The SCOBY Schism

Several of us here at the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition recently had the pleasure of reviewing submissions for our annual Christine Wilson Award. Winners have been selected and will be recognized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. It is common to say all the submissions were great, but, in fact, they were and we want to call attention to that fact by publishing abstracts of all submissions. We are starting with a paper that reflects on the growing enthusiasm for fermentation in the U.S. and, in this case, the intersection of biology and culture encountered in the world of kombucha brewing. Erika Kelly, who is an undergraduate, wrote a paper that demonstrated a grasp of the relevant literature one might expect from a graduate student and that raised great questions about the home fermentation movement. Her paper’s abstract is below.

 The SCOBY Schism: Rethinking Self and Space with Home-Brewed Kombucha

Erika L. Kelly
The University of Chicago

Over the past ten years fermentation, specifically the making of kombucha, has experienced an upsurge in the U.S., especially among health enthusiasts and food activists. Portrayed as a lifestyle by its practitioners, kombucha-making is supported both as a means of returning to culinary and ecological roots and as a product of modern nutritional science knowledge.


Kombucha Culture Up Close. Photo by Erika Kelly.

Online social media platforms surrounding the practice reveal that kombucha is highly variable due to the biological liveliness of the beverage. Practitioners use these social media sites to collaborate, sharing and receiving experiential knowledge that guides their practice. In my paper, I explore why the upsurge of kombucha-making in contemporary U.S. homes persists, as told through these platforms, as well as how this food practice functions differently than other methods of food production and eating in the U.S. (Katz 2006; Latour 1988; Mintz 1996). I trace the discourse of fermentation communities on various Internet blogs and social forums, as well as in printed texts. I also incorporate images and narrative, reflecting the multifaceted sites in which this practice appears. Through these means, I analyze the upsurge of kombucha-making as a lifestyle, as depicted by practitioners, and how this lifestyle rethinks the self and home in the context of contemporary U.S. food industry (Kaika 2004; Rabinow 1992). Ultimately, I argue that by welcoming bacteria and yeast into their bodies and homes, practitioners emphasize the sociopolitical potential of microorganisms (Paxon 2008; Power 2009; Tsing 2012). Home fermentation and its bacterial basis incite new trans-corporeal, interactive modes of living that call for deeper consideration of the natural world, the past, and the future (Abrahamsson and Bertoni 2014; Alaimo 2010; Tuana 1996).


Abrahamsson, Sebastian, and Filippo Bertoni

2014    Compost Politics: Experimenting with Togetherness in Vermicomposting. Environmental Humanities 4: 125–148.

Alaimo, Stacey

2010    Bodily Natures. In Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Bodily Self Pp. 1–25. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Kaika, Maria

2004    Interrogating the Geographies of the Familiar: Domesticating Nature and Constructing the Autonomy of the Modern Home. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 28(2): 265–86.

Katz, Sandor Ellix

2006    The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved:  Inside America’s Underground Food Movements. White River Junction: Chelsea Publishing.

Latour, Bruno

1988    The Pasteurization of France. Translated by Alan Sheridan and John Law.  Harvard University Press.

Mintz, Sidney W.

1996    Eating American. In Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom Pp. 106–124. Boston: Beacon Press.

Paxon, Heather

2008    Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw-Milk Cheese in the United States. Cultural Anthropology 23(1): 15–47.

Power, Emma R.

2009    Domestic Temporalities: Nature Times in the House-as-Home. Geoforum 40: 1024–1032.

Rabinow, Paul

1992    Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality. In Zone 6: Incorporations. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, eds. Pp. 234–252. Canada: Bradbury Tamblyn and Boorne Ltd., distributed by MIT Press.

Tsing, Anna

2012    Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species. Environmental Humanities 1: 141–154.

Tuana, Nancy

1996    Fleshing Gender, Sexing the Body: Refiguring the Sex/Gender Distinction. The Southern Journal of Philosophy XXXV, Supplement: 53–71.


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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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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, September 26, 2016

Here’s a rundown of some interesting stories we’ve been reading recently! We also like to call it How to Make Reading Articles on the Internet Seem Less Like Procrastination. If you have articles to tell us about, send your links and brief descriptions to or

Before you start reading, would you like to grab some organic gatorade?  It’s good for you!

A socially conscious cerebral cortex may be drawn to organically farmed sugar over inorganically farmed sugar, but a pancreas makes no such distinction.

