Category Archives: Food Studies

Going for the Gumbo

David Beriss

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a massive two weekend celebration of the music and culture of the city and the surrounding region. I have been attending regularly for years. At its core, the festival provides an opportunity to see great performers playing wonderful music. The musicians range from headlining national pop stars to relatively unknown local artists who usually play at the club around the corner; from national acts to bands made up of students from local high schools and universities (a not insignificant number of the former evolved from the latter). In addition, the festival showcases the work of visual artists and craftspeople, as well as parading groups of Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure clubs, and much more. All of this makes for a dazzling attempt to crystallize the contours of the artistic culture of south Louisiana. It is a self-conscious attempt to put that culture on display, to celebrate, venerate, and preserve the things that make the region distinctive.

And then there is the food. For many people, Jazz Fest is as much a food festival as it is a music festival. Your ticket, of course, buys you entrance to the festival and with that you can hear as much music as you can fit into your day. The food, produced by a wide range of local vendors, costs extra. But the food is as carefully curated by the festival organizers as the music. The vendors are not the circuit-riding professionals of state and county fairs. They are local restaurateurs and caterers, along with a few talented prejeans sign jazzfestamateurs, who often produce special dishes specifically for Jazz Fest. The array of foods on offer—from classics of Cajun and Creole cooking, to Vietnamese, Latin American, and Middle-Eastern specialties—provides an idea of the region that may be more diverse than the music itself.

 

There are people who plan their approach to the music schedule weeks in advance. There are also people who approach the food with similar careful strategizing. Emphasizing this food-focused view of Jazz Fest, Ian McNulty, a food writer at the Advocate newspaper, created a guide for such people this year that mimics the layout of the music schedule.

A lot of us start our annual Jazz Fest observances with a specific dish. When I get to Jazz Fest, before even thinking about which bands are performing, I seek out the pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo from Prejean’s Restaurant. The dish is part of our family history. When my wife was pregnant with our now 18-year old daughter and fighting first-trimester nausea, she nevertheless insisted on only one Jazz Fest food: prejeans gumbo jazzfestPrejean’s gumbo. This is a dark and smoky gumbo, filled with chunks of meat, served with rice. Eating at Jazz Fest is best approached as a team activity, so I share the gumbo with whoever is with me (usually my wife), as we comment on the quality of the year’s batch. The strong flavors prepare us for a day of music, food, and fascinating sights.

Gumbo, of course, is one of the key Louisiana dishes. Prejean’s gumbo is Cajun. The use of a very dark roux is something people often associate with Cajun gumbos, although that seems less indicative in this case than the vendor. Prejean’s is based in Lafayette, about 140 miles west of New Orleans and represents itself as a Cajun restaurant. It is a big restaurant, full of taxidermy alligators and other memorabilia meant to evoke Cajun culture. The food is good and they have excellent gumbos on the menu. But the pheasant, andouille, and quail gumbo is not on the restaurant’s regular menu. For that, you have to come to Jazz Fest.

Prejean’s is not the only gumbo at Jazz Fest. There is also a lovely shrimp, sausage, and okra gumbo, from Fireman Mike’s Kitchen. Mike Gowland is a real retired fire fighter fireman mikes gumbo jazzfestwho has been at Jazz Fest for years and recently opened a restaurant. His gumbo is much lighter in color than Prejean’s and it is hard to miss the okra floating around in it, which adds some texture to the dish. There is also Creole filé gumbo, from Wayne Baquet’s Li’l Dizzy’s Café, the current outpost of a family with a storied restaurant history in New Orleans. They serve Creole food at their restaurants and their seafood-heavy gumbo is representative of that style (alas, I do not have a photo of Baquet’s gumbo).

If you set all three of the gumbos available at Jazz Fest side by side, you might find it hard to believe that they are all variations of one dish. There are a lot of great gumbos in local restaurants and, of course, many home cooks make their own. If there is not one right way to make gumbo, there are nevertheless a lot of people willing to argue about the dish itself. On gumbo’s origins, for instance: claims about the invention of the dish invoke, variously, African, Fireman Mike Gumbo signNative American, and European origins. The word “gumbo” derives from the Bantu term for okra. Some point to Choctaw soups and to the Native American introduction of ground sassafras leaves to Europeans, which is the source of the filé powder often used to thicken gumbos (and there are often filé making demonstrations at Jazz Fest). The Choctaw word for sassafras is, in fact, “kombo.” Some have argued that the soup has its origins in local variants on French bouillabaisse. We might add that the rice usually served with gumbo is a major south Louisiana crop that was originally brought to the Americas by Africans. These arguments about origins are part of a broader tendency in local popular literature to want to attribute different recipes or parts of recipes to specific ethnic groups, usually relying on broad generalizations about how and what people of various origins cook (“the French” brought roux, “the Spanish” brought ham, “the Africans” brought okra and rice, “the Germans” brought sausage, and so forth) and contributing to deeper debates about who can represent local culture. Some of the people in these stories were probably less eager to participate in the making of that culture than others, a fact that contributes to these ongoing debates.

