Tag Archives: Anthropology of Food

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

Pandemic Ruminations

Pamela Runestad
Allegheny College

Now that it’s mid-May and courses have come to an end, I’ve had some time to reflect. I have been able to mourn some of the events that won’t happen – activities I was looking forward to: research in Japan, presentations in Italy, a friend’s wedding in Hawai`i, and presenting at ASFS for the first time.

But my mind has also been occupied by someone who I did get to mourn (I say, as though the process is over), my maternal grandma. Grandma Wanda turned 90 in November. I missed her party because November is the Month of Academic Hell for me: the end of term (with progressively less light), travel for AAA, juggling kids with my husband who attends AAR, and hosting Thanksgiving. I mean, I love hosting Thanksgiving because we usually do nothing but cook and eat and watch TV, and that is what my extended family likes best about holidays. It is the saving sustenance (literal and figurative) that I gulp down as we head into finals. Anyway, I was able to spend a couple days with my grandma over the summer, so I didn’t feel bad doing my typical, crazy November Plan. We had had lunch at her assisted living home in July, and she watched my daughters color. She was disappointed the servers ran out of “pink fluff” before they reached our table (I’m guessing it’s some Jell-O whipped topping concoction). The kids were thrilled when she handed them grape popsicles from her freezer in return for their art – it’s the thing my 6-year-old remembers most.

Backing out of the garage on our way to my in-laws’ on December 22, my mom called to tell me that Grandma had suffered a fall and sustained several broken ribs. We made it to see her on December 27, and she was surprisingly lucid: she called me by name when I walked into her room, even though she wasn’t wearing her glasses or hearing aids (and has 6 granddaughters). My cousin Blake fed her some of her meals, and she talked to him, too. But then she rapidly deteriorated, and was gone the first week of January. The following week, we could do what most families now cannot: we had a visitation, funeral, and burial. We ate and drank together. A lot.

My grandparents went to the same church for decades. My parents were married there, and my brother was baptized there. These occasions are often followed by lunches or receptions: ham or turkey sandwiches, midwestern salads, potato chips. All manner of cake. Coffee and maybe Crystal Light or punch if the kids are lucky. After the services, I sat down with my parents, brother, and uncle, and we were joined by my dad’s college friends. In a lull in the conversation while everyone was eating their cake, I noted, “I think we all sat at this same table when Grandpa died,” and there was some soft laughter as they agreed.

I have had the strange privilege of writing the obituaries for the three of my four grandparents that I knew in life. To me, it is a task that almost no one wants to do, but for which anthropologists are well-suited. What details do you include so that you can paint a meaningful snapshot of someone’s life? How do you weave together the family fabric of those left behind when there are purposeful severings like divorce, or untimely losses of those who should be mourners, but preceded the deceased in death? Kinship is complicated. But participant observation and the creation of narrative served me well, and I found myself describing the place where we all spent time with my grandparents – the kitchen table.

Here are some things I didn’t write there. My maternal grandparents were both good cooks, but Grandpa more so. Grandma was the baker, really. They were both gracious hosts. In their “country house” where they lived for some 40 years, the kitchen faced the gravel road, and Grandpa was an expert at identifying just whose car was bombing down the lane, and whether they were planning to swing into the driveway for coffee or a beer. They had visitors almost daily and they loved it. Grandpa’s place at the head of the table was easy rolling distance to the fridge, and by the time you made your way into the house (the door was never locked) and up the stairs, he’d have a spread laid out for you. If it was coffee hour, there was probably a plate of cookies or some pie or a big bowl of cut melon (if it were summer). If it was beer o’clock, we all knew to go down to the basement and retrieve a couple of beers (or sodas) before coming all the way up. There would probably be crackers and cheese, maybe some sliced roast beef or pork, or maybe some sliced salami. If you stayed longer, you might be lucky and get what my grandparents called “Shipwreck Casserole” and veggies from the garden. Or you might be put to work canning tomatoes or making pickles or picking green beans by the 5-gallon bucket. It was at that kitchen table that I’d sobbed for what seemed like hours, unable to talk, with the passing of my paternal grandmother years before. Grandpa had poured me a glass of milk mixed with Kahlua and slid it across the table like an all-knowing bartender and my grandma Wanda put out a plate of her cookies. But it was also the table where I had countless weekend dinners while my laundry dried, ate my college graduation dinner, and devoured quick meals before my wedding. I don’t know how many holiday meals I ate at that table, or how many dishes I washed. I remember thinking many times over the years that it was strange to have carpet in the kitchen, but even when the 70s pattern wore out, they replaced it with carpet again. I suppose it was warmer on their feet in the winter than the alternatives.

