Category Archives: anthropology

Review: Caviar Dreams

 

Caviar Dreams Movie Poster

Caviar Dreams. Directed by Brian Gersten, Liv Dubendorf, Wei Ying. A Democracy through Documentary Kartemquin Films project in conjunction with KTQ Labs and Wake Forest University’s Documentary Film Program. 2017. 15 minutes. Available from The Video Project (videoproject.com)

David McMurray (Oregon State University)

The film opens with a funny excerpt from a 1996 “Iron Chef” episode that underlines the opulence, delicacy and desirability traditionally conjured up by the mention of caviar. The first talking head belongs to a historian of caviar named Inga Saffron, who is also a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. While she talks the camera pans the Philly skyline and then down to the big, red Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture that is so iconic of the city. Her own recounting of personal caviar consumption is accompanied on the screen by newsreel footage of people eating caviar in a French restaurant in what looks to be the Roaring Twenties, then a shot of Saffron nibbling a teaspoon of it, then her book cover, and then a pen and ink drawing of a Mod Era party scene that starts to bleed with the black ink associated with caviar. The film next cuts to a more downbeat Chicago fishmonger named Dirk Fucik. He is a kind of secular missionary for sturgeon roe, urging the walk-in clients to his shop to taste the many different varieties he keeps open and on hand for just such occasions. Cut to a clip of Tom Hanks in the 1988 film “Big” choking on caviar and crackers while Fucik extolls caviar’s virtues but warns that it’s an acquired taste. This is followed by newsreel footage of giant sturgeon being unloaded from Romanian fishing vessels sometime in the not too distant past.

Next we are taken to The Atlantic Caviar & Sturgeon Company plant, nestled in amongst the fields and foothills of Happy Valley, North Carolina. Here among the fish tanks Dr. Jeff Hinshaw, listed as a “caviar farmer,” delivers the bombshell that is the message of the film: all caviar today comes only from farmed fish. Even though an international ban on wild-caught caviar came into effect during the 1990s, poaching continued to decimate the sturgeon in the wild. Today, instead of pulling them into rowboats with gaff hooks during spawning season in the Caspian Sea, they use sonograms in North Carolina tank farms to determine when the fish have enough eggs to harvest.

The film ends with some short clips of caviar overconsumption as portrayed on various television series. In the voiceover Inga Saffron lectures us about the long-term ecological consequences of our desire to have everything available to eat at all times and places. Sturgeon roe went from being the food of the poor through the nineteenth century to that of the rich in the twentieth. Its transformation into a famous delicacy sent its prices skyrocketing and it sources into decline. Can size also declined proportionately, until today caviar is measured in dollars per gram. Sturgeon disappeared in the wild, according to Saffron, because nobody was paying attention to the long-term consequences of mass marketing a finite foodstuff. So rare and expensive has it become that many of us may pass through life never having tasted the original form of this decadent delicacy.

I recount the film almost scene by scene in the hope of giving the reader some sense of the extraordinarily clever editing and visual richness that characterize the whole work. With the possible exception of the slightly blurry “Iron Chef” clip at the start, there is absolutely nothing in it that suggests this is a student film. The dialogue and beautifully matched, humorous visuals never allow interest to wander. They carry the film along with confidence; never stumbling. I personally would have preferred a bit more didactic finger wagging about caviar being a canary in the ecological coalmine, but that would have begun to drag the film down and would have taken away from the equally important other subject of the film, which is the surprising role caviar has played in the popular culture of the twentieth century.

 

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ASFS Deadlines, Awards, Opportunities

There is a slew of deadlines, awards, and opportunities for anyone interested in the activities of the Association for the Study of Food and Society. These include an extended deadline for the best food studies conference in North America, student travel awards, and a search for a new editor of the ASFS flagship journal. See below and apply for whatever works for you. The deadlines are approaching fast for most of these.

ASFS Student Paper Awards

Received from Riki Saltzman, regarding the ASFS student paper awards (follow the link below for contact information):

Student Award Submission Guidelines

http://www.food-culture.org/asfs-student-paper-award/

Deadline for Annual Submission (all required material): February 1. NO Exceptions! Electronic submissions ONLY!

The ASFS invites current undergraduate and graduate to submit a paper for the William Whit (undergraduate) and Alex McIntosh (graduate) prizes, respectively. These awards recognize students’ contributions to the field of food studies. There will be one award each for an undergraduate student paper and a graduate student paper. ASFS welcomes submissions on a wide range of issues relating to food, society and culture, and from the diverse disciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields that ASFS encompasses. The author of each award-winning paper will receive:

* $500

* payment of annual membership and conference fees to be applied to the following year if student is not attending in the current year

* a free banquet ticket for the coming year’s annual meeting or the following year’s if a ticket has already been purchased or the student is not attending the conference in the current year; and

* the opportunity to present prize-winning papers at an ASFS/AFHVS conference. Winners who wish to present the year they receive their award must have submitted a conference abstract by the conference deadline in that same year.

Please note

* Authors are highly encouraged to simultaneously submit an abstract to the ASFS/AFHVS conference by the conference deadline. Conference organizers cannot add your paper to an already completed program; you MUST submit an abstract by the deadline.

* Prize winning papers may be presented at an ASFS/AFHVS conference within two years of award. Those prize winners who submit a conference abstract in the subsequent two years, should indicate their award status (year and name of award) with the abstract.

* Prize winners may also postpone their registration and banquet ticket use for one year following the award.

Follow the link above for additional information!

ASFS/AFHVS Conference Deadline Extended!

From the conference organizers:

The original late submission deadline for the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences has come and gone — but your opportunity to submit a presentation proposal has not!  The schedule is nearly full, but we still have room.  Don’t miss your chance to learn, network, and explore in the breathtakingly beautiful (and delicious) State of Alaska!