The controversies do not end with debates about origins. Brett Anderson, a James Beard award winning local food writer, recently wrote an article in the New York Times focusing on a ‘new wave’  of gumbos available in New Orleans restaurants. The article featured the headline: “Gumbo, the Classic New Orleans Dish, Is Dead. Long Live Gumbo,” and discussed everything from a curried gumbo at Saffron NOLA to a seafood gumbo with flavors that point to Vietnamese and Chinese foods at Maypop, along with many others. The article—especially the headline—drove locals into a social media frenzy. Many erroneously assumed that Anderson was claiming gumbo was dead and indignantly denounced the New York Times for once again completely misunderstanding the city’s culture and traditions. It probably would not matter much what Anderson wrote. Fiercely defending and preserving the city’s and region’s cultural traditions—the “heritage” in the Jazz and Heritage Festival—is a mission that many locals take seriously. Outside authorities, or even local authorities working for outside media, raise questions at their own risk.

There have been other controversies in recent years around gumbo, including outrage over a recipe for gumbo promoted by Disney on social media. There have also been fights over what constitutes a proper roux, the addition of hard-boiled eggs to gumbo, and the use of potato salad in gumbo. This is a lot to take on board when you taste that cup of dark gumbo at Jazz Fest. If nothing else, the ongoing controversies about the origins, making, and representations of gumbo indicate that people care enough to keep the traditions alive. The variations and innovations in gumbo-making suggest that New Orleans is still a Creole city, constantly adapting to new ideas and innovations. At this year’s Jazz Fest (there is still one weekend left, as I write this), there will be an entire day of cooking demonstrations devoted to different kinds of gumbo. Tempting.

 

 

 

 

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Food for Thought: Nourishment, Culture, Meaning

logos cfp

Call for papers

The Food Studies Program, New York University (NYU),

the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Communication (CIRCe)

and the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Turin,

in collaboration with the EU Program Marie Skłodowska   -Curie (MSCA – GA No 795025),

encourage submissions for the International Conference

Food for Thought: Nourishment, Culture, Meaning

dirs. Dr. Simona Stano and Prof. Amy Bentley

October 14-15, 2019

It was 1962 when Claude Lévi-Strauss introduced his famous idea that, in order to be “good to eat” (bon à manger), a substance must be first of all “good to think” (bon à penser): as the French scholar reported in the pages of Totemism, food must nourish people’s collective mind — i.e. their systems of values, beliefs, and traditions — to be considered suitable for their stomachs. Since then other theorists have weighed in on the nature of food and culture, including cultural materialists (Marvin Harris 1985), and practice theorists (including Alan Warde 2014, 2016) who assert that a focus on practices and actions provides a third way to think about culture and meaning, sidestepping tensions between emphasis on ideas and things. While materialism and practice theory have enriched and decentered discourses of food and identity, for example, the value of ideas, beliefs, and symbols remains salient in food studies.

While food habits, preferences, and taboos are partially regulated by ecological and material factors, research has shown that all food systems are structured and given particular functioning mechanisms by specific societies and cultures, either according to totemic (such as in animistic religions), sacrificial (such as in ancient history), hygienic-rationalist (such as in contemporary Western dietetics), aesthetic (such as in gastronomy), or other types of symbolic logics. This provides much “food for thought.” The famous expression has never been so appropriate: not only do cultures develop unique practices for the production, treatment and consumption of food, but such practices inevitably end up affecting also food-related aspects and spheres that are generally perceived as objectively and materially defined. Let us consider, for instance, dietary prescriptions, which are undoubtedly based on the material composition of food products, but are also dependent on the values and meanings conferred on specific food constituents by the narratives and discourses circulating within each culture; or food safety regulations, which are related to the concepts of dirtiness and hygiene — whose perception, as Mary Douglas (1966) effectively showed, is intrinsically related to cultural diversity.

Drawing on these premises, the conference “Food for Thought: Nourishment, Culture, Meaning” intends to enhance the cultural reflection on food, calling into action various theoretical approaches and analytical methodologies, also in the aim to offer new insights on how the study of food can help us understand better what we call “culture.” Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. Food, Taste, and Global Cultures

Food and taste have always represented crucial means of construction and expression of sociocultural identity, as Claude Lévi-Strauss (1958, 1964, 1965), Roland Barthes (1961), Mary Douglas (1966, 1972, 1984), Pierre Bourdieu (1979) and a number of other scholars have effectively pointed out. What is more, in contemporary societies, migrations, travels and communications incessantly expose local food identities to global food alterities, originating remarkable processes of transformation that continuously reshape and redefine such identities and alterities. This originates a series of interesting questions: how can the cultural meanings and values associated with food be identified and described in today’s fast-changing food systems? How do the processes of hybridization (and domestication) of food and taste affect such meanings and values in different contexts and environments (e.g., creole home cooking, “ethnic” restaurants, fusion cuisines, diasporic foodways, culinary tourism, etc.)?

