Tag Archives: Alaska

Eating Like an Alaskan?: Quarantine Reflections on the Anchorage Museum’s “What Why How We Eat” Exhibition

Abigail Adams
Central Connecticut State University

I’m writing from my dining room table and the CostCo bulk carton of matzoh peeks at me from a kitchen cupboard. I’m reminded of Sailor Boy Pilot Bread. Interbake Foods manufactures these simple, tough, oversized crackers in Richmond, Virginia and sells 98 percent of them in Alaska.

I’ve been eating essentially the same menu since March 12. There is some variety—I am an anthropologist and my larder is stocked with the basics for world-curious cuisine. But I’m not a foodie and I’m happy treating food like a uniform. My mind is on other decisions now. Except for a pharmacy foray for Easter candy and milk, I shopped four times for groceries during the two months of Connecticut’s “Stay Home Stay Safe.” I was focused on teaching online and trying to save my department–and higher education while I’m at it.

And I can’t stop thinking about Alaska.

This time last year, I had just returned from the AFHVS/ASFS conference in Anchorage, which included an evening reception at the Anchorage Museum and tour of its spectacular What Why How We Eat exhibition. That is where I first saw the Pilot Bread now evoked by my own stores of shelf-stable matzoh.

Pilot bread!

The exhibition closed this January but lives on in the The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska (University of Washington Press/ Anchorage Museum, December 13, 2019), written by Julia O’Malley and edited by Julie Decker, Director, Anchorage Museum.

I missed posting in FoodAnthro last summer about the exhibit, but I am seizing this moment now, given the resemblance between my/our COVID-19 subsistence strategies and Alaska’s regular food reality, realities that were curated beautifully in the Anchorage Museum exhibit.

The exhibit was interactive to its very core. We missed the urban harvest classes (I could use those urban harvest classes now!), cooking demonstrations, bike tours to community gardens, recipe swaps and workshops, but I jump-scared when I opened a cabinet in the exhibit’s first room and a Native woman began speaking to me: it was a video but it took me a moment. This space was a working kitchen, with cabinets, fridge, freezer and drawers filled with videos, photos.

That first area highlighted another key exhibit theme, “the changing story of food culture in Alaska — from the subsistence whale hunt in Point Hope to the Halal market in Anchorage…. one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US., thanks, in part, to an influx of refugees…”.

The kitchen utensil drawer paid homage to the Alaskan and traditional skills of self-provisioning. It was really a toolbox, with unique items for processing wild foods, canning, dining on crab, etc. The next room was a journey through the different landscapes, traditional harvests and subsistence work where people live close to the land and the weather to catch and process food: caribou, whale, crab, salmon. 

And the new Alaskans, their foods and experiences, were integrated throughout the exhibit. The exhibit designers made the kitchen “work” for all Alaskan peoples, for example, they stocked the shelves with a variety of culturally-favored carbs. Another room featured Everyone Is Welcome Here, a 2018 project by artists Sergio De La Torre and Chris Treggiari, which “used food as the lens for exploring the immigrant and refugee experience in Alaska.” There was also exhibit space for Alaskan fusion cooking and creativity, resonating with the “multi-cultural” condiments of my quarantine cabinets. During last June’s conference, we met and ate with many of these “new” Alaskans as well, thanks to Liz Snyder, UAA professor, conference organizer, co-director of the Food Research, Enterprise, and Sustainability Hub and one of the exhibit co-developers.

Shelves of culturally-favored carbs, photo credit Emily Yates-Doerr

Beauty informed the exhibit, not a surprise, given curator Francesca DuBrock’s usual métier of fine art. At one point, I stood entranced by a wall that I thought was an art installation: an enormous-format arrangement of seed packs—including fictive seed packs for edible wild plants that Alaskans regularly forage. Behind me, hydroponic wall panels planted with mint and salanova lettuce grew, adding to the smells and aesthetics of the space. The exhibit was also acknowledging the growing numbers of Alaskan farmers. This spring, along with record numbers of US-Americans, one of my sources of delight during the dark coronavirus isolation was sorting through seed packs, planning the vegetable and cutting gardens that now grow around me.

