Category Archives: anthropology of food

Review: The Taste Culture Reader (2nd Edition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Recovery Workers, Latinx Foodways, and Small-Business Development in New Orleans

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

Sarah Fouts
Lehigh University

Gorditas Zacatecanas

Gorditas Zacatecanas is a family-run booth that opened up in 2011 in the Algiers market, Dix Jazz Market. Photo by Fernando Lopez.

Within the current context of post-disaster response comes the prolonged challenge of recovery and rebuilding. As families return to devastated homes and businesses after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, multiple links passed around on social media recommend where (and where not) to donate funds. Headlines ask who will rebuild each region and warn against the exploitation of past recovery workers. Photos of Beyonce feeding lines of Hurricane victims offer a scintilla of silver lining in a world of increasing human-exacerbated disasters. Little attention, though, is given to the question of how the reconstruction workers that arrive to these devastated regions to help rebuild will sustain themselves—quite literally, who will feed them.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, Latinx food vendors equipped with mobile food vending systems emerged on the scene, playing a key, yet unnoticed role, in recovery efforts. These enterprises paved the way for growth in Latinx-owned economies in New Orleans over a decade later. My research commenced on this subject in 2011—six years after the storm—working with food vendors and observing the development of these informal food businesses in the New Orleans Metro area as part of my dissertation (and now book) project.

Immediately after Katrina in 2005, with eighty percent of the city underwater, housing options were limited, and places to eat were even harder to come by. Workers were often forced to live onsite in putrid conditions in the homes they gutted. Grocery stores and restaurants remained closed due to water and power outages. For most people, FEMA-issued Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) were the most available option. But beyond just being unsavory, these MREs had limitations—they were served predominantly to the victims of the disaster, leaving many of the one hundred thousand recently arrived Latinx reconstruction workers to fend for themselves.

Responding to this dearth of food options, itinerant Latinx food vendors arrived soon after the storm, from places like New York and Texas, to feed these workers. Fleets of taco trucks came from Houston, strategically setting up at day laborer corners to serve workers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In some instances, construction workers moonlighted as tamale vendors, maximizing on connections through co-workers to satisfy alimentary demands.

In other cases, Latinx contractors and clean up crew leaders called in pedidos (orders) from food vendors who prepared foods in kitchens in the few parts of New Orleans undamaged by the storm. The cooks spent the mornings preparing foods—often carne asada or chuletas with a side of rice, cabbage salad, and tortillas served in foam hinged take-out containers—for lunchtime deliveries, providing outreach to hard hit areas.

In more complex systems, vendors arrived onsite to sell food to workers using makeshift kitchens built into the backs of minivans or hatchback cars. Stainless steel counters mounted in the backs of these vehicles provided versatile prep spaces with cutting boards, griddles, and crockpots to serve up plates of tacos to hungry day laborers in front of hardware stores and at worksites.

Taqueria

This Mexican-owned taco truck is located on Claiborne Avenue, a main corridor in New Orleans, and features Honduran and Mexican foods. Photo courtesy of Fernando Lopez.

For Mateo, who arrived to New Orleans from Mexico after Katrina, leaving the construction industry to join his family in their burgeoning tamale business was a clear choice. After observing the successes of his wife and sister, Mateo signed on to their venture, delivering hundreds of tamales to the sites where he previously worked. He made more profit selling food than he had in the construction industry. Having settled in New Orleans since Katrina, Mateo and his family converted their tamale business into a larger enterprise, which now consists of two taco trucks and a brick and mortar restaurant.

Likewise, Mirta, originally from Honduras, arrived to New Orleans from Houston to help with clean up, initially gutting schools and businesses. She, too, saw the need for food vendors to feed the predominantly Latinx workers and sent for her three daughters to come to New Orleans. Together, they created an ad hoc restaurant in the back of their rented house, handing out business cards with their address and advertising typical Honduran dishes like pollo con tajadas, baleadas, and sopa de caracol. After a long day at the job site, workers showed up at their residence to pick up food or eat at picnic tables set up in the small patio. But, as their business grew, so did attention from law enforcement. After threats of citations, Mirta and her family used money they had saved to open up a brick and mortar restaurant. Since Katrina, the restaurant has faced some challenges—having moved locations three times—yet it still provides typical Honduran fare for Latinx workers and, increasingly, to non-Latinx clientele.

