Category Archives: anthropology of food

Last Update, Before We Plunge In!

One last program update before heading up to DC. I recently received notification from alert readers about the following panels, which are food-related and interesting. One of them, I note with some embarrassment, is in fact a roundtable that I am a participant in. Don’t know how I failed to note that earlier, but now that is fixed. Check out earlier postings for other SAFN panels, papers, posters, and other important sessions. For further updates, check out the conference program on the AAA web site or program app.

Remember, SAFN needs you! Come to the business meeting, the reception, and all of our panels!

Finally, many of us will be using social media to post updates and comments about events at the conference. Follow the hashtag #AAA2017 to keep up. Go see these panels, participate in the discussions, have a great conference!

Wednesday, November 29

Session: (2-0345) Food in the Moral Orders of Contemporary China.

Mikkel Bunkenborg, Anders Sybrandt Hansen, Ingrid Fihl Simonsen, Mikkel Bunkenborg, Ingrid Fihl Simonsen, Annie Sheng, Jamie Coates, Erika J. Kuever, Ellen Oxfeld.

Abstract: Eating has become an anxious business in China. A seemingly endless series of scandals from milk laced with melamine to recycled gutter oil and rat meat camouflaged as mutton has caused alarm about food safety, and beneath these periodic scares is a constant suspicion that producers are using pesticides, hormones, and additives in ways that make their products unfit for human consumption. The problems persist despite increased governmental efforts to regulate food production and many have come to see the production and marketing of unsafe food as part of a more pervasive moral crisis that has haunted China in recent decades of rapid economic growth.

Distrustful of the agricultural products they consume, Chinese citizens develop new strategies for evaluating and sourcing foodstuffs ranging from online sharing of consumer reviews and reliance on imported foodstuffs to starting up food production in urban gardens and establishing relations to particular known farms that promise to deliver healthy and organic food. In the case of significant state units, specially procured foods sourced from outside the market sphere has a long tradition. Originally intended as a safeguard in case of famine, this practice continues today and food procured this way is the envy of many as its production is believed to be more strictly controlled, and the products consequently safer and healthier. While farmers are in a better position to produce their own food and thus retain some control over what they eat, they are increasingly integrated in a highly competitive market economy where farmers produce specialized cash crops – sometimes by means the farmers themselves find dubious – and rely on commoditized foodstuffs for consumption. Both ruralites and urbanites thus face the same predicament of procuring safe food in a market that is largely perceived as amoral.

This panel aims to address the problem of unsafe food from an ethnographic perspective by exploring how social relations and moral obligations are mediated by food and how people verbalize and act upon concerns with unsafe food in both urban and rural settings. From the feeding of infants and the feasting of guests to anonymous transactions with strangers, food is both indicative and constitutive of a variety of social relations. How do particular forms of sharing foods map moral communities, and how do such practices fare in the current atmosphere of consumer distrust? What do consumer decisions and notions of danger tell us about moral imaginaries of society, rural-urban-, inter-ethnic, and international orders? How is the reach of moral obligation negotiated in food production? What forms of community and social trust are developing on each side and across the rural-urban divide in new production and consumption practices? This panel calls for contributions that follow particular moral economies of food to their edges and thus provide a nuanced understanding of the imbrications of morality, trust and food in contemporary China.

Friday, December 1

Session: (4-0210) Food and drink: past, present, and future (Part I). Guy Duke, Guido Pezzarossi, Katherine Chiou, Kathryn Sampeck, Frederick Smith, Justin Reamer, Maria Bruno, Clare Sammells.

Session: (4-0480) Food and drink: past, present, and future (Part II).  Guido Pezzarossi, Guy Duke, Shanti Morell-Hart, J Ryan Kennedy, Laura Ng, David Cranford, Ann Laffey, Rosemary Joyce.

The food and drink we consume have always been integral links between human social phenomena, health and well-being, as well as the physical environment. Our methods of procurement and production, practices of preparation and consumption, and modes of discard and disposal all are deeply intertwined with everything from ontologies to politics, socioeconomics to ecology, and more. Archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have addressed these connections, often with particular emphasis on a general topic within the time periods and geographical settings of their study. Rarely, however, has the study of food and drink attempted to bridge past practices directly to current-day topics. Multiple potential approaches to making this linkage are available to us, each with unique but complementary perspectives. For instance, working from a longue dureé approach to foodways opens up new lines of inquiry that can radically contextualize the present in the past, illuminating local/ global knowledges and practices around food with longer and shorter histories and the particular assemblage(s) of humans and nonhumans that collaborate in their emergence and longevity.

Part I of this session will focus on how food and drink, and the heterogenous networks of practices, places, people and things that they gather, allow for analyses to inform on how past food related practices helped shape broader social and material contours of life in the present—both food and non-food related—at a variety of scales. Sidney Mintz’s study of sugar, and the multi-sited impacts on labor relations, production practices, technology, consumption and bodies–past and present–provides a model for thinking through the broader consequences and enduring legacies of past foodways.

In Part II of this session, presenters explore how such an approach also makes possible comparative analyses of contexts, processes and their effects that have been segregated in our analyses, due in large part to notions of modernity’s exceptionalism. A comparative approach to analyzing spatiotemporally distinct histories and assemblages, that are nevertheless generative of similar effects, provides a framework for bridging temporal/epochal ruptures between archaeology and cultural anthropology. Putting foodways in disparate pasts/presents that share similar topographies of power, process and experience into conversation, provides new perspectives on the seeming inevitability and permanence of present foodscapes and their entanglements.

Together, these sessions explore the multiple ways in which the patterns of food production, acquisition, preparation, distribution, consumption, and disposal in the ethnographic, archival, and archaeological past can not only have a profound effect on our understanding of how our current world came to be the way it is, but also guide us towards potential alternate futures.

Saturday, December 2

Roundtable Session: (5-0935) Food Talk Matters: How Health, Wealth, and Security Are Semiotically Produced, Consumed and Unequally Distributed. Kathleen Riley, Michael Silverstein, Robert Jarvenpa, Donna Patrick, Susan Blum, David Beriss, Amy Paugh, Christine Jourdan, Jillian Cavanaugh, Alexandra Jaffe, Martha Karrebaek.

Abstract: Food and words are produced, consumed, processed, and exchanged in homes, schools, gardens, coffee shops, farmers markets, movie sets, food shelves and refugee camps, to name only a few of the most familiar settings. Both are constrained by power-laced aesthetic systems. Both are enlisted by agents to semiotically transform political economic systems. Thus, the ethnographic and semiotic analysis of foodtalk (communication that happens through, about, around, and metaphorically as food) matters, both materially and symbolically, in a world where humans use foodways to both instantiate and alleviate social injustice and use discourse to both nourish and poison.

