Category Archives: anthropology of food

Review: From Virtue to Vice

From Virtue to Vice: Negotiating Anorexia

Richard A. O’Connor and Penny Van Esterik. From Virtue to Vice: Negotiating Anorexia. Food, Nutrition, and Culture Series. V. 4. New York: Berghahn Books, 2015.  ISBN: 978-1-78238-455-7 hardback; ISBN: 978-1-78238-456-4 ebook

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

Richard O’Connor and Penny Van Esterik have written an excellent and very readable book on anorexia nervosa using anthropological perspectives.  Anorexia occurs when a person “obsessively chooses” not to eat. A person then puts her/himself at medical and psychological risk. It is extremely difficult to treat. Because anorexia relates to food in general and to many foods in particular, and because anorexia is a very “modern” disease (as is explained by the authors) this book is of importance to those interested in the anthropology of food and nutrition, as well as in medical anthropology and psychological anthropology.  It is also of use to medical and behavioral personnel treating patients/clients with anorexia.  Lastly, because of the way it is formatted, it can serve as a helpful resource for people struggling with anorexia, including those recovering from it.

Before proceeding, I need to make several disclosures.  The first is that I am an anthropologist and a licensed psychologist. In the latter role, I have treated many clients with anorexia.  Whatever the procedures are for treating anorexia, the standard of care mandates that the clinician work with the client’s/patient’s physician because of the health risks involved, including malnutrition.  Furthermore, I also do pre-surgery psychological assessments for gastric bypass surgery for people with severe obesity. This assessment is a necessary pre-condition for getting the surgery. In the near future I will be reviewing another book in the Berghahn series about obesity.  Moreover, I have been a long-time board member for an agency which services people with disabilities–Disability Services/Legal Center, in Santa Rosa, California.  As a board member, a psychologist who works with people with disabilities and as an advocate for people with disabilities, it should be known that the politically correct and acceptable term is “a person with anorexia,” not an anorectic person, the term employed in the book. The reason is simple: the focus is on the person first, the disability second.  For the sake of simplicity and readability, however, I will use “anorectic” or “anorectic person” in this review. Lastly, the question arises: is anorexia a disability?  According to our agency’s legal center, it is, when it actually impacts major life functions.

By taking an anthropological and historical focus, O’Connor and Van Esterik bring a holistic, person-centered, and behavioral dimension to understanding and treating anorexia. Before detailing how they do this, it is important to review some current understandings about the causes and treatments for anorexia–which they review.

1. There is no single accepted etiology for anorexia.
2. There is no single, acceptable cure/treatment for anorexia.
3. Certain kinds of approaches can backfire, worsening the situation.
4. Anorexia is believed to have become a recognized issue in modern times, seemingly starting in the nineteenth century.
5, Anorexia seems to be more common among children/adolescents who are affluent and been given educational opportunities.
6. Conversely, it seems to be less common among less educated and less affluent and in minority communities.
7. While often portrayed in the media as a feminist issue, anorexia is found among teenage boys and young men at significant rates, although it is less prevalent than among teenage girls and young women.
8. While anorexia is often understood as an extreme reaction to modern ideas about body image, especially for girls and women, the subjects/informants that O’Connor and Van Esterik interviewed were less concerned and less influenced by contemporary images. Rather, they were motivated by other considerations, as will be discussed shortly.
9. O’Connor and Van Esterik situate their discussion about anorexia in a larger discussion of the emergence of Cartesian dualism and its effects of splitting mind and body. Anorectics thus act on this split, using mind over body. Coupled with this, anorectics preoccupy themselves with cleanliness, following Mary Douglas’ ideas about purity in general. This preoccupation is complemented with rituality in preparing and eating foods.

These considerations revolve around the idea of control.  Briefly, the young person who is becoming anorectic becomes entranced by the idea of control over her/his body, about the idea of perfecting this control, about the daily process of not eating, of getting “high” from a self-reinforcing feedback loop in the same way the authors say that ascetics do.  The anorectic person eventually loses control of the ability to control–control becomes an end in itself.  The anorectic withdraws from much social interaction, usually rejecting any parental, friendship, and sexual interaction.  According to the informants, this, too, becomes self-fulfilling.

The informants interviewed in this book were drawn from Canada and the US.  The authors give these informants the opportunity to express themselves at length throughout each chapter, addressing different aspects about their anorexia, including their family life, their starting point for not eating, their social life, their decision to address their condition, and their recovery. They all said that they enjoyed experimenting with food, including eliminating fats, sugars, and eating more vegetables and fruits.  To paraphrase the authors, the anorectic becomes what s/he eats and does not eat.