I sometimes wonder who else thinks of that table these days.

Grandma Wanda’s funeral was the first week of classes, so I had to explain to my students why I wasn’t there. One of my courses was a writing and speaking course that aims to teach our first years about genre and audience. I told those students about writing the obituary because… well, I suppose because it was on my mind and I couldn’t help it. But also because it was a good example of having to use your writing skills for tasks that you might not imagine otherwise while taking a writing course. Later in the term, after they had shared some of their writing with me, I read them a reflection piece I’d written about driving around town with Grandma Wanda as a kid. It was the details that they noticed and liked – and I used their comments to remind them to pay attention in structured ways. To use their senses. To take notes. To find good words to describe what they saw, smelled, touched, heard, felt. To plot out their writing plan. To put ideas and descriptions together in ways that other people would want to hear about them. They didn’t disappoint: when we talked about kitchens later in the term (and I stayed mostly silent this time), we heard all about recipes, kitchen tools, the smells of baked goods, and what it felt like to help in the kitchen. And then we talked about my favorite four, something I come back to once a week: race, gender, class, and ethnicity. This time, we talked about how these all play a part in how we gather, prepare, and share (or don’t share) food. We had a special treat at the end of this unit: special guest Michael Twitty lead a discussion about writing, speaking, cooking, and identity.

I basically prepped them to take my course in Ethnographic Methods while at the same time teaching them how to develop their voices as writers, how to choose your voice based on genre and audience, and how and when to cite.

A digression: I’m an anthropologist who specializes in East Asia at an institution that has neither an Anthropology Department nor an Asian Studies Major/Minor. I teach in Global Health, and was hired to teach Ethnographic Methods (among other things). I am cross-trained in medical and nutritional anthropology and much of my research is on HIV in Japan, but I chose to teach Ethnographic Methods as a food course and as an Asian Studies course because it was a way to talk about two things that I love and I wanted the students to love, too – and this way, they fit into our curriculum. I also just find it a really useful way to talk about race, ethnicity, gender, and class – through the 5s’s of food: sociality, safety, (in)security, sovereignty, and sustainability. Because there are other food courses on campus, different methods courses in my department, and various people on campus teaching other aspects of ethnographic methods, I do my best to teach participant observation, field notes to narrative, and how to craft questions.

So where does this leave me (us?) in a pandemic, when we’re faced with the worst versions of humanity that we teach about? We all mourning something, grieving for someone, raging about something. Chronic stress comes from many things:  pushing back against structural violence of state-by-state laws and who is protected and who is not – and the racist, classist assumptions inherent in those policies and how they are or are not enforced; trying to provide food, water, shelter and safety under increasingly difficult economic circumstances;  pushing back against gendered norms of cooking and childcare and professional labor under lockdown; pushing back against conspiracy theories and blatant systemic racism. And there is much, much more. This is just scratching the surface. It is easy to wonder, as a teacher-scholar, what good I’m doing when I see such suffering? Some days I have a hard time thinking and I retreat to my office to clean and organize, because it’s the one thing I can do that will still help me later and doesn’t require much brainpower. I’m also teaching my older daughter to cook and bake. Even with a desk upstairs, I write best in the kitchen. This place, and the things I make and teach here, bring me comfort when a lot is beyond my control. I know I’m privileged to be able to do these things. I hang on tight to them so that I can use my energy to help others find places of comfort, too.

Yesterday, I came across a really old manila file in my home office as I was cleaning. It was marked “Comprehensive Exam Answers” but clearly there were a lot of other papers crammed into it. I dumped it out on the floor to see what I’d hoarded away. Among the papers (and yes, my comps answers) I found a couple of documents that I was given in the first ever graduate course I took. One of them was a set of directions for how to read academic articles. I read it over and realized: I’ve been telling my undergrads to do the same things that I was taught many years ago, without really thinking about where I learned these strategies. (Thank you, Heather Young-Leslie.)

And then my thoughts drifted to a student I had in Ethnographic Methods in fall and Medical Anthropology of East Asia this spring. My goals for the latter were to help students learn about the region, while also learning how anthropologists collect, interpret, and write up their data by reading and discussing 3 book-length ethnographies on health. Students usually co-create the final essay prompt for this course, but this year I just gave it to them: Read Laura Gao’s “The Wuhan That I Know” (a series of illustrations that includes a discussion of dishes from Wuhan). Using the terms we’ve discussed in class, write an essay about how learning about East Asia has made you better able to understand COVID-19.