This roundtable brings together scholars from linguistic anthropology and food anthropology to explore the many cross-cutting ways in which food and language are implicated and interpolated in a range of political-economic issues from global discourses of food justice to dinnertime engagement in table talk. These include: the socialization of age and gender norms at home (Ochs, Paugh) and the acquisition of neoliberal ideologies about ethnicity and class at school (Karrebæk, Riley); gendered exchanges on the hunting trail (Jarvenpa) and the internecine rivalries of French village festivals (Jourdan); the textual production and labeling of “authentic” sausage (Cavanaugh) and the mediatization of food safety panics (Jourdan); the classing of wine (Silverstein) and the branding of soda (Manning); the representation of fat (Meneley) and the national significance of fried rat (Wilk;, the preparation of meals out of endangered species (Patrick) and interspecies semiosis in slaughter houses (Garrett); the circulation of gender and ethnicity in public and private kitchens (Abarca, Williams-Forson) and the racialized gentrification of the cultural food economy in urban America (Beriss); the production of taste for ‘local’ and ‘authentic’ (Riley, Cavanaugh, Blum) and the popular consumption of ‘language gap’ rhetoric (Blum, Riley).

In other words, food talk value is produced, consumed, and circulated, both economically and symbolically, with the qualia at stake including health and taste, climate change and interspecies cruelty, social justice and identity politics. Foodways are semiotically read as a form of structured communication (Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Douglas…); communication about foodways include not only referential but also iconic (synaesthetic) signs of food (Parasecoli, Belasco, Frye and Bruner…); communication around food (i.e., in its presence) not only references but also indexes the food, reproducing and transforming old understandings of food values (Schieffelin, Counihan, Dossa, etc.); finally, communication also operates as metaphorical and instrumental forms of sustenance — healthy or not (Cramer et al). Thus, ideologies about food and language are both reflected in and forged by discursive food exchanges, prompting “acts of resistance” to systems of miscommunication and efforts to renovate ailing food systems. In this session, we will sketch out some of the areas that have yet to be explored, some of the methods with which to take this project on, some of the connections that may be made, and some of the steps that could be taken.

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Filed under AAA 2017 Washington DC, anthropology, anthropology of food, archaeology

More Food Panels, Papers, and Posters at AAA 2017

A week or so ago we posted a listing of the panels sponsored by SAFN at the upcoming meetings of the American Anthropological Association. It is a glorious list, of course, and if you are attending, you could probably build your entire schedule with that alone.

There are many more food and nutrition papers, posters, and panels on the conference program. If you do a search for “food” you will get a surprisingly large number of results. We requested that SAFN members whose work was not reviewed by SAFN send us information about anything they might have on the program. Those that we received are below…and the selection is inspiring! We will not have time to post more here, so check out the conference program for even more. If you are a SAFN member, remember that you can also circulate news about your presence on the meeting program by sending an email to the SAFN listserv. Let us know what you are up to!

Thursday, November 30

Abby Golub: New Plantations, Neo-Slavery, and Successful Incorporation: Towards a Framework for a More Just Food Production System, as part of the poster session (3-0530) “Gallery Session: Social Justice and Education,” 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM.

Abstract: New Plantations, a multi-sited, international collaboration funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies, considers migrant agricultural labor, race, and illegality. The project includes case studies in Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. A primary goal of the project is to “develop a framework for more socially sustainable production regimes, and explore approaches that might improve difficult working conditions of migrants in agriculture.” My project fits within the Belgium case study. My goal was to understand life paths of people no longer working in such neo-slavery working conditions, and to understand how they achieved their positions. I specifically focus on South Asian, especially Sikh people in Belgium because they have often worked in agriculture and moved on to other jobs and even farm ownership. I argue that Sikh Cosmopolitanism, a compilation of traits such as openness, generosity, and positive associations with rural, as well as religious habitus, contributes to positive religious, economic, and educational incorporation both locally in Belgium and in transnational social fields.

Session: (3-0730) Famines and Food Crises in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Remediation: How Anthropologists Are Responding. Anita Spring (chair), Solomon Katz, Ellen Messer, Barrett Brenton, Zinta Zommers, John Lamm, Judy Canahuati, David Kauck. 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM

Abstract: Famines and food crises in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries bordering the Red Sea are created and complicated by war, political unrest, climate change, continued population growth, and economic factors. A chaotic decline in food resources for at least 20 million people extends east to west from Nigeria to South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, mostly due to political unrest and instability, with these four countries having the greatest severity in Africa and the world according to the UN. Other climate-related famine countries are in the Horn of Africa and include Sudan and Ethiopia, while political unrest affects food production and distribution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (central Africa) and drought conditions obtain in the southern and eastern Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), where prolonged and serious drought strains the economic and social capacity to cope with and develop new solutions in these recurring drought scenarios. Further complicating relief in many of these countries are the reduced expenditures from multilateral agencies of the UN and bilateral assistance from the US, UK, EU, and Japan. By contrast, China has stepped up to provide public- and private-sector funding and development assistance, but the magnitude, methods and results need to be studied to ascertain the impacts. This session examines from an anthropological perspective the causes, consequences, and their efforts for remedial and action plans developed by participating multilateral, bilateral and NGO agencies aimed at mitigating food and agriculture disasters, and for promulgating new solutions both political and technological. A major problem currently facing famine-relief programs is the uncertainty of UN funding, particularly affecting the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP) and related emergency resources due in part to the proposed US under-funding for UN programs. This round table aims to summarize issues and remedies using the data from several perspectives. Questions to be addressed in this session include, but are not limited to the following issues: (1) How are anthropologists conceptualizing, identifying, and mitigating food-system disasters, using their long-term experiences in studying previous and recurrent calamities? (2) How do current political mishandling of agricultural production and distribution affect outcomes versus what happens if “more enlightened” production and distribution methods, as well as better marketing strategies and financial instruments are introduced? (3) Are any of these likely to mitigate the food crises, and if so how? This round table also considers new and innovative farm-managed methods such as conservation agriculture and carbon sequestration in soils, alternative food sources and better food storage, new financial instruments and index-insurance for farmers, and producer-friendly government policies in terms of production and distribution. The need for greater economic understanding of the food supply is a crucial and missing link between the planning which is often done by Big Ag economics, and the need for “Anthronomics”, that uses the insights and questions of anthropology and the methods of economics to address new solutions for food system problems.

Friday, December 1

Session: (4-1005) Anthropologists’ Retirement Accounts, Land-grabbing, and Deforestation: local and global impacts of TIAA’s agricultural investments. Douglas Hertzler, Marc Edelman, Sidney Greenfield, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Steven Heim, Quinton Robinson, Karina Gonzalez, David Kane.