The revised submission deadline is Jan 15.  

And, just like you should hustle to submit your abstract(s), you should also begin to explore your travel plan options NOW.  For our part, we’ll hustle to send out remaining acceptance notifications!  Alaska is a popular place to visit in the summer, and you want to make sure you get a good deal on your plane tickets and accommodations!  Note that Alaska Airlines is an award-winning national/international airline loved by Alaskans, and you might find better prices directly on their booking website:  alaskaair.com.  Alaska Airlines is also partners with several other airlines, so you might be able to earn and spend miles on your trip!  It’s a win-win!

We hope to see you this June, and we look forward to sharing so much of what Alaska has to offer.  Don’t forget to also check out the many food-focused pre-conference activities you have to choose from to make the most out of your stay.

Your conference organizers are here to help — please let us know if you have questions we can answer as you plan your trip to the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences!

Here is the link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/academics/college-of-arts-and-sciences/programs/ASFS/call-for-papers.cshtml.

And wait, there is more! Travel grants and other awards have upcoming deadlines:

10 Student Travel Grants Available ($500 each) 

Deadline is January 15

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FMMV2XV

ASFS Local & Regional Grants

The deadline for the next cycle of grant funding is Jan. 15th.

http://www.food-culture.org/ASFS%20Grants/

ASFS Awards

The deadline for all awards (except student papers) is Feb. 1st.

3 book awards, article/chapter, pedagogy, graduate student & undergraduate student paper.

http://www.food-culture.org/awards/

Position Announcement:  Food, Culture and Society Editor-in-Chief

The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) seeks a new editor for its journal, Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research.  FCS publishes five issues per year through Taylor and Francis. The five-year term begins July 1, 2019.

Duties include:

Overseeing the manuscript review process from submission to publication, including initial review of submissions, determining eligibility for peer review, overseeing the peer review process, providing guidance to scholars regarding article appropriateness, maintaining high quality academic scholarship, ensuring publication in a timely manner.  The position also requires communication with the FCS Editorial Board and ASFS leadership, preparation of an annual report, and hosting a journal board meeting at the ASFS annual conference. The position requires on average 8-10 hours per week.

Qualifications:

ASFS membership

An established record of scholarship in the field of food studies

Familiarity with (or willingness to learn) Taylor and Francis’s Editorial Manager article management software

A vision for food studies scholarship that aligns with the journal mission statement.

Compensation:

The Editorship comes with an annual stipend. The Editor may also select a Managing Assistant Editor, who also receives a stipend.

Please submit a one-page statement of interest to Amy Bentley at amy.bentley@nyu.edu  by February 15, 2019.  Qualified candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

Please contact current Editor Amy Bentley (amy.bentley@nyu.edu) for any questions regarding the position.

 

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 2018

David Beriss

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

Hopefully with the holidays looming, you will have time to enjoy these articles. Got any favorites from 2018? Let us know!

One of the top problems confronting the restaurant industry this past year has been what to do about sexual misconduct. Helen Rosner, writing in the New Yorker, provides one small idea for training people who work in restaurants to understand what constitutes unacceptable behavior. Meanwhile, stories about how people are dealing with sexual misconduct and its aftermath in different restaurants continue. Maggie Bullock wrote in The Cut about what happened when chefs Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman tried to take over the Spotted Pig restaurant in New York. Quite a minefield. They are not the only ones struggling across that particular minefield, as Julia Moskin and Kim Severson note in this discussion with April Bloomfield, also from the Spotted Pig. Given that men were the perpetrators of the sexual misconduct in all these cases, it seems a bit odd to leave this paragraph with mostly stories of women struggling with the aftermath. Here is a very recent reminder that the industry is still dealing with the problem itself: Brett Anderson’s article about Tariq Hanna’s resignation from Sucré, a dessert empire in New Orleans, demonstrates quite clearly the deep dangers that come when power, sex, and careers are mixed.

Restaurant critics are also learning to deal with writing about these issues, along with all the other social questions that swirl around restaurants. Just two examples for now, but there are many more out there. First, this rather terse review of The Four Seasons from Pete Wells at the New York Times clearly raises the question of whether a restaurateur’s conduct should impact the customer’s dining choices or experiences (and the review may have had some rather interesting consequences). Second, this rather fascinating interview with Soleil Ho, the incoming restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that critics will be (or ought to be) thinking very carefully about ethical and social issues as they do their work.

As long as we are mentioning the work of Soleil Ho, take a look at this article she wrote about the nostalgia that seems to have long framed the restaurant menus of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Of course, the idea that memories of the country of origin and foods of the past haunt a lot of the restaurants run by immigrants of nearly every origin is one of the more fascinating elements in all the unresolvable debates about “authenticity” that will probably be with us forever.

And while we are discussing authenticity and nostalgia, we may want to bring on board appropriation, capitalism, industry, and more. Start with this amusing rant against industry-sponsored food “museums” by Erin DeJesus at Eater. I suppose I can see the point, but I have enjoyed similar museums in both the U.S and Europe (often kitschy, but if there are plenty of samples – chocolate, ice cream, cheese, beer – then I am a happy camper) and I hope we can trust that most visitors are aware that the ultimate goal of these places is commercial rather than educational. The tensions between well-meaning efforts to celebrate food and culture and commercialization are even more evident in this excellent story by Gustavo Arellano about the rise and commercial fate of National Taco Day in the U.S.

We might also want to ask if authenticity and nostalgia have any kind of reliable relationship with quality. Gustavo Arellano also recently wrote this article about the quality of food in small “mom and pop” immigrant restaurants. He points out that the search for the next hidden gem in the world of immigrant restaurants can often turn up restaurants that are not very good. He is correct of course, but this is just as true of any restaurant, not just those run by immigrants. Perhaps the more fundamental issue is that we tend to rely on some very simplistic (verging on racist) stereotypes about the relationship between ethnic identity and the ability to produce good food. Good cooking, like everything else, takes knowledge and practice. You may be born into a group, but you learn about food. And knowledge is not equally shared.