b. Nutrition and Cultures

Nutrition evidently relies on the material dimension of food, since it makes reference to its physical composition (in terms of nutrients, calories, etc.), but is also strongly influenced by the sociocultural sphere: not only do sociocultural factors such as ethnicity, class, education, gender, etc. affect eating habits, but the very ideas of health, beauty, safety and a series of other concepts playing a crucial role in the definition of dietary regimes are culturally defined. Furthermore, contemporary foodways have increasingly emphasized the connection between nourishment and aesthetics (mainly as a result of the generalized process of aestheticization of food and taste), as well as the link between nutrition and ethics (as a dominant position supporting meat-free dietary regimes clearly shows). The conference invites reflection upon such issues, and also consideration of the decisive role played by communication, and especially by the mass and new media, in the establishment of specific collective imaginaries and the association of particular values and meanings to food products, habits, and practices.

c. Food and Law: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Both at the local and global scale, nutrition is ruled by a complexity of laws regulating very diverse aspects — e.g. quality, safety, ecology, etc. — related to the production, trade and handling of food. Such aspects, exactly as any other facet of law, cannot be disentangled from culture (see in particular Geertz 1983; Rosen 2006). This explains the difficulty that might be encountered in establishing transnational regulations on food, as recently proved by the discussed case of food treatment within the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States, which reflects not only differences in legislation on food production and handling, but also cultural divergences related to its valorization and perception. The conference focuses on the cultural conceptions underlying food regulations and the way by which they contribute to activate specific meaning-making processes.

Submissions, including an abstract (250-400 words), affiliation and a short bionote (100 words), should be sent to conference@comfection.com no later than June 23, 2019.

References:

Barthes, Roland. 1961. “Pour une psychosociologie de l’alimentation contemporaine.” Annales ESC, XVI, 5: 977-986 [English Translation 1997. “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, 20-27. New York and London: Routledge].

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. La distinction. Paris: Éditions de Minuit [English Translation 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London and New York: Routledge].

Douglas, Mary. 1966. Purity and Danger. An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

——. 1972. “Deciphering a meal.” Daedalus, 101, 1: 61-81.

——. 1984. Food in the Social Order: Studies of Food and Festivities in Three American Communities. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Geertz, Clifford. 1983. “Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective.” In Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, 167-234. New York: Basic Books.

Harris, Marvin. 1985. Good to Eat. Riddles of Food and Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1958. Anthropologie structurale. Paris: Plon [English Translation 1963. Structural Anthropology. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books].

——. 1962. Le totémisme aujourd’hui. Paris: PUF [English Translation 1963. Totemism. Boston: Beacon press].

——. 1964. Mythologiques I. Le cru et le cuit. Paris: Plon [English Translation 1969. The Raw and the Cooked. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press].

——. 1965. “Le triangle culinaire.” L’Arc, 26: 19-29.

Rosen, Lawrence. 2006. Law as Culture: An Invitation. Princeton, NJ and Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press.

Warde, Alan. 2014. “After Taste: Culture, Consumption and Theories of Practice.” Journal of Consumer Culture, 14, 3: 279-303.

——. 2016. The Practice of Eating. Cambridge: Polity.

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ASFS Pedagogy Award

In a recent post, we reminded you of deadlines for various awards from the Association for the Study of Food and Society. It looks like we missed one that could be of great interest to SAFN folks who teach: the ASFS Pedagogy Award. Fortunately, the deadline has not yet passed, although it is coming soon: February 15, 2019.

From the web site:

“The ASFS Award for Food Studies Pedagogy is given to the teacher of food studies in any discipline who presents a course that uses innovative and successful pedagogical techniques to reach students. These may include classroom exercises and assignments as well as outside projects, trips, and service activities. The course may be taught at the graduate or undergraduate level, for degree credit. Any ancillary evidence of exemplary teaching methods will also be accepted. A cash stipend of $200 accompanies these awards. Winner(s) are acknowledged at the annual conference and in the journal, Food, Culture & Society. The committee maintains the right to refrain from granting either award if applications do not demonstrate excellence.”

Details on how to apply are here.

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Food and Cooking on Early European Television

We received the following call for abstracts from Dr. Ana Tominc, of Queen
Margaret University Edinburgh, and thought it would be of interest to SAFN members. 

Food and Cooking on Early European Television
Call for Abstracts

Food has been part of television from its beginnings. As technology that supported producing and broadcasting television pictures developed through the 1920s in both Europe and US, the first experimental TV service was established in Britain and then Germany in 1935 (Hickethier 2008). A year later, a Miss Dickson, also known as a singing cook, first cooked on British television  (Geddes 2018), followed by the more recognised chef Boulestin. But it was only in the decades following World War II, when broadcasting technology was further improved and the European nations slowly started to come to grips with the new realities of postwar Europe that food and cooking became firmly established as one of the most regular programmes on European televisions, both East and West.

