Category Archives: anthropology of food

Residences, Rentals and Redolent Delectables: Women entrepreneurs and the Japanese baking industry

WomenEntrepreneurship

By Annie Sheng, Cornell University

In one baking school in Yokohama, I wait as my bread dough rises. The instructor serves me mochi (pounded rice cake) that she had placed atop an electric furnace and it had expanded, ballooning into a crispy, yet gooey warm snack. We sip tea. She talks to me about the baking instruction business until it is time to pound and shape the dough for Japanese curry bread again. We chat as we work. Then I’m startled – the door opens.

Her kids pop in, coming home from school.

This instructor’s school-home is one of many such establishments started by women entrepreneurs in the food industry. With a hyper-aged population and strict immigration laws, labor is a particularly critical and thorny issue in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has pushed to increase productivity through the presence of more women in the workforce, using the catchphrase “Womenomics” to promote his policies. As these macroeconomic policies and issues inform, effect and transform the perception of employment in Japan, female agency in food entrepreneurship also operates under these concerns and pressures. These businesses provide ways in which women can traverse the (perhaps fuzzy but albeit socially existent) line between domestic and career endeavors and aspirations.

In my multi-year fieldwork in Japan, I interviewed various actors: wheat farmers, wheat marketers, bakers, bread consumers, and others throughout East Asia and the US as I conducted research touching on critical aspects of food and foodways, such as food safety, trade policies, global economics, gender, nationalism, identity, morality, commensality and social meaning.

In Japan, I traversed residential neighborhoods and walked up stairs to apartments to learn to bake as part of participant observation. These homes-turned-professional-kitchens are cultural spaces of gender reproduction, knowledge dissemination and social gathering. While some of the female baking instructors I’ve encountered teach also male clients, the students are predominantly female. I have met instructors who only cater to female students and do not accept male students into their business-home, creating a specialized women-space for tutelage and food knowledge reproduction. This practice offers a venue where grievances, dreams, goals and news can be voiced in relative ‘comfort’ and ‘openness’ without perceived ‘outside’ judgment—and deepening a sense of empowerment and ‘sisterhood’ across age lines.

The Forbes article, “Why Japanese Girls Want To Be Bread Makers Rather Than Breadwinners” from earlier this year emphasizes the hold that the food and baking business has on young female conceptions: “For Japanese girls, food services (tabemonoya-san/食べ物屋さん)such as bread-maker and baker remained at number one for the 21st year in a row.” Here the article stresses bread-making and baking—and although that does not encapsulate the whole of the food-purveying industry—it does capture the interest I see among women towards baking in Japan. While charismatic baking masters reaching celebrity status are often the likes of men (a disparity well documented in the chef/cook stereotype, for example see Druckman 2010), female baking enterprises take root regularly in overlooked spaces (—home spaces that remain somewhat hidden, unless one goes searching for them), in jūtakugai (residential) areas and out of foyers or repurposed living rooms. That’s not to say there are no female bakers employed in chain businesses or big bakeries, but rather, here I want to emphasize these smaller enterprises, run by women and too easily missed.

In my fieldwork, I have spoken with informants about how they converted their homes into bakeries and workshops, remodeling their kitchens and domestic spaces to accommodate for their entrepreneur aspirations and career goals. After this conversion, the labor for their profession isn’t over, but remains intensive— for instructors, they must lesson plan, prepare the ingredients, print and distribute recipes and not to mention the rigorousness of the actual class itself. They have to take into consideration mothers bringing their kids (as I saw one accompanying nine-month old tear off a remote-control holder from an electric fan at one bakery school-home)—or they must set up clear guidelines—for example, dictate policies that disallow children. They need to consider how to create clear access to the bathroom, while maintaining privacy for their own personal activities. The nature of their shared space requires them to consider the business and practical aspects of their culinary enterprise.