Pescado Frito

These women sell food at the Westbank Flea Market. Many vendors value the low overhead of these markets to get their businesses underway. Photo courtesy of Fernando Lopez.

Similarly, individuals like Leticia formalized their enterprises by setting up shop in local markets like the Algiers Pulga and the Westbank Flea Market, two open-air establishments located just across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter and New Orleans Central Business District. Capitalizing on the low overhead and high popularity of the market, Leticia shifted her venture from the streets to the stall, selling Honduran foods in the flea market alongside a booth specializing in Oaxacan foods and a Vietnamese farm stand. The flea markets serve as a sort of incubator space for these small-business ventures, assuming little risk, offering steady clientele, and providing basic infrastructure for these budding economies.

After Katrina, the Latinx population in the New Orleans metropolitan area doubled from around 4% to almost 9%. The Guardian reports that in New Orleans, Latinx businesses grew by 47%, compared to 14.5% by non-Latinx businesses. For places like Houston and South Florida, where the Latinx populations were already high, it is hard to predict whether disaster recovery efforts will catalyze a surge in Latinx entrepreneurship the way it did in New Orleans. Nevertheless, anthropologists interested in foodways can use New Orleans as an example to understand how rebuilding work begets these spin-off economies, drawing attention to the ways people forge new businesses by building on old traditions—outdoor markets and street vendors—as well as introducing new methods of selling foods in order to satisfy demands and make ends meet.

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Latinx Foodways in North America: A Blog Series

Sarah Fouts, series editor
Postdoctoral Fellow
Latin American and Latino Studies Program
Lehigh University

From threats of “taco trucks on every corner” and immigration raids in restaurants to the (de)criminalization of street vendors, Latinx foodways are front and center in the current political context. Increasingly, scholars use the broadly defined framework of foodways as an approach to understand Latinx issues within a local, state, national and global context. Over the course of the next year, SAFN plans to publish monthly blogs to highlight the myriad of scholarship—past, current, and ongoing—centered on what scholars are studying in regards to Latinx food and foodways-related issues. Considering various approaches to field methods, production, consumption, symbolic meanings, nutrition, access, this series draws on content that spans across the subdisciplines of anthropology. Intersectional analyses that bring in a multiracial lens to the study of Latinx foodways and other communities of color are welcome as well. Submissions—between 500-1000 words—may examine any theme related to Latinx foodways, but we prefer to focus on what is being studied rather than a particular viewpoint or topic. And we always welcome a few photos, if you have them.

Please send ideas and contributions to the series editor, Sarah Fouts, at saf817@lehigh.edu.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, October 9, 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 dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

In the United States, food activists love to point to the French and their carefully demarcated terroirs for wine, cheese, and other products as an example of how to manage the relationship between food and place. Behind this image of careful attention to land and culture there is often a rough and even violent political history. To get a taste of that, listen to this interview with historian Andrew Smith about his recent book “Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France” (Manchester University Press, 2016) from the New Books Network. This interview is conducted by Roxanne Panchasi and is part of the New Books in French Studies series.

On the subject of food and terror, New Books in American Studies has an interview with Bryant Simon, author of  The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (The New Press, 2017). The immediate incident that is at the heart of this history is a fire in 1991 at a food factory in Hamlet, NC that resulted in the deaths of 25 people, but the broader framework is the combination of American tastes for cheap processed foods and the deregulated industry that produces them. Stephen Hausmann conducts the interview. There is also a New Books in Food series that is always looking for hosts, if you want to get on the ladder to podcast fame.

The popularity of those cheap processed food has been linked to the rise in obesity and other diet-related health issues in many countries. If you have read Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz’s 2013 book “The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century,” (University of California Press), then you are familiar with some of the ways those foods have become popular around the world. The New York Times Magazine published an excellent overview of this same process a few weeks ago, along with some rather stunning graphics. Share it with your students, start a great conversation.

