Category Archives: anthropology

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, August 23, 2016

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

Ramen is probably one of the most popular and familiar foods on the planet, as readers of Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz’s 2013 book “The Noodle Narratives” know. The Guardian wrote about work by sociologist Michael Gibson-Light, who discusses how ramen have become prized commodities and a kind of currency in the U.S. prison system, where privatization and reduced government funding have resulted in less food available for inmates.

How do people make living conditions in refugee camps tolerable? This stunning article looks at conditions inside Yida, a refugee camp in South Sudan and tells the stories of women who have started restaurants there. Along with stories of survival and ingenuity, there are great details about food cultures, bureaucracy, and more, along with brilliant photography.

In the last few decades, Community Supported Agriculture has been seen by many as a model of how farmers and consumers can escape industrial agriculture. It helps small family farms thrive and provides consumers with better quality foods. At least, that is the idea. But is the model sustainable? This article from Small Farm Central examines recent data to argue that there are significant threats to the long-term success of the CSA model. The author also provides potential solutions.

When we subscribe to a CSA or shop at the farmers market, we often think that we are engaging in more ethical consumption. After all, what could be better than purchasing food from local producers? In this article, political scientist Margaret Gray calls attention to the working conditions farmworkers encounter even in small farms. Unless we pay attention and lobby for better laws and conditions, local may not always be very different from industrial farming, at least for workers.

Many people are aware that the monoculture of Cavendish bananas presents all sorts of problems, not the least of which is that the bananas themselves may disappear due to disease. Critics argue that there are better banana varieties out there, but finding ways for farmers to produce them and get them to market is difficult. Writer Aaron Thier makes an argument for a better banana and explains how to get it to market here.

Following the banana theme, Fabio Parasecoli provides a nicely educational review of the movie Sausage Party, which he suggests draws on tired old ethnic stereotypes and frat boy politics in an effort to explore the lives of grocery store products. He may not like the movie, but the review will provide you with a useful history on ethnicity, animated food, and bananas.

TGI Friday’s is changing its décor, from the antique-heavy jumble that you may have seen, to something more sleek and early 21st century. But where did the original style come from? This article from Collector’s Weekly explores the history of the antique décor phenomenon in American restaurants. Birth control, fern bars, Americana, and more…this is dense and surprising history. Where all the antiques come from…and where “decluttering” may lead.

If you read this blog, then you probably also watch a lot of very serious and high minded documentaries about food. They are all excellent, no doubt, and we watch them too (and sometimes recommend them in this column). So here is a parody of all of those films. There is a little gesture at the end that is killer.

Cookbooks are a great source for scholars who want to look at the way people think about food at any given moment or in particular places. If you are in New York City, you have until September 9 to see the exhibition “Nourishing Tradition: Jewish Cookbooks and the Stories they Tell” at the Center for Jewish History. Meanwhile, here is a brief but excellent article about the exhibition and the questions it raises.

Over at always-interesting-but-sometimes-cryptic Savage Minds, William Cotter and Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson have written about the increasingly complex world of specialty coffee in the United States. They focus particular attention on issues of class and race. Worth a read, although your next cup of hipster-approved java may be a little more bitter after you do.

Looking for films to use in your classes this fall? Here is a list of nineteen films recommended by the folks at FoodTank (who love making lists even more than we do), some very serious, some quite fun.

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Food, Space, Place–Edited Volume

An intriguing call for papers of potential interest to FoodAnthropology readers:

Initial Call for Abstracts

Food, Space, Place–Edited Volume

Editor: Carlnita P. Greene, Ph.D.

Ranging from public markets and urban agriculture to food carts and mobile phones, today, the convergence between food, space, and place almost is taken for granted since it has become an ordinary facet of daily life. It is because these aspects are most central to our lives that it is crucial for us to understand the multifaceted ways in which food, space, and place shape our experiences and the meanings that we create about them. Yet, rather than examining these phenomena as separate or discrete entities, this edited volume explores the nexus of food/drink, space, and place, locally and globally. Both multi-and interdisciplinary in scope, its aim is to offer a broad array of theories, methods, and perspectives that can be used as lenses for analyzing the interconnections between food/drink, space, and place.