The first bakery class I mentioned above, the one on curry bread—the baking instructor told me that she has seen a big increase in these baking instruction “salons” operating out of homes. Baking as a pastime, in general, is becoming increasingly popular, and more women are capitalizing off this, contributing to this bakery home-school “boom,” as she calls it.

While I discuss female entrepreneurship in baking instruction and bread—there are many other small-scale food-related enterprises undertaken by female entrepreneurs. For example, I’ve participated in sushi decoration classes (rolling up sushi in a way that creates cartoon and/or designed cross-sections when cut). For these classes, the instructor rented out a part of a café to conduct her business activities. There are many enterprises like this, as these converted and rented spaces mean less initial capital and more flexibility for working women—“salons” where such savvy entrepreneurs can roll out their redolent delectables. For these women, salons provide a space for ‘safe’ and ‘open’ discourse while helping them achieve and bridge domestic and career-oriented ambitions. In Japan, home based entrepreneurship, especially with regard to salons and classes focused on food, an arena readily associated with female production, labor and knowledge, allows women to simultaneously fulfill domestic obligations and also to transcend them.

References

Adelstein, Jake. “Why Japanese Girls Want To Be Bread Makers Rather Than Breadwinners.” Forbes. January 11, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adelsteinjake/2018/01/11/why-japanese-girls-want-to-be-bread-makers-rather-than-breadwinners/.

Druckman, Charlotte. “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?” Gastronomica 10, no. 1 (2010): 24–31. https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.24.

Sheng, Annie. “Forging Ahead with Bread: Nationalism, Networks and Narratives of Progress and Modernity in Japan.” In Feeding Japan – The Cultural and Political Issues, by Andreas Niehaus and Tine Walravens, 191–224. Cham, CH: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Tagawa, Miyu. Chīsana pan’yasan, hajimemashita. Tokyo: Raichosha. 2013.

 

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Latino Memphis

The May edition of “Latinx Foodways in North America” features exciting research conducted by Simone Delerme on Latino foodways in Memphis, TN. Her work explores how Latino immigrants are incorporated into Memphis’ social, economic, and political context.

MiTierraMirna (1)

By Simone Pierre Delerme

Memphis’ Summer Avenue has become an enclave with a concentration of Latino-owned restaurants and small businesses. Along the corridor, one will find some of the community’s Latino pioneers. Mirna Lissette Garcia and her business partner Maryury Rodriguez, for example, opened Mi Tierra Restaurant in October of 2003. Mirna was born in Guatemala City in 1964 and migrated to Chicago when she was fourteen years old. In 1995, she decided to move to Memphis with her son and join family in the area after visiting. She was a pre-school teacher in Illinois with no experience in the restaurant industry. However, after moving to the area she found employment in one of the first Mexican restaurants opening in Memphis where she learned everything she knows. Maryury’s brother is the owner of restaurants in Chicago and Florida, and helped the two women get their business started as they strive to “give Memphis a little of Colombia.” They later diversified their menu and added Mexican cuisine since their customers were not familiar with Colombian food, one of the biggest challenges faced by the owners of non-Mexican establishments. Their unique vision transformed the interior of a building in a small Memphis shopping center to a space where Latinos congregate to eat, listen to music, and dance to the rhythms of cumbia, salsa, and merengue.

This ongoing project on the experiences of Latinos in the south, began over the spring of 2016 with interviews in Oxford, Mississippi; subsequently the research expanded to Memphis. The objective was to document the migration stories of immigrants and the experiences of other members of the Oxford community as part of The Invisible Oxford Project. We created the website and archive in the southern studies research methods course that I teach. The interviews we collected and archived focused on the less visible spaces, places, and communities in Oxford. The project grew to an ethnographic study of Memphis and Oxford conducted in collaboration with McNair Scholar Brittany Brown and Honors student Katherine Aberle. Taking into consideration the South’s historic black/white racial binary, we documented the place-specific experiences of Latinos in new destinations of migrations in the Mid-South using anthropologic methods, which include participant observation, informal and oral history interviews as well as content analysis of newspapers articles and archived transcripts.

