Black Women’s Food Work is from the Future

Ashanté M. Reese, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Spelman College

 When I think about being a Black girl from the future, my mind goes to the contradiction that many Black girls and women encounter which is that we are often simultaneously hyper visible and invisible at the same time – Renina Jarmon

Black women are not seen as authorities in the kitchen or elsewhere in matters of food—culturally, politically, and socially—and when she dares to be, she may be described in reviews as “angry” or “not angry enough.” She is rendered absent, and made invisible by the continued salience of intersecting vectors of disempowerment: race/gender/class/sexuality. Or in the absolute worst cases she is confronted—face-to-face and in social media outlets—with a “how dare she” attitude because she does not, will not, cannot conform to a prescribed role of Black women who work with, as banal as it sounds, food (Nettles-Barcélon et al. 2015:35)

If there is to be a future where the food system is safe, equitable, and healthy how will we get there?

On March 30th, the newly launched Food Studies Program at Spelman College hosted a symposium on Food Justice featuring three Black women activists and scholars who work to improve the food system and health of communities in various parts of the country.  The symposium was clear in its purpose: to not only interrogate the successes and limits of food justice but to also highlight the work of Black women that is often invisible, ignored, or co-opted.

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Monica White, PhD in the field in Mississippi

I left the symposium feeling energized and challenged by the panelists and the audience. I also left with questions. How do we contend with the hypervisibility of Black women’s association with obesity on the one hand and the lack of visibility concerning Black women’s activist, artistic, and academic expertise in food production, preparation and writing on the other?  Nettles-Barcélon et al. provide a framework—Black women’s food work as critical space—for understanding how the future of the food system is deeply intertwined with the food work produced by Black women and the barriers that attempt to curtail that work. They argue that because Black women are positioned as both speakers for “the other” while also being Othered, their food work is not simply necessary but critical in the dismantling of an oppressive food system that consistently denies equal access to Othered bodies from which corporations profit.

From the scholarly world to on-the-ground organizing, Black women ask difficult questions, put their reputations and bodies on the line, and demonstrate a Black feminist food future attuned to a far-off world in which we are all free.  This future is currently being written in the scholarly works about Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Farms Cooperative (White 2017), increasing visibility of Black women vegans outside the normative gaze (Harper 2010), and analyses of Black women’s agency, power and entrepreneurship in the context of stereotypes-turned-metaphors (Williams-Forson 2006). It is engaged with dismantling an unjust and unequal industrialized food system at the nexus of racial justice under the Movement for Black Lives. It is on the front lines on the Fight for $15. It is being built everyday on urban farms, in community gardens, in nonprofit organizations, and in classrooms where Black women’s labor contribute to everyday resistances.  It is present in intergenerational storytelling and cross-institutional relationship building. This work is generated from a simultaneous engagement with the past, the present, and a future where the dialectical hypervisibility and invisibility that Black women experience no longer exists.

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Community Member Supporting Urban Ag in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ashanté Reese)

In the sixth episode of season two of the WGN series Underground, Harriet Tubman—played by Aisha Hinds—delivers a passionate, hour-long speech to abolitionists who are at odds about how to move forward on the question of eradicating slavery. After detailing parts of her own journey to freedom and commitment to others’ freedom, she declared:

There ain’t no negotiations on freedom. I spent all my time knowing things instead of believing them. And that’s the first step to being free. When you can see past all the things that you know and believe something better.

Black women’s food work is often informed by an embodied knowing that it is difficult—if not impossible—to negotiate from the duality of hypervisibility and invisibility. Instead, this food work is rooted in a belief in something beyond. It is not simply a substance of things hoped for or the evidence of things not seen (see Hebrews 11:1 for biblical reference). No. Black women’s food work is the critical space from which the world we want to see is being built.  Black women’s food work is, indeed, from the future.