Abstract: Many anthropologists have their retirement savings invested in the large financial services organization TIAA, which provides plans for many universities and non-profits. TIAA describes itself as “the largest manager of worldwide farmland assets.” The firm is a global leader in the surging interest in acquiring farmland that has occurred over last decade as investors have increasingly seen farmland as a valuable and potentially scarce asset in the future. Separately from its real estate investments TIAA also has investments in the consumption side of the palm oil supply chain, an industry often connected with deforestation and human rights concerns. TIAA prides itself in being a responsible investor and played a leading role in developing the Principles for Responsible Investment in Farmland. These TIAA sponsored principles remain controversial among and civil society organizations participating in the UN Committee on World Food Security which has developed its own more broadly recognized guidelines on land tenure.

Since the pioneering fieldwork of AAA past-President Walter Goldschmidt in California in the 1940s, anthropologists have been interested in the impact of farm ownership structure on communities and food systems. Brazilian researchers and social movements have been concerned that corporate investment in farmland undermines land access and control by marginalized communities and groups and it has been alleged that companies such as TIAA are circumventing laws that were intended to prevent large-scale foreign ownership of farmland through joint ventures with Brazilian companies with majority ownership. Further, some claim following national legal requirements is not enough to protect rural communities where land tenure is contentious. In the United States, family farm advocates are concerned that the growing scale of corporate farms harms rural communities and reduces farming opportunities for young farmers, immigrants, and farmers of color. This public policy forum moderated by anthropologists interested in the issues, will include representatives of family farm, environmental, and human rights organizations, as well as representatives of organizations involved in responsible investment. In addition to addressing the current situation, panelists will be asked: What can large institutional investors do to support the implementation of human rights norms and best practices in equitable access to land and collective land rights?

Willa Zhen: Chefs Need Anthropology: Critical Reflections on Teaching at the Culinary Institute of America, as part of the panel (4-1270) “Why Anthropology Matters: Making Anthropology Relevant and Engaging a Larger Public Audience through Pedagogy,” 4:15 PM – 6:00 PM.

Abstract: This paper reflects upon the author’s experiences teaching anthropology at the Culinary Institute of America. Founded in 1946, this institution has come to be known for producing some of the top names in the culinary and hospitality fields. Graduates of the Institute routinely top the “best of” lists in the culinary world; names like Anthony Bourdain, Duff Goldman, Cat Cora, and many others. It suffices to say this institution has a strong reputation – just not for anthropology. But as the food industry has come to deal with new social issues like environmental change, cultural sustainability, fair labor practices, the Institute has also had to reshape its curriculum. Anthropology has entered the curriculum in recent years, part of the Institute’s growing recognition of the need for students to be more than “just” chefs. This paper will discuss why it is important to teach anthropology in what are traditionally vocational contexts and how the discipline is uniquely positioned to contribute beyond traditional liberal arts classrooms. Culinary students, who in their kitchen training have been taught to follow orders, are challenged to think critically, to develop intercultural awareness, and to question why actions occur. Anthropology can play a role in shifting students from saying “Yes, Chef!” to asking “Why, Professor?” by training individuals to think beyond the plate.

Saturday, December 2

B Lynne Milgram. Activating Alternatives in a Transnational Trade: Social Entrepreneurship and Frontier Coffee Production in the Upland Northern Philippine, as part of the panel (5-0915) “(Re)Situating Social Entrepreneurship and Transnational Trade in the Global South: Actors, Agency and Alternatives,” 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM.

Abstract: While the fair-trade-certified coffee movement’s roots in social justice created advantageous terms for producers, its current perceived inadequate concern for coffee quality and uneven producer-vendor relations have given rise to entrepreneurial initiatives marketing “fairer-than- fair-trade” coffee. The latter’s practice moves beyond “corporate social responsibility” to champion transparency, high quality, and sustainability. By opting out of the certification system, however, such fairly-traded enterprises raise questions about how consumers can verify vendors’ claims and how to reward those effectively assisting producer communities?

This paper engages these issues by analyzing new northern Philippine specialty coffee enterprises that apply a “fairly traded” mandate to activate the region’s Arabica coffee production. I argue that while these “barefoot” social entrepreneurs (Max-Neef 1992) have established more equitable terms for their transnational Philippine-US/Canadian trade, the complexity of people’s subsistence needs and pre-existing socioeconomic relationships can challenge enterprise sustainability. By shortening commodity chains, paying higher purchase prices, and providing organic cultivation training and processing equipment, Philippine social entrepreneurs enable farmers’ engagement in alternatives to conventional and fair trade markets. Indeed by promoting small-lot coffee production, these entrepreneurs have established a distinctive terroir of place and taste. Yet, Philippine farmers’ lack of income diversity, independent rather than collective production, and fierce competition in which producers sell previously promised produce to another buyer can frustrate entrepreneurs’ efforts to differentiate their practice. Given coffee culture’s growing third wave, I argue that Philippine entrepreneurs’ timely initiatives can still resolve these push-pull tensions to yield an industry for, and more responsive to, stakeholders needs.

Sunday, December 3

Joeva Rock: “The So-Called NGOs, Some of Them are Just Killing Us”: Recipient Fatigue and Agricultural Development in Ghana, as part of the panel (6-0260) “Lives Spaces, Globalized Economies, and Consumption in African Contexts,” 10:15 AM – 12:00 PM.

Abstract: The African Green Revolution is an unprecedented attempt to radically transform the African countryside vis-à-vis commercialized agriculture. It is premised on the assumption that, when provided with education and opportunity, African farmers will purchase “improved,” higher-yielding technologies. In this presentation, I draw on 13 months of ethnographic research in Ghana on one such improved technology: genetically modified seeds.

Using interviews, organizational texts, and participant observation, I show how a growing discontent amongst bureaucrats, civil society, and farmers disrupts the African Green Revolution’s teleological logics of growth, modernization and development. I call this discontent “recipient fatigue,” a dissatisfaction with being subjects of NGO, donor and state interventions, many of which have had little positive impact. I first share stories from farmers in Northern Ghana, many of whom have had negative experiences with “modern” agriculture, and thus remain skeptical of future interventions. Some decide to opt out of projects and interviews, a momentary disassociation from a global development system that denigrates African epistemologies and expertise. Finally, I conclude by showing how Ghanaian food sovereignty organizations attempt to translate agrarian discontent into policy change and practice, with particular regard to seed and seed law.

