Category Archives: anthropology of food

Review: The Agency of Eating

Media of The Agency of Eating

Emma-Jayne Abbots The Agency of Eating: Mediation, Food and the Body. London: Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN #9781472598530 

Molly Hilton (Wayne State University)

The senses have been causing a major stir in both the theory and practice of ethnography… This focus has yielded a number of monographs and anthologies that are both rich in sensory detail-making them a pleasure to read-and thorny in terms of the epistemological and other theoretical issues they evoke. (Howes 1996, reviewing Seremetakis’ The Senses Still)

Eating, chewing, tasting and swallowing, is a social and political act. Eating is also a potentially affect-laden embodied experience. In the Agency of Eating, Abbots assembles a complex theoretical landscape to explore eating as an embodied experience that mediates and is mediated by the relationship between food’s matter and meaning. Abbots seeks to broaden a scholarly discourse that she argues has privileged the meaning of food and its political economy over food’s materiality. Abbots is careful to present this work not as a resolution but as a call for greater attention to the materiality of food.
This book is a theoretical exploration. The research question driving Abbots is to “tease out how the eating human body, the material stuff of food, and cultural knowledges about food all dynamically interplay to shape social understandings of what and how we should – and should not – be eating.” (p1, emphasis added). To examine this question, Abbots simultaneously considers actor-network theory, the agency of the non-human, mediators, embodiment, and Foucauldian perspectives on knowledge and bio-power. Two innovative conceptual tools facilitate analytic movement from the micro-scale (food in the body) to the macro-scale (power relations and social meaning): (1) bounded vitalism, and (2) bio-authority.

The text draws upon Abbot’s own ethnographic data from past fieldwork in Ecuador, a large body of food studies literature, and the author’s own embodied experiences. Published ethnographies are employed to probe topical subjects such as heritage foods, global food networks, and responsible eating.  Some readers may take issue with the post hoc data sources. In my opinion chapters two and three, utilizing Abbots own ethnographic data, are the most compelling applications of her theoretical framework.

Abbots begins with the theoretical foundation and rationale. Readers will appreciate the articulated definitions of common but often slippery terms. Eating is broadly defined to encompass ingestion, digestion, salivation and beyond the confines of the body such as “eating with the eyes.”  Agency is characterized as multi-directional, relational, continually produced, and distributed. Assemblages are dynamic, fluid processes of things, people, and knowledge.

The concept of Bounded vitalism proposes the agentive capacities of food are co-produced, empowered or constrained, through social and embodied interaction. “The recognition that a food’s knowledges and meanings – and, in turn, aspects of vitalism –emerge from interactions across a wide network of human and non-human actors, and that agency is hence distributed, moves us away from the Bourdieusian model of tastemakers that has been prevalent in much discussion of cultural intermediaries, particularly within economic sociology” (p24). Bounded vitalism, as a conceptual lens, has the potential to explain socio-political and economic constraints while also allowing for human and non-human agency. Agency is present in the food and also in the eater’s body.  An eater’s preference for or rejection of a food can be interpreted as a materialization of embodied agency (p36). Foods like corn or “junk food” may participate in assemblages that include embodied experiences as well as social and cultural meanings.

Bio-authority draws on the concept of biopedagogies from Wright and Harwood (2009) but modifies the terminology to emphasize a social accordance of legitimacy. Bio-authorial encounters illuminate how multiple voices, family, government, local food activists, chefs, cookbooks and markets, health advocates and so on, acquire cultural authority to speak about food – even in contexts that were not designed to produce knowledge. Abbots’ concept of bio-authority charts a pathway for scholars to analyze multiple, and sometimes conflicting, power-relations in a way that “recognizes that ‘the body’ is not just social construction but also a sensing, feeling entity” (p33). I suggest that in such a frame teaching and learning can be multi-directional. This is particularly evident with the discussion in chapter three regarding multiculturalism and the migrant context.

