Tag Archives: Food security

“La gente tiene que comer”: Food and COVID-19

Lisa Grabinsky
Oregon State University

“La gente tiene que comer.” (“People have to eat”), my mother replied when I decided to study Nutrition and Food Science, believing that such a career was going to result in a well-paid job offer once I graduated from college, especially in Mexico —a country whose population has grappled with metabolic illness for nearly 30 years, but also whose cuisine is considered Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO 2010). When I began looking for employment during my last semester, however, I was confronted with the reality: only a small number of dietitians are able to secure the steady and well-compensated job I envisioned for myself at the tender age of 18. The rest will most likely have to set up private practices—a service that the general population associates more with unattainable beauty standards than with long-term health and wellbeing. In addition, a traumatic event during my first-ever experience within a hospital left me dreading working in one; this significantly reduced my options either to private consultation or to institutional food services. In the latter, I would have had to harshly enforce company policies against kitchen employees “stealing” food, even if their reason to do so was an exploitative salary that made them unable to feed themselves and their families. I learned from this job hunting experience the sad truth: the hard work of insuring that all people have access to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food —a most basic human need— is almost worthless within the Mexican economy.

live from agriculture

Image 1 Facebook post stating: “Have you realized yet that we do not live from mining but from agriculture?”

Fast-forward to April 5th, 2020. I am browsing through my social media and navigating the waves of COVID-19 news —fake, veracious, and questionable—, and I stumble upon a post a friend and fellow Food Studies scholar shared (Image 1). In the image, the statement “Have you realized yet that we do not live from mining but from agriculture?” is displayed in all caps, along with pictures of the fresh produce one fortunately can still easily find in grocery stores here in Corvallis, Oregon (USA), where I have been living for the past two years while I obtain my Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology at Oregon State University.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and governments worldwide issue orders of social distancing and staying at home, concerns in regards to food supply arise, along with images of panic buying that have left grocery store shelves completely empty. A dear friend living in a village in Italy —where stone-built houses from the 13th century stood strong and tall through two World Wars— describes these images as evidence for “a war without bombs”.

Since —as my mother wisely says—people have to eat not only to keep a strong immune system in these times of epidemiological emergency, but also for physiological need, those working at any point of the food production and supply chain are now deemed as “essential workers”:

  • The farmworkers —whether international or national immigrants— who endure long hours of hard work in the fields for barely livable salaries and little-to-no access to social services;
  • Chefs and food servers currently struggling to keep their businesses afloat with take-out curbside pickup and delivery options;
  • Store clerks constantly re-stocking shelves, cleaning, and sanitizing, while also maintaining a friendly attitude towards the customers; and
  • Many other intermediaries that are vital for families all over the world to have nutritious food on the table.
breakfast-omelet-e158939018450.jpg

Image 2 Breakfast omelet with vegetables from a local organic farm that employs immigrant farmworkers (photo by the author)

 

This status of “essential workers” issued to people working in the food production system, however, adds an enormous amount of pressure, for they must now work double or triple to keep up with the increased food demand that panic buying has caused. In the process, their contagion risk grows. Becoming “essential workers” in the eyes of the public —even though they always have been so because, again, la gente tiene que comer— does not necessarily translate into better, or even decent, working conditions. Half of all recently declared “essential” farmworkers in the US are undocumented, which makes them still ineligible for almost all public benefits (Bacon 2020), such as Medicaid and SNAP or WIC benefits. In this small college town in Oregon where I sit to write this (around 60,000 people), I have already signed three hazard pay and safety precautions petitions for employees working at different local grocery stores.

oat-flour-brownies-2.jpg

Image 3 Oat flour, roasted peanut brownies (recipe and photo by author)

At the end of one of my classes in a course called Advanced Medical Anthropology, Dr. Melissa Cheyney asked us what a possible silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic might be. I replied that it made me hopeful observing on social media that as people are encouraged to stay home, they are starting to cook more and more elaborated recipes, either as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, and/or boredom or as an effort to comply with the WHO’s “eat healthy” recommendation to protect their health from COVID-19. I myself have uploaded a few pictures to my Instagram stories of new foods and dishes I have recently experimented with, particularly baked goods. My anxiety and feelings of isolation and loneliness have made me crave certain comfort foods that I cannot simply go out to purchase at a store. I even tend to accompany each picture with the phrase: “Keeping sanity through cooking”.

