Tag Archives: Food policy

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, August 8 Edition


The inter-webs are exploding with fascinating food and nutrition readings; we can hardly keep up here at FoodAnthropology.

Before we get to the readings, however, we would like to welcome a new contributor to our team. Starting next week, Jo Hunter-Adams, from the University of Cape Town, will join the FoodAnthropology team as a regular contributor to this rubric. With a background in public health research, we are looking forward to even more interesting reading recommendations. She can be contacted at hunterjo@gmail.com. In fact, if you have interesting links, feel free to share them with her or with me at dberiss@gmail.com.

What does it mean if restaurants in some cities are so expensive that even the professional restaurant critics cry uncle? In this piece from the New York Times, Daniel Duane explores the implications of the stunning levels of inequality in San Francisco, where the super-rich eat ever more exotic and expensive dishes, while the people who cook them cannot find affordable housing anywhere in the region. Los Angeles provides an alternative model in this story.

But Los Angeles, despite being a great food city, has its own problems. Listen to this excellent example of investigative journalism from Karen Foshay at KCRW about wage theft in the Los Angeles restaurant industry. This is part of a series that explores a variety of issues in the industry, including injuries and healthcare, rape and assault, and trafficking.

In our last digest, we posted about the food politics of the U.S. presidential candidates. This week we have an article about the way food is used to shape the image of a candidate. In this case, it is Donald Trump, who not only eats fast food, but wants to make sure you know about it. Read this and you will. Meanwhile, if you are curious about who Mr. Trump might get his ideas about food policy from, read this article from Mother Jones.

One of the odder controversies to surface after the Democratic National Convention followed Michelle Obama’s speech, in which she noted that the White House was built with slave labor. Here at FoodAnthropology we thought this was a well-known fact, but it turns out that we were wrong, because Obama’s comment surprised many. What was less surprising was that someone—in this instance, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly—felt it necessary to claim that the enslaved were “well-fed” and thus were not so bad off after all. This weird effort to soften slavery has long been a strange part of American historical discourse and this time food scholar Michael Twitty responded with both facts and a challenge to O’Reilly to eat like an enslaved person for a week.

Related to politics and not necessarily about food, The Nation has announced its annual Student Writing Contest. The objective is to write an 800 word essay on the question: “It’s clear that the political system in the United States isn’t working for many young people. What do you think is the central issue for your generation in Election 2016?” Six college students and six high school students will be selected as finalists and from those two winners will be chosen. There are substantial awards available. And it would be really great if the winning essays raised food policy issues.

As long as we are being timely, it is worth noting the quadrennial fascination with what Olympic athletes eat. NPR recently republished a piece from 2012 that looks at the caloric needs of different kinds of Olympians. Bon Appetit interviews a dietitian who helps approve the menus for the Olympic Village.

And while we are focusing on Brazil, Bridget Huber wrote this interesting article on that country’s food politics in The Nation, published, it is worth noting, in collaboration with the always-interesting Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The idea of “cultural appropriation” and the debate about who has the right to speak (or write) about different societies and cultures is one of the more interesting and intense areas of food studies. Journalist Laura Shunk explores the issues in a somewhat anguished fashion in this article, building her perspective from her experiences writing about food in the U.S. and then spending a year doing research in China. Whatever you end up thinking about the article, she also includes several very useful links to some key voices in this debate in the U.S.

Related to the cultural appropriation theme: One of the prime complaints about food media (mentioned in Shunk’s article above) is the way some journalists tend to exoticize the foods of others. It is interesting to think about what happens when we exoticize our own foods for others. That might be what is going on in this article from the new-ish website extracrisply.com, which explores the joys of livermush in North Carolina. Or maybe this one, which is about a Cincinnati delicacy called Goetta. Or perhaps this brief note on boudin in south Louisiana. All of this is part of the web site’s regional meat week, which you may find fun or you may want to critique (or both – you are allowed to do both).

For something that is both exotic and vaguely disturbing, listen to the latest episode of Gravy, the podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance. This one explores why German food is popular in Huntsville, Alabama. Let’s just say that Nazis are involved and the podcast raises uncomfortable questions about the history of the U.S. missile program. Or at least they should be uncomfortable questions, as the podcast demonstrates.

In case you missed it, eminent anthropologist and SAFN member Richard Wilk posted some thoughts on food waste, wasted food, and what people consider edible across cultures on the Huffington Post in July.

Over at the always-interesting Savage Minds site, they have recently published two items on the anthropology of food. This is part of a series called Anthropologies #22 (you will have to ask them what the number refers to). The first one, by James Babbit, looks at meat, agriculture, industry, and alternatives. The second, by Zofia Boni, draws on the author’s research in schools in Warsaw to develop ideas about what it means to study food in general.