This interest in food programming and especially food cooking shows, was partially to do with a particular focus of the European public broadcasters on educational contents of its television schedule, although this was not the sole reason for popularity of food and cooking on television screens. The audiences were often fascinated with television as a new medium in itself, and shows involving cooking became a familiar genre through which they could receive information about new foodstuffs that became popular in Europe through the postwar decades and popular recipes, but also educate themselves about manners and appropriate use of new household products that European industries produced after the War. Apart from offering a window to tastes and lifestyles that allowed Europeans of all walks of life to strive for self improvement (Bell and Hollows 2006; Lewis 2008; Naccarato and Lebesco 2012; de Solier 2005), food television also provided a narrative for self identification in terms of nation as it introduced dishes that “we”  eat, while also allowing for getting to know the “other”. It affected gender roles as it either reconfirmed women’s role as a homemaker or introduced novel gender patterns that transcended the previous divisions (Moseley 2008).

Food programming was one of the TV genres that features on almost all European televisions from early on, although in different formats, genres and quantities. The aim of this edited volume will therefore be to critically examine the role of food programming on European early television and the impact it might have had on food habits and identities for the European audiences.1 The role of television in this process was unprecedented, since, as Turnock (2008: 6) argues for Britain, “[e]xpansion of television institutions promoted social and cultural change through the development of production practices, technologies and programme forms that made culture increasingly visible in this new way; and this visibility promoted consumer culture.”

However, notwithstanding the importance of food programming on early television, research into early food television in Europe is surprisingly scarce, despite considerable interest in early television history on both east and western sides of Europe (see, for example, Bonner 2009; Buscemi 2014; Comunian 2018; Eriksson 2016; Geddes 2017; Moseley 2008; Tominc 2015; and for US, Collins 2005; Oren 2019). To an extent, this is understandable, given the potential lack of audiovisual sources related to early television overall (O’Dwyer 2008; Holmes 2008) where many programmes have not been preserved due to the nature of early television broadcasting.  However, this gap in scholarship is also surprising amid current scholarly interest in food media and their relevance for contemporary societies (e.g. Adema 2000; Bradley 2016; Hollows 2003; Ketchum 2005; Leer and Povlsen 2016; Oren 2019; Rousseau 2012; Strange 1998;  and so forth).

This collection therefore, first, looks to address this major gap in research on early food television in Europe; and second, to provide important material for a comparative study into European food broadcasting and the impact this might have had on ways of consuming food in Europe. In this volume, the aim is therefore to explore early cooking on European television in terms of its differences and similarities but specifically focusing on:

  • national contexts that allowed for development of specific food programmes and how this was reflected in the content
  • genres of food programming across Europe (e.g. various variants of cookery shows, travelogs, documentary-like representations of foods and so on)
  • content of these shows in terms of food: Who cooked? What did they cook?
  • who was the intended audience of the television programmes?
  • what was the impact of these shows on national or supra national food cultures?
  • what was the overall narrative of these television programmes in terms of identity, social change, modernity etc.?
  • to what extend did national broadcasting regulations influence the kinds of television programmes made about food and cooking?

Case studies from all European countries are encouraged.

Submission of Abstracts

If you would like to participate in this edited volume, please send:

  • a 300 word abstract that contains aim and brief background, sources of data & method, and potential argument/results if already known, and
  • a 50 word bio

to Dr Ana Tominc (atominc@qmu.ac.uk) by Friday, 26 October 2018. Notification of acceptance of abstract will be by 31 October 2018. Any queries should be addressed to Dr Ana Tominc (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh).

Information on Publication

The collection will be published with a major English language academic publisher, likely in 2020.

If the abstract is accepted, the authors will deliver the final article in good English by 1 October 2019. The length will be between 6-8,000 words including references and footnotes, depending on the final arrangement with the publisher. The exact length and formatting style will be communicated to the authors once the abstract has been accepted. An example of visual material is encouraged, although seeking permissions for publication remain with the author.

1For the purposes of this collection, early television will be defined dependent on the context of national television and the start of their national broadcasters. While attempts to established television started already before 1945, it was only in the two decades following WW2 that the majority of the European nations established their TVs, mostly through the 1950s and 1960s (Hickethier 2008: 56).

References

Adema, Pauline (2000): Vicarious consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity. Journal of American and Comparative Culture 23(3):113-124.

Bell, David and Joanna Hollows (2006): Towards a history of lifestyle. In David Bell and Joanna Hollows (eds): Historicizing Lifestyle. Mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bonner, Frances (2009): Early multi-platforming. Television food programmes, cookbooks and other print spin-offs. Media History 15 (3): 345-358.

Bradley, Perri ed. (2016): Food, Media and Contemporary Culture. Palgrave.