Between 1980 and 1990 there was little growth in Memphis’ small Latino population of 5,225, however, between 1990 and 2000 the population increased by an astounding 333.6%. In contrast, the non-Latino white population declined over the last four decades while the number of Latinos continued to increase to 41,994 in 2010. In the last decade Oxford, MS has seen a 281% change. During the interviews, individuals were asked opened ended questions so they could reflect on themes ranging from assimilation and cultural preservation to incidents of discrimination and adapting to life in the south. From the interviews, we learned that in both Memphis and Oxford we were witnessing the growth of the Latino community as a result of family unification. Already established Latinos, often times working in either warehouses (in the case of Memphis), restaurants, or the construction industry, communicated to family members and friends about job opportunities, the cost of living, and the quality of life in the region. In Memphis, the communities of Berclair, Hickory Hill and Nutbush became “receiving communities” where new immigrants settled in the early 1990s. In Memphis, a larger city in comparison to Oxford, newspapers, non-profit organizations, churches, and other institutions have been created to provide services to the Latino community, preserve the culture of Latinos, and incorporate the incoming population of immigrants into the region. Although, with no Latino elected officials, there is little formal political representation.

Latino-owned restaurants and small businesses are the visual markers in the landscape that signal the Latinization of particular communities and represent incorporation into the local economic market. Latino-owned restaurants enabled individual families to become upwardly mobile. Several families we interviewed transitioned from the construction industry to the restaurant industry or kept ties to both to maximize their income. At the restaurants, immediate and extended family members worked together to establish their businesses, sometimes even expanding their operation to multiple locations. One family successfully opened over 22 Mexican restaurants in the region. These restaurants have become important symbolic social spaces in the community, places where Latinos congregate and connect to preserve their culture through food, music and dance. But, these restaurants are also spaces where non-Latinos are exposed to Latin American and Caribbean culture as both consumers and employees. So, restaurant owners and managers also served as cultural brokers. For our non-Latino interviewees, this led to increasing consciousness about the growth of the Latino population and the challenges these individuals face—like linguistic barriers—and fostered activism and outreach through churches and non-profit organizations like St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Oxford, Latino Memphis and Caritas Village. As Chef Elijah Townsend of Caritas Village—a restaurant, catering facility and community center in Memphis—explained:

My hope [ ] is that we can begin to bridge, close the gap on some of those barriers and begin to actually learn about each other and I think food is a great source to allow that to happen.  I think food is an amazing tool to bring people together.  If we think, if we look back over our lives, everything that happens to us, in some capacity, food is involved.  Whether it’s happy, sad, celebratory… food’s there.  I think food has the ability to take us to places we never physically will be able to go but we can experience that through taste and through that journey.

The influx of Latinos to Memphis and Oxford is challenging the historic black-white racial binary that has existed, and Latino-owned businesses are an important visible presence signaling the Latinization of spaces and places in communities throughout the south.

Dr. Simone Delerme is McMullan Assistant Professor of Southern Studies and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi. Her research focuses on Latino migration to the American South, and the social class distinctions and racialization processes that create divergent experiences in Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. Interview transcripts from the project can be accessed on the Southern Foodways Alliance’s website, https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/latino-memphis-and-oxford/.

Dr. Delerme’s research questions are included below. We invite readers to comment on them.  The following questions guided our data collection and analysis:

  • How are Latino migrants incorporated into the social, political and economic life of communities in non-traditional destinations of migration?
  • How are residential and commercial spaces with a concentration of Latinos perceived by non-Latino residents?
  • How do Latinos navigate the South’s historic black/white racial binary?

If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact Sarah Fouts saf817@lehigh.edu.

 

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, April 23, 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.

