Tag Archives: food studies

Food and Cooking on Early European Television

We received the following call for abstracts from Dr. Ana Tominc, of Queen
Margaret University Edinburgh, and thought it would be of interest to SAFN members. 

Food and Cooking on Early European Television
Call for Abstracts

Food has been part of television from its beginnings. As technology that supported producing and broadcasting television pictures developed through the 1920s in both Europe and US, the first experimental TV service was established in Britain and then Germany in 1935 (Hickethier 2008). A year later, a Miss Dickson, also known as a singing cook, first cooked on British television  (Geddes 2018), followed by the more recognised chef Boulestin. But it was only in the decades following World War II, when broadcasting technology was further improved and the European nations slowly started to come to grips with the new realities of postwar Europe that food and cooking became firmly established as one of the most regular programmes on European televisions, both East and West.

This interest in food programming and especially food cooking shows, was partially to do with a particular focus of the European public broadcasters on educational contents of its television schedule, although this was not the sole reason for popularity of food and cooking on television screens. The audiences were often fascinated with television as a new medium in itself, and shows involving cooking became a familiar genre through which they could receive information about new foodstuffs that became popular in Europe through the postwar decades and popular recipes, but also educate themselves about manners and appropriate use of new household products that European industries produced after the War. Apart from offering a window to tastes and lifestyles that allowed Europeans of all walks of life to strive for self improvement (Bell and Hollows 2006; Lewis 2008; Naccarato and Lebesco 2012; de Solier 2005), food television also provided a narrative for self identification in terms of nation as it introduced dishes that “we”  eat, while also allowing for getting to know the “other”. It affected gender roles as it either reconfirmed women’s role as a homemaker or introduced novel gender patterns that transcended the previous divisions (Moseley 2008).

Food programming was one of the TV genres that features on almost all European televisions from early on, although in different formats, genres and quantities. The aim of this edited volume will therefore be to critically examine the role of food programming on European early television and the impact it might have had on food habits and identities for the European audiences.1 The role of television in this process was unprecedented, since, as Turnock (2008: 6) argues for Britain, “[e]xpansion of television institutions promoted social and cultural change through the development of production practices, technologies and programme forms that made culture increasingly visible in this new way; and this visibility promoted consumer culture.”

However, notwithstanding the importance of food programming on early television, research into early food television in Europe is surprisingly scarce, despite considerable interest in early television history on both east and western sides of Europe (see, for example, Bonner 2009; Buscemi 2014; Comunian 2018; Eriksson 2016; Geddes 2017; Moseley 2008; Tominc 2015; and for US, Collins 2005; Oren 2019). To an extent, this is understandable, given the potential lack of audiovisual sources related to early television overall (O’Dwyer 2008; Holmes 2008) where many programmes have not been preserved due to the nature of early television broadcasting.  However, this gap in scholarship is also surprising amid current scholarly interest in food media and their relevance for contemporary societies (e.g. Adema 2000; Bradley 2016; Hollows 2003; Ketchum 2005; Leer and Povlsen 2016; Oren 2019; Rousseau 2012; Strange 1998;  and so forth).

This collection therefore, first, looks to address this major gap in research on early food television in Europe; and second, to provide important material for a comparative study into European food broadcasting and the impact this might have had on ways of consuming food in Europe. In this volume, the aim is therefore to explore early cooking on European television in terms of its differences and similarities but specifically focusing on:

  • national contexts that allowed for development of specific food programmes and how this was reflected in the content
  • genres of food programming across Europe (e.g. various variants of cookery shows, travelogs, documentary-like representations of foods and so on)
  • content of these shows in terms of food: Who cooked? What did they cook?
  • who was the intended audience of the television programmes?
  • what was the impact of these shows on national or supra national food cultures?
  • what was the overall narrative of these television programmes in terms of identity, social change, modernity etc.?
  • to what extend did national broadcasting regulations influence the kinds of television programmes made about food and cooking?

Case studies from all European countries are encouraged.

Submission of Abstracts

If you would like to participate in this edited volume, please send:

  • a 300 word abstract that contains aim and brief background, sources of data & method, and potential argument/results if already known, and
  • a 50 word bio

to Dr Ana Tominc (atominc@qmu.ac.uk) by Friday, 26 October 2018. Notification of acceptance of abstract will be by 31 October 2018. Any queries should be addressed to Dr Ana Tominc (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh).

Information on Publication

The collection will be published with a major English language academic publisher, likely in 2020.

If the abstract is accepted, the authors will deliver the final article in good English by 1 October 2019. The length will be between 6-8,000 words including references and footnotes, depending on the final arrangement with the publisher. The exact length and formatting style will be communicated to the authors once the abstract has been accepted. An example of visual material is encouraged, although seeking permissions for publication remain with the author.

1For the purposes of this collection, early television will be defined dependent on the context of national television and the start of their national broadcasters. While attempts to established television started already before 1945, it was only in the two decades following WW2 that the majority of the European nations established their TVs, mostly through the 1950s and 1960s (Hickethier 2008: 56).

