Category Archives: anthropology

SAFN Awards, Impending Deadlines!

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition has three awards for student writing and research. These awards will provide you with fame and glory…and money, to recognize your accomplishments or to support your work. The deadlines for all three this year is September 18, 2020, which is coming up in just a few weeks.

Are you a graduate student (MS, MA, PhD, or other) whose work focuses on food security, food justice and/or the right to food in international or domestic contexts? Whatever discipline you are in, whether you have already completed your work or are in the middle of an ongoing project, you should apply for the Thomas Marchione Food-As-A-Human-Right Student Award. Applying is simple and all the details are here.

Are you an undergraduate or graduate student who has done research in nutrition, food studies, and anthropology? Have you written a paper about that research? You should apply for the Christine Wilson Award! There are really two awards, one undergraduate and one graduate. If your work is anthropological (you don’t have to be in anthropology, but your research should use anthropological perspectives), apply! Details here.

Are you an MA/MS or PhD student whose work focuses on food and nutritional anthropology? Do you need support for your research? You should apply for our Student Research Award! The process is simple and you could get $800 to support your work. Details on this award are here.

Faculty! Please encourage your students to apply for these awards.

Remember, the deadline for all three awards is September 18, 2020.

Do not miss this opportunity!

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Raising our Voices submission deadline extended to August 31

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Upcoming Deadlines

Hello Food Anthropologists,

The deadline to submit a presentation for the virtual AAA meetings, Raising our Voices is fast approaching – August 25th. See the email sent by AAA on Aug. 19th or go to https://www.americananthro.org/RaisingOurVoices?navItemNumber=25761

The November/December issue of Anthropology News Online is focused on food production and consumption. Please send a 250-word pitch that outlines the story or argument of your piece, and a 50-word author bio to an@americananthro.org by September 4, 2020. If proposing a photo or illustrated essay, include one or two images. See more here: https://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2020/08/17/call-for-pitches-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=call-for-pitches-food

The deadline for SAFN Student Award submissions is September 18th.

See you online,

Joan Gross

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Eating Like an Alaskan?: Quarantine Reflections on the Anchorage Museum’s “What Why How We Eat” Exhibition

Abigail Adams
Central Connecticut State University

I’m writing from my dining room table and the CostCo bulk carton of matzoh peeks at me from a kitchen cupboard. I’m reminded of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread. Interbake Foods manufactures these simple, tough, oversized crackers in Richmond, Virginia and sells 98 percent of them in Alaska.

I’ve been eating essentially the same menu since March 12. There is some variety—I am an anthropologist and my larder is stocked with the basics for world-curious cuisine. But I’m not a foodie and I’m happy treating food like a uniform. My mind is on other decisions now. Except for a pharmacy foray for Easter candy and milk, I shopped four times for groceries during the two months of Connecticut’s “Stay Home Stay Safe.” I was focused on teaching online and trying to save my department–and higher education while I’m at it.

And I can’t stop thinking about Alaska.

This time last year, I had just returned from the AFHVS/ASFS conference in Anchorage, which included an evening reception at the Anchorage Museum and tour of its spectacular What Why How We Eat exhibition. That is where I first saw the Pilot Bread now evoked by my own stores of shelf-stable matzoh.

Pilot bread!

The exhibition closed this January but lives on in the The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska (University of Washington Press/ Anchorage Museum, December 13, 2019), written by Julia O’Malley and edited by Julie Decker, Director, Anchorage Museum.

I missed posting in FoodAnthro last summer about the exhibit, but I am seizing this moment now, given the resemblance between my/our COVID-19 subsistence strategies and Alaska’s regular food reality, realities that were curated beautifully in the Anchorage Museum exhibit.

The exhibit was interactive to its very core. We missed the urban harvest classes (I could use those urban harvest classes now!), cooking demonstrations, bike tours to community gardens, recipe swaps and workshops, but I jump-scared when I opened a cabinet in the exhibit’s first room and a Native woman began speaking to me: it was a video but it took me a moment. This space was a working kitchen, with cabinets, fridge, freezer and drawers filled with videos, photos.

That first area highlighted another key exhibit theme, “the changing story of food culture in Alaska — from the subsistence whale hunt in Point Hope to the Halal market in Anchorage…. one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US., thanks, in part, to an influx of refugees…”.

The kitchen utensil drawer paid homage to the Alaskan and traditional skills of self-provisioning. It was really a toolbox, with unique items for processing wild foods, canning, dining on crab, etc. The next room was a journey through the different landscapes, traditional harvests and subsistence work where people live close to the land and the weather to catch and process food: caribou, whale, crab, salmon. 