Because this is a contemporary study, these anorectics indulged in “Virtuous Eating (Chapter 10.)” They thus shared the modern preoccupation with food–what to eat, what not to eat, how many calories, how large the proportions should be, and the provenance of the food. As Poulain notes, the anorectic fits into the category of the “fearful eater” (2017:165.)

This preoccupation with the kinds of food one ate in the West arose from historical movements begun in the early nineteenth century, such as those started by William Kellogg and Sylvester Graham:  “Diet reform emerged from a distrust of 19th century medical practices, as well as the temperance movement led by Protestants which gained popularity in the United States at the same time (https://www.lib.umich.edu/janice-bluestein-longone-culinary-archive/diet-reform-and-vegetarianism.)” Moreover, as Jonathan Kauffman notes throughout his book, Hippie Food (2018), modern and post-modern society promotes experimentations with food as a virtue in and of itself.  Consequently, the anorexia informants in this book talk endlessly about which foods to eat and how much of them they eat.

These extremes of virtuous eating were coupled with religious beliefs and asceticism. For many they were tied up with ideas about “purity” and “danger,” after Mary Douglas. They were also tied up with notions of attractiveness and thinness (Chapter 12). Thinness became another virtue for people, particularly women in many Western societies after WWI.  One need only look at the Flapper craze in the 1920’s.

The authors note that the informants said that they began their practice of control in their adolescence.  Whatever the causes, the informants noted that they saw their practice as an emerging practice of creating identity, one that differentiated them from their families and friends because of the prime focus on what they ate and did not eat.  So-called “traditional” societies, where one has a socially given identity and close monitoring, do not see the presence or rise of anorexia as modern societies do.  Furthermore, the authors note that the prevalence of anorexia increased in post-modern times in part because the number of different identities available to an adolescent multiplied. The anorectic person is the one who does not eat, just as the Goth dresses in black.  What is striking, from a psychological point of view, at least for the informants in their survey, is that they were all “good” kids, not prone to rebellion, successful in school, and most were involved in sports or dance.

The informants the authors have chosen have all recovered. They do note that their sample is skewed. (It would probably be difficult to find anorectics who have not recovered and who would be so willing to talk about their history, a point they address as well). The lessons learned from this sample, because not all anorectics do recover fully or partially, are that recovery is an individual choice.  No one intervention worked to get someone to change.  Overmedicalization and stigmatization were counter-productive.  Sometimes it was just “accidental”–the person decided one day that not eating was not working for her or him.

These lessons are clinically useful because they enable the physician and therapist to see the person as a whole trying to form an identity, rather than as a problem with medical issues.  The professional can have the anorectic strike a path forward that s/he chooses, giving that person agency.  The self-reports of the informants give those who treat anorectics sensitive ways to help the person.   The case examples, including statements about reasons to change and successful outcomes, provide resources that speak to the anorectic in language and sentiment to help her/him become their own change agent.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

n.d.  https://www.lib.umich.edu/janice-bluestein-longone-culinary-archive/diet-reform-and-vegetarianism (accessed March 5, 2019.)

2018 Kauffman, Jonathan. Hippie Food: How Back-To-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Ways We Eat.  Harper Collins. New York.

2017 Poulain, Jean-Pierre. The Sociology of Food: Eating and the Place of Food in Society.  Bloomsbury: New York.

 

 

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Filed under anorexia, anthropology, anthropology of food, psychology

Review: Authentic Italian

Di Maio, Dina M. Authentic Italian. The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People.  ISBN#13:978-0-9996255-0-7

Francesca Gobbo
University of Turin

 

