Category Archives: Food Studies

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, October 4, 2016

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 or

Let’s start this week with a rumination on the meaning of “sustainability” across languages and cultures. This piece, from María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza and Emily Yates-Doerr, raises questions about how to think about this term while we are rethinking the tropes of modernity. From English, to Spanish, to Mam, in highland Guatemala, this brief-but-provocative article is part of Cultural Anthropology’s “Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen.”

The same companies that supply your campus food service probably also run food services for American prisons…and they do so, in many states, for very little money. This article looks at the monetary constraints that have been imposed on prisons, even as the U.S. incarcerates a growing population. Is there anything wrong with running a prison food service as for profit enterprise? Is it important for prisoners to receive good nutrition? Apparently these are not rhetorical questions.

On a more upbeat food service note, the National Museum of African American History and Culture recently opened in Washington, DC and it has a restaurant. Writers from Smithsonian Magazine provide an overview of some of the foods served there, along with their history, here.

How essential is online media to the success of restaurants? How much has the development—in just the last decade—of web sites and blogs devoted to chefs and restaurants changed the business of providing food to the public? This short piece from Grub Street (one of those sites) explores these questions.

There have been a number of articles about the dismal wages many restaurant workers make in the U.S. and about efforts to remedy that by moving away from tipping. But much of what we have read on this topic is New York-centric. Want to know more about how this is playing out in the rest of the U.S.? This article, from Helen Freund in the New Orleans Gambit is a good place to start. How is this debate going on where you live?

What kinds of organizations advocate for farmers in the United States? There are many, of course, with a lot of different political perspectives. Read this interview with Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union to learn about that particular organization’s approach to various food and agriculture issues.

Trade agreements have been getting seriously bad press in the current U.S. presidential campaign. It is possible, however, that not all trade agreements are bad. Read this short article about trade agreements on organic foods that recognize organic standards in other countries. And for a more in depth analysis, here is a link to the report referred to in the article.

You have probably seen all the advertisements for services that will deliver meals directly to you, with ingredients that you can easily prepare. Is this a healthy alternative to actually cooking? Is it a gateway to real cooking? Ankita Rao tries one service, then explores some other interesting ways in which people are being taught how and what to cook. Also, Krishnendu Ray is interviewed.

Many of you probably have deeply researched ideas about why some foods are kosher and others are not. But have you ever wondered how wine gets to be kosher? Or why most bourbon and some Scotch is kosher? From “The Alcohol Professor” (in this case, Amanda Schuster), a handy guide to and analysis of this fraught topic.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

Mill City Museum

David Beriss

Going to Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association? Readers of this blog will probably want to explore the diverse foods available around the Twin Cities, maybe check out the markets, or seek out some craft beer. If you have time, however, I suggest you visit the Mill City Museum, located on the site of what was once the largest flour mill in the world. It is a fascinating museum, an architectural marvel, and located next to what was once the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi. And it may give you some insights into our food system’s biggest players.


Mill City Museum

The Twin Cities have a reputation for being home to hipsters, a diverse array of immigrants, progressive politics, and Garrison Keillor. There is, however, a pantheon of American food deities based in Minnesota. The Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Betty Crocker, the Trix Rabbit, Count Chocula, Lucky the Leprechaun, and many of the other characters that inhabit your grocery store shelves or home pantry were born in Minnesota. As the historic home of General Mills, Pillsbury, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Hormel, Land O’Lakes, Schwan Foods, and many other food-related corporations, Minnesota might just be the Mount Olympus of American industrial food.

I grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, more or less unaware of any of this. I think I imagined that the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant was somewhere in rural Minnesota, possibly near my grandparent’s home in Austin, not far from the Iowa border. Austin is where Hormel is based and where they make Spam. But the food industry was actually right in front of me nearly every day in Bloomington and I never noticed it. I grew up on Washburn Avenue South and attended Washburn Elementary School. I never gave any thought to the name “Washburn.” The streets in Minneapolis and its suburbs are arranged in a series of convenient alphabets. Washburn is between Vincent and Xerxes, which seemed like an explanation all by itself. After all, Xerxes is not, as far as I know, a figure in Minnesota history, so why raise questions about Washburn?