In a related story, this piece from Bloomberg provides data on what Americans have been eating for the last few decades. When did we start eating more chicken than beef (sometime in the 90s)? What has happened to coffee consumption? Whatever happened to those California raisins? Americans are eating more mango, but fewer canned cherries. And we still love peanut butter. Enjoy the graphs too.

The survival of the American family farm is an ongoing struggle, as endless books and articles demonstrate. But the best of these also reflect on the broader historical and social context of that struggle. One of the more recent books in this genre is Ted Genoways’ book “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm” (W.W. Norton, 2017). The book was the subject of a short piece on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, as well as an extended discussion on the NPR show On Point, both of which are worth listening too.

We have two strange and unexpected origin stories this week. First, the recent death of Hugh Hefner elicited a wide range of responses, which is not surprising, given his ambiguous legacy. However, one rather unexpected bit of history that popped up during all the discussions about Hefner’s history was his role in the start of Food and Wine Magazine. Food porn is not, it turns out, entirely metaphoric.

The Reuben Sandwich is a midwestern invention, at least according to this charming story from Elizabeth Weil, at Saveur. The story involves a conflict between Weil (whose grandfather seems to have invented the sandwich at a family-owned hotel in Omaha) and food historian Andrew Smith (not the same historian as the one above, by the way) that involved the New York Times. This also helps explain how a very un-kosher sandwich became an iconic Jewish deli food.

Is eating alone a bad thing? Some people think so, including writer Lloyd Alter, who begins his article with a citation from Baudrillard, “Sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” Baudrillard meant this to be a critique of American society, but Alter takes it into the realm of actual physical health and links it to the aging population. There is probably an interesting theoretical point to be made related to French theory and American journalism, but meanwhile, it is an interesting read.

The debate around cultural appropriation may be a classic example of what the French mean by the phrase “dialogue de sourds” and we are happy to keep documenting it here. This piece, “Craving the Other: One Woman’s Beef With Cultural Appropriation and Cuisine,” from writer Soleil Ho, was originally published a few years ago and was recently republished in the 20th anniversary edition of Bitch Magazine. Has anything changed since it originally appeared?

Is the great American casual dining chain doomed? Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, Houston’s, TGI Friday’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Friendly’s, and more, restaurants known for walls full of strange junk, waiters wearing flair, and huge piles of mostly inoffensive food, may be facing a crisis. This series from Eater.com explores the situation, raising questions about the American palate, the American middle class, and the fate of suburbia.

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Review: The Sociology of Food

The Sociology of Food: Eating the Place of Food in Society.  Jean-Pierre Poulain.  Translated by Augusta Dorr.  Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

This is a wonderful and rich book because it situates food in a central position among a variety of social and behavioral sciences and other fields, such as medical and nutritional sciences.  Jean-Pierre Poulain is one of the foremost French food sociologists. In this book, which is separated into two major parts, with new chapters added recently, Poulain argues that the person who is eating should be the focus of all food studies. Past studies, he contends, were too narrow and missed the opportunity to integrate inter-disciplinary perspectives.  He argues that this person-eater focus enables the beginnings of this interdisciplinary discussion to address both theoretical and practical/policy related questions.

Poulain provides both French and cross-cultural examples to illustrate his conclusions and uses French culinary history and gastronomie as a measure of food changes around France and the world.  In brief, he contends that the person- eater can consume what her or his society, technology and economy. The person-eater eats within pre-existing and changing cultural, commercial, and technological determinants not only as to what to eat, but how to eat it in different social settings.  The person-eater may alter what s/he eats in part under the influence of changes in these areas as well. For example, many people who had previously been concerned about how much to eat shifted their concerns to higher quality food in the last thirty years (p.62.)

