Category Archives: anthropology of food

The Market as a Village

Blog editors’ note: This is the summer edition of the Latinx Foodways in North America series, which looks at different approaches scholars use to analyze foods and food production with Latinx communities. Latinx is broadly defined to include the United States and other regions in North America. If you would like to contribute or know of someone who does work in this area, please contact series editor, Sarah Fouts: sfouts@umbc.edu

Tiana Bakic Hayden

“This is like a village,” said Toño, a lime merchant in Mexico City’s main wholesale food terminal, La Central de Abasto. “Everyone knows everyone, everyone gossips.”

If La Central is like a village, it bears little resemblance to the pastoral imaginary of small houses dotting crop-covered hills and domesticated animals milling about. Inaugurated in 1982, La Central covers over 300 hectares of land in the southeastern Mexico City neighborhood of Iztapalapa. It is a sprawling, modernist complex of concrete warehouse and storehouse spaces, divided in grid-fashion by roads and alleys, which are invariably clogged by produce-laden cargo trucks. A purely commercial space, nobody lives—officially at least—in La Central, but the market is alive day and night, every day of the week, all year round. Inside, there are restaurants, shops of various kinds, banks, a day care, an art gallery, conference spaces, administrative buildings, garbage processing facilities, and much more. Daily, between 300,000-500,000 visitors are estimated to come to La Central, searching for the best deals on kilos or even tons of watermelons, blackberries, avocados, or dried spices.

mexico market

A street shot of La Central. Photo taken by author.

Food markets are often thought of and represented in largely visual and sensory terms, and indeed, La Central is a place that is striking for the senses. The sight of tons of fruits, jostling bodies passing money, an endless line of vehicles, the smell of putrefying produce mingling with exhaust are all part of La Central. But what interested me was the sorts of networks, informal rules, and vernacular mechanisms according to which the market worked. How, I wondered, were prices set? How was commerce regulated in a space where so many transactions—between employees and employers, buyers and sellers—were in cash and left little in the way of a paper trail? What sort of culture of commerce existed in La Central?

I quickly found that, while merchants and administrators were generally open to interviews, these tended to be stilted, bureaucratic affairs where I learned little in the way of how things actually worked. In a particularly memorable interview, the president of the produce wholesalers’ union UNCOFYL, simply read to me fragments of the market’s and the union’s Reglamentos (internal statues) in answer to my questions about the day-to-day operations of the market. Merchants were usually happy to complain at length about the administration, the nation’s political or economic climate, or share their ‘origin stories,’ but extremely reluctant to speak about who they bought produce from, how much they paid per kilo, or how they dealt with bureaucracy like paperwork and inspections.

Moreover, since wholesale food markets are centralizing nodes in larger commercial networks, communications with sellers in rural areas—large and small agricultural producers, packing plants, rural traders and brokers—are largely carried out over the phone or via email, and there was not much that could be observed. My questions about pricing were often answered in generalities about “supply and demand” and the “laws of the market”, or simply avoided altogether. Often, I would spend all day with a merchant, only to have him (for it was almost always a man) step away discretely to take phone calls, make deals with regular customers, or talk to the accountant working upstairs.

mexico market men

Merchants hanging outside of their storefront in the market. Photo taken by the author.

Slowly, I realized that my frustration around lack of access to information was in fact a reflection of my interlocutors’ own experiences as they navigated the market. Merchants had to gather and then piece together information from different sources, to come up with an understanding of the market’s potentials and risks. One banana merchant, for example, told me that he paid a monthly sum to a “runner” who would go around the terminal each morning and manually count the number of trucks carrying bananas and their state of origin. From this information—scribbled on a scrap of paper—the merchant would try to get a sense of how much his competitors were selling, from where they were sourcing their goods, and how much they would charge that week. Another regularly asked his employees to go and get gossip from the employees in other parts of the market to get a sense of how much their competitors were selling, about their health, and other goings on. Meanwhile, being too forthright with information could be seen as suspect. One day, while I was speaking to a watermelon merchant, his neighbor and competitor came over and started telling him about a shipment of watermelons he was waiting for which he had acquired for a good price from a new producer. When he left, my interlocutor was suspicious and kept making comments out loud, wondering why his competitor had told him what he had told him, asking himself why it might be so.

I realized that merchants, while reluctant to speak of their own finances and dealings, were often eager to speculate and gossip about their competitors. La Central was indeed like a village in this sense; everyone was interested in everyone else’s business, and gossip was the only way to access this information, since there were no real official channels to do so, and since direct conversation was mistrusted. For merchants in a perishable food market, gossip is an essential resource for piecing together the contours of the commercial landscape in which they participate with partial knowledge. As Clifford Geertz wrote of another market in a different time and context:

…the search for information—laborious, uncertain, complex, and irregular—is the central experience of life in the bazaar. Every aspect of the bazaar economy reflects the fact that the primary problem facing its participants is…not balancing options but finding out what they are. Clifford Geertz (1978).

This is a useful insight for ethnographers doing research in food markets to keep in mind. Behind the conviviality of these spaces, their sensory pleasures, their photogenic qualities, food markets are spaces in which information circulates among many different channels. Following our interlocutors’ own struggles to navigate these networks is important, and gossip is a tool in piecing together knowledge which can only ever be partial, but which shapes the circulation of foods in the bazaar and beyond.