The politics that brought President Trump to power are complicated, but one often hears reference to resentful rural folks, especially in the West, where many feel that the Federal government controls too much of the land. And so when the administration moved to radically scale back the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, it seemed like they were responding to those complaints. This important article by Kathryn Schulz explains the improbable rise of a destination restaurant near the National Monument and the complex cultural politics involved in the reduction of its size. And, by the way, it also demonstrates that the Trump administration’s choice to scale back the monument had little to do with resentful Westerners and everything to do with serving corporate interests. You must read this.

In other stories of complicated food politics, it seems like efforts by cities to manage street food vendors is especially fraught in places known for high tech industry, where free food, a desire to appear modern, and a desire for food diversity all seem to clash. This article, by Christine Ro, compares Silicon Valley, in California, and Bangalore, in India. For some reason, this reminds me of a discussion of the changing landscape of pie shops in London, related to meat, eels, vegans, and gentrification, explained by Ronald Ranta in this article.

We often read claims by amateur anthropologists about the supposed benefits of “traditional diets” for combatting the ills of our modern industrial eating. It turns out that actual anthropologists sometimes do actual research on these issues and, perhaps unsurprisingly, their conclusions are unlikely to support the ideas spread by the fans of fad diets. This excellent article by three anthropologists (H. Pontzer, B.M. Wood, and D. A. Raichlen), provides an overview of recent research on small scale societies and diet, along with some data from original research with the Hadza, in Tanzania, and concludes that we should be careful about how what they learned might apply to people in industrial societies. A very good read.

One of the things that food journalism does best is create authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories of things that we need to know. Here, for instance, is a glossary of southern food terms, provided by the editors at Garden & Gun, a publication whose main purpose is to promote authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories about the South. Know that the accuracy of this list may be disputed and that unless you know how to pronounce the terms properly (“lid,” for example, is a two syllable word in much of the South), it won’t help much anyhow.

Sometimes journalists tell us what we ought to think about and then they check back to see if we really did. Which can be very amusing. Bret Thorn and Nancy Kruse, writing in Restaurant Hospitality, provide us with predictions for food trends in 2019 and look back at their predictions for 2018. For the coming year, Thorn predicts the rise of West African cuisine, lager, oat milk, and kachapuri in the U.S., while Kruse celebrates Juniper Lattes, Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs at Bahama Breeze, and the Maple Bourbon Shake from Krystal (which is a Southern little burger chain, curiously not mentioned in the glossary cited above). Also, Kruse notes that restaurant names are getting more amusing, noting, for example, “Hello, Sailor,” near Charlotte, NC. This article makes for a fantastic reading of the state of American food culture, although I am sure Walter Benjamin would be horrified.

If those trends are not enough for you, Sara Bonisteel provides an overview of the 17 most read food articles from 2018 in the New York Times here. From the Instant Pot to the untimely deaths of Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain, along with stories of sexual misconduct, this is also probably a useful snapshot of the moment.

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Coffee Culture Comes Home

By Jesse Dart
Anthropology Department, University of Sydney

Milan-interior

Starbucks opened in Italy a few months ago. While the hype has worn off a bit, some days you still find a line of people waiting to get in. It is the first one in Italy and it is meant to respect the Italian coffee culture. Yet, a lot of those who stood in line on the first day was arguably upset over the lack of frappuccinos —  they aren’t served here.

It’s not normal Starbucks like you find in so many cities. There is no drive-through window, there is no stack of newspapers to buy. The plentiful number of staff are polite, courteous and helpful. There is a coffee roaster, there are bathrooms you can use without buying anything (a rarity in Italy) and there are a lot of tourists.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I had an hour to kill before a meeting so I wondered in. It was around 10 am – there was no line. The first person I see is a greeter, who welcomes me in English. I switch to Italian, but they keep up the English. “Is this your first visit?” she asked me. “Yes”, I replied, a bit taken by the space. “I’ll just give you a brief layout of the store”, which she proceeded to do.

On one side, a more typical Italian espresso bar — for espresso drinks only. Like most bars around Italy, people were standing and drinking their coffee while eating a cornetto (an Italian style croissant). It was quick, even if the espresso is €1.80 as opposed to the nearly ubiquitous €1. Next, there was a bean bar with freshly roasted beans to buy and take home. On the other side of the room, a beautiful marble countertop bar in an oval shape with copper flourishes all around and that day’s bean selection waiting in glass urns to be brewed in one of several methods. You could choose between the Clover Machine, Modbar Pour-over, Chemex, Coffee Press or Siphon as well as the usual espresso machine. Upstairs, a cocktail/aperitivo bar and in the middle of the building, the coffee roaster. Running along the ceiling were exposed tubes and pipes for the coffee roaster – with direct access to the urns of beans behind the bar. It is overwhelming but orderly.

I got in line at the coffee bar and waited about five minutes for my order to be taken. I started off in Italian, again, because I am in Italy, but the cashier started off in English, accented in what sounded like a New York accent. “Where am I”, I thought.

milan_roastery_opening_hero_02

At my table, €5 coffee in hand, I took a moment to consider the clientele. There were a large number of Asian tourists and Americans (judging by their accents) and a few Italians – it seemed to be a popular place for a business meeting, despite the lines and noise level. Over at the espresso bar, people lingered at high cafe tables while new piles of pastries were brought out of an oven. A few kids were asking questions to the coffee roaster. By the time I finished my cup and got up to leave, there was a long line of people waiting at the coffee bar, probably close to 50, and outside, a number of people waiting to get into the building past the security guard.

