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A “Hoppy” Bubble? Linking Labor and Capital in Washington State’s Beer and Cannabis Industries

Blog Editor’s note: This is the second installment in FoodAnthropology’s series on Latinx foodways in North America. We welcome contributions from researchers in this area. More details about the series are here

Megan A. Carney
University of Arizona, School of Anthropology and Center for Regional Food Studies

Every fall in the Pacific Northwest, craft brewers and beer connoisseurs alike anxiously anticipate the availability of freshly harvested hops. Ranging from mid-August to mid-October, almost every brewer in the trade premieres a fresh hop beer. The widespread and increasing demand for freshly harvested hops turns the craft beer scene into some kind of frenzy: brewers buy as much as they can as soon as the hops are available and then proudly display their piling heaps of green and gold treasures – mounds of the fresh hop buds – with much fanfare to salivating beer aficionados. The hop bud enjoys much attention, even worship, during this time of year, its image projected onto all forms of marketing and advertising from bottle labels to bumper stickers and billboards.

Washington State’s Yakima Valley is one of the most productive hop-growing regions in the United States, accounting for more than 70 percent of total hop cultivation nationally. It is a $380 million industry that generates over 65 million pounds of popular hop varieties such as Centennial, Amarillo, and Cascade. While an agricultural tradition has thrived in the Yakima Valley for many generations, due in part to its proximity to the Columbia River and fertile soils, more growers have gradually begun cultivating hops. Hops production has been increasing since the turn of the nineteenth century with a particularly sharp increase in 2005.

The elevated status of hops, however, and its near fetishization among brewers and consumers tend to obscure the labor processes and larger shifts in agricultural land use that have enabled the increased availability of hops. Harvesting hops is a labor-intensive process despite certain advances in mechanizing hops production. Migrant workers, whose origins trace from Mexico and Central America predominantly, perform the bulk of this highly skilled labor. One brewery even recently released a beer to pay homage to this migrant workforce. Since hops harvesting is seasonal, these migrant workers often migrate to other regions of the United States in search of work in other seasonal industries. While migrant labor has historically sustained much of the agricultural production in the Yakima Valley, the increasing demand for highly-skilled migrant workers in hops cultivation and harvesting due to the industry’s rapid expansion is a more recent development.

Much remains unknown regarding the specific labor and living conditions of migrant workers employed in the hops industry. However, studies of migrant farmworkers in the Yakima Valley have found substandard living conditions, numerous occupational hazards, high rates of food insecurity, chronic health conditions, and inadequate or limited access to health care as characterizing the daily struggles of this population. My research aims to understand the lived experiences of these workers, specifically the daily and seasonal rhythms of their labor, living conditions, and broader effects for food insecurity and health. In addition, I seek to map the political-economic and institutional arrangements within which the lived experiences and life chances of workers in the hops industry and the “hop-crazed” brewers and consumers are connected.

The greater Seattle region has experienced rapid gentrification with unprecedented population growth during the past decade. Estimates are that the city grows by 1,000 new residents each week, many of them attracted to jobs with tech giants such as Amazon. These residents tend to be younger and wealthier as a whole, but with the city’s housing crisis, many are moving into what historically were more working-class neighborhoods. The shifting demographics of Seattle’s cityscape have been accompanied by the proliferation of microbreweries and recreational cannabis shops, the latter especially since Washington residents voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012. Meanwhile, crises loom around illicit drug use – particularly of heroin and other opioids – and widespread homelessness, troubling local residents, public health workers, and policymakers about specific actions to take. The growing demand for artisanal brews and high-quality cannabis among the region’s younger and more affluent residents on the one hand, and the gradual dispossession of the poor and growing homeless population on the other, arguably represent two sides of the same coin.