Session: (6-0235) Categories of Remembrance and Forgetting: Itineraries and Sanctuaries – Itineraries (Part 1). Terese Gagnon, Carrie Emerson, C.Nadia Seremetakis, Hayden Kantor, Tracey Heatherington, Virginia Nazarea, Ann Gold

Abstract: Memory is in our heads, but it is also embedded in things, places, relationships and the senses. What happens when things are destroyed, people are uprooted, and sensuous engagements wane? Collectively, we explore how the valuable contents of memory are tied to webs of socialities, landscapes, and mythologies that call forth complex itineraries and sanctuaries. We query the ways in which emotions surrounding the forgotten and recalled, rather than representing a trauma/nostalgia binary, may most often be “both/and.” How is memory seeded, how is it ceded? In what ways are seeds portable altars of identity and place for indigenous peoples, traditional farmers, immigrants, and refugees, among others? When the seeds themselves are lost, is the opening of that sensuous portal to other times, places, and relationships permanently foreclosed? How does one re-member and re-emplace when faced with the erasure of landscapes of memory and enforced bodily forgetting in the context of various calamities and displacements? How are political economies, and the wide relationships they foster, tied up in all of this in the Anthropocene?

From dislocation of political refugees and traditional farmers to conservation of biodiversity and diverse agro-culinary traditions, we examine milieus and memorials where the past is re-lived, consecrated, or expunged. We consider how, under certain conditions, these subversive and pregnant sites may have the power to re-open or re-create alternant forms of sociality and “affective economies” that encompass humans and other beings alike. We delve into the nature of nostalgia, that journeying back into the memory of things, places, routes, and refuges that at once carry warmth and melancholy. The contributors look at how these associations are linked to temporalities and places that have the potential to be both “slippery” and “transmutable” through the performance of gardening, cooking, and commensality. Such acts are especially fertile ground, as they constitute a re-opening via the senses and memory that substantively alters the present physical/ontological reality. In these often strange journeys of estrangement and sometimes return, the material and the imaginary collide.

Session: (6-0420) Categories of Remembrance and Forgetting: Itineraries and Sanctuaries – Sanctuaries (Part 2) Emily Ramsey, Taylor Hosmer, David Sutton, Milan Shrestha, Melanie Narciso, Jim Veteto, Marc Williams, C. Nadia Seremetakis.

Abstract: How do landscapes and foodscapes, along with everyday practices of preserving or rebuilding knowledge and community across time and space become sanctuaries? How can embodied practices of memory and sensuous engagement call forth connections that bridge “transmission gaps” in the face of rapid changes in the age of Anthropocene? What new forms of sociality do individuals forge in constructing these sanctuaries of memory, and how can they re-shape the knowledge, identity, and even discourse surrounding the politics of food, climate change, and austerity? How does one emplace when (if) there is little left to enact? This panel seeks to delve into these questions, examining the diverse ways that sanctuaries of memory and practice confront the risk of loss and serve to rebuild connections to individuals, places, and times.

Food and beverage become a primary sanctuary and a productive site for memory’s maintenance, whether through the physical preparation of dishes or the value conveyed in commensality. Embodied aspects of food, whether in the preparation of Cathead biscuits, a regional Southern specialty at risk of dying out with the growth of the frozen biscuit market, or in the age-old preparation of mead, a practice revived among participants in the emergent ethnobotanical mead circle tradition of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Memory also confronts an ever shifting foodscape, maintaining connections to heritage and past ways of life, in both tomato festivals that dot the Southeastern United States, bringing farmers and suburbanites into conversation with one another, and among rural Filipinos who continue to produce Aslam Baliti, a slowly fermented sugarcane vinegar, against the many mass-produced vinegars lacking traditional complex flavors. Moreover, cultural memory intersects with and continues to shape action, for example, where Nepali memories of past flood events influences their perception of risk with glacial lake expansion, and how Greek citizens facing political austerity measures and increasing individualism react by enacting coffee shop sociality and preparing traditional meals for refugees. This session explores milieus where the past is re-lived, consecrated, or reimagined, creating sometimes alternant forms of sociality that bring together individuals in diverse localities and circumstances, creating sanctuaries , both fleeting and robust.

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A “Hoppy” Bubble? Linking Labor and Capital in Washington State’s Beer and Cannabis Industries

Blog Editor’s note: This is the second installment in FoodAnthropology’s series on Latinx foodways in North America. We welcome contributions from researchers in this area. More details about the series are here

Megan A. Carney
University of Arizona, School of Anthropology and Center for Regional Food Studies

Every fall in the Pacific Northwest, craft brewers and beer connoisseurs alike anxiously anticipate the availability of freshly harvested hops. Ranging from mid-August to mid-October, almost every brewer in the trade premieres a fresh hop beer. The widespread and increasing demand for freshly harvested hops turns the craft beer scene into some kind of frenzy: brewers buy as much as they can as soon as the hops are available and then proudly display their piling heaps of green and gold treasures – mounds of the fresh hop buds – with much fanfare to salivating beer aficionados. The hop bud enjoys much attention, even worship, during this time of year, its image projected onto all forms of marketing and advertising from bottle labels to bumper stickers and billboards.

Washington State’s Yakima Valley is one of the most productive hop-growing regions in the United States, accounting for more than 70 percent of total hop cultivation nationally. It is a $380 million industry that generates over 65 million pounds of popular hop varieties such as Centennial, Amarillo, and Cascade. While an agricultural tradition has thrived in the Yakima Valley for many generations, due in part to its proximity to the Columbia River and fertile soils, more growers have gradually begun cultivating hops. Hops production has been increasing since the turn of the nineteenth century with a particularly sharp increase in 2005.

The elevated status of hops, however, and its near fetishization among brewers and consumers tend to obscure the labor processes and larger shifts in agricultural land use that have enabled the increased availability of hops. Harvesting hops is a labor-intensive process despite certain advances in mechanizing hops production. Migrant workers, whose origins trace from Mexico and Central America predominantly, perform the bulk of this highly skilled labor. One brewery even recently released a beer to pay homage to this migrant workforce. Since hops harvesting is seasonal, these migrant workers often migrate to other regions of the United States in search of work in other seasonal industries. While migrant labor has historically sustained much of the agricultural production in the Yakima Valley, the increasing demand for highly-skilled migrant workers in hops cultivation and harvesting due to the industry’s rapid expansion is a more recent development.

Much remains unknown regarding the specific labor and living conditions of migrant workers employed in the hops industry. However, studies of migrant farmworkers in the Yakima Valley have found substandard living conditions, numerous occupational hazards, high rates of food insecurity, chronic health conditions, and inadequate or limited access to health care as characterizing the daily struggles of this population. My research aims to understand the lived experiences of these workers, specifically the daily and seasonal rhythms of their labor, living conditions, and broader effects for food insecurity and health. In addition, I seek to map the political-economic and institutional arrangements within which the lived experiences and life chances of workers in the hops industry and the “hop-crazed” brewers and consumers are connected.