Reference

Geertz, Clifford. 1978. “The Bazaar Economy: Information and Search in Peasant Marketing.” The American Economic Review 68(2): 28–32.

Tiana Bakic Hayden is a researcher at the Instituto Gino Germani in Buenos Aires. She received her PhD in sociocultural anthropology from New York University in 2019. Her work is broadly concerned with understanding the interplay of political, sociocultural and technological factors in the production and regulation of urban food systems. She has conducted research in Mexico City and Buenos Aires on street food markets, wholesale food terminals, and the relationship between food security and everyday mobilities.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, markets, Mexico

Review: Food Anxiety in Globalising Vietnam

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Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam. Judith Ehlert and Nora Katharina Faltmann eds. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 330pp. ISBN 978-981-13-0743-0

.Shao-Yun Chang (Tulane University)

In 2018, Vietnam battled outbreaks of African swine fever, a highly contagious disease that prompted concerns over poultry products especially from China. A Vietnamese coffee manufacturer reportedly used batteries and dust in its production. Food anxieties are rampant in Vietnam, reflecting concerns over national security and expressing worries in more intimate realms around health and consumption. Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam addresses these issues by contextualizing rapidly changing politico-economic dynamic around food in the socialist state.

Food Anxiety in Globalizing Vietnam is divided into three parts: Bodily Transgressions, Food Safety, and the Politics of Food Security. The authors come from multiple perspectives, ranging across development studies, sociology, economy, history, and anthropology. This multi-disciplinary approach provides a comprehensive outlook on food anxiety, addressing both state-level policies and developmental projects, but they are also attentive to everyday practices and discourse. The three parts also follow a scaler approach, moving from micro-processes to the macro, from private realms to public sphere, and from Vietnam towards larger regional interactions with China and Southeast Asian countries.

In their introduction, co-editors Judith Ehlert and Nora Faltmann position food anxiety as processes of incorporating food into the physical body. These processes involve boundaries – boundaries between inside and outside and between the self and the world, emphasizing how anxiety reflects “questions of integrity in terms of material ‘realities’ but also regarding the transgression of discursive structures” (15). Food transgresses not just in the visceral sense as people ingest what they eat; it also transgresses boundaries of class, gender, and capitalist relations, especially in Vietnam where economic reforms or Đổi Mới have exacerbated people’s concerns with food because of the country’s rapid and compressed modernization. In this volume, the individual authors trace historical trajectories from the precolonial era to the contemporary period. They focus on recent state-level projects intended to ensure food security by integrating food production into the global capitalist system and welcoming neoliberal agricultural practices.

The first part, “Bodily Transgression,” situates class, gender, and familial dynamics in socio-political implications of food consumption across different historical periods. Erica Peters shows how in both precolonial and colonial periods, people with power and command were most prone to anxiety when their power seemed most vulnerable. For instance, Minh Mạng, the second ruler (1820-1840) of Nguyễn dynasty, established culinary methods to institutionalize wet rice cultivation, which alienated non-Việt practices. Anthropologist Nir Avieli depicts ambivalence of consuming jungle meats and goat meats in present day Hội An, showing how ritualized public killings are tied to asserting cultural intimacy. Judith Ehlert focuses on a gendered phenomenon – mothers’ food network and emerging public debate around child obesity. By focusing on discussions of food anxiety and motherhood, Ehlert argues food anxiety arise through women’s ambivalence with being caring mothers and feeding practices.

The second part of the volume, “Food Safety,” addresses the emerging and evolving power players of food production in Vietnam, including state, private sector, and the consumer. Muriel Figuié et al. lay the groundwork for understanding shifting food systems in relation to modernization processes in which consumers are now distanced from food production, generating anxieties around delocalized food and “unidentifiable edible object[s].” (145) Nora Faltmann dives deeper into the issue of distanciation by showing how the niche market of organic foods in Vietnam is still largely controlled by foreign corporations and governed by neoliberal logics. But citizens’ quest for organic and safe food is not limited to the niche market as Sandra Kurfürst shows in her chapter on urban gardening and rural-urban supply chains of food. She plays on the longstanding dichotomy between urban versus rural. Food anxiety disrupts the usual dichotomy of urban and rural, putting more trust in food from countryside as opposed to prevalence of polluted and alienated food in the city.

The final part, “The Politics of Food Security,” shifts towards national and transnational level of politics involved in food security. At the state level, Timothy Gorman examines Resolution 63, a legislative mandate targeted at food security and increasing rice production. Gorman shows the emphasis of food security is on food production instead of access to food. The fixation on the supply side intensifies agrarian transition, favoring large-scale mechanized production over smallholder farmers. In the last chapter, Hongzhou Zhang examines the dialectical relationship between Vietnam and China, a recurring theme in food anxieties discussed throughout the volume. In recent years, food security strategy in China has promoted imported foods and expanded overseas agricultural investment, giving rise to exponential increase in trade between the two countries. However, consumers are mistrustful of low-quality food from China, suspecting illegal chemical additives or containing gutter oil.[1] Interregional exchange further complicates issues of trust in food and edibility. Jean-Pierre Poulain closes the volume by foregrounding the idea of “compressed modernity” proposed by Kyung-Sup Chang, which describes evolving socio-economic dynamics happening in condensed time and space and pertinent to fast modernization of Asian countries such as Vietnam (303). The intensity of modernity threads together discussions throughout the volume, underscoring the evolving relationships in households, private and public sectors, and neoliberal logics in a socialist state through the consumption and production of food.