My student proceeded to write a beautiful essay on food, ethnicity, and discrimination – despite facing many of the challenges we know that the pandemic and subsequent remote teaching and learning poses.

This is not to take credit for his work. He is a brilliant student, and it has been my privilege to work with him. His essay is also one data point, and teaching is only one piece of my fight against All The Unjust Things. But finding these old files and thinking about my student’s work reminded me that food matters, if not always in the ways we predict.

I suppose I have my grandparents (and everyone else who visited them), their kitchen, and the food I experienced there to thank for first teaching me that; my instructors and colleagues for helping me be methodical about my processing; and my students for being so willing to partake in learning as a truly shared endeavor – even during a pandemic.

**

Thank you to David Beriss and SAFN for supporting blog publication of this piece. I was originally slated to give a talk on teaching ethnographic methods as a food course at the Umbra Institute in June. This is rather changed from what I was going to say, but I hope readers find something useful in it. Again, many thanks.

I would like to dedicate this post to my writing group members: Robin Kempf, Amy Nichols-Belo, Debra Thompson, Arielle Selya, and Kirsten Wesselhoeft, with special thanks to Michaela DeSoucey for reading a draft version.

The Wuhan That I Know: https://www.lauragao.com/wuhan

Pamela Runestad is an Assistant Professor of Global Health, Allegheny College.

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SAFN Student Awards, 2020

Students! Have you been doing research or writing on food and nutrition? Would you like fame, recognition, and money for your efforts?

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition has three awards for student research and writing. Details and links to more information are below. Given the turmoil and confusion of the last few months, we have delayed the deadlines for submission for the awards this year to September 18, 2020. You have plenty of time to get your materials together and send them in.

The awards are:

The Thomas Marchione Award

For graduate students engaged in or having recently completed research related to food and human rights, food security, food justice, and related issues. Work in any field of study is eligible, and the winner will receive $750 and a year’s membership in both the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN). Details on how to apply here.

The Christine Wilson Award

This is really two awards, one undergraduate and one graduate. We are seeking applications for the Christine Wilson Graduate Student Award and the Christine Wilson Undergraduate Student Award for outstanding student research papers on food and/or nutrition. The winner of the graduate award and the undergraduate award will receive $300 and be recognized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN. Details on how to apply here.

The Student Research Award

SAFN is pleased to announce a new award for 2020. The new Student Research Award is open to all of our student members pursuing Masters or PhD degrees at accredited colleges or universities. The funding is intended to support the research phase of an original project focused on food and nutritional anthropology. Students from all four sub-fields of anthropology are encouraged to apply as well as from interdisciplinary fields that engage in anthropological methods and theory. It carries an award of $800. Details on how to apply here.

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The Sophie Coe Prize in Food History 2020

The Sophie Coe Prize is awarded each year to an engaging, original piece of writing that delivers new research and/or new insights into any aspect of food history. We welcome entries of up to 10,000 words on any relevant topic. The Prize is £1,500 for the winning essay, article or book chapter. Authors may submit one entry only each, and they must be delivered to us by this year’s closing date of 25th April 2020.

The Prize was founded in 1995 in memory of Sophie Coe, the eminent anthropologist and food historian. The winner is selected by our anonymous panel of distinguished judges and announced in early July.

Published and unpublished work may be submitted. If the former, it must have been published within 12 months of the submission deadline. If the latter, it must be in immediately publishable form.

Before submitting an entry please read in full the How to Enter” page at our website . Entries that do not comply fully with our conditions of entry will not be put forward to our judges. We also advise entrants to read some of the former winning entries to get a good understanding of the kind of original research work we are seeking.

For full details, and to sign up for reminders and updates on the Prize, please consult our website. Any queries not answered by the information on our website should be addressed to the Chair, Jane Levi, at email address sophiecoeprize@gmail.com.

The Prize is administered by the Sophie Coe Memorial Fund, a registered Charity in England and Wales (no. 1048753). Trustees: Sarah Coe, Phil Iddison, Jane Levi, Candida Macdonough, Kaori O’Connor.

