Category Archives: food activism

Review and Interview: Nurturing Masculinities

Nurturing Masculinities

Nurturing Masculinities: Men, Food and Family in Contemporary Egypt. Nefissa Naguib. University of Texas Press. 2015.

Katharina Graf (SOAS, University of London)

Nefissa Naguib’s book ‘Nurturing Masculinities’ is based on rare ethnographic research that focused on men’s food provisioning in Cairo. Naguib argues that exploring how men connect to their families, their communities and their nation through food preparation and consumption offers a new perspective on what it means to be an Arab man in urban Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa in the face of uncertainty. She introduces her research through multisensory stories of traditional foodways mingled with contemporary concerns about rising food prices and changing ways of life across socioeconomic classes.

In Chapter 1, she conceptualises her argument by focusing explicitly on men’s lived experiences of everyday life to challenge the often distorted views of Arab men as “sullen, affectionless, and sunk in relational poverty” (p. 30). She has followed many of these men over several decades of fieldwork in the region and, based on field notes and interviews, narrates how food provisioning is an especially important way for men to care, build relationships and express their notions of masculinity.

In Chapter 2, Naguib relates the experiences of a few food activists belonging to the Youth Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to the current economic crisis in Egypt and illustrates how religious beliefs and pragmatism are deeply entwined in the attempt to mobilize “against food injustice and for food sovereignty” (p. 60).

In Chapter 3, Naguib shows how food preparation and consumption, particularly of bread, link and evoke these men’s ambiguous notions of the past, the present and the future. She draws a complex picture of men’s experiences of everyday life in a highly uncertain contemporary Cairo and argues that men are, just like women, contributing to the reproduction of knowledge and practices.

In Chapter 4, she brings her main points together by focusing on the notion of “ibn al-balad”, an ethos of manliness and congeniality, whereby through food preparation and consumption men can be men in the “struggle to overcome economic constraints in defense of culture and tradition, religion, and hope” (p. 97).

INTERVIEW

Katharina Graf (KG):        Your book does an excellent job at challenging stereotypes and unsettling expectations of the ‘Arab man’ as marked by patriarchy alone. It does not draw generalised conclusions, but throughout focuses on men’s lived experiences of everyday life in contemporary Cairo through the lens of food provisioning for their families. According to you, what is the main point of the book? What do you want the reader to take away from it?

Nefissa Naguib (NN):      My editor asked me to write a book that my grandmother and that students would read. I want the reader to take away an account of the domesticity of men; the public and the private sphere of women is really important in the regional literature, but I think the region has moved on and we have to move on with it. Men are no longer just ‘the public’ and perhaps they never were just ‘the public’. In this book, I want to bring men into what Janet Carsten (1997) has called the “hearth” and make them also domestic. Through food, they speak a domestic language; or rather, their language becomes domestic – an everyday language. In the past, we have linked everyday anthropology in the Middle East and North Africa to women and this was very important – my earlier research on women and food is emblematic of this (e.g. Naguib 2009a, 2009b). If we look at what men are doing, especially in the domain of food – through their everyday language of food – I hope the reader gets some insight into their everyday realities, too.

KG:         My first set of questions relates to economic and social change in Cairo. Many of these men speak of uncertainty and the change relating to food, such as the rising price of food, especially bread, and the growth of food borne health risks, which you argue is deeply linked to being an Egyptian man, “ibn al-balad”, and is to some extent based on their role as food providers. Although these are particular stories of particular men and their “reflexive engagement with their own lives” (p. 14), including young food activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, what do you think can be deduced from their lived experiences? What is the broader context of social transformation? For instance, how do gender relations change and how does this affect men’s role as provider?

NN:        It would be nice and easy to say, ‘The women do this and the man do that’. But, you see, they don’t. Couples now shop together, they do the major grocery shopping with their car once a week. If they both work and it’s a stressful day, they also eat out and grab something on their way home. If a couple can afford a housekeeper, that person will shop. Before, it used to be the men who shopped: he goes to the butcher and buys the bread; he knows best. Women did go to the market, mainly buying vegetables, and they bargained. Now, they do shop for most foods, but it is still amazingly expected that the man provides food.

KG:         You write about the “confused role” (p. 40) of men, how is this connected to economic uncertainty and the 2011 revolutions?