The greater Seattle region has experienced rapid gentrification with unprecedented population growth during the past decade. Estimates are that the city grows by 1,000 new residents each week, many of them attracted to jobs with tech giants such as Amazon. These residents tend to be younger and wealthier as a whole, but with the city’s housing crisis, many are moving into what historically were more working-class neighborhoods. The shifting demographics of Seattle’s cityscape have been accompanied by the proliferation of microbreweries and recreational cannabis shops, the latter especially since Washington residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012. Meanwhile, crises loom around illicit drug use – particularly of heroin and other opioids – and widespread homelessness, troubling local residents, public health workers, and policymakers about specific actions to take. The growing demand for artisanal brews and high-quality cannabis among the region’s younger and more affluent residents on the one hand, and the gradual dispossession of the poor and growing homeless population on the other, arguably represent two sides of the same coin.

Another dimension of this research is probing into questions regarding shifts in land use toward hop and cannabis cultivation and the broader political-economic, environmental, and human health consequences. Food system scholars and practitioners consistently highlight the implications of shifting land-use from staple or edible crops intended for human consumption toward crops that support biofuel production, animal feed, or more “luxury” and recreational commodities. Hops and cannabis of course, tend to fit within the last category, notwithstanding arguments for how both crops may support human health in reducing stress and anxiety, or offering pain relief. Yet these crops – especially cannabis – also represent “big business” in generating revenues much higher per acre of yield than say an acre planted in pears or potatoes. Indeed, a substantial portion of Washington State’s land surface area devoted to agricultural purposes is now being cultivated for certain mind-altering substances and libations (e.g., grapes, apples, cannabis, hops). How the broader consequences of such shifts in land use unfold along lines of citizenship, class, and race within the greater Seattle region, Washington state, the Pacific Northwest foodshed, and beyond remain to be adequately understood.

Megan A. Carney is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, beer, Food Studies, Latinx Series, wine

2017 Thomas Marchione Award Winner!

We are very happy to announce the 2017 winner of the Thomas Marchione Food-as-a-Human-Right Student Award. This annual prize is awarded to a student whose work continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food security and access, and most directly, food as a human right. The award is presented to the awardee at the SAFN distinguished lecture and award ceremony at the annual AAA meetings (see our last blog entry for more information on that glorious event). The winner will receive a cash prize ($750 this year) and a one -year membership to the AAA and SAFN.

This year’s award goes to Paula Fernandez-Wulff, for her essay “Harnessing Local Food Policies for the Right to Food.” Paula Fernandez-Wulff is currently a Fulbright-Schuman Visiting Researcher at the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Legal Sciences at the University of Louvain (UCLouvain, Belgium). Her current research focuses on the role of municipalities in implementing the right to food through local policies – with a particular eye to those policies aimed at supporting local initiatives and social movements at large. Trained as a lawyer in France and Spain, she also holds an M.Sc. in Environmental Governance from United Nations University (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo.

The abstract for her essay is below. Congratulations!

Harnessing Local Food Policies for the Right to Food

Local policy-makers, particularly in cities, are beginning to recognize the importance of developing food policies from a human rights perspective. While the right to food provides a unique counter-narrative to prevailing power imbalances, structural inequality, and injustices in the food system, experiences from different cities around the world show that translating these ideas into local policy is not an obvious task. One of the reasons behind this is that, despite identified opportunities, rights-based approaches to local food policies have not accounted for, on the one hand, recent developments in the right to food at the international and national levels, including new rights-based struggles and the opening of new human rights’ frontiers; and on the other, the exponential growth in territorialization processes (i.e. areas of increased actor interactions defined by place specific social relations and practices) with the food system at their core. This research project provides some answers by splitting the issue into two questions: (1) can a human rights-based approach to local food policies deliver on its promises, while evolving to integrate these new realities? And if so, (2) how can municipal governments leverage such approaches to successfully implement the right to food? The EU and the US are two regions prominently exploring the potential of local food policies from diametrically opposed perspectives. Using a ‘law in context’ approach, and based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in both regions, this research project will provide a comparative view on some of the processes behind key policies on both sides of the Atlantic. It will do so by focusing on recognized human rights principles such as accountability, nondiscrimination, and participation, but also emerging ones including social justice, empowerment and agency, and equity – all key features of the human right to food.

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SAFN Events & Panels at AAA 2017

The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association is rapidly approaching. The conference will be held November 29-December 3 in Washington DC, mostly at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition will be well represented at the conference. We have included here a list of the panels sponsored by SAFN, as well as some of the other SAFN related events that will take place during the conference. More details on some of those will follow in coming days, including information about additional panels and papers that SAFN members are involved in that are not included in this list (those sponsored by other sections of the AAA). We have also provided links in the list below to the conference schedule, so readers can read more about the panels and papers. Come hear the latest food and nutrition research from anthropologists!

Wednesday (Nov. 29)

Wednesday, 4:30 pm-6:15 pm

(2-0545) Ethnographic Perspectives on School Food: Education, nutrition and culture

Rachel Black, Kelly Alexander (Session Chairs), Yue Dong, Caroline Compretta, Emily Herrington, Sarah Stapleton, Jennifer Thompson (Discussant)

Wednesday, 4:30 pm-6:15 pm

(2-0670) The Tourism of Food and Nature Matters: From Agriculture to Meals, from Rainforests to Glaciers

Clare Sammells (Session Chair), Mary-Beth Mills, Thomas Abercrombie, Charmaine Kaimikaua, Teresita Majewski, Angeles Lopez-Santillan, Michael Di Giovine (Discussant)

Thursday (Nov. 30)

Thursday, 2:00 pm-3:45 pm

(3-0755) Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter

Anne Lally, Kerri Lesh (Session Chairs), Carole Counihan, Sharyn Jones, Daniel Shattuck, II, Amy Trubek (Discussant)

Thursday, 5:30 PM – 8:15 PM

(3-1250) Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) Board Meeting 
Abigail E. Adams – Central Connecticut State University; Rachel E. Black – Connecticut College

Thursday, 6:30 pm-8:15 pm

(3-1485) Food and Politics: Shifting Economic and Cultural Practices in Global Contexts

Alice Julier (Session Chair), Christina Solazzo, Sophie Slesinger, Farha Ternikar, Greg de St. Maurice (Discussant)

Friday (Dec. 1)

Friday, 10:15 am-12:00 pm

(4-0295) Black Food Matters: Race, Food Consumption, and Resistance in the Age of “Food Justice”

Hanna Garth, Ashanté Reese (Session Chairs), Kimberly Kasper, Billy Hall, Yuson Jung, Andrew Newman, Psyche Williams-Forson (Discussant)

Friday, 12:15 PM – 1:30 PM

(4-0575) Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) Business Meeting  

Friday, 4:15 pm-6:00 pm

(4-1185) Political Context of Local Food Movements

Leigh Bush (Session Chair), Ryan Adams, Amanda Green, Janet Chrzan, Madeline Chera, Eriberto Lozada, Brad Weiss (Discussant)

Friday, 7:45 PM – 9:00 PM

(4-1360) Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) Distinguished Speaker, Awards and Reception 

Saturday (Dec. 2)

Saturday, 4:15 pm-6:00 pm

(5-1035) U.S. Food Matters in Policy and Ethnography

Abigail Adams (Chair), Victoria Benavidez, Dalila D’Ingeo, Preety Gadhoke, Derrell Cox, II, Mariya Voytyuk, Elaine Gerber

Sunday (Dec. 3)

Sunday, 10:15 am-12:00 pm

(6-0330) How Food Matters in Contested Sovereignties and Resistance

Jacquelyn Heuer (Session Chair), Nir Avieli, Sheila Rao, Brittany Power

Sunday, 12:15 pm-2:00 pm

(6-0510) Building the Big Tent: Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Work in Food and Nutrition

Kimberly Johnson, Susan Johnston (Session Chairs), Carina Truyts, Jane Waddell, Dillon Mahoney, Roberta Baer, Chelsea Wentworth, Kristen Borre, Solomon Katz (Discussant)

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Review: Eating the Ocean

Eating the Ocean. Elspeth Probyn. Duke University Press, 2016.

