Category Archives: gender

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 26, 2019

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 or

Let’s start with a cheery report that argues, as we often do here, that whatever you are doing to improve the planet is probably not enough. Sorry. In this article, from The New Republic, Emily Atkin looks into companies (Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce) who send out boxes of damaged produce directly to consumers, as an alternative to the produce being destroyed or left in the field. This seems like a great way to prevent waste in our food system, which is a huge problem. Atkin, drawing on her own research and on analyses from a few food activists, shows that these companies may not actually be helping. This is not a simple story, however, so read it before you drop your subscription to one of these services.

Apparently many citizens of rich countries are worried about getting enough protein. Which seems truly weird, given the amounts of meat people consume, but what do I know? In this article from the Guardian, Bee Wilson writes that “anxiety about protein is one of the things that drives a person to drink a flask of vitamin-padded beige slurry and call it lunch.” Gah! Seriously, however, Wilson’s article explores this situation from a lot of angles, from debates about faddish nutritionism, to the dietary needs of athletes, to people with protein obsessions, and even a strange store called Protein Haus. This could be a really useful article to spark a fad diet discussion in a class!

As something of a corrective to the above fad, the medical journal the Lancet has recently published an article that looks at food systems and healthy diets around the world. They note that “unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.” Which is impressive. By the way, this article is a product of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, whose web site you should visit for a lot more interesting content of this sort.

The debate about cultural appropriation and food has been raging for a long time now, on multiple fronts, at least in the U.S. In this intriguing blog posting, food historian Ken Albala raises some questions about the relationship between ancestry and the right to cook particular foods. If you are keeping a list of relevant public debate pieces on this topic, then this is another one to include. The big question, which is not addressed here, is what the debates about food and cultural appropriation are actually about. Probably not food, really.

But wait, there is more. Writing in Eater, Sara Kay draws on her studies of thousands of Yelp reviews to argue that those who comment on the authenticity of restaurants are often writing in support of white supremacy. She writes that “the word ‘authentic’ in food reviews supports white supremacism, and Yelp reviews prove it.” She is pointing to a wide range of expectations that focus mostly on restaurants associated with immigrants or with specific ethnicities (Mexican, Chinese, other Asian cuisines), that build on stereotypes about food and people and that reinforce a kind of casual racism. She is also pointing to a hierarchy of cuisines (with Euro cuisines at the top) that reflects U.S. social structure. This is an important observation and worth making. However, I wonder if the term “white supremacy” is what we should be using to describe this. I admit to having used it myself to describe the massive system that has kept structural racism in place in the U.S. for centuries. But in a moment in our history when the far right—people who explicitly call for and support white supremacy—is resurgent, perhaps we want to be more careful. It is one thing to call attention to and even denounce structural racism (the hierarchy of cuisines) and those who support it (perhaps these Yelp reviewers), it is quite another to associate those reviewers with the people who marched in Charlottesville. Unless you believe that the only ideological positions possible are “woke anti-racist” and “Nazi,” maybe we should use slightly more nuanced language.

Or perhaps invoking white supremacy requires building a more detailed argument. Writing in Civil Eats, Megan Horst looks into the reasons why farmers of color seem dramatically underrepresented in agriculture today. She explores the history of farming and land access in the U.S., discusses policies supporting different kinds of farming, notes the history of slavery and other forms of exploitation, and puts this into the broader context of the challenges faced by farmers today. Horst considers all of the history and policies together to form a kind of actually-existing white supremacy, which seems distinct from the far-right ideologues in the media of late. Perhaps juxtaposing these two uses of the concept would generate an interesting debate.

Returning, briefly, to those Yelp reviews: the stereotypes that associate the foods of certain non-European groups with both cheapness and a problematic “authenticity” have been the object of a lot of criticism recently. In scholarly work, Krishnendu Ray’s writing has contributed significantly to focusing the debate. Diep Tran’s piece on NPR raised the question of cheapness in 2017. And this has had an impact, I think, on the discourse about food. In the Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman has recently announced that he is dropping the title (“the $20 diner”) because it does a disservice to the restaurants he writes about.

Switching topics: Airport food is generally awful. It helps, when traveling (at least in the U.S.) to have low expectations. I don’t know if Tortas Frontera, a chain of restaurants owned by Rick Bayless, located mostly in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, is any good, but the story of the pork they use is itself quite interesting. Writing for Fooditor, Michael Gebert describes the steps that turn pig into sandwich, most of which occur on a farm owned by Greg Gunthorp, in Indiana. This is not only farm-to-table airport food, but also a very inspiring story of challenging the industrial food system. Maybe the story makes the food taste better too. Let us know if you happen to go through O’Hare and try it.

We toss around theories of race, class, and gender in the social sciences and often forget, I think, that non-academics do not think about these things in the same way. Take, for instance, this very odd yet alluring article on Waffle House “rockstar” short order cooks. The author, Theodore Ross, appears to be an experienced, thoughtful, veteran journalist and, also, a white guy (he says so in the article). The article is a meditation, often laced with pop psychology references, about masculinity, race, and class, all while observing and talking about (and somewhat with) Waffle House short order cooks in Atlanta. Ross really does not understand academic discussions of gender, as this quote demonstrates: “Yet men do exist — or they don’t, and masculinity is “socially constructed,” as is more generally thought these days, which is likely true but has no bearing on the embedded concepts about manliness that sway my perceptions — and these ideas about ourselves exist, if not intellectually then emotionally.” Ross may have some insights into the contradictory nature of work in places like Waffle House. Students could have great fun critiquing this piece, I think. Also, if Mr. Ross should read this: yes, the “embedded concepts about manliness” you refer to are socially constructed and that does in fact matter for your analysis. Socially constructed is not the opposite of real. Trust me on this.

