Tag Archives: Anthropology

What FoodAnthro Is Reading Now, May 18 Edition

A selection of items from around the internet of possible interest to readers of FoodAnthropology. If you have items you think our readers should read, send a note to LaurenRMoore@uky.edu or dberiss@uno.edu.

Historian and food writer Rien Fertel has just published a new book about whole hog barbecue culture and history. You can read his moving chapter on the life, smoking traditions, and fate of Ricky Parker, one of the pitmasters, here.

It turns out that the lobbying groups/boards that represent commodities like pork, milk, beef, eggs, etc.—do not think they should have to reveal information about their activities to the public, despite being quasi-governmental organizations (overseen by the USDA).

So it should not surprise anyone that a cartoonist (and farmer) who did political cartoons for Farm News was fired after apparently being too critical of Big Ag. The New York Times covered this here. A more in depth analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review is here.

What happens if Congress changes the way it measures community eligibility to serve free meals to all school students? We may soon find out.

Does industrial chicken processing count when people say they want more manufacturing jobs in America? If so, they may want unions and health regulation with that, because otherwise they may need to wear diapers to work. Health conditions and bathroom breaks in the poultry industry, as reported by Oxfam.

Is urban agriculture the key to sustaining and reviving our cities? Here is a useful interdisciplinary overview of studies on urban agriculture from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

Want to struggle with the nature/culture divide? Or do you prefer watching the FDA and NPR do the heavy lifting? Read this.

How did food studies become respectable? And why? An overview from Australia, in which anthropologists are recognized for having led the way.

At some point, we need to write something here about food related museums. But while we wait, here is an overview of the International Banana Museum, which is improbably (or maybe not, given the sort of museum it is) in California.

Last item for today is either indicative of the next paranoid health trend or is merely absurd, but in any case cries out for research by anthropologists. Getting your microbiome sequenced, because…well, you might find out something useful. Probably not, but you might. (Meanwhile, check out the American Gut Project, which is doing crowd sourced science related to your microbiome.)

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Filed under anthropology, food, food activism, food history, food policy, Food Studies

Food Research and Political Action: Why I support BDS

Editor’s note: SAFN is a section of the American Anthropological Association. The AAA is currently holding a vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. There has been a great deal of useful debate around the issue, some of which you can read about here. Although SAFN has not taken a position on the resolution, we welcome commentaries from anthropologists that do advocate positions on the resolution (from any perspective). In keeping with the mission of this blog, commentaries related to the resolution should have some relationship to the anthropology of food and nutrition. The election that includes the resolution closes on May 31, 2016. Please send commentaries for the blog to dberiss@gmail.com.

Anne Meneley

As the recently departed and much mourned anthropologist Sidney Mintz argued so persuasively, food links the quotidian needs of humans, inflected by their culturally inculcated memories, desires, and emotions, to wider global political economies that often include exploitation and oppression. In my study of extra-virgin olive oil, I was inspired, as so many of us food anthropologists were, by Mintz’ classic work on sugar, especially his emphasis on the need to understand different moments in a food commodity’s life: in the political economies of production, consumption and circulation. I began work on Palestinian olive oil a decade ago. Even if I had not been trained, as most of my generation was, to critique an anthropology that ignored the overarching structures of colonialism, there was no way to ignore the shocking impact of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. My work on olive oil production required that I witness firsthand the effects of land confiscations, settler violence, the fragmenting effects of checkpoints on people’s time and social ties, and the destruction of their beloved olive trees along with their livelihoods. An Oxfam report noted that the Israeli blockade of Gaza which so strangles the import of food, also blocks the export of olives and olive oil, so essential to Palestinian diet and culture, from the West Bank to Gaza.[1] I was asked by Palestinian activists, olive oil professionals, and academic colleagues, to participate in boycott activities, from consumer to academic, in an attempt to address the injustices of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; it is the very least I can do to reciprocate for the help they have given to me in my research.

Most of you have not had the opportunity to do the kind of research that I have done.  Nonetheless, I hope many of you will join me in voting “yes” to our AAA boycott vote, as part of an ethical stance that we can take as anthropologists to address a grave injustice in our world.

