Category Archives: anthropology

Sidney Mintz Celebration


On Friday, Nov. 18, there will be a celebration of Sidney Mintz at the AAA meeting in Minneapolis. For more information and to RSVP, please go here…

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How To Make A Place

David Beriss

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of food in turning a place into a cultural landmark. This is the mirror opposite of the process through which foods acquire their reputation through a linkage to a place. That, of course, is what we refer to these days as terroir. The implication is that the place, through soil, climate, or traditions, is reflected in the food. The process in either direction seems to require that people be self-conscious about making the link work. This is the work of culture and history, not nature.

This is particularly true when the place in question is a store or restaurant, rather than a farm. In the spirit of such things, I want to call attention to a tale of a New Orleans wine shop and its relatively successful efforts to use wine to make a place. I think this is a particularly interesting process because, in a society in which many things are mostly sold in large big box chain stores, success for small-scale local retailers often draws on place-making strategies. This is true for bookstores, hardware stores, bike shops, and, of course, wine stores and other food-related businesses.

The wine shop in this instance is Bacchanal Wine, which is located in New Orleans Upper Ninth Ward, also known as Bywater. It was started in 2002 by Chris Rudge in what was then a slowly (perhaps even very slowly) gentrifying neighborhood in a ramshackle building. I visited a few times back then, mostly because it was near the original location of The Joint, which was a similarly ramshackle barbecue joint just up the street. I visited more often after the 2005 hurricane and floods, when Bacchanal became a bit more than a wine store. There was music in their courtyard, chefs cooking creative foods in an outdoor “kitchen” of sorts, sometimes food trucks. It was a lively and, it turns out, somewhat illegal scene and a sure sign that the neighborhood was changing much more rapidly. Having sorted out their legal issues a few years ago, the shop had to deal more recently with the death of the founding owner.

The wine store remains a lively scene. There is, of course, retail wine for sale in the store. And like a number of other New Orleans wine shops, Bacchanal also serves drinks at its own bar. There is also food, some of which is quite ambitious. And there is live music in their courtyard nearly every evening. There are other wine shops in New Orleans that engage in similar strategies (Swirl and Pearl, for instance), although Bacchanal’s full program may be a bit more ambitious than most (Do wine shops do this in other cities? Tell us about it in the comments.).

In just the last week, the store has added another element in what seems like a distinct effort to create what might be their very own terroir, if such a thing can exist in this sort of setting. They released their own wine, which Rudge and his partners had blended on a trip to California. They have also made a short documentary celebrating both Rudge and the history of the shop. The whole story has been told in interesting detail by Brett Anderson, on the website.

All of this comes together, then, to make a distinct place. Terroir is really not the right word, but it is perhaps the right spirit. Clearly, much of this is self-conscious place-making by the owners of the shop. Given their success, it seems like they have hit upon a strategy that resonates with people in New Orleans and beyond, as this article and video makes clear. This success also raises questions about what this signifies for the neighborhood and the city in general, since there are no doubt those who would prefer a different kind of place making. Yet the process of self-conscious place making itself is fascinating. How else can a small retail store succeed when the very thing they sell is easily available in big grocery stores? By selling place, rather than just wine.


Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, New Orleans, wine

What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, October 12, 2016

A few of food and nutrition-related items that have caught our attention recently. Do you have items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to or

This week’s digest is late because here in South Africa there are massive student protests related to the many issues of rising costs to students, unequal access to education, and so much more. Of course, protesting students need food, and faculty have been showing their support by doing grocery shopping for the students who occupied the executive offices of our university. No articles on that yet, but I’ll keep looking!

Our big food story this week had a much lighter note: South Africans with smartphones (that is, everyone except me) were outraged to find out via a viral WhatsApp message that bananas were infected with HIV… except… wait…that can’t be, right? Right? Well, yeah. Bananas can’t be infected with HIV, and this is a pretty old hoax. But the rumours caused a serious enough panic that the National Department of Health had to issue a statement, entitled, “A malicious statement circulating about bananas and the ministry of health” (yes, I did have to include the full title of the statement)  assuring the public that they could, in fact, continue to eat bananas. Whew.

