Category Archives: gender

Review: Eating the Ocean

Eating the Ocean. Elspeth Probyn. Duke University Press, 2016.

L. G. Brown (Indiana University)

In, Eating the Ocean, Elspeth Probyn contributes to an anthropology of food in two ways. First, the book offers a feminist and queer perspective on fisheries anthropology. Second, the book endeavors a unique ethnographic exploration into the food politics of fisheries. She says, “My message is simple: There is no place in which to escape the food politics of human-fish entanglement” (Pg. 5). This message is three-fold. First, it reminds consumers that we are all in some way responsible for the depletion of our world’s oceans, and all of the terrible things that happen in the fishing industry, including human slavery. Second, the crisis we see within our oceans is structural, related to the crisis of social class in our food system, namely differential access to food choice based on wealth and poverty. As she states in the introduction, “The idea that you can solve such intricate and complicated human-fish relations by voting with your fork is deluded narcissism” (Pg. 10). And third, that while considering the ethology[1] of more-than-human relations, humans have to remember that we are in a position of power, which means that, despite our best efforts to effectively communicate, we are often speaking on behalf of non-humans, usually without their permission.

This book is like a breath of fresh sea air, cool, briny, and gently laced with the scent of dead things. Much like the dead things in a marine environment, fisheries research is rejuvenating itself, providing space and nutrients for new life forms. Probyn is a Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. She reflects on her positionality as a queer, feminist scholar transitioning into fisheries and seafood research throughout the book. On the one hand, she worries that scientists, her university, and her peers would question her interest in fisheries, finding it trivial, perhaps even punishing her for ‘changing’ her presumed research identity (Pg. 17). On the other hand, she can see that this gendered gaze in the sciences represents a larger dis-engagement from women involved with fisheries in any capacity, whether through research or practice (she dedicates Chapter four to a discussion about gender and fish). In the words of Barbara Neis, “Gender relations permeate fisheries at every level” (Neis, 2005, p. 7). The very identity markers—female, queer, gender studies professor—that make Probyn a ‘fish out of water’ in doing fisheries research are the same attributes that make her voice in the field so valuable.

‘Queering’ human-fish relations is Probyn’s touchstone, one that she very effectively articulates throughout the book. She expands on Stefan Helmreich’s notion of ‘athwart’ theory, which he develops in Alien Oceans as, “an empirical itinerary of associations and relations, a travelogue which, to draw on the nautical meaning of athwart, moves sideways, tracing contingent, drifting and bobbing, real-time, and often unexpected connections of which social action is constituted, which mixes up things and their descriptions” (Helmreich, 2009, p. 23). She adds, “To Helmreich’s use of the nautical sense of ‘athwart’… Eve Sedgwick’s understanding that the word ‘queer’ itself means across—it comes from the Indo-European root –twerkw, which also yields the German quer (transverse), and Latin torquere (to twist), English athwart… a continuing movement, recurrent, eddying, and troublant” (Sedgwick, 1993, p. 12). Probyn’s ‘athwart’ theory describes the epistemological ‘turbulence’ emerging from human-fish encounters.

Probyn incorporates this ‘athwart’ theory into her methodology. From Australia to Scotland, California to Peru, her fieldwork is dispersive. Likewise, she collects data from a wide variety of sources including poetry, film, ethnographic records, and government documents. Some readers may call the book an auto-ethnography about fisheries politics using seafood consumption as an entry point. She calls herself a ‘wet’ ethnographer (Pg. 14). “As a wet ethnographer—wet in the doubled sense of being a soft ethnographer who dredges ocean tales—I tease out connections and relate them” (Pg. 14). I assume that Probyn is referring to ‘soft’ here also in a double sense—to compare her qualitative methodology to a more quantitative, or ‘hard’ science approach, and to draw out a gendered binary between the two types of data analysis. Much of the author’s fieldwork is based on participant observation and interviews, and she sticks to a qualitative data analysis.

Probyn also refers to her ethnographic methodology as a ‘rhizo-ethology,’ “a dialogic and embodied practice” (Pg. 14; Deleuze, 1992). She notes that her reference to the rhizome as a signifier for interconnectedness is likely familiar to many terrestrial scholars (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). However, fewer scholars apply this concept to the ocean and its many progenitive marine spaces. Therefore, Probyn challenges a public and scientific discourse which ‘simplifies the sea’ as a solitary cultural milieu (Pg. 24). Crediting Deleuze, she says, “… I follow multiple entryways into the entanglement of humans and non-humans, into our vexed encounters within different ecosystems” (pg. 25). More explicitly, she focuses on the complex relationships humans build with fish as food (aside from her foray into mermaid lore in Chapter 4). This enables her to, “think about ways to develop a reflexive ethics of taste and place” (back cover).