 

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AAA CFP Last Call // Sedimentation: Extraction, Soil and Memory

Sedimentation: Extraction, Soil and Memory

(seeking papers re: Agriculture, Food Commodities)

Co-organizers:

Serena Stein, PhD Candidate, Princeton University

Andrew Ofstehage, PhD Candidate, UNC-Chapel Hill

 

Land is often mobilized discursively as wastelands (Voyles, 2015) or zones of hidden potential and promise for capitalist development (Yeh, 2013) to justify frontier expansions worldwide. Land, landscapes and soil are also increasingly recognized as powerful actors in agrarian narratives and encounters, as agentive materials that help create their own history and futures (Kawa, 2016). This panel centers upon the encounters, memories, and afterlives of soil, putting forward the analytic of ‘sedimentation’ to recognize, reconsider and unsettle the dust upon which we tread in so-called development contexts of extraction. In particular, sedimentation, as a social analytic, aims to rethink processes and potential shapes of accumulation in extractive spaces, in terms of strata (tempo, order, verticality); accretion (formation, connection, growth); and provenience (origins, indigeneity, and future archaeologies) of resources taken from the earth, as well as the (im)material objects, spaces, imaginaries, and discursive remains.  Presenters will draw on multi-species and actor/non-actor encounters (Haraway, 2007; Ingold, 2000; Raffles, 2002; Tsing, 2015), materiality of things (Stoler, 2016; Bennett 2010), and memories and afterlives of land and soil encounters (Gordillo, 2014) to examine the placeness, temporalities and relationalities of encounters in and through land, with attention to disparate histories, political projects, and livelihoods in the Global South that help to constitute the material and narrative lives of soil.

Submit paper abstracts to Serena (serenas@princeton.edu) or Andrew (aofste@live.unc.edu) no later than 12 pm (ES) Thursday, April 13th.

 

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The School Lunch Debate: Ethnographic Perspectives

AAA Panel CFP
Unknown-2The School Lunch Debate:
Ethnographic Perspectives on Education, Nutrition, and Culture


From parents to politicians, health care providers to business executives, anthropologists and many others have various reasons to ask: How does school food shape children- their health, education, and general well-being? The politics behind school food programs is rife with tensions between neoliberal approaches to government that seek to diminish public assistance programs and those who believe that all humans have a right to food and schools should be one of the first places of assistance. Beyond the physical body, school food also has the potential to play a critical role in education–shaping children’s engagement with the natural world, different cultures, and the school curriculum.

This panel seeks to explore the different ways in which anthropologists are looking at how school food programs throughout the globe shape children’s lives. It also examines the ways in which government policies about nutrition and education play out in the cafeteria. From the children’s behavior in the lunchroom and classroom to the preparation of food in school kitchens and what kids bring to school in lunch bags, this panel will present new perspectives on food consumed at schools.

We invite papers that use ethnographic methods to shed new light on current debates about school food. Whether focused on the nutritional or educational outcomes or on the sourcing and sustainability of school food, we encourage participants that focus on understudied areas of school food—for example, taste education, cultural diversity, food in school curriculum, the intersection of biopolitics and nutrition, policy outcomes, allergies, eating disorders, the role of agro-food industries in feeding children, and the work of chefs. 

We are looking for 2-3 more papers for this session. Please send your abstract to Rachel Black by Wednesday, April 12, if you are interested in participating in this panel.

 

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, April 11th Edition

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.

Firstly, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee… how about one made in South Africa and newly available in the U.S., with insane amounts of caffeine? The idea that this is a South African product is itself interesting, as the robusta beans were grown in Rwanda, Brazil, Ecuador and Guatamala. Still, I am excited to see robusta beans being publicly headlined (usually they’re an embarrassing footnote), because they are much easier to grow– they can be grown in a broader set of climates, and are much hardier than Arabica beans. In fact, I have ten robusta trees, which is enough for … not very much coffee.

When we go foraging for mussels, it is just a matter of remembering to show up at low tide (and making sure there’s no red tide). This beautiful in-depth NYTimes story of mussel gathering in Quebec evokes a totally different image of gathering mussels:

The mussels are a welcome winter treat these days, but at one time they were a lifesaving source of food during the lean frozen months. Raw meat, with its abundance of vitamins, has allowed the Inuit to live for centuries on a diet almost devoid of fruits and vegetables. The only preparation for the mussels is pulling off their beards, the strings of protein that mussels make to cling to rocks, and then rinsing them.

Perhaps this story won’t come as a surprise, but the BMJ just published a commentary in which Pat Thacker describes covert funding from Coca-Cola to fund an obesity conference for journalists:

Some months after the event, Hill emailed a Coca-Cola executive and described the conference as a “home run,” adding, “The journalists told us this was an amazing event and they generated a lot of stories.” Hill continued, “You basically supported the meeting this year . . . I think we can get many more sponsors involved next year.”