In the quote that opens this review Howes (1996) notes “thorny epistemological and other theoretical issues” evoked by ethnographies that describe the senses. Twenty-three years later, Proust’s madeleine still eludes scholarly attempts to fully explain the inter-relationship of food as social meaning and simultaneously embodied experience. Important contributions have advanced the discourse. Sutton (2001) and Holtzman (2009) have grounded their discussions in embodied memory. Memory doesn’t give us a good way to consider power-relations. Bourdieusian theory grounds Ayora-Diaz’s (2012) work on the institutionalization of taste and political economy. Here food is a medium of agency not the agentive actor. Many authors have found Foucault’s theories of bio-power, technologies of self, and surveillance to be a productive lens in a feminist perspective. The socially constructed body, however, doesn’t provide a means to bridge analysis from the macro to the micro (Warin 2015, Yates-Doerr 2015, McCullough and Hardin 2013). In The Agency of Eating Abbots proposes a collection of theoretical tools that might bridge the macro to micro, the mind and body. Together the concepts of bio-authority and bounded vitality map the processes by which “knowledge” becomes inscribed into the body as well as the means through which the body contributes to knowledge production. One interesting potentiality in Abbots framework is consideration not just of assemblages but also of the interplay of constraints on different forms of agency within an assemblage. Examining the experiences of migrants we see shifting assemblages where certain bio-authorities come to the fore in different contexts. The migrant, upon eating cuy, roast guinea pig sent from home, experiences emotion and sense that re-invigorates social bonds and re-roots the migrant to home. In the ethnic grocery store, the migrants’ sensory experience is conditioned by the storekeeper and also by “the affective background and experiences of the eater” (p67). By explicitly situating affect and sense as actants within the assemblage, Abbots has legitimized embodied phenomena.

Chapters two and three can be read as a dialectic elucidating the concepts of bounded vitality and bio-authority. Chapter two examines the ways in which bodies in Jima, Ecuador are made kin through the shared substance of cuy. The vitality of this regionally significant dish is distributed across a wide assemblage that includes both human and non-human mediators. This wider assemblage reveals the relationship between the local grass eaten by the guinea pig and the embodied experience of taste – a sort of terroir. Abbots argues that an embodied, cultural desire for and enjoyment of a specific flavor and texture can be produced in the eating body and can facilitate social inclusion.

The lens shifts in chapter three to the migrant experience and how eating cuy meat sent from home materially and symbolically maintains relationships to distant people and places. Migrants construct their identity, social belonging/otherness through eating foods from home, blurring the boundaries of space and time. New hybridized identities and boundaries can be constructed through acceptance or the politics of refusal. Particularly in the migrant space, bio-authorities mediate experiences of belonging and otherness. This chapter attends to the senses – “how belonging and not-belonging are felt” (p63).

In chapter four, Abbots extends her argument about affect and sensory experience to suggest that food heritage festivals combine matter, meaning, and affect to produce compelling multi-sensory bio-authorial encounters. Abbots contends that food heritage festivals produce a “mechanism through which citizenship becomes inscribed in bodies” (p11).  To support this hypothesis, Abbots stitches together a disparate collection of literature that would have benefited from more cohesive ethnographic detail. For example, Abbots discusses a multi-sensory “buzz” experienced at heritage food festivals that has the power to inscribe on eaters’ bodies a shared symbolic and political meaning (p87). I find this claim plausible but not wholly convincing. Abbots supports the existence of “buzz” with multiple authors’ descriptions of food events but not any emic reports. Then the distance to political meaning is traversed though theory from moral economy to Douglas’ social body (2002), making the connection back to food festivals and their “buzz” more hypothetical than ethnographic.

Chapters five and six consider notions of safety and risk, anxieties about obscured food networks, and “responsibilised eating.” Politically framed markers such as fair trade, slow food, GMO constrain and empower a food’s vitality impacting the ways it is experienced in the body. Acknowledging that food preferences are felt and sensed, as well as being intellectual choices, can enhance our understanding of food politics.

