Tag Archives: Anthropology of Food

Food Studies for Anthropologists

David Beriss

I have just returned from the joint annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, which is one of the most interesting Food Studies conferences around. This year’s event, at Occidental College, in Pasadena, California, was organized by sociologist John Lang, who, along with his team, did a great job while also maintaining a kind of relaxed cool. Many participants live tweeted the event, providing an interesting subtext. Emily Contois, who organized the live social media team, has written up an excellent overview of the conference and provided an organized view of the social media feed here.

Food Studies is an inherently multidisciplinary field, which may be what makes it attractive to anthropologists, the Zeligs of the social and human sciences. The opportunity to experience different approaches to the study of society through food is hard to resist. Of course, sometimes these cross-disciplinary conversations can be complicated. Discussing the politics of “cultural appropriation,” for instance, can be difficult when we are not all working with the same definition of “culture.” Yet the value of trying to figure out what everyone means is worth the effort. Three of the trends I noticed at this year’s conference help to explain why.

First, over the last few years, public policy has become an increasingly significant part of the conference. In addition to examining local foodways, increasing numbers of participants have worked to relate their analyses to the broader political-economic context and to the public policies that shape people’s choices and actions. The idea of a “food movement” gained national legitimacy during the Obama years, but that seems to be changing in the Trump administration. Yet the opposite is happening among food scholars, who seem more anxious than ever to find ways to make their research relevant to public policy and public debate.

There are many areas of policy (sustainability, agriculture, public health, globalization, etc.) that can be approached through food studies. There were policy-related discussions of all of these things at this year’s conference, but I was especially struck by a particular focus on labor in the food industry. This was central to the conference plenary panel, which was led by Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food” show. The other participants were Joann Lo, the executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, Diep Tran, owner and chef at Good Girl Dinette, and Besha Rodell, restaurant critic for the LA Weekly. Tran wrote a powerful piece about food work and “cheap eats” on the NPR food blog earlier this year. With quite a lot of direct experience in the industry, the panelists made a compelling case for the need to change wage and tipping structures, along with providing better social support for food industry workers. The panelists also insisted on the centrality of gender, race/ethnicity, and immigration to discussions of food industry labor. The struggle for equity and fairness, already significant during the Obama administration, seems likely to become even more difficult—and essential—in coming years.

The influence and responsibility of science and of universities was also a central theme at this year’s conference. The keynote address, by Sharon Friel of the Australian National University, examined the role of research, activists, and corporate lobbies in shaping global food and nutrition policies. The presidents of both of the organizing associations, Leland Glenna (AFHVS) and Krishnendu Ray (ASFS) addressed the place of university research and researchers in the public sphere. Glenna focused on the hazards of corporate control of university research, while Ray raised questions about the politics of teaching and knowledge. From climate change, to vaccines, antibiotics, obesity, nutrition, health care, and, indeed, labor, the need for solid research to support public policy seems more important than ever. Yet the increasing grip of private industry on university research, combined with a delegitimization of scientific knowledge, threatens the role of scholars in helping to shape public policy.

Finally, there was a remarkable number of presentations that focused on research collaboration with the people being studied. Collaborative research has been a central focus in anthropology in recent years, so it was interesting to see that this sort of work, involving students, faculty, and broader communities, has also become more common in other fields. Areas of collaboration included promoting food justice activism, creating food-related museum exhibits, developing local food initiatives, and more. This kind of collaboration may offer an important link to both the making of public policy and efforts to make university research relevant to the public sphere. The national discourse from certain quarters may work to delegitimize the voices and work of university and other professional scholars., Grassroots engagement with the people we study can have the opposite effect, legitimizing research because it is their research as well. This is, I think, a good trend to see in food studies.

There are many kinds of knowledge that can be used to make sense of society through food. I have touched on only a few of the many themes that were reflected in the conference program. As a field of knowledge, Food Studies is clearly growing and thriving. For anthropologists who are interested in finding ways to make their research more relevant to policy debates, there is a lot to learn and many people to collaborate with in Food Studies. Next year’s conference will be in Madison, Wisconsin. I hope to see even more SAFN members there.

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, anthropology of food, ASFS, Food Studies

CFP: Food Security in the Pacific

Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania Annual Meeting

New Orleans, Louisiana

January 30 to February 4, 2018

Deadline for Submissions: 1 November 2017

As the effects of climate change increasingly shift the conditions of everyday life within the Pacific region, food security has come to the fore as a pressing concern. Changes in ocean temperature have shifted fish populations, rising water tables have changed soil salinity, and an increasingly globalized food system has created economies of import dependence. The organizers of this informal session invite participants working on issues of food security, sovereignty, and indigenous food knowledge, in order to explore how growing, provisioning, and eating are negotiated within Pacific Island communities. We invite these conversations to be wide-ranging, and to engage questions of gendered labor, new technology, epistemology, abundance and scarcity, and changes over time. We are also interested in the historical conditions that make and unmake ways of eating and engaging with the environment, including colonialism, modernity, migration, and trans-Pacific networks. Contributions are welcomed from a range of theoretical perspectives that critically interrogate how food economies, cultures, politics and cultural representations shape lives and livelihoods in the contemporary Pacific.