Let’s finish this opinionated digest with a drink. If you have been to Louisiana, you may have been astonished by the garish neon slushy drinks available all over Bourbon Street, as well as the drive-through versions of the same that we have elsewhere in the state. My late lamented colleague, historian Michael Mizell-Nelson, wrote a rather amusing history of these drinks, which may have been invented at the Wilmart (that is not a typo) Liquor Store in Ruston, Louisiana, which is closer to Arkansas then to New Orleans. The complete story of this invention, which Mizell-Nelson (a Louisiana native) referred to as an example of “the less well-documented genius of Louisiana” will amuse and delight you, probably more than the drinks themselves. You can read the first part here and the second one here. I recommend drinking something else, maybe a Sazerac, after you are done.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, anthropology of food, food history, gender, racism

Review: Food, Masculinities and Home

Media of Food, Masculinities, and Home

Michelle Szabo & Shelley Koch eds. Food, Masculinities and Home: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN: 9781474262323.

Neri de Kramer (University of Delaware)

Food, Masculinities and Home is part of a Bloomsbury series on the home as a site where the social identities that structure political life are forged and negotiated. The home is a universal cultural category with relevance across many disciplines and lends itself well for an interdisciplinary approach to its study. Food, Masculinities, and Home features articles by scholars from a range of disciplines including sociology, history, women’s studies, communication, cultural studies, agricultural studies, environmental studies, public health, and mathematics.

While the domestic sphere has long been and continues to be associated with femininity, recent demographic, economic and cultural changes such as a rise in female labor force participation, gay households, single fathers, single men households and the blurring of the line between home and work, have brought more men into domestic spaces. In their introduction, the editors argue that we should investigate these movements for their transformative potential. Do these male domestic food practices challenge gender or other social hierarchies and inequalities? Do they change what it means to be a man? Is the notion of home being reshaped by an increased male presence and participation in the kitchen? And could greater involvement of men in domestic food production have positive consequences for public health and environmental sustainability? These are some key questions that motivate the volume.

The introduction by editors Szabo and Koch is excellent and comprehensive, yet brief. The editors review current scholarship on the intersections of food, gender and culture and make a clear case for why the traditional conceptual division of spheres into female/private-male/public needs to be re-examined. Their introduction ends with an 8-page long treasure trove of a bibliography filled with up-to-date books and articles on food, culture and gender which can be fruitfully mined by students and faculty alike.

The rest of the book consists of two sections of six chapters each. Most of the chapters are based on empirical research, but each section also includes one theoretical chapter. Section one is a collection of descriptions and interpretations of contemporary male food practices in domestic spheres. Section two is about representations of men’s cooking in media sources such as cookbooks, food TV and Hollywood movies. While the editors regret the fact that they were not able to solicit chapters on male domestic food production from African, Latin-American or developing Asian countries, the first section nonetheless offers a broad range of descriptions of domestic cooking by men of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds and ages. The contributors to this section also use a variety of research methods, ranging from the quantitative cluster analysis of a national time-use survey to the use of questionnaires and interviews to a highly original performative autoethnography by Marcos Moldes. This diversity means none of the chapters are alike and keeps the reader interested. With the exception of an analysis of a French cooking show, the chapters in the second section are predominantly about American media sources and masculinities. Yet this section, too, offers a variety of perspectives both empirical and theoretical and two contributors pay special attention to the role of food in construction of gender norms during childhood. While one of those, Fazakis, does mention blogs and YouTube as factors in the development of children’s culinary selves, this section lacks an explicit discussion of the influence of social media on the construction of new gendered food practices and culinary identities.

As a whole then, the book offers the building blocks scholars need to begin constructing new representations of gender, home and food. Editors and authors offer a review of what went before, a wealth of empirical data from many parts of the world, several original theoretical concepts that allow for the conceptualization of new food-based domestic masculinities and a range of research methods that could be emulated by other scholars in this field.

While any work on food and gender must grapple with gender inequality and build on the work of the many feminist writers who have examined the relations between the two, this work is not “preachy” or overly political. This can be a welcome respite for those of us teaching young adults, many of whom have not yet personally experienced the pressure of domestic obligations, do not problematize it and might be resistant to an outspoken feminist critique of men’s attempts at domestic cooking. At the same time, some might consider this lack of feminist boldness and political critique a weakness of the book, which does not explicitly discuss the ramifications of an unequal division of household labor for women, nor offer insights into what women might think about male contributions to the home kitchen.