NN:        This is understudied, we need more research on how the current economy in Egypt affects family life and, concretely, men’s ability to feed the family. But no one talks about this. In the Middle East and North Africa hunger is a taboo. Another problem related to food is stunted growth, Egypt has one of the highest percentages of stunting and obesity. Yet, that too, is not talked about in the country.

KG:         In that context, how do you think that urban Egyptian families might change in the future?

NN:        The revolution in 2011 did not meet people’s dreams and expectations. But people did go to the streets and you saw that something was happening that it’s worth paying attention to and that has brought to the surface that people are discontent and worried. There is widespread anxiety, which comes into family life: ‘How are we going to manage?’ At the same time, there is anticipation and aspiration among people and that is equally interesting. But I don’t know how families will manage in the future. Right now, the economy is suffering, also impacting on the middle classes, and people cannot afford what is expected of their class. It is necessary now that the wife works. A woman has to provide, too, because unemployment and distress is very high. There is a high amount of insecurity about what lies in the future.

KG:         According to your book, this distress and uncertainty seem to attack exactly what is important to these men and their notion of ibn al-balad: generosity and caregiving through providing food for their families.

NN:        Yes! Nevertheless, people want to be generous, especially young couples. Yet, even if they aspire to, they cannot have the same life as their parents. They have more stressful lives.

KG:         This is comparable to my generation in Europe. As a young family, we cannot afford not to work, both partners. Whereas in my parents’ generation, simply speaking, the men provided whilst the women prepared food.

NN:        Family life in Egypt, and the Middle East and North Africa more generally, looks different now and we have to address how it looks like, even if doesn’t match what we learnt in history books. Perhaps it never looked like that anyway. People are stressed, but in the midst of that and what I also wanted to achieve with the book is to show the sweetness of life.

KG:         This makes the book so marvellous, it is human and poetic. It shows the everyday feelings and concerns of real people. At the same time, not knowing Egypt very well, I would have liked more demographical and historical information. In urban Morocco where I work, for instance, the lifecycle has shifted, couples marry later and have fewer children and this affects family life and food preparation.

NN:        When their children were born, the people I worked with wanted them to learn how to eat properly. It was mostly the women who wanted their children to eat well and the men like to spoil their children with food. But in a financial crisis this becomes problematic. They couldn’t give their children what they had in their childhood. When they both work and they come home in the evening, they have to feed ready-made or take-away food.

KG:         Let me move on to my second and last set of questions relating to the relevance of knowledge and food quality. You describe well how men are expected to be generous and thus ignore the cost of food as a sign of their affection, whereas women are expected to be thrifty and bargain for the best prices and qualities. How would you describe men’s knowledge in shopping for food?

NN:        Men like to say ‘It doesn’t matter’. But what they know is another matter. They know exactly which cuts of meat are the best and how to buy vegetables. They say, ‘Madame shops food’, but they don’t want their wives to grocery shop. Ideally their wives are at home, like in the soaps on television: he comes home and she has prepared food. Men love to talk about their knowledge of shopping – how to pat a melon to know whether it is good – and they know the season of foods.

KG:         Do men strategize when they buy food?

NN:        Quantity is important. Even though they say they don’t care about what they pay, they do. What I would have liked to bring forth a little better in the book is that men would have liked to do as their fathers did, not to have to care about prices. But they do care about prices and even don’t buy an item because of that. And it’s just wrong. People gossip about it. It is contradictory, they tell you they don’t care, but they do. The price of food is so much part of a conversation. The conversation is the price of food. But why aren’t we writing more about this?!

KG:         Is this a new anxiety with food prices that came along with the Arab spring?

NN:        In Tahrir Square, people had slogans about the price of food, they had helmets made of bread and they held bread in their hands when they lifted their arms. Now again, something is going to happen, it’s boiling. The price of food has risen again; I don’t even know anymore by how much. But they are also concerned that the food doesn’t taste good. Men talked a lot about especially how bread looks like and what it tastes like.

KG:         Do they mean that the quality and taste of bread has deteriorated?

NN:        Yes! They often said, ‘This is not bread!’

KG:         This is very similar in Morocco: the price of food matters, but the quality matters just as much to ordinary people. This is the case especially for lunch, which in Marrakech is still the most important meal of the day. Has lunch changed in Cairo?