With her book Authentic Italian (2018), author Dina M. Di Maio aims to disseminate The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, as the subtitle explains, among American readers (and, presumably, also diners).  She wants to dispel the prejudices and biases about Italian immigrants and their food by demonstrating and reclaiming the authentic Italian identity of the dishes prepared and cooked in the kitchens of Americans of Italian descent—as she calls them. The chapters’ titles (What is “Italian” Food?: The Italy They Left; Is Cucina Moderna the True Food of Italy?; They Came to America; Spaghetti and Meatballs; Italian Food in America; Pizza; Italian Food Around the World; Italian Food in Italy; The Legacy of Italian Food) well describe the ample itinerary undertaken by the author. For Di Maio, the story of food and foodways of Americans of Italian descent cannot but intertwine with the history of the Italian South and its people, the emigration of millions of Southerners to escape poverty and lack of prospects in their homeland, the exclusion and prejudices suffered by those who landed in the United States (and that are still suffered by their descendants, according to Di Maio). It also includes the cultural resilience and creativity they practiced by succeeding in making their cuisine popular and highly appreciated by Americans. Thus, though she warns readers that “Italian history is convoluted,” and reminds them that the unification of Italy was achieved only in 1861, Di Maio thought it necessary to go into it in order to give “an understanding of how this history pertains to the food history of the early Italian immigrants”. Most of her references are the works of English authors, since not many Italian texts about the history of Southern Italy or Italian foodways are translated in English: her decision seems unavoidable, but I think that the contributions of Italian historians to the study of the post-unification conditions of the South would have been very valuable.

With regard to immigrants’ foodways, they brought them to the new land, as Di Maio documents, and initially they kept their cooking traditions within the family and neighborhood circles. Immigrants also grew their own vegetables and fruits (a habit some of them still maintained in 1974, when – to my surprise – I was able to buy some Roman chicory from an old man in New Haven). Furthermore, accustomed as they were to olive oil for cooking, they started to import it from Sicily as early as 1907, together with other specialties. Later the production of American made Italian food was launched, and restaurants and pizzerie were opened. Most of the enterprises were family based, capable of making and distributing products of high quality, and of impacting positively on the food industry in the United States, until “the local Italian-American business became corporations or died because of competition from corporations and quality subsequently degraded”. Many of those newly arrived to American shores shared the cooking and eating traditions of the South. Yet the Italian immigrants were a diverse group, both in terms of social status and specific history, as is testified by Di Maio’s research among the descendants of the Waldensian immigrants. The latter – as the Author explains – came from the steep valleys of Piedmont where they, as an Italian religious minority, had settled in the XIII century. The dishes that the descendants of the early immigrants still prepare testify of the strong relationship with the Piedmontese food traditions, notwithstanding their long exclusion from the surrounding Catholic society. And it is with a communal lunch, after a religious ceremony, that every year, on February 17, in the valley “capital” Torre Pellice, the Italian Waldensians  celebrate the civic and political rights (Lettere Patenti), granted to them by the Savoia Carlo Alberto in 1848.

Di Maio’s commitment to attest that “spaghetti and meatballs make up the story of the Italian people in the United States” is inaugurated by asking if such a dish, as well as pizza or eggplant parmesan, are perceived as authentic Italian, rather than as Italian American. The latter is a mistaken perception many Italians run into (especially if they are from the North) and it is due – as she explains – to the characteristics of the Italian cuisine that is divided by North and South, is regional, and characterized by important variations in produce and recipes, engendering a certain confusion with regard to the authentic origin of the dish. In fact, I can testify that, as a Northern Italian student in the United States in the early 1970s, I shared that confusion. It ended only when, in 1976, the Arberësh family from which I rented a room during fieldwork in Calabria decided to prepare a special treat – to wit: spaghetti and meatballs. Thus, that meal was not only tasty, but it also gave the ethnographer the opportunity to learn about the diversity of Italian food and the limited familiarity many Italians had with dishes prepared and eaten in other Italian regions.

However, things are changing, as Di Maio notices, and the concern of the Italian government  to validate “authentic products” underlines how the Italian food identity (or authenticity) is transmitted not only by recipes or internationally popular dishes such as pizza. This also happens now through the DOC and DOP designations (as well as those of the Slow Food Presidia) of local or regional products that thus become known and appreciated both at the national and international level. Pizza is one such dish, and the pages the author devotes to it and to its diffusion are quite interesting, though her claim that “the Southern Italians brought it to the United States who in turn brought it back to Italy” does not do justice, in my view, to the many Neapolitan families who introduced pizza and pizzerie in the towns – big and small – of Northern Italy.