The contributors to the first section describe a variety of situations in which various types of men have become more involved in the home kitchen. However, most remain only cautiously optimistic, reminding the reader that truly revolutionary transformations in the household division of labor by gender are still lacking. Multiple authors cite data showing that well into the 21st century, women still perform the majority of the household cooking and continue to be expected to do so, that women’s cooking continues to be care work geared towards others which tends to remain unnoticed, invisible and unappreciated. In contrast, when men cook at home, it is more typically their choice to do so and for many men this thus remains an optional task, often more a matter of personal enjoyment and fulfillment than a social obligation. However, the chapters in this first section do begin to nuance these familiar distinctions between male and female cooking and offer insights into the circumstances under which certain groups of men increase their participation in the domestic food sphere, and how this, in turn shapes and changes masculine identities.

To illustrate, one interesting finding that emerges from this section is that for certain groups of men, domestic cooking can be modified so that rather than threaten their masculinity, it can work to maintain or affirm it. This is the case for a group of Japanese men living in Australia who are the subject of a chapter by Hamada. Hamada shows that for these transnational men, opportunities for remunerated work in the public domain are reduced, which means they become relatively more empowered in the environment of the home. By adopting a casual, meat-filled style of Japanese domestic cooking they refer to as “men’s cooking” these men are able to reassert a part of their masculinity that was threatened by their diminished breadwinner role. At the same time, domestic cooking helps these Japanese men move closer to the ideal of Australian masculinity, which includes husbands who help out around the house. The chapter by Williams and Germov about a program providing food preparation skills for older men reaches a similar conclusion. When successful, programs such as these can improve the food choices and health of older men who never learned to cook but now need to due to divorce or the death or incapacitation of female partners. The authors show that the success of these programs depends at least in part on the extent to which men can come to accept cooking as a masculine thing to do. The authors found that when these men cook alongside clearly masculine men, sharing in a sense of male camaraderie, they are more likely to adopt cooking as part of their masculine identity and therefore more likely to cook meals for themselves at home. This is a significant finding that can have positive impact on the dietary health of single men when incorporated into the curriculum of cooking programs of this kind.

For other groups of men, domestic cooking remains a feminine domain and something to stay away from, as is the case for Israeli men working in the female world of school teaching described in the chapter by Gvion and Patkin. The authors wondered whether men working in a female-dominated profession might have different attitudes towards home cooking than men employed in more traditionally male professions, but find that this turns out to not be the case and in the remainder of their chapter the authors describe these men’s interpretations and narratives of home cooking that exempts them, as men, from engaging in it. Similarly, 36% of the 728 Flemish men whose weeklong time-use survey data is the subject of a chapter by sociologists Daniels and Glorieux turn out to be “noncooks”. Despite this, in clustering the everyday cooking behaviors of the remaining men in this sample, the authors discover that depending on age, relationship status, family composition and employment status, some of these men do in fact cook for traditionally “feminine” reasons such as nurturance, commitment and obligation. The important role of food and cooking in modern fatherhood they describe resonates particularly well in the American context, where many families have been caught up in the demands of an intensive parenting style that requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to running a family. As my own dissertation research also revealed, American fathers in middle and upper-middle class strata have discovered foodwork simultaneously as a way to assist their overwhelmed wives, to build the intense connection between parent and child that is central to this parenting style, and also as a tool for instructional interactions with children about topics such as health, science and politics.

Sobal’s theoretical contribution to this section, too, helps the reader conceptualize new cultural possibilities for men’s cooking at home. He uses social representation theory (Moscovini 1988, 2001) to expand Connell’s (1995) concept of multiple masculinities. Whereas Connell’s model recognized only hegemonic and subordinate masculinities, social representation theory allows for more radical ways in which men can “do” gender. This is a useful addition to a volume which seeks to elicit the changing relations of men to the domestic kitchen, because scholars will need theoretical models that allow for this conceptually. One could make the case that this chapter might have been better placed at the start of the book in order to serve as a common frame of reference for the more empirical chapters that follow.

Moldes, a queer, second-generation Uruguayan immigrant raised in Canada offers a deeply personal account of male domestic cooking. In his chapter, he describes how he decided to learn to cook traditional Uruguayan dishes in an attempt to foster a sense of belonging in the female-controlled Latin kitchen of his childhood, to which he always felt an outsider, being both male as well as second-generation. He then walks the reader through these culinary experiments. By this “performative cooking” of challenging traditional Uruguayan dishes, Moldes remakes both the kitchen as well as the recipes as his own and in his chapter documents the process of this growing sense of belonging. His contribution is a visceral account of the way gendered identities are constructed in practice and adds a much-needed queer perspective to the existing literature on food and gender.

In section two, the chapters by Fakazis and Christensen each examine media influences on the construction of gender norms in children. These are important contributions because understanding how the gender norms of the next generation come into existence is essential for our conceptualization of possible future gendered reconfigurations of the domestic kitchen as a more equitable domain. Fakazis takes a critical look at the relatively new foodie discourse marketed to children via resources such as children’s cooking toys, food TV shows and child celebrity chefs, among other things. She notes that these representations of cooking seem more gender-neutral today than in the past, presenting both boys and girls with viable role models for both professional, as well as caring, community-minded home cooks. The question does remain to what extent today’s children will be able to continue to follow those gender-neutral scripts as they grow up and face the structural conditions that shape the lived experience of gender. Christensen’s chapter stands in great contrast by offering a historical analysis of the 19th century American coming of age novels by Alcott and Coolidge to reveal how masculinity was shaped by expectations surrounding the eating of domestic food. She traces how in these books male characters were shaped into the types of restrained, disciplined, hardworking men with healthy appetites that their female readers should seek to marry and care for as future wives and mothers.