This book is most useful to readers who are interested in developing theory that integrates materiality, meaning, and power relations, especially those working in critical nutrition and fat studies. Readers who are already familiar with post-modern and contemporary theory as well as a body of food studies literature will get the most from this text. The prose is dense. This is not intended to insult the author; on the contrary, I believe that Abbots is aiming for linguistic precision to elucidate innovative theory for which shared terminology has not been fully developed.

Works Cited

Ayora-Diaz, Steffan Igor. Foodscapes, Foodfields, and Identities in the Yucatán. Cedla Latin America Studies Berghan, 2012.

Holtzman, Jon. Uncertain Tastes: Memory, Ambivalence, and the Politics of Eating in Samburu, Northern Kenya. Oakland: University of California Press, 2009.
Howes, David. “Book Review.” American Anthropologist 98, no. 1 (1996): 201-02.
McCullough, Megan B., and Jessica A. Hardin, eds. Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Meaning in the Measures, Food, Nutrition and Culture: Berghahn Books, 2013.

Proust, M. (1913‐27). Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove. The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage. pp. 48‐51.

Seremetakis, Nadia. The Senses Still. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Sutton, David. Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. New York: Berg, 2001.

Warin, Megan. “Material Feminism, Obesity Science and the Limits of Discursive Critique.” Body & Society 21, no. 4 (2015): 48-76.

Yates-Doerr, Emily. The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala California Studies in Food and Culture. University of California Press, 2015.

 

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Filed under Agency, anthropology of food, Ecuador

CFP: Special Issue for Food, Culture, & Society on Food and World’s Fairs/Expositions

A call for papers that could be of particular interest to SAFN members and FoodAnthropology readers who study festivals, fairs, and other events. 

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Food at the Fair

Bonnie Miller

This special issue of Food, Culture & Society will examine how fairs and expositions – at local, regional, national, and international levels anytime from the nineteenth century to the present – reflect and shape perceptions of food production and consumption for mass audiences. It will consider the perspectives of fair organizers, publicists, exhibitors, concessionaires, restaurateurs, and consumers in constructing and experiencing the diversity of food cultures on the fairgrounds.  Articles might consider questions like: how did (or does) the exhibition of food reflect transformations in food manufacturing or production over time?  What impact did factors like audience, location, funding, or managerial oversight have on the exhibition of food?  What techniques did food exhibitors use to attract the attention of visitors and how did these techniques shape fairgoers’ experiences?  Were there any significant differences in the food experiences of local vs. international tourists or of visitors of different gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, etc.? How did food exhibits function to reinforce or challenge ideas about progress, technology, agriculture, industrialization, race, region, class, nationality, ethnicity, or gender? What was the relationship between corporate and government food messages at the fair? How did fair exhibits and concessions strive to shape perceptions of the palatability and edibility of foods from around the country or the world and were they successful? How did the concessions and amusement areas of fairs represent food in comparison to more formal exhibition halls?  How did physical space within exhibition halls or of the fairgrounds as a whole impact depictions of food at the fair and its potential appeal to consumers? How did expositions allow for a more diverse, multicultural food experience for fairgoers while also replicating stereotypical and ethnocentric conceptions of specific cuisines? In answering these questions, this special issue invites authors who might take a comparative approach to the study of fairs and expositions, crossing regional or national boundaries or considering fairs of varying audiences and historical periods.

This special issue welcomes papers that place the scholarship on food and on expositions in conversation in order to demonstrate the importance of these mass cultural events as sites where local, regional, national, and corporate food identities were simultaneously made and unmade.

Submitted articles are usually between 8000-9000 words (including all notes, references, etc.) and must not exceed 9000 words in total.