People are finally realizing the importance of food in their lives, as well as just how hard “essential workers” must labor to make our eating possible. A friend from high school and her partner had been complying with the “stay at home” order when they decided to make quesadillas de chicharrón prensado from scratch. From the preparation of the Guajillo chili pepper salsa to their improvised tortilla press using two plates with which they shaped the masa, my friend documented the whole process and shared it as Instagram stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed going through. However, what stayed with me as food for thought (no pun intended) was her final story —a message in which she acknowledged the amount of time and effort that just went into cooking foods that we Mexican urbanites so often take for granted when we unthinkingly purchase inexpensive antojitos from female street vendors, whose own diets depend greatly on their daily earnings. At this very moment, these women cannot afford to take a single day off to stay at home, let alone consider a prolonged quarantine.

I feel optimistic seeing people in their kitchens re-connecting with their own food and building community around it, from young professionals in Mexico City currently engaging in home-office, to celebrities, such as comedian Iliza Schlesinger with partner chef Noah Galuten. These two in particular are doing “#DontPanicPantry”— a series of live cooking tutorials in which the couple prepares a variety of nurturing dishes using pantry staples present in most US homes. They even hosted a virtual Passover Seder, which —as an Ashkenazi Jew celebrating Passover alone for the first time— I appreciated greatly.

I have also seen people back home in Mexico City going beyond just cooking food and starting to grow their own, whether they live in a house with a garden or in a small apartment with nothing more than perhaps a small balcony where they can place a couple of pots. People in both Mexico and the US are supporting local businesses by ordering food and sharing pictures of it, making sure to refer viewers to said business’ accounts through their social media handles. Others have begun to seek out and enroll in CSA programs with local farms. The Central de Abasto in Mexico City —considered the biggest market in the world—will not only continue operating, but has also implemented a delivery service. Here in Corvallis, university-based institutions at OSU —specifically the Coalition of Graduate Employees and the Human Services Resource Center— have established mutual aid services for “all students and community members regardless of their citizenship status (Hurtado Moreno 2020)”; food assistance is one of their major pillars.

“La gente tiene que comer”, my mother says. People have to eat indeed, but we needed a major life-disruptor like COVID-19 to open our eyes to the incredible amount of human work that goes into producing, distributing, and cooking food in order to be able to do so— pandemic or not.  This experience has enabled us to see how fragile the current global food production system can be. As the situation unfolds, my hope is that more people will realize this and truly value these “always-essential workers”, advocate for the rights and wellbeing of the most vulnerable, and continue taking actions towards food sovereignty that have already been set in motion through these and other acts of solidarity we are all witnessing virtually.

References:

Bacon, David. 2020. “America’s Farmworkers—Now ‘Essential,’ but Denied the Just-Enacted Benefits.” The American Prospect.

Hurtado Moreno, Argenis. 2020. “El Virus: A Contagion of Racism & How Networks of Care Can Stop It.” Somatosphere.

UNESCO. 2010. “Traditional Mexican Cuisine.” Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Lisa Grabinsky is a Mexican Fulbright Scholar in her second year of the Applied Anthropology MA program at Oregon State University, minoring in Food in Culture and Social Justice.

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Filed under anthropology, food security, food sovereignty, Mexico

Messer’s Postings

Ellen Messer, Ph.D.
(Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, Boston, MA)

What’s new in food and nutrition research and policy in the world, the US, and sustainability?

1. State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2019. This report, released in July 2019 (as contrasted with its usual October, World Food Day release date) gives governments and everyone much to ponder. Key findings indicate hunger numbers are increasing, not declining. Prevalence of undernourishment, the least exacting measure, affects close to one billion people; experience of food insecurity (not sure where your next meal is coming from) affects more than a billion more, including those suffering hunger in industrialized countries. This year’s themes, in addition to addressing conflict, climate change, and economic inequalities as causes of hunger, considered paths to recovery from economic downturn and the challenges of structural inequalities that lead to hunger. You can download the report, its executive summary, or in its entirety, here.  For a quick overview (especially to start off discussions in classes or presentations), access FAO’s (3+ minute) video, summarizing major numbers and themes here.