L. G. Brown (Indiana University)

In, Eating the Ocean, Elspeth Probyn contributes to an anthropology of food in two ways. First, the book offers a feminist and queer perspective on fisheries anthropology. Second, the book endeavors a unique ethnographic exploration into the food politics of fisheries. She says, “My message is simple: There is no place in which to escape the food politics of human-fish entanglement” (Pg. 5). This message is three-fold. First, it reminds consumers that we are all in some way responsible for the depletion of our world’s oceans, and all of the terrible things that happen in the fishing industry, including human slavery. Second, the crisis we see within our oceans is structural, related to the crisis of social class in our food system, namely differential access to food choice based on wealth and poverty. As she states in the introduction, “The idea that you can solve such intricate and complicated human-fish relations by voting with your fork is deluded narcissism” (Pg. 10). And third, that while considering the ethology[1] of more-than-human relations, humans have to remember that we are in a position of power, which means that, despite our best efforts to effectively communicate, we are often speaking on behalf of non-humans, usually without their permission.

This book is like a breath of fresh sea air, cool, briny, and gently laced with the scent of dead things. Much like the dead things in a marine environment, fisheries research is rejuvenating itself, providing space and nutrients for new life forms. Probyn is a Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She reflects on her positionality as a queer, feminist scholar transitioning into fisheries and seafood research throughout the book. On the one hand, she worries that scientists, her university, and her peers would question her interest in fisheries, finding it trivial, perhaps even punishing her for ‘changing’ her presumed research identity (Pg. 17). On the other hand, she can see that this gendered gaze in the sciences represents a larger dis-engagement from women involved with fisheries in any capacity, whether through research or practice (she dedicates Chapter four to a discussion about gender and fish). In the words of Barbara Neis, “Gender relations permeate fisheries at every level” (Neis, 2005, p. 7). The very identity markers—female, queer, gender studies professor—that make Probyn a ‘fish out of water’ in doing fisheries research are the same attributes that make her voice in the field so valuable.

‘Queering’ human-fish relations is Probyn’s touchstone, one that she very effectively articulates throughout the book. She expands on Stefan Helmreich’s notion of ‘athwart’ theory, which he develops in Alien Oceans as, “an empirical itinerary of associations and relations, a travelogue which, to draw on the nautical meaning of athwart, moves sideways, tracing contingent, drifting and bobbing, real-time, and often unexpected connections of which social action is constituted, which mixes up things and their descriptions” (Helmreich, 2009, p. 23). She adds, “To Helmreich’s use of the nautical sense of ‘athwart’… Eve Sedgwick’s understanding that the word ‘queer’ itself means across—it comes from the Indo-European root –twerkw, which also yields the German quer (transverse), and Latin torquere (to twist), English athwart… a continuing movement, recurrent, eddying, and troublant” (Sedgwick, 1993, p. 12). Probyn’s ‘athwart’ theory describes the epistemological ‘turbulence’ emerging from human-fish encounters.

Probyn incorporates this ‘athwart’ theory into her methodology. From Australia to Scotland, California to Peru, her fieldwork is dispersive. Likewise, she collects data from a wide variety of sources including poetry, film, ethnographic records, and government documents. Some readers may call the book an auto-ethnography about fisheries politics using seafood consumption as an entry point. She calls herself a ‘wet’ ethnographer (Pg. 14). “As a wet ethnographer—wet in the doubled sense of being a soft ethnographer who dredges ocean tales—I tease out connections and relate them” (Pg. 14). I assume that Probyn is referring to ‘soft’ here also in a double sense—to compare her qualitative methodology to a more quantitative, or ‘hard’ science approach, and to draw out a gendered binary between the two types of data analysis. Much of the author’s fieldwork is based on participant observation and interviews, and she sticks to a qualitative data analysis.

Probyn also refers to her ethnographic methodology as a ‘rhizo-ethology,’ “a dialogic and embodied practice” (Pg. 14; Deleuze, 1992). She notes that her reference to the rhizome as a signifier for interconnectedness is likely familiar to many terrestrial scholars (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). However, fewer scholars apply this concept to the ocean and its many progenitive marine spaces. Therefore, Probyn challenges a public and scientific discourse which ‘simplifies the sea’ as a solitary cultural milieu (Pg. 24). Crediting Deleuze, she says, “… I follow multiple entryways into the entanglement of humans and non-humans, into our vexed encounters within different ecosystems” (pg. 25). More explicitly, she focuses on the complex relationships humans build with fish as food (aside from her foray into mermaid lore in Chapter 4). This enables her to, “think about ways to develop a reflexive ethics of taste and place” (back cover).

Chapter One describes oceans as ‘affective habitus,’ problematizing seafood choice as a one size fits all solution to an environmental crisis, and sustainability as a ‘heteronormative end goal’ (Pg. 47).  The chapter gives a good overview of seafood politics, feminist critiques of sustainability. She gives a general overview of fisheries politics and research from the last one hundred years or so. She also proffers a unique analysis about seafood documentaries, including The End of the Line, which focuses on depleting fish stocks around the world, and its rejoinder Drawing the Line, which focuses on fishers’ responses to marine conservation efforts. At the end of the chapter, she makes an interesting argument for temporality and caring, asking how we come to care about the ocean and its many inhabitants, and how we sustain that sense of moral obligation. She uses this question of attachment to the sea as a segue way for her next chapter on taste, and other sensualities.