Buscemi, Francesco (2014): National culinary capital: How the state and TV shape the ‘taste of the nation’ to create distinction. PhD thesis. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Collins, Kathleen (2009): Watching what we Eat. The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. New York, London: Continuum.

Comunian, Cristina (2018): The Italian culinary identity shaped by early television broadcasts of Mario Soldati and his Viaggio nella Valle del Pol alla richerca di cibi genuine (Journey along the Po Valley in search of genuine food). Masters Dissertation. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Eriksson, Göran (2016): The ‘ordinary-ization’ of televised cooking expertise: A historical study of cooking instruction programmes on Swedish television. Discourse, Context & Media, 3: 29-39.

Geddes, Kevin (2017): ‘Above all, garnish and presentation’: An evaluation of Fanny Cradock’s contribution to home cooking in Britain. International Journal of Consumer Studies,  41(6): 745-753.

Geddes, Kevin (2018): Nailed It! The history, development and evolution of entertainment in British Television Cooking Programmes 1936-1976. A Presentation at the 1st Biennial Conference on Food and Communication. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University, 6-7 September 2018.

Hickethier, Knut (2008): Early TV: Imagining and Realising Television. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 55-78.

Hollows, Joanne (2003): Oliver’s Twist. Leisure, Labour and Domestic Masculinity in The Naked Chef. International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (2): 229–248.

Holmes, Su (2008): Entertaining television. The BBC and popular culture in the 1950s. Manchester: MUP.

Ketchum, Cheri (2005): The Essence of cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies. Journal of Communication Enquiry, 29 (3): 217-234.

Leer, Jonathan and Povlsen, Karen K. eds. (2016): Food and Media: Practices, Distinctions and Heterotopias. Routledge.

Lewis, Tania (2008): Smart living: lifestyle media and popular expertise. New York: Peter Lang.

Moseley, Rachel (2008): Marguerite Patten, television cookery and postwar British femininity. In: Gillis, Stacy and Hollows, Joanne (eds.), Feminism, domesticity and popular culture. Routledge advances in sociology . London: Routledge, 17-31.

Naccarato, Peter and Kathleen LeBesco (2012): Culinary Capital. London, New York: Berg.

O’Dwyer, Andy (2008): European Television Archives and the Search for Audiovisual Sources. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 257-263.

Oren, Tasha (2019): Food TV (Routledge Television Guidebooks). London: Routledge.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference. London and New York: Berg.

de Solier, Isabelle (2005): TV Dinners: Culinary Television, Education and Distinction. Continuum, 19 (4): 465-481.

Strange, Nikki (1998): Perform, educate, entertain: ingredients of the cookery programme genre. In Christine Geraghty and David Lusted (eds), The Television Studies Book. London, New York: Arnold, 301-312.

Tominc, Ana (2015): Cooking on Slovene national television during socialism: an overview of cooking programmes from 1960 to 1990. Družboslovne razprave,  XXXI (79): 27-44.

Turnock, Rob  (2007): Television and Consumer Culture. Britain and the Transformation of Modernity. London: I.B. Tauris.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 10, 2018

David Beriss

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

I have been on a bit of a vacation from the blog, but that does not mean I have not been reading…and the result is an overstuffed collection for you to enjoy. A lot of these items may be of use for class readings, which should come in handy for the new academic year.

Let’s start with an interesting article from Finbarr O’Reilly, in the New York Times, on the production and distribution of vanilla in Madagascar. The article notes that about 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from that country, but the production and sales are subject to both crime and corruption. There are some great photos here too, although at least one recent visitor to the area tells me that the article makes the region look gloomy and scary, which she insists is a misrepresentation. A critique of this representation could be a great class exercise.

Making a non-meat burger that tastes anything like a real burger has been a mostly impossible task. I have long thought that the best vegetarian burgers would sell better if we all just agreed they are more like falafel in puck form and stopped pretending they are hamburgers. And yet, there is the “impossible burger,” a fake burger that “bleeds” like one made of meat and that has a taste and mouthfeel (in my opinion) remarkably like the real thing. Could this be a really sustainable food product destined to help us reduce our meat consumption? Maybe not, according to this article by Clint Rainey, that appeared on Grub Street.

If you want to help your students think about how science works, you might have them read this article, by Joel Achenbach, from the Washington Post, which reports on a study that claims that the “optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none.” It is a both an interesting report on a study and an opportunity to discuss the difference between studies of populations and conclusions about what might be best for individuals, along with ideas about health, risk, quality of life, etc. One useful corrective appeared in this article, by Aaron Carroll, in the New York Times.

Blog editor Amy Trubek recently wrote here about the implications of meal kits for American culinary culture. There have, of course, long been efforts to simplify cooking for Americans, including meal kits that you can buy in the grocery store. In this blog entry on the Historical Cooking Project web site, Katherine Magruder presents the fascinating and bittersweet history of Old El Paso taco kits and their associated products. Back in the 1960s and 70s I think a lot of Anglo Americans probably thought that this was the only way to get tacos outside of a Mexican restaurant.