Chapter One describes oceans as ‘affective habitus,’ problematizing seafood choice as a one size fits all solution to an environmental crisis, and sustainability as a ‘heteronormative end goal’ (Pg. 47).  The chapter gives a good overview of seafood politics, feminist critiques of sustainability. She gives a general overview of fisheries politics and research from the last one hundred years or so. She also proffers a unique analysis about seafood documentaries, including The End of the Line, which focuses on depleting fish stocks around the world, and its rejoinder Drawing the Line, which focuses on fishers’ responses to marine conservation efforts. At the end of the chapter, she makes an interesting argument for temporality and caring, asking how we come to care about the ocean and its many inhabitants, and how we sustain that sense of moral obligation. She uses this question of attachment to the sea as a segue way for her next chapter on taste, and other sensualities.

Chapter Two is all about oysters, where Probyn moves to a more direct engagement with taste, embodiment, and briefly, class inequality. For those readers interested in taste and the senses, Probyn offers a useful literature review on the topic here, and applies it well to the context of fisheries politics and seafood consumption. Riffing on Annmarie Mol (Mol, 2008, p. 28), she says, “I eat an oyster… the oyster eats me” (pg. 52). She uses this phrase as an entryway into questions about subjectivity in eating. Then she talks about oysters and sex—the ways that oysters reproduce, “Oysters are very queer” (Pg. 53), and the ways that humans interpret oyster materialities in variously impassioned ways (see Lewis Carroll’s, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” poem and discussion on Pg. 56). She retells M.F.K. Fisher’s autobiographical story, “The First Oyster,” which is about so much more than oysters, as you may have guessed. “The delightful taste of oyster in my mouth, my new-born gourmandise, sent me toward an unknown rather than a known sensuality” (Pg. 54; Fisher, 1990, p. 376). The rest of the chapter is about her fieldwork in Scotland, eating oysters, and visiting an oyster farm, which doubles as a community revitalization project.

Chapter Three is about tuna fishing, ranching, and Individual Transferable Quotas. In it, she tells a fascinating tale about a handful of Croatian-Australian men and one German-Australian man who forever changed the Bluefin tuna industry. Probyn derives much of the narrative content in this section from her own interviews and participant observation with these industry professionals, perhaps more so than in any other chapter in the book. Though the book is technically outside the purview of anthropology, she makes a few friendly references to some well-known anthropologists who study fish and fisheries including Agnar Helgason and Gisli Pálsson, Icelandic fisheries experts (Pálsson & Helgason, 1995); Theodor Bestor, Tsukiji fish market extraordinaire (Bestor, 2004); as well as a lesser-known, though equally important anthropologist, Kate Barclay, who studies transnational tuna fishing, industry, and trade (Barclay, 2008).

Chapter Four is about gender in fisheries. She starts the chapter with an anecdote about her experience researching the subject. A male marine biologist apparently assumed that she was researching mermaids when she got in touch with him about this book. A seemingly innocuous assumption, I can empathize with her sentiment that she felt like, “[her] passion for fish-human ways of being was demeaned, reduced to a little girl’s whimsy” (Pg. 101). She winds up writing extensively on mermaids in this chapter as a result. The rest of the chapter she dedicates to a breakdown about the fisheries industry and social inequality in terms of gender. She starts with a feminist critique of sustainability narratives that assume women are better at sustainability because they are closer to nature. Yet, in countless fisheries examples, women have held special knowledge about shifts in fish stocks, materialities, and ecosystems but no one bothered to ask them what they knew. Their voices simply count for less than male voices.

Chapter Five is about little fish. In this chapter, Probyn talks about her love of sardines, and the fisheries in Peru who produce anchovies for fishmeal to feed animals, and fish oils to sell as dietary supplements to the wealthy. The chapter includes the story of a female activist in Peru, Patricia Maljuf, who set out to make anchovies edible again (Majluf, 2013). Majluf works with fishers, processors, and chefs to market anchovies as a delicate and tasty tinned treat, like sardines, only different. She also discusses multitrophic polyculture, and visits an algae lab. She ends the chapter with a discussion about fish relatedness, and ‘metabolic intimacy,’ a concept she borrows from Annemarie Mol and John Law (Law & Mol, 2008), and builds on through the chapter. She says, “As a concept, it directs us to think about the multiple trophic and structural levels through which we (fish, humans, animals) are related” (Pg. 148). Probyn uses this concept in addition to Jane Bennetat’s conceptualization of ‘vibrant materiality’ (Pg. 136; Bennett, 2009, p. 39), and Ana Tsing’s notion about, “the arts of noticing the entwined relations of humans and other species across non-nesting scales,” which Probyn first develops at the end of chapter four (Pg. 126; Tsing, 2014, p. 237).