Therefore, I seek contributions from scholars in diverse fields, including the humanities, sciences, and/or social sciences, who are working in this area of research. Potential questions/topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How do food/drink, space, and place contribute to a multiplicity of human activities and experiences?
  • How do we engage with food/drink, space, and place both as individuals or within groups?
  • How do food/drink, space, and place shape performances, the senses, and/or embodied experiences?
  • How do we understand our relationships with food or drink as rooted within particular spaces/places?
  • How might our relationships to food/drink, space, and place shape our views of nature, the environment, and our natural resources?
  • How do we come to know and to understand ourselves through food/drink, space, and place?
  • How do food/drink, space, and place shape our relationships with others?

If you are interested in contributing a chapter, please e-mail me with a title, a short abstract of 300-500 words, your academic affiliation, and your contact information as an attachment (MS Word format). These materials should be sent to Carlnita P. Greene, University of Oregon,cgreene@uoregon.edu by September 18, 2016This is an initial call for abstracts.

All potential contributors will be notified of acceptance by October 9, 2016 and full manuscripts will be due on January 31, 2017. Additionally, although the project is in early stages, a publisher (whom I have worked with in the past) has expressed potential interest in publishing the book.

Please circulate this CFP to any colleagues who might be interested.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, August 15 edition

Since I spend an inordinate amount of time reading about food, I thought it would be great to share articles that I’d been reading. The only problem with this plan is that I hear about many of my favourite food reads right here on the FoodAnthro (and that I unapologetically use British spelling). So you’ve guessed by now that I’m not Lauren or David. I’m new. My name is Jo Hunter-Adams, and I’m based at University of Cape Town (I’m South African, though I spent my twenties becoming Bostonian enough to follow the Red Sox from Cape Town). I’m going to be writing these columns every two weeks.

Please do help me by telling me about food stories that are interesting, informative or weird (or any other adjective you like). You can email me at hunterjo at gmail.com.

The Guardian wrote about Italy’s policy focused on allowing donated food. “But the move to encourage Italians to use doggy bags to take leftovers home from restaurants is perhaps one of the biggest cultural changes envisioned by the law. In many restaurants, and among many Italians, such requests are rare.”

The Conversation writes about the challenge of agricultural technology keeping pace with climate change , where the rapidity of temperature change sometimes means that by the time a new crop is ready to be used, the temperature has already changed too much for it to the advantage that the scientists were selecting for in the first place.

Corinna Hawkes argues in The Guardian that we need to break down some of the dichotomies around food supplies, in favour of a “diversity of approaches:”

A better food supply will be built by lots of small strategies in an overarching framework, not by any big single mega solution.

Here’s a South African article about bread, which is a main staple in poor communities, using a very familiar narrative about the value/morality of homemade food (while noting the limitations of those, particularly for a disabled baker):

Currently affordable bread is not sufficiently nutritious. One of the biggest challenges in poor communities in South Africa is a lack of education and knowledge about healthy bread. These communities will need to be taught about the nutritional value of stone-ground flour and bread baked using timeless, non-automated methods.

To borrow from Tolstoy: all good food is alike, but each bad food is bad in its own way. Irina Dimitrescu writes a fascinating article in The Atlantic about the subjectivity and fascination of “bad” food:

How many more scrumptious, luscious desserts, or meltingly tender meats can readers stand to hear about? How many more inspirational grandmas, tending to the stove? Badness, on the other hand, is specific and endlessly varied. There are so many culinary catastrophes, each one with its own individual meaning.

Is there anything in the world of food writing you especially enjoyed this week? Tell us about it.