2. 2020 US Dietary Guidelines for All Americans (DGA) face substantial political challenges in the run-up to the Committee’s report. The White House administration has banned any discussion/recommendations regarding environmental impact (sustainable food systems), health impacts of red meat or processed meats, or ultra-processed foods and sodium. It has also disallowed reference to any research studies published before 2000, and reference to any non-USDA scientific studies (!). You can read the Washington Post summary here. My authoritative Tufts colleagues add: Nutrition scientists and policy makers need to change the term “plant-based” “foods or meat substitutes” to minimally processed plant foods, as many of the ultra-processed foods are plant-based!

3. Meanwhile, what’s new on the planetary health and diet front are new microbial “meat” substitute start-up’s (carbon footprints of these highly processed food operations still need to be scrutinized), and a report that the Swiss-based corporate giant Nestlé, along with other major food industry conglomerates, is taking steps to make its supply chains carbon-neutral by 2030. You can read more about the Nestlé’s initiative here or on the company’s website and more about the hype surrounding soil microbes and their potential to feed the world here.

4. Synthesizing discussion of all three above themes, Frank B. Hu (Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health) published a “Viewpoint” perspective in JAMA, pointing out the mixed environmental and health impacts of more or less processed plant-based foods that are meant to substitute for meat. An easily accessible interview on the major takeaways is here.

Reminder: SAFN members recently received an announcement from David Beriss regarding a new on-line journal, Nature Food, which is actively soliciting brief commentaries, opinion pieces, literature reviews, and original research articles from food professionals across many disciplines, including anthropology.  The editor-in-chief, Anne Mullen, intends to include anthropological materials of interest to a wider range of scientists in every issue.   You can find at more on the website.

Related Reminder from SAFN President David Beriss: If you are not a SAFN member and wish to receive our occasional updates via email, be sure to join the association, which you can do here. Once you are a member, you can receive communications via the new American Anthropological Association Communities communications system, here.

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Postdoc Opportunity in Sustainability & Food Security

We have received notification from Katarzyna Dembska, BCFN YES! Coordinator, of the latest edition of their postdoc program in sustainability and food security. This is clearly a great opportunity of interest to SAFN members and FoodAnthropology readers. The announcement:

The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation launched the seventh edition of BCFN YES! Young Earth Solutions, an international competition for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers under 35, from all over the world and from any educational background.

A maximum of three research grants of € 20,000 will be awarded in favor of innovative research proposals in one or more of the following areas:

  • Sustainable and healthy dietary patterns;
  • Sustainable agriculture;
  • Food security.

The research proposals can be submitted by individual researchers and multidisciplinary teams, until June 14th, 2018. More information on application material is available after registering on competition’s website: www.bcfnyes.com.

The authors of the ten best research projects will be invited to the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan, on November 27 and 28, 2018. All travel and accommodation expenses will be covered by BCFN. Finalists will have the opportunity to present their projects in front of a panel of experts and the public of the Forum, and in this occasion, the three winning projects will be selected. You can have a look at the 2017 highlights here

The BCFN YES! Research Grant Competition is an ideal opportunity to create a new generation of sustainability experts. All finalists become part of BCFN Alumni, global network that brings together finalists of all the previous editions. The Alumni share resources and experiences, participate in workshops and events, and are in constant dialogue with other institutions to promote food sustainability and the active role of future generations within society.

Questions? Contact Katarzyna Dembska, bcfnyes@barillacfn.com.

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JOB – SOAS, University of London

A job search announcement that should be of interest to our readers. Note that the position is essentially at the rank of assistant professor and that food systems and food security are areas of specialization of particular interest for this position. 

The Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, University of London invites applications for a Lectureship in Anthropology tenable from September 2017.