Grocery prices across Alaska Photo credit: Emily Yates-Doerr

After visiting Alaska during the summer weeks when the state’s soaring temperatures and searing forest fires made national news, I took home the example of Alaskans’ food resilience in the face—in the teeth—of climate change.  I posted in FoodAnthro, “We are all facing harsh, stark, extreme environmental change, and Alaskans may be well-positioned to weather the Future that is coming.”

I did NOT foresee this pandemic Future! But the museum presciently tackled Alaska’s fundamental food insecurity, and its exhibits were instructive for our current COVID-19 moment. I wrapped up this blog post listening to a radio essay about skyrocketing food prices in the coronavirus lower 48.  One of the exhibition’s closing walls showcased the price of groceries in different Alaska communities. A gallon of milk in Anchorage costs about $4 while the same gallon would cost closer to $10 on the North Slope. If a natural disaster disabled the Port of Anchorage, Anchorage grocery store food shelves and cold cases would be bare in just five days.

That natural disaster arrived, in the form of the coronavirus. The pandemic plopped Alaska’s food dependence squarely in the middle of its residents’ plates. Faced more than panic-picked-over grocery shelves; food supplies to remote communities stopped when the small-plane business that serves those communities went COVID–bankrupt. One grocer made “the 14-hour boat trip to Costco every week to supply his small remote city with groceries amid the pandemic.” Alaska’s fossil fuel-dependent economy and state budget (already struggling since the 2014 slide in oil prices) crashed, directly due to the pandemic. Last summer, as I celebrated Alaskans’ resilience, flexibility and subsistence skills, I overlooked Alaska’s contribution to the global climate crisis.

But I did not miss it completely: during our conference, our incredible University of Alaska hosts learned that their university budget was to be cut by 40%. Appropriately, the metaphors deployed by the media were food metaphors, as in Governor Dunleavy ordering the university to “trim,” as in “trim budgetary fat,” when in truth he was ordering a butchering.

His solution? Essentially economic stimulus payments. Dunleavy proposed nearly doubling the Alaskan Permanent Fund Dividend to residents, the yearly dividend that Alaskans receive from the state’s formerly enormous oil wealth.

In the end, UAA’s budget cuts were 7% and Alaskans received the same dividend as the $1600 of the previous year. But as I received my pandemic economic stimulus payment this Spring (my own… Pandemic Dividend?) and watched my university’s enrollment and budget tank, I look once again at the matzoh in my cupboard.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, applied anthropology, ASFS, Pandemic

ASFS Deadlines, Awards, Opportunities

There is a slew of deadlines, awards, and opportunities for anyone interested in the activities of the Association for the Study of Food and Society. These include an extended deadline for the best food studies conference in North America, student travel awards, and a search for a new editor of the ASFS flagship journal. See below and apply for whatever works for you. The deadlines are approaching fast for most of these.

ASFS Student Paper Awards

Received from Riki Saltzman, regarding the ASFS student paper awards (follow the link below for contact information):

Student Award Submission Guidelines

http://www.food-culture.org/asfs-student-paper-award/

Deadline for Annual Submission (all required material): February 1. NO Exceptions! Electronic submissions ONLY!

The ASFS invites current undergraduate and graduate to submit a paper for the William Whit (undergraduate) and Alex McIntosh (graduate) prizes, respectively. These awards recognize students’ contributions to the field of food studies. There will be one award each for an undergraduate student paper and a graduate student paper. ASFS welcomes submissions on a wide range of issues relating to food, society and culture, and from the diverse disciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields that ASFS encompasses. The author of each award-winning paper will receive:

* $500

* payment of annual membership and conference fees to be applied to the following year if student is not attending in the current year

* a free banquet ticket for the coming year’s annual meeting or the following year’s if a ticket has already been purchased or the student is not attending the conference in the current year; and

* the opportunity to present prize-winning papers at an ASFS/AFHVS conference. Winners who wish to present the year they receive their award must have submitted a conference abstract by the conference deadline in that same year.