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Rick Bayless, Plucky Jollibee, and Globalization

David Beriss

I receive a lot of restaurant industry email. Despite the deluge, sometimes the emails provide glimpses into the industry that I would not otherwise get. For instance, I recently received an “Eat Beat” newsletter from Restaurant Hospitality with the headline “Rick Bayless opens fast-casual Tortazo in Chicago.” Because Rick Bayless is trained as an anthropologist, but also because he has been at the center of many discussions about food, culture, authenticity, and appropriation in recent years, I decided to read the article. In turn, this pushed me toward some thoughts about how to think about globalization.

According to the article, Tortazo  focuses on tortas. Although Bayless first became famous for his high end restaurants in Chicago, he has since branched out into retail (his hot sauces are available in grocery stores) and other kinds of Mexican food-focused restaurants, both fancy and casual. Tortazo is a logical extension of this career, which you can read about here and here.

What caught my eye, however, was his partner in this new restaurant. Bayless is working with Jollibee Foods to develop these new restaurants. This is not their first endeavor together – Jollibee apparently bought 47% of another of his restaurant concepts, Tortas Frontera, back in 2018. And this is not Bayless’ first collaboration with a multinational corporation either. His company Frontera Foods, which makes, among other items, Frontera salsas, is now owned by ConAgra Brands, a multinational headquartered in Chicago.

However, it was neither Bayless nor ConAgra that really attracted me to this story. Rather, it was Jollibee. I first read about Jollibee in articles by anthropologist Ty Matejowsky. In that context, I thought of Jollibee as a plucky Philippines-based chain of fast food restaurants that resisted the onslaught of McDonald’s in its homeland. In fact, that same company has opened stores around the world, often in countries that have substantial Filipino populations (including the United States).

McDonald’s is probably the American brand most often invoked when people discuss the intersection of globalization and Americanization. George Ritzer famously developed a theory of social organization around “McDonaldization” and that concept has been extended to ideas about the spread of fast food around the world. Anthropologists have (also famously) studied the ways in which local populations around the world have made McDonald’s and other American brands their own, by reinterpreting the American model in their own cultural terms. This interaction between local cultures and global brands has been explored in other areas, including packaged ramen.

By opening their own restaurants around the world, companies like Jollibee might at first seem like the empire striking back. More than making sense of American institutions in their midst, Jollibee, McDonald’s Filipino competitor, is now showing up in McDonald’s homeland. Impressive.

Or maybe this is not exactly what it seems. Perhaps the tendency to associate these global corporations with nation-states sometimes misses other important characteristics. The same article that recounted Bayless’ new concept also pointed out that Jollibee owns the Smashburger and Coffee Bean & Tea chains. So much for plucky little Filipino upstart. Jollibee Foods Corporation is a multinational owner of many brands much like ConAgra. Is this a world of nation-states, cultures, and associated foods, or a world of multi-national corporations?

None of this is meant to criticize Rick Bayless, Jollibee, or ConAgra. But I do want to call attention to the complex realities that are often hidden behind the narratives we read. The entrepreneurial chef, the imperial American multinational, the resilient little company in the post-colonial world are all elements in the story lines we love to read about. But how real are they? In this instance, the chef is definitely real. After that, apparently, it is multinational corporations all the way down.

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You know kimchi but how about kimjang?

Sangyoub Park and Sunyoung Cheong

At the beginning of the new year, a variety of news outlets and food-related venues usually predict upcoming food trends. USA Today, for example, predicts that “Kimchi will be in” in 2020. As a matter of fact, however, kimchi has been it-food at least over the past 10 years. I became aware that kimchi was next big America’s food when the New York Times stopped using an additional explanation for kimchi about 10 years ago. Before that, whenever the Times talked about kimchi, it followed with an additional explanation like “Korean spicy fermented cabbage.” Kimchi is the most common banchan, side dish, in Korea. When the Times stopped providing “what kimchi is to readers,” it signaled that everyone knows what kimchi is. In other words, there was no reason to describe kimchi as Korean spicy fermented cabbage any longer.

Fresh kimchi

The rising popularity of kimchi coincides with another trend in the culinary world – fermentation. As Americans are obsessed with well-being, they begin to pay extra attention to fermented foods. Fermenting food is not new, of course but it is one of the oldest ways of preserving food. The reason behind the latest trend is that many fermented foods are thought to entail health benefits. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz was published around the time this trend was taking off. Kimchi is a probiotic lactic acid bacteria (i.e., good bacteria) fermented food. Many people believe that kimchi has a wide range of health benefits including improving digestion, increasing the body’s immunity, preventing aging, and preventing cancer.