You will be expected to convene and teach core theory and optional regional/thematic courses in social/cultural anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, to carry out and publish research of the highest quality and assume normal administrative tasks associated with a Lectureship.

Skills and experience

You must have a PhD in Social or Cultural Anthropology and a record of excellence in Anthropology research as evidenced by high quality professional publications. We are primarily seeking a candidate with teaching and research interests in anthropological theory,  methodology and history. In order to support, supplement and complement the department’s existing work, preference will be given to candidates with a specialisation in one or more of the following areas: medical anthropology/mental health, migration and diaspora, ecology/environment and/or food systems and food security. Candidates should have regional interests in any of the main areas covered by the School – Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. It is expected that you will have expertise relevant to the vision and strategy of the School, including a strong interest in issues of particular importance to the developing world.

Further information

Prospective applicants seeking further information may contact the Head of the Department, Dr. Kevin Latham via e-mail at: kl1@soas.ac.uk. Further information about the Department can be found at: http://www.soas.ac.uk/anthropology/

As an employer of choice SOAS offers an extensive benefits package including:

  • 30 days holiday plus bank holidays and School closure days, pro rata for part time staff
  • Pension scheme with generous employer contribution
  • Various loan schemes including season ticket loan, IT equipment loan
  • Cycle to Work Scheme
  • Enhanced Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay provisions, childcare voucher scheme, financial childcare support

To apply for this vacancy or download a job description, please visit www.soas.ac.uk/jobs

Completed applications must be received by 23:59 on 4th April 2017 to be considered.

Interviews will provisionally be held in the week commencing 1st May 2017. 

If you have any questions or require any assistance with regard to the application process, please contact hr-recruitment@soas.ac.uk .

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SfAA Report: Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Food Insecurity

Colin Thor West
UNC Chapel Hill

Anthropologists from around the world gathered last week at the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, B.C. Dr. Colin Thor West (UNC – Chapel Hill) organized a two part session and roundtable titled ” Rural Livelihoods and Food Security: Ground-Truthing Global Progress.” Global assessments by the UN, FAO, WFP and other international agencies indicate we are making substantial progress toward eradicating hunger worldwide. Participants in this session discussed these positive trends but grounded them in empirical case studies. Collectively, members of the panel emphasized that on-the-ground empirical fieldwork is vital for contextualizing this global progress. Below are some highlights from the papers.

Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Food Insecurity: The Case of Burkina Faso – Colin Thor West (UNC-CH)

Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region where hunger and food insecurity persist. Participatory ethnographic fieldwork among Mossi rural producers in northern Burkina Faso revealed a general sense of optimism that “famines of the past could never happen again.” West used a variety of secondary data to test this perception and see whether food insecurity has decreased and how this compares with other parts of the country. Using GIS, Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) monthly reports, and USAID Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, his team assembled a time series of food insecurity indicators. These data allowed them to detect spatial patterns and temporal trends in food insecurity from roughly 2000 to 2010. In one example, they found that the prevalence of childhood stunting decreased across all regions of Burkina Faso between 2003 and 2010 (see Figure 1), but that the northern Sahel Region remains an area where stunting rates exceed 45%.

Child Stunting Burkina Faso

Figure 1. Childhood Stunting in Burkina Faso, 2003 and 2010

Ekiuka and Black Death: Comparing Food Insecurity in Tanzania and St. Lucia – Caela O’Connell (NCSU) and Valerie Foster (Cornell U.)