And the new Alaskans, their foods and experiences, were integrated throughout the exhibit. The exhibit designers made the kitchen “work” for all Alaskan peoples, for example, they stocked the shelves with a variety of culturally-favored carbs. Another room featured Everyone Is Welcome Here, a 2018 project by artists Sergio De La Torre and Chris Treggiari, which “used food as the lens for exploring the immigrant and refugee experience in Alaska.” There was also exhibit space for Alaskan fusion cooking and creativity, resonating with the “multi-cultural” condiments of my quarantine cabinets. During last June’s conference, we met and ate with many of these “new” Alaskans as well, thanks to Liz Snyder, UAA professor, conference organizer, co-director of the Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub and one of the exhibit co-developers.

Shelves of culturally-favored carbs, photo credit Emily Yates-Doerr

Beauty informed the exhibit, not a surprise, given curator Francesca DuBrock’s usual métier of fine art. At one point, I stood entranced by a wall that I thought was an art installation: an enormous-format arrangement of seed packs—including fictive seed packs for edible wild plants that Alaskans regularly forage. Behind me, hydroponic wall panels planted with mint and salanova lettuce grew, adding to the smells and aesthetics of the space. The exhibit was also acknowledging the growing numbers of Alaskan farmers. This spring, along with record numbers of US-Americans, one of my sources of delight during the dark coronavirus isolation was sorting through seed packs, planning the vegetable and cutting gardens that now grow around me.

Grocery prices across Alaska Photo credit: Emily Yates-Doerr

After visiting Alaska during the summer weeks when the state’s soaring temperatures and searing forest fires made national news, I took home the example of Alaskans’ food resilience in the face—in the teeth—of climate change.  I posted in FoodAnthro, “We are all facing harsh, stark, extreme environmental change, and Alaskans may be well-positioned to weather the Future that is coming.”

I did NOT foresee this pandemic Future! But the museum presciently tackled Alaska’s fundamental food insecurity, and its exhibits were instructive for our current COVID-19 moment. I wrapped up this blog post listening to a radio essay about skyrocketing food prices in the coronavirus lower 48.  One of the exhibition’s closing walls showcased the price of groceries in different Alaska communities. A gallon of milk in Anchorage costs about $4 while the same gallon would cost closer to $10 on the North Slope. If a natural disaster disabled the Port of Anchorage, Anchorage grocery store food shelves and cold cases would be bare in just five days.

That natural disaster arrived, in the form of the coronavirus. The pandemic plopped Alaska’s food dependence squarely in the middle of its residents’ plates. Faced more than panic-picked-over grocery shelves; food supplies to remote communities stopped when the small-plane business that serves those communities went COVID–bankrupt. One grocer made “the 14-hour boat trip to Costco every week to supply his small remote city with groceries amid the pandemic.” Alaska’s fossil fuel-dependent economy and state budget (already struggling since the 2014 slide in oil prices) crashed, directly due to the pandemic. Last summer, as I celebrated Alaskans’ resilience, flexibility and subsistence skills, I overlooked Alaska’s contribution to the global climate crisis.

But I did not miss it completely: during our conference, our incredible University of Alaska hosts learned that their university budget was to be cut by 40%. Appropriately, the metaphors deployed by the media were food metaphors, as in Governor Dunleavy ordering the university to “trim,” as in “trim budgetary fat,” when in truth he was ordering a butchering.

His solution? Essentially economic stimulus payments. Dunleavy proposed nearly doubling the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend to residents, the yearly dividend that Alaskans receive from the state’s formerly enormous oil wealth.

In the end, UAA’s budget cuts were 7% and Alaskans received the same dividend as the $1600 of the previous year. But as I received my pandemic economic stimulus payment this Spring (my own… Pandemic Dividend?) and watched my university’s enrollment and budget tank, I look once again at the matzoh in my cupboard.

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Op Eds

Dear SAFN members,

Now is a good time to write op eds about the food system in the pandemic. Here is one we published in the Eugene Weekly in Oregon. Feel free to send us links to add yours.

Racialized Inequality 

Social justice is the vaccine we need for Oregon’s food system

GUEST VIEWPOINTBY GUEST VIEWPOINTPOSTED ON 

By Joan Gross and Emily Yates-Doerr

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the racialized inequality that permeates Oregon’s food system. 

The conditions of slavery and genocide upon which the U.S. was founded have been neither reconciled nor repaired, leaving our state with a food system that increases vulnerability to the spread of viruses like COVID-19. 

As professors in Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program we have spent decades studying how social inequities are reproduced through every stage of the food system. The pandemic is exposing the brutal effects of these inequities. Now, more than ever, we must seek treatments that emphasize systemic change and social justice. 