It all felt so produced and constructed. It felt like I was on a film set, not at a cafe in Milan. Cafes in Milan (and across Italy) are usually smaller spaces, for one, and have at its center, the bar itself – where people stand to drink a coffee because it’s cheaper and quicker. There is no security guard, there is usually not vats of freshly roasted beans, let alone a coffee roaster in glimmering copper.

It is peak globalization, I wrote on the back of a napkin, as a reminder to myself. And while most cafes in Milan don’t seem to have been affected by its opening, there are more in the works including one at the central train station and the airport.

I don’t see a bit of competition to be a problem, in fact, it’s not the first American style coffee house chain to open in Italy. 12oz. Coffee Joint, a franchise company has been around for some time. They serve “American” style coffee, something like a frappuccino, bagel sandwiches and have outlets for your laptop at all the tables – it is a “third space”. Their motto is “L’esperienza autentica del vero caffè americano” (The Authentic Experience of American Coffee). Just recently Five Guys opened their first store in Italy, just down the street from the Starbucks in Milan. There are Burger King’s, Subway’s and of course, McDonald’s. Starbucks’s opening seemed inevitable when you take all this into consideration. But with its opening, and the future stores they are promising, Milan feels like it’s being threatened with the boring nothingness that these companies seem to bring with them – a kind of homogeneity that makes food and drink choices the same everywhere.

Overall, I can’t help but think that one of the reasons people come to Italy is that it keeps and has kept, for the most part, a lot of its historic charm and institutions intact – especially in areas related to food. The bar is one of the most visible and in my opinion, one of the most brilliant institutions around. The bar is humanizing and grounding. There are more luxurious renditions, sure, but overall the best bars are the busy bars, full of regulars with cornetticrumbs on the floor and the clinking of coffee cups coming out of a washing machine. You can pick up gossip, breakfast, an afternoon espresso, evening aperitivoor an after-dinner drink all in the same place. Oh, and if your lucky, they sell gum, lotto tickets and newspapers too. It acts as a hub of social interaction that spaces, like the new Starbucks, struggle to achieve under the weight of the corporate machine behind it. It’s not welcoming, despite the person opening the door for you. Starbucks will always lack a certain kind of community spirit that I think is built through the space itself and a lack of pretension.

When asked about the opening of Starbucks in Milan, I just say that it is complementary to the established cafe and coffee culture – instead of competing against it. Reporters and journalists often overlook that Italy is a country of deeply ingrained food rituals. And while many of those are being challenged, in various ways, Starbucks is not going to change the way people drink coffee overnight. A quick Internet search for Italian coffee culture will give you loads of articles telling you how to deal with coffee culture in Italy. Lonely Planet’s article is titled “How To Drink Coffee Like a True Italian.”

Rituals help guide us in life – they tell us what to do when. They help orient us. Coffee rituals in Italy not only help guide you but facilitate a sense of community with others who share the same rituals. I have no doubt that the local bar will remain the hub of social life in Italy and that Starbucks will find its place in the coffee culture of Milan and elsewhere. But the rituals of daily life are slow to change; I imagine that the local bar will remain a hub of social life and community for a long time.

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Review: Re-Orienting Cuisine

Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century

Kwang Ok Kim , ed. Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century. Berghahn. New York, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78920-067-6

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

Kwang Ok   Kim has assembled a wonderful collection of studies about what had happened and what is happening in East Asian food.  These studies fall into three main categories: how national and local cuisines define what is traditional in a particular country’s food consumption; how food practices from elsewhere transcend national and cultural boundaries; and, lastly, how people see their own and the cuisine of others addressing well-being, health, and danger.  Moreover, Kim’s introduction and each of the studies situate their discussions in larger academic and global studies about modernism, authenticity, traditionalism, nostalgia, globalism, and food safety.  The studies are particularly germane to students of food, culture, tourism, and politics.

Section I, about national food changes, contains four essays.  The first, by Opkyo Moon, demonstrates how Koreans have created/re-created a royal cuisine from the period before the Japanese colonial control.  This cuisine, coupled with other period practices, is a way that Koreans have established a significant connection to a more illustrious past.  The second, by Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Khay-Thiong Lim, contrasts Malaysian cuisine(s) and Taiwanese cuisine.  They suggest that Malaysia has decided to try to create a national cuisine, bringing together its different ethnic and culinary traditions.  The British, they argue, did not accept any significant foods as part of their occupation.  Taiwan, on the other hand, has “returned” to its pre-Nationalist Chinese occupation past by focusing on dishes from that earlier era.

Jean de Bernanrdi  outlines how tea culture was introduced in Wudang Province in China.  This introduction created a sense of tradition, authenticity, health consciousness, tourism, and international connections to vendors overseas.  Kwang Ok Kim shows how Koreans focused on and “re-invented” rice as central to their identity and their sense of health and well-being.  These practices have extended to Korean restaurants overseas.  In sum, these essays portray cuisine as a something real–something to be consumed and enjoyed, and as symbols of national identity.   Moreover, they also show societies using their cuisines to create and imagine pasts, futures, to portray “authenticity” and to offer food as commodities  to promote  health and tourism .

Section II, about food practices across nations and cultural boundaries, contains six essays.  The first, by Kyung-Hoo Han, traces the recent history of ramen in its many forms, from China to Japan and Korea.  Japanese ramen is much more of a “…fatty and nutritious” dish than earlier domestic soups (p.92) and is served in restaurants.  Korean ramyeon, on the other hand, tends to be an instant quick, fast food version of noodle soup, previously much saltier, and not eaten in restaurants for the most part. David Y. H. Wu follows the path of Japanese cuisine in Taiwan.  Taiwanese see eating Japanese food as a return to the time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan.  Japanese food is considered both comforting, and given Japan’s emergence as a modernizing power, a connection to the larger world of sophistication.,  Moreover, Japanese food has diversified in terms of incorporating Western elements, such as Japanese French pastry, so Taiwanese people can partake of global food trends.

