Category Archives: climate change

Review: Burger

Media of Burger

Burger (Object Lessons): Carol J. Adams. London: Bloomsbury. 2018. 174 pp. ISBN 9781501329463

 
James P. Verinis
Anthropology and Sociology
Roger Williams University

Along with personal stereo and veil and egg (part of a Bloomsbury series recently reviewed in the SAFN blog by Leslie Carlin), burger is a lesson in human material culture; the second to last page suggests a subtitle- “the everyday object of burgerness”. As such, it is also a lesson in the symbolic practice of burger-making and burger-eating, burger-buying and burger-selling… the living of our burger-lives. Part commodity chain analysis and part poetry, there is something for most everyone in the object[ive] of this series, which also fits in an average back pocket (the books are as portable as many of the items they are concerned with, which is certainly no coincidence).

Most everyone familiar with the anthropology of food or with critical food studies of some other form is familiar with Carol Adams. I’ve long enjoyed re-deploying her provocative statements about the “sexual politics of meat” in my classrooms. While the conspiracy against women vis-à-vis beef is hard for some to swallow whole, few can deny either the power of her prose or the truth she speaks to powerful foods. burger is, like The Sexual Politics of Meat, a powerful work, if less overtly provocative or confined to the gender of things. At a few slightly awkward points Adams seems to be unsuccessfully reining her rant in, as she drops sharp lines like “cheap animal flesh on a bun” or “flesh-eating democracy” at the end of otherwise objective or bland sections on nutrition or U.S. history. Mostly the book is a superb invitation to contemplate both the pathetic lack of human imagination which drives contemporary burger innovators to simulate eating experiences that consumers assume are simply the results of primal human desires as well as the marvelous potential these same innovators see to further manipulate these cultural predispositions to accomplish such feats as reversing climate change.

Adams begins with the fetishization of cow flesh (as opposed to pig or deer) in the Old Testament and amongst the Romans, for example, before reviewing what is argued to be its most creative and monstrous form and the Americans who have conceived it. Our hands get greasy from eating burgers at county fairs and lunch wagons and car hops. And whether we like it or not we’re stunned, as the animals themselves are stunned and killed, by the systemization of the animal market in flesh. The numbers of cows killed annually today, miles of fencing, acres of annihilated space, and tons of growth hormones and antibiotics that have been required to produce cattle at hyper-industrial scales are altogether mindboggling, as is the spectrum and percentage of environmental damage that can be attributed to it all. The reader weaves through popular literature such as that by Eric Schlosser and more scholarly foundations erected by the likes of William Cronon, mainstream movies and surreal art. It’s kind of a perfect pocket book, and yet Adams also asks questions I’ve never heard anyone ask, such as why no grand narrative of violence associated with killing bovines has ever been deployed to further celebrate the myth of masculinity vis-à-vis hamburger meat.

The answers to this and other questions lie mostly in the histories of Western “technologies of violence”. Second to barbed wire fencing as perhaps the next most embodied form of structural violence in this story is the meat grinder, which “macerates and camouflages”. The resulting “whoppers” and “chubby boys”, as euphemisms for male erections, extend sexual dominance so far that perhaps there really is no need to also hone in on the specific violence perpetrated by mankind upon bovines. Mission accomplished.

We move through semiotics and “interspecies history” in this way to biochemistry and politics and law to other disciplinary techniques used to reveal or conceal the scope and power of meat. One hamburger contains the DNA of more than a thousand cows. Ag-Gag laws and the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” protect animal cruelty from acts of civil disobedience by conflating transparency on factory farms with terrorism.

In this book Adams also seems to create perhaps the definitive history of the non-meat/veggie/in-vitro meat burger. While some of these sections may have less oomph than those previous (certainly reflective of the disinterest most of America has long seemed to have in non-meat patties), together they foreground the incredible point the country seems to be at in terms of the “cognitive dissonance” surrounding burgers. The founder of one promising non-meat burger company, Beyond Meat, suggests we think about meat in terms of composition and not whether it comes from an animal. As he says of his plant-based protein burger, “At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is getting meat to people.” Is this really the precipice of a new frontier in burgers? Yes and no I guess. We’re only human after all.

That’s what we’re working with here in the end- our vast yet limited human potential, in terms of our relationship with animals, what we’re willing to put in our mouths, our capacity to understand the ways we follow capitalism’s lead and distract ourselves into not thinking about it, and what this all has to do with the Anthropocene. Adams lays out the bare bones as well as the myths we tell ourselves about burgers with unsettling and inspirational style. In so doing, she provides the uninitiated student and the casual consumer as well as the expert in critical food studies a handbook for the new burger age.

Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum International, Oxford: Polity Press, 1990.

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. Hill and Wang, 1983.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, climate change, culture and agriculture, gender

CFP: Climate, Agriculture and Food Systems

A CFP of possible interest to our readers.

Call for Abstracts/Papers for Special Issue: Climate, Agriculture and Food Systems

Special Issue Editors: Gabrielle Roesch-McNally (USDA Climate Hubs, groeschmcnally@fs.fed.us); Rebecca Schewe (Syracuse University, rlschewe@maxwell.syr.edu); Andrea Basche (Union of Concerned Scientists, ABasche@ucsusa.org)

Global climate change, driven in part by greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and associated land use change, is predicted to impact agricultural systems in heterogeneous ways. A multitude of external forces including agricultural policy and development drivers are pushing for both adaptation and mitigation strategies within the agrifood system. It is expected that global-and local-dynamics will affect agroecosystems, labor and market forces, food security, land use decisions, and climate policy. To better assess these dynamics, there is growing emphasis on interdisciplinary climate change research that examines how the context of climate change will influence adaptation and mitigation efforts in the agricultural sector and subsequent interconnected impacts.

We are seeking papers for a special issue of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (RAFS) focusing on multidisciplinary research that examines agrifood system responses to both projected and experienced climate changes. This special issue is a unique opportunity to present original research or review an emergent body of research, particularly by identifying linkages between agrifood scholarship and research on anthropogenic climate change. In addition to reviews, empirical, and theory-based research, we encourage submissions that incorporate applied efforts aimed at addressing problems associated with agriculture and climate change with particular interest in multidisciplinary projects and contributions from practitioners. Special issues generally lead to higher citations, which can assist authors in getting their work more widely read. RAFS also has an international reach and we hope to develop an issue that links scholarship on agriculture, food systems, and climate change across varied spatial and socio-political scales.

Manuscripts presenting a variety of research methodologies, including both qualitative and quantitative research, are welcome. We intend to publish research and review papers, as well as papers that fit the Journal’s other manuscript categories. Researchers with ongoing field research or early career scholars may be interested in “From the Field” papers, which are appropriate for early results and studies of limited scope. Another manuscript option are “Preliminary Reports” that report on highly innovative systems where little existing research has been conducted, which may be of interest to those doing work in alternative agricultural systems where there are limited data available with few replicated studies available to cite.

For more information on categories of articles accepted by RAFS: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/information/instructions-contributors

We are open to relevant submissions, but key topics of interest for the special issue include:

  • Critical reviews and comparative analyses of large-scale climate and agriculture research projects
  • Explorations of shifting agricultural labor dynamics associated with social, economic, and ecological changes brought about by a changing climate
  • Comparative analyses of large scale interdisciplinary climate and agricultural research
  • Exploration of stakeholder decision making in the context of both adaptation and mitigation efforts in the agrifood system
  • Examinations of resilience and vulnerability as both social and ecological concepts in climate change and agrifood studies
  • Using an intersectional and/or climate justice lens to examine climate change impacts and policy efforts in agrifood systems
  • Multidisciplinary examinations of the social-ecological consequences of a changing climate on agroecosystem productivity (e.g., soil health, soil erosion, changing pest cycles and plant disease impacts, etc.)
  • Assessment of climate change impacts on agriculture and associated challenges to food security and/or food sovereignty efforts
  • Multidisciplinary research integrating both biophysical and social science data sets
  • Critique or analysis of current efforts to define “climate-smart” agricultural practices

All correspondence regarding abstract submissions to this special issue should be addressed to all three of the special issue editors (e-mails above) only. If you would like to be considered for this special issue, please send a 500 word (maximum) abstract of your planned contribution to the issue editors by February 15th. Provide a summary of the significance of the work, background or context, and methodology in the case of original research papers. Include any additional information you think is critical to consideration of your article.

Authors invited to submit should anticipate submitting a full paper by June 1st if your abstract is accepted. Full submissions that are accepted will be published online shortly after they are accepted, prior to publication of the special issue. Please note that all manuscripts will go through peer review and there is no guarantee that papers by authors invited to submit an article will be published.

Submissions and questions should be sent to the special issue editors Gabrielle Roesch-McNally (USDA Climate Hubs, groeschmcnally@fs.fed.us), Rebecca Schewe (Syracuse University, rlschewe@maxwell.syr.edu), and Andrea Basche (Union of Concerned Scientists, ABasche@ucsusa.org).

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, CFP, climate change