Let’s begin with the production of food on Oregon farms, on lands stolen from Native Americans. The vast majority of farmland in our country is owned by white men, and the people who plant, care for and harvest the food are mostly people of color, many of whom were forced to leave their own land in other countries due to political situations beyond their control. Working conditions in the fields often lack sufficient handwashing stations and underpaid migrant workers are housed in substandard structures where social distancing is impossible. 

On some farms in the U.S., every single farmworker has tested positive for COVID-19 and Oregon farms could easily be next. 

Moving on to food processing, we find that many of the hotspots of COVID-19 outbreaks occur in factories where food is processed. With people working shoulder to shoulder to increase efficiency, the virus can spread quickly. 

The next stage of food processing occurs in restaurants or institutional cafeterias, where cooks, servers and dishwashers prepare, deliver and clean up after meals for the enjoyment of others. The work is precarious and usually without health care benefits, so workers are compelled to come to work, even when sick. Closing these businesses may protect potential customers, but it puts huge numbers of already vulnerable people out of work. Additionally, farmers who produce for that supply chain have no market and are left to destroy edible food — all while people go hungry. 

This brings us to the final phase of the food system, when food enters people’s mouths. 

Food workers are twice as likely to be food insecure as others, but during the pandemic, they find themselves in good company given the high rates of current unemployment. U.S. citizens can apply for SNAP benefits, but many food workers are not citizens. They are not banned from accessing food at pantries and free meal sites, but many fear that if they do make use of them they will be arrested and separated from their families. 

Today, the fact that COVID-19 is widespread in penitentiaries and deportation stations adds to their fear. 

Oregon relies on the cheap labor of Latin American migrant workers to grow and process food, and these farms and factories have become centers of infection in our state. Only 13 percent of the state identifies as Hispanic, but 36.6 percent of identified COVID-19 infections have occurred within this population. 

In light of the recent outbreak at Pacific Seafood, where more than 181 employees tested positive for the virus, news headlines reported that “language barriers” were delaying the ability to track and trace people with COVID-19, with many of the impacted workers speaking Latin American Indigenous languages. 

These language barriers must be understood within broader violations of human rights exemplified by an abusive immigration system that too quickly imprisons and deports — even when people have the legal right to stay. Testing and tracing will not be effective unless there are labor protections in place that make it safe for all people who worry they are sick to come forward. 

It’s tragic, not to mention dangerous, that agricultural workers and food processors are considered essential, and yet they are unprotected. 

As the world clamors for COVID-19 magic bullets — vaccines, antibodies, llamas, medications, face shields — the one thing that will make a significant and lasting difference is a large injection of social justice. 

We must work to increase land sovereignty among marginalized communities, support universal health care and guaranteed wages, and put an end to racist police brutality and extortionist farmworker immigration policies. A vaccine for COVID-19 may never eliminate coronavirus, but these structural changes are within our reach. They are fundamental to creating an equitable food system that feeds us all.

Joan Gross, Ph.D., and Emily Yates-Doerr, Ph.D., are professors in Oregon State University’s Food in Culture and Social Justice program, which educates students about the food system and the complexities of foodways around the world. The program encourages students to actively strive to create a more equitable and environmentally sustainable food system, and many of our graduates are currently involved in that work.TAGS: COVID-19 / FOOD INSECURITY / LOCAL AND VOCAL

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Review: Religion in the Kitchen

Religion in the Kitchen

Pérez , Elizabeth. (2016). Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions. New York University Press. 320 pp. ISBN #9781479839551

Kristina Wirtz (Western Michigan University)

Does it surprise you that an ethnographic study of a religious community would be centered on the kitchen? In Religion in the Kitchen, Elizabeth Pérez makes a compelling case that religious communities are molded and religious sensibilities are seasoned in the kitchen. Her chosen site of the Black Atlantic is a religious household in the Chicago orisha community: its head is Ashabi Mosley, who was initiated into Cuban Santería by a Chicago-based Cuban-American priest, and whose home is an active “house-temple,” where ritual activities and sacred space-time infuse the domestic space with the spiritual imperatives of deities, ancestors, elders, and those who serve them.

In detailing the ethnographic particulars of this site, Pérez argues that the religious significance of the kitchen—the physical spaces and practices of food preparation, and what people talk about while so engaged—has been overlooked, and not just in Black Atlantic traditions. I hope that her book will stimulate much-needed corrective ethnographic attention—not just to special religious foods and the rules for their consumption in religious contexts, but to the often-marginalized work of food preparation for its moral and world-making contributions. Food preparation—and in particular the routes of live animals and raw ingredients that arrive at the house to become ritual offerings and spiritually-nourishing “food of the saint” connect the different spaces of the house-temple to produce a sacralization of private homes and a materialization of religious family.