Black Sigatoka disease is a fungal disease that affects banana plants all around the world. Drs. O’Connell and Foster investigate the implications of this hazard for communities in St. Lucia, a Caribbean island heavily dependent on banana exports, and Buhaya, Tanzania where bananas are an important cash and subsistence crop. In both areas, farmers are becoming increasingly threatened by this fungus as climate change creates warmer and wetter conditions that favor its spread. O’Connell’s fieldwork in St. Lucia documented how climate change and natural hazards interact to quickly turn the lingering threat of Black Sikatoka into a catastrophe (see Figure 2). St. Lucia was hit by Hurricane Tomas in 2010. The fungus was once isolated to a small area but torrential rains, landslides, and wind spread it throughout the entire island. The disease devastated banana farms throughout St. Lucia, but O’Connell’s fieldwork showed that some communities recovered more quickly than others. Communities that rely on communal family lands were less financially vulnerable and able to manage the disease outbreak more easily than those who owned their land privately and owed mortgage and loan payments. Family lands were also less susceptible to the fungal pathogen because these irregular shaped fields have natural vegetation buffers surrounding them that limit windblown spores from reaching the banana plants. In contrast, privately owned lands are surveyed blocks of regular polygons that adjoin one another and contain few or no buffers exposing them to more intense infection. Thus, the people farming family land are financially and environmentally more resilient and food secure to this double threat from agricultural disease and climate change.

St Lucia Banana plantation

Figure 2. St. Lucia Banana Plantation after the Huricane, 2012 – Photo by C. O’Connell

Other panelists presented research on efforts to reduce food insecurity in Alaska, North-East Brazil, Mali, East Africa, and Idaho. They include: Dr. Don Nelson (UGa), Jim Magdanz (UAF), Dr. Lisa Meierotta (Boise State), Dr. Tara Deubel and Micah Boyer (USF), Dr. Kathy Galvin (CSU), and Dr. Philip Loring (U Sask). Dr. J. Terrence McCabe (CU Boulder) and Dr. Timothy J. Finan (UofA) additionally participated along with the audience in the round table.

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Filed under anthropology, applied anthropology, food security, SfAA

CFP: Trusting the hand that feeds you

Conference of possible interest to readers of this blog:

The interdisciplinary research group Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel invites papers and panel proposals for its 2015 conference, Trusting the hand that feeds you. Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food, which will held in Brussels from 7 to 9 September 2015.

The conference will bring an historical perspective to the study of consumer anxieties about food. Paper proposals are due on December 15, 2014.  For more details, visit the conference web site.

 

 

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, food policy, food politics, Food Studies, history

Global Food Security Opportunities

Interested in global food security? Here are two opportunities to deepen your knowledge and pursue your research.

The U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program, based at Purdue University, offers a graduate research grant program and a summer institute. Funded by United States Agency for International Development, the programs are intended to develop the pool of American scientists with expertise in food security issues. Details on the program objectives are here.

The research grant funds research projects for U.S. citizens to study in foreign countries, in collaboration with mentors at an International Agricultural Research Center (IARC), or a  National Agricultural Research System (NARS) unit (visit the website to find out what those are, exactly). Applications are due on April 14, 2014. Details, including application materials, are here.

The Summer Institute on Global Food Security will be held from June 8, 2014 to June 21, 2014 at Purdue University. It is meant to help graduate students from U.S. institutions learn about the fundamental concepts and issues in the study of global food security. Except for travel to the institute, food and lodging are provided to anyone admitted to the program. Applications for the summer institute are due on March 10, 2014, with materials and details here.

Questions? Visit the website or send an email to borlaugfellows@purdue.edu.

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Book Review: Food Policy in the United States

food policy cover photo

Wilde, Parke. 2013. Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Routledge, Earthscan Food & Agriculture series, New York and London.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Parke Wilde has produced a concise, encyclopedic text on Food Policy in the United States. An Introduction. Organized into twelves chapters, the volume could serve as a basic narrative text in agricultural economics for undergraduates, or for anthropologists teaching US food policy courses from multiple cultural perspectives. Chapter 1, “Making food policy in the US” presents the author’s interdisciplinary approach. By “interdisciplinary” he means economics and politics that enter into the evidence base for food policy making, in relation to what he depicts as “a social ecological framework for nutrition and physical activity decisions”, a figure incorporating environmental, social, cultural, and psychological components, drawn from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) formulations. This initial chapter carefully defines terms of analysis: food marketing chains, markets and government agencies; public goods, externalities, and calculations of inequalities and pareto optimal conditions; interest groups and advocacy coalitions and what they do; the various government legislative branches and committees and executive agencies, and how they function with respect to policy planning, implementation, and evaluation; Farm Bill and “captured agency” (one overwhelmingly subject to one group’s influence). In total, Wilde defines in bolded type 31 separate terms in this introduction, which asserts the volume’s theme, that “all of US food policy-making takes place … subject to the push and pull of competing private interests and public objectives”.

