Tag Archives: alcohol

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 26, 2019

David Beriss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 10, 2018

David Beriss

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

I have been on a bit of a vacation from the blog, but that does not mean I have not been reading…and the result is an overstuffed collection for you to enjoy. A lot of these items may be of use for class readings, which should come in handy for the new academic year.

Let’s start with an interesting article from Finbarr O’Reilly, in the New York Times, on the production and distribution of vanilla in Madagascar. The article notes that about 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from that country, but the production and sales are subject to both crime and corruption. There are some great photos here too, although at least one recent visitor to the area tells me that the article makes the region look gloomy and scary, which she insists is a misrepresentation. A critique of this representation could be a great class exercise.

Making a non-meat burger that tastes anything like a real burger has been a mostly impossible task. I have long thought that the best vegetarian burgers would sell better if we all just agreed they are more like falafel in puck form and stopped pretending they are hamburgers. And yet, there is the “impossible burger,” a fake burger that “bleeds” like one made of meat and that has a taste and mouthfeel (in my opinion) remarkably like the real thing. Could this be a really sustainable food product destined to help us reduce our meat consumption? Maybe not, according to this article by Clint Rainey, that appeared on Grub Street.

If you want to help your students think about how science works, you might have them read this article, by Joel Achenbach, from the Washington Post, which reports on a study that claims that the “optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none.” It is a both an interesting report on a study and an opportunity to discuss the difference between studies of populations and conclusions about what might be best for individuals, along with ideas about health, risk, quality of life, etc. One useful corrective appeared in this article, by Aaron Carroll, in the New York Times.

Blog editor Amy Trubek recently wrote here about the implications of meal kits for American culinary culture. There have, of course, long been efforts to simplify cooking for Americans, including meal kits that you can buy in the grocery store. In this blog entry on the Historical Cooking Project web site, Katherine Magruder presents the fascinating and bittersweet history of Old El Paso taco kits and their associated products. Back in the 1960s and 70s I think a lot of Anglo Americans probably thought that this was the only way to get tacos outside of a Mexican restaurant.

Echos of slavery and of the Civil War continue to inhabit American life. Perhaps our inability to make sense of the past is rooted in an unwillingness to fully confront the consequences that echo even today. In this article from the Oxford American, John T. Edge explores why a new Southern vodka (Dixie Vodka, originally called Beauregard Dixie Vodka) raised these issues for him. While we are on the subject of the U.S. South, you might also want to read this tribute to John Egerton, also by John T. Edge, from The Bitter Southerner.

If you are thinking about the U.S. South and the Caribbean and the legacy of slavery, then you might as well think about sugar too. In this wide-ranging bit of art and social criticism and history, Ruby Tandoh (on Eater), looks into the material and metaphorical place of sugar across both time and cultures. There is some amazing art in all of this too.

I have lately been obsessed with the possibilities of podcasts and audiobooks. There are a lot of good food podcasts out there, but one of my recent favorites has been the oddly named “Racist Sandwich.” They deal with questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in the world of food. Here are links to three recent episodes that I found interesting and that you can use to start discussions with students. First, in this episode, author Lilian Li talks about growing up in the U.S. and Chinese restaurants. Next, Darnell Ferguson, one of the few black chefs in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses his career and mentoring in the industry. Finally, an exploration of why Asian communities may be making Houston the most interesting food city in America. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.

Part of the allure of Houston these days (which David Chang also promoted in his Ugly Delicious Netflix series) are the innovative ways in which Vietnamese-American chefs are approaching Cajun and Creole dishes. This has resulted in a debate over who makes the best boiled crawfish (which, just FYI, are out of season now, so you can’t have any). In this article from GQ, Brett Martin argues for everything being in its place and peace among crawfish eaters. He may have a point. By the way, over at the New York Times, Pete Wells has recently argued that David Chang “matters” to the food world today, but less for what he says than for how he manages his many restaurants. Wells does not take a stance on crawfish in this article.

Kenny Shopsin, owner of the eccentric restaurant Shopsin’s General Store, died a few weeks ago. A great lamentation was heard across the food world, especially from chefs and others who admired the history and management and food, along with the owner and his interesting writing. Neil Genzlinger wrote a helpful obituary in the New York Times. Perhaps an even better way to understand the significance of Kenny Shopsin would be to read this article by Calvin Trillin, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.

