Category Archives: farming

Food Forward on PBS

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David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Food Forward is a new documentary series on PBS focusing on people experimenting with new (and sometimes very old) ways of producing food in the United States. The broadcast schedule is available on the PBS website and you can also watch full episodes there. There is a great deal of information about the show available on the Food Forward website as well.

If you visit the web site, you will see that the directors try to distinguish their shows from the cooking competitions, restaurant rescues, and searches for exotic foods that populate food television. But this is PBS, so that is not really a relevant comparison. Instead, Food Forward differentiates itself by not being another documentary about why our food system is inexorably leading us to nutritional and environmental doom. The makers of Food Forward argue that we need a way out, a plan, a way to save ourselves. The episodes document the stories of people who are trying to make food better. They call them “Food Rebels,” because they are taking on the industrial food system, finding ways to produce foods that they claim are environmentally sustainable, healthy, tasty, sometimes even affordable.

I have watched two episodes and the food rebellion looks delicious, the landscapes look beautiful, even the people seem spiritual and remarkably handsome. It would be easy to be cynical about all this — so much optimism in the face of our massive industrial food system might be a bit quixotic. But there is in fact quite a lot to think about here. There are fascinating food innovations, including sustainable farm raised fish in the very first episode. A lot of the innovations are described as efforts to return to older ways of doing things–from fishing with weirs to raising grass-fed beef without antibiotics or hormones. The farmers and fishers who are doing these things are also finding ways to make these methods profitable. These are hopeful films and, frankly, it is easy (and pleasurable) to get swept up in the optimism.

The two episodes I watched, “Go Fish!” and “The Meat of the Matter,” are about fishers, ranchers, and farmers, documenting both production (on ranches, boats, fish farms, etc.) and distribution (community supported fisheries, community supported farmers, restaurants, markets, etc.). There will be episodes that explore urban farming, GMOs, obesity, school lunch, and even hunting (at least 5 episodes are currently available on the PBS site; I assume more are to come). If all the episodes are as good as the first two, any of them could be usefully shown in anthropology classes dealing with food and culture. There is a great deal here to generate discussion among students, many useful questions to be raised. The length of the episodes (about 25 minutes each) also lends itself to class use. Take a look. Let us know (in the comments section) what you think.

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Filed under anthropology, farming, film, food activism, food and health, food policy, Food Studies, nutrition, sustainability

Real Food on Campus

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Are student activists transforming campus dining? And, if they succeed, what are the implications for the way Americans think about food?

We recently posted an article by Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert, of Southeastern Louisiana University, about efforts by students there to convince their university administration and Aramark (their food service contractor) to source more food locally. They have been building ties to local farmers, organizing a farmers market on campus and working to get Aramark to stock the campus salad bar with local produce. However, Aramark actively resisted these ideas and even took actions that undermined the students’ and farmers’ efforts. Even though SLU is located in a very productive agricultural region, with a long growing season and many farmers eager to work with the university, students eating on campus have very little access to local food.

This is true on university campuses all over the country. But there has also been a great deal of student activism around food, resulting in a growing commitment to local food by some colleges and universities. In perhaps the biggest move in this direction, the California State University system announced this week that 20% of the food on its 23 campuses will, by 2020, meet the standards of the Real Food Challenge (visit the site for details on those standards). The Cal State system is very large, with 447,000 students and 45,000 faculty and staff, spending over $100 million annually on food. This could prove to be a big enough move to catch the attention of companies like Aramark. One of Aramark’s competitors, a company called Bon Appetit, already promotes itself as providing a sustainable alternative food service. Their presence on campuses is probably evidence of successful student activism.

The movement for “real food” on campuses is more complicated than simply sourcing food from local producers. Students, faculty, and staff on campuses around the United States have long debated the quality of the food provided by food services. This has included an interest in food perceived to be healthier than had been offered in the past. But activists have also pushed for food that is more environmentally sustainable, which can mean a lot of different things, including local sourcing of ingredients. It might include food that reflects the local culinary culture, for example. Some have suggested cooperating with local restaurateurs, caterers, and food truck operators to increase the variety of dining options on campus and to encourage local business development. Organizing students to grow food on campus has also been a popular idea.

