Category Archives: Food Studies

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, October 9, 2017

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.

In the United States, food activists love to point to the French and their carefully demarcated terroirs for wine, cheese, and other products as an example of how to manage the relationship between food and place. Behind this image of careful attention to land and culture there is often a rough and even violent political history. To get a taste of that, listen to this interview with historian Andrew Smith about his recent book “Terror and Terroir: The Winegrowers of the Languedoc and Modern France” (Manchester University Press, 2016) from the New Books Network. This interview is conducted by Roxanne Panchasi and is part of the New Books in French Studies series.

On the subject of food and terror, New Books in American Studies has an interview with Bryant Simon, author of  The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (The New Press, 2017). The immediate incident that is at the heart of this history is a fire in 1991 at a food factory in Hamlet, NC that resulted in the deaths of 25 people, but the broader framework is the combination of American tastes for cheap processed foods and the deregulated industry that produces them. Stephen Hausmann conducts the interview. There is also a New Books in Food series that is always looking for hosts, if you want to get on the ladder to podcast fame.

The popularity of those cheap processed food has been linked to the rise in obesity and other diet-related health issues in many countries. If you have read Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz’s 2013 book “The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century,” (University of California Press), then you are familiar with some of the ways those foods have become popular around the world. The New York Times Magazine published an excellent overview of this same process a few weeks ago, along with some rather stunning graphics. Share it with your students, start a great conversation.

In a related story, this piece from Bloomberg provides data on what Americans have been eating for the last few decades. When did we start eating more chicken than beef (sometime in the 90s)? What has happened to coffee consumption? Whatever happened to those California raisins? Americans are eating more mango, but fewer canned cherries. And we still love peanut butter. Enjoy the graphs too.

The survival of the American family farm is an ongoing struggle, as endless books and articles demonstrate. But the best of these also reflect on the broader historical and social context of that struggle. One of the more recent books in this genre is Ted Genoways’ book “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm” (W.W. Norton, 2017). The book was the subject of a short piece on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, as well as an extended discussion on the NPR show On Point, both of which are worth listening too.

We have two strange and unexpected origin stories this week. First, the recent death of Hugh Hefner elicited a wide range of responses, which is not surprising, given his ambiguous legacy. However, one rather unexpected bit of history that popped up during all the discussions about Hefner’s history was his role in the start of Food and Wine Magazine. Food porn is not, it turns out, entirely metaphoric.

The Reuben Sandwich is a midwestern invention, at least according to this charming story from Elizabeth Weil, at Saveur. The story involves a conflict between Weil (whose grandfather seems to have invented the sandwich at a family-owned hotel in Omaha) and food historian Andrew Smith (not the same historian as the one above, by the way) that involved the New York Times. This also helps explain how a very un-kosher sandwich became an iconic Jewish deli food.

Is eating alone a bad thing? Some people think so, including writer Lloyd Alter, who begins his article with a citation from Baudrillard, “Sadder than the beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” Baudrillard meant this to be a critique of American society, but Alter takes it into the realm of actual physical health and links it to the aging population. There is probably an interesting theoretical point to be made related to French theory and American journalism, but meanwhile, it is an interesting read.

The debate around cultural appropriation may be a classic example of what the French mean by the phrase “dialogue de sourds” and we are happy to keep documenting it here. This piece, “Craving the Other: One Woman’s Beef With Cultural Appropriation and Cuisine,” from writer Soleil Ho, was originally published a few years ago and was recently republished in the 20th anniversary edition of Bitch Magazine. Has anything changed since it originally appeared?

Is the great American casual dining chain doomed? Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, Houston’s, TGI Friday’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Friendly’s, and more, restaurants known for walls full of strange junk, waiters wearing flair, and huge piles of mostly inoffensive food, may be facing a crisis. This series from Eater.com explores the situation, raising questions about the American palate, the American middle class, and the fate of suburbia.

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Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Public Health Nutrition

We just received this job announcement that will certainly be of interest to SAFN members!

The Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont seeks a faculty member in the area of public health nutrition. This 9-month tenure-track position involves undergraduate/graduate teaching and research related to public health nutrition and the translation of such research into policy, programs and practices.  Effective date of the position is 9/1/2018.

The successful candidate will be expected to teach at all levels, advise undergraduate and graduate master’s and doctoral students, and provide mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students, along with professional contributions and service.  Potential teaching topics may include but are not limited to nutrition, public health nutrition, community nutrition, global health and population health. This individual will support the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in dietetics, nutrition, food sciences and food systems.