The chapters by Leer and by Rodney, Johnston and Chong describe the ultimately still limited range of contemporary male gender norms presented by male celebrity chefs targeting male domestic cooks. Leer analyzes an episode of a French cooking show in which working class men are ridiculed for not knowing how to cook and for failing to help their wives at home. On the show, they receive cooking lessons from France’s most famous celebrity chef in order to turn them into better men. Taking an intersectional approach, Leer describes how this culinary instruction simultaneously constitutes a gender project, by which these traditional men are turned into more modern masculine subjects, as well as a class project, because it is typically more highly educated men in higher socio-economic positions who are comfortable with domestic work. In this way, the show thus not only highlights and affirms inequalities between men and women, but also between different groups of men. While the participants in this episode are explicitly taught to become more domestic, expressing an existing French, upper class new gender norm, it is important to realize that these men are being taught by a celebrity chef and not a housewife, which gives the cooking they learn during this episode the legitimacy feminine domestic foodwork still lacks. In this sense, this chapter is akin to that by Rodney, Johnston and Chong, whose discourse analysis of cookbooks by celebrity chefs yields four archetypical male cook personas, all based on culinary professionals and not on domestic cooks. The conclusion from these chapters is that for men interested in cooking at home, the range of role models are rooted in a traditional division of labor in which male chefs bring professional expertise, and that inspiring role models for working class, domestic, nurturing men are largely lacking from these media discourses.

Parasecoli’s chapter about Hollywood comedies such as Daddy Day Care, in which men are unexpectedly required to perform childcare tasks typically carried out by women reaches a similar conclusion. In this entertaining chapter, he provides a careful, detailed analysis of the familiar scenes that poke fun at the protagonists as they stumble through unfamiliar womanly tasks and explains how these mainstream representations of masculinity thus wind up affirming and perpetuating traditional gender norms rather than providing new role models of domestic men.

In the end, this section too, gives rise to only very cautious optimism about the emergence of possible new domestic masculinities and their meaningful contribution to a more equitable household division of labor by gender or greater equality among different groups of men. The final more theoretical chapter by Cox emphasizes this conclusion and warns the reader to not fall into the trap of taking the many media representations of cooking men at face value. Though the abundance of these representations may make it seem as if gender inequality around food and cooking is a thing of the past, it in fact persists stubbornly in many home kitchens where it has significant ramifications for women’s lives, their professional development and with that their social power and independence. Cox also cautions that even though new masculinities might indeed be emerging in the realm of food and cooking, this does not mean that old masculinities and gender relations are necessarily being replaced or made obsolete. There is still a lot of work that remains to be done.

Connell, Raewyn. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Moscovini, Serge. 1988. “Notes Toward a Description of Social Representations.” European Journal of Social Psychology 18: 211-250.

Moscovini, Serge. 2001. Social Representations: Explorations in Social Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.





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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, cookbooks, cooking, gender

Review: Burger

Media of Burger

Burger (Object Lessons): Carol J. Adams. London: Bloomsbury. 2018. 174 pp. ISBN 9781501329463

James P. Verinis
Anthropology and Sociology
Roger Williams University

Along with personal stereo and veil and egg (part of a Bloomsbury series recently reviewed in the SAFN blog by Leslie Carlin), burger is a lesson in human material culture; the second to last page suggests a subtitle- “the everyday object of burgerness”. As such, it is also a lesson in the symbolic practice of burger-making and burger-eating, burger-buying and burger-selling… the living of our burger-lives. Part commodity chain analysis and part poetry, there is something for most everyone in the object[ive] of this series, which also fits in an average back pocket (the books are as portable as many of the items they are concerned with, which is certainly no coincidence).

Most everyone familiar with the anthropology of food or with critical food studies of some other form is familiar with Carol Adams. I’ve long enjoyed re-deploying her provocative statements about the “sexual politics of meat” in my classrooms. While the conspiracy against women vis-à-vis beef is hard for some to swallow whole, few can deny either the power of her prose or the truth she speaks to powerful foods. burger is, like The Sexual Politics of Meat, a powerful work, if less overtly provocative or confined to the gender of things. At a few slightly awkward points Adams seems to be unsuccessfully reining her rant in, as she drops sharp lines like “cheap animal flesh on a bun” or “flesh-eating democracy” at the end of otherwise objective or bland sections on nutrition or U.S. history. Mostly the book is a superb invitation to contemplate both the pathetic lack of human imagination which drives contemporary burger innovators to simulate eating experiences that consumers assume are simply the results of primal human desires as well as the marvelous potential these same innovators see to further manipulate these cultural predispositions to accomplish such feats as reversing climate change.