Cadwallader C. Washburn

It turns out that the street is named after Cadwallader Colden Washburn. Washburn was one of those nineteenth century guys with an amazingly varied career. Originally from Maine, he was involved in a wide range of businesses in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. He was elected to Congress from Wisconsin in the 1850s, was an active abolitionist, and served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was eventually elected governor of Wisconsin. For our purposes, perhaps the most important thing he did was build some of the biggest flour mills in the world. Those mills contributed to making Minneapolis into one of the world centers for flour milling from the late nineteenth century until the 1920s. Whence the name “Mill City.” Washburn’s company eventually became General Mills.

The museum is located inside the ruins of the Washburn “A” Mill, built in 1874. In 1878 flour dust triggered an explosion that destroyed the mill, along with several other mills along the Mississippi, killing at least 18 workers. It seems that flour dust can be quite explosive. In rebuilding the mill, Washburn worked with an Austrian engineer, William de la Barre, to develop a system for controlling the dust and making the mills safer. You can learn about this whole process at the museum – they even stage demonstrations of flour dust explosions in the museum, for those who like pyrotechnics with their museum experience.

The mill closed in 1965 and, after sitting derelict for decades, nearly burned down in 1991. Built inside the ruins of the mill, the museum is a great example of what can be done with abandoned industrial sites. The museum exhibits detail the history of making flour in the Twin Cities and should provide you with some insights into how Minnesota became a center for industrial food. And if you have had enough industrial food history, there is a farmer’s market nearby.

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Filed under AAA 2016 Minneapolis, anthropology, Food Studies

Daniel Carasso Prize/Premio Daniel Carasso

Just ran across this prize announcement from the  Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation. It seems like there ought to be some solid nominees among SAFN members! Note the deadline: October 23, 2016.

From the web site:

Feeding the world on a healthy diet while safeguarding the planet’s resources is a vital challenge. The Foundation believes that it will require the transition to sustainable food systems, and is convinced that researchers globally have a key role to play in designing tomorrow’s food systems and sustainable diets. Nevertheless, to do so, researchers need to break down silos between disciplines and tackle the various dimensions of sustainability in a more holistic and integrated way. This remains a challenge as most research is undertaken in disciplinary settings.

The Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation created the Premio Daniel Carasso precisely to encourage such approaches and reward its practitioners. The  Premio Daniel Carasso is an international prize awarded for the first time by the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation in 2012, then in 2015 and from then on every two years. It is intended to reward and encourage outstanding scientific research into sustainable food systems and diets for long-term health. The Premio is worth €100,000 and the Laureate becomes the Foundation’s ambassador for sustainable food and diets.

The Prize is intended to give more visibility to a mid-carrier researcher and to help her/him inspire junior researchers to develop transdisciplinary approaches to study food systems and their sustainability.

For more information: see the rules of the Premio Daniel Carasso 2017.

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Third International Conference on Food History and Cultures

Recently received conference announcement and call for sessions that should be of great interest to FoodAnthropology readers!

Call for sessions

Third International Conference on Food History and Cultures

1-2 June 2017 – Tours (France)

We are pleased to announce that the European Institute for Food History and Cultures (the IEHCA, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation) is organizing the third edition of its annual international conferences, to be held on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 June 2017 in Tours (France). The event falls within the scope of the continuation of initiatives carried out by the IEHCA for the past fifteen years through its editorial policy, its support for research and its efforts to facilitate networking opportunities among Food Studies researchers.

The success of previous conferences, demonstrated by the participation of almost 150 researchers each year, has reinforced our desire to ensure it becomes an annual gathering and benchmark event, organized in partnership with the Food Studies team (L’Equipe Alimentation – LEA) at François-Rabelais University in Tours.