Although the banana story may seem like a bizarre anecdote depicting our own gullibility (and something about social media), I wonder if it speaks to common fears about a global, opaque and disconnected food supply, where all the unknowns that big agriculture make anything seem possible. The scale of big agriculture was depicted recently in a NYTimes Series “Can Big Food Change”, with one article showing these grand pictures of large-scale food production.

In this age of global food, people spend a lot of time fighting to retain the unique story, taste and quality of their food, as described in this story from The Atlantic of a specific brand of East German pickles. Global agriculture has also led to a rapid decrease in the number of species of foods we consume, yet there’s also a vast array of foods that have spread from continent to continent, as described in this article about the spread of African crops.

Connecting big agriculture, diet, and climate change is a hot topic, and rightly so, given the major part that agriculture plays in global warming. This week, there was an article in The Guardian about the potential high yields of agroecological farming, arguing that current farming practices in BigAg are not the only way to feed the world. Also in The Guardian was an article about the UN recommendation to decrease meat consumption for the sake of the planet. Indeed, eating less meat is one way of decreasing the emissions related to agriculture. Civil Eats writes about a study relating U.S. masculinity and meat consumption, with the conclusion that men shouldn’t need meat to feel manly, but they might currently feel like they do given a broader social context.

Lastly, check out this wonderful article about high quality bread in the face of war in Syria.

Have you written something interesting about food this week? Tell us about it!

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11th Annual Wine Economics Conference

We recently received the following announcements, which may be of interest to all of you wine anthropologists:

The 11th Annual Conference of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) will be held from Jun 28 – Jul 2, 2017 in Padova/ItalyWe consider all wine topics related to economics, statistics, and business including submissions that overlap with adjacent fields such as (but not limited to) psychology, neuroscience, history, linguistics, viticulture, law or oenology. Submission Deadline: Dec 15, 2016(Details).
AAWE is offering 3 Research Scholarships. Each Scholarship pays US$1,500 and grants free admission to the Annual AAWE Conference in Padova/Italy. Submission Deadline: Nov 15, 2016. (Details)
From 2017 on, the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) will publish a new Journal called “Journal of Wine Economics: Selected Proceedings”. JWE:SP will appear once a year, immediately after AAWE’s  annual conference, and will draw on selected conference papers, which are typically short (up to 3,000 words) and may be non-technical. For JWE:SP, the editors will consider single papers as well as entire sessions. 

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, economics, wine

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, October 4, 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 or

Let’s start this week with a rumination on the meaning of “sustainability” across languages and cultures. This piece, from María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza and Emily Yates-Doerr, raises questions about how to think about this term while we are rethinking the tropes of modernity. From English, to Spanish, to Mam, in highland Guatemala, this brief-but-provocative article is part of Cultural Anthropology’s “Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen.”

The same companies that supply your campus food service probably also run food services for American prisons…and they do so, in many states, for very little money. This article looks at the monetary constraints that have been imposed on prisons, even as the U.S. incarcerates a growing population. Is there anything wrong with running a prison food service as for profit enterprise? Is it important for prisoners to receive good nutrition? Apparently these are not rhetorical questions.

On a more upbeat food service note, the National Museum of African American History and Culture recently opened in Washington, DC and it has a restaurant. Writers from Smithsonian Magazine provide an overview of some of the foods served there, along with their history, here.

How essential is online media to the success of restaurants? How much has the development—in just the last decade—of web sites and blogs devoted to chefs and restaurants changed the business of providing food to the public? This short piece from Grub Street (one of those sites) explores these questions.

There have been a number of articles about the dismal wages many restaurant workers make in the U.S. and about efforts to remedy that by moving away from tipping. But much of what we have read on this topic is New York-centric. Want to know more about how this is playing out in the rest of the U.S.? This article, from Helen Freund in the New Orleans Gambit is a good place to start. How is this debate going on where you live?

What kinds of organizations advocate for farmers in the United States? There are many, of course, with a lot of different political perspectives. Read this interview with Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union to learn about that particular organization’s approach to various food and agriculture issues.

Trade agreements have been getting seriously bad press in the current U.S. presidential campaign. It is possible, however, that not all trade agreements are bad. Read this short article about trade agreements on organic foods that recognize organic standards in other countries. And for a more in depth analysis, here is a link to the report referred to in the article.

You have probably seen all the advertisements for services that will deliver meals directly to you, with ingredients that you can easily prepare. Is this a healthy alternative to actually cooking? Is it a gateway to real cooking? Ankita Rao tries one service, then explores some other interesting ways in which people are being taught how and what to cook. Also, Krishnendu Ray is interviewed.

Many of you probably have deeply researched ideas about why some foods are kosher and others are not. But have you ever wondered how wine gets to be kosher? Or why most bourbon and some Scotch is kosher? From “The Alcohol Professor” (in this case, Amanda Schuster), a handy guide to and analysis of this fraught topic.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

Mill City Museum

David Beriss

Going to Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association? Readers of this blog will probably want to explore the diverse foods available around the Twin Cities, maybe check out the markets, or seek out some craft beer. If you have time, however, I suggest you visit the Mill City Museum, located on the site of what was once the largest flour mill in the world. It is a fascinating museum, an architectural marvel, and located next to what was once the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi. And it may give you some insights into our food system’s biggest players.


Mill City Museum

The Twin Cities have a reputation for being home to hipsters, a diverse array of immigrants, progressive politics, and Garrison Keillor. There is, however, a pantheon of American food deities based in Minnesota. The Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Betty Crocker, the Trix Rabbit, Count Chocula, Lucky the Leprechaun, and many of the other characters that inhabit your grocery store shelves or home pantry were born in Minnesota. As the historic home of General Mills, Pillsbury, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Hormel, Land O’Lakes, Schwan Foods, and many other food-related corporations, Minnesota might just be the Mount Olympus of American industrial food.

I grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, more or less unaware of any of this. I think I imagined that the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant was somewhere in rural Minnesota, possibly near my grandparent’s home in Austin, not far from the Iowa border. Austin is where Hormel is based and where they make Spam. But the food industry was actually right in front of me nearly every day in Bloomington and I never noticed it. I grew up on Washburn Avenue South and attended Washburn Elementary School. I never gave any thought to the name “Washburn.” The streets in Minneapolis and its suburbs are arranged in a series of convenient alphabets. Washburn is between Vincent and Xerxes, which seemed like an explanation all by itself. After all, Xerxes is not, as far as I know, a figure in Minnesota history, so why raise questions about Washburn?


Cadwallader C. Washburn

It turns out that the street is named after Cadwallader Colden Washburn. Washburn was one of those nineteenth century guys with an amazingly varied career. Originally from Maine, he was involved in a wide range of businesses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. He was elected to Congress from Wisconsin in the 1850s, was an active abolitionist, and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was eventually elected governor of Wisconsin. For our purposes, perhaps the most important thing he did was build some of the biggest flour mills in the world. Those mills contributed to making Minneapolis into one of the world centers for flour milling from the late nineteenth century until the 1920s. Whence the name “Mill City.” Washburn’s company eventually became General Mills.

The museum is located inside the ruins of the Washburn “A” Mill, built in 1874. In 1878 flour dust triggered an explosion that destroyed the mill, along with several other mills along the Mississippi, killing at least 18 workers. It seems that flour dust can be quite explosive. In rebuilding the mill, Washburn worked with an Austrian engineer, William de la Barre, to develop a system for controlling the dust and making the mills safer. You can learn about this whole process at the museum – they even stage demonstrations of flour dust explosions in the museum, for those who like pyrotechnics with their museum experience.

The mill closed in 1965 and, after sitting derelict for decades, nearly burned down in 1991. Built inside the ruins of the mill, the museum is a great example of what can be done with abandoned industrial sites. The museum exhibits detail the history of making flour in the Twin Cities and should provide you with some insights into how Minnesota became a center for industrial food. And if you have had enough industrial food history, there is a farmer’s market nearby.

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The SCOBY Schism

Several of us here at the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition recently had the pleasure of reviewing submissions for our annual Christine Wilson Award. Winners have been selected and will be recognized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. It is common to say all the submissions were great, but, in fact, they were and we want to call attention to that fact by publishing abstracts of all submissions. We are starting with a paper that reflects on the growing enthusiasm for fermentation in the U.S. and, in this case, the intersection of biology and culture encountered in the world of kombucha brewing. Erika Kelly, who is an undergraduate, wrote a paper that demonstrated a grasp of the relevant literature one might expect from a graduate student and that raised great questions about the home fermentation movement. Her paper’s abstract is below.

 The SCOBY Schism: Rethinking Self and Space with Home-Brewed Kombucha

Erika L. Kelly
The University of Chicago

Over the past ten years fermentation, specifically the making of kombucha, has experienced an upsurge in the U.S., especially among health enthusiasts and food activists. Portrayed as a lifestyle by its practitioners, kombucha-making is supported both as a means of returning to culinary and ecological roots and as a product of modern nutritional science knowledge.


Kombucha Culture Up Close. Photo by Erika Kelly.

Online social media platforms surrounding the practice reveal that kombucha is highly variable due to the biological liveliness of the beverage. Practitioners use these social media sites to collaborate, sharing and receiving experiential knowledge that guides their practice. In my paper, I explore why the upsurge of kombucha-making in contemporary U.S. homes persists, as told through these platforms, as well as how this food practice functions differently than other methods of food production and eating in the U.S. (Katz 2006; Latour 1988; Mintz 1996). I trace the discourse of fermentation communities on various Internet blogs and social forums, as well as in printed texts. I also incorporate images and narrative, reflecting the multifaceted sites in which this practice appears. Through these means, I analyze the upsurge of kombucha-making as a lifestyle, as depicted by practitioners, and how this lifestyle rethinks the self and home in the context of contemporary U.S. food industry (Kaika 2004; Rabinow 1992). Ultimately, I argue that by welcoming bacteria and yeast into their bodies and homes, practitioners emphasize the sociopolitical potential of microorganisms (Paxon 2008; Power 2009; Tsing 2012). Home fermentation and its bacterial basis incite new trans-corporeal, interactive modes of living that call for deeper consideration of the natural world, the past, and the future (Abrahamsson and Bertoni 2014; Alaimo 2010; Tuana 1996).


Abrahamsson, Sebastian, and Filippo Bertoni

2014    Compost Politics: Experimenting with Togetherness in Vermicomposting. Environmental Humanities 4: 125–148.

Alaimo, Stacey

2010    Bodily Natures. In Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Bodily Self Pp. 1–25. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Kaika, Maria

2004    Interrogating the Geographies of the Familiar: Domesticating Nature and Constructing the Autonomy of the Modern Home. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 28(2): 265–86.

Katz, Sandor Ellix

2006    The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved:  Inside America’s Underground Food Movements. White River Junction: Chelsea Publishing.

Latour, Bruno

1988    The Pasteurization of France. Translated by Alan Sheridan and John Law.  Harvard University Press.

Mintz, Sidney W.

1996    Eating American. In Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom Pp. 106–124. Boston: Beacon Press.

Paxon, Heather

2008    Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw-Milk Cheese in the United States. Cultural Anthropology 23(1): 15–47.

Power, Emma R.

2009    Domestic Temporalities: Nature Times in the House-as-Home. Geoforum 40: 1024–1032.

Rabinow, Paul

1992    Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality. In Zone 6: Incorporations. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, eds. Pp. 234–252. Canada: Bradbury Tamblyn and Boorne Ltd., distributed by MIT Press.

Tsing, Anna

2012    Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species. Environmental Humanities 1: 141–154.

Tuana, Nancy

1996    Fleshing Gender, Sexing the Body: Refiguring the Sex/Gender Distinction. The Southern Journal of Philosophy XXXV, Supplement: 53–71.


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Filed under anthropology, awards, Christine Wilson