Di Maio’s aims, in short, “to prove that the cuisine of Americans of Italian descent in the United States is indeed Italian cuisine based on real dishes from Italy”. And further, “to show that classifying and interpreting the cuisine of Americans of Italian descent in any other way but as ‘Italian’ is discriminatory”. This goal required not only research among the food habits of those Italian Americans, but also an exploration of Italian food cultures, cooking and eating practices, and of the changes they and the Italians have undergone in Italy. Her research places the topic of Italian American foodways and their authenticity in a wide perspective that comprises not only the past but also the present of Italy, and provokes memories as well as questions in Italian readers. While her efforts are devoted to establish the authenticity of the food of Americans of Italian descent, an Italian reader would point out that immigrants from all parts of the world are now part of the Italian population. Many of them collect tomatoes and oranges in the South (and the padrone system the Author mentions is remindful of the caporalato and of the heavy toll it takes from the field laborers), so that traditional food such as pasta al pomodoro or other dishes requiring fresh or processed tomatoes are now maintained also thanks to them. It is possible – as happens in the oldest pizzeria of Padova (in the Northeast of Italy) – that pizza is made to its usual perfection by a young Indian immigrant, or that Bangladeshi sellers of fruits and vegetables extol the freshness of the radicchio varieties, the tastiness of the fondi di carciofo (artichoke bottoms) as ably and convincingly as the next stalls’ local vendors who celebrate their goods in local dialect. With very few exceptions, neither grow the vegetables and fruits they sell as was often common in the 1960s and 1970s, however the immigrants too have learned to shave the artichokes and keep them in fresh water for the satisfaction of the customers. If the authenticity of the pizza or of the fondi di carciofo cannot be questioned when they reach the table, regardless of who cooked or prepared or sold them, will the meaning of “authentic” widen or, on the contrary, remain exclusively defined by historic origins? In my view, the etymology of “authentic” (from late Latin authenticus, and from the Greek authentikós, derived from authéntës, author, doer, master, cfr. Devoto 1968, Onions 1966) suggests that what is proved as true, genuine, or not false, implies the recognition of a maker, and of his/her activity, who relates to the original source in terms of inspiration and creativity rather than of respectful replication.

 

References

Devoto G. (1968), Avviamento alla Etimologia Italiana. Dizionario Etimologico, Firenze: Le Monnier.

Onions C. T. ed. (1966), The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under anthropology of food, Authenticity, food history, Italy, migration

Review: Against The Grain

James C. Scott Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. ISBN #: 9780300182910

David Sutton
Southern Illinois University

With his 5 decades of writing on questions of local resistance to state control and state planning, James Scott has been anthropology’s favorite political scientist. In groundbreaking books including Weapons of the Weak, Hidden Transcripts, Seeing Like a State, and The Art of Not Being Governed, Scott traces an approach that suggests the many ways that ordinary people evade the mechanisms of power, rather than submitting to hegemonic structures. And he explains why scholars have largely ignored these acts of resistance and hidden transcripts, indeed precisely because they are meant to remain “under the radar” of official accounts and practices of accountability. Scott’s “ordinary people” often refers to peasant life and agriculture. In his first book, The Moral Economy of the Peasant, Scott first develops arguments and critiques of the concept of false consciousness in the context of looking at peasant relations with land owners and the “moral economy” of traditional definitions of acceptable subsistence and peasant calculation of acceptable risk and reward.

So Scott’s work has a particular and longstanding relevance to food studies scholars. Perhaps all the more so with his most recent book. Against The Grain, which enters into what has become a popular discussion in venues such as The New Yorker of the so-called Neolithic transition to agriculture and its implications for human health and well-being. This discussion has reached popular consciousness in anarchist circles and in debates about the “Paleo Diet,” and recently the discovery of 14,000-year-old “bread-like” substances at a hunter gatherer site, made, it seems, from wild grains and tubers, sparking another round of popular discussions of “the diet of our ancestors” and its implications for contemporary health.[1] Popular or scholarly, this ongoing debate concerns the implications of grain agriculture in the story of human history. Scott’s contribution in some ways adds weight to the critique of the development of grain agriculture as human staple, but in other ways adds considerable complexity to how we might approach such questions. Scott wants to blur boundaries of institutions and processes that have been thought to imply each other. Scott separates the state form both from domestication of agriculture and livestock and the former two from sedentism. Sedentism could arise without domestication, as Scott shows with multiple examples of niche construction, and exploitation of diverse food sources in rich, wetland environments. This often involved niche construction through fire and other techniques of sculpting the environment.  He notes, ““Unlike optimal foraging theory that takes the disposition of the natural world as given and asks how a rational actor would distribute his or her efforts in procuring food, what we have here is a deliberate disturbance ecology in which hominids create, over time, a mosaic of biodiversity and a distribution of desirable resources more to their liking” (40). Major sculpting was not always necessary, however. In the Southern Mesopotamian alluvium wetland marshes would have provided “an exceptionally rich riparian life” which drew all kinds of animals “preying on creatures lower on the food chain” (50), thus making sedentism perfectly feasible in the absence of agriculture. Many of the practices of hunter-gatherer-forager-pastoralists, as Scott sees them, were not inherently different in conception than agriculture, insofar as they involved planning for “delayed returns”—from landscape sculpting to preserving through drying and fermenting. Thus, the introduction of small-scale agriculture did not necessitate the creation of different “kinds of people,” another blurring that Scott suggests: “To treat those engaged in these different activities as essentially different peoples inhabiting different life worlds is again to read back the much later stigmatization of pastoralists by agrarian states to an era where it makes no sense” (62). Indeed, Scott argues that evidence suggests a common shifting between different subsistence strategies “along a vast continuum of human rearrangements of the natural world” (71).