Today’s posting is a day late for Earth Day, which was yesterday, but we are going to get in on the celebrations (probably not the right word) anyhow. First, in case you did not see it, very famous anthropologist Jane Goodall was featured in the Earth Day Google Doodle, proving yet again just how important anthropology is. Here is some food advice from the earnest folks over at Food Tank. The overall message from both Food Tank and my Twitter feed seems to suggest that we are all eating too much, wasting too much, and using too much plastic. Which sounds about right. Definitely not a “celebration,” but hopefully not a commemoration either. Want more information? Visit the web site of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Great pictures too.

With the demise some time ago of Lucky Peach, you might be tempted to declare that the age of the really innovative food magazine is dead. But some folks are not having it, or so says Tejal Rao, in this article from the New York Times. From Dill (“a quarterly publication that honors the foodways of Asia and celebrates those who make a living sustaining the culinary traditions of this vast and diverse continent’) to Mouthfeel (“food from a Gay point of view”), and Whetstone (“a digital and print magazine on food origins and culture”), along with many (many!) others, this article proves that food media is still a lively genre.

There is also some serious and interesting food anthropology out there that you should be reading. We just ran across two excellent articles in Human Organization. The first, by David Griffith, focuses on individual fishery quota programs and policies that bring a kind of neoliberal perspective to Gulf of Mexico fisheries. The second, by Guang Tian, Jianhua Zhao, Laya Liu, Shulong Xie, and Yu Liu looks at the management of food brands in China in the post-socialist economy. Here are the full citations: David Griffith (2018) Enforced Economics: Individual Fishery Quota Programs and the Privileging of Economic Science in the Gulf of Mexico Grouper-Tilefish Fishery. Human Organization: Spring 2018, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 42-51 and Guang Tian, Jianhua Zhao, Laya Liu, Shulong Xie, and Yu Liu (2018) Old Names Meet the New Market: An Ethnographic Study of Classic Brands in the Foodservice Industry in Shantou, China. Human Organization: Spring 2018, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 52-63.

The oyster industry in the Gulf Coast region has suffered in recent years, for a variety of reasons. This remarkable article by Laura Reiley, writing in the Tampa Bay Times, documents the history of the oyster economy and the struggles of oystering families around Apalachicola, Florida. The folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance called our attention to this article in a recent blog entry, which includes additional resources that you may find useful on this topic.

There is controversy among the Jews of Italy. According to Simone Somekh, publishing in Tablet, the classic Jewish Italian dish carciofi alla giudia (apparently a deep fried artichoke) has been found to be treif (not kosher) by Israeli rabbinic authorities. There is a recipe and some interesting history of the dish in Joan Nathan’s recent book “King Solomon’s Table,” if you want to make it. The conflict in Italy is really about who has authority to define Jewish culture and has resonance far beyond food.

Homaro Cantu was the famous chef behind the Chicago restaurant Moto. He was one of the leaders of the molecular gastronomy movement. He was also, it turns out, an idealist that wanted to use his culinary inventions to save the world. Read this fascinating article about his life by Kieran Morris, from the Guardian. That cigar you see in the photo at the top? Not really a cigar. Also, you may want to listen to the associated podcast.

You need more food podcasts. Seriously. Don’t we all? The Oxford Symposium folks have put together a series of podcasts based on their annual program. Food historian Laura Shapiro leads off the series with a great story about the Pillsbury Bake Off, gender, “contest cooking,” and Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs. I suspect that this is what the Pillsbury Doughboy would taste like. Upcoming episodes promise tales of offal, colonialism, food and sound, liver, and barbecue. Listen!

The semester is coming to end, right? So you need something fun to read, but food-related. Here are some recommended food memoirs briefly reviewed by Daniela Galarza and her colleagues at Eater. I think the book on César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier looks like something I will want to read (“Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, The Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class,” by Luke Barr), but anything by Dave Eggers is likely to be interesting (“The Monk of Mokha”) and a new biography of Edna Lewis, by Sara B. Franklin, promises good reading as well (“Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original”). There is quite a bit more, so this will keep you busy and out of trouble for days.