All proposals pertaining to Food Studies will be considered and all researchers are welcome (doctoral, post-doctoral, research lecturers, independent researchers, etc).  In essence, the conference is multi- and cross-disciplinary, covering all historical periods.

This announcement is first and foremost a call for sessions. Submissions to present thematic panels will therefore be reviewed and selected as a priority. Individual submissions may be evaluated in a second phase.

Sessions should comprise a moderator and two or three speakers and will last 90 minutes in all.

Submissions should be in French or English and take the form of a single PDF document. They should include:

  • A brief presentation of the session as it will appear in the final program:
    • Session title;
    • Name of organizer, their institution and the country in which it is located;
    • Name of moderator, if different, their institution and the country in which it is located;
    • Names of participants, their institutions and the country in which they are located;
    • Title of papers;
    • Independent researchers should indicate this status.
  • A short CV (250 words) for each participant
  • Email address and mobile telephone number for each participant
  • Contact details for each participant
  • A 250-word abstract per paper.
  • The researcher submitting the proposal can be the moderator. However, if they are one of the speakers it is then their responsibility to find a moderator, failing which the organizers will designate one.

Papers can be presented in English or French.

The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2016.

Submissions should be sent to Loïc Bienassis and Allen Grieco, who will also be able to answer any questions: ;

Replies will be sent around 15 December 2016.

NB: Registration fee – 25 euros for non-tenured candidates/50 euros for tenured candidates. This fee includes attendance at a cocktail party held in the evening of the first day of the conference.

Payment of the fee is due once your submission has been accepted and before the publication of the programme. It is not refundable in case of withdrawal.

Please do not hesitate to pass this information on to colleagues who may be interested.

Appel à sessions

Troisième Conférence Internationale d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation

1er-2 juin 2017 – Tours (France)

Nous avons le plaisir de vous annoncer que l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (IEHCA) organisera les jeudi 1er et vendredi 2 juin 2017 à Tours (France) la troisième édition de sa Conférence Internationale. Cette manifestation s’inscrit dans le prolongement des actions que mène l’IEHCA depuis quinze ans à travers sa politique éditoriale, son soutien à la recherche et son travail de mise en réseau des chercheurs en Food Studies.

Le succès des années précédentes qui ont chacune réuni près de 150 chercheurs nous a conforté dans notre volonté de pérenniser cette manifestation et d’en faire un rendez-vous de référence, organisé en partenariat avec l’Equipe Alimentation de l’université François-Rabelais de Tours (LÉA).

Toutes les propositions relevant des Food Studies et tous les chercheurs seront les bienvenus (doctorants, post-doctorants, enseignants-chercheurs, chercheurs indépendants…). Ce symposium est par essence pluri- et transdisciplinaire et couvrira l’ensemble des périodes historiques.

Le présent appel est en priorité un appel à sessions. Seront donc examinés et retenus les candidatures portant sur l’organisation de panels thématiques. Les candidatures individuelles ne seront éventuellement examinées que dans un second temps.

Les sessions dureront 90 minutes. Elles devront comprendre un modérateur et deux ou trois communicants.

Les candidatures devront être en français ou en anglais. Elles devront comporter, en un seul document PDF :

  • Une présentation brève de la session telle qu’elle figurera dans le programme final :
    • Intitulé de la session ;
    • Nom de l’organisateur avec son institution de rattachement, pays où se situe l’institution de rattachement ;
    • Pour les chercheurs indépendants, le mentionner.
    • Nom du modérateur, si différent, avec son institution de rattachement, pays où se situe l’institution de rattachement ;
    • Nom des participants avec leur institution de rattachement, pays où se situe l’institution de rattachement ;
    • Titre des communications.
  • Bref CV (250 mots) de chaque participant
  • Adresse mail et n° de téléphone portable de chaque participant
  • Un résumé de 250 mots pour chaque communication
  • L’organisateur pourra être le modérateur de la session. S’il est au nombre des communicants, il lui revient de trouver un modérateur ou, à défaut, un modérateur sera attribué par les organisateurs de la conférence.