Adams begins with the fetishization of cow flesh (as opposed to pig or deer) in the Old Testament and amongst the Romans, for example, before reviewing what is argued to be its most creative and monstrous form and the Americans who have conceived it. Our hands get greasy from eating burgers at county fairs and lunch wagons and car hops. And whether we like it or not we’re stunned, as the animals themselves are stunned and killed, by the systemization of the animal market in flesh. The numbers of cows killed annually today, miles of fencing, acres of annihilated space, and tons of growth hormones and antibiotics that have been required to produce cattle at hyper-industrial scales are altogether mindboggling, as is the spectrum and percentage of environmental damage that can be attributed to it all. The reader weaves through popular literature such as that by Eric Schlosser and more scholarly foundations erected by the likes of William Cronon, mainstream movies and surreal art. It’s kind of a perfect pocket book, and yet Adams also asks questions I’ve never heard anyone ask, such as why no grand narrative of violence associated with killing bovines has ever been deployed to further celebrate the myth of masculinity vis-à-vis hamburger meat.

The answers to this and other questions lie mostly in the histories of Western “technologies of violence”. Second to barbed wire fencing as perhaps the next most embodied form of structural violence in this story is the meat grinder, which “macerates and camouflages”. The resulting “whoppers” and “chubby boys”, as euphemisms for male erections, extend sexual dominance so far that perhaps there really is no need to also hone in on the specific violence perpetrated by mankind upon bovines. Mission accomplished.

We move through semiotics and “interspecies history” in this way to biochemistry and politics and law to other disciplinary techniques used to reveal or conceal the scope and power of meat. One hamburger contains the DNA of more than a thousand cows. Ag-Gag laws and the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” protect animal cruelty from acts of civil disobedience by conflating transparency on factory farms with terrorism.

In this book Adams also seems to create perhaps the definitive history of the non-meat/veggie/in-vitro meat burger. While some of these sections may have less oomph than those previous (certainly reflective of the disinterest most of America has long seemed to have in non-meat patties), together they foreground the incredible point the country seems to be at in terms of the “cognitive dissonance” surrounding burgers. The founder of one promising non-meat burger company, Beyond Meat, suggests we think about meat in terms of composition and not whether it comes from an animal. As he says of his plant-based protein burger, “At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is getting meat to people.” Is this really the precipice of a new frontier in burgers? Yes and no I guess. We’re only human after all.

That’s what we’re working with here in the end- our vast yet limited human potential, in terms of our relationship with animals, what we’re willing to put in our mouths, our capacity to understand the ways we follow capitalism’s lead and distract ourselves into not thinking about it, and what this all has to do with the Anthropocene. Adams lays out the bare bones as well as the myths we tell ourselves about burgers with unsettling and inspirational style. In so doing, she provides the uninitiated student and the casual consumer as well as the expert in critical food studies a handbook for the new burger age.

Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum International, Oxford: Polity Press, 1990.

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, colonists, and the ecology of New England. Hill and Wang, 1983.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

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Thesis Review and Interview: Deorukhe Women’s Agency in the Making of Bodies, Cuisine, and Culture in Maharashtra, India


Photograph: Gauri A. Pitale – Waterlogged rice fields of rural Konkan, Maharashtra

Please note: As Associate Editor, I am soliciting reviews of recent dissertations in the Anthropology of Food. So if you have written a recent thesis or would like to review one, you can contact me directly: Katharina Graf (

Anna He Purnabramha: Deorukhe Women’s Agency in the Making of Bodies, Cuisine, and Culture in Maharashtra, India. Gauri Anilkumar Pitale. Ph.D. Thesis in Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. 2017.

Elizabeth Finnis (University of Guelph, Canada)

Gauri A. Pitale’s doctoral work takes a biocultural approach to understanding potential health implications of dietary changes in the context of liberalization, globalization, and national change in India. Pitale worked with 66 pairs of Deorukhe Brahmin mothers and daughters living in rural and urban Maharashtra; mothers were all born and raised in a pre-liberalization India, with daughters born and raised in the post-liberalization era. Drawing on qualitative and anthropometric data, Pitale looks at intergenerational differences, asking how changing dietary practices are implicated in notions of the self and identity. In doing so, she considers Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCDs), including obesity, hypertension and diabetes, testing a range of hypotheses, and exploring foodscapes in terms of the lived experiences of her participants and issues of purity, perceptions of health, and the body. What particularly stands out in her ethnographic approach is the placing of anthropometric measurements within larger contexts of notions of identity and caste purity. Her anthropometric results and discussions are bracketed by chapters that draw on her qualitative data and her fieldwork reflections, including considerations of changing perceptions of food/cooking and implications for relationships and exchange, and the ways that processes of urbanization can affect food habits and preferences.

There is much to think about in Pitale’s work, including reflections on the expected and unexpected in fieldwork, urbanization and the presence of CNCDs, and changes in food habits that have both dietary and moral implications for participants. Pitale’s dissertation allows readers to reflect on questions that are of importance both in contemporary India and that also address broader issues of identity, belonging, food, and place. These include: How do notions of purity and kinship intersect with cooking rules, not just in terms of food eaten, but also with regards to how the space of a traditional hearth is used, and what it symbolizes? How does convenience get complicated by notions of authenticity and taste? What do kitchen implements and home-grown or home-prepared spices mean in terms of family history and tradition? How do space and place affect the types of food that daughters want to cook, and their relative cooking skills? How are community ties reinforced through shared cooking activities? And, How are anxieties around maintaining caste identities and/or engaging with cosmopolitan identities, intersecting with food?