What does this all mean? It might be tempting to suggest that this is merely a kind of consumerist fight. After all, college is expensive and students are the customers. If they don’t like what they are getting, they have a right to demand something else. Yet that is not really how the fight is framed. Rather, students involved in these campaigns draw on ideas about health, about the environment, fairness (to workers, farmers, and fishers) and about local business. The movement is clearly connected with food activism in other segments of American society. It may represent a challenge to the corporate logic that has come to dominate higher education in recent years.

It would be interesting to hear from SAFN members about their experiences of student food activism. Is food a target for student activism where you work?

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Filed under agriculture, economics, farming, food activism, students

Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students

SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market

Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food activism, food politics, students

Book Review: Food Policy in the United States

food policy cover photo

Wilde, Parke. 2013. Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Routledge, Earthscan Food & Agriculture series, New York and London.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Parke Wilde has produced a concise, encyclopedic text on Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Organized into twelves chapters, the volume could serve as a basic narrative text in agricultural economics for undergraduates, or for anthropologists teaching US food policy courses from multiple cultural perspectives. Chapter 1, “Making food policy in the US” presents the author’s interdisciplinary approach. By “interdisciplinary” he means economics and politics that enter into the evidence base for food policy making, in relation to what he depicts as “a social ecological framework for nutrition and physical activity decisions”, a figure incorporating environmental, social, cultural, and psychological components, drawn from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) formulations. This initial chapter carefully defines terms of analysis: food marketing chains, markets and government agencies; public goods, externalities, and calculations of inequalities and pareto optimal conditions; interest groups and advocacy coalitions and what they do; the various government legislative branches and committees and executive agencies, and how they function with respect to policy planning, implementation, and evaluation; Farm Bill and “captured agency” (one overwhelmingly subject to one group’s influence). In total, Wilde defines in bolded type 31 separate terms in this introduction, which asserts the volume’s theme, that “all of US food policy-making takes place … subject to the push and pull of competing private interests and public objectives”.

The next three chapters describe cases of “Agriculture,” “Food production and environment,” and “Food production and agricultural trade”. Chapters 5 and 6, co-authored with Daniel Hatfield, expand into “Food manufacturing” and “Food retailing and restaurants”. Chapters 7 through 11 consider food quality and nutrition issues: “Food safety,” “Dietary guidance and health,” “Food labeling and advertising,” “Hunger and food insecurity,” and “Nutrition assistance programs for children”. There is a short “Postcript–looking forward”, followed by twelve pages of references and an index.

Each chapter, with clearly articulated learning objectives, is organized with numerical headings and subheadings, so readers stay on track. Plentiful illustrative graphics visually elaborate quantitative and occasionally narrative concepts, and numerous tables describe the different activities of the various food-policy agencies responsible for particular points of policy, and what kinds of actions they take to advance (whose) priority political agendas with respect to the chapter’s issues. Many key policy controversies are presented in “Box” form, including hot-button issues, such as the safety or advisability of GMOs or the costs of biofuels, both summarized in Chapter 3. Non-economists will appreciate that mathematical tools to calculate policy costs, impacts, and tradeoffs are summarized in box form, and do not distract from the comprehensive and comprehensible narrative.

The book offers anthropologists teaching agriculture, food, and nutrition courses a useful handbook, written from the perspective of a policy maker operating inside and outside of USDA. Individual chapters, boxes, and figures provide provocative materials for class discussions; for example, how useful is the “social ecological framework” (Figure 1.1) for describing or evaluating sustainable food systems, and how does it compare and contrast with anthropologists’ models of food systems, and agricultural or dietary change? It might be pedagogically effective, in addition, to pair certain of the chapters with other contrasting policy materials: for example, this book’s chapter on production and environment issues (which defines the terms “local” and “organic” and boxes policy issues related to “GMOs” and “biofuels”), with readings from Food First-Institute for Food and Development Policy, or articles published in Culture & Agriculture‘s journal, CAFE; or Wilde’s chapters on “Dietary guidance and health” or “Food labeling and advertising” with Margaret Mead’s 1940s summary of “Food Habits” research and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics critique of the same topics. Discussions of effective consumer demand and its influence on market supply in chapter 6, and of food safety issues summarized in chapter 7, might make good basic reading and discussion materials, whereas “policy options” discussions related to dietary guidelines, food labels, food-security calculations, and child nutritional regulations could form the basis for policy exercises the instructor might want to tailor to particular class interests and skills levels. The conclusions to chapter 4 (p.76), on “food and agricultural trade,” quite effectively illuminate the commonalities and differences between the concerns of food economics and the anthropology of food and nutrition. How convincing are the ‘real-world data” that allow economists to dispassionately assess potential benefits of exchange across borders, but lose individual or community perspectives on winners and losers?