Themes could include, but are not limited to, critical consideration of:

• Frameworks of food security, food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty within Pacific contexts;

 • Analysis of contemporary and historical food politics, including different food and farming movements and campaigns, particular land and resource struggles and other considerations of the political economy of food;

• Changing practices of food provisioning in relation to reproductive work, intra-household inequalities, time burdens and time poverty;

• Informal food exchange and trading networks and the continued importance of subsistence livelihood practices for Pacific food security;

• Changing food security practices and food cultures in relation to diaspora, migration, displacement and environmental degradation of woodsheds;

• Reflections on the changing meanings, uses and uptake of Pacific staple foods, including the promotion of particular crops for food security and nutrition (e.g. breadfruit);

 • Relationships between cash crop economies, food exports and household food production/security;

• Critical perspectives on nutrition discourses and food, health, development interventions and biopolitics in Pacific contexts;

• Food aesthetics, practices and economies of desire in relation to militarization and tourism in the Pacific;

• the status of ocean resources, fisheries and marine management in Pacific Oceania;

• Representations of food in indigenous Pacific knowledge production and cultural representations, as well as in Western production of knowledge about the Pacific.

Participants interested in this session are invited to contact the co-organizers with a suggested topic of interest, intention to participate, or any questions that you might have.

Hiʻilei Julia Hobart: hiilei.hobart@northwestern.edu

Amanda Friend Shaw: a.f.shaw@lse.ac.uk

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AAA CFP: Famines and Food Crises in Africa

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

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

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

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

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AAA CFP: Circulations, Logics, and Logistics of Food

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

Circulations, Logics, and Logistics of Food

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

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

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

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Christine Wilson Awards

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to invite students to submit papers in competition for the Christine Wilson Award. This award is presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives of nutrition, food studies, and anthropology.

Papers may report on research undertaken in whole or in part by the author. Co-authored work is acceptable, provided that the submitting student is the first author. Papers must have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of food and/or nutrition and must present original, empirical research; literature reviews are not eligible. Papers that propose a new conceptual framework or outline novel research designs or methodological approaches are especially welcome. Winners will be recognized and presented with a cash award at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.

Students (undergraduate or graduate) must be currently enrolled or enrolled during the past academic year. The text of papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced and follow AAA style guidelines.

The text of papers should be no longer than 25 pages, double-spaced and follow  AAA style guidelines.  Please delete identifying information and submit along with the CWA cover sheet.

DEADLINE: July 1, 2017

Please submit as an email attachment to:

Dr. Amy Trubek (atrubek@uvm.edu), University of Vermont

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, April 3, 2017

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 U.S. policies that can have an impact on what we eat and drink. Over at Modern Farmer, Brian Barth has this round-up of cheery news, from the incredibly slow confirmation process for President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture (still not confirmed), to proposed budget cuts for USDA and EPA, and opposition to something called (not by its authors), the “filthy food act.”

On that last point, you can read more about the effort to streamline government regulations (as it pertains to food) in a variety of places. On the broad issue of regulatory reform, this article from Politico provides a helpful overview. It is worth being skeptical of anyone who claims that they just want to make government more efficient, especially if the areas in which they focus their efforts happen to benefit their supporters. This editorial at Food Safety News makes the case that the regulatory reform proposed by the current administration will significantly undermine the regulation of food safety. Here is another analysis, from the Environmental Defense Fund.

On the proposed budget cuts, this article from Civil Eats, points out some of the effects of the president’s proposed budget on the regulation of food, on agriculture, and on food-related workers. It is, of course, only a proposed budget blueprint, not real appropriations for real agencies. However, the proposed budget is meant to provide insight into the new administration’s priorities, in case you were wondering about them.

We all probably know that kids who are not hungry do better in school. According to this article from The Atlantic, recent research in American schools suggests that better quality school lunches can improve student learning (or at least test scores) too. The idea that studies like this are necessary to justify feeding children better food at school tells us a great deal about American thinking about food, education, children, and more.

On the NPR blog The Salt, yet another reminder that the food industry (in this case, restaurants, bars, and agriculture) plays a significant role in human trafficking. Many people find themselves working in what amounts to slavery. The article refers to a recent report human trafficking and modern slavery, which you can find here.