Through these chapters, Probyn moves easily between fisheries research references from the social sciences to a more novel discussion about literary narratives and pop culture references, including a brief discussion about the humans who pose naked with tuna, and other seafood. This theme, weaving together science and folklore, imbricating fiction with non-fiction, the myriad forms of visual, written and oral history is something that Probyn plays with throughout the book. To me, this is the book’s greatest strength. It lends her an authorial edge in the genre. ‘Queering’ fisheries research in this way, Probyn invites a whole new generation of trans-disciplinary scholars to the field. I would guess that graduate students will find the book refreshing, and undergraduates, more challenging.  In my experience, students love to learn about seafood. And this book provides a unique, and exciting overview of the topic. Meanwhile, it makes meaningful change to the politics of human-fish relations, and of gender in the social sciences more generally. Readers may also find the book an accessible introduction to fisheries research in the humanities, and to more-than-human ethologies in the social sciences.

However, I felt the author could do more to untangle the relationship between social class and sustainability, including a more thorough discussion of race (she does expound a bit on race and in the context of gender studies in Chapter 4). Given her strong message about structural inequality at the beginning of the book, I hoped she might spend more time deconstructing the interplay of seafood, sustainability, and social class throughout. She does argue that middle-class consumers who identify with ‘localism’ in seafood consumption often perpetuate ideals about racial and moral purity (Pg. 3, 107). She does talk about the struggle for capital among fishers, especially in chapter two, oyster farmers in this case, as well as the many folks who work other jobs in the fisheries industry, namely women, which she covers well in chapter four. In contrast, in chapter three, she focuses on a group of billionaires who hold large quantities of Blue Fin tuna quotas, an important reminder that not all who make their living on fisheries production are poor. She speaks more directly to global inequalities in fish consumption in chapter five when she discusses fish oils as problematic dietary supplements for the wealthy, not to mention the additional double-bind for pregnant women who have to balance methyl-mercury risks with Omega-3 Fatty Acid intake (Mansfield, 2012). Though her fieldwork on the topic of structural inequality between consumers in human-fish relations is lacking.

While the book does so much to further social inquiry into the relationship between humans and fish, I wanted to hear more about structural inequality among humans, especially as consumers. How can we come together to confront seafood politics and sustainability across our class divides? From what I understand, her intent with this book is to move the discourses of sustainability and seafood politics away from the same old moral directives which privilege white, upper-middle-class, heteronormative, cis-males, and the reproductive structures that pattern social inequality in our everyday lives. The same class politics that are inherent to consumerism also play out in human-fish relations, reproducing structural inequality between humans, fish, and the ocean. When researchers frame the oceanic crisis within the ‘Anthropocene,’ they often reproduce this collective politics, or social inequality in discourses on sustainability and seafood consumption (Pgs. 12).

In her conclusion, she says that we all need to pay more attention to seafood politics and try to build closer relationships with fish, fishers, and the ocean as consumers. More specifically, she recommends eating more little fish, such as sardines, anchovies, and oysters. Her argument is that these smaller fish are more readily available, and underappreciated. It remains unclear to me who this message is for. Is the message the same for low and high-income consumers? Are sardines, anchovies, and oysters affordable seafood options for most consumers? Are consumers at Long John Silver’s responsible for shifting cultural tastes in the same way that consumers at Nobu are? Notwithstanding, this book is important for what it does do: bring together a queer and feminist perspective on seafood politics with fisheries research in the social sciences. Perhaps the relationship between social class and seafood sustainability is something that Elspeth Probyn will explore in more depth in another book, one that I will be sure to read.




Barclay, K. (2008). A Japanese joint venture in the Pacific: Foreign bodies in tinned Tuna. Routledge.

Bennett, J. (2009). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.

Bestor, T. (2004). Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World. University of California Press.

Deleuze, G. (1992). Ethology: Spinoza and us. Incorporations, 625–633.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum.

Fisher, M. F. K. (1990). The Art of Eating. New York: Hungry Minds.