For the sheer pleasure of very nice food writing, read this brief homage to dumplings from Eastern Europe. Writing in The New Yorker, Olia Hercules describes making and eating a wide range of delicious sounding dumplings from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. You will either want to find them or learn to make them, or both. We all need more dumplings.

On a very light note, I cannot resist calling attention to a recent episode of The Simpsons, in which they visit and pay homage to New Orleans cuisine. I have personally consumed a disturbing number of the items on the list, but it has taken me years to do that. Homer does it rather more quickly (he has a big appetite, even for a cartoon). People in New Orleans are pleased, you may enjoy the show as well. Here is the relevant food clip. All the restaurants and foods really exist (although the perceptive writer Judy Walker, at the Times-Picayune, has noted that the foods are most notably available at JazzFest, rather than at the restaurants…which, the hungry may note, starts soon).

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Where (You Might Think) There’s No Tienda

This fourth installment of the series, “Latinx Foodways in North America,” introduces the work of Teresa Mares, Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Vermont. Mares’s fascinating look at migrant farmworkers allows us to consider the intersections between labor and food security at the “other border” through interviews conducted with Latinx farmworkers in New England. If you would like to contribute to this collection, please contact series editor, Sarah Fouts, at saf817@lehigh.edu.

Mares Chiles

Born in New Mexico, raised in Colorado, and spending a good chunk of my adult life in Seattle, I had grown accustomed to having a ready supply of Mexican foods and ingredients close at hand. Whether it was the small tortilleria cranking out corn and wheat tortillas in the strip mall next to the Chuck E. Cheese’s in my hometown– or the taco truck in the shadows of the Amazon headquarters that I could walk to during a break from my dissertation — I never questioned the ease with which I could satisfy my own cravings. And then, in 2011, I moved to Vermont.

Sure, there’s the farm-to-table restaurant that slings delicious tacos and burritos filled with local pork, and based on the season, wildcrafted ramps and fiddlehead ferns. And yes, tucked in the bulk shelves of my local coop you might be lucky to find organic dried anchos and pasillas. There are even two tortilla factories (including one just down the road from my house) nixtamalizing, grinding, and pressing tortillas made from northern varieties of flint corn. Nearly seven years after making my way to this northern border state, these locavore offerings keep me somewhat satiated. And yet, my collection of Mexican cookbooks has swelled exponentially to guide my own attempts to reproduce meals that have that sabor that I often find myself missing, often using traveling foods that I purchase in urban locales of the U.S. and Mexico.

Here’s the thing though, I live fairly chose to Vermont’s largest city and I have the freedom to move around the landscape in search of these flavors. For farmworkers who have moved from Latin America to work in Vermont’s rural dairy farms, these advantages are not a given. Up to 95% of the migrant farmworker population in Vermont lacks personal transportation, even following the passage of legislation that allows state residents to secure a driver’s privilege cards regardless of citizenship status. Moreover, there is a realistic fear in Vermont’s border counties that visiting a food access point such as a local grocery store, farmers market, or food shelf could result in detention and ultimately deportation.

Vermont is home to an estimated 1000-1200 farmworkers, the majority of whom are men from central and southern Mexican states coming to secure year-round work in the milking barns of the state’s large industrial dairies. As of 2017, amidst the ongoing consolidation of the dairy industry, a significant number of Vermont’s dairies employed immigrant laborers. It is estimated that 68% of the state’s milk comes from farms that rely on immigrant workers (with a yearly sales of $320 million), and 43% of New England’s milk supply coming from these farms (Wolcott-MacCausland 2017). Despite contributing to the state’s economic wellbeing and the food security of millions, I have witnessed the repeated and continual disconnection between farmworkers and their foodways, a disconnection that, more often than not, began with the dispossession of rural lands and livelihoods back home. As I have discussed in my other writing, these disconnections are only exacerbated by a particular confluence of border hostilities and resulting fears that have worsened since the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