Special Issue Publication Schedule:

Essay abstracts due:  March 15, 2019

Notification of preliminary acceptance (pending peer review): April 1, 2019

Full drafts due: November 1, 2019

Peer review process (4-6 months to review, revise and review again): up through June 2020

Copyediting:  Early 2021

Published: Mid-2021 (April or June issue)

If you are interested in submitting a paper to the special issue, please send a 300-word abstract to guest editor, Bonnie M. Miller (bonnie.miller@umb.edu), by March 15, 2019.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, CFP, farmers market, festivals, food history

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 26, 2019

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.

Let’s start with a cheery report that argues, as we often do here, that whatever you are doing to improve the planet is probably not enough. Sorry. In this article, from The New Republic, Emily Atkin looks into companies (Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce) who send out boxes of damaged produce directly to consumers, as an alternative to the produce being destroyed or left in the field. This seems like a great way to prevent waste in our food system, which is a huge problem. Atkin, drawing on her own research and on analyses from a few food activists, shows that these companies may not actually be helping. This is not a simple story, however, so read it before you drop your subscription to one of these services.

Apparently many citizens of rich countries are worried about getting enough protein. Which seems truly weird, given the amounts of meat people consume, but what do I know? In this article from the Guardian, Bee Wilson writes that “anxiety about protein is one of the things that drives a person to drink a flask of vitamin-padded beige slurry and call it lunch.” Gah! Seriously, however, Wilson’s article explores this situation from a lot of angles, from debates about faddish nutritionism, to the dietary needs of athletes, to people with protein obsessions, and even a strange store called Protein Haus. This could be a really useful article to spark a fad diet discussion in a class!

As something of a corrective to the above fad, the medical journal the Lancet has recently published an article that looks at food systems and healthy diets around the world. They note that “unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.” Which is impressive. By the way, this article is a product of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, whose web site you should visit for a lot more interesting content of this sort.

The debate about cultural appropriation and food has been raging for a long time now, on multiple fronts, at least in the U.S. In this intriguing blog posting, food historian Ken Albala raises some questions about the relationship between ancestry and the right to cook particular foods. If you are keeping a list of relevant public debate pieces on this topic, then this is another one to include. The big question, which is not addressed here, is what the debates about food and cultural appropriation are actually about. Probably not food, really.

But wait, there is more. Writing in Eater, Sara Kay draws on her studies of thousands of Yelp reviews to argue that those who comment on the authenticity of restaurants are often writing in support of white supremacy. She writes that “the word ‘authentic’ in food reviews supports white supremacism, and Yelp reviews prove it.” She is pointing to a wide range of expectations that focus mostly on restaurants associated with immigrants or with specific ethnicities (Mexican, Chinese, other Asian cuisines), that build on stereotypes about food and people and that reinforce a kind of casual racism. She is also pointing to a hierarchy of cuisines (with Euro cuisines at the top) that reflects U.S. social structure. This is an important observation and worth making. However, I wonder if the term “white supremacy” is what we should be using to describe this. I admit to having used it myself to describe the massive system that has kept structural racism in place in the U.S. for centuries. But in a moment in our history when the far right—people who explicitly call for and support white supremacy—is resurgent, perhaps we want to be more careful. It is one thing to call attention to and even denounce structural racism (the hierarchy of cuisines) and those who support it (perhaps these Yelp reviewers), it is quite another to associate those reviewers with the people who marched in Charlottesville. Unless you believe that the only ideological positions possible are “woke anti-racist” and “Nazi,” maybe we should use slightly more nuanced language.

Or perhaps invoking white supremacy requires building a more detailed argument. Writing in Civil Eats, Megan Horst looks into the reasons why farmers of color seem dramatically underrepresented in agriculture today. She explores the history of farming and land access in the U.S., discusses policies supporting different kinds of farming, notes the history of slavery and other forms of exploitation, and puts this into the broader context of the challenges faced by farmers today. Horst considers all of the history and policies together to form a kind of actually-existing white supremacy, which seems distinct from the far-right ideologues in the media of late. Perhaps juxtaposing these two uses of the concept would generate an interesting debate.