In sum, whether or not you personally purchase the book, it would be useful to have an electronic copy on hand at your library, where professionals and students can consult its definitions and statistics on demand, and so inform their participation in evidence-based and highly emotional food-policy debates.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, book reviews, farming, food policy, food politics, Food Studies

Did Feasting Promote Cooperation in the Ancient Andes?

The author excavating a camelid jaw. Photo by Jordan Farfan.

The author excavating a camelid jaw. Photo by Jordan Farfan.

post by Kasia Szremski
Vanderbilt University

Since 2008, I have been studying the relationship between intergroup interaction and agricultural production on the Western slopes of the Peruvian Andes. One of the areas that my research highlights is the way in which food was key to political maneuvering that took place during this time period.  The search for food was one of the driving forces behind pre-contact Andean geo-political maneuvering, particularly during the Late Intermediate Period (1100-1472 CE).  The steepness of the Andean slopes creates stacked microclimates and each of these microclimates is suited to growing a different suite of crops.  As such, Andean farmers had to maintain fields at various different elevations in order to add variety to their diets as well as to mitigate the risk of crop failure (see Murra 2002 for a complete explanation of this system).  This movement up and down the Andean slopes in search of agricultural space led to a great deal of interaction between different cultural groups in different regions and the outcomes of these interactions sometimes often wide reaching impacts on regional geo-politics (c.f. Dillehay 1979; Rostworowski 1973; 1988).

My research takes place in the Huanangue Valley, which runs through an ecotone known locally as the chaupiyunga.

Research area.

Research area.

The chaupiyunga serves as the cultural and ecological boundary between the coast and the highlands.  My data shows that the Huanangue Valley was the setting for intense sets of interaction between the coastal Chancay, highland Atavillos and local chaupiyungino  groups, all of whom wanted access to the very limited, but very rich, agricultural lands which were ideal for growing highly valued crops such as  maize, coca, chili peppers and fruit.  In contrast to other regions of the Andes, where coastal and highland groups tended to come into violent conflict with each other over access to agricultural land, the different groups in the Huanangue Valley seem to coexist peacefully with each other.

Based on preliminary excavation data, I am beginning to understand why.  We know that the local chaupiyunginos controlled the uptakes for the irrigation canals which also allowed them to indirectly control agricultural production in the valley.  As such, when the Chancay moved into chaupiyungino territory from the coast, they would have had to find a way to convince the local people to give them access to water so that they could water their fields.  As the Huanangue Valley was relatively far away from the Chancay heartland, Chancay settlers did not have the support they needed in order to forcibly take the irrigation uptakes.  However, the Chancay did have access to highly valued coastal foods such as shellfish and peanuts.  During excavation, we found ample evidence of feasting at the Chancay site of Salitre.  My hypothesis is that the Chancay held feasts at Salitre and invited their local chaupiyungino neighbors to these feasts.  At these feasts chaupiyunginos were provided with shellfish, camelid meat and other delicacies as part of a strategy of alliance building, through which the Chancay hoped to ensure their access to water.  Thus, not only did the desire for food bring the Chancay into chaupiyungino territory, forcing the two groups to face each other, but the sharing of food helped alleviate tensions between the groups, allowing them to share water and land peacefully.

DSC06505I am working to prove my hypothesis through analyzing soil samples taken from Chancay and chaupiyungino sites in order to better understand where crops were being grown and consumed.  More information about my efforts can be found at  https://www.microryza.com/projects/feasting-interaction-and-the-middle-ground-understanding-local-geopolitics-through-agricultural-production.

References Cited

Dillehay, Tom. 1979. Pre-Hispanic Resource Sharing in the Central Andes. Science 204(6):24-31.