Chapter Two is all about oysters, where Probyn moves to a more direct engagement with taste, embodiment, and briefly, class inequality. For those readers interested in taste and the senses, Probyn offers a useful literature review on the topic here, and applies it well to the context of fisheries politics and seafood consumption. Riffing on Annmarie Mol (Mol, 2008, p. 28), she says, “I eat an oyster… the oyster eats me” (pg. 52). She uses this phrase as an entryway into questions about subjectivity in eating. Then she talks about oysters and sex—the ways that oysters reproduce, “Oysters are very queer” (Pg. 53), and the ways that humans interpret oyster materialities in variously impassioned ways (see Lewis Carroll’s, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” poem and discussion on Pg. 56). She retells M.F.K. Fisher’s autobiographical story, “The First Oyster,” which is about so much more than oysters, as you may have guessed. “The delightful taste of oyster in my mouth, my new-born gourmandise, sent me toward an unknown rather than a known sensuality” (Pg. 54; Fisher, 1990, p. 376). The rest of the chapter is about her fieldwork in Scotland, eating oysters, and visiting an oyster farm, which doubles as a community revitalization project.

Chapter Three is about tuna fishing, ranching, and Individual Transferable Quotas. In it, she tells a fascinating tale about a handful of Croatian-Australian men and one German-Australian man who forever changed the Bluefin tuna industry. Probyn derives much of the narrative content in this section from her own interviews and participant observation with these industry professionals, perhaps more so than in any other chapter in the book. Though the book is technically outside the purview of anthropology, she makes a few friendly references to some well-known anthropologists who study fish and fisheries including Agnar Helgason and Gisli Pálsson, Icelandic fisheries experts (Pálsson & Helgason, 1995); Theodor Bestor, Tsukiji fish market extraordinaire (Bestor, 2004); as well as a lesser-known, though equally important anthropologist, Kate Barclay, who studies transnational tuna fishing, industry, and trade (Barclay, 2008).

Chapter Four is about gender in fisheries. She starts the chapter with an anecdote about her experience researching the subject. A male marine biologist apparently assumed that she was researching mermaids when she got in touch with him about this book. A seemingly innocuous assumption, I can empathize with her sentiment that she felt like, “[her] passion for fish-human ways of being was demeaned, reduced to a little girl’s whimsy” (Pg. 101). She winds up writing extensively on mermaids in this chapter as a result. The rest of the chapter she dedicates to a breakdown about the fisheries industry and social inequality in terms of gender. She starts with a feminist critique of sustainability narratives that assume women are better at sustainability because they are closer to nature. Yet, in countless fisheries examples, women have held special knowledge about shifts in fish stocks, materialities, and ecosystems but no one bothered to ask them what they knew. Their voices simply count for less than male voices.

Chapter Five is about little fish. In this chapter, Probyn talks about her love of sardines, and the fisheries in Peru who produce anchovies for fishmeal to feed animals, and fish oils to sell as dietary supplements to the wealthy. The chapter includes the story of a female activist in Peru, Patricia Maljuf, who set out to make anchovies edible again (Majluf, 2013). Majluf works with fishers, processors, and chefs to market anchovies as a delicate and tasty tinned treat, like sardines, only different. She also discusses multitrophic polyculture, and visits an algae lab. She ends the chapter with a discussion about fish relatedness, and ‘metabolic intimacy,’ a concept she borrows from Annemarie Mol and John Law (Law & Mol, 2008), and builds on through the chapter. She says, “As a concept, it directs us to think about the multiple trophic and structural levels through which we (fish, humans, animals) are related” (Pg. 148). Probyn uses this concept in addition to Jane Bennetat’s conceptualization of ‘vibrant materiality’ (Pg. 136; Bennett, 2009, p. 39), and Ana Tsing’s notion about, “the arts of noticing the entwined relations of humans and other species across non-nesting scales,” which Probyn first develops at the end of chapter four (Pg. 126; Tsing, 2014, p. 237).

Through these chapters, Probyn moves easily between fisheries research references from the social sciences to a more novel discussion about literary narratives and pop culture references, including a brief discussion about the humans who pose naked with tuna, and other seafood. This theme, weaving together science and folklore, imbricating fiction with non-fiction, the myriad forms of visual, written and oral history is something that Probyn plays with throughout the book. To me, this is the book’s greatest strength. It lends her an authorial edge in the genre. ‘Queering’ fisheries research in this way, Probyn invites a whole new generation of trans-disciplinary scholars to the field. I would guess that graduate students will find the book refreshing, and undergraduates, more challenging.  In my experience, students love to learn about seafood. And this book provides a unique, and exciting overview of the topic. Meanwhile, it makes meaningful change to the politics of human-fish relations, and of gender in the social sciences more generally. Readers may also find the book an accessible introduction to fisheries research in the humanities, and to more-than-human ethologies in the social sciences.

However, I felt the author could do more to untangle the relationship between social class and sustainability, including a more thorough discussion of race (she does expound a bit on race and in the context of gender studies in Chapter 4). Given her strong message about structural inequality at the beginning of the book, I hoped she might spend more time deconstructing the interplay of seafood, sustainability, and social class throughout. She does argue that middle-class consumers who identify with ‘localism’ in seafood consumption often perpetuate ideals about racial and moral purity (Pg. 3, 107). She does talk about the struggle for capital among fishers, especially in chapter two, oyster farmers in this case, as well as the many folks who work other jobs in the fisheries industry, namely women, which she covers well in chapter four. In contrast, in chapter three, she focuses on a group of billionaires who hold large quantities of Blue Fin tuna quotas, an important reminder that not all who make their living on fisheries production are poor. She speaks more directly to global inequalities in fish consumption in chapter five when she discusses fish oils as problematic dietary supplements for the wealthy, not to mention the additional double-bind for pregnant women who have to balance methyl-mercury risks with Omega-3 Fatty Acid intake (Mansfield, 2012). Though her fieldwork on the topic of structural inequality between consumers in human-fish relations is lacking.

While the book does so much to further social inquiry into the relationship between humans and fish, I wanted to hear more about structural inequality among humans, especially as consumers. How can we come together to confront seafood politics and sustainability across our class divides? From what I understand, her intent with this book is to move the discourses of sustainability and seafood politics away from the same old moral directives which privilege white, upper-middle-class, heteronormative, cis-males, and the reproductive structures that pattern social inequality in our everyday lives. The same class politics that are inherent to consumerism also play out in human-fish relations, reproducing structural inequality between humans, fish, and the ocean. When researchers frame the oceanic crisis within the ‘Anthropocene,’ they often reproduce this collective politics, or social inequality in discourses on sustainability and seafood consumption (Pgs. 12).

In her conclusion, she says that we all need to pay more attention to seafood politics and try to build closer relationships with fish, fishers, and the ocean as consumers. More specifically, she recommends eating more little fish, such as sardines, anchovies, and oysters. Her argument is that these smaller fish are more readily available, and underappreciated. It remains unclear to me who this message is for. Is the message the same for low and high-income consumers? Are sardines, anchovies, and oysters affordable seafood options for most consumers? Are consumers at Long John Silver’s responsible for shifting cultural tastes in the same way that consumers at Nobu are? Notwithstanding, this book is important for what it does do: bring together a queer and feminist perspective on seafood politics with fisheries research in the social sciences. Perhaps the relationship between social class and seafood sustainability is something that Elspeth Probyn will explore in more depth in another book, one that I will be sure to read.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Barclay, K. (2008). A Japanese joint venture in the Pacific: Foreign bodies in tinned Tuna. Routledge.