The third essay, by Melissa L. Caldwell, portrays a Russia which has “domesticated” Korean food as part of the larger domestic cuisine. Russia has few Chinese restaurants, values them as particularly special, and also considers the relatively new Japanese food as special.  Moreover, she notes that Chinese restaurants, to compete, have started to offer selected Japanese foods.  The fourth essay, by Yuson Jung, portrays a Bulgaria which, following the collapse of Communism and its associated deprivations, wants to be modern and part of world culture.  To do so, it has integrated Chinese food, often standard dishes with occasional domestic offers such as bread, into its restaurant offerings.  The fifth essay, by Sangmee Bak, offers a picture of a South Korea which wants to eat “globally”.  That means diverse cuisines.  The one featured most is Indian cuisine, which, for the most part appeals to students and take-out clientele.  Following the themes in this volume, Bak notes that their Korean cuisine is being pre-empted by the Japanese, who offer “…Korean food to Westerners…thereby compromising the food’s Korean identity” (p.182.)

One personal note here: in a “reversal,” two of the Japanese restaurants where I live are owned and managed by Koreans. Furthermore, a local Thai restaurant shows the cross-cultural fertilization outside of Asia:  “traditional Thai noodles, curries, and soups are interspersed with surprises such as the Laotian Pork Sausage appetizer and British-inspired curry puffs (spiced potatoes and carrots wrapped in dough that is then fried” Voight (2018: 14 .)  As many of the essays have noted, overseas Asian communities experiment with many kinds of fusion dishes and mixing cuisines.  Often, overseas Asian influences work their way back into national cuisines, as noted above in the ways “Western Japanese” food is an alternative food in Taiwan.

The sixth essay in this section, by Michael Herzfeld, argues that Thai cuisine mirrors themes inside the culture:  It is complex, ambiguous, and often contradictory.  For example, higher and lower class people like very spicy/hot foods, and the ability to eat these foods is seen as a sign of masculinity (p.192 et seq.)

Section III, about well-being and safety, contains four essays.  In the first essay, Young-Kyun Yang portrays a South Korea increasingly concerned with well-being and taking care of one’s body.  Consequently, Chinese food, once favored, is seen as unhealthy because it is considered too greasy and contains too much MSG.  In the second essay, Sidney C.H. Cheung traces the evolution and dispersal of American crayfish in Asia, where each country and cuisine treat it differently, as for example, in China, where some producers make it into “lobster.”  In the third essay, Jakob A. Klein draws a picture of a Chinese population increasingly concerned with the cleanliness and purity of its food.  He notes that as elsewhere in the world, foods often seen as cleaner foods are more expensive and out of the reach of poorer people who both value it and cannot afford it (p.246.)    In the fourth essay, Yunxiang Yan traces food safety concerns in contemporary China.  Originally, people were concerned with food being poisoned, in part because chicken, for one example, was dumped into lower class food stalls and restaurants.  At the time of Mao and even in the present government enforcement has not prevented poisonous additives and materials from entering food.

Taken separately and together, these essays show the interconnections and continuing changes between national identity, politics, culture, the search for well-being, and the concern with food safety, in East Asia.  These changes and concerns also mirror developments around the world.  Jonathan Kauffman shows similar concerns, for example in the origins of “Hippie Food” in the US, including many of its past and continuing connections to developments in Asia (2018).  Jean-Pierre Poulain sees the same trends in the Kim volume occurring in the United States and France and places food studies as central to understanding cultural, economic, political, and medical changes in any country (2017.) Kim’s collection serves as an assessment of current developments on most of these themes and as a marker for future changes as each country defines its identity and concerns in terms of food movements around the world.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2018

Jonathan Kauffman.  Hippie Food: How Back to the Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. New York: William Morrow.

2017

Jean-Pierre Poulain.  Translated by Augusta Dior. The Sociology of Food: Eating the Place of Food in Society.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.

2018

Joan Voight. Made Local Magazine. v.6, number 1. pp.12-19.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Asia, China, cuisine, Japan, Korea

CFP for Gastronomica

 

Call for Papers: “Saving Food”

Gastronomica Vol. 19 Issue 3

The new Gastronomica editorial collective seeks proposals for a forthcoming special issue that explores the many entwined meanings of ‘saving food’ – from preservation to curation to nostalgia to archiving to salvation. Can the many meanings of ‘saving’ help us understand in new ways the intersections of food pleasures, politics, and production and the overlap between activism, cooking, museum and archival practice, and the constant race to cook and prepare foods before they rot?

From wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap to fermenting ingredients to curating museum exhibits to creating seed libraries and archives, we all ‘save’ our food. Beyond preserving, fermenting, freezing, drying, and smoking, does food – its traditions, its materials, and its products – need saving? We often worry that food is being lost – as generations age, as strains of crops are rendered extinct, as the climate changes, and as food industries proliferate. We envision ways of preserving food traditions, regional iterations of cuisines and recipes, ingredients, seeds, products, and more through an astonishing array of strategies from small-scale seed and recipe exchanges, family and community cookbooks, seed banks, and museum collecting. Efforts to ‘save’ food have their long antecedents in the transmission and mobility of food products, recipes, and knowledge. Can those histories provide new understandings for contemporary anxiety about the loss of both bio and culinary diversities?

Can food, as well, save us? How is food mobilized as a strategy of, for example, national and community belonging, a form of urban or economic development, an example of intangible cultural heritage, and, as well, a means to physical and social salvation?