Helmreich, S. (2009). Alien Ocean: Anthropological voyages in microbial seas. Univ of California Press.

Law, J., & Mol, A. (2008). Globalisation in practice: On the politics of boiling pigswill. Geoforum, 39(1), 133–143.

Majluf, P. (2013). The Very Elusive Win-Win-Win (A Story of Greed, Overfishing, Perceptions, Luck, and Hopefully a Happy Ending). (Paper presented at the Changing Coastlines Symposium). Sydney Australia.

Mansfield, B. (2012). Environmental Health as Biosecurity: “Seafood Choices,” Risk , and the Pregnant Woman as Threshold. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (October), 37–41.

Mol, A. (2008). The logic of care: Health and the problem of patient choice. Routledge.

Neis, B. (2005). “Introduction.” In M. Binkley, S. Gerrard, M. C. Maneschy, & B. Neis (Eds.), Changing tides: gender, fisheries, and globalization (pp. 1–13). Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) Fernwood Pub.

Pálsson, G., & Helgason, A. (1995). Figuring fish and measuring men: the individual transferable quota system in the Icelandic cod fishery. Ocean & Coastal Management, 28(1–3), 117–146.

Sedgwick, E. K. (1993). Tendencies. Duke University Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2014). Strathern beyond the Human: Testimony of a Spore. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(2–3), 221–241.


[1] The study of animal behavior, including humans, from a biological perspective.



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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, fish, gender, seafood ethnography

CFP: Feminist Food Studies: Exploring Intersectionality

Yet another call for abstracts that will no doubt be of great interest to readers of FoodAnthropology:



What might a feminist, intersectional analysis bring to food studies? Intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989; hooks, 1992) pushes food scholars, activists, students, and community members to situate interconnected social identities such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, age, body size, able–‐bodiedness, sexual identity and difference as these overlap through discursive power and social structures to shape food practices (Williams–‐Forson, & Wilkerson, 2011; Brady et. al., 2016; Sachs, & Patel–‐Campillo, 2014; Sachs et. al., 2014; Heldke, 2013; Harper, 2010; Williams–‐Forson, 2006; Inness, 2006; Thompson, 1996). Feminist food studies scholars have begun to take up intersectionality as a way of better understanding the cultural, economic, political, social, spiritual, relational, and emotional aspects of food and eating. Cairns & Johnston (2015) remind us that embedded within intersectional analyses, there are multiple femininities constructed through gendered food practices. Julier (2005) suggests that a feminist food studies needs to theorize women’s experiences of the interconnections between food consumption and production practices, particularly as the construction of difference and inequality are centrally located in the convergences of the social relations constructed through these practices (pg. 164). Moreover, others have identified the need to consider how women’s experiences of embodiment and identity overlap with their participation and labour in alternative and agri–‐food systems, through paid work and unpaid caring work or food provisioning, and through their engagement with public health nutrition and representations of food in relation to gender, race, class and the body.

Feminist Food Studies: Exploring Intersectionality aims to pull together current scholarship that engages with intersectionality, as theoretical approach, epistemology, methodology, or method, in the emergent area of feminist food studies. We seek to address questions such as: how might a feminist, intersectional framework enhance, enliven, and advance food studies? How might feminist intersectionality inform the movement for food justice in ways that bring to light the complexities of doing this work locally, nationally, and internationally? What might feminist, intersectional analyses of food systems and food 2 practices, bring to the mainstream food studies table? How do feminist food studies scholars differ in their pedagogical, methodological, and epistemological approaches from traditional or mainstream food studies around the world? What work has already been accomplished by feminist food scholars globally? What areas have yet to be addressed? In what innovative, creative, and radical directions might feminist food studies lead the scholarship of food, eating, and the body in the future?

Feminist Food Studies: Exploring Intersectionality, will feature papers that highlight current empirical research and feminist theorizing using an intersectional lens in the emergent area of feminist food studies. The Edited Collection will be international in scope and thus, we welcome a range of papers that examine food and intersectionality in all its complexity, broadly represented through the thematic areas of the socio–‐cultural, the material and the embodied or corporeal domains (Allen & Sachs, 2007).

