What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, September 12,2016

Here’s the latest in what FoodAnthro has been reading. Have a fascinating article to share? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

If you’ve not been caught up in the twitter storm, you should probably know about Bon Appetit’s recent controversy where a white chef told the world how to eat Pho. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the future.

A very interesting session at the recent World Nutrition Congress in Cape Town discussed the role of the World Bank and IMF in shaping farmer livelihoods, and farm policy around the world. In this theme, this article about the school meal program in Brazil highlighted  the role of Brazilian government in supporting farmers through their food buying program. In South Africa, we learn that chicken imports (often from Brazil) mean that local chicken producers are unable to compete. Ian Scoones writes of this challenge in Zimbabwe, where, due to cheap chicken imports, introducing chickens as a source of livelihood may have limited benefits without structural and household (see Raj Patel’s TED talk) changes:

Cheap frozen chicken from Brazil will not go away as long as free trade regimes and cheap oil allow transnational value chains that can often undercut even the most diligent producers in rural Ghana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe.

While we’re reading about chickens, there was this recent article about how chickens spread around the world.

A reader brought to our attention the massive tomato crop losses that Nigeria is weathering due to coddling moth. Production has dropped by 75 to 90%, based on anecdotal reports of reduced truck shipments of tomatoes to market. Scientists wonder whether use of waste (polluted) water might also have contributed totomato vulnerability.Both NPR and the NYTimes have taken up the story. One little insect can wreak havoc all across the food chain, affecting millions of food producers, processors, marketers, tomato workers, and consumers. The solution is Integrated Pest Management, though there’s also a pesticide that’s been developed to combat the pest

This week we also have two stories related to food and the Syrian refugee crisis. Syrian refugees have started a catering business that supplies a taste of Syria in Hamilton, Ontario:

“We believe so strongly in the women, which might be why someone initially orders from us,” Farrington says, “but it’s such quality food that we feel confident that if we can get people to try it, they’ll be hooked.”

If you don’t live in Hamilton, you can still try a Syrian recipe, available in this article from the NYTimes.

Finally, I learned so much from this article about Dalit food:

This is the food my parents ate and their parents ate, and I, too, sometimes eat. It is an acquired taste, especially one that has been acquired due to centuries of discrimination.

Thank you for reading with us, and be sure to tell us what you are reading and writing!

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

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 6, 2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Thomas Marchione Award

The September 10 deadline is fast approaching! Don’t miss this opportunity for fame and glory (and a prize).

FoodAnthropology

Thomas Marchione Award:

Recognizing Outstanding Student Research

Honoring the seminal academic and humanitarian work of Thomas J. Marchione, this award is given to an MA, MS or Ph.D. student whose active engagement in food security and food sovereignty issues continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food access, and food as a human right. The award can be in recognition of exemplary work completed or in progress, or for proposed work in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.

Ideally, the recipient will be working towards, in Dr. Marchione’s words, “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work. 

Eligibility: Open to Masters and Doctoral level students who will have…

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Shake Shack Burger Fever in Korea

Sangyoub Park
Washburn University

The popular American burger chain Shake Shack just opened its first Korean store on July 22, in the Gangnam District of Seoul, which is known as the Beverly Hills of Seoul. Koreans are hurriedly flocking to the store to taste the famous burger and fries.

The Korea Herald, a local newspaper, describes the grand opening day:

When the store opened on July 22, the online fervor was proven real. Even before the opening of the store at 10 a.m., people were reported to have lined up hours in advance, some having been there all night, to be the first to try the burgers. Around 1,500 people were reported to have lined up for two to three hours on that day (7.24. 2016).

shake shack opening korea

July 25, 2016, Shake Shack (around 9:00 am, people are waiting outside before the opening hour). Photo by Sangyoub Park.

It has been over a month after its opening but the fever has not faded away. It is reported that the Shake Shack store averages 3,000 customers every day. Due to recent sizzling weather in Seoul, the store dispatched a nurse from 11:00am to 6:00pm to prevent heat-related illness while waiting in line. The store is planning to keep a nurse until next month. The store also provides free bottled water and sun-umbrellas (used to block sun in East Asia) to those waiting in line as a cautionary step.

What accounts for this Shake Shack fever?  Why are Koreans obsessed with Shake Shack? First, it is because Shake Shack is the latest novelty from America. Korea has been brimming with American tastes from Burger King to McDonalds’, Pizza Hut, TGIF, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, and Krispy Kreme. Koreans love the taste of novelty. Some of these American foods have lost novelty since they are successfully localized. For example, it has been 28 years since McDonalds’ opened the first store in Seoul. Or Baskin Robbins is no longer especially exotic to Koreans since its first shop opened over three decades ago. More interestingly, one of my students informed me that having Western people in the kitchen appears to create a more authentic sense of Americanness.

shake shack burger and fries

Famous Shake Shack burgers with fries and shake, courtesy of Seung-Whan Lee.