The volume provides multi-dimensional approaches for understanding food anxieties in contemporary Vietnam. Anxiety around food production, consumption, and exchange is neither a localized phenomenon nor situated outside of socio-cultural histories. Authors discern nuances at the individual level (should one consume goat meat which is rumored to provide aphrodisiac effects), the household level (what feeding practices make a good mother), the state level, and lastly, international projects of food security and organic production. The volume powerfully penetrates the surface of food-related outbreaks, which have dominated the news. Authors contemplate the multiplicity of relations involved in production and consumption, scrutinizing the implications of neoliberal governance and global capitalist structures specifically within food anxieties. However, several authors point towards food anxieties derived from the relationship between Vietnam and China. It would be interesting to see how food anxieties speaks to political tensions between two countries. Do issues of national security exacerbate food anxiety, particularly discourse around interregional exchange?

The volume will appeal to range of academic audiences. Authors speak to social scientists who are interested in understanding growing food anxieties in Asian countries that have experienced rapid modernization. The edited volume is also a great resource for classrooms to provide students insights into how neoliberal projects shape conceptions of food and how food is politicized in daily practices. Each chapter approaches food anxiety from a specific angle, presenting qualitative findings and interpretations on food anxiety in Vietnam.

[1] Gutter oil refers to sourcing oil from restaurant waste, sewages, and grease traps. Recycled oil is processed and sold as cooking oil.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Asia, globalization, neo-liberal public policy, Vietnam

Food Without Borders

Food without Borders: Proustian Anthropology and Collaborative Storytelling with an Experimental Sixth-Grade Class in Paris

Dr. Christy Shields-Argelès, in collaboration with Beth Grannis

“Food without Borders” is a collaborative ethnographic film project that I, along with filmmaker Beth Grannis and students from the American University of Paris, carried out with a mixed bi-lingual/mono-lingual sixth grade class in Paris. In this blog post, I discuss the manner in which David Sutton’s work on food and memory provided a theoretical and methodological frame that allowed us to identify and use co-feelings related to the shared experience of displacement as both a platform for collaboration and a frame for storytelling. In the conclusion, I also discuss collaborative tensions that characterized the project and make suggestions for using the project’s films in food anthropology classes.

***

For the past six years, Maurice Ravel, a public junior-high school in Paris’ twentieth district, has been engaged in a civic experiment of sorts. At Ravel, bilingual students who test into an International Baccalaureate program in English (OIB) share all but their English literature and history classes with local sector students who follow the traditional French Baccalaureate pathway (OFB), and are therefore learning English as a foreign language. As such, these classes contain at least two groups of global youth: the OIB students, who generally travel across borders as the children of middle and upper class professionals, and the OFB students, who are often the children of working-class and immigrant families. Bringing these students together is done with the idea that working together will benefit all, and yet class participants also struggle to live and learn together in a context that is, of course, also shaped by wider social, political and economic structures and inequalities.

I am a food anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Global Communications department at the American University of Paris (AUP). Beth is a filmmaker and Deputy Director of the non-profit Filmmakers without Borders, and at the time of the project was also an MA student in AUP’s Global Communications program. During the 2017–18 school year, we designed and directed a collaborative ethnographic film project for the OIB-OFB sixth grade class at Ravel. AUP’s Civic Media Lab and Filmmakers without Borders provided support for the project. Over the course of several months, we led the class through a series of anthropology and filmmaking workshops, in French and English. Together, we produced a class film, which consists of twenty-eight ethnographic vignettes (one for each student), and is in four languages (French, English, Chinese and Italian). In each vignette, a child tells the story of a food or a dish that connects them to the past, a place, a people and a sense of belonging. The film’s stories were collected within reciprocal OIB-OFB interviewing pairs, and each student took a small camera home to film the preparation and/or consumption of their dish, using the filming techniques taught to them in class.

Working within the traditions of participatory filmmaking and collaborative anthropology, Beth and I aimed at privileging the sixth graders’ voices. We felt this to be particularly important in the current context. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, the centralized French education system became an arena of intense institutional reform. President François Hollande immediately instated mandatory “civic and moral instruction” for grades K through 12, and Emmanuel Macron’s government has followed suit with a series of important structural changes, including an overhaul of the central (and strongly symbolic) baccalaureate exam system. Within this context, OFB-OIB class participants are instructed on civic values like mixité (social mixing) and vivre ensemble (which might best be translated as “living together harmoniously”), but have little opportunity to speak of their own experiences and knowledge of living with difference, within their families, their communities and their school. Beth and I did not want to speak at these sixth graders, but help them to tell their own stories, and reveal the rich and dynamic identities and relations they are building within multi-lingual and multi-cultural environments.

From the onset, we designed the project as a collaborative process. We aimed to work in dialogue with community members (students, teachers, families) as well as encourage collaboration among the sixth graders, who had only just met four weeks prior to our arrival. We framed and modeled collaboration in a variety of ways. For example, as an anthropologist, I paid particular attention to language. I used folk concepts (like vivre ensemble) to create space for the discussion of different experiences and perspectives. Language was also central when teaching in-depth interviewing techniques. Are your words expressing judgment? Do you formulate open-ended questions so your partner can respond in their own terms? Beth relied more on movement and visual imagery. She drew from a Common Core curriculum developed by Filmmakers without Borders in 2014 for students who do not speak English. She adapted this pedagogy to the Ravel classroom. So, when teaching different camera shots, she stood in front of the class and called out technical terms, like “close up”, while framing her face with her hands. The children copied the movement, and repeated the term. They then worked in pairs, and moved around the classroom to practice the different camera shots with a partner. In such activities, a student’s literacy (in English or French) was not an issue, as they were learning together and working towards a shared goal.