Possible areas for submission include:

  • Intersectionality as a methodological approach or as method in food studies
  • Theorizing intersectionality through social identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, social class, age, sexualities, disabilities
  • Feminist Intersectional pedagogies in food studies
  • Femininities / masculinities
  • Embodiment including fat studies, or critical ‘obesity’ studies
  • Health as an embodied social practice
  • Ecofeminist perspectives and critical animal studies
  • Indigenous food systems and relationships
  • Material feminism
  • Food systems
  • Food security and food sovereignty
  • Women and agriculture / farming

Deadline for proposals: February 28, 2017

Deadline for full papers: June 30, 2017

Anticipated Publication: 2018

Please submit abstracts to:


Allen, P. & Sachs, C. (2007). Women and Food Chains: The Gendered Politics of Food, International Journal of Sociology and Food, 15(1), pp. 1–‐23.–‐1/allen/index.html

Brady, J., Gingras, J., & Power E. (2016). Still Hungry: A Feminist Perspective on Food, Foodwork, the Body and Food Studies, in Mustafa Koc, Jennifer Sumner, & Anthony Winson, (eds.), Critical Perspectives in Food Studies, (2nd ed.), pp. 185–‐204, Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Cairns, K. & Johnston, J. (2015). Food and Femininity, London, New Delhi, New York & Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, The University of Chicago Legal Forum, (140), pp. 139–‐167.

Julier, A. P. (2005). Hiding Gender and Race in the Discourse of Commercial Food Consumption, in Arlene Voski Avakian & Barbara Haber (Eds.), From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food, pp. 163–‐184. Amherst & Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.

Harper, B. (2010). Social Justice Beliefs and Addiction to Uncompassionate Consumption, in A. Breeze Harper (ed.), Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society, pp. 20–‐41, Brooklyn, New York: Lantern Books.

Heldke, L. (2013). Let’s Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism, in Carole Counihan and Penny Van Estrrik (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader, (3rd ed.), pp. 394–‐408, New York & London: Routledge.

hooks, B. (1992). Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance, Black Looks, Race and Representation, Boston: South End Press.

Inness, S. A. (2006). Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender & Class at the Dinner Table, New York: Palgrave Macmillon.

Sachs, C., & Patel–‐Campillo, A. (2014). Feminist Food Justice: Crafting a New Vision, Feminist Studies, 40(2), pp. 396–‐410.

Sachs, C., Allen, P., Terman, R. A., Hayden, J. & Hatcher, C. (2014). Front and Back of the House: Social–‐spatial food inequalities in food work, Agriculture & Human Values, 31(1), pp. 3–‐ 17.

Thompson, B. (1996). A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: American Women Speak Out on Eating Problems, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Williams–‐Forson, P. & Wilkerson, A. (2011). Intersectionality and Food Studies, Food, Culture & Society, 14(1), pp. 7–‐28.

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, feminism, Food Studies, gender

Review and Interview: Nurturing Masculinities

Nurturing Masculinities

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

Katharina Graf (SOAS, University of London)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KG:         Do men strategize when they buy food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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Filed under anthropology, food activism, gender, Middle East

Bread, Milk, and the Greek Parliamentary Record

by Leo Vournelis

Liana Kaneli, image provided by the author.

Two weeks ago the Greek government announced a new round of austerity measures targeted primarily at civil servants, wage earners, retirees, and low middle class families. The picture above shows Liana Kaneli, a member of the Greek Communist Party, addressing her fellow MPs in the Greek Parliament during that same week (you can see a video of her speaking here). As she approached the podium carrying a plastic grocery bag, she requested that her entire speech be recorded to the Parliamentary Record (Praktika) “because she is a woman”. It is not clear if the MP meant that she is bringing in groceries to the Parliament floor because she is a woman, or because she is a woman she might otherwise be ignored if her speech is not recorded to the Parliamentary Record. Then she proceeded to remove a loaf of bread and a plastic bottle of milk and invited the audience’s attention with an expression commonly used in farmers markets by sellers trying to catch the attention of the shopping housewives. The MP wanted to make the point that these items are becoming increasingly unaffordable for large sections of the populace, however she was interrupted by the Chair of the Parliament and was told that food on the podium did not constitute imagery that was appropriate for the Greek Parliament, “otherwise I could bring some chickens in here and someone else can bring some sheep” said the Chairman. The MP sarcastically apologized for offending the dignity of the Parliament and for ruining the “décor” and proceeded to submit the food items to the Parliamentary Record.  Amidst protests from other MPs that physical objects may not be submitted to the Parliamentary Record, Kaneli removed the offending food items from the podium and after concluding her speech she walked away. The next day the Chairman of the Parliament issued a statement condemning the event as “political theater”, while the Greek Communist Party issued its own announcement supporting its member’s actions and, citing Bertolt Brecht, noted that “those who are in high places have always found talking about food to be demeaning”.