References

Adema, Pauline (2000): Vicarious consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity. Journal of American and Comparative Culture 23(3):113-124.

Bell, David and Joanna Hollows (2006): Towards a history of lifestyle. In David Bell and Joanna Hollows (eds): Historicizing Lifestyle. Mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bonner, Frances (2009): Early multi-platforming. Television food programmes, cookbooks and other print spin-offs. Media History 15 (3): 345-358.

Bradley, Perri ed. (2016): Food, Media and Contemporary Culture. Palgrave.

Buscemi, Francesco (2014): National culinary capital: How the state and TV shape the ‘taste of the nation’ to create distinction. PhD thesis. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Collins, Kathleen (2009): Watching what we Eat. The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. New York, London: Continuum.

Comunian, Cristina (2018): The Italian culinary identity shaped by early television broadcasts of Mario Soldati and his Viaggio nella Valle del Pol alla richerca di cibi genuine (Journey along the Po Valley in search of genuine food). Masters Dissertation. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Eriksson, Göran (2016): The ‘ordinary-ization’ of televised cooking expertise: A historical study of cooking instruction programmes on Swedish television. Discourse, Context & Media, 3: 29-39.

Geddes, Kevin (2017): ‘Above all, garnish and presentation’: An evaluation of Fanny Cradock’s contribution to home cooking in Britain. International Journal of Consumer Studies,  41(6): 745-753.

Geddes, Kevin (2018): Nailed It! The history, development and evolution of entertainment in British Television Cooking Programmes 1936-1976. A Presentation at the 1st Biennial Conference on Food and Communication. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University, 6-7 September 2018.

Hickethier, Knut (2008): Early TV: Imagining and Realising Television. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 55-78.

Hollows, Joanne (2003): Oliver’s Twist. Leisure, Labour and Domestic Masculinity in The Naked Chef. International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (2): 229–248.

Holmes, Su (2008): Entertaining television. The BBC and popular culture in the 1950s. Manchester: MUP.

Ketchum, Cheri (2005): The Essence of cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies. Journal of Communication Enquiry, 29 (3): 217-234.

Leer, Jonathan and Povlsen, Karen K. eds. (2016): Food and Media: Practices, Distinctions and Heterotopias. Routledge.

Lewis, Tania (2008): Smart living: lifestyle media and popular expertise. New York: Peter Lang.

Moseley, Rachel (2008): Marguerite Patten, television cookery and postwar British femininity. In: Gillis, Stacy and Hollows, Joanne (eds.), Feminism, domesticity and popular culture. Routledge advances in sociology . London: Routledge, 17-31.

Naccarato, Peter and Kathleen LeBesco (2012): Culinary Capital. London, New York: Berg.

O’Dwyer, Andy (2008): European Television Archives and the Search for Audiovisual Sources. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 257-263.

Oren, Tasha (2019): Food TV (Routledge Television Guidebooks). London: Routledge.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference. London and New York: Berg.

de Solier, Isabelle (2005): TV Dinners: Culinary Television, Education and Distinction. Continuum, 19 (4): 465-481.

Strange, Nikki (1998): Perform, educate, entertain: ingredients of the cookery programme genre. In Christine Geraghty and David Lusted (eds), The Television Studies Book. London, New York: Arnold, 301-312.

Tominc, Ana (2015): Cooking on Slovene national television during socialism: an overview of cooking programmes from 1960 to 1990. Družboslovne razprave,  XXXI (79): 27-44.

Turnock, Rob  (2007): Television and Consumer Culture. Britain and the Transformation of Modernity. London: I.B. Tauris.

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Filed under anthropology, Europe, Food Studies, media

Perspectives On U.S. Food Policy: Farm Bill 2018

 

Ellen Messer

An essay inspired by Amy Goldstein’s JanesvilleAn American Story (2017, Simon and janesville-9781501102264_hrSchuster).  What this account of economic decline and increasing social polarization in a post-industrial American town reveals about the limitations of local household and community coping strategies and the failures of government safety nets.

Introduction

At the June, 2018 annual conference of the Association for Study of Food in Society (ASFS) and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) in Madison, Wisconsin, some number of us SAFN members participated in an open forum on the 2018 Farm Bill and also took the opportunity to learn more about the history of the food movement in Wisconsin.

When I proposed this session, I hoped to involve food and nutrition anthropologists and other professionals in run-up and follow-up conversations, sharing information about how these professionals participated in Farm Bill related research, education, and outreach, including advocacy activities.  The round-table session would focus attention on the hot-button issues in the Farm Bill 2018 news, which from January through June included cut-backs and structural changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), reductions in conservation agriculture and community-food security initiatives that threatened to derail promising programs in urban agriculture and grants to support new farmers and ranchers, discussions of crop insurance and who should be able to collect benefits payments (only actual farmers or also non-farming family members), and overall discussion of environmental protection agendas, including permissible pesticides, organic regulations, and payments to users to encourage conservation practices.  The goals of this open forum were practical as well as research and policy oriented: to learn what ag/food/nutritional professionals were doing (and observing) with regard to the Farm Bill, and to learn what information and outreach formats work best to engage populations of farmers and non-farmers, including students and university faculty and administrators, to influence politicians responsible for the final form of this multi-faceted, “omnibus” legislation.  Finally, a question that cross-cut this Farm Bill and other food-movement discussions, concerned what are the most promising platforms for sharing information and perspectives, to generate ongoing exchanges of information.