The state of Arkansas recently passed legislation that would make anyone who takes pictures or videos of activities in nonpublic areas of private businesses subject to civil penalties. This is being criticized as “ag-gag” legislation because it was written to protect the poultry industry from animal rights activists. As it is written, the law could also limit the activities of whistleblowers in any number of industries.

What might those activists want to photograph? Perhaps meat processing plants. In Brazil, one of the world’s largest meatpacking companies is in the middle of a scandal in which its employees have been selling rancid meat to schools, grocery stores, etc. This article, from Civil Eats, points out that even if you buy only locally produced meat, you may still feel the global effects of the industrial meat industry.

From pemmican and tourtière, to poutine and Tim Horton’s donuts, this interesting article uses iconic foods to tell a story about Canadian history. Fascinating, to be sure, but also clearly just a start. Still, you have to give the author, Ian Mosby, credit for hard eyed realism. He includes fish sticks, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, pablum, and other items that one generally does not associate with the word “cuisine” but that have had a real impact on everyday diets.

While we are in Canada, it is interesting to consider the ongoing debates around the links between food and ethnicity. This article, by Sara Peters, makes a case against something called “culinary gentrification,” which is the appropriation of foods (or of discourses about food) of an immigrant group by people in positions of greater power. The setting is Toronto, where there are indeed many kinds of people and foods.

Just when you thought it was safe to talk about urban agriculture, Wayne Roberts decided to review three books and insist on the use of the plural—urban agricultures—when discussing the topic. That covers an actual serious set of questions and issues that really are worth thinking about, like the relationship between urban agriculture(s) and urban planning, or the ways people can make urban agricultural practices part of their lives (like, I assume, cleaning up after your dog). There are a lot of ideas covered here, many of which could be of use in urban anthropology or food and culture classes.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies

EM Thoughts and Readings!

Ellen Messer

March 17–St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday during Lent, when Roman Catholics ordinarily forego meat. But this year the Boston-based Roman Catholic Cardinal O’Malley gave everyone permission to eat meat–i.e., corned beef–so they could celebrate their heritage.

The unconsummated union of Unilever and Kraft-Heinz continues to generate commentary. Jack Nelson, in the Financial Times, praised Unilever’s “responsible capitalism” as contrasted with Kraft Heinz’s “red blooded cost cutters” who cut jobs and divisions with abandon, with no concern for affected workers and places. Will Hutton argues that “companies with a declared purpose perform better” (a reference to responsible capitalism as opposed to unbridled profits). Share holders, according to various sources, are of mixed opinions. Depends who you read and trust.

Avian flu has struck Tennessee farms that supply Tyson Foods. All birds within a 6 mile radius of the observed outbreak have been culled. Stay tuned. This is not the end of the story. Ask: besides the birds, who suffers the losses? You can track these and other avian flu pandemics here.

Score spuds for “The Martian.” The International Potato Center (CIP) one of the consortium of international agricultural research centers, this one based in Lima, Peru, has imitated “The Martian” (i.e., the movie’s) potato experiment on desolate Mars — this time for real in the Peruvian desert. The experiment reports promising results! The CIP experiment can also be looked at the opposite way: using Peruvian conditions to shape understandings of what might be grown on Mars under what modified conditions.

The Philippines, annoyed at the highest levels with US policy, has struck a trade deal to send agricultural (among other) products to China. Officially warming to the Chinese as a partner, the government is also scorning the US.

In keeping with new US administration policy on “America First” high level US officials push to raise US scrutiny of China food deals in the US (e.g., Chinese investments that result in takeover of US food companies).

Allegations assert that (a now retired) EPA official colluded with Monsanto to hide disease risks of glyphosate (Roundup herbicide) exposure.  Succinct summary of the issues can be accessed here. Almost simultaneously, EU official chemical assessment office gave glyphosate a pass on cancer risk, although the findings remain contentious, and no one questions findings that Roundup harms aquatic life. (See news summary here.)

What do I think? Company lobbyists are always trying to influence regulations and findings. Results of experiments designed to judge carcinogenicity, and impacts on ordinary people who use Roundup, depend on terms of exposure to the chemical and individual vulnerability.  As a result, different studies reach different conclusions with opposite safety-policy implications.  Why are these issues surfacing now?  Glyphosate’s safety evaluation is up for renewal in the US and Europe (and the world).

On another topic, leading chocolate companies have pledged to advance platforms and guidelines for sustainability; more precisely, to prevent deforestation.  Some of these companies in the past have posted confusing standards.  Note that the efforts are addressed at high levels (states, corporations) and while they voice concerns about small farmers, don’t formally integrate them into the proposed decision making for new normative practices.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, food and health, nutrition