These questions are considered through different cultural and data lenses. For example, Pitale provides a discussion of cooking and kitchens, including the symbolic, sacred value of the traditional chul (a u-shaped clay stove, coated with a double-layer of plaster made from cow dung and water, and red earth) and its associated rules for use, versus the comparatively rule-free and convenient gas stove. Through her discussion, Pitale demonstrates some of everyday complexities of balancing multiple factors in food preparation and consumption.


Photograph: Gauri A. Pitale – Chul in a rural Deorukhe kitchen

Another example includes considerations of some of the differences when it comes to cooking skills among rural and urban daughters. While young rural women are expected to develop cooking skills and learn how to manage a kitchen at a young age, in part related to the need for an alternative cook when mothers are practicing menstrual seclusion, urban daughters are less likely to have significant skills in the kitchen. When urban daughters do cook, it is more likely non-traditional recipes, or “fun” foods like pizza and cakes. This also connects to the chul, with urban daughters preferring to use gas stoves, and in some cases, being unable to effectively cook on a chul at all.

With her anthropometric data, Pitale also considers how nutritional transitions are implicated in CNCDs; she hypothesises clear differences between her rural and urban participants, with a generational effect. Her findings indicate that, for example, based on weight circumference, almost all mothers (rural and urban) would be considered obese (86.4%), but rural daughters were more likely to be underweight than urban daughters. One of Pitale’s surprising findings was in terms of blood pressure; contrary to expectations, rural mothers had higher blood pressure than urban mothers. This finding questions underlying assumptions that traditional diets and activity levels can help to minimise high blood pressure, while urbanized diets and lifestyles can increase it.

Overall, this is a rich dissertation that uses a range of data collection methods to create a complicated picture of the ways that food intersects with notions of the self, and health. Who should read this dissertation? This work is of interest to anyone who is thinking about how food practices shape and are shaped by everyday rural or urban life, and the implications that this has for how people think about their identities and health, and to those looking for an example of the complexities of economic liberalization, rural-urban differences, and caste in contemporary India. The thesis will also be of interest to researchers thinking about how to approach biocultural research projects, and how to integrate anthropometric and qualitative data within ethnography. As I read the dissertation, a number of questions emerged for me around some of the public elements of Pitale’s work, her findings, and her fieldwork experiences, and my review concludes with an interview addressing some of these questions.

Elizabeth Finnis (EF): Hi, Gauri! I enjoyed reading your doctoral work, and thank you for letting the SAFN blog host this review and an interview with you about your work and research experiences. My first question is something that I often ask people during (or immediately after!) a defense: Who would you hope would read your work, outside of anthropological audiences?

Gauri A. Pitale (GAP): I would love for everyone to read my dissertation because I certainly find it rather riveting a topic! Jokes apart, I think my study would be illuminating for those governmental agencies that are working on addressing problems related to the double-burden of overnutrition and undernutrition that India is facing. As a country, we [Indians] are leading in the numbers of deaths that are connected to CNCDs. The increasing encroachment of multi-national corporations that sell fast foods and ones that may result in the disappearance of small kirana (grocery) shops is concerning. India is in a precarious position. The coming two to three decades will vitally change the food consumption and the food distribution system of the entire country. Yes, certainly we should address the biological causes that make Indians susceptible to CNCDs. But if the government does not increase awareness among people, there is high likelihood that India will face the same challenges that western nations like the United States of America faced starting the 1970s and 1980s. On the one hand, we notice that an increasing number of urban Indians are becoming more and more conscious of how to maintain their health by going to dieticians and/or the gym. On the other hand, large swathes of Indians are turning to Ayurveda and traditional remedies to counter these same problems. It is my hope that this dissertation highlights how variable the answers can be within one country. Other than government agencies, I would also love for my research to be read by the Deorukhe community. I hope they find it useful. I have already given them a copy of my dissertation and am currently waiting to hear back from them.

EF: So, then what do you hope a non-anthropologist will really understand about your research?

GAP: When I explained my dissertation research focus to my Indian friends and family, their responses were rather interesting. Some found the research topic to be rather bland, while others thought that the information I was gathering was so commonplace that they couldn’t comprehend why it needed to be researched at all. Non-Indian friends and family also found the subject pale in comparison to studying the more “exotic” aspects of Indian culture and society. I soon realized that people take food for granted. While Indians have a medicinal system entrenched in food, westerners are usually more focused on the nutritional aspects of food. That said, food and eating has been and will always remain a social as well as an emotional experience. Though the relationship between food consumption and health seems like a straightforward one, my study demonstrates that making any sort of policy decisions to control or even address the rising appearance of Chronic Non-Communicable Disorders (CNCDs) will remain hopelessly abstruse if we disregard the historical, ecological, political, as well as the economic aspects of why people eat the way they do. Certainly, there are a multitude of factors involved but a deep understanding of the issue on both a local and global level is valid and necessary. To actually affect change, we need to start making lay people aware of this simple fact: food and the body are not things that can be studied bereft of their social surroundings.

EF: Your answer makes me think a bit about how the participants in your research thought about blood pressure and mental/emotional stress. You argue that for your participants, particularly the rural ones, high blood pressure is considered related to mental and emotional stress, and is therefore seen as a temporary condition. Are there bigger implications of this understanding of high blood pressure?