In addition, the successful candidate will be expected to undertake an active program of research in topics related to public health nutrition that leads to publication and/or presentation in peer-reviewed scholarly outlets and to seek extramural funding for that research.

The candidate must have an earned doctoral degree (e.g., Ph.D., Dr.P.H., Sc.D.) in a relevant field at time of appointment with expertise in one or more of the following: nutrition and health disparities, nutrition and food security, nutrition and global health, nutrition and food choice, nutrition and sustainability, community nutrition, nutrition and population health. Teaching experience and a scholarly track record is preferred.  Applications will be reviewed beginning November 1, 2017. 

There are numerous opportunities to work within a trans-disciplinary context with others in the greater University community.  Depending on the candidate’s area of expertise, there are opportunities for collaborative research activities with researchers affiliated with Food Systems, the Institute for the Environment, the College of Medicine and other departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Applicants should apply by submitting an on-line application through the UVM employment website (https://www.uvmjobs.com/postings/26917).  Applications should include the following 1) cover letter including a statement of research aims and teaching philosophy 2) curriculum vitae, and 3) list of three professional references.

The University is especially interested in candidates who can demonstrate a commitment to diversity through their research, teaching and/or service.  Applicants are requested to include in their cover letter information about how they will further this goal.  The University of Vermont is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer.  The Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences is committed to increasing faculty diversity and welcomes applications from women and underrepresented ethnic, racial and cultural groups and from people with disabilities. 

Founded in 1791, UVM has been called one of the “public ivies” and is consistently ranked as one of the top public universities in the United States. Interested candidates are encouraged to visit the UVM-NFS website: www.uvm.edu/nfs and the city of Burlington, Vermont website: http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/.

 

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NYU Food Studies Post Doc Opportunity

Here is a great opportunity for a recent PhD…note that anthropological perspectives are especially welcome!

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, New York University (2018-19)

The Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU invites applications from outstanding candidates for a full-time Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. The position is within the Food Studies Program. It is available for one year. Candidates must have an earned PhD, with potential for outstanding research or public scholarship in an area aligned with the department’s work as specified below:

GOALS and SUBJECT AREAS

  1. Advance the field of Food Studies
  • expand the boundaries of the field or sharpen its focus
  • demonstrate the importance of Food Studies for other disciplines and/or public engagement
  • advance the profile of Food Studies within NYU and outside it
  • strengthen networks with other Food Studies or relevant programs elsewhere
  1. Emphasis will be placed on the cultural and social elements of Food Studies
  • historical, modern and critical cultural, sociological, geographical, and anthropological approaches will be prioritized
  1. Selection will reward candidates whose work addresses local-global connections, particularly in urban centers
  • boundary crossing and exchange (intra and inter-ethnic, international, etc.)
  • global circulations of people, ideas, and products
  • city geographies, demographics, and food environments
  1. Particular attention will be paid to candidates whose work
  • merges aesthetic/cultural and economic/material dimensions
  • projects that engage seriously with taste, pleasure, and identity alongside issues of regulation, transportation, commercialization, or other biophysical aspects of food production and consumption
  • candidates who can show competency in using mapping software and have affinity for the digital humanities (e.g.: CartoDB; Omeka; etc.)

FELLOWSHIP RESPONSIBILITIES

Fellows will be expected to:

  • Continue research and expand their contribution to the field of Food Studies while at NYU
    • publish in appropriate academic journals
    • present in appropriate academic conferences
  • Play an active role in the Program, Department, broader NYU and Food Studies community
    • Present their research formally at least once during the year (ideally once per semester, in different formats and with different audiences)
  • attend and participate regularly in relevant talks within the department and beyond
  • nurture relationships with students and faculty
  • Teach one or two courses in a year (to be determined in discussion with the Chair and the Program Director)
  • Support the program for relevant initiatives (such as grant writing, aiding in partnership development and organizing colloquia).

Applicants must send:

1) CV (2-pages maximum)

2) two reference letters (to be sent directly to amy.bentley@nyu.edu and matt.vanzo@nyu.edu ),

3) a statement (2 pages) describing a one-year research plan, publication preparation or a public humanities plan.

The application package should be sent to matt.vanzo@nyu.edu and amy.bentley@nyu.edu (electronic submission of one complete PDF file is required).