NN:        In Cairo, too, bread has to be there and lunch is considered the main meal. But in practice this changes: when both men and women work they don’t come home for lunch. Ideally, in the past, they ate lunch together at home, it was the most important meal. And it is still in discourse, but in practice dinner has become more important. With life’s realities today, you eat in the car or you buy take-away food on your way home.

References

Carsten, J. (1997) The heat of the hearth: the process of kinship in a Malay fishing village. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Naguib, N. (2009a) Food and foodways in the Middle East. Centre for Development Studies, University of Bergen, Bergen.

Naguib, N. (2009b) Tastes and fragrances from the Old World: memoirs by Egyptian Jewish women. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 9 (1), 122-127.

 

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Blackness, Food, and State-Sanctioned Violence

Ashanté M. Reese, PhD

I began research on food access in Washington, D.C., knowing that I wanted to learn about a) what people were eating b) where they were shopping, and c) how (if at all) they engaged urban agriculture movements.

During my first interview, a participant made it clear that a) she did not want to talk about any of those things right away, b) she would get to them when she was ready, and c) there were other more pressing things I needed to know so that I could understand her food choices. That first interview sent me back to the drawing board to reconsider how I conceptualized the study of food.  After conducting 40+ interviews with D.C. residents (and another 40 interviews with Baltimore residents for a separate project), I now realize that most of my participants talked about, theorized, and understood their lives at the intersections of multiple forms of state-sanctioned violence. I came to them wanting to discuss food access. They came to me with stories about their lives, the histories of their neighborhoods, gentrification, policing, and other black people they didn’t know but to whom they felt a connectedness. Food, the subject that brought us to the table, provided a framework for discussing some of the precarious elements of navigating spaces in black bodies.

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Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

In the most terrifying, in your face moments, we watch Black Death on repeat as video after video captures unarmed black people being shot down in the streets by officers of the state. It is heartbreaking and sometimes terrifying to watch. Yet, as I learned from my research participants, these murders occur within a larger frame of the everydayness of violence they witnessed or experienced. State-sanctioned violence not only shows up in public murders and the collective trauma in their aftermaths but also in the ways in which people experience (and navigate) inequalities on a daily basis that provides context for the food research we conduct. We need only examine the systematic ways Black farmers were denied access to federal funding that could have made a difference in their abilities to compete in the transitions toward agribusiness. Or the ways federal and state governments co-opted the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program while at the same time blacklisting, criminalizing, and surveilling the Panthers themselves.

State-sanctioned violence normalizes death and inequalities through the slow but steady unraveling of individuals’ character in the moments immediately following their public executions, the decline of publically available resources, and through the now colloquial understanding of “food deserts” that points to outcomes (lack of food access, individual choice, etc.) but often obscures processes (systematic racism, increased suburbanization, etc.).  Though it is easy to compartmentalize, these different forms of violence  stem from shared roots that attempt to curtail black mobility in and access to public space.  Some are very public, instantaneous deaths at the hands of police like those of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and as of today, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. These are the spectacular, shocking deaths (although, they are happening often enough to question if they are as shocking as they were). Others are slow, walking, everyday deaths: the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods; the continuous expansion of multinational food corporations that not only control access but also wages of folks who produce food; the cutting (and erasure) of social services.

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Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

I see the critical examination of these intersections as part of the work Sidney Mintz envisioned when he challenged food anthropologists to engage with–not run away from–the power structures that shape access, tastes, and perceptions. The worlds in which we live–the worlds in which my predominantly Black research participants, friends, and I live–are circumscribed by power dynamics that shape not only food access but also experiences with other forms of state-sanctioned violence that are sometimes literally a matter of life or death.

 

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Eating Insects Detroit

Gina Louise Hunter
Illinois State University

Eating Insects Detroit: Exploring the Culture of Insects as Food and Feed, held May 26-28 at Wayne State University brought together industry leaders, researchers, activists, and “ento-prenuers” of all stripes. While insect foods are relished by people throughout the world, most Europeans, Americans, and Canadians cannot stomach the thought of eating bugs. Yet, recent years have seen the introduction of a number of insect-based food products on the North American market, such as Chapul’s protein bars made with cricket “flour.” Getting consumers to overcome the yuck-factor was one theme at the conference. A free vendor exhibit allowed the 150 registered conference goers and over 70 members of the public to sample cricket and mealworm products (pasta, cookies, chips), an insect-based meat substitute, roasted insect snacks, and a variety of protein bars.  What does One Hop Kitchen’s Cricket Bolognese sauce taste like?  Bolognese sauce! Crickets, the so-called “gateway bug,” and mealworms are by far the most common insects raised for human-food due to long industry experience with these two as pet feed and perhaps because they are seen as easily integrated into the North American diet.