If Girl Scout Cookies are genuine Girl Scout Cookies, but they are being sold on Amazon, are they still authentic? Such is the question we must ask ourselves before buying any Thin Mints on Amazon:

It’s not about the sales. It’s costing the girls the opportunity to grow, which is what the program’s actually about.

Check out the recently released Global Food Policy Report from the International Food Policy Research Institute.

If you missed it: The Hippies have won. Wait. Really? Sorry, no, only in the world of food, and even then only a little bit. Still, this article made for interesting reading:

“I think people are now more likely to turn to açai bowls than a bacon cheeseburger for their hangover,” he said. “For a lot of people who gravitate toward this lifestyle, it’s not hypocritical.”

Another reason to feel like we’re living in an alternate universe: Here’s a (super interesting) dissertation about Space Food!

For a few South African stories: Here’s one about some new tractors that did seemingly little to help emerging farmers.  I’ve shared stories about South African chicken before– first Brazil outcompeting on whole chickens, now Europe dumping legs and thighs. The constraints on the poultry industry are profound.

Lastly, for some denser reading: check out this report on food waste  Their key finding:

As it turns out, our definition illustrates how the quantity of food waste is overstated by most definitions.

 

 

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AAA CFP: Famines and Food Crises in Africa

For the upcoming 2017 AAA meetings in Washington DC. Contact the organizers listed below if you are interested in participating.

Famines and Food Crises in Africa: Causes, Consequences and Remediation: How Anthropologists Are Responding

Anita Spring- U Florida (aspring@ufl.edu) and Sol Katz-U Penn (skatz2001@aol.com) organizers

Famines and food crises in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries bordering the Red Sea are created and complicated by war, political unrest, climate change, continued population growth, and economic factors. A chaotic decline in food resources for at least 20 million people extends east to west from Nigeria to South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, mostly due to political unrest and instability, with these four countries having the greatest severity in Africa and the world according to the UN. Other climate-related famine countries are in the Horn of Africa and include Sudan and Ethiopia, while political unrest affects food production and distribution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (central Africa) and drought conditions obtain in the southern and eastern Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), where prolonged and serious drought strains the economic and social capacity to cope with and develop new solutions in these recurring drought scenarios. Further complicating relief in many of these countries are the reduced expenditures from multilateral agencies of the UN and bilateral assistance from the US, UK, EU, and Japan. By contrast, China has stepped up to provide public- and private-sector funding and development assistance, but the magnitude, methods and results need to be studied to ascertain the impacts. This session examines from an anthropological perspective the causes, consequences, and their efforts for remedial and action plans developed by participating multilateral, bilateral and NGO agencies aimed at mitigating food and agriculture disasters, and for promulgating new solutions both political and technological. A major problem currently facing famine-relief programs is the uncertainty of UN funding, particularly affecting the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP) and related emergency resources due in part to the proposed US under-funding for UN programs. This round table aims to summarize issues and remedies using the data from several perspectives. Questions to be addressed in this session include, but are not limited to the following issues: (1) How are anthropologists conceptualizing, identifying, and mitigating food-system disasters, using their the long-term experiences in studying previous and recurrent calamities? (2) How do current political mishandling of agricultural production and distribution affect outcomes versus what happens if “more enlightened” production and distribution methods, as well as better marketing strategies and financial instruments are introduced? (3) Are any of these likely to mitigate the food crises, and if so how? This round table also considers new and innovative farm-managed methods such as conservation agriculture and carbon sequestration in soils, alternative food sources and better food storage, new financial instruments and index-insurance for farmers, and producer-friendly government policies in terms of production and distribution. The need for greater economic understanding of the food supply is a crucial and missing link between the planning which is often done by Big Ag economics, and the need for “Anthronomics”, that uses the insights and questions of anthropology and the methods of economics to address new solutions for food system problems.

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AAA CFP: Circulations, Logics, and Logistics of Food

We are looking for 1 more paper for the following session. Please send abstracts to Micah M. Trapp, mmtrapp@memphis.edu, by Tuesday Apr. 11th.