Murra, John. 2002. El Mundo Andino: Población, Medio Ambiente, y Economía. Fondo Editorial PUCP, Lima, Perú.

Rostworowski, María. 1973. Las Etnias de Valle del Chillón. Revista del Museo Nacional. 38:250-314.

Rostworowski, María. 1988. Conflicts Over Coca Fields in XVIth-Century Perú. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology. no 21. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Note from the editor: Readers will notice that the author of this post has provided a link to a Microryza web site. This is a crowdfunding web site for science research. It seems that at least some graduate students in anthropology are using this as a way to fund their research. SAFN welcomes blog postings from graduate students whose work is related to the anthropology of food and nutrition that follow this model. Such postings must, of course, follow our other guidelines (see the Blog Contributors page for more details) for contributions to the blog.

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Filed under agriculture, Andes, anthropology, archaeology, economics, farming, feasting, food security, Food Studies, history, Peru, war

Zucchini as a Gateway Drug: Cultivating food security in Iowa through gardening

cultivateia_fbook_cover2

Elizabeth Danforth Richey, PhD, MPH and Angie Tagtow MS, LD, RD
Iowa Food Systems Council, info@cultivateiowa.org

Do more with less. This mantra has become virtually universal in public health and social programming. In the face of the obesity epidemic and rising food insecurity, food pantries are increasingly taking on the role of nutrition educator and healthy lifestyle coach. Unfortunately, this work is expected to be done without the necessary resources. When healthy eating messages are provided in emergency feeding settings, too much of the food distributed through these networks is processed, shelf-stable foods with limited nutritional value. A food pantry staff explained, “It’s hard to ask clients to do something and not be able to give them the right foods to do it.”

One approach to creating accessible, affordable and healthy food environments is food gardening. Food gardening has become increasingly popular among community-and faith-based organizations, workplaces, schools, and among the general public. Food gardening can not only provide food insecure household with fresh local produce, but it can also infuse food bank and pantry food supplies with healthier foods through produce donation.

cultivateia_newspaper_ad_gardenersIn 2012, the Iowa Food Systems Council (IFSC) received a grant from the Wellmark Foundation to create a social marketing campaign to encourage food gardening as a way to increase the amount of healthy local produce in the food system accessed by food insecure Iowans. The goals of this campaign are to encourage: 1) low-resource Iowans to engage in food gardening and 2) gardeners to donate extra produce to emergency feeding networks (food banks and pantries) in their community. The project was designed and implemented by the IFSC’s Food Access and Health Work Group, a community of practice of 250-some partners engaged in some aspect of household or community food security research and/or programming. The multidisciplinary nature of community-based food security programming lent itself to an anthropological approach to understanding target communities within political, economic, historical, cultural and environmental contexts.

Project funding provided the luxury of 12 months of initial mixed-methods research to assess how messages could be effectively conveyed and the content of a social marketing campaign for each target audience. The assessment investigated the multi-layered challenges related to accessing healthy food, perspectives on gardening and produce consumption, produce donation, accessing fresh produce at food pantries, and other factors that could influence message distribution.

Key findings from the assessment were used as the basis for the state-wide social marketing campaign, including:

  • Broad partner support exists for the campaign, but financial and staffing challenges limit the expansion of garden promotion at an organizational level. 
  • There is low staff/client interaction time at emergency feeding locations.
  • Cost is the main barrier to housing, household resources, and food choice, all of which impact produce consumption rates among food-insecure Iowans.
  • Low-resource Iowans lack space for yard-based gardening, and perceive gardening as a time consuming activity.
  • Gardeners lack awareness of produce donation activities in their community, but are very supportive of the idea.
  • Gardeners are have specific concerns related to produce use and liability.

An executive summary of the initial research can be accessed here.