As the book emphasizes from its first page, the sensuous engagement of orishas—African deities—in the world and their demands for savory and substantial offerings to provide the sacred energy—aché—that activates their worldly interventions, makes the kitchen especially significant in ritual work. But religion is not only in the kitchen. To venture into the kitchen and the realm of “ordinary home cooking” (the title of Part I) is to witness the confrontation between the time-space affordances of domesticity and the demands of religious observance in the house-temple. The name of Ashabi Mosley’s house-temple, Ilé Laroye, or House of Laroye (a reference to the orisha Eleggua) is also the name of the religious family of which she is matriarch. Domestic life is family life, and so Pérez closely attends to how bonds of kinship are forged and tested through religious practices. The religious lineage and family encompass vectors of religious authority and mutual obligation binding deities to the devotees whose “heads” they rule and devotees to one another.  And the house-temple is the physical space that materializes this ideal of the religious lineage, in an ongoing cycle of ceremonies cementing and expanding the familial network based on reciprocity. Deities demand offerings and discipline from those who serve them, and in turn offer tangible blessings of healing and resolved problems.

Pérez examines the physical layout of the house itself and how its spaces are used. Notably, Iyalocha Ashabi bought the house in large part because of its generous kitchen. The house’s  location in a Southside Chicago neighborhood also matters, in relations with neighbors and in instantiating a history of race relations and membership in an embattled Black community. The orishas point to a Black Atlantic context more rooted in the Caribbean and less understood amid the Baptist congregations and mosques of African American communities. But the labor—the servitude and sacrifice—that the orishas demand resonates with all-too familiar racialized and gendered regimes of Black life in America and their roots in transatlantic slavery. Serving the orishas and ancestors resignifies such regimes as spiritually charged, with the power to remake diasporic identities. Pérez seizes on evocative moments in which Ashabi and others in Ilé Laroye point out rhizomatic connections to other African diasporic experiences, from depictions of “conjure” in African American popular culture to “gangsta-code” moments of protecting the community from police interference. The food cooked up in the kitchen of Ilé Laroye, too, is a fusion of African American, Latinx-Caribbean, and West African cuisines diverging from common “roots” and remixed in the kitchen.

Pérez argues that the routes of religious activity through the house-temple, and especially turning the raw and live ingredients of offerings into cooked food, also fashion the trajectories of people into deeper engagements with the religion. Most centrally, talk accompanies food preparation tasks: instructions, reminders, and coaching in techniques, along with explanations, corrections, praise, complaints, and admonitions, but also chitchat that passes the time with humor and stories that all together serve to deepen social bonds and religious knowledge. The religious person is “seasoned” and cooked along with the food they help prepare, in a blending of talk and other embodied kitchen practice. This is the topic of parts two and three of the book, on “kitchen work” and “kitchen talk,” although the implied distinction between talk and other practice cannot be so clearly delineated.

If the cooking up of communal, religious sensibilities sounds idealized, in practice it is hard, unglamorous work that tests the self-discipline and religious dedication of those conscripted into it. Those entering the religious domain of Ilé Laroye quickly find themselves put to work with the labor-intensive, menial tasks of chopping, carrying, cleaning, stirring, and sorting, under the watchful eye of those with specialized religious knowledge. This knowledge is gained primarily through practical instruction, working alongside others. During major ceremonies, the hours are long, extending all day and even all night, people’s nerves fray as they work into exhaustion, and the stakes of errors are high, lest an orisha be offended. Each orisha’s offerings must be kept separate from as many as a dozen others at a time. The work of draining blood, plucking feathers, butchering carcasses, and separating viscera is arduous and messy. This time in the kitchen is utterly essential to successful ceremonies, and yet the kitchen and other food preparation areas are separate from and peripheral to the dedicated ritual spaces. Some of the marginality of the kitchen is gendered, but gender dynamics are crosscut with other measures of religious authority, such as lineage seniority.

In slicing, plucking, and cooking her way through her fieldwork, Pérez garners important insights. For example, she comes to realize how the initial steps of butchering a chicken highlight exactly the parts of the body—head, nape of neck, shoulders, feet—that are the focus of the basic rogation or purification ceremony performed on a devotee’s body. She contemplates not just taste but disgust, which she considers with sensitivity and insight. She suggests that overcoming one’s disgust, especially of the blood, guts, and gore of butchering sacrificed animals, plays a key role in socializing religious newcomers to new regimes of self-discipline that will be necessary to their religious development. Her central metaphor of seasoning materializes historicizing, engendering, incorporative kin-making work through which “strangers” join the ever-expanding religious family. The talk that accompanies all of this activity also is a seasoning and socializing mechanism. In the kitchen, talk moves between topics of food preparation, ritual activity, questions and explanations, personal stories, joking and teasing, gossip, pop culture references, and more overt efforts to teach through the sacred stories about the orishas, where these topics are braided together in the flowing conversations that produce lasting relationships and shape spiritual subjectivities. In the seeming banality of this “chitchat,” Pérez identifies a speech genre, the initiation story, as proper to peri-ritual activity, in contradistinction to the many genres of properly ritual speech. Akin to Black Christian “testifying,” initiation stories emphasize the paths of suffering and salvation through which orishas claim devotees. Whatever those drawn to Ilé Laroye might want or expect, their time laboring and listening in the kitchen teaches them to recast religious commitment as submission to the will of the orishas.

