to a lesser extent other high-profile foodies, the author misses the larger picture of what passes as “Jewish” food, particularly in America. For example, Schorsch could have expanded on the great diversity of opinions, attitudes, and practices represented in The Sacred Table (Zamore 2011), a collection of essays by American Reform Jewish thinkers, some of whom mix meat with dairy or  indulge happily in shellfish, but may still refuse to eat pig. He cites the book but does not fully explore issues of Jewish culinary identity. American Jewish culture has also produced dozens of community cookbooks, some of which include special sections with TREYF recipes that the editors considered to be Jewish food in that they are produced by Jews and intended to be imitated and eaten with fellow Jews, but incorporate non-kosher ingredients or mixtures.

Personally, I find the reasoning of celebrity chef Michael Solomonov (Zahav. A World of Israeli Cooking (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2015) more insightful in distinguishing between culinary and personal identities. Trained in classic French technique and in Italian restaurants, this celebrated Philadelphia restauranteur finds it challenging to eliminate butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in dishes containing meat, and sad to exclude high quality shellfish and pork from his repertoire. He does so, he testifies, not for religious but for culinary reasons, in order to “honor the spirit of a few fundamental rules of kosher cooking” and because he markets his art and craft as Israeli. In his thinking, “Kosher rules help define the boundaries of Israeli cuisine. The second you add pork or shellfish to a dish, it can become Greek or Turkish. When you add yogurt to lamb it can become Lebanese or Syrian. Without the influence of kosher rules, the notion of Israeli cuisine itself begins to fray.” (p.22). Here, the chef is conceptualizing integrity in terms of cuisine, not cosmology or religion, and he adds that in his personal practice, he is not kosher, and in the cookbook, he makes suggestions for non-kosher variations on his recipes should readers so desire to experiment.

The celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi presents a different tack and another contrasting approach. He grew up in a Jewish Jerusalem household that flagrantly violated the kosher rules by eating pork and shellfish. He briefly discusses the kosher vs. non-kosher divide in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, where what food and with whom you will or will not eat are based on degree of kosher practice, which clearly marks religious-political identity (p.231). Such an approach likely influenced and validates Pollan’s preference for viewing Jewish food mainly as a cultural or political identity issue, which Schorsch criticizes as a limitation and failing. Ottolenghi and his co-author Sami Tamimi in Jerusalem. A Cookbook (Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 2012), like Pollan, celebrate the cosmopolitan mixing of multiple traditions, in their case, Jewish and non-Jewish, inherent in Israel’s ethnic, religious, and culinary-identity divisions.

The take-away is that foodies like Pollan are certainly correct in defining their own cultural and culinary identity as belonging to a more inclusive, larger cosmopolitan culture. With that comes an apparent special titillation aroused by eating pig, shellfish and combined meat with dairy combinations that are forbidden in Jewish dietary regimes. They certainly have not engaged in research or demonstrated “due diligence” in making pronouncements about Jewish food. This is their prerogative. But as a corollary, they probably should confess ignorance, and not preach about the limitations of kosher eating, beginning with pig.

Food and nutrition anthropologists, food studies, gastronomy, and culinary historians should all find this book of interest. For Food Anthropology or Food Studies courses addressing food cultures and cosmologies, it offers a well-referenced exploration of Jewish and anti-Jewish food culture. It could also provide a week’s reading on “food and religion” in courses on anthropology of religion; particularly Chapter 5, “Cosmological Cultures as Forms of Resistance” will resonate with other non-food emphases. The book might serve equally well as a text and extended case study on food culture for religious, Judaic, or ethnic studies.

Reference cited

Zamore, Mary L., ed. (2011) The Sacred Table. Creating a Jewish Food Ethic. New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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Reminder: 2019 Thomas Marchione Award Deadline is July 26!

Do not miss this opportunity to have your work recognized!

Graduate Students! Are you doing or have you recently completed research related to food and human rights? Food security? Food justice? Do you consider that these and related issues are among the most pressing issues facing humanity? Would you like your work to be recognized? SAFN wants to hear from you!

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is seeking applications for the Thomas Marchione Award, which recognizes graduate student research on topics including food security, food justice and/or the right to food in both international and domestic contexts. Any field of study is eligible, and the winner will receive $750 and a year’s membership in both the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN).

Complete application information is here.

Deadline: July 26, 2019.

Recent Award Winners:

2018

Miguel Cuj (Vanderbilt University), Violence, Nutrition, and Health Issues: Maya Memories in Guatemala.

2017

Paula Fernandez-Wulff (UC Louvain, Belgium), Harnessing Local Food Policies for the Right to Food.

2015

Jessie Mazar (University of Vermont), Issues of food access and food security for Latino/a migrant farm workers in Vermont’s dairy industry.

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Reminder! 2019 Christine Wilson Awards Applications Due Soon!

Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity!

Students! Did you write a research paper on food and/or nutrition this year? Are you writing one now? Want fame and recognition? We want to hear from you!

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is seeking applications for the Christine Wilson Graduate Student Award and the Christine Wilson Undergraduate Student Award for outstanding student research papers on food and/or nutrition. The winner of the graduate award and the undergraduate award will receive $300 and be recognized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.

Complete application information is here.

Deadline: July 26, 2019.

Recent Award Winners:

2018

Christine Wilson Undergraduate Award: Jared Belsky (Hamilton College) and Mackenzie Nelsen (UNC Chapel Hill), Cultivating Activism Through Terroir: An Anthropology of Sustainable Wine Makers in Umbria, Italy.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Alyssa Paredes (Yale University), Follow the Yellow Brix Road: How the Japanese Market’s Taste for Sweetness Transformed the Philippine Highlands.

2017

Christine Wilson Undergraduate Award: Kate Rhodes (Macalester College), Having a Steak in the Matter: Gender in the Buenos Aires Asado.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Sarah Howard (Goldsmiths College, University of London), Coffee and the State in Rural Ethiopia.

2016

Christine Wilson Award Undergraduate Award: Cynthia Baur (Dickinson College), An Analysis of the Local Food Movement in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Imogen Bevan (University of Edinburgh), Care is Meat and Tatties, Not Curry.

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