Returning, briefly, to those Yelp reviews: the stereotypes that associate the foods of certain non-European groups with both cheapness and a problematic “authenticity” have been the object of a lot of criticism recently. In scholarly work, Krishnendu Ray’s writing has contributed significantly to focusing the debate. Diep Tran’s piece on NPR raised the question of cheapness in 2017. And this has had an impact, I think, on the discourse about food. In the Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman has recently announced that he is dropping the title (“the $20 diner”) because it does a disservice to the restaurants he writes about.

Switching topics: Airport food is generally awful. It helps, when traveling (at least in the U.S.) to have low expectations. I don’t know if Tortas Frontera, a chain of restaurants owned by Rick Bayless, located mostly in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, is any good, but the story of the pork they use is itself quite interesting. Writing for Fooditor, Michael Gebert describes the steps that turn pig into sandwich, most of which occur on a farm owned by Greg Gunthorp, in Indiana. This is not only farm-to-table airport food, but also a very inspiring story of challenging the industrial food system. Maybe the story makes the food taste better too. Let us know if you happen to go through O’Hare and try it.

We toss around theories of race, class, and gender in the social sciences and often forget, I think, that non-academics do not think about these things in the same way. Take, for instance, this very odd yet alluring article on Waffle House “rockstar” short order cooks. The author, Theodore Ross, appears to be an experienced, thoughtful, veteran journalist and, also, a white guy (he says so in the article). The article is a meditation, often laced with pop psychology references, about masculinity, race, and class, all while observing and talking about (and somewhat with) Waffle House short order cooks in Atlanta. Ross really does not understand academic discussions of gender, as this quote demonstrates: “Yet men do exist — or they don’t, and masculinity is “socially constructed,” as is more generally thought these days, which is likely true but has no bearing on the embedded concepts about manliness that sway my perceptions — and these ideas about ourselves exist, if not intellectually then emotionally.” Ross may have some insights into the contradictory nature of work in places like Waffle House. Students could have great fun critiquing this piece, I think. Also, if Mr. Ross should read this: yes, the “embedded concepts about manliness” you refer to are socially constructed and that does in fact matter for your analysis. Socially constructed is not the opposite of real. Trust me on this.

Let’s finish this opinionated digest with a drink. If you have been to Louisiana, you may have been astonished by the garish neon slushy drinks available all over Bourbon Street, as well as the drive-through versions of the same that we have elsewhere in the state. My late lamented colleague, historian Michael Mizell-Nelson, wrote a rather amusing history of these drinks, which may have been invented at the Wilmart (that is not a typo) Liquor Store in Ruston, Louisiana, which is closer to Arkansas then to New Orleans. The complete story of this invention, which Mizell-Nelson (a Louisiana native) referred to as an example of “the less well-documented genius of Louisiana” will amuse and delight you, probably more than the drinks themselves. You can read the first part here and the second one here. I recommend drinking something else, maybe a Sazerac, after you are done.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, anthropology of food, food history, gender, racism

Review: Food, Masculinities and Home

Media of Food, Masculinities, and Home

Michelle Szabo & Shelley Koch eds. Food, Masculinities and Home: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN: 9781474262323.

Neri de Kramer (University of Delaware)

Food, Masculinities and Home is part of a Bloomsbury series on the home as a site where the social identities that structure political life are forged and negotiated. The home is a universal cultural category with relevance across many disciplines and lends itself well for an interdisciplinary approach to its study. Food, Masculinities, and Home features articles by scholars from a range of disciplines including sociology, history, women’s studies, communication, cultural studies, agricultural studies, environmental studies, public health, and mathematics.