Les communications pourront être présentées en anglais ou en français.

La date limite d’envoi des candidatures est fixée au 15 novembre 2016.

Elles sont à adresser, ainsi que vos questions, à Loïc Bienassis et Allen Grieco : ;

Les réponses vous parviendront aux alentours du 15 décembre 2016.

Frais d’inscription : 25 euros pour les chercheurs non-titulaires / 50 euros pour les chercheurs titulaires.

Cette somme comprend l’inscription au cocktail-dînatoire du 1er juin au soir. Elle sera à verser dès l’acceptation de votre candidature et ne sera pas remboursée en cas de désistement.

N’hésitez pas à faire circuler cet appel autour de vous.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, conferences, Food Studies

Naresaba: A Fraught History of Fermented Mackerel Sushi

Shingo Hamada
Osaka Shoin Women’s University

Fermentation is a preservation technology often seen in Southeast Asia and East Asia, including fish sauce and fermented fish. However, naresaba (fermented sushi made with mackerel, also called saba-narezushi) made among households in Tagarasu, my field site in Fukui prefecture, Japan, has one significant difference. While most communities use salted fish for crafting fermented fish, my informants use mackerel that have ‘already’ been fermented (not just salted) as the base of naresaba making. This fermented seafood, however, is now becoming an endangered culinary heritage.


Tagarasu is a coastal community with a population of approximately 400, located in Wakasa Bay, Obama City of Fukushima prefecture, Japan

Tagarasu is one of the first places where an advanced purse seine net or kinchaku’ami operation began in Japan in 1909. Commercial purse seine mackerel fishing in Tagarasu was community-based. Over 90 percent of households in Tagarasu were stockholders of their cooperative purse seine fishery, sharing its profit as well as costs for over 80 years. However, inefficient fishing management led to the depletion of mackerel resources, resulting in the closure of the Tagarasu purse seine fishery in 1987.

Fermentation is an adaptive strategy to make the use of over-harvested fish, especially pelagic fish species whose uncertain migratory route and timing often offer unexpectedly successful catches for coastal communities. When cooperative purse seine members had a successful fishing season, they received dozens of surplus mackerel with the allocated share fund.


The name of municipality where Tagarasu is situated is the same as the name of the president of the United States. Here, a man in classical traveling outfit, wall-painted at a fish market near Obama city fishing port, holding a pack of heshiko mackerel.

A few Tagarasu elders also bring in their seafood products to farming communities. Their parents and ancestors used to barter their seafood for rice and vegetables. Rice received from farmers in fall was used for home consumption but also for naresaba production, and farmers received naresaba in return in early winter. The historical routes for transporting seafood from Wakasa Bay to Kyoto still function as a form of human relations, even long after both Tagarasu and farming communities could purchase food commodities in the supermarkets.

The making of naresaba requires two fermentation processes. They cover and store fat-rich seasonal mackerel with rice-bran between October and March. Mackerel preserved with rice bran spends a hot summer in a barrel for aging and condensing umami flavor. This is how to make heshiko. After about a year of aging heshiko mackerel, Tagarasu people clean them by taking off the salt and thin skins from heshiko mackerel in winter. Those desalted mackerel are then coated with vinegar and stored again for the second process of fermentation, this time for about two weeks with rice and kouji malted rice.


Preserved mackerel (heshiko) are cleaned and now ready to be for the second fermenting process, with rice, vinegar, and kouji.

Naresaba looks and tastes different from the sushi that most readers are familiar with (a slice of fish over a bite-size rice, or a sushi roll). Simply put, it is not fresh but aged with fermentation. Two-step fermentation removes the fishy smell from the final product while enriching umami flavors. Each household develops its own home recipe and different taste in the degree of creaminess and sourness of stuffed rice and the texture of fermented mackerel. This culinary practice is unique enough for Slow Food Foundation to list it in the Ark of Taste in 2006.