At the same time, I have also observed the resilient actions of farmworkers to remain connected to the foods that provide a tangible link to their families and their dinner tables south of the border, echoing what Meredith Abarca refers to as “culinary subjectivity.” These efforts include supporting the entrepreneurial efforts of Mexican women who have started home-based catering operations to deliver tamales, mole, and enchiladas out of the trailers they share with their husbands who labor upwards of 70-80 hours each week. It is seen in the kitchen gardens grown behind these same trailers with the support of Huertas, a shoestring project that I co-direct. It can also be observed in the deliveries that many farmworkers order and receive from mobile vendors who bring packaged and frozen foods from places as far away as New York City and Boston. These deliveries are the source of the Jumex juice cartons, half-empty bottles of Valentina hot sauce, and bags of chicharones that are often scattered on the countertops of farmworkers’ homes. Continue reading

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, March 12, 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.

It was only a matter of time before the question of sexual misconduct in restaurants intersected with the issue of tipping. Catrin Einhorn and Rachel Abrams investigate the often fraught relationship in this excellent article in the New York Times. The article includes useful videos. Is it time to end the degrading custom of tipping and just pay people properly?

Every social issue intersects with restaurants, as we have noted before. Here in New Orleans, chef Tunde Wey, working with Anjali Prasertong, a graduate student in Public Health at Tulane University, created an experiment designed to raise awareness of the wealth gap between white people and people of color in the United States. For a normally $12 lunch, people perceived as white were asked to pay $30, while everyone else was offered the regular price. Customers could choose to pay the higher price or not and everyone was interviewed about the experiment. Maria Godoy wrote about the whole thing on the NPR’s The Salt blog.

Have you been to the Spam festival in Isleton, California? This festival commemorates the miraculous survival of Spam cans after the town flooded in 1996. Read about the festival and listen to the Bite podcast, from Mother Jones, here. The latest episode includes additional stories about Tunde Wey’s experiment with food prices (see above) and about a member of Congress with an organic farm and a restaurant.

It is disturbing that Wey needs to remind us of the impact the racial wealth division has on Americans in 2018. This is, in fact, not a new story and we should have learned its lessons long ago. For a reminder of when Americans learned about this in an earlier era (even then, probably not for the first time), listen to this podcast, from the Southern Foodways Alliance program Gravy. Voting rights, along with public health and access to food in the American South in the early 1960s, examined by Sarah Reynolds, retells a story that still needs to be told. Use this in your classes. (The podcast coincides with the republication of the book Still Hungry in America, which you should take a look at too.)

From hunger to plenty: American fast food is notoriously stuffed with enormous amounts of cheese. Could this cheese tsunami be a result of a conspiracy, the work of the “Illuminati” of the dairy world? Writing for Mother Jones, Tom Philpott (who, to be fair, took the Illuminati idea from Bloomberg), says yes. He traces the cheese tide to overproduction and government policy to persuade you to eat more cheese. There is a disturbing cameo from President Trump too.

President Trump’s administration is working on rolling back the regulations put in place to prevent another oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Why is this about food? Because the Gulf of Mexico is where quite a lot of our seafood comes from and because many of the people who work in the oil industry also work in the fishing industry. As the article notes, the regulations were “written in human blood.” What is the price we will inevitably pay for rolling them back? Eric Lipton looks into this in this article from the New York Times.

What is the role of a seed library in Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation? Vivien Sansour, who founded the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, explains the local and global implications of this kind of activism in an interview with Joshua Leifer, on the +972 Magazine blog.

While we are in the neighborhood, this article by Rafram Chaddad weighs in on the debates about Israeli food by calling attention to the relationship between Jews and the foods of the Arab countries where many of them lived (and some still live). You have probably already heard the debates around hummus, but where does shakshuka take us? What would happen, Chaddad asks, if we recognized the complexities of the real histories of migration and nationalism that surface through food debates? Share this with your students next time you teach about cultural appropriation, ethnicity, or nationalism.