Initially, and throughout the two related parts of the book, Poulain addresses the history of the ways in which anthropologists have included food in ethnography.  Functionalists like Alfred Radcliffe-Brown saw food as part of social ritual and the economic system.  Aubrey Richards carried it further, placing food as central to both physical and cultural life (p.119.) Marvin Harris argued that food should be seen in the ways that ecological factors affected what foods a society eats (p.150.)  Claude Levi-Strauss focused on the ways people categorized food in terms of its relationship to eating and other social categories (p.114 et seq.)

This is just a sampling of Poulain’s discussion.  He reviews sociological thinking about food amongst all the major English, European, and American researchers, anthropologists and sociologists. He situates it in the differing perspectives of Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, social fact and social space, respectively. This discussion is extremely useful to scholars unfamiliar with the history and scope of this larger discussion.  Poulain extends Mauss’ approach to a larger social space. This discussion then provides the opportunity for Poulain to address the necessity and desirability for social and behavioral science interdisciplinary studies. Eventually, other disciplinary studies, such as nutritional and medical ones can be included as well.

Additionally, he situates his larger food discussion in more culturally-oriented studies, such as those concerning gender and area studies.. In his concluding chapter, New chapter: Food studies versus the socio-anthropology of the “food social fact,” Poulain contends that institutional funding, national politics, and political trends affect the emergence and direction of various cultural studies and sees food as included as well.

In the first part of this work, Poulain addresses in a more specific way how eating patterns have changed through history, particularly focusing on French and American practices. The French, he argues, are now experiencing “gastro-anomie”–eating without the “old” rules of French culinary practices.  The French, for example, are now eating smaller lunches in less time, American style.  Many no longer have all of the dishes of the “classic” French meal, reducing five courses to three (81-184).

Poulain also examines the evolving French eating experience to changes in religion, particularly Catholicism.  Food, for the French, becomes a celebration of this life and is not simply seen as a necessity or as some way of punishing one’s self, as  he contends English Protestantism  does (pp.188-195.)  As another example, except for pagan “holdovers” in some parts of France, the slaughter of animals has been secularized, in large part because, in Catholicism, the sacrifice of Jesus itself required sacralization, and the prayers for the sacrifice of animals therefore did not need any ritual accompaniment (192 et seq.)

As suggested, above, he also reviews changes in French cuisine, the Americanization of food, and the changes in eating among different ethnic cuisines of the world.  For example, meals, commonly shared in Vietnam, when eaten in France, are eaten by an individual person (21).  There are more of these intriguing observations, too many to mention here, and worthy of interest and commentary.

In Chapter 5, Obesity and the medicalization of everyday food consumption, Poulain addresses the ways in which societies define obesity and its relation to the notions of beauty and to changing ideas about nutrition.  I find this presentation worthwhile. There is a related issue worth raising, however, one about which I am concerned.  I am a psychologist as well as an anthropologist. As a psychologist, I assess clients for gastric bypass and laparoscopic surgeries because many have found it impossible to lose weight.  Poulain does not address this issue.   These people run the risk of Type II diabetes and significant collapse of cartilage between their joints, as well as the possibility of heart attacks. Furthermore, no attention is paid to the fact that so many people who are severely obese have been sexually abused and/or have been raped.  (See, for example, Gustafon and Sawrwer 2004). Their obesity is, in part, a response to that trauma and must be respectfully addressed by trained clinicians working with similarly trained physicians and nutritionists.

Overall, this is an excellent book that will stimulate and provoke research and discussion both within disciplines and cross disciplinarily.  As noted earlier, it is an excellent resource for understanding the history of the “food social space” in past and present social science.  In addition, the translation is excellent. Lastly, it is appropriate for professionals in the field and graduate students.  Selected chapters may be useful for upper division students as well.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2004 Gustafon, T.B. and D.B. Sarwer. Childhood Sexual Abuse and Obesity. Obesity Reviews.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2004.00145.x/full

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There is no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise: The rights and wrongs of a ragù

Markus Bell

Arguably Italy’s most famous dish, certainly the one most likely to appear on the children’s menu in your local family diner, spaghetti bolognaise is globally consumed and widely misunderstood. I spent a Bologna evening in the company of some hungry Italians to find out what’s so special about bolognaise, why the rest of us are getting it wrong, and what this quintessentially Italian food can tell us about ourselves.