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Review: Stirring the Pot

 

Cover of 'Stirring the Pot'

Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine. James C. McCann. Ohio University Press. 2009

Mary B. Sundal
Washburn University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

As part of the Africa in World History series, Stirring the pot: A history of African cuisine by James C. McCann focuses on ingredients, meals, cooking, and cuisine as expressions of cultural identity. Contrary to popular (mis)conceptions about African foodways as a constant source of economic struggle, McCann explores food in African history “as a creative composition at the heart of all cultural expressions of ourselves as humans” (p. 2). To do so, McCann relies on primary historical resources, and work from geographers (e.g., Judith Carney), anthropologists (e.g., Audrey Richards), and novelists (e.g., Chinua Achebe) to provide readers with the rich sensory experience of African food. Furthermore, he weaves in contemporary recipes, and not just those found in cookbooks but “recipes” he collected from African cooks. Women described the basic ingredients necessary for a particular dish and the sensory experience of cooking and tasting. “She uses onomatopoeia (tuk tuk) to suggest the sounds made by the bubbling stew when it reaches its proper consistency. She uses her hands to indicate amounts and how to stir or to taste. In other words, to tell you how to make the dish, she has to show you using sounds and gestures. Written words convey little of the true sense of how to cook shiro wet sauce” (p. 85). It is in these descriptions that I found McCann’s illumination of the cultural aspect of food and cooking to be the most effective.

Stirring the Pot covers a hefty array of food related topics, which proves to be both the book’s strength and weakness. In part one, “basic ingredients,” McCann describes the availability of ingredients during precolonial and colonial times to show how these foodstuffs became staples in African cooking pots. Chapter two provides a great resource—one that could easily be incorporated an Anthropology of Food or Peoples and Cultures of Africa university course—on the cultural importance and environmental requirements of starchy staples including African grains such as finger millet, teff, and indigenous yams as well as New World grains, mostly importantly maize.

Turning away from African foodstuffs broadly, part two traces the development of Ethiopian highland cuisine to a specific event:  Queen Taytu’s feast in 1887. “The feast was thus one of the first acts that presented the new center of the Ethiopian state and its assertion of a site from which Menilek (and Taytu) sought to build a new political culture and claim a new national identity” (p. 71-72). McCann convincingly argues that Taytu’s feast was the point at which a national cuisine emerged in Ethiopia. While I truly enjoyed reading part two—especially the detailed descriptions of Taytu’s role as a female cook, household manager, and political leader—this section seems a bit disjointed from the rest of the text and could have been expanded into an entire text on its own.

The third part of the book, “Africa’s cooking: Some common ground of culture and cuisine” returns our attention to the history of West Africa, the central and southern maize belt, and maritime coasts. McCann argues that unlike in Ethiopia, the rest of sub-Saharan Africa does not have clear national cuisines but “broader patterns of cooking and signature foods the connect regions” (p. 107). Through a description of the cultural variation of starchy food preparation and consumption, McCann effectively shows how cultural diffusion—through intra-continental trade, the Atlantic slave trade, and colonialism—altered food habits and daily sustenance but did not eliminate core characteristics of West African diets. Much of the data for McCann’s argument comes from two female anthropologists, Margaret Field and Audrey Richards, who examined women’s contributions to daily sustenance by recording (and publishing) the oral traditions of food preparation. The second section in part three details the influence of culture contact on local women’s interpretations of diet throughout the maize belt. McCann here tackles how maize became the “food of choice” replacing sorghum, millet, and rice in African cooking pots. In addition, McCann categorizes the various relishes, or vegetable sauces, African women used to complement maize porridge. Again, McCann relies quite heavily on anthropological sources for these accounts, making part three particularly attractive for use in anthropology courses.

The final part of the book examines diaspora cuisine as two waves of culture contact:  the Atlantic slave trade and African emigration to the New World since the 1970s. McCann provides a host of recipes to compare African American, Creole, Brazilian, and Caribbean cooking to their West African counterparts. In this section McCann also returns to the thread of a national cuisine as Ethiopian fare appears to be the most popular African cuisine (re)produced in the New World.