 

Beth and the class gesturing a “close-up” shot.

Another important component of the project was getting AUP undergraduate and graduate students involved as “student-mentors”. AUP students are a decidedly international group (with over 100 nationalities represented in a student body of 1200 students). In this particular project, five students were American, one was Columbian, and another was French. They all spoke English (though two were non-native English speakers), had varying levels of French (fluent to beginner), and often spoke one additional language (including Chinese, German and Spanish). In the Ravel classroom, the AUP team modeled a multi-lingual and multi-cultural learning commons as well as positive, global identities. At the same time, however, AUP students learned a great deal from the sixth graders. The experience brought them to reflect on their own childhood experiences and encouraged them to formulate questions concerning the role of education or food in current debates and processes of change.

Collaboration was also built on “co-feelings” related to the experience of displacement. My understanding of co-feeling is inspired by the work of Renato Rosaldo (1989). He writes about how experiencing the death of a loved one – and, in particular, the rage that accompanies it for a time – repositioned him in the field, and allowed him to understand the people he was working with, as well as human death rituals, in a new manner. So, by co-feeling I mean that different people can share a set of feelings that result from a shared human experience. In this way, co-feeling can help form a bridge of understanding and empathy. Of course, this bridge must be built and navigated with care because emotion can also mislead in a number of ways. For thinking through the feelings associated with displacement, and then conceptualizing them as a platform for co-feeling within this project, I also drew inspiration from David Sutton’s work on food and memory in Greece. In what he calls a “Proustian anthropology”, Sutton theorizes the processes first described in Proust’s “madeleine” passage, drawing particular attention to the feelings of estrangement and loss that accompany displacement. He also examines how “foods from home” temporarily assuage these feelings by allowing for a ritual “return to the whole”, or a mutual tuning-in and sense of connection.

In France, sixth grade is the first year of junior high and so involves changing schools and sometimes neighborhoods, as well as changing rhythms and workloads. In addition, in this particular class, many students (and their families) had moved across (or currently lived across) national borders. So, French sixth graders in general – and this group in particular – can be a nostalgic bunch, in the midst of missing other places (e.g. old schools, other countries) and times (“when I was a kid”). We therefore hoped that this particular topic would be equally engaging and meaningful for all. We also hoped in this way to reposition the students away from all sorts of opposed identity categories that frame their daily interactions (e.g. OIB/OFB, English speakers/French speakers, good students/bad students) into a shared subject position of a 6th grader in a new school, who loved a tasty dish that connected them to people they loved.

“Madeleine foods” spoke to other project participants too. I have long included Sutton’s work in my AUP classes because my expatriate students are usually experiencing similar emotional difficulties, and are also toting suitcases filled with foods from home. Their ability to identify with the Greek migrants on this topic often spurs their interest and engagement in class. Within the frame of this project, AUP students tended to see the Ravel kids as fundamentally like them, in large part due to their similar experiences of displacement and food as a powerful vector of reconnection. This, I felt, was an important first step towards working collaboratively. Finally, this entire project took place in France, where “Proust’s madeleine” is a common cultural reference. In initial meetings, for example, when I explained to teachers and administrators that the project aimed at helping the children tell their own “madeleine” stories, this was instantly recognized as culturally and intellectually meaningful. It enabled teachers to become active participants from the on-set and develop, even before we had fully designed our own workshops, a series of related lesson plans.

Of course, it is one thing to use shared experience and feeling as a platform for mutual understanding and investment, but it is another to construct a story, or in our case a set of twenty-eight stories, with a common narrative form and force. Here I was guided by Sutton’s assertion that such “madeleine” foods help us “return to the whole”. I began the first anthropology workshop with a three-minute film Beth made for my Food, Culture and Communication class entitled “This place doesn’t exist anymore: Food and memory among Syrian refugees”. The film is focused on Saad, a Syrian refugee, who talks about his life in France through the lens of cooking and food, and speaks in particular about a dish he calls “rice with peas” in English. After watching the film, I wrote “Saad” and “rice with peas” in the center of the whiteboard, and asked students to share what they had learned about him in the film. Student responses were written on the board. After they were done sharing, I circled groups of words, and named each bubble: people, places, activities, objects/ingredients, time, senses, and emotions. I then gave students a worksheet with an empty “mind map” similar to the one I had just drawn on the board. There was a space for their name and their dish in the center and then bubbles around this center circle in a daisy pattern labeled with the descriptive category names. The AUP student-mentors and Ravel teachers moved around the class and helped individual students brainstorm their ideas and fill out the map. In this way, the first anthropology workshop was spent reflecting upon the self (though in relation to a Syrian refugee). In the second anthropology workshop, I turned to interviewing and drew on Spradley’s descriptive interviewing techniques in particular. I identified the same descriptive categories (people, places, etc.) as areas for which they could elaborate open-ended questions for their interview partners. In other words, the second anthropology workshop was focused on reaching out to another and encouraging him or her to tell their story. During the interviewing sessions themselves, which took place in a separate, longer session, OFB-OIB students, working in pairs, interviewed one another while an AUP student-mentor took detailed notes so as to help the students develop ideas for b-roll images to collect in their homes. B-roll provided a unique opportunity to layer sequences of images that evoked these same descriptive categories. In short, the twenty-eight vignettes in the final film are a product of a collaborative storytelling process that used anthropological perspectives to first frame self-reflection and then an encounter with an “other”.