At present (mid-July 2018), the final form of the 2018 Farm Bill awaits reconciliation of House and Senate versions that have now passed their respective chambers.  A key sticking point are major eligibility and funding-level changes to SNAP, the most important US government program protecting people from hunger.  At our Open Forum, colleagues shared various and sometimes contentious points of view they had witnessed among particular rural and urban populations regarding such government food programs.  Particularly in the midwest heartland, some of these professionals found considerable push-back against government income transfers targeted for food. Some of these hardworking folks (the particular example involved farmers) indicated they expected everyone to work harder and not have to rely on government-sponsored food entitlements at taxpayer expense.  For strong supporters of SNAP food-security benefits, including myself, these ethnographic observations were troubling, and revealed how much we who champion SNAP don’t know about the thinking or situations of opponents.  We read the household-level economic and nutritional studies and are confident that significant benefits are present and assume such results, in some sense, speak for themselves.  This situation, combined with a growing awareness of Wisconsin’s recent history, which showed Wisconsin state government and national electoral politics had shifted from “blue” to “red” raised the question: why do people vote against their own interests, and the well-being and future of their state, by reducing public spending for basic quality education and health care, which inevitably disadvantages everyone who has much to lose from an undereducated, underemployed work force that is also likely to be more sickly and threaten the public health of everyone?

As I pondered these questions, I looked for recent books and found two very recent publications on Wisconsin society and politics.  One was Amy Goldstein’s Janesville. An American Story (Simon & Schuster, 2018)Sometimes a book outside food and nutritional anthropology’s immediate, specialized area of interest provides important insights into science and policy issues that may be missing in studies that ostensibly more directly engage our targeted professional interests.  Janesville proved to be a case in point.  Although its evidence extended only through 2016, it offered a context to discuss proposed changes to USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”), in the 2018 Farm Bill, which US legislators still hope to finalize by 30 September 2018 when the 2014 Farm Bill expires.

As we found out from participants in our Open Forum, most Americans don’t follow the specifics of this enormous (“omnibus”) piece of agriculture, food, and nutrition legislation. Nor do they realize that close to 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s roughly $800 billion expenditures go to food and nutrition programs, the largest of which is SNAP.

SNAP, as we food professionals know, is the most important US food-security program, an income transfer program targeted toward improving low income household access to food, which expands and contracts according to expansion and contraction of employment and incomes.  The most recent SNAP participation figures, which the government tracks monthly, yearly, and state by state, indicate an estimated 41,240,974 Americans, living in 20,467,521 households, relied in part on SNAP benefits to put food on their tables because their existing income did not suffice. Average benefits per person were $126.76 per month or $255.41 per household.  That said, numbers of participants have steadily declined year by year since 2015, when more then 45 million Americans accessed SNAP in what was then a lower-employment and lower-wage environment, although average monthly benefits remained relatively unchanged.

Key proposed changes in the House Farm bill, which passed in late June, are reductions in overall eligibility and benefits, additional bureaucratic burdens of monthly recertifications, and mandatory work requirements for all able-bodied adults.  These specifics, including financial and social welfare analyses that demonstrate these changes will increase food-insecurity among those eligible and newly ineligible, can be found on the updated Center for Budget and Policy Priorities website.  Instead, consistent with David Himmelgreen’s well-reasoned “In Focus” essay on hunger, which used anthropology to put a human face on hunger numbers, I use Amy Goldstein’s Janesville interviews, which tracked individual and family histories from the great recession of 2008 for five years through 2013 (with brief “epilogue” updates through 2016), as a kind of ethnography, to examine the implications of changing US Food Policy.

The Findings

This book tells a distressing story, a case study showing how post-industrial American cities have fared in situations where their well-paying manufacturing jobs have disappeared.  Janesville, Wisconsin was a General Motors town.  Most of the residents, male and female, worked for the automotive company directly, in their assembly lines, or indirectly, producing parts (e.g., Lear engines), accessories, or services that went into the finished vehicles or provisioned laborers and their families.  Some worked, alternatively, at the other signature employer, Parker Pen, which also ceased operations during the period of study (2008-2013).

The chapters, arranged by years, tell the story of the town institutions, politics, and people forced to adapt to these deteriorating economic times. Each year’s framings also include political anecdotes showcasing the most characteristic stances of leading politicians. These politicians included Barack Obama, who was elected twice over this period, and attracted heartfelt support in this largely Democratic, union (UAW) town.  His stirring promises and commitment to the American automobile industry as an icon of American culture and economy, proved to be largely empty, despite costly federal government bail-outs, which seem to have fattened management and investors, not the workers, who were out of jobs.