And to finish this week, the folks at The Salt (NPR’s food blog) have created this nicely educational quiz on what restaurants were like in the U.S. 100 years ago. To create it, they drew on the book Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910, by Michael Lesy and Lisa Stoffer (2013, Norton).

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Review: Two Books on Hunger and Food Security

De Schutter, Olivier. and Cordes, Kaitlin Y. 2011. Accounting for Hunger: The Right to Food in an Era of Globalisation. London/New York: Hart Publishing (288 pp).

Timmer, C. Peter. 2015 Food Security and Scarcity: Why Ending Hunger is So Hard Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (240 pp).

Jo Hunter-Adams
University of Cape Town

Accounting for Hunger and Food Security and Scarcity offer complementary pictures of food accounting for hunger coversecurity and hunger, one from the perspective of economics, and the other from a broader rights-based perspective. As an edited volume, Accounting for Hunger allows for several fine-grained analyses of specific dimensions of food security. In contrast, Timmer’s Food Security and Scarcity draws global lessons from the history of food security, and offers market analysis as a basis for recommendations to economists and policy planners.

In Food Security and Scarcity: Why Ending Hunger is So Hard, Timmer lays out the complexity of global food security in seven chapters. Each chapter builds on a set of key assumptions about economic policy. Timmer focuses on the need for pro-poor economic growth, in particular structural transformation or urbanization, with decreased labor on farms. He asserts again and again that, “historically, the structural transformation has been the only sustainable pathway out of poverty.” (p113, see also xii, p4, 9, 29, 37, 56, 85, 95). Beginning with this premise, he spends much of the analysis looking at ways that such structural transformation takes place (and very briefly on the consequences when such a transformation fails). Not being trained as an economist, I did not understand some of chapter 3, which lays out specific models for balancing control of the market while allowing competition. My own shortcomings as a reviewer aside, a major strength of this book lies in its scope, suggesting some of the ways that the food price stabilization can be achieved at a global level, and not shying away from the complexity of such a feat (i.e. achieving “a guaranteed nutritional floor for the poor” and “secure availability and stable prices in food markets” p31.)

food security coverAlso to the book’s credit, Timmer does mention failed agricultural transformations, where populations end up in growing urban slums rather than gaining momentum to move out of {material} poverty. Timmer also mentions the lack of transparency of market transactions and large-scale food purchases, and the slowdown of new agricultural research.

However, the assertion that structural transformation is the key route out of poverty is worthy of critique. While Timmer is up front about the Asian bias present in the book, he is less introspective about the potential issues this bias brings to the analysis. That is, without defining the boundaries and exclusions (geographical and historical) of successful structural transformation, I found it difficult to be convinced in favor of “pro-poor” structural transformation. Past successful structural transformation cannot, taken alone, predict the future; climate change and the declining availability of fossil fuels surely opens up the possibility that the future may be different from the past, and that new routes towards food security will be necessary. Narrow conceptualization of material poverty and hunger also masks historical power imbalances, where economists may feel empowered to make far-reaching policy based on their assessments of hunger, without considering the exploitation that has facilitated inequality. This critique notwithstanding, the book offers a good introduction for non-specialists (undergraduate and graduate) into the issues and complexities of global food security.

The editors of Accounting for Hunger begin by offering a summary of the challenges and relationships between urban food supply and rural agriculture, emphasizing the need to consider the imbalances of power in food systems, with particular attention to farmers. Thereafter, the book is divided into two parts. The first focuses on power imbalances in food systems, with three chapters focused on agribusiness (Cordes), food retail (Cowan Schmidt) and Biofuels (Cloots). The second part focuses on the role of trade and aid in creating an international environment that promotes the right to food. De Schutter begins with an overview of the policies that govern international aid and the ways that these tend to overlook their role in promoting the right to food globally. In the three chapters that follow the authors focus on rich-country agricultural subsidies (Mersing), the legal recourse in relation to the WTO (Konstantinov) and recommendations for food aid (Moreu).

Rather than review each chapter, I would like to highlight a few chapters as good potential assigned reading for particular issues in food security. In chapter three, Cordes offers attention to the relationships between biodiversity, mono-cultures, and trade agreements. She also weaves in studies of GMOs, farmer suicides in relation to debt, and the need for transparency in agribusiness. Schmidt offers key insights into the disproportionate burden borne by smallholders and small farmers when forced to compete on global markets. Cloots’ chapter on Biofuels offered a very helpful introduction to the ways that biofuels shapes the commodities market. She argues that the current orientation of the biofuels market tends to infringe upon the realization of rights to food in developing countries, and deepen the bargaining disadvantages of low-and-middle income countries. Cloots effectively weaves the relationships between food security, land use, climate change, energy needs, and biodiversity. In chapter 6, Mersing considers the complexity of phasing out rich country agricultural subsidies without increasing hunger amongst the very poor. Here is where the complexity of artificially low prices for commodity food is juxtaposed with the need for these low prices given low wages and unemployment in low-and middle-income countries. The final chapter guiding food aid recommendations is clear and concrete, and lays out the intersections between food aid, the agricultural decline of recipients, and the muddy waters of motivations of the nations providing aid.