Echos of slavery and of the Civil War continue to inhabit American life. Perhaps our inability to make sense of the past is rooted in an unwillingness to fully confront the consequences that echo even today. In this article from the Oxford American, John T. Edge explores why a new Southern vodka (Dixie Vodka, originally called Beauregard Dixie Vodka) raised these issues for him. While we are on the subject of the U.S. South, you might also want to read this tribute to John Egerton, also by John T. Edge, from The Bitter Southerner.

If you are thinking about the U.S. South and the Caribbean and the legacy of slavery, then you might as well think about sugar too. In this wide-ranging bit of art and social criticism and history, Ruby Tandoh (on Eater), looks into the material and metaphorical place of sugar across both time and cultures. There is some amazing art in all of this too.

I have lately been obsessed with the possibilities of podcasts and audiobooks. There are a lot of good food podcasts out there, but one of my recent favorites has been the oddly named “Racist Sandwich.” They deal with questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in the world of food. Here are links to three recent episodes that I found interesting and that you can use to start discussions with students. First, in this episode, author Lilian Li talks about growing up in the U.S. and Chinese restaurants. Next, Darnell Ferguson, one of the few black chefs in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses his career and mentoring in the industry. Finally, an exploration of why Asian communities may be making Houston the most interesting food city in America. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.

Part of the allure of Houston these days (which David Chang also promoted in his Ugly Delicious Netflix series) are the innovative ways in which Vietnamese-American chefs are approaching Cajun and Creole dishes. This has resulted in a debate over who makes the best boiled crawfish (which, just FYI, are out of season now, so you can’t have any). In this article from GQ, Brett Martin argues for everything being in its place and peace among crawfish eaters. He may have a point. By the way, over at the New York Times, Pete Wells has recently argued that David Chang “matters” to the food world today, but less for what he says than for how he manages his many restaurants. Wells does not take a stance on crawfish in this article.

Kenny Shopsin, owner of the eccentric restaurant Shopsin’s General Store, died a few weeks ago. A great lamentation was heard across the food world, especially from chefs and others who admired the history and management and food, along with the owner and his interesting writing. Neil Genzlinger wrote a helpful obituary in the New York Times. Perhaps an even better way to understand the significance of Kenny Shopsin would be to read this article by Calvin Trillin, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.

It is always interesting to think about the foods people could eat, but mostly do not. Goat, for instance, is relatively popular around the world, but not so much in the United States. According to Jan Greenberg, from the New Food Economy, this may be changing as both immigrants and farmers work to popularize the meat (goat cheese is already popular in the U.S.). In New England, figuring out how to market an underappreciated crab—the Jonah Crab—is a problem confronted by fishers, according to Dan Nosowitz, writing for Modern Farmer. By the way, the goat article makes the claim that goat is the most popular meat in the world. In this article from the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson disputes that claim.

Debates about whether certain kinds of foods are in fact drugs or if certain drugs are in fact food are, it turns out, pretty old. In fact, a few of Sidney Mintz’s old “proletarian hunger killers” were included in those debates in Europe in the seventeenth century, as historian Ken Albala explains in this article, from EuropeNow. Go get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate (or, if you are in the right state, some marijuana infused versions of these, just to enhance the point) and read the arguments for and against the drug or food nature of these items. The humors may be different, but the core of the argument really seems not to have changed for a few hundred years.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, July 12, 2018

David Beriss

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

Is there such thing as “American cuisine”? This is the sort of question that can sustain long discussions over drinks and snacks among food studies folks or endless panels at conferences, like last year’s Slow Food Nations in Denver. Ruth Tobias provides an overview of the deliberations, more or less in time for the conference this year. One may quibble with the details here, the strange absence of the concept of “creole” foods, or even wonder why the existence of an American cuisine matters…but this is nevertheless an interesting read.

While we are trying to associate societies and cultures with cuisines, this article, by Kyle Fitzpatrick at Eater.com, explores the existence of “queer food.” I have to admit, when I first started to read it I was skeptical. There are restaurants and bars frequented by LGBTQ people, of course, and certainly many LGBTQ cooks, chefs, etc. But how could there be something distinctive about the food? And yet, as a kind of holistic anthropological approach to a wide range of practices, ranging from the campy to kinship, from rituals to recipes, and much more, Fitzpatrick makes a convincing argument for Queer culinary culture. This is a very good essay and could be used effectively in all kinds of classes. Also, my colleague D’Lane Compton is cited.

There are cuisines—and peoples—that have faced persecution, genocide, and efforts to erase their trace from history. Reasserting their cuisines can be a way to revive historical foodways, but can also provide a context for difficult discussions about history, power, racism, and more. In this article from Eater.com, Suzanne Cope looks at the work of a group called the I-Collective in New York. Organized by indigenous activists from different parts of North America, the group uses food and cooking to explore indigenous foodways, but also to spark difficult conversations. As Hillel Echo-Hawk, a member of the group, says in the article, “People don’t like it when you call them a colonizer, and people don’t like it when you bring up genocide when you sit down and are having dinner. And… we do that.”