The next three chapters describe cases of “Agriculture,” “Food production and environment,” and “Food production and agricultural trade”. Chapters 5 and 6, co-authored with Daniel Hatfield, expand into “Food manufacturing” and “Food retailing and restaurants”. Chapters 7 through 11 consider food quality and nutrition issues: “Food safety,” “Dietary guidance and health,” “Food labeling and advertising,” “Hunger and food insecurity,” and “Nutrition assistance programs for children”. There is a short “Postcript–looking forward”, followed by twelve pages of references and an index.

Each chapter, with clearly articulated learning objectives, is organized with numerical headings and subheadings, so readers stay on track. Plentiful illustrative graphics visually elaborate quantitative and occasionally narrative concepts, and numerous tables describe the different activities of the various food-policy agencies responsible for particular points of policy, and what kinds of actions they take to advance (whose) priority political agendas with respect to the chapter’s issues. Many key policy controversies are presented in “Box” form, including hot-button issues, such as the safety or advisability of GMOs or the costs of biofuels, both summarized in Chapter 3. Non-economists will appreciate that mathematical tools to calculate policy costs, impacts, and tradeoffs are summarized in box form, and do not distract from the comprehensive and comprehensible narrative.

The book offers anthropologists teaching agriculture, food, and nutrition courses a useful handbook, written from the perspective of a policy maker operating inside and outside of USDA. Individual chapters, boxes, and figures provide provocative materials for class discussions; for example, how useful is the “social ecological framework” (Figure 1.1) for describing or evaluating sustainable food systems, and how does it compare and contrast with anthropologists’ models of food systems, and agricultural or dietary change? It might be pedagogically effective, in addition, to pair certain of the chapters with other contrasting policy materials: for example, this book’s chapter on production and environment issues (which defines the terms “local” and “organic” and boxes policy issues related to “GMOs” and “biofuels”), with readings from Food First-Institute for Food and Development Policy, or articles published in Culture & Agriculture‘s journal, CAFE; or Wilde’s chapters on “Dietary guidance and health” or “Food labeling and advertising” with Margaret Mead’s 1940s summary of “Food Habits” research and Marion Nestle’s Food Politics critique of the same topics. Discussions of effective consumer demand and its influence on market supply in chapter 6, and of food safety issues summarized in chapter 7, might make good basic reading and discussion materials, whereas “policy options” discussions related to dietary guidelines, food labels, food-security calculations, and child nutritional regulations could form the basis for policy exercises the instructor might want to tailor to particular class interests and skills levels. The conclusions to chapter 4 (p.76), on “food and agricultural trade,” quite effectively illuminate the commonalities and differences between the concerns of food economics and the anthropology of food and nutrition. How convincing are the ‘real-world data” that allow economists to dispassionately assess potential benefits of exchange across borders, but lose individual or community perspectives on winners and losers?

In sum, whether or not you personally purchase the book, it would be useful to have an electronic copy on hand at your library, where professionals and students can consult its definitions and statistics on demand, and so inform their participation in evidence-based and highly emotional food-policy debates.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, book reviews, farming, food policy, food politics, Food Studies

Book Review: The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence

BieseleJu

Biesele, Megan and Robert K. Hitchcock (2013) The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence. Development, Democracy, and Indigenous Voices in Southern Africa. Berghahn, 2011, 2013.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Biesele and Hitchcock offer a probing and insightful multi-decadal account of social and cultural change among an African people, including critical discussion of the roles of anthropologists and other outsiders in constructing external and internal trajectories of change. Mainly a political analysis, with very thorough discussions of changing cultural and national political institutions and their interactions, this volume should be required reading for any international development, education, food and environmental policy course. It also should be required reading in business school, organization and management courses, which increasingly incorporate ethical discussions. All chapters contain facts and institutional analysis by outsiders and insiders, and feature indigenous voices responding to internal and external challenges. The topics are the most important topics for the twenty-first century, namely, on what or whose terms will peoples be integrated into multi-national states, or be able to move fluidly across international borders? Who will make these determinations, and what kinds of education and political ideology will inform transitions from local to community and trans-local, and finally national or transnational identities?