The rules of ragù

Rule #1: There’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise.

Like every good meal the evening starts with some hunting and gathering. A team dispatched to the local store, owned and staffed by a friendly Pakistani family, return with ingredients for the feast to come. Beers are cracked and diced vegetables thrown into a pot that already plays host to a generous splash of olive oil.

Busy hands stir the onions, celery and carrots for 20 minutes before adding first the pork and then the beef. “It’s so the meat breaks up. Later we’ll add the wine and the tomato sauce and let simmer,” our host explains, wielding a spoon stained at the end with evidence of a lifetime of mixing.

“So, dinner in half an hour?” I ask, recalling family ‘Italian nights’ as a child.

“Dinner in 3 hours,” comes a terse reply. “The first thing you’ve got to know,” our host informs us earnestly, measuring out flour and eggs for crafting the pasta, “is that there’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise. We don’t use garlic, there’s no cherry tomato in here, and it’s not fast food. This is tagliatelle al ragù.”

Rule #2: It’s not an exact science

IMG_0338Flour blankets the table like snow on a Hallmark Christmas card. Mimicking Mr. Miyagi’s ‘wax-on, wax-off’ motion, our host sweeps it up and shapes it into a miniature volcano. Into the crater he cracks several eggs. “How much flour is in each volcano?” I ask, notepad in hand.

“The second thing to know, Markus: making tagliatelle al ragù isn’t an exact science. You’ve got to feel when the dough is ready to roll. You need to taste the ragù before you add the wine. And you just know when it’s all ready.”

I reluctantly discard my pen and paper.

Our host kneads the flour and eggs until it becomes firm and stops sticking to a rolling board that resembles a dance floor in proportions. Locating an oversized, police baton of a wooden rolling pin he leans with his weight on the dough and lunges back and forth, flattening everything in his path.IMG_0345

“They were my grandmother’s,” he explains, hair pulled back, shoulders pinned forward as he mercilessly shunts dough around the dance floor. “I learnt to cook from watching my grandmother. There were no recipes. Nothing was written down. We learn by watching and doing,” he tells us, brushing flour from his hands and reaching for a beer.

Culinary co-presence

Our host, like so many young Italians, grew up a countryside kitchen. He stood with his grandmother as she cooked every meal for the family using tools she later gifted him. And like so many young Italians, our host had left the family village and left Italy to find employment that had eluded him at home. Indeed, as we watch him boil clutch after clutch of frIMG_0347esh pasta, we realize that of the guests at the feast that evening, all were preparing to go overseas to find work.

A sensation of loss characterizes the performance of the properly cooked ragù. The bubbling ragù and the tools baring grandmother’s hand indentations are trans-temporal objects facilitating an imagined reunion for families separated between rural and urban, Italy and the US, life and death. Like the best performances, the audience participates in nurturing the sentiments of longing for absent people, the desire to be close to kin and an imagined return to the sweetness of a nostalgic past, to a ragù gone by.

In those moments, our host embodies his grandmother through dicing, stirring, rolling and tasting the food as she taught him. In further staining the mixing spoon he fostered a co-presence by-proxy with his kin and family home. During an impatient wait for sauce to reach an unscientifically defined readiness, a heady mix of braised meats and high-tannin red wine elevated the cooking process for participants. Smells, sounds and stories collapsed time, overlapping the now and then into a sensual communitas.

Rule #3: Slow to cook, quick to eat

Thick pasta snakes are encouraged onto plates and swamped with a rich, dark sauce that pulls at the tongue. Around the table, glasses rise and a chorus of the hungry give thanks to the chef and to grandma.

The moment of consumption is short lived. The ceremony of commensality breaking down as the ragù is devoured before I can observe the necessary niceties (‘It tastes just like the real thing, mom’). Forks hit the ceramic and I’m confronted by quizzical expressions.

‘Did you even taste it?’ I ask, incredulously.

‘Rule three, Markus: A good ragù is slow to cook and quick to eat.’ My host smiles, wiping the sauce from his beard and pouring the dregs of the wine.