Furthermore, as sociologists highlight how social class affects food preference, food can be a marker of social status. People create cultural distinction through food and eating. In the United States, the upper and middle classes are ready to embrace more “exotic” foods like tofu or sushi to distinguish their cultural identity. From this perspective, kimchi is very exotic. With exoticness and health benefits, it is evident that kimchi will enjoy longevity in the landscape of American food. This is exactly why I describe kimchi as an “Eww” food that has become a “Wow” food in terms of American taste trends.

Sunyoung Cheong, Preparing for kimjang in her home in Topeka, KS. She also pre-prepared for kimjang by washing about 25 heads of cabbage and salting them for 12 hours the previous day and making a huge batch of seasoning.

So, it is hip that you eat kimchi now. However, do you know anything about kimjang? Kimjang refers to making and sharing kimchi with others (click here for a short video about kimjang). Making kimchi requires collective effort because the process of making kimchi is very labor intensive. It is not unusual that kimjang is performed with large quantities like a couple of hundred heads of cabbage. Kimjang is usually done during November or December to last through the long cold winter. This explains why kimjang can be a communal activity. It is a way of communication, a way of creating memory, and a way of bonding together. The ritual of kimjang, in fact, was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

Kimchi-makers putting the kimchi paste between the layers of cabbage. This is a very important step to make good kimchi.

Over the past few years, we have invited community members, neighbors, and friends to our kimjang to experience firsthand how kimchi is made in a traditional way. We open our home to guests because we can help people broaden their understanding about “others.” We can be making kimchi together instead of “breaking bread together.” This year we invited friends (Akiko, Mary Anne and Luke) to make kimchi. In particular, this time kimjang was better organized thanks to kimjang mats, which we bought in Korea to test out for a potential kimchi festival – I am always dreaming of organizing a kimchi festival in Topeka, Kansas (Click here for the Kimchi Festival in Korea). Imagine making kimchi with strangers. And this might be exactly what we need in the Divided States of America today. During our kimjang, we conversed about children, marriage, changing food culture, and simply gossiped about everyday life. It is a way of bringing people together and creating a community. It can be a way of healing us. It can be a first step to unite a fractured community again. As an immigrant couple, after kimjang, we feel like our community has been extended by sharing our culture.

Making kimchi together.

Yes, it is good that more people are eating kimchi now but I hope that people appreciate kimchi simply beyond numerous health benefits. If kimchi can be used as a diplomatic tool, gastrodiplomacy, to enhance cultural understanding among countries (click here for a NPR story), it certainly can play a role in bringing us together.

Finishing up kimjang.

Let’s roll our sleeves and make more kimchi!


Usually after kimjang, Koreans eat steamed pork with fresh kimchi to celebrate the end of kimjang.

Sangyoub Park is an associate professor of sociology at Washburn University. He teaches Food and Culture and filmed the documentary “A little bit more Korean.” Sunyoung Cheong is a visiting assistant professor of the department of visual art at the University of Kansas. She teaches Casting for Jewelry and CAD/CAM.  She also creates interactive art performance like Wearable Play.

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“What counts is the imagination of ham, rather than its actual existence,” An Interview with Joelle Bahloul

In this third installment of interviews with anthropologists about their work on food, David Sutton talks with Joelle Bahloul, whose work on food and memory has inspired many other anthropologists. Family history, Jewishness in France, the influence of Maurice Halbwachs and her return to Algeria. Domestic memories of Jewish and Muslim communities that remain highly relevant today. But also connections between French citizenship and learning about food. And, of course, ham, imaginary and real. Watch and learn!

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Intercultural Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice, Part II

intercultural learning photo 1
The Intercultural Learning Community at the vegan restaurant, Quinoa, operated by one of our own members, Luz Zaruma

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

Just as our fall term was wrapping up at Oregon State University, the Intercultural Learning Community headed to Ecuador to complete the second part of this experiential program. To read about the first part in Oregon click here.