It is always interesting to think about the foods people could eat, but mostly do not. Goat, for instance, is relatively popular around the world, but not so much in the United States. According to Jan Greenberg, from the New Food Economy, this may be changing as both immigrants and farmers work to popularize the meat (goat cheese is already popular in the U.S.). In New England, figuring out how to market an underappreciated crab—the Jonah Crab—is a problem confronted by fishers, according to Dan Nosowitz, writing for Modern Farmer. By the way, the goat article makes the claim that goat is the most popular meat in the world. In this article from the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson disputes that claim.

Debates about whether certain kinds of foods are in fact drugs or if certain drugs are in fact food are, it turns out, pretty old. In fact, a few of Sidney Mintz’s old “proletarian hunger killers” were included in those debates in Europe in the seventeenth century, as historian Ken Albala explains in this article, from EuropeNow. Go get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate (or, if you are in the right state, some marijuana infused versions of these, just to enhance the point) and read the arguments for and against the drug or food nature of these items. The humors may be different, but the core of the argument really seems not to have changed for a few hundred years.

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Book Review: Greek Whisky!

BampilisGreek

Bampilis, Tryfon. 2013. Greek Whisky. The Globalization of a Global Commodity. Oxford: Berghahn.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

As a culinary historian who has made several culinary history trips to Greek venues, I looked forward to learning more about the consumption of alcohol as a dimension of Greek food habits and cuisine. Greek Whisky is not the book to gain such knowledge, because whisky, in contrast to indigenous Greek alcoholic beverages including wines, beers, and ouzo, is consumed mostly in social situations without food, in modernizing, Western-gazing venues that intentionally compare and contrast with traditional food and beverage settings. The goal of this volume is to describe “the social life of whisky” as a commodity, whose importation, marketing, representation in the Greek media, and inter-individual ritualistic consumption, has made whisky drinking (occasionally throwing) a Greek symbol of modernity, masculinity, and symbolic break with the past. Whiskey signifies expensive, imported European spirits, primarily Scotch, which tie the Greeks who spend heavily to imbibe them to the rest of Western Europe and symbolic “modernity”. To craft his argument, the author adopts a historical and “performances of consumption in relation to style”-based ethnographic analysis, which “follows the whisky” along historical food chains and media representation and into the drinking halls where he did his research.

Two detailed ethnographic components focus in on the primary site for whisky introduction, which is Athens, and compare whisky consumption styles there with drinking venues on the Island of Skyros in the North Aegean, which is his mother’s original home. This secondary site, which has been transformed from a farming, shepherding, laboring, and merchant economy to a tourist venue, offers in depth ethnographic analysis of changing gender, kinship, age-related, and occupational categories. All of which, Bampilis argues, are expressed through drinking styles, by which principally males distinguish and separate themselves from the formerly matriarchal culture, where females controlled property and household purse strings. He draws a convincing dichotomy between traditional domestic (meza) and non-traditional outside (ekso) values, respectively expressed through different styles of social drinking and spirits-sharing situations through which individuals literally perform and construct their modern as opposed to traditional identities. In Athens, discriminating drinkers further differentiate themselves through their very expensive tastes in single-malt scotches, and occasionally, “‘out of control’ mentality materialized in scotch” which the author finds representative of “excessive unproductive mentality” (p.149), with devastating economic consequences for the individuals and those who rely on their financial contributions. The ethnography spans the decades after World War II, up through and including the current economic downturn and nation-wide financial disaster.

Food anthropology or other food-studies courses might adopt individual chapters for different pedagogical ends. The preface and introduction provide a detailed synopsis of all major symbolic, exchange, and reflexive anthropological and sociological literature on globalization. This exhaustive social-science and philosophical theoretical framework connecting social, economic, and cultural globalization and localization, might be overwhelming for undergraduates, but provide a comprehensive “crib” for Ph.D. or possibly masters students. Chapters 2 and 3, which offer a detailed evidence base tying together the importation and marketing history with the distinctive, ritualized, consumption patterns surrounding imported spirits, might be useful in communications courses, especially as the reference points in these comprehensive business, advertising, and cinema media histories of Scotch, come copiously and effectively illustrated. The comparative ethnographies in chapters 4 and especially 5, the Skyrian case study, are valuable in their own right. A productive class discussion point throughout might be whether the author needed to ground so many paragraphs in post-modern jargon to make his overall points about localization of global commodities, and what continual reference to symbolic performance of social styles rather than identities, adds to the interpretation.

The volume has been produced without careful copy-editing or a glossary of Greek terms. These are serious omissions that the series editors should take care to correct in subsequent publications. 

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Filed under anthropology, culture, foodways, Greece, whiskey, whisky