In this accessible ethnography of an often unrecognized and marginalized religious community in the U.S., Pérez develops novel perspectives on a variety of themes at the nexus of food and religion. Through detailed, situated descriptions of her participation in a religious household, she emphasizes the importance of the embedded, embodied, sensory, and social involvement in kitchen-work and how it resonates with other aspects of diasporic religious participation. The book could readily be assigned to undergraduates as well as graduate students to highlight the importance of food and food preparation in classes in religious studies, the anthropology of religion, and African Diaspora Studies, and to draw out productive connections between food, spirituality, and community in classes on the anthropology of food.

 

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Review: Women on Food

Druckman, Charlotte + 115 Writers, Chefs, Critics, Television Stars, and Eaters (2019) Women On Food. New York: Abrams Press. 400 pp. ISBN 978 1 4197 3635 3; eISBN 978-1-68335 681 3.

Ellen Messer (Tufts University)

The day before all the libraries closed down to reduce spread of COVID-19 infections, I happened upon this collection of Women on Food writings in my local Newton (MA) Free Library. This multi-colored, 400 heavy-weight-page volume assembles an extraordinary variety of women’s voices, which present themselves in multiple sizes and sexual orientations, livelihoods and lifestyles, and span multiple generations and racial/ethnic/ religious identities, priorities, and themes.  As Druckman indicates in her introduction:

What you’re getting into is an anthology about women in—and on—food. That means women who work in or around food in some capacity, and what they think about that…and what they think about what you expect them to think about that.

Her interview questions encourage these women to “speak the truth…completely…[to] be analytical, furious, funny, serious, sad, harsh, silly, challenging, old-fashioned, avant-garde, creative, macho, pensive, unforgiving, unforgivable, opinionated, neutral must plain weird…[to] talk about what it’s like, really, to work in the food industry or food media, to get a meal on the table, or feed a community…[to] write about that without having to match the format or adhere to a particular genre or style” (p.6).

The anthology collects original stories, told mostly in prose although occasionally in poetry or  in visual forms (drawings, photography, pictures of food, or food people or places). These single-authored pieces are mixed in or “up” with two-person “conversations” (Druckman interviewing respondents) and multiple short-responses to Druckman’s provocative queries on leading topics. Two early examples of this Q&A are:  “LEXICON. Are there any words or phrases you really wish people would stop using to describe WOMEN CHEFS (or really, women, period)?” (p.8) and  “COOK THIS, NOT THAT! What is a type of FOOD you wanted to cook  and were told you couldn’t—or are made to feel as though you couldn’t…and you’re pretty sure it’s because you’re a women?” (p.67).

Cross-cutting themes across formats include female chefs’, but also food writers’ and editors’ experiences with sexual harassment and gender discrimination, personal and professional relationships (negative and positive) with ethnic foods, identities, and heritages, and their reflections on the significance of their mothers (occasionally grandmothers, less often fathers) on their food-focused career choices and signature dishes.   Not one to steer clear of controversy, Druckman at the end of the volume also asks respondents to self-reflectively share their own personal experiences of complicity—“The C-word”—where they imagine how they, by acts of commission or omission, intentionally or incidentally contributed to women’s subjugation and harassment, particularly in the restaurant business, but also in media.

As in any collection of writings, readers will find some topics and narratives of greater interest than others.  Reflecting my interests in food, religion, and human rights, I found “A Conversation with Devita Davison” (interview format) (pp.144-152) profoundly moving because her responses to Druckman’s leading questions touched on the essential roles of institutionalized religion and faith in advancing her Detroit-based food activism.  In its most recent iteration, her activist problem-solving vision and skills for Detroit’s Food Lab, partnered with African American churches, whose underutilized kitchens facilitated and encouraged small-scale food-processing businesses by low-income women of color, helping them climb out of Detroit’s poverty and hunger while preserving traditional culinary knowledge and products, and contributing to the larger challenges of constructing healthy, sustainable, local food systems. Chief among Davison’s “pressing concerns” (Druckman’s final question to her) are the decline of Black churches and a growing awareness that “capitalism is going to destroy every single thing that these grassroots, community-based organizations were able to create.”  Whereas an earlier era saw church women and kitchens as drivers of community programs, civil rights, and philanthropy, “the churches in our community are losing their power…[as] the demographics of the church are getting older” and younger people do not affiliate, participate, or maintain their significant presence and power in Detroit’s communities.  Churches that used to fund social movements are in decline, and as a result, community organizers turn to foundations, but “foundations are not going to get us to freedom and liberation…I want to create an organization and then be able to share a model for other people to create an organization that’s funded by the people for the people.” (pp. 101-102).  This interview, in particular, captures the strengths of the interviewees and the many ways Druckman’s questions and directions, in these and other formats, bring forth the depth and passions of their experiences and reflections.