The other major political figure was Paul Ryan, descendant of a wealthy Irish “mafia” (a local term taken directly from interviews in the book), who represented the upper class in this increasingly polarized community.  Ascending to Republican leadership positions in Washington, Ryan voted to cut budgets and benefits alongside his fellow Republicans, including Governor Scott Walker, who somehow managed to get elected multiple times and defeat a grassroots effort to impeach (recall) him. Why? The reader never quite learns the answer to this conundrum, which saw the state of Wisconsin withdraw healing or life-sustaining health and education funds at exactly the point where they were most needed.

The book begins with some background on Janesville, which had a long and illustrious history of hard working, civic minded people, who took care of their own, and avoided the violence that sometimes erupted in other union towns fighting for labor rights against management.  The general public and union at first assumed they would weather this shut-down as well, but as weeks and months became years of unemployment, the return of high paying jobs became increasingly unlikely, and people had to find other routes to livelihoods—or lose their houses (many were foreclosed), other major equipment (repossessed—although there was not much discussion of this), or move to where there might be better prospects (a handful of men commuted to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they (nicknamed “gypsies”) worked at the GM plant from Monday morning until Friday evening, then drove back to spend weekends with their families in Janesville.

The narrative is constructed out of household and individual life histories, which detail the disruptions in the lives of four autoworkers’ families; two workers from other local industries (which also shut down), two local politicians (Paul Ryan and Tim Cullen, former and Future Democratic state senator, who tried to negotiate across the growing economic chasm).  There were also three educators, whose efforts to protect homeless students left behind by struggling families, a social studies teacher at the local high school, who created a Closet to provide emergency supplies for students lacking food and sundries for minimally decent and dignified lives because their households’ economies had collapsed.  Two business leaders, who don’t seem to have accomplished very much for the vast majority of those down on their luck, grew in privileged status—self-described “optimists” who distanced themselves from misfortune and unfortunates. Additionally, there were two community leaders who reported on economic situations and tried to bring attention to possible solutions.

Food and Nutrition Implications

For me, a food and nutrition anthropologist, the most evocative vignettes were the descriptions of multi-generational households struggling to put food on the table, once the major wage earners had lost their factory jobs. In these situations, all able-bodied adults and responsible teenagers who worked two or three jobs per person in order to maintain the human dignity and nutritional well-being of their households.  The workers included highly motivated high school kids, whose contributions to household budgets were significant enough to keep families from penury and more extreme food insecurity, but also prevented these households from qualifying for higher SNAP benefits and the college-bound kids themselves from needs-based scholarships.

Households without regular incomes cobbled together food provisions from minimal earnings, savings, and emergency sources, which included a high school emergency “closet,” established by concerned teachers, that contained essential food and sundries the kids otherwise lacked.  Over this period, various local charities, including food pantries and food banks, distributed what emergency food provisions they had and solicited more, but saw their financial resources cut back by what they interpreted to be mean spirited government, especially at the state level. These sections vividly testify to the limits of customary charitable networks, especially where most workers have lost primary sources of income that they have been unable to replace.  Traditionally generous local Christmas and other holiday food efforts continued but had to be scaled back. A community where large numbers were unemployed or had suffered big cuts to wages, saw increasing numbers of people with unmet needs in a context of decreasing contributions.

Social and Moral Dimensions

 The adults’ struggles to find jobs, provision their families, and put food on the table with dignity—as their roles changed from “givers” to “receivers” of charity are forcefully epitomized in these very human stories, short biographies of hard-working and loving families, coping with economic crisis and family disasters through no fault of their own.  For me, the most important findings came at the end of the narrative, which documented the growing bifurcation of what had been a resilient, middle class town, which over a very short time divided into a two class town that separated rich from poor, with the faltering lower class seeing no prospects for regaining their prior middle class life style and culture.

The other major insights were reported in two appendices.  The first, a 2013 survey of household economies in Rock County before and after the recession, showed deep cutbacks in quality of life alongside a reluctance to ask government for greater assistance. This may have been partly cultural but also suggests a deep distrust of government capacity to improve their situations.  Contrary to government officials, most thought the country was still in recession. Specifically, over one third of households had lost jobs, three quarters of the households had experienced a significant decrease in home values (a consequence of the separate but related mortgage and real estate crisis). For those who had found another job, more than half were earning less than before. Only 3-5% responded that they thought Janesville would recover to the financial and job security they had enjoyed prior to the crisis. At least half expressed difficulty at some point in paying for adequate food, and more than half had had to cut back on health care and other necessities.  Many acknowledged symptoms of anxiety and depression. But only about a third overall thought that government should be doing more to help people who were out of work (more out of work favored greater government assistance than those who had not lost jobs).