Points of intersection

In recent years, the focus on global hunger has shifted towards at least some consideration of local food environments and framing food security in terms of healthy foods—not only caloric sufficiency. The complexity of intersections between obesity and hunger deserved at least some consideration, as it has important implications for policy, including health policy amongst the growing populations of urban poor.

Both books frame hunger as primarily an issue of poverty, rather than an issue of agricultural production (though Timmer believes agricultural research and improved yield is a key part of food security in the future). Both books also highlight small-scale farmers

SmallholderNetBuyers revise

Illustration by E.B. Adams, http://ebadams.com/.

in the effort to improve global food security. One concrete point highlighted by Timmer is that farm sizes should increase somewhat to facilitate greater food security. Rather than advocating for large commercial farms, his argument is for moderately larger family smallholdings that would allow for more efficient household production and better local supply. This is consistent with chapter 3 of Accounting for Hunger, where Cordes highlights the ways that smallholders and small-scale market farmers currently shoulder disproportionate burdens of risk. However, while Timmer represents the market as a neutral force, the authors of Accounting of Hunger are much more willing to delve into the ways that powerful corporations may stack the odds against smallholder farmers. Both volumes highlight that higher food prices would not serve smallholder needs, as most smallholders are net buyers of food, and are at most risk for food insecurity, symbolizing the complexity of creating more equitable food systems.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, July 30 Edition


We have had a brief summer hiatus here in the FoodAnthropology reading and Tour de France watching department, during which we have, in fact, been doing some reading (among other things). Here, then, is a little list of items you may want to read or share with your colleagues, students, friends, or random strangers on social media. And if you find any nifty items out there about food, nutrition, anthropology, etc., that you would like to share with our readers, please send a link and very brief description to dberiss@gmail.com.

First, an article on the state of food writing in the United States today. Amanda Hesser, from Food52, and Adam Sachs, from Saveur, discuss diversity, investigative journalism, click bait, and food media in general.

This article from the Atlantic looks at the reasons why salads are associated with women, at least in the US, and brings a nice food studies perspective to the broader question of cross cultural perceptions of health and taste in food.

The U.S. elections are impending and one might think that food, nutrition, and agriculture would be hot issues. One would, of course, be wrong. At Food First, Christopher Cook rails against this situation, arguing for the centrality of these issues. Borrowing from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the New Food Economy web site provides a nice little comparison of where the two major party platforms stand on key food and agriculture issues. Then Dan Mitchell, reacting to Cook’s piece, analyzes why neither party is making a big deal out of food or agriculture issues at this time. This goes far beyond the simple fact that not a lot of voters work in agriculture and, given the historic importance of food in shaping the political history of nations, raises great questions about American politics, economy, and culture. And Tom Philpott, in Mother Jones, speculates about which food and agriculture issues a future Clinton administration might focus on. This could be useful stuff if you want to spark a debate among students this fall.

Meanwhile, it turns out that kids still need to eat school lunches and the government still needs to regulate those lunches…and doing so is seen as an opportunity to make political points. At Forbes, Nancy Fink Huehnergarth outlines the politics of school lunch rule making.

Climate change is making it more difficult for small communities in places like Alaska to acquire the subsistence foods that they depend upon. Although this particular story focuses on very small groups of people in a remote region of the planet, it seems like climate change is going to have an impact on food supplies for many more people in the near future.

Native Americans are still fighting for justice within the food system, as this piece from Food First indicates. As part of their “Dismantling Racism in the Food System” series, Hartman Deetz writes about the connections between fishing rights, recognition, and economic development for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts.

800,000 years of oyster middens. Biologists and archaeologists from the Smithsonian have put together a huge data set that allows them to track the relationship between oysters and humans in Chesapeake Bay over a really long period of time. They have figured out the impact of human harvesting of oysters on oyster size, for instance. Drawing on some ideas about Native American oyster practices, they have some oyster management suggestions for today as well.

From Anthropology News, Andrew Newman interviews Alex Hill, epidemiologist and applied anthropologist with the Detroit Health Department. They discuss food access issues in the city, including the idea of a food desert, urban farming, and much more, including a nifty mapping project web site.

From Gastropod, a podcast focused on food, science, and history, the story of how so many things in American supermarkets, including a lot of processed foods, came to be labeled as kosher. When rabbis needed to become scientists…and how the kosher labeling system is itself a result of the industrialization of food in the United States.