Social scientists tend to throw around word-concepts implying that “development” and “democracy” are universal goals, without specifying who evaluates them or what paths get people closer to what the international community asserts are universal human rights. Here  indigenous voices illustrate how such ideas conflict with traditional cultural values, and how basic democratic concepts such as “representation” simply do not work routinely in traditional situations undergoing change. Instead, so-called democratic processes introduce new pathways and structures of social, economic, gender, and age inequality and violence, pitting young against old, male against female, and the few privileged individuals and strategically politically-geographically positioned and connected families against everyone else.  Millennium Development Goals suggest important narrative themes, rather than numerical targets.  Certainly poverty- and hunger-reduction, employment, child survival including reductions in malnutrition and improvements in education and health, access to water, health care, and hygiene, and environmental management and conservation are on the agenda, as are more productive connections between localities, developing country governments, and international agencies and agents of change. But such processes do not proceed without conflict at multiple levels, which the authors try to present from contending perspectives.

The most illuminating material here is on conflict-fraught activities of community-based and non-governmental organizations, whose large numbers and interactions are supremely important, ideologically and instrumentally, in shaping this people’s history, their historical communities, and the emergent independent nations who claim and seek to regulate them as citizens.  Given the long and multi-layered anthropological engagement with the San, the authors tell a story that is not entirely upbeat; for example, they witness young educated males learn and integrate less attractive aspects of modernity into their practices and ideas of the good life. These negative traits include gender violence and discrimination against both younger and older females. Educated males may also embrace increasing inequality and concentration of resources and power among their privileged few. As institutions of cultural change scale up, they consequently may benefit some few families over most. The historical ethnography furthermore raises the question of acceptable or unacceptable anthropological advocacy influences, as the narrative uncomfortably showcases some questionable actions and selective reporting on the part of anthropologists, such as John Marshall, whose films record a remarkable history of contacts and interactions with San over three generations, but then stops short of providing a reliable testimony about current politics and future implications.

Such caveats do not in any way distract from the seriously critical record of local cultural participation in the San’s forging their transitions into modern statehood identities, and of the shifting politics of NGO activities, relative to the real politics of states and international agencies. From my “anthropology of human rights” perspective, this is the only volume I know that discusses rights AND responsibilities in a multi-leveled, multi-dimensional, and coherent fashion, and successfully bridges “needs-based” and “rights-based” analysis of changing social structure and content, while incorporating local voices every step of the way.  Let it serve as a model for what is possible and desirable, and inspiration for so many Africanist colleagues, who otherwise choose to tangle, or remain hopelessly entangled in tropes.

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Filed under Africa, anthropology, book reviews, development, economics, food security, history

A Binational Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice

eduador field image

Photo courtesy of the Food in Culture and Social Justice blog, osufcsj.wordpress.com.

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

I recently completed a pilot run of a binational learning community focused on food, culture and social justice in Ecuador and Oregon. I live in Oregon and have been working with food activists there. I took a sabbatical in Ecuador in 2006 and later watched the development and aftermath of the inclusion of “food sovereignty” in their 2008 constitution. I returned on a Fulbright in 2012 and interviewed food activists, along with beginning the work on this exchange program. In September 2013, we received the Ecuador group in Oregon and spent two weeks touring alternative food sites. This was followed by 10 weeks of linked classes and then a two week food system tour of Ecuador in December. I’ve been in Ecuador since the program ended. Last night I attended a talk by Vandana Shiva at the Central University in Quito and in the question period afterwards (which was more like a mini lecture series) one young man asked her how she has used her education. Without missing a beat Dr. Shiva said that her dissertation was on quantum physics and there were two things that underlay both her work in physics and her work in food systems. The first is that everything is connected and the second is that everything is in flux.  I thought that this might be a good way to think about this program on food, culture and social justice.