My second favorite entry was Tienlon Ho’s essay, “The  Months of Magical Eating” (pp. 80-92) which described her parent and grandparent generations’ traditional wisdom and medicinal arts as contributions to her “eating right” (birds’ nest soup, ginger) during the final months of her pregnancy and immediately following her successful childbirth. She ends by noting she still keeps a jar of this concentrated tonic in her refrigerator: “It is a jar filled with a family’s strength, a nascent wisdom, and the memories of ages that allowed me to bear the weight of this new life barely started.” (p.92). Her lyrical writing evoking visceral images and ideas substantively connect the individual female, through food, to cosmic forces and familial relationships beyond her present self or generation.

A third example that touched me particularly in these times of deep reflection on structural, racist violence in US society, was Von Diaz’ story, “Sitting Still.” Set in the South, it unveils the horrific legacy of lynchings through the telling lens of a simple recipe for “Bobbie Hart’s Banana Pudding” (pp.308-316).

As a collection of food writings by more than 100 female authors, the anthology includes interviews and essays with well-known food historians, cook-book authors, and essayists, including Betty Fussell, Jessica Harris, and Bee Wilson. Wilson’s sharply terse and topical piece on the advantages and disadvantages of evolving “Labor Saving” technology (pp.254-263) for getting essential food on the family table, accessibly touches on so many work-life dilemmas involving feeding and food preparation, offering practical advice without being preachy or pretentious.  The words and images of Kristina Gill, “A Fig by Any Other Name” (pp. 375-383), illustrated with luscious and colorful sexual food imagery, is a clever and subtle triumph for all to enjoy.  Some readers may savor the published volume’s bright color coding (strong to paler orangish to greenish yellows setting off two-person, multi-person interviews or Q&A, and essays). I found the varying hues bold, but also distracting, and wish the heavy paged book had weighed a bit less, to make it more physically comfortable to position and read.  These hard-copy features may or may not translate discernibly into on-line, tinted copy, where volume weight is not an issue.  As SAFN (and other) food-studies readers move in and out of quarantines, they might want to access and read the electronic version, and recommend various particular chapters to students and other colleagues and friends. In the meanwhile, now that my local library is allowing (scheduled, outdoor) book pick-up’s and returns, I hasten to review and return the hard copy for other potentially appreciative readers.

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Webinar on COVID-19 and the Food and Agricultural System

Former SAFN President John Brett sends news of this upcoming webinar, of possible interest to FoodAnthropology readers.

nat acads

still life

Upcoming Webinar
COVID-19 Effects on the Food and Agricultural System

Friday, June 19, 2020 10am – 12pm EDT

The National Academies’ Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) invites you to a virtual panel on COVID-19 effects on the food and agricultural system, which has experienced severe stress from a combination of factors. Workers’ health has been placed at risk, producers have lost markets, and animals and crops have been sacrificed. Meanwhile, food prices are on the rise and unemployed Americans have turned in greater numbers than ever to overstressed food banks.

A panel of distinguished participants in the food and agricultural system will offer perspectives on the impacts and how we can learn from them. Speakers include Tom Vilsack, President and CEO, U.S. Dairy Export Council, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The session is open to the public. You must register in advance to attend.

Register here.

related books

food regulatory book

Free PDF of the book here.

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Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition Statement on Racial Injustice

SAFN stands in support of Black Lives Matter. 

The global food system is replete with racial injustice and this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The people who plant, harvest, prepare, process and serve food, as well as those who clean up after processing, cooking, and eating are disproportionately People of Color. Predatory labor practices force people working within the food system into unsafe conditions, costing the health and sometimes the lives of many. White supremacy and systemic racism undergird the theft of Indigenous land and the loss of Black land, undermining these communities’ food sovereignty. The health of Black, Indigenous, People of Color has also been compromised by food insecurity and trauma, creating comorbidities that increase the vulnerability to diseases such as COVID-19.