The “mind map” used in class to help students identify and describe a memorable food.

The project was successful in many ways. In February 2018, when we turned on the lights after the community screening, parents, teachers and administrators alike were dabbing at the corners of their eyes. This suggested to us that co-feeling was extended to the audience as well (a topic to be elaborated in the future). “Build bridges not walls”, a phrase that quite unexpectedly became the project’s motto, found its way onto the cakes and into the mouths of participants at the final banquet. At a time when Trump’s border wall was all over the French media, this seemed a small but cathartic response. The sixth graders were rightfully proud of their production, and numerous friendships were formed which, I’ve been told, have endured. The class was also invited to present the project at the Premier Festival des Arts de la Scène et du Goût, organized in partnership with the French Ministry of Education and held at a Michelin-starred restaurant and theater, La Scène Thélème. Here the students were able to present their project to other Parisian students and teachers, as well as to the restaurant staff, who then gave them a guided tour of the kitchens and wine cellar. I also feel that the project played a small role in helping Ravel teachers and administrators imagine additional sorts of OIB-OFB collaborations: for example, this year, for the first time, joint OFB-OIB class trips were organized. Beth also went on to write a successful MA capstone thesis about the project, and AUP student-mentors developed a series of “field-based” questions, which some went on to examine in other contexts.

A cake made for the final banquet

However, to represent the project as singularly successful would be both disingenuous and counterproductive. In the future, I hope to also examine the multiple tensions at play in such collaborations. In a recently published article, Yates-Doerr (2019) writes of “awkward collaborations”, where participants use the same words, but mean different things by them. She develops the notion of “careful equivocation”, joining her voice to others who are examining the nature of collaborative work as not necessarily entailing unity of purpose. In the Food without Borders project, “Proust’s madeleine” functioned as both folk and analytical concept throughout, and certainly did not always mean the same thing to all participants. Likewise, as food scholars well know: foods and commensal practices both unite and differentiate. Such tensions were at play through out the project. For example, in an initial meeting, several children expressed the desire to work on crepes. In the final film, however, only a few speak of them. Who came to “own” the crepe stories was part of a negotiation that involved both individual choice and group pressure. The “crepe dilemma”, as we came to call it, could therefore be examined in the future as a space of tension and a process of negotiation. Finally, scholars have recognized the transformative power of emotion, but also examine the manner in which it can reproduce and normalize unequal power relations. What are the limits of co-feeling within such a project? Such questions have yet to be examined for this project.

 I’d like to end with an invitation to SAFN readers to view the project’s films and integrate them into their classes. These days, I assign them in a class on food, memory and identity, along with the readings that originally inspired them, including: Proust’s madeleine, Nadia Seremetakis’ The Senses Still, and Sutton’s Remembrance of Repasts. The class allows for a nice diversity of materials and, when including the films, the opportunity to discuss participatory filmmaking and collaborative anthropologies too. I also ask students to carry out a descriptive and narrative interview with a person they feel might share the experience of displacement (in time and/or space). Sometimes students also produce short films from these interviews (in the style of the Food without Border project), and sometimes they produce a story and a recipe, which we bring together into a kind of narrated and illustrated recipe book.

Finally, I am also curious as to how your students might view the class film. In September 2018, Beth and I presented the project to an audience outside of France for the first time (at a food and communication conference in Edinburgh). After spending so much time navigating complex identity questions among this group of sixth graders, who often do not feel entirely French – either because of their own travels or because others question their “Frenchness” – it was surprising to hear an Anglophone Canadian colleague exclaim after the screening: “I found the film to be sooo French! I mean look at all that cooking! And all those vegetables!” And so it goes in the world, I suppose, as we make sense of each other and our times, in an endless cycle of overlapping identification processes.

View English and French versions of project’s films here: https://www.aup.edu/academics/research-centers/civic-media-lab/food-without-borders

References:

Grannis, B. 2018. Food without Borders: A Collaborative and Participatory Ethnographic Film Project with a Bilingual Sixth-Grade Class in Paris. Capstone Thesis, M.A. in Global Communications, The American University of Paris.

Korsmeyer, C., ed. 2005. “The Madeline.” (excerpt from In Search of Lost Time, M. Proust) The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Rosaldo, R. 1989. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Seremetakis, C.N. 1996. The Senses Still. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Spradley, J. 1979. The Ethnographic Interview. Belmont, CA : Wadsworth Group/Thomson   Learning.

Sutton, D. 2001. Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory. Oxford and London: Berg Publishers.

Yates-Doerr, E. 2019. “Whose Global? Which Health? Unsettling Collaboration and Careful Equivocation.” American Anthropologist 121 (2): 297-310.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, France, methods

Reminder: 2019 Thomas Marchione Award Deadline is July 26!

Do not miss this opportunity to have your work recognized!

Graduate Students! Are you doing or have you recently completed research related to food and human rights? Food security? Food justice? Do you consider that these and related issues are among the most pressing issues facing humanity? Would you like your work to be recognized? SAFN wants to hear from you!