Second, it can be attributed to the social media effect known as “eat and tweet” or “foodstagramming” (in Korea, it is called “meok-stagram,” which is a combination of eat, meok-da, and Instagram). Like the U.S., the food photo sharing phenomenon is prevalent in Korea. Posting food photos online is a way of showing off or bragging about one’s hipness or coolness. Sharing food photos is a way of boosting social status, that is, more “likes” means more popularity. These food photos bring recognition. In particular, trending foods like Shake Shack burger could help creating extra coolness. These photos can be used to elicit an image of life is good. They project an image of the good life.

Third, going to popular eating places like Shake Shack has become entertainment and sort of a leisure activity. It is a cool thing to do. Especially for young people, hanging out at such places has become popular entertainment. They are like “special events,” not for filling their stomach. This explains why waiting in line for a long time is not cumbersome to them. Opportunity cost seems not to apply to these queuers in that the end benefits are supposed to outweigh the cost of standing in long lines.

It is too soon to tell when the fever of Shake Shack will cool. But the excitement of this new taste does not seem to be dissipating  any time soon because the second Shake Shack store is slated to open at another place in which is not far from the first store in November.

For more photos, please visit: http://www.eater.com/2016/7/22/12258334/shake-shack-seoul-south-korea-photos.

For the grand opening of Shake Shack, please visit: http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/07/22/2016072202608.html.

Sangyoub Park is professor of Sociology at Washburn University. He can be contacted at sangyoub.park@washburn.edu

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, August 29 edition

This week many  food scholars  are meeting here in Cape Town for the World Nutrition Congress, so I thought it would be a good moment to highlight the debates happening in South Africa over a proposed sugary beverage tax, as explained in one article in the Daily Maverick. Beyond whether the tax will benefit South Africans, the discourse offers interesting insights into self-control, health, class, and race in relation to our consumption of food.

If you want to stay in South Africa but take a break from pondering these heady policy issues, check out this story of coffee in Umhlali, up the north coast of KwaZulu Natal, and the seemingly universal narrative of coffee culture.

On the subject of sugar, FoodAnthro reader Zofia Boni wrote this wonderful reflection about eating junk food and getting cavities in Warsaw, and trying unsuccesffully to avoid cafeteria food:

Not only did I eat what they ate, I also often unintentionally assumed the role of a child. I picked at the food, I tried to hide the uneaten pieces of meat under the potatoes and I strategically chose the time to return my plate, so that nobody would see which one was actually mine and that I had left some of the meal uneaten for that would be unacceptable (though I would not be sent back to my seat to finish eating, as children were).

Common criticisms of efforts to change food systems revolve around whether a proposed way of eating would work at a larger scale. This article in The Guardian about the limited relevance of veganism to climate change came alongside this article claiming that climate change requires that we all be vegan. Despite arriving from different perspectives, both articles speak meaningfully about eating in light of climate change (and perhaps to lack of universality when it comes to food choices).

Based on experiences in a refugee camp in Rwanda, Emily Lynch’s article about food in a refugee camp in Rwanda offers interesting insights into food as currency, power and lack thereof, and the challenges of trying to provide more dignified solutions in a camp setting:

This article tacks between food rations and cash-for-food programs to illustrate how solution-oriented thinking and programming fails repeatedly to produce less sickness, more autonomy, and a more dignified human experience in exile.

My favourite article on NPR’s The Salt this week was about a restaurant trying to cater to everyone. I love that the owner is breaking down multiple barriers: that children can show up and feel welcomed and at home:

Amir, 12, and his cousin Mehran, 11, live in the neighborhood and are on their fourth visit in three days. They sit on a bench on the patio, enjoying their Spanish hot chocolate, smacking their lips between sips.

“I like the experience,” says Mehran. “And the hot chocolate, the cookies, the books.”

On a related note, on the other side the world, a restaurant chain in LA is trying to bring affordable restaurant food according to neighbourhood income. In their own words:

The restaurant is opening in the middle of a growing effort to bring accessible, healthful food and food education to low-income areas of Los Angeles.

Please do keep sharing your latest reads! hunterjo at gmail.com.