And this makes perfect sense. It’s through hours of preparation and waiting that a ragù is performed. Consumption is a just a bridge of reflection between the ritual of cooking and being cooked for and the calm of sitting, wine in hand, waiting for the next performance.

The Performed ragù:

1 x Onion, diced

Several sticks of celery, diced

Enough carrots, diced

Ground beef (75%)

Ground pork (25%)

Red Wine

Tomato Sauce

No garlic!

Cook the vegetables in a large pot for twenty minutes with olive oil. Add the meat. Add wine once everything is simmering nicely. Add tomato sauce. Simmer for three hours.

Fresh Pasta:

Flour (100 grams per person)

Eggs (1 egg per person)

Glass of water (if needed)

Author profile:

Dr. Markus Bell is a social and cultural anthropologist at Sheffield University’s School of East Asian Studies. He lectures on food and anthropology, North & South Korean society, migration, and history.

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Review: Selling Local

Selling Local: Why Local Food Movements Matter.  Jennifer Meta Robinson and James Robert Farmer.  Indiana University Press, 2017.

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Ryan Adams
Lycoming College

Jennifer Robinson and James Farmer bring personal experience and long-term interest in farmers’ markets and local food to their overview of the current state of the local food movement in “Selling Local”. The book is organized around distinct facets of the movement with a chapter devoted to farmers’ markets, another to Community Supported Agriculture, and two additional chapters conglomerating topics like food hubs, urban agriculture, plain Amish/Mennonite communities, gendered challenges, and land acquisition, among others. A chapter prior to the conclusion presents a really wonderful analysis of local food using Nobel Prize winning scholar Elinor Ostrom’s systems approach to common-pool resources. That excellent chapter was a little out of synch with the rest of the book, but once again demonstrated how much insightful and counter-intuitive understanding can be generated with Ostrom’s approach. The conclusion is an impassioned argument in favor of the promise of local food. “Selling Local” is not anchored within a particular discipline nor does it seem well positioned to shift or reframe the current scholarship on local food, but it is a solid, wide-ranging, descriptive book written by experts with a sympathetic and in-depth understanding of farmers selling their products locally.

The local food movement could be studied from many viewpoints, such as a cross-cultural point of comparison to theorize political and economic agency (Counihan and Siniscalchi 2014), as a lens to understand how consumers construct their cosmopolitan identities (Johnston and Baumann 2015), or contextualized as one part of larger social activist projects (Cobb 2011). Robinson and Farmer have directed their efforts toward identifying the challenges and opportunities faced by farmers as they start and sustain farms selling food locally. It is not exactly ethnographic, but their long experience and strong rapport with farmers have led them to include meaningful anecdotes to illustrate their claims. I found these brief farmer profiles fascinating and illuminating. The authors are also well versed enough in local food to expertly identify the key trends and key issues, and to summarize how those trends and issues might impact farmers.

The book may not reliably capture aspects of local food in places that are significantly different than the American Midwest and Appalachia. The material is only partially relevant to my ongoing research in Brooklyn, NY and San Juan, Puerto Rico, for example, but is a very accurate reflection of the market vendors and CSA farmers in Williamsport, PA. I imagine people working in wealthy Pacific Coast cities or the arid and ethnically diverse Southwest might experience similar limits in application, not to mention non-American settings.

Because the authors have focused more on solid, well-researched descriptive claims, the book is likely to prove relevant for a long time. “Selling Local” will not reshape the scholarship of food movements, and it does not debate and analyze the historical causes of the contemporary local food movement, but given the wide scope and descriptive tone, it would be an excellent choice as one of the core readings in an undergraduate class on the topic of food.

Cobb, Tanya Denckla (ed). 2011. Rclaiming Our Food: How the Grossroots Food Movement Is Changing the Way We Eat. North Adams, MA: Storey

Counihan, Carole and Valeria Siniscalchi (eds). 2014. Food Activism: Agency, Democracy, and Economy. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Johnston, Josée and Shyon Baumann. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge

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Filed under anthropology of food, farmers market