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Chocolate glazed donut with ant sprinkles, photo by Gina Louise Hunter

That, at least, is the hope of conference attendees who see insects as the future of food. While a number of papers focused on market research, branding, and product development, there was a consistent undercurrent of the revolutionary potential of insects as food and feed. Insects are efficient feed converters, have a small environmental foot-print, and are very nutritious—high in protein and fats, vitamins and minerals. Farmers are still working out many of the details of scaling up production, regulations, and international trade. An open, informative meeting of North American Edible Insects Coalition allowed participants to voice perspectives on how the industry should develop—if insects are an alternative and sustainable protein source, can the industry develop in ways that uphold other alternative values such as transparency, traceability, organic production, and social justice in the food system?  Attending the conference felt less like an academic exercise and more like joining a movement.

It’s a movement that is gaining momentum. Certainly entomophagy is not new. Gene R. DeFoliart (1925–2013) published the The Food Insects Newsletter from 1988 until 2000. Recently interest in insects surged with the publication of the FAO’s watershed report, Edible Insects: Future prospects for Food and Feed security (2013). Former FAO Senior Forestry Officer and coordinator of Edible Insect Program, Paul Vantomme, perhaps the international guru of edible insects, was on hand to offer insights and concluded the conference with a presentation of hope and caution on how insects might feed the world.

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Cricket kebab. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

The conference program reveals the diversity of presenters and perspectives as well as the significant international participation. Session were a highly entertaining, if somewhat bewildering experience — in one half hour span, for instance, we heard a scientific paper on the nutritional profile of fish raised on insect feed, a market study on consumer acceptance of insect foods, and a testimonial from a “micro-rancher.” There were even a few humanities contributions: Amy Wright (Austin Peay State University) read from her piece in Gastronomica, Laura Shine (Concordia University) offered a sensorial and Latour-ian approach to experiencing insects, and David Gracer (Community College of Rhode Island) emphasized the role of stories and mini-manifestos in creating culture change.

And anthropology? According to Termite Survey, Julie Lesnik (Wayne State University) studies the potential role of termites in the Australopithicus diet but is broadly interested in entomophagy. Her broad interest was reflected in the conference, yet it was clear that most attendees knew each other or knew of each other and the conviviality was contagious. Me? I’m a cultural anthropologist interested in the insect food movement and, thanks to the conference, I’m a newly confirmed entomophagist.

 

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Mealworm fritter on cricket risotto. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

With so much delicious food on hand, how could one not eat insects? Detroit food truck, Monkey Business, offered cricket kabobs, (real) ants on a (fake) log, chocolate glazed donut with ant sprinkles, and mealworm quesadillas inspired by recipes from the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook author, David George Gordon, who was also a presenter.

 

 

The pièce de résistance, however, was a five-course gourmet dinner with cocktails and wine-pairings, prepared by local chefs and sourced with insects from Detroit Ento. Held in the hip Salt and Cedar letter press studio space, the dinner featured insect ingredients in everything but the wine. Pictured here is a mealworm fritter on cricket risotto and a Thai-style coconut curry soup with wild rice, mealworms, and silkworm pupae. How did it all taste? Well, you’ll just have to get some bugs and try them for yourself.

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Thai-style coconut curry soup with wild rice, mealworms, and silkworm pupae. Photo by Gina Louise Hunter.

 

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What FoodAnthro Is Reading Now, May 18 Edition

A selection of items from around the internet of possible interest to readers of FoodAnthropology. If you have items you think our readers should read, send a note to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu or dberiss@uno.edu.

Historian and food writer Rien Fertel has just published a new book about whole hog barbecue culture and history. You can read his moving chapter on the life, smoking traditions, and fate of Ricky Parker, one of the pitmasters, here.

It turns out that the lobbying groups/boards that represent commodities like pork, milk, beef, eggs, etc.—do not think they should have to reveal information about their activities to the public, despite being quasi-governmental organizations (overseen by the USDA).