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AFHVS/ASFS Annual Meeting and Conference, June 14-17, 2017

It is time for the annual call for abstracts from the best food studies conference in North America. This year it will be hosted at Occidental College, in sunny southern California. The call for abstracts and details, from the conference sponsors, follows:

Occidental College is pleased to host the Joint 2017 Annual Meetings and Conference of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS).

The conference theme, “Migrating Food Cultures: Engaging Pacific Perspectives on Food and Agriculture,” invites us to reflect on and engage with the entirety of the Pacific region. The conference setting of Los Angeles, California, is a dynamic, diverse, and multiethnic global city that serves as a gateway, destination, and waypoint. Much of the food itself in California is produced in part by migrating workers and immigrants; indeed, the food scene in Los Angeles is the result of migrating food cultures. We use our conference’s location to invite participants to imagine and explore how the agricultural and food worlds throughout the Pacific mesh with environmental, social, cultural, historical, and material resources. We likewise invite participants to examine the roles of people, place, innovation, food production, and consumption, with attention to how these roles reflect and reinforce the social, economic, and cultural food landscapes of the Pacific.

http://oxyfoodconference.org/

Submissions

AFHVS and ASFS support scholarship and public presentation on a wide variety of topics at their conferences. For this year’s conference, in keeping with the theme, we encourage but do not require that papers, panel sessions, roundtables, and workshops speak to the theme. These sessions can be from practitioners, activists, and others working in food systems and culture. Submission areas include but are not limited to:

  • Food systems: local and global, past and present
  • Culture and cultural studies
  • Discipline-specific and interdisciplinary research
  • Art, design, and technology
  • Ethics and philosophy
  • Food access, security, and sovereignty
  •  Migration, immigration, diaspora and transnational community studies
  • Community studies
  • Cultural, agricultural, and culinary preservation and innovation
  • Governance, policy, and rights
  • Pedagogy, food education, and/or experiential education
  • Labor in the food system, production, consumption
  • Energy and agriculture
  • Health: problems, paradigms, and professions

Submission Procedure

Submission system opens: December 15, 2016

Abstracts due: January 31, 2017

All proposals must include:

  1. type of submission (e.g., individual paper, panel, roundtable, lightning talk, exploration gallery, etc.);
  2. title of paper, panel, or event;
  3. submitter’s name, organizational affiliation, and status (e.g., undergraduate, graduate student, postdoc, faculty, independent scholar, community)
  4. submitter’s email address;
  5. names, email addresses, and organizational affiliations of co-authors or co-organizers;
  6. abstract of 250 or fewer words that describes the proposed paper, panel, or event;
  7. indication of any special AV/technology needs;
  8. a list of up to six descriptive keywords/phrases for the program committee to use in organizing sessions and events;
  9. any attachments must include the last name of the submitter (i.e., LANGpanel.doc).

For individual papers: Papers will be grouped with similarly themed topics to the best of the program organizer’s abilities. Please submit a single abstract along with contact information.

For panels: Panels are pre-organized groups of no more than 4 papers, with a chair and discussant (who may be one person). Please include a panel abstract as well as abstracts for each individual paper. Conference organizers will make the utmost effort to preserve panels but reserve the right to move papers with consultation from panel organizer.

For roundtables: Roundtables are less formal discussion forums where participants speak for a short time before engaging with audience members. Please submit a single abstract along with a list of expected participants.

For lightning talks: Lightning talks are a short talk format. Each talk will last a maximum of 5 minutes and will be included in a session with other lightning talks. The goal is to quickly, insightfully, and clearly convey your point while grabbing the audience’s attention.

For workshops: Workshops are experiential or focused sessions where participants pre-register. Please provide an abstract as well as a list of organizers, resource and space needs, and any expected costs. We, unfortunately, do not have kitchen space for participants.

For exploration gallery display and poster proposals: Graduate students, food scholars, NGOs, researchers outside the academy, artists, and other members of the community are welcome to propose works for the 2017 Exploration Gallery. All media are welcome, including installations, print and other visual forms, audio, posters, and other works of art and design. A limited number of screen-based submissions will be accepted.

Notifications of acceptance will be provided by Wednesday, March 15, 2017. Attendees are expected to register by Sunday, April 30, 2017. For inclusion on the final program, at least one author from each submission must be registered as an attendee. Attendees must be members of AFHVS or ASFS at the time of the conference. The conference organizers regret that we are unable to provide travel support for meeting participation. Multiple submissions from an author are allowed, though we reserve the right to limit acceptance of multiple submissions by any one author. Space for workshops is limited and will be determined based on available resources.

http://oxyfoodconference.org/

Please direct questions to foodstudies@oxy.edu

 

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