In entwining the many meanings of food as something that is saved and something that saves, this special issue seeks creative written and visual scholarship, reflection pieces, and ‘features’.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

  • Seed saving and banks
  • Climate change and culinary diversity
  • Food and nostalgia
  • Indigenous food practices, their reconfigurations and knowledge transmissions
  • Museum and archival practice
  • Food preservation and fermentations
  • Food and economic, social, and community development
  • Cookbook and recipe practices
  • Intergenerational transfer: knowledge, practice, resources (including material and symbolic)
  • Food and cultural heritage
  • Food supply chains, freshness, food safety
  • Food waste, including food rescue and freeganism.

Completed papers must be submitted at Gastronomica

https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/ucpress-gastronomicaby 20 January 2019.

Questions? gastroed@ucpress.edu

 

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Review: Food and Power, A Culinary Ethnography of Israel

Food and Power by Nir Avieli

Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel: Nir Avieli.  Oakland, CA: University of California Press.  2018.  274 pp.  ISBN 9870520290105

Shir Lerman Ginzburg
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Nir Avieli’s ethnography is a timely and necessary foray into the explorations and intersections of politics and food.  Avieli draws on his extensive semi-auto-ethnographic fieldwork in Israel to highlight the intricate and complex relationships between food and national identity, particularly in light of Israel’s deeply contentious relationships with both the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors.  Throughout his ethnography, Avieli interweaves his experiences serving in the Israeli army and his personal life in Israel with his ethnography to discuss the power structures in Israel as they pertain to food preparation and consumption (page 14).   Specifically, Avieli claims that power derives from imbalances in a variety of resources, such as legitimacy, prestige, violence, and access to economic resources (pg. 8).  As an example, Avieli discusses the 2006-2009 Hummus Wars between Israel and Lebanon to illustrate the national prides at stake in claiming ownership of hummus (pg. 6), which stands as a unifying cuisine.  Israelis and Lebanese competed over creating the biggest dish of hummus to break the Guinness World Records.

Avieli structures his book around several vignettes showcasing the multilayered relationships between power and food in Israel.  In doing so, Avieli interlaces these vignettes with his personal experiences In Chapter 2 (‘Roasting Meat’), Avieli provides an in-depth analysis of barbecues and other meat-grilling activities on Israeli Independence Day (generally held in May).  Avieli focuses on the celebrations held at Sacher Park (a popular park in Jerusalem), discussing how the barbecues are ambivalent events in which potency and power are inseparately mixed with feebleness and victimization due to the differences between the types of meat used for barbecues (page 78).  Specifically, men get the superior meat (beef) while women receive the inferior meat (chicken [pargiot]) because meat is more muscular and bloodier, while chicken meat is softer and more vulnerable (page 67).

In addition to the type of meat typically consumed, Avieli outlines the organization and negotiation of space in Sacher Park, particularly as it pertains to food preparation.  Competition is fierce for space in Sacher Park, particularly for limited shade, access to the northern part of the park, which is closest to parking, and proximity to water, as water fountains are scarce in the park.  Barbecues in Sacher Park also clearly delineate the Israeli concept of Levad Beyahad (‘alone together’), or the blurring of boundaries between private and public space, which helps individuals deal with the social and structural superiority of the collective in Israel: people are together with other Israelis in superficially large numbers, but families still clearly demarcate personal space.  This principle reflects relationships among Israeli Jews, exposing the tension between the desire to be a part of the collective on the most important national day of the year, and the constant efforts of the participants to demarcate boundaries between themselves and others (pages 73, 78).  On a broader geopolitical scale, the struggle for space between Jews and Palestinians is also reenacted on a day that celebrates Israel’s victory over the Palestinians and reflects the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the shared space they occupy and serves to explain the practice of spot grabbing.  These struggles encompass many of the most pressing issues and dilemmas of contemporary Israel.

In Chapter 3 (‘Why We Like Italian Food’), Avieli emphasizes the role of homesickness and yearning: immigrant homesickness for their home cuisine, and Israeli yearning for American things, which denote modernity, sophistication, and cosmopolitanism (page 86).  This desire for high ideals is based in Israeli pizzeria owners’ experience working in the United States, as well as Israeli modification of traditional Italian dishes, since the majority of Italian dishes are imported by Israelis, not by Italians, who comprise a tiny portion of Israel.  Italian restaurants are successful in Israel for at least two major reasons: unlike, for example, French food, Italian food lends itself easily to kashrut laws, which forbid the mixture of meat and dairy (many Italian meals can stand as either dairy or meat).  Additionally, Italian restaurants tend to be family-friendly, which appeals to the family-central ethic of Israelis and to food preferences of Israelis, adults and children alike.  Israelis like Italian food because the similar weather and ecological conditions in the two countries make for similar ingredients, cooking styles, and taste preferences – similar ecologies between Israel and Italy have resulted in social, culture, and psychological affinities between Israelis and Italians, also known as Yam-Tichoniut (Mediterranean-ness).  The national character and habitus of Italians, especially southern Italians, is similar to those of Israelis, particularly hyperactivity, preference for simple food, and a lack of desire to wait long times for food to cook.  Given the length of time it takes to prepare pizzas, pizzerias have become places for families to hang out and socialize, unlike the ubiquitous falafel stands, which discourage lingering due to the in-and-out nature of these stands (page 95).

Additionally, Italian food allows Israeli Jews to construct an alternative spatial and cultural imagination of Israel, one that is associated with the Southern European-Mediterranean region rather than the Arab Middle East.  Israelis consider themselves along the coast of southern Italy, as an escape from the Middle East.  Italy isn’t connected to the Diaspora or the Holocaust and it doesn’t stand for the iconic West (NW Europe and North America), where the largest Jewish and Israeli Jewish diasporas are now located (page 101).  Avieli situates the Israeli passion for pizzerias in the Ashkenazi Jewish[i] desire to remove the Oriental stigma attached to them by non-Jewish Westerners, by adopting Western-style foods and developing a Western nation-state, especially in the peripheries of Israeli dining outside of major culinary hubs like Tel-Aviv and Herziliya (pages 106-107).  In doing so, Israel affirms its Western nation-state status by relegating social segments of the population, such as North African and Mizrahi Jews, into the periphery and relegating their foods to the exotic Other.