Before covering some of the highlights of this trip, let me give a shout out to Claudia García who drew on her deep knowledge of Ecuador’s food systems and connections around the country to organize a rich and enjoyable trip, and to the EkoRural Foundation that served as our Ecuadorian financial sponsor. We began our trip with a visit to the highly integrated Atuk Farm outside of Quito run by the Dammer sisters. Sixty of the ninety hectares they own are in forest. The chickens live in large teepee-shaped tractors and clean the pastures of parasites à la Salatin. They had a clever way of turning the compost down a hill and a lovely outdoor kitchen where they served us a farm lunch. After lunch we retired to a hand-made mud brick building where Javier Carrera talked to us about the Seed Savers Network. The Guardianes de Semillas have been in existence since 1998 and includes 110 families in 15 Ecuadorian counties, though they also do seed exchanges in Colombia and Bolivia. The point goes beyond saving seeds to sharing ancestral knowledge about nutrition and promoting social change. He gave an historical overview of settlement and soils in Ecuador, emphasizing the migrations of food crops as well as the ways in which indigenous peoples in different ecosystems fed themselves. Moving to more recent times, he talked about the 2008 national constitution which protects the rights of nature and food sovereignty. Despite this progressive legal framework encouraged by indigenous groups and agrifood activists, implementation is more difficult and there is constant pressure to conform to the industrial food system. Mandatory pasteurization and slaughter in state approved facilities put small farmers at a disadvantage, just like in the US. Saraguro women were told that they had to deliver their milk warm to be pasteurized, but the facility was two hours away. They went on strike and several of the women were put in jail. Carrera said that 30% of the farms in Ecuador are small, family farms and they produce 70% of what Ecuador eats. They are fighting to keep a separate system for small farmers in order to ensure future food sovereignty. He shared with us several successful experiments in permaculture around the country.

The following two days were focused on metropolitan Quito. With 2,500,000 people pressed between two volcanoes high in the Andes and a poverty rate of 12.8%, the challenges of keeping people well fed are great. Add to that, over 300,000 recent migrants from Colombia and Venezuela. Other numbers that Alexandra Rodriguez cited were that 71% of food consumed in the city was eaten outside of the home and 63% of the population was overweight or obese. Since 2002 Rodriguez has been working with a participatory urban agriculture program (AGRUPAR) to expand urban and peri-urban agriculture in Quito. They now have 1400 gardens, involving 5000 people. 57% of the produce goes to home consumption and the remainder is sold. We visited one of the oldest farms and saw a variety of food grown in 1500 m2. We bought some for our own dinner that evening that we prepared under the direction of chef/group member Santiago Rosero at the Gastronomic Laboratory.

Quito’s food bank delivers to 77 institutions and 655 families, working almost entirely with volunteers and no federal support. Their main source of food is leftovers from the markets and supermarkets. They do not receive a tax break for donations, but it does relieve them of having to dispose of food they can’t sell. We visited two of the markets in the old center of Quito, San Roque and Central. At San Roque we heard from anthropologist Anahí Macaroff who has been doing research on the markets of Quito. She explained how they were all connected and should be defended against the growth of supermarkets. She cited several instances where supermarkets opened very near the older markets and lowered their prices for as long as it took to put the market out of business and then raised their prices.

Talking to people from the food bank and markets rounded out our picture of the urban food system. Farm-direct, agroecological markets are growing, but serve a small percentage of the population. This year Quito approved an Agrifood Strategy and a Climate Action Plan. This is a good start, but, as always, the proof is in the implementation. We stopped at a small recycling center that wasn’t quite operating yet. Its main purpose was to teach people how to recycle, but without access to designated receptacles it’s going to take a while.

We heard about several social justice-oriented projects. First, we heard from a group of multidisciplinary researchers from the Catholic University who have been working on nutrition projects in the province of Cotopaxi where a large number of children suffer from malnutrition. Then, we heard about the FUEGOS project to bring a culinary school and food tourism to the province of Manabi that was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. Finally, Marcelo Aziaga told us about feeding anti-austerity protesters. An estimated 20,000 people marched on Quito in October, closing the Panamerican highway and shutting down the capital city. The Catholic University, the Salesiana University, and the Casa de la Cultura housed several thousand people and chefs and food activists set up kitchens to feed them. The police dismantled the kitchens every night, which were then re-set up daily. Food arrived from various places. Volunteers organized food lines, dish washing and waste disposal. Medical students treated people who were wounded by the police, and also the police. Austerity measures were temporarily rolled back, but could re-emerge after the holidays. Later in our trip, we spoke with some indigenous leaders who recounted how they organized their participation through loudspeakers after the government shut down communications.