However, being listed on the Ark of Taste means that naresaba is heritage seafood at risk of disappearance. While local production, distribution and consumption of naresaba are still important aspects of regional cultural identity, local mackerel and salt are no longer produced enough for the naresaba production. Instead, Tagarasu people use mackerel caught in the other parts of Japan and imported mackerel, especially from Norway. Commercially they are sold under the same name, masaba (literally ma means real, and saba means mackerel), though the origin of products is labeled respectively by regulation. But, they are different subspecies. The Norwegian fish are Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) while the Japanese fish are Pacific mackerel (S. japonicaus).


Close up of naresaba.

Japanese and Atlantic mackerel taste different when used for heshiko and naresaba production at home. Tagarasu people use both domestic and Norwegian mackerel for heshiko, but only domestic mackerel can be used for naresaba. Mr. Ohto, who leads a community organization to revitalize and promote the naresaba culinary tradition, explains that Norwegian mackerel have high fat contents, which make heshiko taste better. Norwegian mackerel contain about twice high fat contents and cost only one-fifth compared to Japanese mackerel. Cheap and rich fat content appealing to the taste of contemporary customers, Norwegian mackerel are now about 90 % of imported mackerel in Japan.


Some of the local minshuku (inn) in Tagarasu serve homemade naresaba upon request.

However, Norwegian mackerel are too fatty for making naresaba. The high fat content of Norwegian mackerel turn the color of final naresaba products into slight yellowish color, while naresaba made with domestic mackerel turns both fermented fish and covering rice white. The color of food is significant as whiteness symbolizes purity and thus makes naresaba ritual food, shared by family and distributed to relatives and old trading partners in farming communities in the end and beginning of the year. Grilled Norwegian mackerel may be popular at izakaya (Japanese style gastropub) and sold as a ready-to-serve item in the supermarkets. But, they cannot be simply substituted with locally produced mackerel for the maintenance of cultural meanings and social relations that heritage seafood has held for centuries.


Prepping mackerel for heshiko-making in spring.

It is also becoming difficult to pass down the culinary knowledge and technique of naresaba making to future generations. As the local seafood industry declined with the end of purse seine fishing, young people moved to urban areas, reducing the local population. Elders told me that the trading relations they have kept with farmers could also come to an end unless children learn how to make naresaba and decide to continue the intergenerational food exchange.

Seafood, especially blue fish like mackerel and sardines, is now a global commodity and fetishized as a healthy food. Globalization makes fat-rich Atlantic mackerel available to consumers anywhere in Japan. However, it cannot reverse the social and environmental impact of purse seine fishing and maintain the biocultural diversity that shapes and is shaped by the coastal foodscape in Japan.

Shingo Hamada is a lecturer in the food studies program at Osaka Shoin Women’s University in Osaka, Japan, and also a research associate in the department of anthropology at Indiana University. You can read more about Dr. Hamada and his work here.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, fish, Food Studies, Japan

Fear of Foodways? On Trigger Warnings, Horses, and a Dropped Class

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

A few years ago I received an angry email from a student, informing me that she was dropping my “Food and Culture” class. It was early in the semester and we had just had a vigorous discussion about how food is defined in different societies. The eating of cats and dogs had been raised and we had explored why “pets” are often distinct from “food.” But what really set her off was our discussion of eating horses. The discussion, which drew in part on a blog entry I had written on the topic, infuriated that student. Her angry note stated that she would not participate in a class that allowed the discussion of anything as inhumane as the killing and eating of horses.

I was surprised by this on many levels. First, I should point out that in nearly two decades of teaching, this is the only student I can recall dropping a class because the content offended them. Second, anthropology is by its very nature a discipline in which students may encounter practices and ideas that they find shocking. The whole point is to understand the full range of human behavior and thinking, allowing us to get at some putative idea of what makes us all human, while also helping us think more critically about societies in general. The “Food and Culture” class is an advanced undergraduate course and most of the students who take it have already had introductory level anthropology, so they should be aware of the nature of the topics that may be discussed. Third, tastes in food, even within one society, can be very different. I was raised to eat ketchup on macaroni and cheese (the bland Kraft variety). I have learned over the years that this practice is viscerally repulsive to many people. When we cross social and cultural boundaries to discuss food practices, beliefs, etc., we are bound to encounter things that are a lot more challenging than that. Things like killing and eating horses.