Subject line should say Food Studies Postdoc.

The deadline for submission is November 15th 2017. If the search is successful the term will begin in September 2018 or soon after.

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CFP: Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

A call for papers for an annual conference in France that may be of interest to our readers:

IEHCA logo

Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

Conference organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 November 2018 – Tours (France)

For several years now, many scientists have taken an interest in the relationship between food and heritage: from historians to anthropologists, sociologists to geographers, experts in the field of tourism science, and more. This interest has spawned a host of new publications, and with it a number of mono-disciplinary case studies.

There is a need to review these actions and this work. With the European Council and Parliament deciding that 2018 will be “European Cultural Heritage Year”, there is now a drive to “raise awareness of European history and values and to strengthen a sense of European identity”, while also “drawing attention to the opportunities offered by our cultural heritage, but also to the challenges it faces”. Viewing food in all its aspects as a cultural heritage clearly follows from the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This includes “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity”. The terms of this definition inspired the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food to initiate and carry through the Repas gastronomique des Français (Gastronomic meal of the French) nomination project. Furthermore, UNESCO has added 14 “food” elements to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and many other applications are being prepared. The time has come for a comprehensive and coordinated process of reflection.

Lines of enquiry

The first objective of the conference will be to advocate a multidisciplinary approach to the various aspects covered by food heritage. The second innovative trajectory will be to take a European and international standpoint, with a particular reference to countries that have successfully added food elements to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Finally, we will focus particular attention on the differing time frames, including those that are more long-term in nature.

This comprehensive approach will first focus on challenges: providing a precise definition of concepts such as intangible and food heritage, identifying the scientific and professional communities concerned by these concepts, while also taking the fragile nature of food heritage into account.

Understanding processes is key, in terms of developing the concept of intangible heritage or the historic development of food heritage (compared to concepts such as terroir), and preparing applications for inclusion on UNESCO’s Representative List. The national inventories are essential tools in this regard.

And finally, perspectives consider the fact that, as with any other intangible cultural heritage, food heritage is covered by safeguarding measures. The establishment of a global network of intangible cultural heritage food elements can, clearly, provide robust support for any collective action. We intend to lay the foundations for this network with the 2018 symposium.

Topics (non-exhaustive)

  • Typicality, in terms of the link between the product (and the know-how it takes to produce and transform it) and its place of origin, is a value whose characteristics change based on place and time. Typicality and tradition both contribute to shaping the concept of heritage. Here, too, recent case studies are available.
  • It is now impossible to discuss the notion of food heritage without due consideration of the UNESCO Convention and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Strictly speaking, the Urgent Safeguarding List still contains neither food nor gastronomic elements. Nevertheless, food does play a significant role in, for example, the Yaokwa ritual of the Enawene Nawe people of Brazil (2011), and Guatemala’s Nan Pa’ch ceremony (2013). While studies have already been published, this phenomenon calls for more in-depth research.
  • The notion of food heritage (or culinary, or gastronomic) is a recent development, but its roots stretch back in time. A preliminary work on the French case was published recently, and The French Culinary Model: dissemination, adaption, transformation and opposition worldwide (17th–21st centuries) was chosen as the topic of the IEHCA’s 2014 Conference. But here again, much remains to be done, particularly in a global and comparative sense.
  • Where heritage exists, there is also a need to understand, safeguard and transfer this heritage. This requirement is explicit in the UNESCO Convention, but its roots can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Such a need explains both the existence of inventories and political action taken by public authorities at a national, regional and local level.
  • Food heritage appreciation and interpretation was also the subject of an innovative museological and museographical project using virtual technologies. However, areas remain to be explored, and the use of certain techniques has often generated discrepancies or impossibilities that are yet to be identified to improve public information.
  • The process of heritage designation loads the standard product (and its cuisine) with added values derived from history and mythology; mythology often merges with history, to the point at which it acts as a substitute. The fact that sociologists have developed the expression “nostalgia marketing”, which refers to these aspects, is no coincidence; the consumer is reassured, and recognises a reminder of “the good old days” in the product, a guarantee of quality. There is also a clear economic aspect inherent in this example.

Submission guidelines

If you would like to present a paper at this conference, please send a proposal including an abstract and a CV (1 page maximum, in total) in French or English to be submitted to loic.bienassis@iehca.eu by 15 December 2017.