[1] Lara El-Jazairi.  The Road to Olive Farming: Challenges to developing the economy of olive oil in the West Bank.  Oxfam International October 2010.

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Filed under AAA, anthropology, Israel, Palestine

ASAP 2016 Graduate Paper Prize

An award announcement from the Association for the Anthropology of Policy, of possible interest to graduate students:

The Association for the Anthropology of Policy (ASAP) invites submissions for the 2016 Graduate Paper Prize. ASAP awards a prize of $250 annually for the best graduate student paper on any aspect of the anthropology of policy.

Papers must be based upon original ethnographic fieldwork. A committee of three ASAP board members will read and assess the papers based upon the originality and depth of their empirical research and their contribution to the field; organization, quality, and clarity of writing; and cogency of argument. A condensed version of the winning paper will be published in the ASAP Anthropology News column and linked on the ASAP website.

Manuscripts should be sent to Jennifer Hubbert (hubbert@lclark.edu) as MS Word files, double-spaced, with one file for the text itself (with author’s name removed) and another file for the cover page (see details below).

General eligibility criteria:

  1. Students must be in a degree-granting program (including MA or PhD) at the time of their submission.
  2. Students must be members of ASAP.
  3. Paper must be the original work of the student and previously unpublished.
  4. Paper must have been written in the current 2015-2016 academic year (i.e., since August 2015)
  5. Limit of one submission per student.

Manuscript format criteria:

  1. All manuscripts must be typed and double-spaced.
  2. Maximum length for the body of the text 7,000 words.
  3. All submissions must follow the standard anthropological format for citations, endnotes, and “References Cited” as outlined in the American Anthropologist style guide.
  4. Authors must include a title and an abstract of 250 words or less on the first page of the paper.
  5. The author’s name, mailing address, e-mail address, telephone number, university affiliation and academic status (MA or PhD) should appear typed on a cover sheet separate from the manuscript. The author’s name should not appear elsewhere on the manuscript.
  6. The paper must be submitted to Jennifer Hubbert by April 30, 2016. No late entries will be accepted and submissions will not be returned. Outside of the award itself, comments on the papers will not be provided to authors.
  7. Entries that do not conform to the above requirements will not be considered.

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Lentil Underground

 

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

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Carlisle, Liz. Lentil Underground. Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America. NY: Gotham Books, 2015.

Lentil Underground is a book that many of us have been waiting for: a readable, journalistic rather than staid academic account of U.S. farmers’ struggle to create a mainstream organic, multi-crop alternative to conventional and genetically-engineered, monocrop agriculture. The story interweaves a triple interpretative biography of the farmers, the plant varieties in ecosystems, and their struggling but ultimately successful business, Timeless Seeds. It constructs the history of this Montana organic agricultural business through the life stories of its diverse and colorful members, the new-old seeds and biodiverse agro-ecological products and practices they re-pioneered, and the collective material- and information-sharing they achieved through collective action and networking. The narrative begins in 1974 and traces a developmental, alternative agricultural path that roughly parallels the Green Revolution and its successor Green-Gene Revolution, the mainstream energy- and chemical-intensive agricultures, through 2014. The experiences of the farmers, researchers, and business interests who jointly made these organic activities happen, provide additional shining testimonies to the role of government in encouraging or discouraging a healthier, more resilient rural environment and economy in an era of Big Agriculture, big corporate lobbying interests, and big risks for farmers facing uncertain natural and economic climates that put many conventional agriculturalists out of business.

The author, a product of University of California at Berkeley’s agro-ecological, sustainable-food, and writing programs (think Miguel Altieri, Alice Waters, and Michael Pollan), dedicated three years to interviewing the principals and telling their individual, family, and networking stories. These colorful, dedicated, and resourceful characters, almost all of whom originally come from Montana farming backgrounds, include founding family farmer, Dave Oien, a philosophy and religious studies major who then contributed agroecology and business as assets to transform and manage their family farm and Jerry Habets, who backed into lentils and organic farming when he could not afford the chemicals necessary to continue conventional farming. Others are Casey Bailey, whose diverse background in music, urban studies, Liberation Theology, and counter-cultural activism, made him an excellent candidate for diversified farming and associated collective decision-making, and Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree, who combined day-jobs that paid the bills and provided medical benefits with their passion, organic farming. Their politics range from right-wing libertarian to left wing progressive and this is Carlisle’s point: there is considerable diversity in the politics of the organic farming movement. Seasoning this mix are also heroic plant breeders and ecologists, who provide biological and physical (soils) information and materials to assist and improve organic operations.