The second survey, which examined the impact of local community college job training programs, revealed that these job-training programs, which encouraged many workers to go back to school and retool for other jobs, did not put them at an advantage over those who did not access job training.   About 10 percent more of the re-employed workers had found employment without enrolling in community-college training. Those who had not gone back to school also appeared to have steadier work and to be earning more.  Local jobs that would have enabled the retrained group to put their new skills to work, at least in the immediate term, were not there.

Such findings bode ill for job training programs that are supposed to put SNAP or other beneficiaries of public food and nutrition programs to work, to earn living wages so they will not have to rely on government assistance. They also suggest an urgent task for everyone who cares about reductions in food insecurity.  It is time to go out to such heartlands, and listen to what people are thinking and doing, and find ways to emphasize the “jobs” connections to food programs, which otherwise will continue to founder through misunderstanding, resistance, and lack of support for entitlements.

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Filed under anthropology, Farm Bill, food policy, food stamps

Want Fame and Glory? Award Deadline Reminders!

SAFN has two glorious awards that are given annually to students engaged in various aspects of food and nutrition related research. The deadline for both is coming up quite soon: July 27, 2018.

Do not miss the opportunity to have your research recognized!

Here are some details, follow the links below for more information on how to apply.

Thomas Marchione Award

Eligibility: all MA, MS or PhD students.

For research exploring “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food” in the words of Dr. Thomas Marchione, whom we honor in presenting this award.

This annual award will be granted to a student whose work addresses food as a human right, including a focus on food justice, food security and access, food sovereignty and other areas where social justice and food intersect. Students should apply, even if they have not fully completed their research, because work-in-progress, and proposed work will also be considered. The winner will be awarded a cash prize ($750) and a one -year membership to the AAA and SAFN.

More information here.

Questions? Contact Dr. Ryan Adams (adamsr@lycoming.edu), Lycoming College

Christine Wilson Award(s)

Eligibility: Undergraduate or graduate students currently enrolled (or enrolled in the last academic year).

The Christine Wilson Awards are presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives in nutrition, food studies and anthropology.

Papers may report on research undertaken in whole or in part by the author. Co–authored work is acceptable, provided that submitting student is first author. Papers must have as their primary focus an anthropological approach to the study of food and/or nutrition and must present original, empirical research; literature reviews are not eligible. Papers that propose a new conceptual framework or outline novel research designs or methodological approaches are especially welcome. Winners will be recognized and presented with an award at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association and receive a year’s membership in SAFN.

More information here.

Questions? Contact Dr. Ryan Adams (adamsr@lycoming.edu), Lycoming College

 The deadline for these awards is July 27, 2018.

 

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Filed under anthropology, awards, Christine Wilson, Thomas Marchione

Not Safe Spaces: On Protest & Exclusion in DC Restaurants

David Beriss

It seems like every social crisis gets played out, one way or another, in restaurants. Lately, a few people who work in the Trump administration have found themselves the objects of protest when they have gone out to eat in public. First, Trump advisor Stephen Miller was shouted at and called a fascist while dining at Espita Mezcaleria, a DC restaurant that serves food that is inspired by Mexico and goes by the motto “Authentic, not Traditional.” Then, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was confronted by protesters at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, another DC restaurant featuring Mexican food. Most recently, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked by the owner to leave the Red Hen, a fancy restaurant “featuring the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley,” this time in Lexington, VA. President Trump may not be known for his sophisticated dining habits, but the people who work for him seem to like trendy places for their dinners.

Reactions to these protests have been varied. President Trump tweeted out a harsh evaluation of the Red Hen in response to the ejection of Ms. Sanders and the restaurant’s reviews on Yelp turned sharply negative for a while, although few of the critics seemed to know anything about the food. Representative Maxine Waters called on people to continue to protest Trump workers in restaurants and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump responded with threats. On the left, people were mostly thrilled about the demonstrations against representatives of Trump administration policies. There was also some hand-wringing about whether such protests would further poison the atmosphere or bring the left down to the level of discourse that seems to characterize the right. The Washington Post editorial board argued that Trump officials should be allowed to eat in peace. Others predicted that these protests might be analogous to events that preceded the Civil War. There was collateral damage, as restaurants with similar names got drawn into the fray. And New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik invoked the anthropology of commensality in his cleverly hedged defense of excluding Sanders from dinner (the book he cites is here).

Commensality—the sharing of food at meals—is not really the right concept for interpreting these events. When we eat in restaurants, we don’t share food with all the people in the restaurant. At least, not since the invention of modern restaurants in the late 18th century. Usually, you sit down and order your own meal from a menu. You might share with the people at your table and if commensality is going to be invoked, it is there that you will find it. There is a lot going on, socially and culturally speaking, in restaurants, but in the cases involving Trump administration officials, I would argue that we should start thinking about them by invoking Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “distinction.” Bourdieu argued that people demonstrate their place in society through aesthetic choices, including where, what, and how they eat. Being able to eat in an expensive and sophisticated restaurant (and knowing the right ones to choose) is a way of demonstrating social distinction. Trump, the billionaire, can demonstrate his wealth through his disdain for sophistication. His less-wealthy acolytes demonstrate their taste by picking the fancy and trendy places, in this case “Mexican” restaurants owned and operated by famous non-Mexican chefs and a very trendy looking farm-to-table operation in Lexington, VA. These are not chain restaurants and they are definitely not taco stands. Eating in these places is not about sharing a moment of common pleasure with the other patrons. It is about showing off your culture and sophistication.