Forget John Le Carré novels. If you want espionage, read this article by Jessica Sidman from the Washingtonian. She reveals some of the antics that go on behind the scenes as restaurants strive to identify and please critics. Also, Le Diplomate, in D.C., is indeed very French.

Did you know that the organic food advocate Jerome Rodale died on the Dick Cavett show, at the age of 74, moments after declaring that he would live to 100? What impact does the untimely death of longevity advocates have on their credibility? Readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to learn that many people do not understand science very well. For instance, nutrition research that provides results for populations is often misunderstood as advice for individuals. For useful perspective, read this article by Pagan Kennedy, from the New York Times. And remember, we make no claims concerning how long you will live if you read this blog.

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CFP for EASA2018 in Stockholm: Moving on: Food Futures and Reimagining Uncertainty

Does your research look at food practices, food supply chains, local
cuisines or agriculture in a changing environment? Does your work draw
broadly on the themes of temporality and orientations toward the future –
practices of anticipation, anxieties, food security, planning or
uncertainty? If yes, you are warmly invited to submit an abstract to our
panel ‘Moving on: Food Futures and Reimagining Uncertainty’ (P033) and come
meet us in Stockholm at the EASA’s Biannual Conference ‘Staying, Moving,
Settling’ from 14 to 17 August 2018.— Moving on: Food Futures and Reimagining Uncertainty (P033), a panel of the EASA Anthropology of Food network
This panel addresses how food ‘moves on’ across time and space, borders and
bodies. From everyday practices to overarching value systems, we consider
foodways as human contemplations of the future: as sources of uncertainty,
as cushions against it and as speculations in search of opportunities.
Continue reading

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Food Insecurity and Chronic Malnutrition in Rural Indigenous Guatemala

SAFN GUATEIMG_1

With the title, “Latinx Foodways in North America,” we aim to put the series in a more international perspective, inclusive of the United States, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Canada. Here we introduce Dr. Meghan Farley Webb’s informative piece on fieldwork methods and nutrition with indigenous communities in rural Guatemala. Her work illustrates the global framework of this series. Enjoy!

Food Insecurity and Chronic Malnutrition in Rural Indigenous Guatemala

Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance is an NGO providing high-quality, evidence-based health care in indigenous communities in Guatemala. Guatemala is especially affected by chronic malnutrition, or stunting, with some Maya communities experiencing stunting rates of seventy-five percent.1 As part of our Complete Child program, we have undertaken several mixed-methods studies to explore why stunting remains a problem in Maya communities.2-3 Food insecurity, common in rural indigenous communities, contributes to the persistence of stunting in Maya communities. In some communities where we work, all households experience moderate to severe food insecurity, as measured by the FANTA Food Access and Insecurity Scale. The FANTA scale provides a quick (only nine questions) and cross-culturally reliable means of assessing household food insecurity. The scale pays special attention to the issue of reliable access to healthy food.

Poor Feeding Indicators & Food Availability

Twenty-four hour food recalls are an important tool in nutritional assessment, but they have been shown to underestimate caloric and dietary diversity in Guatemala.4 Our investigations show similar problems, in part because most rural communities have a once weekly market where diverse fruits and vegetables can be purchased. Little access to refrigeration means that nutritionally diverse foods are often not available during the week. While seven-day food frequency questionnaires report higher quantities of fruits and vegetables, children’s diets remain deficient in dairy, flesh foods, eggs, and vitamin-A rich foods. Use of these questionnaires—which query the frequency of consumption of culturally relevant food items, divided into WHO food groups—is imperfect, as it may over- or underestimate consumption of some items; however, we find they provide an accurate general assessment of dietary diversity.

In contrast to the limited availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-packaged junk food is readily available in tienditas (small corner stores). Focus groups and ethnographic interviews reveal that the ease of preparation of pre-packaged foods as well as children’s requests for junk foods and their relative low cost were additional drivers for the consumption of low-quality, processed foods. The proliferation of junk foods—sometimes referred to as “coca-colonization”5—means that Guatemala must simultaneously work to combat both stunting and obesity.