And yet it is too easy to assert the cross-cultural nature of anthropology as a license to challenge our students’ sensibilities. In the case I mentioned, we were not mostly focusing on foreign cultures. It is true that Americans do not generally eat horse these days, but they have eaten horse in the past and the practice has waxed and waned over time. While we require our students to practice cultural relativism in trying to understand other societies, it is legitimate for them to raise ethical concerns about practices within their own society. One of my intentions in raising the issue in the class was (and remains—I still use the topic) to show that the things we designate as food reveal deeper questions about how we make sense of our world. Horses are, in the U.S., ambiguous animals, not entirely work animals anymore, not necessarily pets. Confronting that ambiguity in our own culture is supposed to make students uncomfortable. I want them to understand that our own society is just as “exotic” and potentially shocking as any other. I also want them to learn to analyze the cultural categories and social structures that frame our practices with animals (food or otherwise). If they are going to make ethical decisions about such things, they need to understand them at a deep level.

So I now include a warning on my course syllabus. I guess it is a “trigger warning,” although I was not aware of that term when I started using it. It reads:

Warning: In this class you will be exposed to ideas and practices that may be radically different from those you find familiar and comfortable. You may read about or see images of people engaging in behavior you find shocking. This is of course standard for anthropology, but because this is a class about food, the possibility is perhaps higher than usual. If you are unable to tolerate being exposed to such difference, this class is not for you.

Nobody, as far as I know, has dropped the class because of this warning. I have a colleague who has used a similar warning on all of his syllabi for decades. I sometimes suspect that these warnings may actually attract students. Maybe it gives our classes a reputation for being risqué. We dare you to take them.

At the same time, my classes need to be welcoming to all students. I have vegans, vegetarians, halal-observant Muslims, kosher-keeping Jews, Creoles, Cajuns, aggressive fans of bacon, and people who seem to subsist on energy drinks. Because I teach in New Orleans, I also have a lot of students who work in food-related jobs, especially waiters, bartenders, and line cooks. I have students who come from rural backgrounds and many who have family who work in the seafood industry. They already know a lot about food and I learn quite a lot from them every semester. But I also try hard to provoke them out of their comfort zone and, for the most part, they seem happy to be provoked. Our students do not demand coddling and, I doubt that many do anywhere, despite the fantasies of pundits. On the contrary, they are eager to learn and participate. Sometimes they shock me out of my comfort zone too.

So I include the statement above in my syllabus as both a warning and a challenge. If they accept the challenge and stay in the class, then my job is to make sure the class really does provide them with an opportunity to learn. The class is about food, so I need to ensure that they are learning to think carefully about what food is and how food choices are shaped by history, political economy, and culture. But the class is also about practicing critical thinking. Do they feel encouraged to raise questions and challenge me and each other in the class? Can they turn their readings into thoughtful analyses? Can they express those analyses in class and in writing? These critical thinking and writing skills are learning objectives for many good liberal arts classes and they are also the key to success in a lot of careers. Oddly enough, the student who dropped my class over a discussion of horse meat was sort of on the right track. She understood that deeper issues were at stake. She even wrote about them in her email telling me that she was leaving. But she should have stayed in the class so that others could continue the discussion. That, after all, is what learning is about. You have been warned.


Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, ethics, Food Studies

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 6, 2016


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 or

The recent floods in Louisiana have had a significant impact on small farmers. You can read about that here, in an article by Brian Barth in Modern Farmer that also provides some ideas about how you can help. Vendors and farmers who sell at the Crescent City Farmers Market were hit hard by the floods, which Judy Walker writes about here. The Crescent City Farmers Market has established a fund to directly assist in their recovery. Click here to contribute.