We should also consider that at least two of these incidents have occurred in “Mexican” restaurants. What does it mean that people like Miller and Nielsen, architects of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant (and specifically anti-Mexican and anti-Central American) policies, should choose this cuisine? The DC area is full of immigrants and has food from all over the world, which makes it a great place to eat. Explicitly exclusionary policies aside, Trump’s comments on loving Hispanics whilst eating a Trump Tower taco bowl or the fear of a taco truck on every corner invoked by one of his supporters during the election surely made it clear that this administration is not about celebrating culinary diversity. While one has to assume that Latinos run the kitchens in the restaurants chosen by Miller and Nielsen (as they do in the majority of restaurants of all sorts in America), neither of these were “immigrant” restaurants. The food may be inspired by Mexico, but the owners are of European descent, including the famous restaurateur Todd English. This is Mexican food after it has been thoroughly conquered and assimilated. I doubt Miller and Nielsen really thought through the symbolism (then again, who knows?), but at some level it is possible to interpret these choices as a kind of middle finger directed at immigrants. We can exclude you and take your food too.

That leaves the protest. When these folks dine out, it is clearly not about commensality, but it is about being in public. Eating in restaurants, as a public act of social distinction, has always been subject to public scrutiny. By dining in public, the high and mighty also run the risk of encountering the disdain and wrath of the common folk. That is also in the nature of restaurants. Restaurants are not and never have been neutral zones, where everyone puts down their ideology and their differences and admires the roast chicken in harmony. Social media has been circulating images of Rick’s Café Américain, from the film Casablanca, in which German officers, singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” are interrupted by vigorous singing of “La Marseillaise.” Curiously, nobody has invoked Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing,” which centers on a Brooklyn pizzeria and ends in protest and flames. Nobody gets to dine in peace in these films. But we need not resort to fiction. Real restaurants were long used to exclude women and African Americans and both used protest—the refusal to allow everyone else to dine in peace—to gain access. This was especially notable in the case of students sitting in at lunch counters throughout the South in the 1960s, holding their ground while being beaten or spat upon. Until everyone’s right to dine in public—everyone’s right to equality and equal access to public accommodations— was recognized, nobody was going to dine in peace. Restaurants never have been safe spaces.

There is a fundamental difference in the Civil Rights protests for equal access and the harassment or exclusion of Miller, Nielsen, and Sanders. In the former case, the protests were designed to stop discrimination against whole classes of people. It was never about the specific protesters. In these cases, the objects of protest are specific individuals. It is not a class of people, but very clearly individuals who are responsible for inventing, implementing, and speaking for a set of public policies. Not all Republicans, not even everyone who works in the Federal government under President Trump. This, in the end, is a key distinction. These are public figures, associated with particular ideas and policies. And this is a society in which the right to peacefully protest is fundamental, at least so far. Even in restaurants.

One last point to consider. Even as Miller, Nielsen, and Sanders were suffering their public shaming, the atmosphere fostered by the Trump administration is overwhelmingly encouraging efforts to exclude immigrants, African-Americans, and others from equal access to public accommodations. From the arrest of black men for sitting in a Starbucks, to the detention of a pizza delivery man at a New York military base, to a transgender woman being thrown out of a DC restaurant for using the women’s restroom, restaurants remain privileged sites for the social exclusion and persecution of whole classes of people. It would be encouraging if their experiences of being shunned provoked the Trump trio to reconsider the atmosphere their policies have helped create. When that happens, we will all perhaps start thinking about sharing some meals in restaurants together.

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Filed under anthropology, food politics, Food Studies, restaurants

The Agroecological Prospect, Cheese Curds and Radishes

David Beriss

Last week I attended the joint annual meeting of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society and the Association for the Study of Food and Society. The conference was in Madison, Wisconsin and the AFHVS folks were in charge, which probably accounts for the very agriculturally-focused theme: “The Agroecological Prospect: The Politics of Integrating Values, Food, and Farming.” This is always a great conference, well worth attending. The University of Wisconsin campus is lovely and historic. We were there at the same time as a conference/reunion focusing on Madison in the 60s, which meant that there was a constant buzz of nostalgic discussions of radical politics and counter-cultural activities in the air.