There may be trends in what people want to eat, but there are a lot of people, so keep in mind that a lot of them are not following the trends. That is one lesson we learn when David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin, of Marketplace, interview Jeff Harmening, the CEO of General Mills, about the way the corporation adapts to American food trends and tastes. This is fascinating. Harmening points out that rather than going in one direction—away from cereal for breakfast, for instance—American tastes go in a lot of different directions at once. Also, people still eat Lucky Charms for the marshmallows and still like Bugles. Bugles! Now that is something I have not had in a while.

Meanwhile, the state of the world’s fisheries is clearly something that should concern us. In this article, Livia Albeck-Ripka explores the somewhat counter-intuitive impacts of climate change on the lobster fishery in Maine. Boom, then possibly bust. Terry Gross interviews Paul Greenberg, who has written a new book about the Omega-3 supplement industry, revealing some very disturbing facts about a variety of fisheries. The same Paul Greenberg comments here on the difficulties we face if we want to eat local seafood, pointing in particular to a recent scandal involving a company that purported to do just that. Finally, as Congress considers reauthorizing and amending fisheries legislation, Marcus Jacobs, a New Orleans chef, weighs in with some insights into the relationship between the management of fisheries and restaurants.

The ongoing crackdown on immigration by the Trump administration has been having an especially severe impact on agriculture. Farmers are struggling in many places to find workers. In this article from Mother Jones, Maddie Oatman explores some of the current and potential impacts of these policies for wine makers in California. Mechanization is one possibility, although there are limits to how well that would work for smaller wine makers. Specific visa programs are also available, but the implications for workers and their families are shocking. Although much of the debate in the US has been about undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants, the deeper and more important question of managing immigration in general is made concrete in this article.

As recently as the 1920s, 14% of American farmers were black. Today they make up less than 2% of the farming population. In this article from Vice, Lauren Rothman explores the history of government supported discrimination against black farmers. She also looks into organized efforts by black farm activists to turn this around.

There was a great deal of surprise expressed last week when the U.S. used strong-arm tactics to try to modify or suppress a nonbinding resolution on breastfeeding that was being considered by the World Health Organization. In this article from the Atlantic, Olga Khazan explores the history of the cultural battle over advocating for breast milk. Industry advocates for formula play a role, but there are more complexities and a longer time frame then one might think.

It is summertime and it is hot, so you probably need a refreshing drink. Perhaps a Tom Collins? It turns out that this classic cocktail is in fact named after a man…and his name was not Tom Collins. It is a surprising tale. To learn more, listen to the latest episode of the Drink & Learn podcast, which features drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce and bartender Abigail Gullo. Pearce writes drink history, but is also a cocktail-focused tour guide and speaker here in New Orleans. Gullo leads the bar at Compère Lapin, a wonderful restaurant, also in New Orleans.

Last note, this one referring to what FoodAnthropology intends to read, but really has not read yet. The Southern Foodways Alliance suggests James Hannaham’s most recent novel, Delicious Foods (Little, Brown, and Company, 2015) as a summer read. To accompany that, they are going to publish a series of postings on their blog. Also, their fall symposium will have a focus on food and literature and Hannaham will speak there. Even if you are not planning on attending, this looks like a good read. Maybe we can get a food anthropologist to write something about the novel for us too.

 

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Not Safe Spaces: On Protest & Exclusion in DC Restaurants

David Beriss

It seems like every social crisis gets played out, one way or another, in restaurants. Lately, a few people who work in the Trump administration have found themselves the objects of protest when they have gone out to eat in public. First, Trump advisor Stephen Miller was shouted at and called a fascist while dining at Espita Mezcaleria, a DC restaurant that serves food that is inspired by Mexico and goes by the motto “Authentic, not Traditional.” Then, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was confronted by protesters at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, another DC restaurant featuring Mexican food. Most recently, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked by the owner to leave the Red Hen, a fancy restaurant “featuring the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley,” this time in Lexington, VA. President Trump may not be known for his sophisticated dining habits, but the people who work for him seem to like trendy places for their dinners.

Reactions to these protests have been varied. President Trump tweeted out a harsh evaluation of the Red Hen in response to the ejection of Ms. Sanders and the restaurant’s reviews on Yelp turned sharply negative for a while, although few of the critics seemed to know anything about the food. Representative Maxine Waters called on people to continue to protest Trump workers in restaurants and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump responded with threats. On the left, people were mostly thrilled about the demonstrations against representatives of Trump administration policies. There was also some hand-wringing about whether such protests would further poison the atmosphere or bring the left down to the level of discourse that seems to characterize the right. The Washington Post editorial board argued that Trump officials should be allowed to eat in peace. Others predicted that these protests might be analogous to events that preceded the Civil War. There was collateral damage, as restaurants with similar names got drawn into the fray. And New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik invoked the anthropology of commensality in his cleverly hedged defense of excluding Sanders from dinner (the book he cites is here).