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is seeking applications for the Thomas Marchione Award, which recognizes graduate student research on topics including food security, food justice and/or the right to food in both international and domestic contexts. Any field of study is eligible, and the winner will receive $750 and a year’s membership in both the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN).

Complete application information is here.

Deadline: July 26, 2019.

Recent Award Winners:

2018

Miguel Cuj (Vanderbilt University), Violence, Nutrition, and Health Issues: Maya Memories in Guatemala.

2017

Paula Fernandez-Wulff (UC Louvain, Belgium), Harnessing Local Food Policies for the Right to Food.

2015

Jessie Mazar (University of Vermont), Issues of food access and food security for Latino/a migrant farm workers in Vermont’s dairy industry.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, awards, human rights, Thomas Marchione

Reminder! 2019 Christine Wilson Awards Applications Due Soon!

Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity!

Students! Did you write a research paper on food and/or nutrition this year? Are you writing one now? Want fame and recognition? We want to hear from you!

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) is seeking applications for the Christine Wilson Graduate Student Award and the Christine Wilson Undergraduate Student Award for outstanding student research papers on food and/or nutrition. The winner of the graduate award and the undergraduate award will receive $300 and be recognized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.

Complete application information is here.

Deadline: July 26, 2019.

Recent Award Winners:

2018

Christine Wilson Undergraduate Award: Jared Belsky (Hamilton College) and Mackenzie Nelsen (UNC Chapel Hill), Cultivating Activism Through Terroir: An Anthropology of Sustainable Wine Makers in Umbria, Italy.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Alyssa Paredes (Yale University), Follow the Yellow Brix Road: How the Japanese Market’s Taste for Sweetness Transformed the Philippine Highlands.

2017

Christine Wilson Undergraduate Award: Kate Rhodes (Macalester College), Having a Steak in the Matter: Gender in the Buenos Aires Asado.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Sarah Howard (Goldsmiths College, University of London), Coffee and the State in Rural Ethiopia.

2016

Christine Wilson Award Undergraduate Award: Cynthia Baur (Dickinson College), An Analysis of the Local Food Movement in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Christine Wilson Graduate Award: Imogen Bevan (University of Edinburgh), Care is Meat and Tatties, Not Curry.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, awards, Christine Wilson

Review: Greek Whisky

Greek Whisky: The Localization of a Global Commodity

Tryfon Bampilis. Greek Whisky: The Localization of a Global Commodity. Berghahn Press. New York: 2013. ISBN: 978-0-85745-877-3.

Richard Zimmer (Sonoma State University)

The Greeks do not make whisky, but they surely drink a lot of it. Why they do and how that came to be is the subject of Tryfon Bampilis’ wonderful book. Greeks, Bampilis contends, have come to associate whisky with things “modern.” Whether it be in Athens or Skyros, an island in the Northern Aegean, whether it be in a modern restaurant or a traditional gathering place, Greeks are showing their connection to a larger world of sophistication. They arrived at this point as they became more oriented towards Western countries, especially after World War II, and also because well-crafted advertising and merchandizing helped this change.

Bampilis first sets his discussion by placing Greek whisky consumption in the larger issue of modernization and commoditization. It is an excellent discussion, and I would recommend it to people unfamiliar with this literature. Bampilis places whisky alongside other items in Greece as a growing marker of how, where, and when a person chooses to establish both a statement and a preference for this drink. He sees drinking whisky as a statement of a stylistic identity, of a person saying: “This is who I am.” Moreover, this identity is established, often regardless of the individual’s ability to maintain a lifestyle that the identity of drinking whisky entails. In other words, many people spend more on whisky than their incomes can support. (p. 18, et seq.)

How did the Greeks get to this place? Largely till the period before WWI, Bampilis argues, Greeks drank “traditional” spirits, such as ouzo–a licorice liquor, and they drank them in traditional settings, such as neighborhood bars and music venues. If the drinking was outside the home, it was mostly men who drank in these settings. Men generally drank the harder liquors. When women drank, they sipped sweeter liquors, and they did so at home.

Yet many Greeks also had an historical and spiritual connection with England, dating, in part from the early nineteenth century War of Independence and England’s help in it.   Things English began to be considered as modern and sophisticated. That included whisky. As the drinking of whisky became more widespread, Greek advertising featured English text in addition to Greek text in its promotion of whisky (see, for example, p. 41.)

Bampilis sees the popularization of this drink arising in many ways, adding to the richness of this book. The ways included movies, music, the increasing inclusion of Greece into the Common Market. Movies featured sophisticated men and women dressed in Western clothes, sitting in bars, drinking whisky. Bampilis reviews the history of the Greek movie industry to show precisely this association of whisky and modernism. He ties it to the history of Greek contemporary music as well, and he situates each kind of music in different settings where whisky is consumed. This discussion is fascinating in and of itself, for it features the ways in which media can and do change tastes–and styles.

Furthermore, he places all of this discussion within the larger history of the last several centuries. After the Second World War and the Greek Civil War, the conclusion of which saw Greece remaining within the Western sphere of influence, more Greeks identified themselves as part of the West. Greece became part of the larger European trading block and large corporations edged out smaller distributers of Western spirits. As the subtitle of the book suggests, many distributors targeted not just the modernization aspirations of more affluent and urban Greeks, they also featured local ways of appealing to these markets.

