Category Archives: anthropology of food

Where (You Might Think) There’s No Tienda

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

Mares Chiles

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

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

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

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

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

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, March 12, 2018

David Beriss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Food Insecurity and Chronic Malnutrition in Rural Indigenous Guatemala


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

Food Insecurity and Chronic Malnutrition in Rural Indigenous Guatemala

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

Poor Feeding Indicators & Food Availability

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

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

Poverty & Food Expenditures

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

Non-Traditional Agricultural Exports

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

Programmatic Implications & Additional Research

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo provided by the author and Wuqu’ Kawoq:

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

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Postdoctoral Fellow at the Culinaria Research Center at the University of Toronto

The Culinaria Research Centre at the University of Toronto invites applications for a full-time postdoctoral fellowship in the field of Food Studies. The Culinaria Research Centre is one of the world’s largest research centres in the study of food and society. To learn more about the Centre, its projects and affiliates, please visit our website online at:

The postdoctoral fellow will have the opportunity to work with a range of Food Studies faculty at the University of Toronto under the direct supervision of Daniel Bender, Director of the Centre. This fellowship is open to all scholars who have completed a Ph.D.- either in Food Studies or a related field within the humanities and social sciences- by the time of appointment and within the last five years. The postdoctoral appointment will commence on 1 July 2018 for the duration of one year. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience but with a minimum of $31,000 CAD.

The Culinaria Research Centre seeks postdoctoral fellowship applicants with primary research experience in one or more of the following areas: Urban food security; food and diaspora; food activism; food, urban livelihoods/labour, and urban agriculture; food and sensory experience; food and inequality; food and identity; and/or critical approaches to nutrition discourses and practices. Fellows will interact with faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and culinary professionals across a wide range of disciplines. In addition to engaging in collaborative and independent research, the Fellow will assist in planning and administering a speakers’ series, along with other Food Studies events through the duration of their tenure. The Fellow is expected to be in residence at the Culinaria Research Centre and will be able to conduct research at the University of Toronto libraries and in the Culinaria Kitchen Laboratory. The Centre is located at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, within the richly diverse eastern end of the Greater Toronto Area.

Applications should be submitted by 20 February 2018. However, review of applications will begin immediately. Applications must include: 1) a cover letter; 2) a curriculum vitae; 3) three letters of reference from supervisors or professors sent separately; (3) a writing sample; and 4) a statement of current and future research interests, as well as a delineation of possible contributions to the research culture of the Centre.

Employment as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto is covered by the terms of the CUPE 3902 Unit 5 Collective Agreement.  This job is posted in accordance with the CUPE 3902 Unit 5 Collective Agreement. The University of Toronto is a non-discriminate employer and is welcoming to all diversity within its heterogeneous community. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 2017

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 or

We have not written here (yet) about the movement against sexual misconduct currently sweeping through the restaurant world, along with many other industries. It has been striking, however, to observe how different writers have grappled with the complexities of power (and its abuse) as deployed in the food world. In this piece in the New Yorker, for instance, Helen Rosner takes on the discourses of sensuality, appetite, and gender that have framed the careers of chefs like Mario Batali. Julia Moskin and Kim Severson’s article in the New York Times provide insight into the working of raw power in the restaurant industry, this time in the case of Ken Friedman. This is, of course, not just a New York story, as this earlier piece by Brett Anderson at the Times-Picayune regarding the behavior of New Orleans chef John Besh demonstrates.

Women are not just victims in the restaurant world – they are also accomplished workers, leaders, and owners. This article from Southern Living provides brief vignettes about thirty women in the world of Southern food and their accomplishments. Helen Freund provides a New Orleans-focused analysis of women working in food here. As these women point out, there are a lot of gender related issues that need to be addressed in the industry.

Changing topics dramatically: Pen Vogler provides this article about the idea of “clean eating” in Dickens’ writing and time. Although a seasonal reference to Christmas dinner is included, this is not an article with which to work up an appetite. Consider this, from The Pickwick Paper: “’Weal pie,’ said Mr. Weller, soliloquising, as he arranged the eatables on the grass. ‘Wery good thing is weal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain’t kittens; and arter all though, where’s the odds, when they’re so like weal that the wery piemen themselves don’t know the difference?’” Look it up to consider the seasonality of kittens in pie. Ah, England.

More Dickens related material, but also more appetizing: Mayukh Sen makes the case for why “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is one of the best food movies ever made. There is certainly a lot of food in the movie. We will need to see it again to determine if this argument is persuasive.

At this time of the year, many people are compiling best-of lists for all kinds of things. From the Longreads web site, here is a short list of their favorite food writing from 2017. It includes a piece on the local food movement in post-coal Appalachia, an article about chef Angela Dimayuga, who brings together queer theory and restaurant management, a surprising take on Olive Garden, Christianity, Gaugin, and more from Helen Rosner, and more. The painting she refers to, Gaugin’s Christ in the Garden of Olives, seems to have very few breadsticks.

Everything has a history, including the chilled premade sandwich in the United Kingdom. It seems that before the 1980s, these ubiquitous convenience foods, available all over London (and beyond), were not something people there ate. Sam Knight, writing in The Guardian, presents this is amazing story, involving marketing, clever invention, changing eating habits, convenience, and, of course, the famous Earl himself. Sandwich factories, sandwich empires…it is all here.

Food writer and historian Adrian Miller wrote this article about gatekeepers in the world of food writing for NPR. He explains some of the very curious limitations encountered by writers of color in the world of food and proposes a few ways to address them. Miller’s view is complex and provides a useful addition to the ongoing debates about who speaks for different kinds of foods and the communities they may represent.

Fabio Parasecoli has written an additional critique of the world of foodies and food writing in this short piece on HuffPost. Maybe we can call this transnational cosmopolitanism in the service of a localist ideology? Or making the world safe for Brooklyn? There is a lot to think about in this article and it would make for a wonderful discussion starter in your next food studies class.

Restaurants, as we have often noted here, can be a kind of total social phenomenon, where many of the social concerns of society are brought together in one space. This includes the creation of new families in which people, workers, and customers alike, can create deep social bonds. This lovely article from Kara Baskin in the Boston Globe, illustrates the kinds of relations some older customers develop with restaurant workers and owners in Boston.

We have been meaning to call attention to SAFN VP Amy Trubek’s recent book “Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today,” which was published by the University of California Press a few months ago. While you are at it, you might read this blog entry Amy wrote about home cooks for National Cooking day.

A few years old, but new to us: the story of Oedipus, told with vegetables. This is a short film by Jason Wishnow. Spoiler alert, it does not have a happy ending. Tragic. Be careful with potato peelers.

Happy holidays!

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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