Ok, so maybe don’t grab the organic gatorade. When it comes to sugar conspiracies, it seems there’s plenty of material to draw from. This article from the NYTimes summarizes a recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine, which uncovered that scientists were paid to shift blame for heart disease from sugar to saturated fat.

While we’re talking about conspiracies and lies, Hampton Creek has been struggling with controversy over its vegan mayo. It purportedly paid its employees to go out and buy mayo from the shelves to make it seem like the product was doing better than it really was.

This story spoke of the challenges of preserving food in a world where people move far from their birthplace:

This sudden mobility exposes us to more of the world, but in less depth, and breaks the chain of linear trans-generational traditions that once held people, food, and place together.

Here is a possible reading for students, and an opportunity to learn about food provisions in scarcity, with you-will-kill-me-beans, food drips, sensory pleasure:

The dominant humanitarian logic that seems to demand tasteless subjects reflects the broader narrative of loss surrounding notions of modern food supply in sub-Saharan Africa (Freidberg 2003). But at Buduburam, Liberians did not simply reject or assimilate to the tastes of aid. Rather, taste was a fundamental component in the humanitarian struggle.

Challenging some of my prejudices about cash crops, in Kenya, these farmers describe the transition from growing sugarcane to growing coffee beans:

“For years, I used to grow sugarcane on my four acres but had nothing to show for it. The crop would do well, then we would take it to Muhoroni factory but the payments would not come.”

 And lastly, here’s a story out of Harare, where the food, local production and poorly paid policemen are intertwined:

Women sadza entrepreneurs like Angelina are often widowed and have no license to trade. City health permits and food registration requirements can run into hundreds of dollars, way beyond the means of these women. The women resort to cooking without the necessary paperwork.

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Daniel Carasso Prize/Premio Daniel Carasso

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

From the web site:

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

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

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

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

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Third International Conference on Food History and Cultures

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

Call for sessions

Third International Conference on Food History and Cultures

1-2 June 2017 – Tours (France)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papers can be presented in English or French.

The deadline for submissions is 15 November 2016.

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

Replies will be sent around 15 December 2016.

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

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

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

Appel à sessions

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

1er-2 juin 2017 – Tours (France)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les communications pourront être présentées en anglais ou en français.

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

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

Les réponses vous parviendront aux alentours du 15 décembre 2016.

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

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

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

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 22, 2016

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

We begin by recognizing the passing of Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder of the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) in New York and one of the leaders in the American food movement of the last few decades. The New York Times obituary is here, more commentary has been gathered here. There was also a moving interview with Chef José Andrés on NPR, which you can find here.

“Food Liberation: Why the Food Movement Is Unstoppable” is the headline on this fascinating manifesto from Jonathan Latham. The headline is hyperbolic, but the article lays out the food movement as a kind of anarcho-environmental movement (a characterization Latham would probably object to, so read the article) that takes a fundamentally different approach to all forms of life. If you are interested in interspecies anthropology or the food movement, you should read this.

Listen to this. Seriously, take some time and listen to this. The Gravy podcast, from the Southern Foodways Alliance, devotes an episode to Repast, an oratorio written by Kevin Young and composed by Nolan Gasser. It recounts the story of Booker Wright, who upset the discourse about race relations in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1966 when, in an NBC documentary called “Mississippi: A Self Portrait,” he told the harsh truth about his experiences as a waiter in a whites-only restaurant. You can see that scene from the documentary here. Why was equal access to restaurants central to the Civil Rights movement? This is a powerful resource for thinking about that, as well as for raising questions about the ongoing struggle for equality and respect for black Americans.

Are mushroom pickers among the last foragers in the industrial American food system? Brian Barth provides some insight into their world—in the Pacific Northwest—in Modern Farmer. For a related perspective, read this piece from Nicky Ouellet at NPR.

The latest issue of Anthropological Forum is devoted to questions of food sovereignty in the anthropology of food. The introduction, by Graeme MacRae, seems to be available for free and, if you are lucky, the other articles should be available through your library’s subscription.

On a related topic, this article from Gilles Lhuilier, on the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers website, argues that there are dangers built into the growing role of environmental NGOs in managing fisheries on behalf of come countries. He seems to be suggesting that in their efforts to combat climate change, they end up harming local fishing communities. In addition, he writes, the NGOs operate outside any kind of democratic control.

Following up on last week’s controversy over Bon Appetit’s effort to teach us all to eat pho, here are two more analyses of the controversy. The first, from Dakota Kim at Paste Monthly, provides a nice overview of some issues around cultural appropriation. The second is from blogger Khanh Ho, who looks at the “cultural optics” of this event.