So it should not surprise anyone that a cartoonist (and farmer) who did political cartoons for Farm News was fired after apparently being too critical of Big Ag. The New York Times covered this here. A more in depth analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review is here.

What happens if Congress changes the way it measures community eligibility to serve free meals to all school students? We may soon find out.

Does industrial chicken processing count when people say they want more manufacturing jobs in America? If so, they may want unions and health regulation with that, because otherwise they may need to wear diapers to work. Health conditions and bathroom breaks in the poultry industry, as reported by Oxfam.

Is urban agriculture the key to sustaining and reviving our cities? Here is a useful interdisciplinary overview of studies on urban agriculture from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

Want to struggle with the nature/culture divide? Or do you prefer watching the FDA and NPR do the heavy lifting? Read this.

How did food studies become respectable? And why? An overview from Australia, in which anthropologists are recognized for having led the way.

At some point, we need to write something here about food related museums. But while we wait, here is an overview of the International Banana Museum, which is improbably (or maybe not, given the sort of museum it is) in California.

Last item for today is either indicative of the next paranoid health trend or is merely absurd, but in any case cries out for research by anthropologists. Getting your microbiome sequenced, because…well, you might find out something useful. Probably not, but you might. (Meanwhile, check out the American Gut Project, which is doing crowd sourced science related to your microbiome.)

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Slow Fish Report: On Value Chains, the Privatization of the Seas, and the Food Movement

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Last month I wrote about the existence of the food movement, which a Washington Post writer had suggested did not really exist. I can now confirm that the movement exists. I saw it myself.

A few weeks ago, I participated in “Slow Fish,” a conference organized by Slow Food. This had all the trappings of a movement. My name tag said that I was a “delegate,” as if I was attending some sort of seafood United Nations. It sort of felt like that, or perhaps like a revolutionary assembly of food activists. Slow Fish takes place every two years, historically in Genoa. This year was the first time the event was held in North America. Participants, including fishers, fish mongers, fish transporters, fish processors, chefs, activists, scientists, and students came from all over the world, but the majority seemed to be from the U.S. and Canada. They were there to discuss the state of the world’s fish and fisheries, as well as the environmental, economic, political, and cultural context that turns fish into food for millions of people.

I did not think of myself as any kind of fish expert going in, however I live in New Orleans, where fish and seafood are central to our culinary life. One of our local restaurants has the slogan “friends don’t let friends eat frozen fish” and devotion to local seafood is serious.

Fish Devotion, New Orleans

Fish Devotion, New Orleans

Of course, I also know that our local fishing industry has been in trouble for a long time. Competition from imports, conflicts over environmental regulations, disasters like the 2010 BP spill, coastal erosion, and more are making it increasingly difficult for fishing families to make a living. We don’t like to acknowledge it, but even in New Orleans, there are restaurants and grocery stores that sell mostly imported seafood.

These contradictions are probably a good reason for holding Slow Fish here. But it is easy to get caught up in our local debates and to lose sight of how the issues we confront are similar to problems elsewhere. I went to the event in search of the kind of global perspective that Slow Food could provide.

That slogan about friends and frozen fish, for instance, could probably use some revising. The point, for the restaurant that uses it, is to assert the value of eating local fish. So I was surprised to hear Slow Fish delegates argue for eating fish—often frozen—from hundreds of miles away. This was part of a discussion of “value chains,” a concept used to focus attention on the entire process of catching and distributing fish. My relationship with a fisher at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market means that I can be relatively certain of the origins and quality of the seafood I purchase there. I can also assume that the fishing family I buy from is receiving most of the revenue from my purchase. That relationship is a value chain, albeit a rather short one, in which I can have confidence because the participants—the fishing family, the market managers, and, of course, me—are all people I trust. But these chains can be longer, with processors, distributors, and retailers between the fishers and the customers. The value chain, however, only works as long as information and relationships involve actual people. Rather than put one’s confidence in the supposed efficiencies of the anonymous market, the value chain concept suggests that we should only trust seafood that comes from and through people we trust, people who can assure that the food meets the Slow Food standards of “good, clean, and fair.” This emphasis on the relationships between people, rather than on the product, makes perfect sense from an anthropological perspective. And hearing the discussion at Slow Fish reminded me of related anthropological research, perhaps most notably Susan Andreatta, Barry Nash, and Gretchen Bath Martin’s work on seafood distribution in North Carolina.