One intriguing discussion is the way in which the drinking of whisky brought together two contradictory styles and traditions. After the First World War, most Greeks living in Turkey were forced to move to Greece in the “Population Exchange” following the defeat of the Greek Army in Asia Minor in 1922. These Greeks played different types of music from what had existed in the country before. Initially, many Greeks saw these ‘musics’ as ‘tainted,’ affected by Turkish music and not suitable for people exploring their own traditions. Over time, however, these different styles of music came to be played not just in lower-class venues but eventually in nightclubs where Greeks came to display their taste for sophistication. Images of this were featured in ads and movies were set in these venues (p.112, et seq.) Bampilis’ discussions of Greek movies and music are delightful and informative, especially to people not familiar with Greek history and culture.

Bampilis then delineates how gender roles, stylistic presentations, and rituals accompanied these transformations in drinking and changed over time. He goes into substantive detail first about the drinking life in Athens. Bampilis, who claims he is Athenian on one side of his family, and Skyrian on the other side, used his family and school contacts to investigate Athens and Skyros for his informants and for their locales.

The picture he paints of the role of whisky and other drinks in the drinking life of Athens is complex and nuanced. In Athens, those men who drink whisky do so to signify modernism and masculinity Moreover, these men compete in several areas–spending money on the liquor itself, on how much liquor they can consume without appearing out of control, (p.141,) and of spending money on associated rituals, such as throwing flowers onto the stage for the performer (p.142.) The flower ritual, in recent times, replaced an earlier ritual of breaking bottles. Women who consider themselves modern also consume whisky, often as their sole drink (p.135.) As a general rule, single malt whiskies are the drink of choice. In addition, little food, except for nuts and similar edibles, is consumed when drinking whisky.

Bampilis paints a different role of why whisky and other alcoholic drinks are consumed on Skyros, his other research site. He presents a detailed portrait of an island from an historical and ethnographic perspective, giving both the specialist and non-specialist a rich view of the social life of the island. Despite its small population of less than three thousand, there are many public and private venues for liquor consumption, including whisky. The choice of liquors to drink and where to drink them is another debate between modernism and traditionalism (p.177.) For the most part, traditional Greek liquors are drunk in the home and for certain occasions. Women drink ” …a sweet liqueur, which is homemade and is considered a female drink…(p.173.)” Alcohol consumed in the home is accompanied by different kinds of foods. Meze on Skyros is usually local cheese, olives, and bread and is “…consumed outside the home…(pp.174-5.)” It is symbolically opposed to “real food” which is “…made in the household by the housewife (p.175.)” The household is the domain of the “feminine (p.175.)”

The above examples are just a small picture of Skyros’ social life and the role of alcoholic beverages in it. Bampilis covers older families, people who have spent time in Athens, shepherds, laborers, single men, single women, married women with children, married women without children, and prostitutes. Each group has its own choices of drinks, how much one can drink, what to eat with which drink, and what music to listen to when doing all the above. As Bampilis notes, “The modernism of whisky on Skyros Island in the North Aegean is associated with an imagined Athenian style, which opposes the values of shepherhood [sic] and domesticity and is widely shared by the laborers of the island pp.210-11.)”

Moreover, gambling is one of the ways men engage in competition and reciprocal exchange in Skyros (and, as Bampilis notes, other North Aegean islands (p.189 et seq.) Like drinking whisky and other beverages, men play different card games in different venues, with different kinds of interactions, including how to deal with the people who lose at cards. It is also a way for laborers “…to make their style with ksodema (spending) and identify with the popular culture of Athens (p.197.)” Bampilis concludes his analysis of the role of whisky in Skyros society thusly: ” [whisky consumption} is for those who want to break apart from the matrifocal rules and extended matrifocal kinship obligations (p.213.)”

Greek Whisky is of importance for those anthropologists studying the ways food and other products become both globalized and localized in neo-liberal economies and societies. It is of further importance because of the ways in which Bampilis portrays how politics and media create reinforce these lifestyle changes, how they become genderized, how they express styles of identity, and how they relate to social life, including different kinds of food, movies and music. It is also useful for students of economics and business, and it is appropriate for upper division undergraduates. And it is a delight for the general reader. One suggestion for future editions of this book is that, given the large number of Greek words, a glossary be provided in addition to the Index.

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Going for the Gumbo

David Beriss

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a massive two weekend celebration of the music and culture of the city and the surrounding region. I have been attending regularly for years. At its core, the festival provides an opportunity to see great performers playing wonderful music. The musicians range from headlining national pop stars to relatively unknown local artists who usually play at the club around the corner; from national acts to bands made up of students from local high schools and universities (a not insignificant number of the former evolved from the latter). In addition, the festival showcases the work of visual artists and craftspeople, as well as parading groups of Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure clubs, and much more. All of this makes for a dazzling attempt to crystallize the contours of the artistic culture of south Louisiana. It is a self-conscious attempt to put that culture on display, to celebrate, venerate, and preserve the things that make the region distinctive.

And then there is the food. For many people, Jazz Fest is as much a food festival as it is a music festival. Your ticket, of course, buys you entrance to the festival and with that you can hear as much music as you can fit into your day. The food, produced by a wide range of local vendors, costs extra. But the food is as carefully curated by the festival organizers as the music. The vendors are not the circuit-riding professionals of state and county fairs. They are local restaurateurs and caterers, along with a few talented prejeans sign jazzfestamateurs, who often produce special dishes specifically for Jazz Fest. The array of foods on offer—from classics of Cajun and Creole cooking, to Vietnamese, Latin American, and Middle-Eastern specialties—provides an idea of the region that may be more diverse than the music itself.