This is a small conference. I think there were around 500 people participating this year. It is also very open to students. There are a lot of graduate students who present research and even some undergraduates, along with faculty, professional researchers, activists, people from government agencies, and nonprofits. People are generally quite approachable, and it is easy to meet scholars and make new connections. This is probably helped by the wonderful snacks provided between sessions (hey, it is a food conference), which in Madison included some very crunchy radishes.Radishes Madison Farmers Market

We had a nice contingent of SAFN members at the conference. SAFN sponsored several sessions (at least four, I think), including a session on food activism in higher education, another on restaurants and social movements, a roundtable discussion with representatives from funding organizations, and another on the relationship between food studies programs and local communities (many thanks to Amanda Green and the SAFN program committee for organizing all of this). There were many anthropologists on the program outside our sessions as well. Rachel Black and I organized a little gathering of SAFN members (I apologize for the confusion regarding the location), which included a little wine (as an aside, it is amusing to go shopping for wine with a wine scholar, especially in a store that markets primarily to college students) and nice conversation and ended in a beer and bratwurst establishment that featured mediocre brats, but also lovely little triangles of deep fried macaroni and cheese. Highbrow stuff, you betcha.

A lot of conferences have a sort of shadow conference happening on social media and the AFHVS/ASFS conference is especially intense in this regard. Emily Contois, of the University of Tulsa, led this effort and she has provided a sort of round up of the live tweeting from many sessions here. Even though I contribute to this in a modest way, I am still always surprised when people outside the conference (people in the world of food writing, for instance, who might have been mentioned in a presentation) see the tweets and respond in real time. This is both very cool and somewhat vertigo-inducing, as you realize that the conversations you are having are echoing around the planet in real time.

The conference also usually features a day of field trips to food and agriculture-related organizations prior to the beginning of the main conference. This year there were several, including a visit to the Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society, a field trip to two social justice organizations that are linked to food and agriculture (the Badger Rock School and the Farley Center), a trip to Milwaukee to visit a variety of food-related activist organizations, a sustainable meal hackathon, and much more. I took a tour of the campus of Epic Systems, a company located outside of Madison that specializes in health-care software. The company’s campus is built with an eye toward sustainability, especially through the production of food for their employees. The site is indeed quite remarkable.

Rhubarb Madison Farmers MarketMadison is, by the way, a lovely city. If you happen to visit, be sure to stroll around the capital on a Saturday morning to see the Dane County Farmers Market and get some cheese curds (or actual cheese) or any of the great produce. Strawberries, rhubarb, and, of course, radishes were especially abundant while we were there. Such good radishes.

Next year’s conference will be in Anchorage, Alaska, June 26-29, 2019. Start making your plans now.

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Filed under AFHVS, anthropology, ASFS, Food Studies

CFP: Agricultural History Society Meeting, June 2019

Having received this call for papers twice in two days, it seems necessary to share it here. As the CFP below notes, the Agricultural History Society is interdisciplinary, so contributions from anthropologists would be, we assume, welcome.

Call for Papers

Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting

Washington, DC

June 6-8, 2019

Power in Agricultural History

The 100th anniversary meeting of the Agricultural History Society will be held in Washington, DC, an appropriate location to address the theme of “Power in Agricultural History.” Power, in its multiple guises—whether political, social, economic, or physical—is embedded in every aspect of agricultural production, food and fiber marketing and consumption, and rural society and culture. The organizing theme is meant to encourage historians who refuse to accept that the current and future conditions of farms, food systems, and rural society and culture are the result of autonomous logics. It is worth remembering that among the founders of the Agricultural History Society were rural sociologists and agricultural economists who sought to influence public policy by developing their insights through historical research. The 100th anniversary meeting offers an opportunity to celebrate and extend the interdisciplinary sensibility and public mission of the society, no small matter given the challenges that confront rural citizens and agricultural policymakers in our own time. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • the political power of farm organizations, electoral processes, policymaking institutions, for-profit firms, and third-sector and nongovernmental organizations
  • social power in rural societies as enabled and/or constrained by gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion
  • dynamics of power in rural landscapes, rural and urban ecologies, and between humans and non-human organisms in agricultural systems
  • the application of animal, mechanical, or fossil-fuel based power sources to the production and distribution of agricultural goods
  • historical analysis of economic power imbalances in rural society and agricultural markets
  • theories and processes of modernization and rural development as exercises in power across national boundaries
  • modes of cooperation and conflict, trust and mistrust in rural culture, society, and political and economic institutions
  • social movements that have sought to transform the balance of power in rural environments

As befits the society’s inclusive approach we especially encourage contributions from emerging scholars and researchers covering understudied geographical regions or time periods, and as custom dictates we will also support significant contributions that do not directly address the conference theme.

Information on submission:

•         The Society takes a broad view on what constitutes rural and agricultural history. Topics from any location and time period are welcome.

•         The AHS encourages proposals of all types, including traditional sessions with successive papers and commentary, thematic panel discussions or debates, roundtables on recent books or films, workshops, and poster presentations.

•         If you will need video projection technology for presentations, please indicate this in your proposal.

•         The program committee prefers complete session proposals, but individual papers will be considered.

•         The AHS extends a special welcome to graduate students and has a competitive travel grant for students presenting papers.