Along with rethinking distribution, Slow Fish challenged my ideas about the source of fish—the sea itself. I had long assumed that the world’s oceans were open territory, where fishers roamed more or less at will in search of their catch, limited mostly by the territorial rules of governments and environmental regulations designed to preserve fisheries. It turns out, however, that some of those regulations have led to a kind of privatization of the seas, through which a combination of corporations and environmental organizations have managed to reshape regulation and control of fisheries. Some of the most intense discussions at Slow Fish focused on “catch share” programs. Although details seem to vary, the central characteristic of these programs is the regulation of fisheries by establishing quotas for different species, which are divided up among fishers, boats, or organizations (another term for this is “individual fishing quotas”), who can then catch the species. These systems are often represented as an efficient way to protect fisheries while also limiting some of the more dangerous aspects of commercial fishing. Catch shares are sometimes available for sale, lease, or trade, so fishers may opt to sell their rights and temporarily or permanently leave the business. Environmental organizations, like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy, are supporters of catch share programs, as are promoters of free market solutions for social issues, who see this as a way to bring market efficiencies to an environmental problem. NPR’s show “Planet Money” did a piece in 2015 that explains some of the reasons why people may support these programs.

Among the fishers at Slow Fish, however, opposition to catch share programs was fierce. Criticism focused on the idea that catch shares were leading to a sharp reduction in the number of people who could make a living fishing. They insist that this market-oriented model is leading to a corporate takeover of the seas. Instead of individual fishers or boat owners each fishing a share, the shares have, in some fisheries, been bought up by owners of fishing fleets, or by corporations. In some cases, fishers are hired to fish leases for those corporations, creating what was called a kind of fishing “serfdom” at Slow Fish. There have been some recent scandals involving owners of large numbers of catch shares. The displacement of local fishers, the transformation of fishers from small business owners into fishing sharecroppers or deckhands on corporate boats, and the disruption of efforts to eliminate bycatch (species that are caught accidentally, often perishing before they can be returned to the sea) were among the many questions raised about catch share programs. This article from The Bay Citizen provides a detailed analysis of the programs and of the criticism leveled at them (and cites anthropologists Carolyn Creed and Bonnie McCay, who have published work related to these issues).

One of the main themes at Slow Fish was the idea that small scale fishers, processors, and distributors should be able to make a living. Establishing value chains was presented as one way to achieve this goal, while resisting the privatization of the seas was another. It is worth noting that the fishers and activists at Slow Fish did not oppose all regulation or even all the catch share programs. Rather, they were more concerned with making sure that such programs focused on creating situations that allowed a human—as opposed to corporate—scaled commercial fishing industry to thrive.

There were, of course, many other issues discussed and questions raised at Slow Fish, more than I can account for here. Fish farming, aquaponics, fishing gear and related regulations, conflicts with sport fishers, efforts to popularize so-called trash fish, stories of fishing families, fish processing, fish politics, etc., were all on the program. On some deep level, of course, the event was not really about fish—it was about humanizing the relationships between producers and consumers of food in ways that challenge a system that is otherwise dominated by anonymous markets and large corporations. And this, it should be clear, is what a food movement looks like.

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Acceleration of Slow Food: Reflections on the First 30 Years

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

 

Carlo Petrini’s Food & Freedom. How the Slow Food Movement is Changing the World Through Gastronomy (John Irving, trans. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2015).

 

This is an insightful and engaging read (with some redundancies near the end), which describes the chronology of Slow Food as a social movement and related institutional dimensions.  The chronology, clear outline of conceptual and organizational issues, numerous illustrative national and community case studies, and linkages to other food movements (agricultural and environmental sustainability, right-to-food, anti-hunger, anti-globalization and anti-free trade) makes it a valuable addition to any food-policy or sustainable food systems syllabus or professional background readings.