Scott also argues that the shift from this situation to the Neolithic Revolution in which agriculture became predominant in some communities held many disadvantages. While it allowed for greater concentrations of human and animal populations in smaller spaces, it at the same time encouraged the possibility of zoonoses, all the diseases transmitted to humans and domesticated animals from agricultural pests of various kinds and from the concentration of human waste. The literal meaning of “parasite,” Scott is pleased to point out, is “beside the grain,” and most human infectious disease developed in this context beginning 10,000 years ago, thus playing into the pun in Scott’s book title. The Neolithic Revolution also, in Scott’s view, led to a vast deskilling of human populations, as the flexibility and knowledge that was part of shifting subsistence strategies was lost in the specialization of agriculture. Indeed, he intriguingly suggests, but does not develop, the notion that among the de-skillings that he associates with the Neolithic Revolution, we should include ritual life: “let us at least say that [the Neolithic revolution] represented a contraction of our species’ attention to and practical knowledge of the natural world, a contraction of diet, a contraction of space, and perhaps a contraction, as well, in the breadth of ritual life” (92). This is because of what he imagines as the centralization or funneling of ritual around the harvest (and eventually its centralized control by elites), as opposed to the multiple tempos, and presumably multiple localized rituals, of shifting subsistence. As suggestive as this is, one wishes that Scott further developed these ideas, and suggested what evidence we might want to see for them. All of these problems of concentration make up one of the reasons why agriculture does not lead to states in some inexorable way as old evolutionary theories might have argued. Rather agriculture (and sedentism) were necessary but not sufficient conditions for the development of states, and that is why there tends to be a time lag of hundreds or thousands of years between the development of agriculture and of states in different parts of the world.

Scott sees grain as key, however, to this eventual development, because it afforded certain possibilities that other crops did not. Without cereal grains, Scott notes, one might get sedentism and urbanism in certain alluvial, well-watered areas, but not the state.  In particular, the fact that cereal grains ripen at the same time and above ground was crucial for early state building, as it made them assessible, measurable, and thus taxable. It is here that Scott’s argument in Against the Grain intersects with much of his best-known work on the state as constantly attempting to produce legible populations for the purposes of surveillance and control.[2] He thus sees that the development of writing was first and foremost a technology of tax assessment and accountability, making possible the measurement, storage and rationing of resources. Scott also seems aware of the functionalist and determinist sound of some of these arguments, and so includes questions, such as why couldn’t lentils or chickpeas have been bred for simultaneous ripening (133)? This is a question which he doesn’t attempt to answer. Scott’s insistence on blurriness of social categories for long periods of human history also dovetails with recent formulations that argue that different pre-state social arrangements are better seen as temporary collective projects rather than different types of fully-formed “societies” (Graeber & Wengrow 2015).

As to the issue of why anyone would want to live in a state (aside from those who controlled it), Scott’s book is in essence a dismissal of long-held arguments that states provided more security, better health, or better amenities than non-states. In the latter chapters of the book, Scott describes the fragility of the early state based on the notion that many people would have simply fled from its exploitative and dulling routines. Slavery was thus a key aspect of shoring up the state, as slaves, according to Scott, would have been a key source of the state’s agricultural labor force, (while not, of course, being absent from non-state societies). This also means, in Scott’s narrative, that the “Barbarians” living outside of state control were as likely to be refugees from state-making processes as much as they were pristine primitives living untouched by the state (231-2). Those groups living outside the boundaries, but on the margins of states, might often have various interactions with states, from trading, to creating protection rackets with particular states, to selling captured populations as slaves to states to fill labor needs.  Scott suggests that in shoring up states in various ways, these “Barbarian” polities may have eventually been squeezed out, contributing to their own demise, though one that happened over a very long time span.