Another dimension of this research is probing into questions regarding shifts in land use toward hop and cannabis cultivation and the broader political-economic, environmental, and human health consequences. Food system scholars and practitioners consistently highlight the implications of shifting land-use from staple or edible crops intended for human consumption toward crops that support biofuel production, animal feed, or more “luxury” and recreational commodities. Hops and cannabis of course, tend to fit within the last category, notwithstanding arguments for how both crops may support human health in reducing stress and anxiety, or offering pain relief. Yet these crops – especially cannabis – also represent “big business” in generating revenues much higher per acre of yield than say an acre planted in pears or potatoes. Indeed, a substantial portion of Washington State’s land surface area devoted to agricultural purposes is now being cultivated for certain mind-altering substances and libations (e.g., grapes, apples, cannabis, hops). How the broader consequences of such shifts in land use unfold along lines of citizenship, class, and race within the greater Seattle region, Washington state, the Pacific Northwest foodshed, and beyond remain to be adequately understood.

Megan A. Carney is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, beer, Food Studies, Latinx Series, wine

Necessary Knowledge: Where Denver Anthropologists Drink and Eat

John Brett
University of Colorado Denver

As a Denver native and passionate eater of foods, what follows is my personal, if a bit quirky, list of places I would send my friends and colleagues to eat and drink while visiting Denver.  There’s no easy way to organize something of this nature but I’ve added some headings to provide some idea of where things are.  I suppose as a Coloradoan, I should include something on our recently legalized intoxicant but I can’t for lack of experience, but I would refer you to the Cannabist, developed by the Denver Post which has a lot of news and reviews and the number of shops rivals Starbucks in their density (the basics: you have to be over 21 to purchase, can’t consume it in public spaces, and can’t take it with you…).

The Denver food scene is big, complex, a bit weird, but really fun so find some time to explore.  Most of the restaurants are walking or short taxi ride from the convention center but I’ve included some stellar neighborhood restaurants as well.

Where to begin? Beer. Asheville, NC claims to have more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the country and I have no reason to dispute that but Denver surely ranges near the top for sheer number of excellent breweries. Microbreweries seem to pop up on a weekly basis so I’ll only mention the ones that always seem to find me at a table.  Most of them have a food truck outside, or are in districts with easy access to food, so it’s easy to “do dinner” around some tasty beer. One of the oldest and still finest breweries in Denver is Great Divide.  The Denver Beer Company actively partners with other brewers and in addition to their solid regular lineup, they often produce some creative new styles.  A long standing Denver institution, My Brother’s Bar (home of the Ralphie buffalo burger), the REI flagship store and Wilderness Exchange are all within a few blocks which can make this an afternoon bored-with-the-meeting excursion.  A small brewer that has made a big name for itself is River North Brewery; their specialty is barrel conditioned ales which to the glass are excellent.  Do the tasting flight to get the full range of options.  In the same neighborhood Epic Brewing Company (actually based out of Salt Lake City) is big and noisy but has plenty of tasty beer.  For those who like their beers sour, the Crooked Stave is the place to go.  For those with a desire for German style lagers, Proust Brewing will take good care of you.  These are my usual haunts; for more suggestions and reviews go to the Denver Post Beer Blog which has been running for several years.

Colorado has also become one of the hotspots for artisanal distilling (yes, some of us are sober some of the time) but I’ll mention only one.  Leopold Brothers produces an interesting line of whisky, gin, vodka and various cordials.  If you’ve got three hours and your Uber app, they do a great three hour tour and tasting.

Onto the food; for lack of a better strategy, I’ll organize restaurants by neighborhood:

Lower Downtown (LoDo): walking, biking, short hop from Convention Center

Any of the James Beard awarded restaurants by Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch will make you happy.  Their two flagship concepts, both in Larimer Square (two blocks from the convention center) are the Spanish inspired Rioja and the classic French joint, Bistro Vendome, across the street from one another.  Around the corner is their upscale pub, Euclid Hall with a great mix of local and imported beer and not-your-average pub fare.  A little further afield, but still within walking distance is their take on fish, Stoic and Genuine in Union Station.  If you’re in that neighborhood, or love books, be sure to drop into the Tattered Cover, a highly successful and widely known independent bookstore that evokes passionate loyalty among its many supporters (great coffee too).  Also in this area is the newly revitalized Union Station which is a beautiful example of urban renewal and in-fill.