Circulations, Logics, and Logistics of Food

In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing describes capitalism as a translation machine: mushrooms transpire and are plucked from the forest, generating a variety of gift and commodity forms. Asking what it is that can possibly live in the ruins of capitalism, Tsing’s meditative account reveals the complex and transformative potential of the mushroom as an invasive, magical spore and multifarious source of meaning and value. The mushroom demands that we follow where it is that our food resources go, but also the generative life along these pathways to understand the emergence of conflicted and conflicting forms of meaning and value. In this session we consider how food circulates. We treat circulation broadly as transformational force and evoke different theoretical understandings of the ways food moves to explore how meanings and value accumulate and dissipate in our food systems.

Following classic studies of political economy, circulation tracks processes from production to consumption. Situated within theories of a moral economy, circulations articulate social relationships and values. As a semiotic endeavor, the circulation of food transpires through imagery and representations. Circulation is also an embodied phenomenon, foods circulate through and nourish the human body, while pesticides invade and seep through the pores of farmworkers. Nested within discursive politics, “healthy foods” circulate bodily ideals and discrimination, while advocates of food access aim to remedy the unequal circulations of food.

Papers will seek to unearth and articulate underlying connections between food logics—the social frameworks we use to explain, motivate, and propel food-based action—and food logistics, the systems, connections, and exchanges required to sustain human nourishment. How does one’s logic of farming, for example, intersect with the logistics of operating a viable business? How do the logistics of subsidized food supply chains refract upon the logics of humanitarianism or social welfare? Distribution, attendant inequalities, and the hope for equality lie at the heart of our inquiries as we consider how food logics and logistics shift from reciprocal links and fluid movements to strangleholds and breaking points.

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AAA CFP: Environmental Worlds

fruit-seller-776158_640Call for Papers
AAA Annual Meeting
11/ 29-12/ 3, 2017
Washington, D.C.
Environmental Worlds: Between Craft and Emergence
Organizers: Mackenzie Cramblit (Duke) and John Moran (Stanford)
Discussant: TBD
How do environments matter, and how do they matter us? This panel proposes to consider engagements with environments as properly world-making practices. Planting and leveling forests, preserving and eradicating species, constructing dams, spraying pesticides, building strip malls, picking mushrooms, dumping toxic waste, cleaning houses: by working in, on, and with environments, human beings also give rise to the atmospheres – or environmental worlds – that in turn work on all of us (Choy and Zee 2015). The topic of this panel is precisely the interplay between the artful, a/im/moral, and frequently destructive labor of environmental craft, and the necessarily excessive (Bataille 1988) quality of environments themselves: the ways that they surprise, transcend, and overwhelm us. Thus, we propose to consider environmental world-making as a creative process (Bergson 1937; Pandian 2015; McLean 2009) of multiple, ambiguous, and always more-than-human (Whatmore 2006) unfoldings.

Environments are constituted but also constituting worlds. It takes effort to design, build, and manage environments, but ultimately we are susceptible to the structures of this making. We experience environments not so much through disembodied abstractions of mastery and control (Haraway 1991; Traweek 1992; cf. Shapin and Schaffer 1985), but through sensorial modalities of surrender, immersion, and absorption (Brennan 2004; Hayward 2010; Schüll 2012; Murphy 2006; Stewart 2011; Solomon 2016). While phenomenology has traditionally favored cognitive modes of perception, this panel seeks to reengage the full sensorium of worldly and embodied experience: not only discrete sensations like taste, touch, and sound (Basso and Feld 1996; Hayward 2012; Serres 2008; Stoller 1989) but also more ethereal and less articulate impressions of vibes, affect, and energy. Building on recent scholarship that stages the intersections of bodies and environments through the motif of multispecies  encounters (Haraway 2008; Kirksey 2014; Nading 2014; Ogden 2011; Paxson 2012; Tsing 2015), this panel seeks to evoke the qualities, sensations, and moods that emerge within such entanglements.

We invite ethnographic papers that engage the “conjectures, trials, and difficult lessons” of crafting and dissolving within “a larger universe beyond the human” through attention to image and sensation, rhythm and tempo, desire, light, color, and other qualities (Pandian 2015). Of course this is not a uniquely celebratory occasion: atmospheres are quite often deadly in their liveliness, and we particularly welcome submissions whose stories dwell in that ambiguity. In using the term environment generously here, we hope to inspire you to offer your own interpretations, and to initiate a broader conversation about the analytic purchase of “environmental” thinking.

Please submit your 250-word abstract to Mackenzie and John by 5 p.m. on April 9, 2017. We will notify those who have been selected by 5 p.m. on April 10.

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