Pho is not the only food that has been caught in the crossfire of the cultural appropriation/authenticity wars recently. About a week ago, as the dust was settling from the pho feud, Disney posted a video and recipe for “healthy” gumbo on the Facebook page related to their movie, “The Princess and the Frog.” The gumbo lacked a roux and included kale and quinoa, which led, of course, to a firestorm of amusement and outrage from folks in Louisiana and elsewhere. This article from provides links to a lot of what was written. It is worth noting that a drunken comedian made the Disney recipe and found it to be pretty tasty…as long as you don’t mistake it for gumbo. On a more serious note, asking students to think about the different responses to these two controversies could raise a wide range of useful topics for discussion in classes.

A few weeks ago we noted the passing of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose was noted, among other things, for calling attention to the Gullah communities in South Carolina. Now this essay from Nicole Taylor on Civil Eats discusses the work of other activists engaged in recording, teaching, and preserving the ways of Gullah communities on the east coast.

If you are going to blatantly mix and match foods and techniques from nearly everywhere and do so without any pretense of authenticity and maybe with a whiff of daring, you would probably be Lucky Peach. So we end this digest with a truly astonishing collection of ways to “hack” your dried packet of ramen. We confess to having tried one of these (the ramen fried chicken, with meh results). If you share these with your students—who eat a lot of ramen, for sure—they may think it is the most useful thing you have ever taught them.

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Blackness, Food, and State-Sanctioned Violence

Ashanté M. Reese, PhD

I began research on food access in Washington, D.C., knowing that I wanted to learn about a) what people were eating b) where they were shopping, and c) how (if at all) they engaged urban agriculture movements.

During my first interview, a participant made it clear that a) she did not want to talk about any of those things right away, b) she would get to them when she was ready, and c) there were other more pressing things I needed to know so that I could understand her food choices. That first interview sent me back to the drawing board to reconsider how I conceptualized the study of food.  After conducting 40+ interviews with D.C. residents (and another 40 interviews with Baltimore residents for a separate project), I now realize that most of my participants talked about, theorized, and understood their lives at the intersections of multiple forms of state-sanctioned violence. I came to them wanting to discuss food access. They came to me with stories about their lives, the histories of their neighborhoods, gentrification, policing, and other black people they didn’t know but to whom they felt a connectedness. Food, the subject that brought us to the table, provided a framework for discussing some of the precarious elements of navigating spaces in black bodies.


Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

In the most terrifying, in your face moments, we watch Black Death on repeat as video after video captures unarmed black people being shot down in the streets by officers of the state. It is heartbreaking and sometimes terrifying to watch. Yet, as I learned from my research participants, these murders occur within a larger frame of the everydayness of violence they witnessed or experienced. State-sanctioned violence not only shows up in public murders and the collective trauma in their aftermaths but also in the ways in which people experience (and navigate) inequalities on a daily basis that provides context for the food research we conduct. We need only examine the systematic ways Black farmers were denied access to federal funding that could have made a difference in their abilities to compete in the transitions toward agribusiness. Or the ways federal and state governments co-opted the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program while at the same time blacklisting, criminalizing, and surveilling the Panthers themselves.

State-sanctioned violence normalizes death and inequalities through the slow but steady unraveling of individuals’ character in the moments immediately following their public executions, the decline of publically available resources, and through the now colloquial understanding of “food deserts” that points to outcomes (lack of food access, individual choice, etc.) but often obscures processes (systematic racism, increased suburbanization, etc.).  Though it is easy to compartmentalize, these different forms of violence  stem from shared roots that attempt to curtail black mobility in and access to public space.  Some are very public, instantaneous deaths at the hands of police like those of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and as of today, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. These are the spectacular, shocking deaths (although, they are happening often enough to question if they are as shocking as they were). Others are slow, walking, everyday deaths: the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods; the continuous expansion of multinational food corporations that not only control access but also wages of folks who produce food; the cutting (and erasure) of social services.


Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

I see the critical examination of these intersections as part of the work Sidney Mintz envisioned when he challenged food anthropologists to engage with–not run away from–the power structures that shape access, tastes, and perceptions. The worlds in which we live–the worlds in which my predominantly Black research participants, friends, and I live–are circumscribed by power dynamics that shape not only food access but also experiences with other forms of state-sanctioned violence that are sometimes literally a matter of life or death.



Filed under anthropology, food, food activism, food deserts, food politics