Poverty & Food Expenditures

In addition to this limited access to high-quality, nutritionally diverse foods, our research shows how endemic poverty contributes to food insecurity. We use the Quick Poverty Score to assess poverty in the communities we serve. The tool uses locally relevant “poverty indicators” to assess the likelihood that a household member is at or below $2 USD or $1USD/day. It is unsurprising that many households in rural indigenous Guatemala experience high levels of poverty. On average food expenditures are low, often so low that it would be impossible to meet caloric and micronutrient needs. Our research shows that underemployment and agricultural cycles result in high variability in income, and therefore, limit money available to spend on food.

Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports

Stunting rates remain high even in agricultural communities for two reasons. First, many households do not own enough land to sustain domestic production. Second, many rural agricultural communities have shifted from milpa (corn and beans) production to production for export. In the Guatemalan highlands, broccoli, snow peas, green beans, and blackberries have replaced traditionally grown and locally eaten crops. The shift to non-traditional agricultural exports negatively impacts dietary diversity not only because of a loss of subsistence crops, but also because growing these non-traditional exports often requires taking on significant debts for seeds and other agricultural inputs. Non-traditional agricultural exports have further worsened the conditions of food insecurity as the majority of rural Maya farmers do not report economic benefits to growing these crops. This is due in large part to the practice of selling crops to middlemen, rather than directly to exporters.

Programmatic Implications & Additional Research

Our research has shown how economic and environmental factors contribute to food insecurity and chronic malnutrition in rural indigenous Guatemala. Programs aimed at improving nutritional outcomes in indigenous children must also address cultural factors. For example, focus groups and numerous clinical interactions have demonstrated the importance of secondary caregivers, especially paternal grandmothers. Multi-generational family compounds mean that mothers, at whom most nutritional programming is aimed, may not be fully in control of food purchasing and/or preparation decision making. Home-based nutritional counseling offers one way to address barriers to improving nutritional outcomes in infants and young children. Internal evaluation of our nutritional programming and a recent clinical trial demonstrate the effectiveness of such intensive, home-based nutritional counseling to improve dietary diversity, minimum acceptable diet, and height/length-for-age. More information about our research, including copies of our published work and training materials, can be found here.

Meghan Farley Webb is a Staff Anthropologist with Wuqu’ Kawoq|Maya Health Alliance.

 

1 Black, R. E., C. G. Victora, S. P. Walker, Z. A. Bhutta, P. Christian, and M. Onis. 2013. “Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries.”  Lancet 382. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(13)60937-x.

2 Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social, Instituto Nacional de Estadística, and Secretaría de Planificación y Programación de la Presidencia. 2015. Encuesta Nacional de Salud Materno Infantil 2014-2015: Innforme de Indicadores Básicos. Guatemala City: Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social (MSPAS).

3 Chary, Anita, Sarah Messmer, E. Sorenson, Nicole Henretty, Shom Dasgupta, and Peter Rohloff. 2013. “The Normalization of Childhood Disease: An Ethnographic Study of Child Malnutrition in Rural Guatemala.”  Human Organization 72 (2):87-97.

4 Rodriguez, M. M., H. Mendez, B. Torun, D. Schroeder, and A. D. Stein. 2002. “Validation of a semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire for use among adults in Guatemala.”  Public Health Nutrition 5. doi: 10.1079/phn2002333.

5 Leatherman, T.L. and A Goodman. 2005. “Coca-colonization of Diets in the Yucatán.” Social Science and Medicine 61(4):833-846. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.047

Photo provided by the author and Wuqu’ Kawoq:

Image 1: A vendor sells fresh produce in the market. Most rural indigenous communities in Guatemala have only one market day a week.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, food and health, food security, indigenous people