As noted, this work fits into Scott’s larger project of questioning the top-down, synoptic and abstract mechanisms of control and categorization that he argues are at the base of state projects.  In Against the Grain, Scott once again suggests that scholars contribute to such views by favoring the legible, in this case, the fact that early states, as opposed to non-state groupings, left many more records for historians to ponder. The bias for “civilization” over “Barbarians”, then, reflects the fact that, winners and losers aside, we read history from the point of view of the writers, or in this case, the states (even if some of this “writing” took the form of stone monuments).

Scott always hedges his claims, though, not arguing that non-state societies were some kind of utopias and that writing and abstraction represented a “fall of mankind” as in the works of some anthropological primitivists,[3] even if everything in his argument suggests that life must have been substantially better for non-state peoples. Thus, Scott offers up only “Two Cheers for Anarchy,” in a recent collection of essays which includes thoughts on the petite bourgeoise,[4] which he sees as potentially resistant to state control and the forces of organization, abstraction and modernity. This comes alongside a plea for generalized everyday rule-breaking, or what he calls “Anarchist calisthenics” (2012). And Scott is eager to dispel the idea that his work should give comfort to Libertarians in their critiques of the state, even if the Libertarians at the CATO institute seem to disagree and offered a published volume in his honor (Scott n.d.).

In terms of offering a final answer for the question of why states arose, given the factors Scott arrays against them, readers may not be satisfied with the lack of a tidy solution. What he suggests, as discussed above, is a combination of force and chance which led to the possibility of states being successful given the degree of human exploitation, disease and general misery that they imposed. So Against the Grain doesn’t directly address questions of how inequality might have arisen, although Scott’s approach typically, in giving credit to the understandings of the oppressed, tends to suggest less of a role for hegemony (in the sense of consent of the governed) or false consciousness (thought not, as noted, unintended consequences).

The value of Against the Grain, then, lies not in its providing radically new theories or new data on the old question of the origin of the state. It is rather Scott’s synthesis of current existing materials and approaches that food studies and other scholars may find most useful. In particular, Scott reveals how these materials can be read in terms of the critique of state abstraction processes, and the lengths many people have gone to avoid or to thwart them—themes he made famous in his earlier work.[5] The focus on abstraction and legibility is certainly all the more relevant to the monocultures and general commodification of agriculture that we are familiar with from the legacy of the Green Revolution and the ongoing demands of contemporary capitalism.[6] Against the Grain helps us to see this as also part of a broader struggle of the very long durée.

References

Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Scott, James C. 2009 The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Scott, James C. 2012. Two Cheers for Anarchy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Scott, James C., et. al.  n.d.. Seeing Like A State: A Conversation with James C. Scott. Cato Unbound Series. Cato Institute.

Wengrow, David, and David Graeber. “Farewell to the ‘Childhood of Man’: Ritual, Seasonality, and the Origins of Inequality.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21: 597-619.

Wilson, Peter Lamborne. 2016. “Abdullah Ocalan.” In Dilar Dirik et. al (eds). To Dare Imagine: Rojava Revolution, pp. 33-42. New York: Autonomedia.
[1] https://gizmodo.com/discovery-of-14-000-year-old-toast-suggests-bread-can-b-1827631358

[2] This is where Scott’s argument can also be seen in relation to neoliberalism and its regimes of audit and assessment which he explicitly critiques in education (see Scott 2012)

[3] See, e.g., Wilson (2012) which draws a line from Ancient Sumer to contemporary anarchist movements in Northern Syria.

[4] In which he includes small farmholders and artisans.

[5] Scott 1998, 2009

[6] Themes that he has also explored in Seeing Like a State.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, anthropology of food, archaeology, Origins of the State

Review: The Agency of Eating

Media of The Agency of Eating

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

Molly Hilton (Wayne State University)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Call for Papers: Special Issue on Food at the Fair

Bonnie Miller

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

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

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

Special Issue Publication Schedule:

Essay abstracts due:  March 15, 2019

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

Full drafts due: November 1, 2019

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

Copyediting:  Early 2021

Published: Mid-2021 (April or June issue)

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

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 26, 2019

David Beriss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Food, Masculinities and Home

Media of Food, Masculinities, and Home

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

Neri de Kramer (University of Delaware)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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