A marketing team took the key findings identified by researchers, and created the Cultivate Iowa campaign. This campaign was designed to be fun, positive and broad based. Rather than explicitly focusing on gardening as a way for resource-poor people to become less food insecure, it aims to provide general messages about cost savings, ease, and low-input gardening strategies. Implementation strategies, rather than the messages themselves, will target desired audiences. For example, materials will be distributed at WIC clinics and food pantries, and billboards will be placed in low-resource areas. Produce donation messages will focus on community engagement and donating any amount available. Cultivate Iowa aims to empower both low-resource and gardener audiences; a main concern is to avoid paternalistic or negative messages. As a key informant explained, “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign was launched on April 19, and will continue through the 2013 growing season. It will be promoted statewide through the Food Access and Health Work Group. Partner resources include campaign talking points, promotional items, brochures, postcards, posters, and vegetable seeds. In addition, a public and social media strategy will be implemented, including radio and TV, billboards, newspaper ads, Facebook and Twitter.

Beyond the marketing campaign, the initial research identified other issues cultivateia_poster2integral to the success of the campaign, such as supporting food pantries to expand their produce acceptance practices, promoting food panties to register at AmpleHarvest (think on-line dating for gardeners and food pantries), and creating educational materials about safe produce handling and storage practices.

So, how can you engage with the campaign? Regardless of where you live, visit the website to learn how you can cheaply and easily increase the fresh local foods in your diet. Pledge to donate produce in your community and find the nearest produce donation site to you. Help to support local and state level policy that creates garden-friendly communities, including public garden space, and tax incentives for commercial and private produce donation. More information about the campaign can be found at www.cultivateiowa.org.

Research will continue to assess the campaign’s impact on food gardening and produce donation in the state. Future strategies may include more focused efforts to promote state and local gardening-related policy, increasing engagement of retail partners, and more targeted messaging to specific populations such as SNAP users. (A little known fact is that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase edible plants and seeds.) Bringing anthropology to the table has worked to create a more effective program that situates the program objectives within the larger social structures in which the target audiences exist. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to encourage Iowans to Plant. Grow. Share. and to Plant. Grow. Save.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food pantries, food security, gardening, markets, methods, nutrition, obesity, policy, SAFN Member Research, sustainability

Connecting Students with Real Food and Real Farmers

By Kellen GilbertDavid Burley, Bonnie May, Timothy McCarthy, Sole Sanchez, Erica Dickerson, Danate Moses and Benny Milligan (Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana)

Part One

Last fall, the students in a graduate class in Applied Environmental Sociology at our university took on a food-based project that has outlasted the one semester class.   The instructor, David Burley, an environmental sociologist interested in sustainability issues, and his students saw this class as an excellent opportunity to put applied sociological (and anthropological) concepts and methods to work on a very local issue: the campus cafeteria food.

One of the graduate students in the class, Bonnie May, was the president of Reconnect, a campus organization for students interested in environmental and sustainability issues. Reconnect had been a part of the national program, The Real Food Challenge (RFC) since the previous semester. The RFC’s goal is to have local, sustainably and justly produced food in campus cafeterias instead of industrial agricultural products.  RFC is a student created and run organization that engages students on their own campuses to organize “real food campaigns” and other activities on campus to educate and implement change.

At the time, Reconnect was a small and dedicated group but limited in terms of time and energy its members could spend.  Finding time for extracurricular activities is an ongoing challenge for many of our students in part because so many commute to campus and work full time or, at the very least, part-time jobs.  So a student-led project to change the campus cafeteria food was perfect for our applied graduate class.

The graduate students prepared by reading articles about urban agriculture and food justice, ecological identity, and seminal works like Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan’s (2002) article on locating weaknesses in the global food system and yes, of course, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Then, the class employed information from the readings, consultation from RFC coordinators via Bonnie May, and advice from independent market consultant Darlene Wolnik, to develop a university community outreach plan. Students took on individual tasks such as designing attractive educational pamphlets and information cards. Others put together a presentation on local, sustainably produced food and spoke to over 30 undergraduate classes and student organizations.  The students also gathered over 1000 signatures on campus in support of the “real food” project with over 600 email addresses of students who wanted to stay informed and over 100 who said they would volunteer in some capacity.

But the biggest part of the class’s project was planning a farmers market to raise awareness and build support in coordination with National Food Day on Oct. 24th.  This would become not only the first ever farmers market on our campus but, at least according to our research, the first on any Louisiana college campus.

Southeastern Students at market

Students purchasing greens at the Southeastern Farmers Market.

To be continued…

Next:  The Farmers Market—farmers cooperatives versus corporate intruders.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, culture, economics, farming, Food Studies, markets, sustainability