Stirring the pot: A history of African cuisine is an informative book and is suitable for a diverse audience, including anthropologists interested in food preparation and consumption both across the African continent and in the diaspora. While the underlying theme of food as a living history of culture change is evident throughout the text, the four parts of the book have a very broad focus making the text more episodic than a thorough examination of one topic. However, the diversity of topics adeptly meets the African in World History series’ goals of making African history accessible to secondary students, university students, and general readers to “stimulate further inquiry and comparison” (p. xi).

 

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Post Doc: Dietary transitions in Ghanaian cities

Post Doc Opportunity that may interest FoodAnthropology readers:

PROJECT INFORMATION 

Title of project: Dietary transitions in Ghanaian citiesmapping the factors in the social and physical food environments that drive consumption of energy dense nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods and beverages, to identify interventions targeting women and adolescent girls throughout the reproductive life course.

Project objectives: To examine factors in social and physical food environments of African cities that drive consumption of EDNP foods and beverages, and harness this understanding to develop interventions to reduce their consumption.

Institutions Involved:

Full name of lead organization: University of Sheffield, UK

Name and title of project director: Professor Michelle Holdsworth School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield,

Setting:

Two Ghanaian cities of different stages of transition: provincial city (Ho), and capital city (Accra).

Study population:

Women/adolescent girls living in lower wealth quintile neighborhoods at four key stages of the reproductive life course: i. Early adolescence (13-14y) not pregnant or breastfeeding; ii. Pregnancy (15-49y); iii. Breastfeeding (15-49y); and iv. Women/older adolescents not breastfeeding or pregnant (15-49y). Community informants and national stakeholders will also be interviewed.

Proposed methods:

A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to examine factors in the social and physical food environments that drive consumption of EDNP foods and beverages: longitudinal qualitative interviews with women/adolescent girls including 24hr recall and Photovoice; Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping; and a photography exhibition.

Project duration – 24 months

Proposed start date – November 2016

Number of postdoc positions: Two, a 24 month, and a 12 month – available; start date Nov 2016.

Potential Candidates at this stage should email their CV (including referees) and statement of research interests to the following contacts:

Dr. Amos Laar, University of Ghana, School of Public Health, Accra, Ghana.  Email: alaar@ug.edu.gh or amos.laar@gmail.com

More information about the conditions for the postdoc will be included in the official advert.

Deadline for submission of pre-application expression of interest:  September 5 2016.

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Thomas Marchione Award

Thomas Marchione Award:

Recognizing Outstanding Student Research

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

Ideally, the recipient will be working towards, in Dr. Marchione’s words, “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work. 

Eligibility: Open to Masters and Doctoral level students who will have completed their coursework and research proposal by the time of the annual American Anthropological Association meeting.  Students already engaged in relevant research, action or advocacy may apply in acknowledgement of their accomplishments.  Students must be members of the AAA to apply.  Proposals must be focused on developing world countries.

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

DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 10, 2016

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

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, August 8 Edition

 

The inter-webs are exploding with fascinating food and nutrition readings; we can hardly keep up here at FoodAnthropology.

Before we get to the readings, however, we would like to welcome a new contributor to our team. Starting next week, Jo Hunter-Adams, from the University of Cape Town, will join the FoodAnthropology team as a regular contributor to this rubric. With a background in public health research, we are looking forward to even more interesting reading recommendations. She can be contacted at hunterjo@gmail.com. In fact, if you have interesting links, feel free to share them with her or with me at dberiss@gmail.com.

What does it mean if restaurants in some cities are so expensive that even the professional restaurant critics cry uncle? In this piece from the New York Times, Daniel Duane explores the implications of the stunning levels of inequality in San Francisco, where the super-rich eat ever more exotic and expensive dishes, while the people who cook them cannot find affordable housing anywhere in the region. Los Angeles provides an alternative model in this story.