In this lyrically written and adequately-referenced volume, Petrini constructs chronologies and links local, sustainable, and fair food movements in new ways.  He is particularly sharp when critiquing the “wasteconomy”, his overarching term for conventional, globalizing food systems and commodification processes that judge food only by price without considering other (labor, environmental, biodiversity) characteristics and more humane, “right to food” dimensions of value: “It is incredible how a system designed to reduce diversity, increase productivity, and distribute efficiently from centralized structures manages to “lose food” at every turn…all this while a billion people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition” (p.89).  His opening historical chapters remind the reader that the origins of the Slow Food movement, in 1986, coincided with and were motivated by three Italian-area environmental and food-system disasters that wreaked havoc on small farmers and their local products: (1) the case of the adulteration of Italian Piedmont wine with methanol that killed 23 and blinded many others; (2) the Chernobyl disaster, which raised the dangers of radioactive pollution in neighboring regions, and (3) multiple cases of atrazine (pesticide) poisoning in the Italian Po Valley.  All raised questions about safety of farmers, consumers, and food systems, and the need for more reliable, “good, clean, fair” food chains that would make it uneconomic to engage in scandalous food-system activities.

There followed a series of historic slow food events accompanied by networking—In 1994, four food-festival days in Milan; in 2001, the celebration of emergent “Ecogastromes,” which one journalist termed “a gastronomic version of Greenpeace”, energizing defiant protests against globalism, and organizing alternative time- and human labor intensive forms of food chains designed to preserve and value flavor, human investment in food that is justly produced, moved, processed, and consumed.  In 2004, these values coalesced in the first Terra Madre gathering in Turin, which thereafter happened every two years.  This world meeting was the outcome of prior Turin-based food events, which included The Ark of Taste (1996), whose mission was to save the universe of flavors; the 1997 Manifesto of Slow Food; the 1998 Presidio, which was the implementation of the Manifesto; the 1999 Ark Scientific Commission which established the Slow Food categories and specifics to be emphasized, first in Italy and Europe, then, in 2002, internationally. In 2005, the alternative Slow Food “good, clean, fair” valuation as alternative characteristics to “price” was complete.

Slow Food as a tool that merged into and with the Terra Madre movement continued to scale up—geographically, numerically, politically, and functionally. Petrini analyzes this organic process, by which the call for more food biodiversity and placing value on cultural diversity elicits more preservation of local food artistry and biodiversity.  A granaries memory project, as a case in point, makes the collections and recollections to retain diverse grain heritages and communicate a passion for bio-cultural culinary diversity to younger generations.  The language of “liberating” gastronomy, diversity, and trade pervade the historical structures and contents, as Petrini and his colleagues and friends visit and share multiple case studies covering Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, which showcase how involved chefs transition to local foods and suppliers, and extend the reach of these local networks into farm-to-school foods and farmer-assisted school gardens.  In the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey and Morocco are featured case studies. In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenyan and Ugandan farmers are on board, as are other African communities of interest in Slow Foods Thousand Gardens in Africa Project.  In Indonesia, those valuing preservation of distinctive rice varieties have been involved in saving and disseminating seeds right from the beginning, along with Petrini’s original Italian supporters, French and German, and other European and North American colleagues and enthusiasts.  These are numerical and geographic dimensions of scaling up.  The political scaling up involved joining with other food focused social-concern movements, including Italians fighting “land consumption” i.e., those organizing to change the European Commission’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the direction of biodiversity, with greater support for policies friendlier to smaller, regional and local farmers. Petrini and his politically-astute colleagues became major lobbyists drafting legislative positions on these issues.  They also weighed in on agricultural production and trade issues in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and CIVETS nations (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Thailand, S. Africa—note he puts South Africa here, not with the BRIC(S).)  In another historic watershed showing their political reach, FAO in 2013 signed an agreement with Slow Foods that pledged to support local, affordable, small-scale ventures.  Progressively, Slow Food also networks with food-security, anti-hunger, healthier and locally sourced school-meals campaigns, and opponents to damaging land and food grabs orchestrated by dominant global speculators and market players.  Land and food, from beginning to end, are at the heart of democratic demands for a free and fully inclusive society and sustainable development.  As an estimated 10,000 nodes network around these food and food-related issues, Slow Food helps connect the communities who are the Terra Madre, and make them vibrant and significant players in global and national food politics.

 

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Activist Chefs and the Food Movement

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

A few weeks ago, Greg de St. Maurice wrote an intriguing piece on this blog about chef activism. He drew on the case of Chef Daniel Giusti, chef de cuisine at Noma, in Copenhagen, who is starting a company that will try to improve food in American schools. Greg raises questions about the ways in which we should evaluate chef activism, as well as about how that activism relates to other social movements. Reading both Greg’s piece and some of the links he provided, I was struck by two things, one related to the idea of a food movement, the other about Giusti’s specific approach.