Driving north from Quito, we visited a biodiverse farm in the Andean dry forest that belongs to two of our group participants, Lucia and Fabian. We tasted four of the over 20 types of avocados that they grow and a variety of passion fruits and chirimoya. (I have to say, the Nacional avocado was to die for.) For lunch, Lucia made us a variety of Andean tubers, plantains and an excellent locro de zambo or squash soup. From there we continued north to Ibarra where we were hosted by MESSE, the Ecuadorian Movement for a Social and Solidarity Economy. Jorge García explained the Abya Yala Paradigm that reigned in the Americas before colonization. The four axioms are 1. Everything is alive; 2. Nothing is the same as something else and diversity generates life; 3. Everything is related to everything; 4. We are all of the cosmos and of the earth. He contrasted these with imported European beliefs about ownership and the primacy of humans that have led to environmental disaster. He gave examples of how the four elements: oxygen, fire, water and earth are the foundations of cooking.

Steve Sherwood outlined for us the relationship between agroecology and solidarity economies. Both share a focus on intersubjectivity between humans and between humans and non-humans, harking back to the axioms that everything is alive and connected. He encouraged us to focus on existence, rather than resistance, as we work to construct new ways of being through our own practices. He explained how food activists in Ecuador connected through various types of encounters that take place all around the country in a de-centralized fashion. This allowed food activists to come together during the strike and set up kitchens to feed people while the food industry called on the government to violently crush the strike, so that they could continue their businesses.

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A pambamesa offered to us at MESSE’s Kuricancha in Ibarra

In nearby El Chota, Luzmila Bolaños also spoke of the four elements as she explained the history and foodways of the Afroecuadorian population of the Chota Valley. She spoke frankly about discrimination and said that the mestizo Ecuadorians had a lot to unlearn before they could learn. She talked about local foods that are part of the local diet, non-local foods that are part of the local diet and local foods that are not part of the local diet. In the latter group are prickly pear cactus which came from Mexico. They are starting to sell the fruit in Ecuadorian supermarkets now, but there is still no local market for the tender young leaves or nopalitos. She and her friend made a salad out of them for our lunch along with a delicious soup.

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Luzmila’s cousin and his prickly pear plantation near El Chota, waiting for a market.
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Both in Ecuador and the US, it is difficult to make a living by farming. Agritourism is one way that families have been able to stay on the farm, so we spent the rest of our time in Ecuador supporting these efforts. The MESSE activists are new to this, so our students served as guinea pigs. (Oops, they eat guinea pigs.)

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The students had a variety of experiences: helping with farming, cooking and marketing and living without potable running water and indoor plumbing for two nights. One host woke up at 5am to walk 45 minutes to milk cows, then made cheese for the rest of the morning. The next four nights were spent with a more experienced community tourism group in Cotacachi. These indigenous women have been hosting tourists in their homes for 20 years and knew the importance of private bedrooms and bathrooms. They also let Claudia know that when stays are booked through the website, the money never leaves the men’s group, so we booked directly through the women’s committee. The women’s committee is focused on health and central to that are indigenous foodways. Discrimination and migration damaged ancestral farming and cooking traditions, and they are working to valorize these health-generating practices. They shared their knowledge about multiple varieties of corn and their uses, demonstrating the traditional preparation of chicha. They spoke to us about their process of stabilizing the recipe for the industrial production of chicha for sale.

The highlight of the Cotacachi stay was the preparation and eating of a pachamanka. Don Enrique had a huge bonfire going when we arrived in the morning, heating up the rocks that were used to line the hole making an earthen oven. Meat and vegetables were wrapped in leaves and placed in the hole which was covered up with leaves and sod and left to cook for about 2 and a half hours. The food had a delicious, smoky flavor and we enjoyed eating it together.

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Loading up the Pachamanka
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Eating the Pachamanka

Our final stay was at Pambiliño Reserve run by one of our past participants, Emilia Arcos and her husband, Oliver. As we descended through the cloud forest, the air grew hot and humid and vegetation turned thick and tropical. Emi and Oliver self-identify as neo-campesinos or new farmers who are passionate about environmental education. Together with friends and family, they are re-creating food forests on land that was once dominated by cattle-raising and mono-cultures. On our last day there, we broke into groups and went foraging in the surrounding forest, bringing back cacao and macambo pods, different types of plantains and bananas, cardamom, oranges, lemons, yuca, guayabilla fruit, edible flowers and various herbs for teas. We made a wonderful lunch, using only very few staples from the kitchen.

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Luz, Camilo and Lisa foraging for their lunch at Pambiliño Reserve

Reading about similarities and differences in agrifood systems and conversing with people from other countries and other ecosystems who share your interest in creating more equitable and environmentally sustainable food systems are wonderful activities. What a privilege, though, to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell what people living different kinds of life experience.