But Los Angeles, despite being a great food city, has its own problems. Listen to this excellent example of investigative journalism from Karen Foshay at KCRW about wage theft in the Los Angeles restaurant industry. This is part of a series that explores a variety of issues in the industry, including injuries and healthcare, rape and assault, and trafficking.

In our last digest, we posted about the food politics of the U.S. presidential candidates. This week we have an article about the way food is used to shape the image of a candidate. In this case, it is Donald Trump, who not only eats fast food, but wants to make sure you know about it. Read this and you will. Meanwhile, if you are curious about who Mr. Trump might get his ideas about food policy from, read this article from Mother Jones.

One of the odder controversies to surface after the Democratic National Convention followed Michelle Obama’s speech, in which she noted that the White House was built with slave labor. Here at FoodAnthropology we thought this was a well-known fact, but it turns out that we were wrong, because Obama’s comment surprised many. What was less surprising was that someone—in this instance, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly—felt it necessary to claim that the enslaved were “well-fed” and thus were not so bad off after all. This weird effort to soften slavery has long been a strange part of American historical discourse and this time food scholar Michael Twitty responded with both facts and a challenge to O’Reilly to eat like an enslaved person for a week.

Related to politics and not necessarily about food, The Nation has announced its annual Student Writing Contest. The objective is to write an 800 word essay on the question: “It’s clear that the political system in the United States isn’t working for many young people. What do you think is the central issue for your generation in Election 2016?” Six college students and six high school students will be selected as finalists and from those two winners will be chosen. There are substantial awards available. And it would be really great if the winning essays raised food policy issues.

As long as we are being timely, it is worth noting the quadrennial fascination with what Olympic athletes eat. NPR recently republished a piece from 2012 that looks at the caloric needs of different kinds of Olympians. Bon Appetit interviews a dietitian who helps approve the menus for the Olympic Village.

And while we are focusing on Brazil, Bridget Huber wrote this interesting article on that country’s food politics in The Nation, published, it is worth noting, in collaboration with the always-interesting Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The idea of “cultural appropriation” and the debate about who has the right to speak (or write) about different societies and cultures is one of the more interesting and intense areas of food studies. Journalist Laura Shunk explores the issues in a somewhat anguished fashion in this article, building her perspective from her experiences writing about food in the U.S. and then spending a year doing research in China. Whatever you end up thinking about the article, she also includes several very useful links to some key voices in this debate in the U.S.

Related to the cultural appropriation theme: One of the prime complaints about food media (mentioned in Shunk’s article above) is the way some journalists tend to exoticize the foods of others. It is interesting to think about what happens when we exoticize our own foods for others. That might be what is going on in this article from the new-ish website extracrisply.com, which explores the joys of livermush in North Carolina. Or maybe this one, which is about a Cincinnati delicacy called Goetta. Or perhaps this brief note on boudin in south Louisiana. All of this is part of the web site’s regional meat week, which you may find fun or you may want to critique (or both – you are allowed to do both).

For something that is both exotic and vaguely disturbing, listen to the latest episode of Gravy, the podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance. This one explores why German food is popular in Huntsville, Alabama. Let’s just say that Nazis are involved and the podcast raises uncomfortable questions about the history of the U.S. missile program. Or at least they should be uncomfortable questions, as the podcast demonstrates.

In case you missed it, eminent anthropologist and SAFN member Richard Wilk posted some thoughts on food waste, wasted food, and what people consider edible across cultures on the Huffington Post in July.

Over at the always-interesting Savage Minds site, they have recently published two items on the anthropology of food. This is part of a series called Anthropologies #22 (you will have to ask them what the number refers to). The first one, by James Babbit, looks at meat, agriculture, industry, and alternatives. The second, by Zofia Boni, draws on the author’s research in schools in Warsaw to develop ideas about what it means to study food in general.

And to finish this week, the folks at The Salt (NPR’s food blog) have created this nicely educational quiz on what restaurants were like in the U.S. 100 years ago. To create it, they drew on the book Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910, by Michael Lesy and Lisa Stoffer (2013, Norton).

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