Tag Archives: ethnicity

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, May 12, 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.

It is 2017, not 1906. At least, that is what the calendar says. But if you read Michael Grabell’s recent article in The New Yorker about work at Case Farms, a chicken processing company in Ohio, you might think you were reading something by Upton Sinclair, from the early 20th century in Chicago. Underaged, undocumented, immigrant workers, working in extremely dangerous conditions, without benefit of unions, always in danger of being fired, living in awful conditions…this article is essential reading. Read it, assign it to your students, discuss, act. Also, after reading this, you may wonder if Mr. Trump and other anti-immigrant advocates have been discussing the wrong problem all along.

Here in Louisiana we are quite used to hearing about the toxic dead zone that appears regularly in the Gulf of Mexico. It is huge—the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island, combined—and deadly to sea life. It is mostly caused by agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River, which drains a huge portion of the United States. As it turns out, such hypoxia zones exist all over the world (the Baltic is actually the largest, the Gulf of Mexico is second). This graphic article from Civil Eats provides an overview of the situation and some forecasts for this coming year. The impact on our food system is enormous. That said, dead zones are reversible. Countries along the Rhine River and the North Sea have reduced pollution sufficiently to diminish their dead zones by upwards of 35% in recent years.

And yet, do we really know if chemical runoffs are creating the dead zones? What if we could find studies, produced by faculty at real universities, that suggested the chemicals used to fertilize, kill pests, etc. on farms are not really harmful? In this article, Bruce Livesey, writing in the Canadian publication “The Walrus,” examines the role of industry in funding research that at the very least tries to create doubt about the impact—on the environment, on food, on humans—of the chemicals used on farms. He looks particularly at industry funding for research at one Canadian university, but this is a persistent issue at many universities and seems likely to be more important as public funds for research are cut.

On a cheerier note, John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance (an organization whose work often turns up in this digest) has recently published a new book, “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South” (Penguin, 2017) and, possibly as a consequence, he is suddenly everywhere. John T. also recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, “The Hidden Radicalism of Southern Food,” which is about food sovereignty and race in the U.S. south (and specifically, the work and life of Fannie Lou Hamer). In addition, Kim Severson wrote an interesting bio of John T. for the same paper, which goes into some of the intellectual battles that have arisen around his work. Our advice: read it all!

Another leading member of the food intelligentsia, Jessica Harris, has published a memoir that we are looking forward to reading. The book, “My Soul Looks Back,” (Scribner, 2017) has already been reviewed by the New York Times, which you can read here.

Can a salad be a racist symbol? In this article, Writer Bonnie Tsui explores the continued existence of the “Asian Salad” on many restaurant menus. This is a useful way to get into a discussion about casual racism in the food world. As she points out, the situation for this (and other) salads with names referring to nations or ethnic groups, is not simple. It is worth noting that there may still be a few restaurants (usually Italian) in New Orleans with a salad named for an ethnic slur for Italians. In this article from a few years back, a chef explains where that fits in local culinary terms.

Ever wonder about the story behind Indian-Chinese cuisine? You should, because the world is full of all kinds of great stories about traveling foods and people. To that end, read this article by Sharanya Deepak, on the development of Chinese cuisine in Kolkata over two centuries ago. And while we are tracing foods across the globe, check out this blog posting from food historian Rachel Laudan about the Islamic influence on Mexican cuisine. She traces a chicken dish from “Moorish” to “Mestizo” over a few centuries.

Following on this theme of ethnicity and foods, we have often featured here articles that take on questions about how foods from different groups are represented. Are they “ethnic” foods, immigrant foods, or just food? And who can speak about them, cook them for the public, etc.? These are important questions because they help (or prevent) thinking about the lives of the people who make the food. And because these discussions are far from settled, here is another one, in which Angela Dimayuga, executive chef at Mission Chinese (in New York), discusses the food they serve as maybe Chinese and maybe “New American Food.” This is the same Angela Dimayuga who was recently in the news for having refused an interview with an Ivanka Trump-affiliated website using very powerful language.

The Trump administration has picked a fight with Canada over milk and apparently both American dairy farmers and Democrats are happy. But should they be? Does the U.S. have a strange policy that generates huge milk surpluses? Perhaps. Read this, from Tom Philpott at Mother Jones, to learn about this situation.