L’alimentation comme patrimoine culturel : enjeux, processus et perspectives

Colloque organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours, France)

15-16 novembre 2018 – Tours (France)

Depuis quelques années, les relations entre nourriture et patrimoine ont suscité l’intérêt de nombreux scientifiques : des historiens aux anthropologues, des sociologues aux géographes jusqu’aux experts des sciences du tourisme, etc. En témoignent de multiples publications récentes, qui présentent autant d’études de cas mono-disciplinaires.

Un bilan de ces actions et des travaux effectués s’impose. Le Conseil et le Parlement européen ayant décidé que 2018 serait l’« Année européenne du patrimoine culturel », l’initiative a été lancée de « sensibiliser à l’histoire et aux valeurs européennes et à renforcer un sentiment d’identité européenne » tout en attirant « l’attention sur les possibilités offertes par notre patrimoine culturel, mais également sur les défis auxquels il est confronté ». Considérer l’alimentation et tous ses aspects en tant que patrimoine culturel découle évidemment de la Convention UNESCO pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel, qui, rappelons-le, inclut « les pratiques, représentations, expressions, connaissances et savoir-faire – ainsi que les instruments, objets, artefacts et espaces culturels qui leur sont associés – que les communautés, les groupes et, le cas échéant, les individus reconnaissent comme faisant partie de leur patrimoine culturel. Ce patrimoine culturel immatériel, transmis de génération en génération, est recréé en permanence par les communautés et groupes en fonction de leur milieu, de leur interaction avec la nature et de leur histoire, et leur procure un sentiment d’identité et de continuité, contribuant ainsi à promouvoir le respect de la diversité culturelle et la créativité humaine ». Ce sont les termes mêmes de cette définition qui avaient conduit l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation à initier et à mener à bien le projet d’inscription du Repas gastronomique des Français. Outre celui-ci, quatorze éléments « alimentaires » ont été classés par l’UNESCO dans la liste représentative du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité et de nombreux autres dossiers sont en préparation. Le temps est venu d’une réflexion globale et coordonnée.

Orientations

Le premier objectif du colloque sera de promouvoir une approche multidisciplinaire des différents aspects que recouvre le patrimoine alimentaire. Sa seconde originalité sera d’adopter une perspective européenne et internationale en s’appuyant notamment sur les pays qui ont fait inscrire des éléments alimentaires au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité. Enfin on sera particulièrement attentif aux différentes échelles temporelles, y compris la longue durée.

Cette approche globale abordera d’abord la question des enjeux, qui suppose de définir précisément des notions comme patrimoine immatériel ou alimentaire, de délimiter les communautés scientifiques et professionnelles concernées par ces notions, sans oublier la prise en compte de la fragilité des patrimoines alimentaires.

La compréhension des processus est cruciale, que ce soit la construction de la notion de patrimoine immatériel ou bien la construction historique du patrimoine alimentaire (par rapport à des notions comme celle de terroir) ou encore l’élaboration des dossiers présentés pour l’inscription sur la liste représentative de l’UNESCO. De ce point de vue, l’instrument représenté par les inventaires nationaux se révèle essentiel.

Enfin les perspectives intègrent le fait que le patrimoine alimentaire, comme tout le patrimoine culturel immatériel en général, fait l’objet de mesures de sauvegarde. La mise en place d’un réseau mondial des éléments alimentaires du patrimoine culturel immatériel peut sans aucun doute être un puissant appui à une action collective : le colloque de 2018 entend en être la première pierre.

Thématiques (non exhaustives)