Carlisle correctly realized that careful, qualitative, investigative research could document how U.S. and state government investments and regulations at multiple levels helped or hindered a more diversified agriculture, and what farmer-led actions could contribute to sustainability — farming and livelihoods — which was everyone’s value. The additional insights she gained over the course of these interviews concern the human community and what Frances Moore Lappe, in various food writings, has termed “living democracy.” Timeless Seeds constructed its network and thrived because it made human community an integral component of its sustainability vision. Their combined collective, seed, and farmer biographies also offer an argument against the growing preference for “local” food and agriculture, as the markets that make this regional success story possible illustrate another kind of globalization — from the grass-roots. All could agree that agricultural business-as-usual was not working for farmers like them or farms like theirs, and found that they needed grassroots organizations to support and voice their collective commitment to organic, multi-crop, and pluralistic botanical and social alternatives. They also required government support for research and organic-friendly regulations to make their enterprises viable. On these government agendas they have been partly successful in winning some dedicated (rather than “bootlegged”) funding for soils and pest research that will provide an evidence base for optimal, multi-crop organic management strategies. They have also managed to acquire some farmer protection against lawsuits should licensed GMO seeds incidentally rather than intentionally sprout in their fields, and bans on GMO wheat until such time as their Asian markets agree to accept this product.

The text is beautifully crafted to let the voices of the farmer families speak for themselves, and in the process recount the sorry history and ecology of US agriculture. Some are the children of family farmers, who followed US Department of Agriculture guidelines, investing yearly in ever higher priced seeds, energy, machinery, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides but regularly losing crops to bad weather, poor soils, or evolving pests. They found the only protection temporarily rescuing them from penury was government crop insurance or payments. So long as they followed the rules (monocropping with chemicals), the government payments at least partially bailed them out. But most years, this was not a living and future prospects were bleak. Both the soils and the human beings who worked them were exhausted, their health eroding from chemical poisons. The older generation despaired of leaving their farming legacy to their offspring. This next generation, however, a group of rugged and well-read individualists, nevertheless learned to apply modern scientific understandings of their more diversified agricultural past, and also created the kind of community that shares and helps each other overcome isolation, trauma, and risks. These social as well as agri-technical developments are clearly showcased in the stories of farmers’ improvement clubs, where new farmers could present and help solve each other’s problems, and ultimately stay in business. Their stories convincingly show that American rural life might yet thrive, based on the vision and determination of these fully dedicated but for economic reasons, part-time farmers.

As a text for teaching, I find author Liz Carlisle and her subjects are at their best when they are assessing the tradeoffs, and sometimes the ironies of their situations. Most of these tradeoffs concern economics and politics. Slowly, these new “weed” farmers, who know Montana farming can’t continue to practice business as usual because the older generation is going broke, learn to experiment first with new cover crops and green manure species, and only later add forage, feed, and food into the mix to make their farming operations viable. Although throughout this multi-decade learning process, individual farmers and the group as a whole learn to value organic agriculture by assessing energy saved and chemical expenditures avoided, they need crops they can sell at a premium if farming households are to survive. As Timeless Seeds moves into new legumes, in new combinations, and sometimes in combination with other “heritage” seeds such as purple barley, emmer (farro), and spelt, or more common grains and livestock that have the added value that they are produced and certified organic, the instigators find they must learn business skills and spend increasing time on administration and marketing.