GAP: This is one of the aspects of my study that surprised me immensely. I hypothesized that high blood pressure would be more common among urban participants in comparison to rural participants. This is in line with published research doing a comparative analysis between urban and rural populations. Therefore, the results of my data collection coupled with my experiences in the field were atypical and confusing. My rural interlocutors did view high blood pressure to be the result of a temporary condition. These people were also going to rural medical practitioners. I wish I had the time to visit these doctors to ascertain whether they had actually told the interlocutors that this was a temporary condition. The main thing that concerned me was, if hypertension was being viewed as a temporary health issue occurring as a result of stress, then treating it accordingly might result in more health complications in the long run.

More importantly, the implications of this perspective are two-fold. One, if and when a complication does occur in the future when these women are older, the problem would be treated as something to be expected because high blood pressure is seen as a chronic health condition that plagues old people. Two, most studies expect hypertension to be a condition that is commonly noted among urban people; rural people suffering from the same condition might not even be considered to be at risk. This could mean that they will never be tested or treated until a complication arises. A large part of rural India bears the burden of undernutrition. The Deorukhes are comparatively well-off thanks to their caste status. Therefore, we must also acknowledge this occurrence of hypertension among this rural population might not be something that applies to people of all castes in rural India. For all of these reasons, it is highly likely that these conditions will not be noticed anytime soon. This concerns and worries me, especially in connection to their long-term health and their quality of life.


Photograph: Gauri A. Pitale – Roadside fruit seller, Mumbai

EF: I found it interesting to read your brief discussion of the guilt felt by some mothers if they don’t – or can’t – cook for their children. Do you think similar feelings can play out in different kinds of households, both within and outside of India? What makes it different (or not) for your participants?

GAP: What a fantastic question! I am happy you asked me this. The guilt felt by mothers is certainly not unique to Indian culture. There are many cultures in which I assume women experience guilt that corresponds with the diet and health of their family members. I assume because having grown up in India, I experience this guilt and deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I believe the difference lies in how my participants experience this within the social dynamics of Indian society. I am certain women in other cultures also have certain expectations that are thrust upon them. In the case of my interlocutors however, there is the added layer of caste-related food prescriptions. The expectation that Deorukhe Brahmin women in general have to safeguard household purity is a larger part of this guilt. Women have to learn to prepare traditional foods so that they can pass on traditions to daughters and daughters-in-law. And while every culture has a family recipe that can be learned from elders in the family, how integral these recipes are to one’s communal identity changes from one culture to another.

I can give you an example of something that occurred in my own family. I happened to visit the family of a friend who was of a lower caste. They invited me for dinner one evening. I remember that her mom had made some type of shellfish that I had never tried before. I found it to be rather delicious. Upon returning home my grandmother promptly asked me what had been served for dinner. I told her about this unheard-of shellfish and asked my mother why she never cooked this fish at home. My grandmother immediately replied, “We don’t buy that kind of fish. Those are eaten by lower caste people.” Until that moment, I had no idea that my friend belonged to a different caste group at all. But my grandmother deemed it necessary to educate me about the differences in upper and lower caste fish consumption at the age of 10, lest I make any such demands again. These conversations are ubiquitous in rural and urban Indian households. The guilt felt at crossing these boundaries is an additional aspect of the guilt felt by my interlocutors. It may not be unique to India because I am sure this kind of gate-keeping also occurs in other world cultures. The difference may be in the amount of social consequences that result from women’s failure to control the food that enters their households in general and into the bodies of their family members in particular.

EF: I also appreciated the methodological and positionality reflections that you incorporate into your dissertation. For example, you write about how, when collecting data, you were positioned as the ‘expert’, but that when you entered kitchens, you became understood as lacking in experience and basic knowledge. What did this kind of ‘flip’ in perceptions of expertise teach you about doing ethnographic research?

GAP: The first lesson that I learned when I went into the field was that people tell you what they think you want to hear. This is a lesson we all learn as anthropologists, and that’s why we spend so much time getting comfortable with our interlocutors and participating in their lives as we observe them. My fieldwork was incredibly fruitful. Despite that, my appearance as an Indian woman who lived in America and had come back to India to study the Deorukhes put me in an interesting position. In one part of the introduction chapter of my dissertation, I discuss my position and the social capital that I had which resulted in the Deorukhes allowing me into their homes. However, my familiarity, while at times a disadvantage, was also an advantage in this case. I want to be clear that I’m not implying that non-native anthropologists may not have used this strategy to make their interlocutors comfortable. But the fact remains that the conversations about food and food habits that I had with Deorukhe mothers lacked the depth that I found satisfying. I also realized that talking in their living rooms about food often resulted in the whole family, and in some case entire neighborhoods, monitoring the interaction. The resultant conversation was stunted and awkward, something I noticed as I started transcribing my field recordings. I was spending more time asking questions and directing conversations rather than getting answers.