  • La typicité, en tant que lien entre le produit (et le savoir-faire qui le réalise et le transforme) et son lieu d’origine, est une valeur dont les caractéristiques changent selon le lieu et le temps. Typicité et tradition participent ensemble à la construction du concept de patrimoine. Dans ce cas, aussi, nous disposons d’études de cas récentes.
  • Il est maintenant impossible d’aborder l’idée du patrimoine alimentaire sans prendre en considération la convention UNESCO et la liste des éléments du patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité qui nécessitent une sauvegarde urgente. Dans cette dernière, on ne trouve pas encore d’éléments alimentaires ou gastronomiques stricto sensu. Cependant, la nourriture occupe une place importante, par exemple, dans le rituel appelé Yaokwa, du peuple brésilien Enawene Nawe (2011) et dans la cérémonie de la Nan Pa’ch du Guatemala (2013). Des études ont déjà été publiées mais ce phénomène demande un approfondissement des enquêtes.
  • L’idée du patrimoine alimentaire (ou culinaire, ou gastronomique) est le résultat d’une construction récente, mais ses origines se situent dans l’histoire. Des travaux existent mais là aussi il reste beaucoup à faire, notamment dans une démarche globale et comparative.
  • S’il y a patrimoine, il y a aussi nécessité de le connaître, de le sauvegarder et de le transmettre. Cette nécessité est explicite dans la Convention UNESCO, mais elle plonge ses racines dans un passé qu’on peut faire remonter bien en arrière, parfois jusqu’au Moyen Âge. Une telle nécessité est à l’origine des inventaires d’un côté, et d’un autre côté des mesures politiques prises par les pouvoirs publics à l’échelle nationale, régionale ou locale. Les inventaires eux-mêmes dépendent des implications culturelles et économiques véhiculées par le patrimoine et souvent présentes aussi dans le développement de son inventorisation.
  • La médiation du patrimoine alimentaire a également fait l’objet d’un travail novateur en matière de muséologie et de muséographie, grâce à l’apport des technologies virtuelles. Mais tout n’a pas été encore exploré, et l’emploi de certaines techniques a pu parfois générer des contradictions ou encore des impossibilités qu’il reste à identifier pour améliorer l’information des publics.
  • Le processus de patrimonialisation charge le produit typique (et sa cuisine aussi) de valeurs ajoutées qui proviennent de l’histoire et de la mythologie ; la mythologie se mêle souvent à l’histoire, jusqu’au point de s’y substituer. Ce n’est pas un hasard si les sociologues ont créé l’expression de « Nostalgia marketing », qui renvoie à ces aspects ; il s’agit de rassurer le consommateur, qui reconnaît dans le produit l’évocation du « bon vieux temps », garantie de qualité. L’aspect économique est évident en ce cas aussi.

Conditions de soumission

Si vous souhaitez présenter une communication à ce colloque, merci d’envoyer une proposition comprenant un argumentaire et un CV (au total 1 page maximum), en français ou en anglais, auprès de Loïc Bienassis loic.bienassis@iehca.eu avant le 15 décembre 2017.

___________________________________

Ce colloque est organisé par l’Institut Européen d’Histoire de l’Alimentation (IEHCA, Tours) qui a porté la candidature du « Repas gastronomique des Français » au patrimoine culturel immatériel de l’humanité établi par l’UNESCO.

The conference is being organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours), which supported the nomination of the ‘Gastronomic meal of the French’ for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, established by UNESCO.

En partenariat avec / in partnership with

L’Association France PCI

Le Ministère de la Culture

La Mission Française des Patrimoines et des Cultures Alimentaires

Le Réseau des Cités de la Gastronomie

L’Université de Tours

Comité de Pilotage (provisoire) / Steering committee (provisional)

Loïc Bienassis (Chargé de mission scientifique, Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Francis Chevrier (Directeur de l’Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation, Tours)

Denis Feignier (Inspecteur général de l’agriculture, ministère de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation)

Bruno Laurioux (Professeur d’histoire du Moyen Âge et de l’alimentation, Université de Tours)

Pascal Liévaux (Chef du département du pilotage de la recherche et de la politique scientifique, ministère de la Culture)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Laurent Stéfanini (Ambassadeur, Délégué permanent de la France auprès de l’UNESCO)

Comité scientifique (provisoire) / Scientific committee (provisional)

Chiara Bortolotto (Chercheuse associée au laboratoire d’anthropologie et d’histoire de l’institution de la culture (LAHIC), Paris)

Antonella Campanini (Enseignante/chercheuse en histoire médiévale, University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italie)

Allen J. Grieco (Chercheur associé, Villa I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Florence, Italie)

Jean-Robert Pitte (Professeur émérite de géographie, Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Françoise Sabban (Directrice d’études, anthropologie, É0cole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris)

Sylvie Sagnes (Chargée de recherche, CNRS, Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain, Paris)

 

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Smithsonian Food History Weekend

If you expect to be in the Washington DC area between October 26 and 28 you may want to consider attending the Third Annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. The theme is: “Many Flavors, One Nation” (which might work for someone looking to start an ice cream business). From the web site:

Join us for the 2017 Smithsonian Food History Weekend at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Culinary leaders, researchers, practitioners, and scholars will inspire Museum visitors to understand the history of food in America and the role they play, individually and collectively, in shaping the future of food.