These learning curves, which demonstrated that Timeless needed to have multiple crops and not rely on single buyers, proved as challenging as the field and processing skills they accumulated and shared over time. The cases developing markets for “new” legumes such as French green lentils (a one-time shot with Trader Joe’s) and “Beluga” black lentils (promoted by one particular high-end chef and then marketed through his client networks) are particularly instructive. Although most participating farmers entered organic farming with idealistic values that they were going to save the land and the population’s health, they find that some of their best customers are Asian nutrition supplement businesses, who turn their high-protein legumes into biochemicals that feed highly industrialized animal operations or high-income consumers. As one farmer opines: this is not why she signed up to work hundreds of hours each week, instead of living a normal professional life with a vacation house and time.

Another trade-off concerns government payments: was the goal to get government off or on the farmers’ backs? As organic farmers sought answers to agronomic questions, could they get equal funding for organic (as compared with conventional) agriculture, or create commodity check off payments that would help educate and promote organic production and consumption? Another effort was to access crop insurance, because, while organic production helped cool and sequester moisture in soils, it did not make one immune to natural weather disasters, which include not only ferociously dry, high temperature seasons, but also untimely rain and hail that can devastate harvests. A third was access to health insurance, because health problems posed a big barrier to sustainable farmers, who usually needed one fully employed spouse with benefits to make sure medical bills were covered. Although networked farmers did very well at sharing experiences and taking care of each other, these grassroots approaches, sadly, could not solve all their problems; they still needed government assistance.

Carlisle and her sources, significantly, also raise some unanswered questions. For example, how should farmers calculate returns on crops, when there are so many different species and varieties, and some of the returns are multi-year contributions to soil structural health and fertility, or plant-community based resilience to crop-specific pests, or simply long-term human health? Is there a more complex answer to the question, can GE ever contribute to soil conservation and restoration when soils and multi-crop ecology are so complex and genetic technologies treat one gene or gene-to-gene interaction at a time? The beauty of this text as an information source and teaching tool is that these questions are raised, and suggest plenty of directions for further research and discussion. It would serve well as a basic supplementary text in U.S. agricultural and food systems and policy courses at undergraduate through graduate levels. It would also make a terrific addition to the reading library of any organic gardener or consumer. Finally, to increase comprehensibility, there is an introductory map of Montana locating all the farms, towns, and major transportation routes mentioned in the text, and a glossary, defining key environmental, economic, and social-political concepts. The book is very beautifully produced, with botanical images and easily readable type in multiple gray to black shades. There is, alas, no index.

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Filed under anthropology, book reviews, farming

AFHVS 2016 STUDENT RESEARCH PAPER AWARDS

We have received the following announcement from the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society. Please note that students cannot apply for both this award and the ASFS awards, which you can read about here.

DEADLINE: March 18, 2016

To encourage participation by undergraduate and graduate students and to recognize scholarly excellence, the AFHVS invites submissions to the 2016 AFHVS Student Research Paper Awards. Awards will be given in two categories: graduate and undergraduate.

An eligible AFHVS paper in the graduate student category must meet the following requirements: 1) be sole-authored by a student or co-authored by two students; 2) be on a topic related to food or agriculture; 3) employ appropriate research methods and theories; and 4) be an original piece of research. It is expected that the winning graduate student serve on the AFHVS student research paper awards committee the following year.

An eligible AFHVS paper in the undergraduate student category must meet the following requirements: 1) be sole-authored by a student or co-authored by two students; 2) be on a topic related to food or agriculture; and 3) employ appropriate research methods and theories.

Final versions of the papers must be submitted to the student paper award committee by 5pm (Central Time) on Friday, March 18, 2016. Soon-to-be-graduating students must be students at the time of submission in order to be eligible. A paper submitted to the AFHVS paper competition may not also be submitted to the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) student paper competition. Published papers or papers that have benefited from formal peer review (through a journal) are not eligible, however those under review are eligible.

Papers should be no longer than 20 pages of double-spaced text (data tables, bibliography, and notes may be additional) using Times New Roman (12 pt), Arial (11 pt), or similar. Papers do not have a particular required format or bibliographic style. Winners are expected to present their paper at the AFHVS conference within two years of winning the award, and a space in a panel is guaranteed. Each award includes: one-year membership to AFHVS, a $300 cash award, conference fees for the AFHVS Annual Meeting, and a ticket to the conference banquet.