Because everything is connected, I formed a learning community of people with a variety of interests: nutrition, farming, public policy, gastronomy and, of course, anthropology. Our site visits ranged from farm to table with presenters constantly emphasizing connections between soil health, plant health and human health. The economic aspects were ever present as we discussed the thorny problem of how to get healthy, fresh food to people without much income when they can more easily fill their stomachs with cheaper, less nutritious food. As much as possible, we tried to pair sites in both countries. We visited urban agriculture projects in Portland and Quito; agroecological farms with culturally specific CSA programs; farmers’ markets; seed savers. In the Willamette Valley we heard from organic seed producer, Frank Morton, about why the Willamette Valley is a prime area of the world to produce seeds and the threat of GMOs to the thriving organic seed industry there. He summed up how GMOs have been surreptitiously introduced in Oregon as a policy of “contaminate, then negotiate.” In Ecuador, we heard from Xavier Leon of Acción Ecológica about the constant threat of GMOs from agroindustries, even though the constitution declares Ecuador a GMO-free country. We also saw how the two countries are connected. Our natural foods co-ops sell high end chocolate and organic bananas from Ecuador and American brands and fast food outlets are very prevalent in Ecuadorian cities.

Vandana Shiva also spent time talking about oppression and liberation within the food system how food should be a human right. This was another theme of the binational learning community. We talked with Latino farmworkers in Oregon and ex-hacienda workers in Ecuador about the injustices of the industrial food system. It was enlightening and depressing to see similar struggles within very different cultural/historical/political contexts. We heard about the innovative community organizing programs at the Oregon Food Bank and later helped the gleaners do a food re-pack and shared their pot luck lunch. There is no food banking system in Ecuador, but we visited the successful Canastas Comunitarias program in Riobamba where low-income urban dwellers have connected with agroecological farmers. Every two weeks they buy in bulk, directly from the farmers and divide up the produce among the urban buyers. This system has spread around the country.

ecuador fruit

Photo courtesy of Food in Culture and Social Justice blog, http://osufcsj.wordpress.com/

Everything is in flux, and through lectures about changing diets through time, we laid the groundwork for change in the future, a predilection of the people inside the learning community and those who presented to us. Often the change they proposed was a return to earlier patterns of consumption. We focused on the particular situations of Native Americans who had their land stolen and their foodways altered and are now suffering from diet-related diseases at a much higher rate than the rest of the population in both countries. A focus on Native Americans also allowed us to understand the importance of ecosystems in the creation of cultural foodways. We spent a day with the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz on the Oregon coast and another couple days with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla on the high plateau. In Ecuador we visited two Kichwa groups who have started community tourism ventures: one at 12,500 feet in Cotopaxi and another group in Misahuallí in the Amazon basin. In each place, we discovered new plants and animals that nourish people there. The Ecuadorians were shocked to eat elk and the American shocked to eat Chontacuro grubs. Most Ecuadorians are a generation closer to farming and to shopping at open air markets, but we heard about how quickly things are changing. Overweight and obese children are more and more common, as well as non-communicable diet-related diseases such as diabetes.

Learning is not simply an intellectual exercise. It involves our emotions and all our senses and is linked to our daily practices. Learning communities work against the fragmentation of information and the decreasing sense of community by setting up a non-hierarchical atmosphere of collaborative learning that is rich in experience. With a focus on food, practically every meal became a classroom as chefs explained where they obtained their food and how they prepared it. We prepared ceviche with Oregon mussels with Slow Food Corvallis and we roasted and ground chocolate in the jungle. We weathered short bouts of intestinal problems (in both places) and altitude sickness in Ecuador. We had numerous conversations on buses and we sang and danced and joked together. We learned new vocabulary in two languages. Sometimes we struggled to understand and other times we struggled to express ourselves in a new language, but we got better at both tasks. We shared our knowledge and learned many new things together. If any of you are interested in putting together a similar program, I’d be happy to talk with you. You might even want to check out the group’s blog at osufcsj.wordpress.com.

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Filed under agriculture, Andes, anthropology, Eduador, food policy, Food Studies, foodways, Latin America, Oregon