While the domestic sphere has long been and continues to be associated with femininity, recent demographic, economic and cultural changes such as a rise in female labor force participation, gay households, single fathers, single men households and the blurring of the line between home and work, have brought more men into domestic spaces. In their introduction, the editors argue that we should investigate these movements for their transformative potential. Do these male domestic food practices challenge gender or other social hierarchies and inequalities? Do they change what it means to be a man? Is the notion of home being reshaped by an increased male presence and participation in the kitchen? And could greater involvement of men in domestic food production have positive consequences for public health and environmental sustainability? These are some key questions that motivate the volume.

The introduction by editors Szabo and Koch is excellent and comprehensive, yet brief. The editors review current scholarship on the intersections of food, gender and culture and make a clear case for why the traditional conceptual division of spheres into female/private-male/public needs to be re-examined. Their introduction ends with an 8-page long treasure trove of a bibliography filled with up-to-date books and articles on food, culture and gender which can be fruitfully mined by students and faculty alike.

The rest of the book consists of two sections of six chapters each. Most of the chapters are based on empirical research, but each section also includes one theoretical chapter. Section one is a collection of descriptions and interpretations of contemporary male food practices in domestic spheres. Section two is about representations of men’s cooking in media sources such as cookbooks, food TV and Hollywood movies. While the editors regret the fact that they were not able to solicit chapters on male domestic food production from African, Latin-American or developing Asian countries, the first section nonetheless offers a broad range of descriptions of domestic cooking by men of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds and ages. The contributors to this section also use a variety of research methods, ranging from the quantitative cluster analysis of a national time-use survey to the use of questionnaires and interviews to a highly original performative autoethnography by Marcos Moldes. This diversity means none of the chapters are alike and keeps the reader interested. With the exception of an analysis of a French cooking show, the chapters in the second section are predominantly about American media sources and masculinities. Yet this section, too, offers a variety of perspectives both empirical and theoretical and two contributors pay special attention to the role of food in construction of gender norms during childhood. While one of those, Fazakis, does mention blogs and YouTube as factors in the development of children’s culinary selves, this section lacks an explicit discussion of the influence of social media on the construction of new gendered food practices and culinary identities.

As a whole then, the book offers the building blocks scholars need to begin constructing new representations of gender, home and food. Editors and authors offer a review of what went before, a wealth of empirical data from many parts of the world, several original theoretical concepts that allow for the conceptualization of new food-based domestic masculinities and a range of research methods that could be emulated by other scholars in this field.

While any work on food and gender must grapple with gender inequality and build on the work of the many feminist writers who have examined the relations between the two, this work is not “preachy” or overly political. This can be a welcome respite for those of us teaching young adults, many of whom have not yet personally experienced the pressure of domestic obligations, do not problematize it and might be resistant to an outspoken feminist critique of men’s attempts at domestic cooking. At the same time, some might consider this lack of feminist boldness and political critique a weakness of the book, which does not explicitly discuss the ramifications of an unequal division of household labor for women, nor offer insights into what women might think about male contributions to the home kitchen.

The contributors to the first section describe a variety of situations in which various types of men have become more involved in the home kitchen. However, most remain only cautiously optimistic, reminding the reader that truly revolutionary transformations in the household division of labor by gender are still lacking. Multiple authors cite data showing that well into the 21st century, women still perform the majority of the household cooking and continue to be expected to do so, that women’s cooking continues to be care work geared towards others which tends to remain unnoticed, invisible and unappreciated. In contrast, when men cook at home, it is more typically their choice to do so and for many men this thus remains an optional task, often more a matter of personal enjoyment and fulfillment than a social obligation. However, the chapters in this first section do begin to nuance these familiar distinctions between male and female cooking and offer insights into the circumstances under which certain groups of men increase their participation in the domestic food sphere, and how this, in turn shapes and changes masculine identities.

