Tag Archives: Food security

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.


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.



Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under anthropology, food policy, food security, Food Studies

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.

Leave a comment

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


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.

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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

New Prize: The Thomas Marchione Food-as-a-Human-Right Award

Post by John Brett, President, Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to announce an endowed award that honors the seminal work Dr. Thomas Marchione did on behalf of the poor and undernourished in his scholarly work and through his work as a Peace Corps volunteer, at The Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, The Great Lakes Project on the Economic Crisis and USAID.  Made possible through generous donations of family and friends, this annual award will be given to a student whose work continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food security and access, and most directly, food as a human right.  Students applying for this award should demonstrate active and productive engagement with food security and food sovereignty issues.  The award can be in recognition of exemplary work already accomplished, in progress, or for proposed research in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.  It should show concern for the poor and undernourished and a willingness to take an active role in working on behalf of food sovereignty.  Ideally, it would be given to those who are trying to work, in Dr. Marchione’s words, on “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  Given Dr. Marchione’s legacy, preference will be given to proposals from students actively engaged in the central issues that animated his career as a scholar-activist.

There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work.  The award will be presented to the awardee at the SAFN annual business meeting at the AAA annual meeting.  For more information and application materials, click here. The application deadline is October 4, 2013.

1 Comment

Filed under Announcements, anthropology, awards, Call for Papers, food security, human rights, Thomas Marchione