Chapter 4 (“The McDonaldization of the Kibbutz Dining Room”) highlights the transformation of kibbutzim in Israel from a paragon of Israeli socialism into a concerted effort to adopt Western capitalism.  The kibbutz is the social heart of Israel, so the McDonaldization of kibbutz culinary practices from table service to self-service is seen as a reflection of changes in Israeli food service as a whole (pages 112-113).  In this chapter, Avieli argues that the biggest competitor for kibbutz members’ loyalty is the social institution, such as extended family and ethnic groups, as well as newly reestablished socioeconomic classes and allegiances (page 116).  The kibbutz dining room operated as hubs of commensality and food sharing: breaking bread and eating together were important venues of group consolidation and solidarity, even as such acts also reaffirmed social norms and demarcated the people who weren’t included (page 117).  By breaking up individual family units (adults sat with adults and children sat with children), the dining room stripped self-identity and reassembled identities as parts of a collective new whole: the Israeli identity (page 118).  In turn, kibbutz members felt that other kibbutz members presented as an alternative family whose members were all siblings (page 123).  However, as kibbutzim grew larger, budgets and food sources remained low, and there was little regulation of kibbutz members who took more food with little regard for other members, the transition to self-service and privatization became increasingly necessary.  By the end of 2010, 193 out of 264 kibbutzim in Israel were privatized (page 128).  Kibbutz members also considered the introduction of self-service to fall under McDonaldization ideology, as people could choose whatever food they want and sit wherever they want, a process which also saves long queues and work times and represents an ideological shift from the collective to the individual (page 143).  Kibbutz scholars unanimously argue that the kibbutz crisis and the ensuing shift to privatization is very much a consequence of the shift from collective ideology to individualistic tendencies (page 132).  The family remained a threat for kibbutz members’ allegiance: families couldn’t originally cook in their units because there were no kitchens, so everyone was required to eat in the dining rooms.  However, with the institutionalization of the kibbutz, the family gradually reemerged, along with the urge for family meals (page 133).

Along with the spatial and financial consequences of privatization, Avieli also details the culinary ebbs and flows of the kibbutz dining room.  Food was structurally and materially Ashkenazi: the main lunchtime meal consisted of starts, soup, a main course (meat, cooked vegetables, and carbs) along with desserts and beverages.  The ingredients used in food preparation consisted of schnitzel (fried and breaded chicken), meat stews, baked or mashed potatoes, pasta, and steamed rice with mild seasonings.  This process underscores the tensions between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews in Israel, including the Otherization of Mizrahi cuisine.  Even though Ashkenazi Jews are not the majority in Israel, Ashkenazi fare is still termed “Jewish food”, while non-Ashkenazi food is usually given national labels, such as Moroccan, Iraqi, Kurdish, or Persian, but not Jewish.  This terminology demonstrates the Ashkenazi claim for exclusivity over Judaism and the dismissive attitude Ashkenazi Israelis exhibit toward non-Ashkenazis (page 221).

In Chapter 5 (“Meat and Masculinity in a Military Prison”), Avieli traces the complex interactions and expressions of masculinity between Israeli soldiers, Israeli military police (MP), and Palestinian prisoners at the Megiddo military prison.  Tensions between the three groups draws on the overall logic of the occupation, particularly the cognitive and the emotional processes that allow Israeli Jews to reinterpret and redefine their relations with Palestinians so as to maintain a sense of weakness and victimization (page 146).  Despite the common-sense expectation that the armed IDF soldiers guarding the prison would feel empowered and in total control, they considered themselves victims of the situation and of the detainees.  The Israeli soldiers assigned to guard the prison frequently complained about the substandard fare they were provided, stating that they were given reheated chicken and limp vegetables while the prisoners and MPs were given better food.  Soldiers compared their meat rations to rations of prisoners and military police (MP), and to what they used to get at home (page 148), in the process hinting that they felt more masculine as civilians than as soldiers.  This comparison draws on the hegemonic interpretation of masculinity (e.g. authority, physical strength), which Avieli hearkens back to the days of hunter-gatherers, when prowess in hunting and the enjoyment of meat that a successful hunt allowed, led to increased chances of survival (page 152).

It is important to note that soldiers at Megiddo prison weren’t suffering from lack of food: they have 3 meals per day, including meat, fruits and veggies, dairy, eggs, bread, and a cooked starch.  The food was plain and not very fresh, but there was enough of it (page 162).  The competitiveness over food quality is rooted partly to frustrations about instructions they received about opening fire on prisoners.  Contrary to standard military procedure, at Megiddo prison, if prisoners attempted to escape, soldiers were to lock themselves in their towers and only use guns if prisoners tried to break in – otherwise, let them run away.  The administration’s reasoning was that if soldiers shot prisoners, it would look bad for the prisoner and for Israel in general, which they couldn’t afford to let happen (page 161).  Soldiers took this unusual policy amiss, understanding that the Israeli military saw their welfare as less important than that of either the prisoners or of the military’s international image, which enhanced the soldiers’ sense of victimization.  Soldiers also complained that prisoners received better food than they did and were allowed a greater sense of autonomy, especially with assigned tasks and day-to-day leadership (shawish/sergeant system, which the Palestinians elected and ran themselves), and with prisoners cooking and cleaning for themselves (page 158).  Comparatively, soldiers often received soggy, semi-frozen schnitzels and scorched stews; the bad food has occasionally led soldiers to mutiny, arguing that they needed more meat in order to have the energy to serve (pages 165-166).