To illustrate, one interesting finding that emerges from this section is that for certain groups of men, domestic cooking can be modified so that rather than threaten their masculinity, it can work to maintain or affirm it. This is the case for a group of Japanese men living in Australia who are the subject of a chapter by Hamada. Hamada shows that for these transnational men, opportunities for remunerated work in the public domain are reduced, which means they become relatively more empowered in the environment of the home. By adopting a casual, meat-filled style of Japanese domestic cooking they refer to as “men’s cooking” these men are able to reassert a part of their masculinity that was threatened by their diminished breadwinner role. At the same time, domestic cooking helps these Japanese men move closer to the ideal of Australian masculinity, which includes husbands who help out around the house. The chapter by Williams and Germov about a program providing food preparation skills for older men reaches a similar conclusion. When successful, programs such as these can improve the food choices and health of older men who never learned to cook but now need to due to divorce or the death or incapacitation of female partners. The authors show that the success of these programs depends at least in part on the extent to which men can come to accept cooking as a masculine thing to do. The authors found that when these men cook alongside clearly masculine men, sharing in a sense of male camaraderie, they are more likely to adopt cooking as part of their masculine identity and therefore more likely to cook meals for themselves at home. This is a significant finding that can have positive impact on the dietary health of single men when incorporated into the curriculum of cooking programs of this kind.

For other groups of men, domestic cooking remains a feminine domain and something to stay away from, as is the case for Israeli men working in the female world of school teaching described in the chapter by Gvion and Patkin. The authors wondered whether men working in a female-dominated profession might have different attitudes towards home cooking than men employed in more traditionally male professions, but find that this turns out to not be the case and in the remainder of their chapter the authors describe these men’s interpretations and narratives of home cooking that exempts them, as men, from engaging in it. Similarly, 36% of the 728 Flemish men whose weeklong time-use survey data is the subject of a chapter by sociologists Daniels and Glorieux turn out to be “noncooks”. Despite this, in clustering the everyday cooking behaviors of the remaining men in this sample, the authors discover that depending on age, relationship status, family composition and employment status, some of these men do in fact cook for traditionally “feminine” reasons such as nurturance, commitment and obligation. The important role of food and cooking in modern fatherhood they describe resonates particularly well in the American context, where many families have been caught up in the demands of an intensive parenting style that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to running a family. As my own dissertation research also revealed, American fathers in middle and upper-middle class strata have discovered foodwork simultaneously as a way to assist their overwhelmed wives, to build the intense connection between parent and child that is central to this parenting style, and also as a tool for instructional interactions with children about topics such as health, science and politics.

Sobal’s theoretical contribution to this section, too, helps the reader conceptualize new cultural possibilities for men’s cooking at home. He uses social representation theory (Moscovini 1988, 2001) to expand Connell’s (1995) concept of multiple masculinities. Whereas Connell’s model recognized only hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, social representation theory allows for more radical ways in which men can “do” gender. This is a useful addition to a volume which seeks to elicit the changing relations of men to the domestic kitchen, because scholars will need theoretical models that allow for this conceptually. One could make the case that this chapter might have been better placed at the start of the book in order to serve as a common frame of reference for the more empirical chapters that follow.

Moldes, a queer, second-generation Uruguayan immigrant raised in Canada offers a deeply personal account of male domestic cooking. In his chapter, he describes how he decided to learn to cook traditional Uruguayan dishes in an attempt to foster a sense of belonging in the female-controlled Latin kitchen of his childhood, to which he always felt an outsider, being both male as well as second-generation. He then walks the reader through these culinary experiments. By this “performative cooking” of challenging traditional Uruguayan dishes, Moldes remakes both the kitchen as well as the recipes as his own and in his chapter documents the process of this growing sense of belonging. His contribution is a visceral account of the way gendered identities are constructed in practice and adds a much-needed queer perspective to the existing literature on food and gender.