Larimer Square has a host of eateries but I’ll just quickly mention a couple: The Market Deli is a locally owned institution and a great place for a quick breakfast or lunch (check out the salads) and fine coffee; everything is baked in house and their pastries are huge.  Osteria Marco is Italian inspired with good salads, charcuterie and pizza; Tamayo is upscale, modern Mexican with a huge tequila list.

Tucked into a former warehouse district (most of which have been knocked down) you’ll find Domo which serves Japanese country fare and is consistently good.  Their specialty is the wide range of noodle dishes from the Japanese tradition, with seasonal features.

THE HIGHLANDS

Little manA former working class, ethnic neighborhood that has felt the full brunt of gentrification over the last 20 years or so but in consequence has some excellent restaurants.  An early entrant and current mainstay in the neighborhood is Z Cuisine and the next door absinthe bar A Coté.  This is a classic French bistro space, intimate (read, tiny) with a beautiful menu.  A key point: this is not the place to go if you’re in a hurry; they don’t take reservations for parties of fewer than 6 so the routine is to wait (or eat) in the bar until a table opens up.  Two sister restaurants, Root Down, and Linger both feature locally sourced ingredients and innovative menus.  For those interested in “nose to tail” farmhouse cuisine, Old Major is worth a visit—they do all their processing in-house and occasionally feature a pig to pork workshop.  If ice cream helps you get up in the morning, you’ll want to make a stop at Little Man Ice Cream; you can’t miss it; just look for the 28 foot tall cream can…

RIVER NORTH

This mixed warehouse, light manufacturing district is a rapidly urbanizing mix of upscale condo housing, apartments and conversions with the funkiness of a transitional neighborhood, and, of course, a lot of interesting food.  Two restaurants back to back to one Cart Driveranother and always packed are Cart Driver Pizza and Work and Class.  Again, both tend to be noisy and crowded so don’t go if you have serious business to conduct or you’re in a hurry; if neither of those apply, it won’t be time wasted.  If you find yourself at the Crooked Stave for a beer, two restaurants in the same building are worth the effort: Acorn is a small/shared plate place featuring highly creative (but expensive) dishes.  The other option in this space is Comida serves reasonably priced, updated “Mexican street food.”

Not neighborhood specific but fine eating places within 5-10 minutes of the convention center and well worth considering include Satchels on Sixth, Beast and Bottle (nice wine list), and Charcoal; all offer interesting creative menus.  WaterCourse Foods is Denver’s flagship vegan restaurant; you won’t find anything here that pretends to be meat; flavors are unique and you won’t leave hungry; great juice bar.

The Mercury Café is a Denver institution serving locally raised, organic food in a community setting.  There’s almost always somethin’ happenin’ at The Merc—poetry reading, live music, dance…

SAME (So All May Eat) Café is a pay what you can/will with a different menu daily, depending on what’s available—soul satisfying food prepared in a social justice practice.

Three neighborhood restaurants twenty minutes or so from downtown but absolutely worth the trek are Bistro Barbès which is a north African/French inspired place (very small and very popular so make reservations well in advance); The Plimoth is another neighborhood restaurant that is generally reserved full 2-3 weeks out, because it’s really good.

There are dozens of lunch joints, both local and chain, within blocks of the meetings: the 16th Street Mall, Larimer, Market, Blake and Curtis Streets are rich with options as is Writers Square and the Tabor Center.  Although November is not the best season, Denver hosts a lot of food trucks (http://roaminghunger.com/den/vendors/; http://foodtruckrow.com/) though they are not always obvious downtown.

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Filed under AAA 2015 Denver, anthropology of food, restaurants