 

There are people who plan their approach to the music schedule weeks in advance. There are also people who approach the food with similar careful strategizing. Emphasizing this food-focused view of Jazz Fest, Ian McNulty, a food writer at the Advocate newspaper, created a guide for such people this year that mimics the layout of the music schedule.

A lot of us start our annual Jazz Fest observances with a specific dish. When I get to Jazz Fest, before even thinking about which bands are performing, I seek out the pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo from Prejean’s Restaurant. The dish is part of our family history. When my wife was pregnant with our now 18-year old daughter and fighting first-trimester nausea, she nevertheless insisted on only one Jazz Fest food: prejeans gumbo jazzfestPrejean’s gumbo. This is a dark and smoky gumbo, filled with chunks of meat, served with rice. Eating at Jazz Fest is best approached as a team activity, so I share the gumbo with whoever is with me (usually my wife), as we comment on the quality of the year’s batch. The strong flavors prepare us for a day of music, food, and fascinating sights.

Gumbo, of course, is one of the key Louisiana dishes. Prejean’s gumbo is Cajun. The use of a very dark roux is something people often associate with Cajun gumbos, although that seems less indicative in this case than the vendor. Prejean’s is based in Lafayette, about 140 miles west of New Orleans and represents itself as a Cajun restaurant. It is a big restaurant, full of taxidermy alligators and other memorabilia meant to evoke Cajun culture. The food is good and they have excellent gumbos on the menu. But the pheasant, andouille, and quail gumbo is not on the restaurant’s regular menu. For that, you have to come to Jazz Fest.

Prejean’s is not the only gumbo at Jazz Fest. There is also a lovely shrimp, sausage, and okra gumbo, from Fireman Mike’s Kitchen. Mike Gowland is a real retired fire fighter fireman mikes gumbo jazzfestwho has been at Jazz Fest for years and recently opened a restaurant. His gumbo is much lighter in color than Prejean’s and it is hard to miss the okra floating around in it, which adds some texture to the dish. There is also Creole filé gumbo, from Wayne Baquet’s Li’l Dizzy’s Café, the current outpost of a family with a storied restaurant history in New Orleans. They serve Creole food at their restaurants and their seafood-heavy gumbo is representative of that style (alas, I do not have a photo of Baquet’s gumbo).

If you set all three of the gumbos available at Jazz Fest side by side, you might find it hard to believe that they are all variations of one dish. There are a lot of great gumbos in local restaurants and, of course, many home cooks make their own. If there is not one right way to make gumbo, there are nevertheless a lot of people willing to argue about the dish itself. On gumbo’s origins, for instance: claims about the invention of the dish invoke, variously, African, Fireman Mike Gumbo signNative American, and European origins. The word “gumbo” derives from the Bantu term for okra. Some point to Choctaw soups and to the Native American introduction of ground sassafras leaves to Europeans, which is the source of the filé powder often used to thicken gumbos (and there are often filé making demonstrations at Jazz Fest). The Choctaw word for sassafras is, in fact, “kombo.” Some have argued that the soup has its origins in local variants on French bouillabaisse. We might add that the rice usually served with gumbo is a major south Louisiana crop that was originally brought to the Americas by Africans. These arguments about origins are part of a broader tendency in local popular literature to want to attribute different recipes or parts of recipes to specific ethnic groups, usually relying on broad generalizations about how and what people of various origins cook (“the French” brought roux, “the Spanish” brought ham, “the Africans” brought okra and rice, “the Germans” brought sausage, and so forth) and contributing to deeper debates about who can represent local culture. Some of the people in these stories were probably less eager to participate in the making of that culture than others, a fact that contributes to these ongoing debates.

The controversies do not end with debates about origins. Brett Anderson, a James Beard award winning local food writer, recently wrote an article in the New York Times focusing on a ‘new wave’  of gumbos available in New Orleans restaurants. The article featured the headline: “Gumbo, the Classic New Orleans Dish, Is Dead. Long Live Gumbo,” and discussed everything from a curried gumbo at Saffron NOLA to a seafood gumbo with flavors that point to Vietnamese and Chinese foods at Maypop, along with many others. The article—especially the headline—drove locals into a social media frenzy. Many erroneously assumed that Anderson was claiming gumbo was dead and indignantly denounced the New York Times for once again completely misunderstanding the city’s culture and traditions. It probably would not matter much what Anderson wrote. Fiercely defending and preserving the city’s and region’s cultural traditions—the “heritage” in the Jazz and Heritage Festival—is a mission that many locals take seriously. Outside authorities, or even local authorities working for outside media, raise questions at their own risk.

There have been other controversies in recent years around gumbo, including outrage over a recipe for gumbo promoted by Disney on social media. There have also been fights over what constitutes a proper roux, the addition of hard-boiled eggs to gumbo, and the use of potato salad in gumbo. This is a lot to take on board when you taste that cup of dark gumbo at Jazz Fest. If nothing else, the ongoing controversies about the origins, making, and representations of gumbo indicate that people care enough to keep the traditions alive. The variations and innovations in gumbo-making suggest that New Orleans is still a Creole city, constantly adapting to new ideas and innovations. At this year’s Jazz Fest (there is still one weekend left, as I write this), there will be an entire day of cooking demonstrations devoted to different kinds of gumbo. Tempting.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, festivals, Food Studies, New Orleans