Over the course of three days, our third annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend will explore how food has been both a bridge and a barrier to cultural connection in America. From farmers to home cooks to top chefs, how does food migrate with people? Where does our food really come from? And how have people negotiated their differences and celebrated their commonalties over food throughout American history?

From cooking demonstrations, hands-on learning, dynamic conversations, and Smithsonian collections; to powerful evenings, a black-tie gala, local restaurants, and beer history; there’s something for everyone.

A number of notable food studies scholars will be involved, along with opportunities to observe cooking, eat, and drink. Details are available on the web site, which is here.

As always, we would be thrilled to have a report back from a SAFN member on the event. Take a few pictures and send a note for this blog.

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There is no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise: The rights and wrongs of a ragù

Markus Bell

Arguably Italy’s most famous dish, certainly the one most likely to appear on the children’s menu in your local family diner, spaghetti bolognaise is globally consumed and widely misunderstood. I spent a Bologna evening in the company of some hungry Italians to find out what’s so special about bolognaise, why the rest of us are getting it wrong, and what this quintessentially Italian food can tell us about ourselves.

The rules of ragù

Rule #1: There’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise.

Like every good meal the evening starts with some hunting and gathering. A team dispatched to the local store, owned and staffed by a friendly Pakistani family, return with ingredients for the feast to come. Beers are cracked and diced vegetables thrown into a pot that already plays host to a generous splash of olive oil.

Busy hands stir the onions, celery and carrots for 20 minutes before adding first the pork and then the beef. “It’s so the meat breaks up. Later we’ll add the wine and the tomato sauce and let simmer,” our host explains, wielding a spoon stained at the end with evidence of a lifetime of mixing.

“So, dinner in half an hour?” I ask, recalling family ‘Italian nights’ as a child.

“Dinner in 3 hours,” comes a terse reply. “The first thing you’ve got to know,” our host informs us earnestly, measuring out flour and eggs for crafting the pasta, “is that there’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognaise. We don’t use garlic, there’s no cherry tomato in here, and it’s not fast food. This is tagliatelle al ragù.”

Rule #2: It’s not an exact science

IMG_0338Flour blankets the table like snow on a Hallmark Christmas card. Mimicking Mr. Miyagi’s ‘wax-on, wax-off’ motion, our host sweeps it up and shapes it into a miniature volcano. Into the crater he cracks several eggs. “How much flour is in each volcano?” I ask, notepad in hand.

“The second thing to know, Markus: making tagliatelle al ragù isn’t an exact science. You’ve got to feel when the dough is ready to roll. You need to taste the ragù before you add the wine. And you just know when it’s all ready.”

I reluctantly discard my pen and paper.

Our host kneads the flour and eggs until it becomes firm and stops sticking to a rolling board that resembles a dance floor in proportions. Locating an oversized, police baton of a wooden rolling pin he leans with his weight on the dough and lunges back and forth, flattening everything in his path.IMG_0345

“They were my grandmother’s,” he explains, hair pulled back, shoulders pinned forward as he mercilessly shunts dough around the dance floor. “I learnt to cook from watching my grandmother. There were no recipes. Nothing was written down. We learn by watching and doing,” he tells us, brushing flour from his hands and reaching for a beer.

Culinary co-presence

Our host, like so many young Italians, grew up a countryside kitchen. He stood with his grandmother as she cooked every meal for the family using tools she later gifted him. And like so many young Italians, our host had left the family village and left Italy to find employment that had eluded him at home. Indeed, as we watch him boil clutch after clutch of frIMG_0347esh pasta, we realize that of the guests at the feast that evening, all were preparing to go overseas to find work.

A sensation of loss characterizes the performance of the properly cooked ragù. The bubbling ragù and the tools baring grandmother’s hand indentations are trans-temporal objects facilitating an imagined reunion for families separated between rural and urban, Italy and the US, life and death. Like the best performances, the audience participates in nurturing the sentiments of longing for absent people, the desire to be close to kin and an imagined return to the sweetness of a nostalgic past, to a ragù gone by.

In those moments, our host embodies his grandmother through dicing, stirring, rolling and tasting the food as she taught him. In further staining the mixing spoon he fostered a co-presence by-proxy with his kin and family home. During an impatient wait for sauce to reach an unscientifically defined readiness, a heady mix of braised meats and high-tannin red wine elevated the cooking process for participants. Smells, sounds and stories collapsed time, overlapping the now and then into a sensual communitas.