The prisoners and MPs also saw themselves as victims.  Palestinians saw themselves as victims of Jews and the State of Israel, and Zionism a belated form of European colonialism. The MPs felt victimized due to their very postings: in the Israeli military, being part of the military police is considered a shameful appointment because they need to police their own comrades instead of fighting the enemy (page 169).  Despite Israel’s significant social, economic, and scientific achievements and its proven military might, Israeli Jews cultivate a self-image of the eternal victim.  In the masculine setting of the military prison, the transformation of armed soldiers, the epitome of hegemonic masculinity, into self-perceived victims of their own prisoners was neither simple nor straightforward (page 175).  Israeli Jewish soldiers felt that they were the real and only victims of the situation; even though the State of Israel and the IDF had devised and structured the institution that was victimizing them, they felt both victimized and justified in their actions (page 176).  Food bridges the gap between the theory and praxis of nationalism: food and eating were important topics within the reserve soldiers’ narrative of victimization due to the food not being fresh and the dining room staff doing their job poorly by failing to ensure that soldiers had better food (page 177).

Chapter 8 (“Thai Migrant Workers and the Dog-Eating Myth”) draws on Israeli misconceptions of Thai migrant workers’ eating habits to highlight broader social ambivalence towards Thai migrants.  Thai migrants make up the bulk of the agricultural workforce in Israel, and rumors abound about Thai migrants hunting and eating Israelis’ pet dogs.   This is an Israeli myth in order to define Thai workers as subhuman, therein justifying their economic exploitation as cheap labor and solving any ethical quandaries arising from said exploitation (page 187).   However, Thai migrant workers did occasionally kill their employers’ chickens (sometimes with their bare hands) in order to obtain fresh meat.  Meat is relatively expensive, and migrant workers oftentimes had neither the income nor the transportation to go to a market on a regular basis (page 194).  Israelis view hunting negatively, particularly as fresh game is harder to kill according to kashrut laws; instead, Israelis prefer to purchase meat.  Furthermore, Israeli animal farmers tend to distance themselves from the act of killing, which is done elsewhere and by other people, so they considered themselves life givers rather than life takers.  By killing chickens with their hands, often in sight of their employers, the Thai workers were demolishing the symbolic barriers that protected their employers from facing the violent death they were inflicting on the millions of animals they farmed (page 196).

More broadly, Avieli draws on Aziza Khazzoom (2003) to emphasize Zionism as a modernizing, Westernizing experience during which early incarnations of the Jewish Diaspora were stigmatized by their successors for being Othered and Orientalized (page 210).  Yitzhak Rabin’s government’s decision to import migrant workers breached some of the fundamental values of Socialist Zionism that practitioners professed to champion, particularly social justice and an egalitarian ethos.  Instead, Israelis employed aggressive Orientalizing and stereotyping techniques to deal with the moral dilemmas instigated by the hard employment of migrant workers (page 211).  In the same vein, Israelis portray Romanian immigrants as poor drunkards, Filipina immigrants as gentle and submissive, and West African immigrants as dangerous, masculine, and intellectually limited (page 212).  However, Thai immigrants didn’t fit these easy molds because Thailand remains a popular Israeli vacation destination and because Thai immigrants work in the agricultural sector, which Israeli Zionism highly values as the epitome of strength and self-reliance (pages 212-213).  As such, the association of Thai migrants with the hunting and consumption of dogs allows Israelis to both exploit the fruit of Thai migrants’ labor and to enjoy Thailand as an exotic vacation without any sense of guilt.

Several questions yet remain after Avieli’s extensive ethnography.  For example, are barbecues interpreted differently on normal days than they are on Israeli Independent Day, a holiday ostensibly dedicated to an Israeli show of victory over not only British colonizers from the 1948 War of Independence, but also current-day Palestinians for whom Israeli Independence Day is a reminder of colonial rule (pages 54-55).  Furthermore, Avieli never made it quite clear why he chose Sacher Park as a field site if, as he claims on pages 55-56, the park doesn’t fully represent independence-day celebrations.  Additionally, while Avieli discusses several very salient points regarding food preparation and consumption as representations of elite power, he does not provide any ways in which those without power can use food to gain power on their own terms, or at least to claim culinary legitimacy.  These expressions of identity through food are important cultural actions, as Avieli himself showed during his commentary on the Hummus War between Israel and Lebanon.

Ultimately, Nir Avieli analyzes several comprehensive vignettes showcasing that food is a means of exercising power in Israel.  Avieli uses these vignettes to juxtapose idealized Israeli qualities with current practices.  For example, by discussing Israeli soldiers’ consistent complaints regarding their fare in comparison to the Palestinian prisoners, Avieli draws out the contradictions between Israel as a superpower in the Middle East with the eternal Jewish self-image as “absolute victims” (page 227).  Additionally, the Israeli association of red meat with bloody masculinity despite the distaste with which Israelis view hunting and blood consumption, indicates a disparity between desired qualities of idealized masculinity and actual cultural practices.  The cultural elite’s foodways are de facto the assumed culinary pathways for the entire population, regardless of alternative cuisines and practices (page 225).  Mizrahi cuisine is an Israeli creation, a way of Otherizing Mizrahi Jews who otherwise enjoy a wide variety of foods not limited to the Israeli perception of Mizrahi cuisine as merely spicy and overdone (page 221).  In this way do minority cuisines become limited to stereotypes in the face of the elite’s culinary preferences and perceptions of other groups.

 

[i] Ashkenazi Jews are Jews of German and/or Austrian descent.

Mizrahi Jews are Jews of Iraqi, Iranian, Kurdish, and/or Syrian descent.

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