The “Mediterranean diet” seems to have been a “thing” in medical circles for nearly as long as the idea of a “Mediterranean cultural region” was a thing in anthropology. What do people in the region think of the diet? Xaq Frohlich writes about the discovery and marketing of the Mediterranean diet in Spain in this article.

It seems fitting to finish this round up with something sweet. As your correspondent had a very brief ice cream truck driving career, this story really struck a chord (pun more or less intended). Ice cream trucks have iconic music. Often, the tune is “Turkey in the Straw.” There is some rather interesting history behind that little tune and Richard Parks, at Lucky Peach, has written about it.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, June 17 Edition

We have a global and eclectic collection of readings for you this week, with a lot of hidden treasures among the links. See below. If you are inspired by food and nutrition related items you find, please send them to us at either dberiss@gmail.com or LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

What is the market for religiously sanctioned foods? The French daily Le Monde reports on the growth of the halal meat market in that country. Anthropologist Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, author of a book on halal practices, notes that French companies started exporting halal meat to Muslim countries decades ago. Today halal meat may be a 5.5 billion Euro market, sold in both specialized butcher shops and big supermarket chains. The article is in French.

Historian and food activist Michael Twitty responds to queries about the intersection of sexuality, faith, race, and food activism in this blog article: “There is a dialogue in the world of food about homophobia in the industry kitchen and little whispers about queerness and food—but what happens when you sit at the crossroads of gayness, Blackness, and faith and do this sort of work?

A nice little video in which an organic seed rants in a foul mouthed way about big ag, chemicals, GMOs, and other aspects of our food system. Fun, with poop jokes.

From the website “The New Food Economy,” a series of articles devoted to considering the impact of Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” ten years after it was first published. This includes a timeline of what they think of as milestones in “the new food economy,” commentary from luminaries from many corners of the food activist world, and more. Curiously U.S. centric – it would be interesting to see what something equivalent with a global viewpoint might look like. There are alternative views of the timeline proposed in the series, including this one from the Small Planet Institute and this one from Brad Wilson, farm activist and blogger at FamilyFarmJustice.

This two part series in Sapiens by Karen Coates starts with a food diary from her work with a bomb clearance team in Laos, a country with a stunning amount of unexploded ordinance left over from the U.S. war in that region. The food the team prepared and ate while working there reflects the problematic local food economy and ecology, related to the history of war, the global trade in endangered species, and poverty. Useful ethnography with potential to set off great classroom policy discussions.

The seafood industry raises additional global issues. In this article, the author examines the exploitation of workers in that industry in sites ranging from Southeast Asia to Louisiana. She also documents efforts to organize workers and police the conditions in which they work. Meanwhile, fishers in Louisiana struggle to make a living in a context in which they are challenged by the global trade in seafood, disaster, weak U.S. regulation of imported seafood, and other issues, as explored in this excellent article by Michael Stein.

The Southern Foodways Alliance podcast Gravy recounts the strange phenomenon of Jubilee, in Alabama’s Mobile Bay. Why do thousands of fish, shrimp, crabs, eels, and more suddenly fling themselves on the shore in the middle of the night? Strange and true stories from the Gulf Coast.

In this short (around 9 minutes) documentary, Sol Friedman interviews a very philosophical ninety-year-old Jewish woman whose faith has been shattered by Google, among other things and who, as a consequence, decides for the first time in her life to try bacon. But not before considerations of faith, reason, family history, and the potential for God’s wrath.

After you consider all this, you are probably getting anxious about publishing your own research. Emily Contois has just published a very helpful guide to food studies journals on her blog. Get those articles submitted!

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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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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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CFP: Conference on Democratizing Food Governance

Call for papers for a conference that may be of interest to FoodAnthropology readers:

CALL FOR PAPERS: Conference on Democratizing Food Governance, Rome, 14 October 2016

Sponsored by The American University of Rome, University College Cork, University of Naples Federico II, and the University of Vermont.

Some scholars believe that local food systems do not represent a serious threat to the globalization of food chains and may even be consistent with it. Others see them as encapsulating the potential for a radical transformation of the global food system, being not just the result of a commodity-based agriculture sector but rather expressions of processes of change and new forms of politics with regard to sustainability and consumption.

The Conference intends to promote a reflection on the new forms of partnership and civic engagement emerging around food as well as on the creation of public policy spaces at different scales where various types of actors may negotiate, deliberate and make decisions with the goal of enhancing the sustainable and democratic character of the food system.

Key note speakers: Frank Baber, University of California and Terry Marsden, Cardiff University.

For further information please visit www.aur.edu/foodgovernance or contact Maria Grazia Quieti, Ph.D., Director, MA in Food Studies, The American University of Rome.

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