During the last French presidential election debate, we learned a new word from France’s now-president elect, Emmanuel Macron: poudre de perlimpinpin. That is French for “snake oil” and Macron was accusing his opponent of being a purveyor. Dietary advice is, in America, one area where the poudre de perlimpinpin is regularly on offer. In this recent article from the Atlantic, James Hamblin looks into recent claims that lectins—substances found in plants—are to blame for American dietary woes. He critiques a book by a doctor who advises avoiding foods with lectins and who, as it happens, sells dietary supplements that he claims can help you deal with them. Along with casting serious doubts on the claims made by the anti-lectin doctor, Hamblin does a particularly good job of pointing to the signs and symbols deployed to lend legitimacy to this attempt at creating the next dietary fad. For that alone, this is worth a read.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 10, 2017

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.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the political changes taking place at one time? Perhaps one way to get a grip on things is to focus on just one aspect of change. You might think about sustainability and food justice in urban environments, for instance. Fabio Parasecoli has written an intriguing review of two new books on this topic right here. The books are Rositza Ilieva’s “Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North” (Routledge, 2016) and Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen’s “Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City” (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

A team of AP reporters (Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza) researched and wrote a series of the most disturbing and incredible stories about the slavery in the seafood industry last year. The series won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. You can—and should—read all of it here. If you are eating imported seafood, once you read this you will be very concerned about who has been victimized in getting it to your table. Assign this in your classes.

Once you have read the AP report, you will want to find out where you can get seafood that is not produced by slaves. You may also want the supply chain to be shorter, the seafood to be sustainable, and more. PBS and NPR have produced this fascinating story by Allison Aubrey on an effort in New England to get Americans to eat domestic seafood that meets those criteria. Similar efforts are going on around the country, of course, so look around locally and you may find something.

Has the United States been experiencing “the Golden Age of Restaurants” and is it about to come to an end? In this thrillist article, Kevin Alexander examines the evidence for the imminent bursting of the restaurant bubble economy. This the part three of three articles. Links to the other two are in the article, of course.

Meanwhile, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells recently gave no stars to the star-driven healthier fast food alternative restaurant Locol in Oakland. This might seem like an odd restaurant for the New York Times critic to review, but given the high profile of the owners (Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi) and the highly publicized social mission (“the most important fast food restaurant in America,” according to Willy Blackmore, at eater.com), perhaps it is not surprising. Whether he should have and whether he committed an injustice in so doing has been the object of much social media attention. The response from Chef Choi is here. Here is an overview of the debate from Jay Barmann and here is where LA food critic Jonathan Gold commented.

One of the more inspiring TED talks I have seen in a long while was this very brief lecture by culinary historian Michael Twitty. In it, he recounts both his personal trajectory and his ideological commitment to challenging the way Americans think about race and food. Excellent scholar activism and potentially very useful for class discussions.

Raising related issues, but in a curiously essentialist manner, this piece on the Intersectional Analyst blog by Lorraine Chuen attacks culinary appropriation by white chefs. The fundamental issue is an important one, but this blog posting seems to suffer from a deeply reductionist understanding of things like cuisine, culture, race, and ethnicity. This might be because the author is focused in this article on “data” rather than on actual people. All that said, it would make for a great reading if you want to spark a discussion in a class.

Why are cured foods so trendy and how does that relate to the former Soviet Union? It doesn’t, really, but you might think so if you read this lovely discussion between Christina Crawford and Darra Goldstein from Harvard Design Magazine. Great hypotheses are tossed out and discarded, large pieces of furniture are discussed, a jar of mushrooms is produced from under a bed. Get some dark bread, some herring, and vodka and enjoy.

What happens to culinary media stars in the wake of the election? Do they also think food is political? Anthony Bourdain clearly does. Read this biting and bitter interview from a few weeks ago, conducted by Helen Rosner. Bourdain appears to have a strong moral compass and a colorful way of speaking about it.

Let’s end this with the suggestion of a drink: Black Lightning. From the always-interesting Southern Foodways Alliance, this discussion between Jonathan Green and Kevin Young about the disappearance of black bootleggers from the public imagination. Get yourself a drink and settle in for a fascinating discussion. Enjoy the fact that anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston sets the theme.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Food Studies