The request to enter their kitchens to watch them cook was put forth for two main reasons. One, not everyone is allowed entry into each other’s household kitchens. The audience had to leave or wait outside in the living room, allowing me and the woman to be alone or at least have fewer people around. This was something I noticed in one household during my first visit. I went into the kitchen to return a cup of coffee to the lady of the house. She told me where to place the dirty cup in the kitchen and promptly started amending some of her answers. Her husband and some men in the village were sitting outside in the living room hearing us talk. In the kitchen, she started complaining about how difficult it is to manage the food habits of her husband. It became obvious that the kitchen was her domain and the one place she felt safe to voice her opinions without being overheard, especially by the men since they rarely ventured into this space. The second reason was to reduce the awkwardness of sitting and talking without having anything to do. Most of my interlocutors were happy to show off their kitchens to me. No matter how small or large, how fancy or simple, these were their spaces, arranged to their liking, and spaces that they controlled. Also, if they kept busy, I assumed our discussions would be more fruitful. The dynamic shift was an unexpected discovery. As soon as I noticed it, I immediately began to ponder on the manner in which their assumption of my inexperience in matters related to running a household relaxed them and made them want to impart knowledge to me.

Present day anthropology has come a long way from what we thought about our interlocutors to how we perceive them today. They are the experts from whom we learn. I went into the field with that point of view. And while I fully intended to carry out semi-structured interviews, I also had a long list of questions prepared so that I could collect data on food acquisition patterns. I still have this data. I have piles of data about how much rice, flour, lentils, masalas, etc. each household buys. I also have data about the money each household spends on food and other food acquisition pattern information. While I meticulously collected this data in the field, I also realized that for me, the deep ethnographic data that started to shine and capture my attention was what I encountered in the kitchens as I watched women cook. These discussions and interactions were far more rewarding and indicative of what they wanted to tell me. I chose to focus on their voices rather than only focus on my initial study objectives. What this taught me is that it is important to go into the field with specific objectives. However, it is equally important to allow our interlocutors to tell us what they deem to be important for us to know. In between these two points is where the actual fun and research lies!

EF: In focusing on the health of women, did you ever get participants wondering why you weren’t also considering the health of men? If yes, in what kinds of ways did you respond to these queries?

GAP: The Deorukhe community did initially assume that my research was about the entire household. I would have very much liked to have focused on entire households because the data gathered would have been richer, especially ethnographically speaking. There were, however, several restrictions. For one, my study was self-funded, which meant I could only spend a certain amount of time in the field. For statistical reasons, I needed to recruit at least 35 families from both rural and urban settings. I also needed to visit each family at least three times to note seasonal changes in their diet as well as their anthropometric measurements. All of this really restricted my ability to spend more time with each family. The more people I needed to meet, the more difficult it was to find time to meet with them. The men of the household, especially rural men, often controlled my access to their wives and daughters in the initial stages of my study. Though I was requesting the women to be a part of my study, in many rural families the men closely monitored the initial conversations. In one household in particular, the women and her daughters never uttered a single word in reply until the husband said, “Alright, go ahead and add us to your list of participants.”

Restricting the study to women and girls was something that I had already discussed with my advisors and committee members. This is because ease of access to my interlocutors and the ability to hold conversations in both public and private was important to me. There is a high amount of gender segregation in India. As a woman, it was easier for me to get access to and speak with young girls and women. Conversations with men were not impossible but these took place more in urban settings rather than rural settings. As for your question about whether participants wondered about why my research did not consider men, they did not. That is because I told them when I was recruiting that I was focusing on women because they were the gastronomic gate-keepers and the ones in charge of managing the household’s food consumption patterns. This made sense to my interlocutors. From their perspective, I was not only measuring their and their daughters’ bodies, but at the same time I was discussing with them the health of their entire family. My interlocutors often told me how they managed to ensure their sons, husbands, or fathers-in-law stayed healthy. This was vital to their discussions about the various challenges that they face when trying to keep their families healthy, a responsibility not to be taken lightly.


Photograph: Gauri A. Pitale – Food court of a mall, Mumbai

EF: Your picture of changing food habits among your participant households is both rich, and, as you indicate yourself, patchy in some ways. What’s next for you, in terms of research?

GAP: This is a wonderful question! I loved every minute of my fieldwork and found interacting with the Deorukhe community in general to be a very rewarding experience. As a doctoral candidate who went into the field for her first long-term fieldwork, I experienced a lot of anxiety when things did not go as planned. The lack of both time and money was on the forefront of my mind. This meant that as much as possible, I collected every piece of information that I could. Along the way, I also collected large swathes of data about factors that I had not even considered to be influential to my research results. This is a large reason for why my research results are rich and at the same time provide a patchy picture. I think that is the strength of ethnographic fieldwork. I struggled to make sense of the enormous amount of information that I gathered during my fieldwork after I returned to America. After much contemplation and several discussions with my advisors and doctoral committee members, it became clear that the only way I could write this dissertation, for me, was by focusing on things that my interlocutors spoke about the most. Those are the things I have written about. I am happy with the way my dissertation has turned out, but it honestly only speaks about 30% of the information that I have gathered during my fieldwork.

Going forward I will publish chapters of my dissertation. Someday soon, I would also like to return to the field with funding so that I can fill in the gaps that currently exist, while also noting the changes that have taken place since 2014. And while I want to continue working with the Deorukhe community, I would also like to add another caste group, preferably people who are meat-eaters. This might allow for a richer and better comparative analysis. In an India that is experiencing large-scale dietary changes, I would like to see how the idea of purity and caste identities continues to play out. That would enable us, as food anthropologists, to really study the communal tension that underlies the study of food and culture in modern day India.

EF: Thank you, Gauri, for your responses, and for your contributions to the SAFN blog!

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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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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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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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