Papers submitted to AFHVS should be e-mailed to Shawn Trivette (shawn.trivette@gmail.com). The email must contain the following information:
1. Paper title
2. Full name
3. Full postal address
4. E-mail address
5. Academic affiliation
6. Student status (i.e., undergraduate or graduate)
7. An abstract of the paper
8. A statement that the paper is not published, has not received formal peer review, and was not also submitted for the ASFS student paper award
9. The name & e-mail address of the faculty member or other academic supervisor who has been asked to verify eligibility.
10. Attached to the e-mail message the complete paper in MS Word, PDF, or RTF format.

Evaluation: The AFHVS Student Paper Award Committee will judge contributed papers on the requirements outlined above, relevance to the interests of AFHVS (see details below), and their scholarly excellence, including quality of original research, methods, analytical tools, rhetorical quality, and flow (see detailed rubrics below). The committee will select up to one undergraduate student and one graduate student to receive awards. Notification of awards will be made by April 18, 2016. Members of the committee for 2016 include: Jenifer Buckley, Jill Clark, Douglas Constance, Melissa Poulsen, Shawn Trivette, Evan Weissman, and Spencer Wood.

Opportunity for Publication: Based on the recommendation of the Student Research Paper Award Committee, the winning graduate student paper may be forwarded to the journal of Agriculture and Human Values for review for possible publication. Note that papers submitted for the student paper competition do not have a particular required format or bibliographic style. To be submitted for publication, however, papers will need to be formatted as specified by the journal.

Topics of interest to AFHVS: AFHVS is dedicated to an open and free discussion of the values that shape and the structures that underlie current and alternative visions of food and agricultural systems. The Society is most interested in interdisciplinary research that critically examines the values, relationships, conflicts, and contradictions within contemporary agricultural and food systems and that addresses the impact of agricultural and food related institutions, policies, and practices on human populations, the environment, democratic governance, and social equity. Recent award winning student paper titles include: “Cultivating citizenship, equity, and social inclusion? Putting civic agriculture into practice through urban farming”; “Problems with the defetishization thesis: The case of a farmer’s market”; “The rise of local organic food systems in the US: An analysis of farmers’ markets”; “Building a real food system: The challenges and successes on the college campus.”

For more information please visit the websites below.

Rubrics for assessing paper submissions:

Basic Eligibility Requirements:
1. Sole-authored or co-authored by two students?
2. On a topic related to food or agriculture, relevant to the conference?
3. Employs appropriate methods and theories?
4. Presents original research? (graduate students only)
5. Approximately 20 pages of text or less? (excluding tables, figures, bibliography)
6. Double-spaced and appropriately formatted?
7. Submission includes all required information?

You may download a pdf version of this announcement, along with a review rubric that indicates how the papers will be evaluated, here: AFHVS_2016_CFP_student_papers

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Food Studies Awards Galore!

FoodAnthropology recently posted the call for papers for the 2016 ASFS/AFHVS/CAFS conference, which SAFN is also sponsoring and which, if you are looking for an excellent reason to visit Toronto, you should attend.

But there is more!

ASFS (that is the Association for the Study of Food and Society) has a number of prizes and awards that you or your students might want to try and win. We recently wrote here about the ASFS Student Paper Awards. There are two, one for undergraduates and one for graduate students. These come with cash, ASFS membership and conference fees, a banquet ticket, and a chance to present at the conference. The deadline for applications is February 1, 2016, which is sooner than you think.

We also recently received notification of the ASFS Award for Food Studies Pedagogy. This awards a teacher of “food studies in any discipline who presents a course that uses innovative and successful pedagogical techniques to reach students.” If you teach any kind of food-related course, you might want to apply for this — there is a cash award, and of course fame and glory involved. Deadline: February 15, 2016. Follow the link for details.

ASFS has a book award for an outstanding book published about food in the last two years. Books that are submitted “should employ exemplary research methods, offer novel theoretical insights and constitute a significant contribution to the study of food from a scholarly perspective.” Got a book like that or know someone with one? The deadline is February 1, 2016. Again, follow the link for details about what to submit and where to submit it.