SAFN is not looking for a return to normal after the pandemic, but for a new set of practices inspired by food sovereignty where the people responsible for our food are treated fairly and are able to live peaceful lives and where everyone has access to healthy, culturally relevant food. Recognizing that our food system is built on systemic racism and white supremacy, the onus is on us to dismantle it. We commit ourselves to the call to defund policing and to refund the dignity and livelihoods of BIPOC communities, bolstering opportunities for joy and celebration.


We pledge ourselves and call on our membership to do the work of dismantling structural racism and white supremacy in the food system and beyond. As a small step in this direction, we are committed to the following actions:

  • We will direct our student research award to focus on decolonized, ethical research on food justice and food sovereignty. 
  • We will sponsor food justice panels at upcoming professional meetings. 
  • While we recognize the service burden on BIPOC, we will actively recruit for diversity on the SAFN board.
  • We pledge to amplify the voices of BIPOC food scholars and decolonize the anthropology of food, starting with our own Section News column and FoodAnth website. 

If you are in a position to donate, check out these organizations: https://civileats.com/2020/06/02/want-to-see-food-and-land-justice-for-black-americans-support-these-groups/

The SAFN Board

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Review: Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir

Marion Demossier. Burgundy: The Global Story of Terroir. Berghahn. New York. 2018. 270 pp. ISBN: 978-1-78920-627-2 paperback. 

Richard Zimmer, (Sonoma State University)

Marion Demossier’s   engrossing analysis of Burgundy—the wine, the place, the brand—should be imbibed (pun intended!)  on many levels—and slowly, for best appreciation.  Terroir, the particular way the specific characteristics of soil, geography and climate affect the taste of wine (and other foodstuffs),       is the focus through which Demossier  examines the history, branding, and rebranding of Burgundy wines.  She also delineates the changing social structure of production over the centuries into modern times.  It is also the prism through which she explores the ways in which that evolution is affected by French history and politics, marketing within France, marketing internationally and in comparison to other wines, especially New Zealand Pinot Noir. She also delineates how Burgundy wines are marketed in non-European markets, in particular Japan and China.

Throughout her work, Demossier situates this evolution as a creation of a myth about Burgundy and its cultivation, engaging in the larger question of what constitutes authenticity, in this case, of a particular wine. Furthermore, as part of her study, she addresses her own journey as a female anthropologist in an overwhelmingly male field of study and industry.  Lastly, she speculates about the future of Burgundy as a brand and example by itself and in relation to other wine and food products sold internationally.

Burgundy is seen as a terroir brand, with even more specific reference to climats,  specific special vineyards. The  Burgundy region  is seen as a place “blessed by the gods (p.91)”  Demossier recounts a You Tube clip promoting the region’s attempt to apply to UNESCO for world heritage status.  In the clip, an actor dressed as a monk tells the story of Burgundy, the wine and the region.  Briefly, the actor /monk goes back to the Romans and then to the Benedictines.  The latter “’…tasted the soil…(p.91.)’” What constitutes the Burgundy brand is what Demossier shows through the story of one winemaker:  “…a complex fabrication of authenticity throughout the commodity chain, which in some cases resonates or imbricates into a global and hierarchised [sic—UK spelling is used throughout her work] world of values (p.73.)”

Demossier devotes Chapter 3 to “The Taste of Place.”  “Taste, colour  and nose were emphasised  as central to Burgundian wines…(p.81.)”  She is following the lead of Amy Trubek about terroir: “In her seminal book The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir,   Amy Trubek defines terroir as a ‘foodview’, that is to say a food-centred worldview understand their relationship to the land.  (Trubek: 2009. Cited by Demossier p. 83.; see Bibliography)”  As Demossier notes, Trubek situates terroir in France and “…underlines the role that institutions and social practices play in shaping the ways taste comes to define place and vice versa (p.83.)”  Yes, there is still definitional controversy about exactly what terroir means, as Rachel Black notes (2012; 12-13). But taste (and smell) is crucial to understanding how people connect to food (see Sutton 2010: 211 et seq.)

The “myth” of Burgundy wine is many sided, connected, and evolving, in part to meet market needs, historical forces in France and the world, and the ways in which it has been produced over time.  In France,  specific wine types are regulated by the government.  This regulation changes over time.  It is designed to brand and give authenticity to a particular terroir and cru—a vineyard producing  a wine of high quality.  The myth then “demands”  the authenticity of government labelling.  It  also “demands” a “philosophy” of taste, and that philosophy includes a picture of who produces it and how it is enjoyed (p.97 et seq. ) One novelist, Elizabeth Knox, ironically points out the contradictory notions of the components of authenticity.  A New Zealand visitor (where wine is being made in the most modern conditions [Demossier 201:271])concerned about cleanliness in her/his visit to a winery in France,  is told by the  tour guide: “‘Since when was wine all about hygiene?’ (Knox 2000:281.)”