Instructions:

1. Session proposals should include a two-hundred-word abstract for each paper and a one-page CV for each panel member (in MS Word).

2. Individual paper proposals should consist of a two-hundred-word abstract and a one-page CV (in MS Word).

3. All proposals should be submitted electronically in Word format. Submit all proposals to the Program Committee by email at: <aghist2019@gmail.com>.

Deadline for submissions is September 28, 2018.

Questions may be addressed to Shane Hamilton at <shane.hamilton@york.ac.uk>

Program Committee Members: Shane Hamilton, University of York (Chair); Prakash Kumar, Pennsylvania State University; Sarah Phillips, Boston University; Maggie Weber, Iowa State University; Nicole Welk-Joerger, University of Pennsylvania.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, CFP, food history

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, May 31, 2018

David Beriss

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

It is summer, so we are going to begin with something light, at least in spirit, if not in substance. Boston Cream pie, it seems, is under attack. And it really isn’t pie anyhow. Alert SAFN member (and frequent FoodAnthropology contributor) Ellen Messer sent us this story of scandal, outrage, and culinary history, which is by Kara Baskin, writing in the Boston Globe.

On a related pie/cake note, you should read this wonderful piece from the Oxford American by SAFN’s very own student representative, Kelly Alexander. It is the story of half a cake, includes Rick Bragg and Pat Conroy, southern manners, and Jewish wit. And, Kelly, pick up the phone. We want to know.

We eat red beans here in New Orleans, as everyone knows, but sometimes we also eat white beans and black beans. There are a lot more beans out there, as this great article by Burkhard Bilger, writing for The New Yorker, indicates. The focus is on Rancho Gordo, a company that searches out and distributes a huge range of bean varieties, mostly from Mexico. Questions of cultural appropriation, fair trade, and even implications of anthropology are raised. Good read.

While the Rancho Gordo folks source beans from very specific places in Mexico, your local baker in the U.S. is unlikely to be able to source wheat from particular farms. The desire for locally-sourced grain hits something of a wall in the enormous sea of commodity wheat, as Amy Halloran explains in this article from The New Food Economy. This is a fascinating example of the economics of mass grain production versus the growing desire for local products.

In contrast to the problems faced by bakers who want local wheat, public school systems have not been especially picky about where they source their ingredients for school lunches. In this article, from The Nation, Anna Lappé and Jose Oliva argue that they should. They suggest that school lunch makers should attend to more than the bottom line and should make an effort to source ingredients in ways that “promotes public health, community well-being, animal welfare, social justice, and environmental protection.” Citing the example of the Good Food Purchasing Program, developed in Los Angeles, but now used in other cities as well, they show how this approach can achieve their goals. Curiously, and in contrast to the piece above about commodity wheat, they cite a claim that over 80% of the bread products used in LA schools now come from “California-grown, sustainably produced wheat.” Want to chase that number down? Visit this site.

Circling back to globalization, in this article from Civil Eats, Stephanie Strom writes about new processes for extending the life of foods that must be transported long distances. Beginning with cassava, which can be used to make gluten-free tortillas, she focuses on the development of “an all-natural, virtually invisible coating” from Apeel Sciences that can preserve produce. The idea is to help small farmers in a variety of countries get access to foreign markets.

The famous Balti cooking of Birmingham may be vanishing. The reasons range from generational shifts among the owners (the children of Pakistani immigrants do not necessarily want restaurant careers), to changing tastes among British diners, and more. Daniel Stephen Homer and Natalie Grover explore these issues in this article, from Atlas Obscura.

Everything that happens in society seems to happen in restaurants. This is especially true of the growing opioid addiction crisis. In this article from Nation’s Restaurant News, Gloria Dawson explores the ways restaurants are choosing to address the issue. Some have taken to keeping naloxone shots on hand for anyone who needs it. Others are training their staff to deal with overdoses and providing resources for those with addiction issues. The article points out that this is both a staff and customer issue.

Co-operative organization of workplaces has long been an alternative to the usual way businesses are owned and managed. Given all the social issues confronted by restaurants, could co-operative ownership and management help? In this article from Eater, Brenna Houck explores the question. There are several intriguing examples, including bakeries, coffeeshops, and breweries, and mention of useful organizations, like the Democracy at Work Institute.

Apparently everyone in America is on a special diet. Paleo, Keto, Whole 30, not all of which we have heard of here at FoodAnthropology. In this article from the Washington Post, Sophie Egan looks at why this is. Ironically, it seems that a lot of people are following fad diets because they believe that their bodies are unique. Also, people do not trust what they read in newspapers about nutrition, so they read articles about fad diets (in newspapers) and follow them. Yes, this is why we need social science.

We started this with something light and that is the way we will finish. In this lovely short piece by the New York Times’ Samin Nosrat, she describes leaving her mother’s Iranian cooking behind in order to learn all about Italian pasta, only to eventually cook her way back home by bringing the two culinary cultures together. You will enjoy reading this.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food