In section two, the chapters by Fakazis and Christensen each examine media influences on the construction of gender norms in children. These are important contributions because understanding how the gender norms of the next generation come into existence is essential for our conceptualization of possible future gendered reconfigurations of the domestic kitchen as a more equitable domain. Fakazis takes a critical look at the relatively new foodie discourse marketed to children via resources such as children’s cooking toys, food TV shows and child celebrity chefs, among other things. She notes that these representations of cooking seem more gender-neutral today than in the past, presenting both boys and girls with viable role models for both professional, as well as caring, community-minded home cooks. The question does remain to what extent today’s children will be able to continue to follow those gender-neutral scripts as they grow up and face the structural conditions that shape the lived experience of gender. Christensen’s chapter stands in great contrast by offering a historical analysis of the 19th century American coming of age novels by Alcott and Coolidge to reveal how masculinity was shaped by expectations surrounding the eating of domestic food. She traces how in these books male characters were shaped into the types of restrained, disciplined, hardworking men with healthy appetites that their female readers should seek to marry and care for as future wives and mothers.

The chapters by Leer and by Rodney, Johnston and Chong describe the ultimately still limited range of contemporary male gender norms presented by male celebrity chefs targeting male domestic cooks. Leer analyzes an episode of a French cooking show in which working class men are ridiculed for not knowing how to cook and for failing to help their wives at home. On the show, they receive cooking lessons from France’s most famous celebrity chef in order to turn them into better men. Taking an intersectional approach, Leer describes how this culinary instruction simultaneously constitutes a gender project, by which these traditional men are turned into more modern masculine subjects, as well as a class project, because it is typically more highly educated men in higher socio-economic positions who are comfortable with domestic work. In this way, the show thus not only highlights and affirms inequalities between men and women, but also between different groups of men. While the participants in this episode are explicitly taught to become more domestic, expressing an existing French, upper class new gender norm, it is important to realize that these men are being taught by a celebrity chef and not a housewife, which gives the cooking they learn during this episode the legitimacy feminine domestic foodwork still lacks. In this sense, this chapter is akin to that by Rodney, Johnston and Chong, whose discourse analysis of cookbooks by celebrity chefs yields four archetypical male cook personas, all based on culinary professionals and not on domestic cooks. The conclusion from these chapters is that for men interested in cooking at home, the range of role models are rooted in a traditional division of labor in which male chefs bring professional expertise, and that inspiring role models for working class, domestic, nurturing men are largely lacking from these media discourses.

Parasecoli’s chapter about Hollywood comedies such as Daddy Day Care, in which men are unexpectedly required to perform childcare tasks typically carried out by women reaches a similar conclusion. In this entertaining chapter, he provides a careful, detailed analysis of the familiar scenes that poke fun at the protagonists as they stumble through unfamiliar womanly tasks and explains how these mainstream representations of masculinity thus wind up affirming and perpetuating traditional gender norms rather than providing new role models of domestic men.

In the end, this section too, gives rise to only very cautious optimism about the emergence of possible new domestic masculinities and their meaningful contribution to a more equitable household division of labor by gender or greater equality among different groups of men. The final more theoretical chapter by Cox emphasizes this conclusion and warns the reader to not fall into the trap of taking the many media representations of cooking men at face value. Though the abundance of these representations may make it seem as if gender inequality around food and cooking is a thing of the past, it in fact persists stubbornly in many home kitchens where it has significant ramifications for women’s lives, their professional development and with that their social power and independence. Cox also cautions that even though new masculinities might indeed be emerging in the realm of food and cooking, this does not mean that old masculinities and gender relations are necessarily being replaced or made obsolete. There is still a lot of work that remains to be done.

Connell, Raewyn. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Moscovini, Serge. 1988. “Notes Toward a Description of Social Representations.” European Journal of Social Psychology 18: 211-250.

Moscovini, Serge. 2001. Social Representations: Explorations in Social Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

 

 

 

 

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Review: Caviar Dreams

 

Caviar Dreams Movie Poster

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

David McMurray (Oregon State University)

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

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

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

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

 

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 2018

David Beriss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Re-Orienting Cuisine

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

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

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2018

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

2017

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

2018

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

 

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