The iconic image developed for  the Burgundy brand is of a vigneron—the person who makes the wine, the diners who drink the wine, the setting in which they drink it, and, of course, the food that accompanies it. As noted earlier, taste–and sociability p.103) are the tropes of the brand—with a background of the wine grower close to the terroir producing this mis en scene. And, as Demossier notes, until recently, the vignerons were men. Now, many women of the Burgundy families  have made their mark (p.46.)

The reality behind this picture is more complex. Especially in the twentieth century and continuing into the present, different actors play different roles in the production and marketing of the wine.  On the production end, some vineyards had been worked by tractors and then later by hand.  The “hand” workers became workers hired to work the land, often helped deliberately by horses to address environmental concerns.  Initially, the vine growers continued practices from the past.  But younger vignerons, especially women winemakers, concerned with organic concerns and climate change, and having attended higher education and technical training, are setting new directions in Burgundy.  And the  wines they market as a result are redefining part of the brand of Burgundy vintages.

The essence of this Burgundy brand, regardless of the price of the particular vintage, is that it is traditional, authentic, peculiar to a region, and seen as a counter to modernization (even if it is produced using modern methods.) Invited to a wine conference, Demossier  spoke eloquently about this topic: “ …I was able to unpack the construction of a historical narrative around the notion of ‘climats’, a twenty-first century invention, but one that is embodied in imagined notions of an enduring and thus authenticated social configuration (p.232.)”  The evolving  redefinition of the Burgundy brand maintains its authenticity, even with changes  in the nature of its production.  As such, it is one of a series of food products, non-food products, and other events that draw on people wanting what they consider to be an “authentic” experience See, for example, https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  for a business approach on authenticity, including its relationship to nostalgia, and Little for a specific discussion of what constitutes a dispute about authenticity by a prospective weaving buyer and the native producer of that item   (2019.)

Yet the branding and portrayal of Burgundy as authentic and anti-modern can be seen in a very different light as well.  Asian markets offer a fertile field for drinking Burgundy.  Demossier shows how newly affluent people are drinking Burgundy and other French wine as a mark of modernization and Westernization (p.165 et seq.)  Japan offers an additional dimension in terms of the mythologizing of wine, because much of its introduction into that market came from manga, Japanese comic books which are teaching and story  telling  media.  Demossier notes  South Koreans and Taiwanese  have  been introduced to wine drinking through their manga as well (pp.168-9.) Asian drinking of French wines  as a statement of modernization and Westernization is not an  isolated phenomenon. Whiskey was originally produced in  Scotland.  The Japanese entered the whiskey production market.  But they may have even outsourced that, so that “authentic Japanese whiskey Is questionable “…because of loose regulations…( Risen 2020: D4.)

Refreshingly, New Zealand, especially in its production of Pinot Noir, has written its own branding story, one of regionality, in contrast to  Burgundy’s terroir story (p. 190.)  Like Burgundy’s emphasis on food, in a national presentation which Demossier attended and spoke, the New Zealand industry paired tastings with local food specialties.  “’Marlborough…salmon; Central Otago…thyme, wild rabbit and apricots…the Pioneers artisan food (p.191.)’” And, like the newer vignerons in Burgundy, New Zealand producers are highly educated and experimenting with ecological methods—and including that dimension  in their branding 9p.217.)  Through the acquisition of World Heritage status, the Burgundy myth has achieved world status as a model for  production and marketing (p. 242.)

This excellent book is appropriate for upper division, graduate students and  professionals in a number of fields—anthropology, sociology, wine studies, marketing and business and  women’s studies.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2017

Little, Walter E. Whatever We Weave is Authentic: Coproducing Authenticity in Guatemalan Tourism Textile Markets. In  Naomi M. Leite, Quetzil E. Castenada, and Kathleen M. Adams, eds. The Ethnography of Tourism: Edward Bruner and Beyond. Lexington Books. New York. pp.  89-105.

2000

Knox, Elizabeth.  The Vintner’s Luck.  Pacador (Farrar, Straus,  and Giroux): New York.

2020

Risen, Clay. Are Japanese Whiskies From Japan?  The New York Times,  June 3, p. D4.

2010

Sutton, David.  Food and the Senses.  Annual Review of Anthropology. 39. pp. 209-33.

2009

Trubek, Amy.  The  Sense of Place:  A Cultural Journey into Terroir. U California: Berkeley.

Websites

2012 Black, Rachel. A Sense of Place. http://www.bu.edu/bhr/files/2012/11/v1n1-Sense-of-Place.pdf (Accessed 06/13/2020.)

2017

“Modicum[sic]”.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/propointgraphics/2017/04/16/nostalgia-marketing-and-the-search-for-authenticity/#64ff2ec767d6  )p. 19. (Accessed 06/13/20.)

 

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