Category Archives: food deserts

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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Filed under anthropology, food, food activism, food deserts, food politics

CFP: Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

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Desert Foods and Food Deserts: Scarcity, Survival and Imagination

International Conference

19 – 21 November 2013 

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

The terms “Desert” and “Food” seem irreconcilable: deserts are associated with aridity, scarcity, and the struggle to survive in inhospitable environments, and are rarely related to the pleasures of fine cooking and dining. Research of desert societies, however, reveals time and again the ingenuity and resourcefulness of desert dwellers, who manage to eke out of their meager environment much more than the calories and nutrients essential for their survival. Indeed, desert cuisines, whether Mexican, Native-American, Bedouin, Mongolian, Aboriginal-Australian or Inuit, may seem simple and even coarse to the uninitiated, yet are surprisingly complex and varied, making for an outstanding human achievement.

If desert foods represent human ingenuity at its best, food deserts, defined as disadvantaged urban areas with poor access to retail food outlets, or as areas where food retail is scarce and expensive and where much of the available food is industrialized, processed, expensive and of low nutritional quality, stand for the degradation of the human condition in the context of modern urbanism.

The distinction between “desert foods” and “food deserts” is not without ambiguity. Processes of modernization undergone by some groups living in desert areas have indeed undermined local and traditional culinary practices and hastened the expansion of fast-food chains into those areas. However, at the same time, a counter-reaction to this process has brought about creative and innovative ideas and practices which seek to produce and distribute quality food in a non-alienated environment. Examples of this include community vegetable gardens, farmers’ markets and social networks for the exchange of knowledge and information regarding the cultivation and procurement of fresh food products.

Beer Sheva is the perfect venue for hosting such conference. Israel’s “Capital of the Desert” is located at the heart of the Negev Desert and constitutes the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of the surrounding desert communities. The city draws Bedouin semi-nomad shepherds and town dwellers, Jewish farmers in communal and private agricultural settlements, as well as large numbers of migrant workers from different countries, and serves as their culinary centre.

Up until recently, Beer Sheva was a typical “food desert”, featuring mainly cheap local fast-food venues as well as small and medium size grocery shops (“minimarkets”). Rising income, the influx of immigrants from the former USSR, the expansion of Ben-Gurion University and the growing communities of migrant workers from Africa and Asia, have led to new and diverse culinary demands. Beer Sheva is now an exciting hub of culinary experimentation and innovation, influenced by its multicultural and multiethnic social mosaic.

The conference seeks to unravel and discuss the rich and diverse culinary concepts and practices in both actual deserts and symbolic ones. To that end it will provide a platform to both scholars and practitioners. Keynote speakers at the conference will be: Prof. Sammy Zubaida, Chef Israel Aharoni. 

We seek sessions and individual papers that deal with various aspects of desert foods, food deserts, and possibly their interface. “Deserts” are understood in the broadest possible sense of the term and include any region, territory or era where food is/was scarce and hard to get.

As the conference will also include a non-academic session with the participation of culinary practitioners from various fields proposals are also welcome for that session.

Potential topics include:

  • Food tourism in the desert
  • Food and Politics in the Desert
  • Migrant and native cuisines in the desert
  • Desert foodways of nomads and permanent settlers
  • Ecology, geography and nutrition
  • Food deserts and globalization
  • Food, nutrition and meaning in scarce environments

The conference is hosted by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in cooperation with the Israeli Association for Culinary Culture, and is supported by The Hertzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. The Conference conveners are Dr. Nir Avieli avieli@bgu.ac.il, Dr. Nimrod Amzalak info@culinaria.org.il, Prof. Aref Abu-Rabiah aref@bgu.ac.il and Mr. Rafi Grosglik, rafig@post.bgu.ac.il. Members of the academic committee include Prof. Yoram Meital, , Prof. Pnina Motzafi-Haller, Dr. Julia Lerner and Dr. Uri Shwed.

Attendance at the conference is free and the lectures are open to the public. Pending budget approval, the organizers will provide all speakers with free university accommodation and half board. The program includes study tours in Beer Sheva and the Negev Desert.

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words to desertfood2013@gmail.com by MAY 15 2013.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, CFP, food deserts, Food Studies, heritage, history, indigenous people, Israel, Middle East, sustainability