Perhaps Greek gender politics played into the fact that it was a female MP who chose to criticize government policy in the language of daily food shopping, yet heated discussions like these concerning the affordability of every day staples help us understand the serious economic hardships that many Greeks are facing. It is not surprising, therefore, that references to food are common in Greek public discourse about the crisis. When it first became clear, 2 years ago, that the Greek State was essentially broke, food was widely used as a metaphor in popular calls demanding accountability.  The question of “Who ate the money” was raised by people and politicians alike.  While eating money refers to irresponsible and wasteful spending of money, popular demands to know who it was that “ate the money” were essentially calls for justice. Politicians and state functionaries were called out for their mismanagement of the resources of the Greek economy. David Sutton in “Eating in Times of Financial Crisis” discusses the use of food as a theme in making sense of the debt crisis. He points out that although the economic crisis was not framed always in terms of food issues, food as a theme is becoming increasingly central in making sense and navigating the new economic realities in Greece.

The incident in the Greek Parliament last week shows the ability of food to embody value (a practical way to assess the rising cost of living) as well as values. The heated exchange between the MP and the Chairman was brought about by the polluting presence of food in a space in which political philosophies are debated and bills are voted on. During this exchange which lasted less than 3 minutes we witness, among other things, the power of food to embody meaning, provoke conflict, offend sensitivities, and express ideas about class and gender. Ultimately, this power is derived from the ability of food to bring together diverse cultural domains of experience and practice.

The associative powers of food can also help us understand another prominent use of food in the unfolding of the debt crisis. This past year thousands of Greeks have taken to the streets, following the example of the Indignados movement in Spain. They have used food as a tool, a physical object to be expelled en masse in public marches, protestations, and strikes usually against the police and politicians. The food most commonly used as a projectile is a traditional variety of Greek strained yogurt made from sheep’s milk that bears strong associations with rural lifestyles and values. When the Chairman wanted to mock MP Kaneli, he made reference to rurality through the not very subtle suggestion of bringing livestock into parliament. It is interesting to consider why references to rurality make up a key feature of popular protests as well. In my next post I’ll suggest some of the ways that exploring yoghurt as political protest provides provocative angles on some of the sources of discontent in contemporary Greece.



Filed under anthropology, culture, Debt crisis, economics, food policy, food security, gender, Greece, SAFN Member Research

Food Networks: Gender and Foodways

Call for Papers! Conference! (From the conference web site, which you can find here.)

“Food Networks: Gender and Foodways”

An Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of Notre Dame

Organized by the Gender Studies Program

January 26-29, 2012

This conference seeks to address gender issues as they relate to food.  We welcome papers from all disciplines – Anthropology, Literary Studies, Film Studies, Sociology, Theology, Cultural Studies, Visual Culture, Gender Studies, Food Studies, American Studies, Ethnic Studies, History, Agriculture, and more.  We seek a wide range of papers dealing with food in all its variety and complexity, as it relates to gender, sex, and sexuality.  Possible topics and areas of interest include:

Gender and food figures: the gourmet chef, the housewife, the family, the writer, the food critic, Julia Child, Martha Stewart, Michael Pollan, Mark Bitman, Rachel Ray, Iron Chefs, Top Chefs, etc.

Gendered food spaces:  The kitchen, the grocery store, the dining room, the farmers market, the café, the restaurant, etc.

Gendered representations of food: in literature, in film, in television, in magazines, in ephemera, in metaphor, etc.

Food and Gender/Sex Identities:  queer food, feminist food, masculine food, food and family, food and singles culture, race and gender, national and transnational cultures, ethnic cultures

Gender and: eating, diets, starvation, foodies, localism, sustainability, cookbooks, fat, sexuality, gastro-porn, disgust, shame, pleasure, sensuality, food communities, slow food, raw food, cleansing, Weight Watchers, Whole Foods, fast food, calorie counting, lunch boxes, bento boxes, vegetarianism, veganism, hunger, nostalgia

Proposals should consist of a 200 word abstract of the paper, a list of three keywords, and a brief biographical statement listing your title, the name of your college or university, and your areas of research and writing.  Please indicate technology needs, such as powerpoint or DVD. Proposals are due by 30 June, 2011

Preconstituted panels will not be considered.

Submit proposal electronically here.

Questions can be addressed via email to: with subject header “Food Networks”

posted by David Beriss

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Filed under Announcements, anthropology, Call for Papers, gender