Finally, there is the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence, which is for a peer-reviewed article that “exhibits superior research, a unique perspective and methodological approach as well as novel insights for the study of food.” This can be a journal article or a book chapter and has to have been published in the last two years. February 1, 2016 is the deadline and the link will provide you with more details about submissions.

Past award winners for all of these are available here. There are several anthropologists among them, including some SAFN members. It would be great to see more SAFN winners. Why not you?

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Filed under anthropology, ASFS, awards, Food Studies

Fundraiser Jambalaya

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

I recently asked my food and culture students to write short essays about foods that remind them of places. The objective was to get them to think about the relationship between the two, about how foods evoke particular places, but also about how place can determine how people experience food. This is one of several short informal essays the students write in the class, all of which are meant to get them to personalize particular issues raised by their readings. The students seem to enjoy writing these essays and I certainly enjoy reading them. Most of the students are from New Orleans or from nearby south Louisiana, and the foods they draw on definitely reflect the local cuisine. These little vignettes give me a chance to learn new things too and never fail to spark a lively class discussion.

Sometimes the foods evoke local stereotypes, but in unexpected ways. One student wrote that in her family “we would always boil seafood more than we would barbecue because who wants barbecue when you can have crawfish,” providing some potential insight into why south Louisiana is less invested in smoked meats than other parts of the South. That particular insight was a preface to a story about the experience of buying crawfish at a neighborhood shop on those occasions when the family did not want to boil their own. Another student wrote lovingly of the ambiance at the local grocery store, which is linked to the sublime shrimp po’boys she buys there. Students linked their food experiences with festivals, of which there are many in the area, all of which feature food, even when food is not the theme of the festival. One student IMG_4520evoked his annual pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in pursuit of crawfish bread, an experience so transcendent that “eating this Louisiana delicacy, is like seeing God in my food.” If the food in south Louisiana is divinely inspired, perdition may lie outside the region. One student recalled her visit to Grapevine, Texas, through the deeply disappointing New Orleans-style food she ordered at a restaurant, an experience that resulted in tears and anger. Lesson learned: the foods of south Louisiana are best when produced and consumed in the region.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, kin relations are often linked to food and place. “Mawmaw’s shrimp stew,” only available at one grandmother’s house, for instance, recalled fondly by one student. Another asserted that there is a special terroir for the only cornbread she tolerates, which is made by her grandmother in North Carolina, during family Christmas visits. Efforts to reproduce the recipe out of season in New Orleans have been dismal failures. Consuming sacks of oysters, both raw and cooked, accompanied by beer and duck gumbo, is linked to an uncle’s driveway. Another student wrote about eating seafood of all sorts at a hunting and fishing club in New Orleans east, where her uncle lived with his family and worked as the club’s keeper. The club, it turns out, is nearly 200 years old, linking my student’s family to very interesting parts of American history.

One of the most evocative ethnographic vignettes to come out of this exercise this year was written by a student from a jambalaya potsmall town in Livingston Parish, not far from Baton Rouge. Summer time, she wrote, was jambalaya season. And not just any jambalaya. This summer dish was “fundraiser jambalaya,” “prepared on the side of the road, under a white pop up tent, in huge pots heated by propane burners, and always accompanied by Hawaiian Rolls and the chatter of eager volunteers.” She notes the faint whiff of roadside emissions or propane in the food, the mix of overcooked rice, the heaps of jambalaya that was somehow always mushy in the middle, maybe an effect of the Styrofoam clam shells in which it is often served. Eating the jambalaya was part of doing good, the tickets sold by kids, to support the local baseball team or some other cause. And eating it was a social occasion, an opportunity to stand around and chat with the neighbors.

At their best, these essays are not generally about praising the wonderful foods of south Louisiana. Instead, they evoke the atmosphere of place and the social relations the students think about when they describe certain foods. “Fundraiser jambalaya” is unlikely to turn up in any of the guide books or cookbooks published every year for people who want to learn to cook the foods of Louisiana. But its existence tells us a lot about the way of life of people who live in the region. I suspect there are other dishes performing similar roles all over the place. Ask your students.

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Filed under anthropology of food, louisiana, New Orleans, pedagogy