Please note

* Authors are highly encouraged to simultaneously submit an abstract to the ASFS/AFHVS conference by the conference deadline. Conference organizers cannot add your paper to an already completed program; you MUST submit an abstract by the deadline.

* Prize winning papers may be presented at an ASFS/AFHVS conference within two years of award. Those prize winners who submit a conference abstract in the subsequent two years, should indicate their award status (year and name of award) with the abstract.

* Prize winners may also postpone their registration and banquet ticket use for one year following the award.

Follow the link above for additional information!

ASFS/AFHVS Conference Deadline Extended!

From the conference organizers:

The original late submission deadline for the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences has come and gone — but your opportunity to submit a presentation proposal has not!  The schedule is nearly full, but we still have room.  Don’t miss your chance to learn, network, and explore in the breathtakingly beautiful (and delicious) State of Alaska!

The revised submission deadline is Jan 15.  

And, just like you should hustle to submit your abstract(s), you should also begin to explore your travel plan options NOW.  For our part, we’ll hustle to send out remaining acceptance notifications!  Alaska is a popular place to visit in the summer, and you want to make sure you get a good deal on your plane tickets and accommodations!  Note that Alaska Airlines is an award-winning national/international airline loved by Alaskans, and you might find better prices directly on their booking website:  alaskaair.com.  Alaska Airlines is also partners with several other airlines, so you might be able to earn and spend miles on your trip!  It’s a win-win!

We hope to see you this June, and we look forward to sharing so much of what Alaska has to offer.  Don’t forget to also check out the many food-focused pre-conference activities you have to choose from to make the most out of your stay.

Your conference organizers are here to help — please let us know if you have questions we can answer as you plan your trip to the 2019 Annual ASFS/AFHVS Conferences!

Here is the link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/academics/college-of-arts-and-sciences/programs/ASFS/call-for-papers.cshtml.

And wait, there is more! Travel grants and other awards have upcoming deadlines:

10 Student Travel Grants Available ($500 each) 

Deadline is January 15

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FMMV2XV

ASFS Local & Regional Grants

The deadline for the next cycle of grant funding is Jan. 15th.

http://www.food-culture.org/ASFS%20Grants/

ASFS Awards

The deadline for all awards (except student papers) is Feb. 1st.

3 book awards, article/chapter, pedagogy, graduate student & undergraduate student paper.

http://www.food-culture.org/awards/

Position Announcement:  Food, Culture and Society Editor-in-Chief

The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) seeks a new editor for its journal, Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research.  FCS publishes five issues per year through Taylor and Francis. The five-year term begins July 1, 2019.

Duties include:

Overseeing the manuscript review process from submission to publication, including initial review of submissions, determining eligibility for peer review, overseeing the peer review process, providing guidance to scholars regarding article appropriateness, maintaining high quality academic scholarship, ensuring publication in a timely manner.  The position also requires communication with the FCS Editorial Board and ASFS leadership, preparation of an annual report, and hosting a journal board meeting at the ASFS annual conference. The position requires on average 8-10 hours per week.

Qualifications:

ASFS membership

An established record of scholarship in the field of food studies

Familiarity with (or willingness to learn) Taylor and Francis’s Editorial Manager article management software

A vision for food studies scholarship that aligns with the journal mission statement.

Compensation:

The Editorship comes with an annual stipend. The Editor may also select a Managing Assistant Editor, who also receives a stipend.

Please submit a one-page statement of interest to Amy Bentley at amy.bentley@nyu.edu  by February 15, 2019.  Qualified candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

Please contact current Editor Amy Bentley (amy.bentley@nyu.edu) for any questions regarding the position.

 

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, ASFS, awards

Smokin’ Fish, Smokin’ Culture

by David Beriss

Is it possible to be an authentic Indian in a society overrun with tourists who want to buy bits and pieces of Indian culture? Are those bits and pieces authentic if they are manufactured in Asia? How can people maintain their traditional foodways if the government forbids them from catching enough fish? Can a balance be found between the needs of native fishers and public policies designed to preserve fisheries? Is there room for any kind of distinctive cultural identity in a globalized, touristic, heavily regulated society like that of the contemporary United States? Also, are salmon some sort of deity?

Cory Mann. Photo from Native American Public Communications.

These are the kinds of questions raised by the fascinating film “Smokin’ Fish.” The documentary is the result of a collaboration between Luke Griswold-Tergis and Cory Mann. Having finished an undergraduate degree in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, Griswold-Tergis set off to Alaska, where he met Mann. Mann is just the kind of person who makes it hard to define culture. He is Tlingit and an entrepreneur with a business designing tchotchkes based on native Alaskan designs. His products are manufactured in Asia for resale in Alaska. Yet even as he pursues his global efforts at mass marketing native culture, he is also deeply engaged in exploring his own cultural identity. The collaboration between Griswold-Tergis and Mann has produced “Smokin’ Fish,” a documentary that explores the connections between native culture, global capitalism, colonialist exploitation of indigenous people, the environment, sustainable fishing and entrepreneurialism. Oh, and smoked salmon. And bears.

Smoking Fish. Photo from Native American Public Communications.

Mann seems to be quite a dynamic entrepreneur, pursuing several different business ventures at any given time, most with some sort of tie-in to Tlingit culture. But for a few months each summer, he closes things down in Juneau and heads back to Klukwan, where his extended family lives. There he works with members of his clan to catch and smoke salmon. The fish, both alive and smoked, are central to the film’s story. Mann asserts at various points that Tlingit worship the fish. The smokehouses they build seem central to their foodways. But this is not all about subsistence fishing. Some Tlingit engage in what appears to be commercial fishing. The smoked fish are also used in trade with other native Alaskans.

The film subtly weaves in the kind of ethnographic details that highlight what is distinctive—and unexpected—about contemporary Tlingit life. Mann explains that his mother took him to San Diego as a small child, where they lived what seems like a counter-cultural kind of life, more hippy than Indian. He never knew his father, who was white. At some point an aunt retrieved him and brought him back to Alaska, where he was raised by a large group of female relatives. This makes sense since, as Mann points out, the Tlingit are matrilineal. It is that kind of detail, along with discussions of clans and houses (Mann is a member of the Eagle Thunderbird Clan) and about the ways in which people build and maintain relationships (by helping build and maintain smokehouses, for instance), that remind us that even in a society heavily dominated by Euro-American values, groups like the Tlingit retain at least some aspects of cultural distinctiveness.

At the same time, the Tlingit continue to struggle with their relationship with non-native authorities. They must deal with the limits on fishing imposed by the state of Alaska, including both licenses and limits that would make it impossible for them to catch enough fish to meet their needs (these are very much ongoing debates, if recent news out of Alaska is any indication). The conflict here surpasses any kind of stereotypes about native relationships with the environment vs. rapacious outsiders. The Tlingit are presented as complex people with interests in salmon that are both traditional and commercial, not as natural environmentalists. Mann also must struggle with federal tax authorities, who do not seem to understand the unusual way in which he runs his business. He has to deal with border officials, as he goes to visit and trade with other natives in nearby Canada. I should note that he does all this while displaying a wry sense of humor and while using an astonishing array of vehicles, all of which appear to be in dire need of repair.

Filmed mostly in Alaska, much of the movie is quite breathtaking. Mann does his fishing from a canoe, in areas of stunning natural beauty. There is an amazing number of eagles flying around the region, as well as both brown and grizzly bears competing with the people for the fish. In addition, members of Mann’s extended family provide a wide range of additional voices, commenting on the history of native/nonnative relations, the exploitation of Tlingit lands, and the challenges they face in maintaining any kind of attachment to their heritage.

The movie is currently traveling around the U.S. Details on where it may go next can be found here. The filmmakers have a Facebook page as well. “Smokin’ Fish” would make a very useful addition to a variety of anthropology courses, including any food and culture course, as well as introductory cultural anthropology classes, courses on indigenous cultures or even on globalization. It can be used to start discussions on food, kinship, identity and, of course, culture. I recommend, however, making sure you have some smoked fish on hand when you show it. The audience will be hungry.

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Filed under Alaska, anthropology, culture, economics, film, fish, food security, hunting, indigenous people, media, seafood, sustainability