The idea of a food movement has been discussed a lot in recent years. There has been significant scholarship on activism around food, including a very useful book edited by Carole Counihan and Valeria Siniscalchi, “Food Activism: Agency, Democracy and Economy” (Bloomsbury, 2014). There are a lot of other publications, too many to cite here, focusing on different ways in which all kinds of people are trying to change food systems, ranging from broad questions of science and sustainability, to workplace issues on farms, in processing plants, grocery stores, and restaurants. There are also many efforts to address the ways in which food is processed, distributed, and consumed. It is incredibly hard to summarize all the different kinds of food activism that exist, because there is so much of it (here are three sites that can give you a sense of how much activism is out there: Civil Eats, Food Tank, and Slow Food USA; add more in the comments section below if you want).

Because of this, many people were surprised when a Washington Post writer recently asserted that there really isn’t a food movement. The writer, Tamar Haspel, drew on some studies of consumption as well as surveys about attitudes toward food in order to argue that people’s behavior has not changed significantly enough for her to be able to perceive a food movement. This is an odd way to measure whether or not a movement exists. If Haspel is measuring anything, it is the effectiveness of the food movement, not its existence. In fact, some food activists responded to Haspel’s article with different ways of measuring the success of the food movement. They demonstrate some notable successes.

Yet I wonder if that is the best way to measure the existence of a food movement. Since the 1930s, I am pretty sure that unions never enrolled more than 30% of all American workers. Should we conclude that there has never been a labor movement in the United States? Of course, the labor movement has been very effective at changing the American workplace and in introducing many ideas that we now take for granted, as well as setting the framework for debates about work even today, when few Americans are union members. Along with some very real successes in changing how food is produced, distributed, and consumed, the food movement’s existence can be measured by the ways in which its ideas have come to permeate our public discourse. It is easy to find areas of life where public debates have been influenced by the food movement. Whether we are discussing questions of equal access to healthy food, living wages for food workers, or the availability of organic or local produce at stores and farmers markets, the existence of a food movement—or many food movements—is demonstrated by the ways in which its terms and concepts have become part of how we think and talk.

Which brings me back to Chef Giusti. As he readily acknowledges, the groundwork for reforming school lunches has been laid already by a lot of other activists, including a number of professional chefs (Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver come to mind, of course, but there are many others). Some of the efforts to reform school lunch have focused on trying to get kids to eat healthier foods, while others have tried to get schools and governments to support the schools more, so they can produce better quality food. Giusti is bringing something of a distinct model to this effort. He is creating a for-profit company, Brigaid, that will bring professional chefs and kitchens to schools. Giusti is trying to make working in school cafeterias an attractive career choice for professional chefs. As he comments in his Lucky Peach interview, “The whole point of this is to make it a more attractive space for people who are passionate about food to join in.”

No doubt some people will see this as an effort to bring a kind of privatized for-profit ideology (aka, “neo-liberal” ideology) into the public sphere. I do not think it is necessarily helpful to frame it that way. On one hand, Giusti is trying to make a profit. Yet school cafeterias are already run by big corporations, with a focus on maximizing profits instead of on making an attractive workplace and producing quality food. Giusti wants his approach to be focused on making people—the cooks, the kids—happy first and on making profits second. Maybe we no longer have to choose between doing good and doing well. In a world that sets its priorities differently—do good for people, then make profits—you should be able to do both.

Can that sort of model be sustained? It appears to be the principle behind a lot of people in the food movement. It certainly seems to be at work in farmers markets, which are often a combination of nonprofit organizers and for profit farmers, bringing improved food that makes people happy. I think there are a lot of small food producers that are also engaged in similar activities, especially among those who promote local foods. It seems to be at work in restaurants that try to pay their workers a living wage. If this is the food movement, then the kinds of metrics invoked by Tamar Haspel will not be very effective in measuring its success or, frankly, its very existence. Understanding what food activists—including activist chefs—are doing, may require rethinking what an activist actually is, as well as paying attention to what they say and what they actually do. This may just be a different sort of movement.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, chefs, food activism, Food Studies