Commensality—the sharing of food at meals—is not really the right concept for interpreting these events. When we eat in restaurants, we don’t share food with all the people in the restaurant. At least, not since the invention of modern restaurants in the late 18th century. Usually, you sit down and order your own meal from a menu. You might share with the people at your table and if commensality is going to be invoked, it is there that you will find it. There is a lot going on, socially and culturally speaking, in restaurants, but in the cases involving Trump administration officials, I would argue that we should start thinking about them by invoking Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “distinction.” Bourdieu argued that people demonstrate their place in society through aesthetic choices, including where, what, and how they eat. Being able to eat in an expensive and sophisticated restaurant (and knowing the right ones to choose) is a way of demonstrating social distinction. Trump, the billionaire, can demonstrate his wealth through his disdain for sophistication. His less-wealthy acolytes demonstrate their taste by picking the fancy and trendy places, in this case “Mexican” restaurants owned and operated by famous non-Mexican chefs and a very trendy looking farm-to-table operation in Lexington, VA. These are not chain restaurants and they are definitely not taco stands. Eating in these places is not about sharing a moment of common pleasure with the other patrons. It is about showing off your culture and sophistication.

We should also consider that at least two of these incidents have occurred in “Mexican” restaurants. What does it mean that people like Miller and Nielsen, architects of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant (and specifically anti-Mexican and anti-Central American) policies, should choose this cuisine? The DC area is full of immigrants and has food from all over the world, which makes it a great place to eat. Explicitly exclusionary policies aside, Trump’s comments on loving Hispanics whilst eating a Trump Tower taco bowl or the fear of a taco truck on every corner invoked by one of his supporters during the election surely made it clear that this administration is not about celebrating culinary diversity. While one has to assume that Latinos run the kitchens in the restaurants chosen by Miller and Nielsen (as they do in the majority of restaurants of all sorts in America), neither of these were “immigrant” restaurants. The food may be inspired by Mexico, but the owners are of European descent, including the famous restaurateur Todd English. This is Mexican food after it has been thoroughly conquered and assimilated. I doubt Miller and Nielsen really thought through the symbolism (then again, who knows?), but at some level it is possible to interpret these choices as a kind of middle finger directed at immigrants. We can exclude you and take your food too.

That leaves the protest. When these folks dine out, it is clearly not about commensality, but it is about being in public. Eating in restaurants, as a public act of social distinction, has always been subject to public scrutiny. By dining in public, the high and mighty also run the risk of encountering the disdain and wrath of the common folk. That is also in the nature of restaurants. Restaurants are not and never have been neutral zones, where everyone puts down their ideology and their differences and admires the roast chicken in harmony. Social media has been circulating images of Rick’s Café Américain, from the film Casablanca, in which German officers, singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” are interrupted by vigorous singing of “La Marseillaise.” Curiously, nobody has invoked Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing,” which centers on a Brooklyn pizzeria and ends in protest and flames. Nobody gets to dine in peace in these films. But we need not resort to fiction. Real restaurants were long used to exclude women and African Americans and both used protest—the refusal to allow everyone else to dine in peace—to gain access. This was especially notable in the case of students sitting in at lunch counters throughout the South in the 1960s, holding their ground while being beaten or spat upon. Until everyone’s right to dine in public—everyone’s right to equality and equal access to public accommodations— was recognized, nobody was going to dine in peace. Restaurants never have been safe spaces.

There is a fundamental difference in the Civil Rights protests for equal access and the harassment or exclusion of Miller, Nielsen, and Sanders. In the former case, the protests were designed to stop discrimination against whole classes of people. It was never about the specific protesters. In these cases, the objects of protest are specific individuals. It is not a class of people, but very clearly individuals who are responsible for inventing, implementing, and speaking for a set of public policies. Not all Republicans, not even everyone who works in the Federal government under President Trump. This, in the end, is a key distinction. These are public figures, associated with particular ideas and policies. And this is a society in which the right to peacefully protest is fundamental, at least so far. Even in restaurants.

One last point to consider. Even as Miller, Nielsen, and Sanders were suffering their public shaming, the atmosphere fostered by the Trump administration is overwhelmingly encouraging efforts to exclude immigrants, African-Americans, and others from equal access to public accommodations. From the arrest of black men for sitting in a Starbucks, to the detention of a pizza delivery man at a New York military base, to a transgender woman being thrown out of a DC restaurant for using the women’s restroom, restaurants remain privileged sites for the social exclusion and persecution of whole classes of people. It would be encouraging if their experiences of being shunned provoked the Trump trio to reconsider the atmosphere their policies have helped create. When that happens, we will all perhaps start thinking about sharing some meals in restaurants together.

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