Bennett, J. (2009). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.

Bestor, T. (2004). Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World. University of California Press.

Deleuze, G. (1992). Ethology: Spinoza and us. Incorporations, 625–633.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum.

Fisher, M. F. K. (1990). The Art of Eating. New York: Hungry Minds.

Helmreich, S. (2009). Alien Ocean: Anthropological voyages in microbial seas. Univ of California Press.

Law, J., & Mol, A. (2008). Globalisation in practice: On the politics of boiling pigswill. Geoforum, 39(1), 133–143.

Majluf, P. (2013). The Very Elusive Win-Win-Win (A Story of Greed, Overfishing, Perceptions, Luck, and Hopefully a Happy Ending). (Paper presented at the Changing Coastlines Symposium). Sydney Australia.

Mansfield, B. (2012). Environmental Health as Biosecurity: “Seafood Choices,” Risk , and the Pregnant Woman as Threshold. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (October), 37–41.

Mol, A. (2008). The logic of care: Health and the problem of patient choice. Routledge.

Neis, B. (2005). “Introduction.” In M. Binkley, S. Gerrard, M. C. Maneschy, & B. Neis (Eds.), Changing tides: gender, fisheries, and globalization (pp. 1–13). Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) Fernwood Pub.

Pálsson, G., & Helgason, A. (1995). Figuring fish and measuring men: the individual transferable quota system in the Icelandic cod fishery. Ocean & Coastal Management, 28(1–3), 117–146.

Sedgwick, E. K. (1993). Tendencies. Duke University Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2014). Strathern beyond the Human: Testimony of a Spore. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(2–3), 221–241.

 

[1] The study of animal behavior, including humans, from a biological perspective.

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Review: The Taste Culture Reader (2nd Edition)

The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. 2nd edition. Carolyn Korsmeyer (ed). Bloomsbury, 2016.

Greg de Saint-Maurice (University of Toronto and EHESS)

Taste is of interest to anthropologists of food and nutrition, of course, but also to researchers and professionals in a large number fields—psychologists, biochemists, artists, philosophers, and many others. I once heard Professor Rick Wilk talk about a conference he attended at the Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue in 2015. Cognitive scientists, physiologists, food scientists were among the participants. It struck Rick that they all located taste somewhere completely different: the cognitive scientists looked to the brain and nervous system, the physiologists the retro nasal cavity and tastebuds, and the food scientists argued that the sensory qualities of food were in the food itself. Clearly, researchers approach the study of taste from many angles and often do not engage in substantial interdisciplinary dialogue.

The Taste Culture Reader, edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer, in a revised second edition, offers an introduction to the vast literature on taste. It is difficult to review the second edition of The Taste Culture Reader independently from its predecessor because the first edition was successful and very well received. Texts and perspectives varied along a number of dimensions. It included excerpts of foundational texts like Brillat-Savarin’s “On Taste” and M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Pale Yellow Glove” alongside newer work by leading scholars like Amy Trubek (“Place Matters”), Lisa Heldke (“But is it Authentic?”), and David Sutton (“Synesthesia, Memory, and the Taste of Home”). The volume’s eight sections covered a wide range of subtopics, namely physiology, history, flavors, spirituality, aesthetics, discernment, emotion and memory, and authenticity. Among other things, this diversity of texts and perspectives ensured that the volume considered taste alternately as: a field for scientific study, a “lower” bodily sense in the Western philosophical tradition, a notion largely synonymous with flavor, a means of establishing cultural distinction, a tool for social cohesion, a very subjective phenomenon, and a realm of moral and religious consequence. Geographically and culturally, the contributions spanned the globe, illustrated by the juxtaposition of Jack Goody’s “The High and the Low: Culinary Culture in Asia and Europe,” D.T. Suzuki’s “Zen and the Art of Tea,” Marjo Buitelaar’s “Living Ramadan,” and Richard Watson’s “On the Zeedijk.”

The first obvious requirement for a second edition that comes out 12 years later is that it is updated and includes recent material speaking to new questions and themes. Two of the strongest additions to the volume can be found in Section III, Eloquent Flavors. This section, which already contained classic material from Sidney Mintz and Paul Stoller and Cheryl Olkes, is particularly of interest to anthropologists. The first addition is a brilliant analysis by M.J. Weismantel of how Zumbagua Quichua-speakers classificatory terms for talking about food and taste are used as a means of adjusting to cultural-economic change. The second is a very short but nonetheless thought-provoking excerpt of Francois Jullian’s about the insight we can gain from classical Chinese perspectives on what might be called “blandness” or “flavorlessness” (an underresearched topic, to be sure).

With the existence of other readers (and blog lists) on the scene, however, the mere incorporation of recent material doesn’t necessarily justify a second edition, even when a dozen years have passed since the first. But because Korsmeyer recruited authors to write new original material, this second edition is more than simply an updated survey of relevant literature about taste, food, drink, and culture. On the whole, her strategy proves to be a very successful one. In Part I, Taste: Physiology and Circumstance, for instance, the foundational excerpt from Brillat-Savarin, a somewhat dated reprint of a useful Bartoshuk and Duffy text on chemical approaches to smell and taste, and a now shortened contribution by Paul and Elizabeth Rozin, are complemented by an original chapter about multisensory approaches from experimental psychologist Charles Spence. As a chapter written specifically for this volume, it is current, eminently readable, and explicitly engages with the volume’s core themes—taste, food, and human experience. In the 2005 edition, Part VIII was titled Artifice and Authenticity. In the second edition, it has expanded to become Artifice, Authenticity, and Artistry with three new pieces all consisting of chapters written specifically for the volume. Here the volume’s diversity is evident in a new way: the invited original material includes pieces that you might not ordinarily find in scholarly journals about the topics of food, taste, culture, and society. Case in point is the chapter by Claire Schneider, an art director who writes about the exhibit “Eat Your Hearts Out: A Sensual Migration through Buffalos’ Past, Present, and Future” which she curated.

As much I recommend this second edition to scholars interested in issues connected to taste, it has its flaws. In her introduction, Korsmeyer notes that the now 43-chapter reader contains gaps—notably related to the topics of health and ethics, but explains that “an anthology must draw boundaries for both unity and for practicality, and this necessity has mandated that several important subjects be left for future consideration.” This comment leaves me hoping for a third edition that will go even further, adding reprints of relevant but under-read texts and new original material, in order to minimize overlap, keep the reader current, and create a textual dialogue about the diversity of human experiences with food, drink, and culture.

 

 

 

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