Rule #3: Slow to cook, quick to eat

Thick pasta snakes are encouraged onto plates and swamped with a rich, dark sauce that pulls at the tongue. Around the table, glasses rise and a chorus of the hungry give thanks to the chef and to grandma.

The moment of consumption is short lived. The ceremony of commensality breaking down as the ragù is devoured before I can observe the necessary niceties (‘It tastes just like the real thing, mom’). Forks hit the ceramic and I’m confronted by quizzical expressions.

‘Did you even taste it?’ I ask, incredulously.

‘Rule three, Markus: A good ragù is slow to cook and quick to eat.’ My host smiles, wiping the sauce from his beard and pouring the dregs of the wine.

And this makes perfect sense. It’s through hours of preparation and waiting that a ragù is performed. Consumption is a just a bridge of reflection between the ritual of cooking and being cooked for and the calm of sitting, wine in hand, waiting for the next performance.

The Performed ragù:

1 x Onion, diced

Several sticks of celery, diced

Enough carrots, diced

Ground beef (75%)

Ground pork (25%)

Red Wine

Tomato Sauce

No garlic!

Cook the vegetables in a large pot for twenty minutes with olive oil. Add the meat. Add wine once everything is simmering nicely. Add tomato sauce. Simmer for three hours.

Fresh Pasta:

Flour (100 grams per person)

Eggs (1 egg per person)

Glass of water (if needed)

Author profile:

Dr. Markus Bell is a social and cultural anthropologist at Sheffield University’s School of East Asian Studies. He lectures on food and anthropology, North & South Korean society, migration, and history.

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

5th Annual Yale Food Systems Symposium

Were you planning to participate in the Yale Food Systems Symposium this year? Depending on your plans, you may be happy to learn that they have changed the date (due to a conflict with a religious holiday) and extended the deadline for submitting proposals.

The new dates are February 23-24, 2018. The website with everything you would want to know is here.

From the request for proposals:

Invitation

Challenges facing food systems have long been referred to as “wicked,” because they resist simple, linear solutions. Stakeholders are diverse, with complex environmental, political, and social interconnections; solutions therefore necessitate information-sharing and community-building between actors working across disciplines. The Fifth Annual Yale Food Systems Symposium will bring together a mix of scholars and practitioners in panels, workshops, roundtables, and breakout sessions over two days to explore the complex dynamics of agri-food systems. This year’s theme “Resilience Across Scales” focuses on our capacity to absorb stress while maintaining integrity, which is crucial to the continued functioning of our food systems. We seek to engage questions of food production, consumption, urbanization, and climate change, and ability to adapt, reorganize, and evolve in the face of today’s challenges.

The symposium seeks to:

  • Create a platform for sharing cutting-edge research and applied learning from food systems scholarship and practice
  • Serve as a venue for the creation of fruitful working relationships across disciplines
  • Create a welcoming space for all who are engaged in the work of supporting sustainable food systems

Types of Programming

The symposium will consist of a diversity of proposed formats: speakers and panelists, presenting original research, as well as workshops, demonstrations, and roundtable discussion groups.

Submissions topic areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Nutrition, diet shifts, and sustainable diets
  • Food, ethics, and religion
  • Market-based solutions and private governance
  • Supply chain management, certification, and multi-stakeholder engagement
  • Food justice and activist movements
  • Plant biotechnology and cellular agriculture
  • Urbanization, land use change, and food systems planning
  • Sustainable agriculture and land use
  • Plant biotechnology and cellular agriculture
  • Global geo-political structure and food security
  • Systems science, industrial ecology, and circular economy
  • Food waste
  • Food policy, farm bill, and government
  • Indigenous food sovereignty

We also welcome ideas that span across categories or do not correspond directly to those outlined. The symposium draws over 250 students, educators, researchers, farmers, chefs, activists, and business professionals each year.

Submission Instructions

Deadline for submission is Monday, December 18, 2017. Abstracts & workshop proposals should be 300 words and include a title and keywords. Please submit online using our submission form. Accepted proposals will be notified on a rolling basis. Please refer to the conference website, yalefoodsymposium.org, for more information. Questions about proposals, workshops, submission, or registration may also be directed to yfss@yale.edu.

* The symposium was originally scheduled for September 29-30, 2017. It has since been rescheduled. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

 

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, conferences, Food Studies