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“It tastes like ginger”

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“I Remember the Day I said ‘Okay, I’ve Read Everything,’” an Interview with Carole Counihan

David Sutton

Here is the second in my series of video interviews with food anthropologists. This one is with Dr. Carole Counihan, who probably needs no introduction. In it she reflects on her career, her research in Italy and southern Colorado, and her role as editor of Food and Foodways. This interview was conducted at her summer home in Antonito, Colorado, and was followed by a delicious Tuscan soup that Carole prepared, which unfortunately I cannot share here. See also Carole’s “Proust Questionaire.”

More interviews to follow soon.

 

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SAFN Members will be busy at AAAs in Vancouver!

2019 Annual Meeting Logo 300

Jennifer Jo Thompson

As always, food serves as an interdisciplinary site for investigating a wide range of urgent social issues. This year’s SAFN menu at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association is no different – with nine panels focusing on food and health, tradition and identity, and climate change. There’s a full SAFN schedule, if you want it. This year’s conference, jointly organized with the Canadian Anthropology Society, will be in Vancouver from November 20 to November 24.

Wednesday, November 20, features a double panel entitled Syndemic Vulnerability and Entanglements of Food, Nutrition, and Health, with Part One co-sponsored with the Society for Medical Anthropology. These two panels examine the many intersections between food, health, and society—through biocultural, political ecological, and public health/nutritional lenses—and aim to identify “next steps” for advancing anthropological work in this interdisciplinary domain.

On Thursday morning, check out Crafting Cuisine: Changing Cultures of Apprenticeship, Production, and Value, which investigates the “cultural economy of craft” in contemporary foodways. Mid-afternoon, join us for Changing Climate, Changing Agriculture: Anthropological Contributions to the Study of Agriculture and Climate Change, where presenters (including myself) demonstrate the ways that anthropology is uniquely-situated to bring individual and highly-localized eco-social knowledge to global-scale efforts to combat climate change.

Friday, November 22, promises to be a busy day for SAFN members. The day begins with Terroir in Translation: Food and Identity in Changing Climates, co-sponsored with Culture & Agriculture (C&A). This panel re-conceptualizes the notion of terroir as a lens for examining social, political, and environmental change. Midday, join us for the SAFN Business Meeting. We have a few surprises up our sleeve for that meeting, but you’ll have to join us to find out what we’re planning. In the afternoon, panelists on Time for Change: Temporal Struggles in Contemporary Food Systems (co-sponsored with C&A) will argue that temporality has been under-theorized in anthropology by offering papers that demonstrate the importance of this dimension in the anthropology of food.

On Friday evening, we celebrate. We are again partnering with Culture & Agriculture to host a joint Distinguished Speaker and Awards event on Friday night. Our Distinguished Speaker will be Dawn Morrison of the Secwepemc Nation. The title of her talk is “Indigenous Food Economies and Cultures: Key Ingredients for Climate Justice.” Ms. Morrison has a background in horticulture and ethnobotany, and she is the Director of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty; the Founder, Chair, and Coordinator of the B.C. Food Systems Networking Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty; the Co-Founder and Curator of Wild Salmon Caravan; and a Community Self-Development Facilitator within her Secwepemc community. We will also announce the winners of the Christine Wilson Undergraduate and Graduate Paper Prizes and the winner of the Thomas Marchione Award.

Immediately following the Distinguished Speaker and Awards event, SAFN and C&A will host a joint reception at the nearby Pacific Rim Hotel. Join us to connect over hors d’oeuvres and drinks with a beautiful view of the city and waterfront.

But don’t stay up too late on Friday, because you won’t want to miss four more panels on Saturday, November 23. At 8am, you’ll have to choose between two sessions that feature recent anthropological writing. American Chinese Restaurant: Society Culture and Consumption is panel based on an edited volume of the same name in press with Routledge. Hungry for Change: Critical Interventions in Contemporary Food Studies is a roundtable, co-sponsored with C&A, featuring authors of recent critical ethnographies focused on food and agro-environmental justice. Midday will feature Changing Terroir, Tradition, and Identity, a panel with papers examining shifting food cultures in the US, Europe, and Japan. Finally, presenters on Critically Examining the Reproductive Politics of Nourishing Substances, shed light on a largely unexplored area of anthropology through ethnographic papers focused on the social lives of a wide range of “nourishing substances.”

We hope you’ll join us for all these great sessions and events. See you in Vancouver!

 

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Filed under AAA, AAA 2019 Vancouver, anthropology, anthropology of food