We note with sadness the passing of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose writing and commentary on foodways on NPR played a significant role in inspiring many people to think more seriously about food, culture, and history. Of course, she is perhaps best known for her writing on African American foodways and on the foods of the U.S. South. There was a nice remembrance on All Things Considered here and on Morning Edition here. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2013 and you can watch her acceptance speech for that here. Or just search the web for her many commentaries and writings. You may lose days, but it will be worth it.

The presidential campaign dust up over taco trucks has provided much needed levity in an otherwise unhappy electoral season. This tasty controversy started with an MSNBC interview with Marco Gutierrez, leader of an organization called “Latinos for Trump,” in which he asserted, in reference to the immigration debate, that “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” This delicious threat was met with a tidal wave of hilarity on social media and in the press, including this semi-serious economic analysis from the Washington Post of the benefits and costs associated with a massive influx of new taco trucks. A great deal has of course been written more seriously on food trucks, including this piece on the history of food trucks in Los Angeles from a few years ago. It is heartening to see Americans rally behind the idea of taco trucks, but it is also worth remembering that ideas about immigrant foods have often been used to stigmatize, exclude, and threaten people, so there is a dangerous undercurrent to this sort of statement.

We have written before here about the work of Saru Jayaraman and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. Jayaraman has worked relentlessly to inform the public about the dismal labor circumstances confronted by many people in the restaurant industry. Her organization has developed a number of programs that are meant to improve those conditions. In this review of her book and other work, Patrick Abatiell provides a useful history and some critiques of her approach.

Ian Parker has written a portrait of New York Times food critic Pete Wells for The New Yorker that portrays the relationship between Wells, the Times, and New York’s high-end restaurateurs as a mighty struggle. This is particularly interesting to read in the age of social media, when nearly everyone is a critic.

Have you tried one of the “Tasty” recipes (from BuzzFeed) that pop up relentlessly on Facebook and in other social media? It turns out that some people think that these things are the death of food culture. And who knows, maybe they are right. After all, the Food Network was apparently also the death of food culture, back when Emeril Lagasse ruled the airwaves. Read about the controversy here. Then go look at some of the recipes here.

Students are increasingly conscious about the kinds of foods that their university provides. There have been efforts by various food services to make their foods healthier, more seasonal, local, etc. But not everyone is apparently on board. Here is a story from a student who has decided to drop out of her university rather than be forced to subscribe to the school’s meal plan. Discuss this with your students (and don’t tell the upper administration, when they get back from golfing with the Aramark guys, that you heard about it from us).

Sometimes satire resembles a satire of itself. The New Yorker provides us with this article about the work of two Austrian performance artists, Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, apparently calling attention to the unsustainability of modern dining.  If you don’t get the satire in these odd performance pieces, we recommend searching for some Saturday Night Live Sprockets sketches.

On a rather more serious note, this article outlines what the author, Doug Gurian-Sherman, calls an inconvenient truth about industrial agriculture. In this instance, Gurian-Sherman discusses the reemergence of corn rootworm in fields planted with corn that is supposed to be engineered to be resistant to rootworm. The author argues that this problem demonstrates the failure of a genetic engineering approach to farming. This is definitely worth a read.

On a related topic, Marc Bittman recently wrote a column about a new food labeling law that may eventually make information about what goes into American food more transparent. The law in question is meant, in a weak sort of way, to require companies to make available information about whether or not a product contains genetically modified ingredients. However, it does not really require that information be easy to get, just that it somehow be more or less available. Bittman thinks that despite the law’s weakness, it could be the start of efforts to really make food more transparent.

As we have mentioned before, the folks at the food activism think tank Food Tank love to make lists (not that we are against that, of course). Here is an inspiring list of interesting books (with handy synopses) that you might want to read or assign to your students. There is even a smattering of anthropology among them.


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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies