Tag Archives: immigration

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, March 7, 2017

David Beriss

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

Here in New Orleans, we have just finished the Carnival season and have entered into the austere period of Lent. But in the rest of the United States, people are apparently still struggling to sort out the difference between serious stuff and the Carnivalesque. Witness, first, this very serious New York Times column by Frank Bruni, which asserts that people should stop criticizing President Trump’s desire for well-done steak with ketchup. In case you think that Bruni is desperate for something to write about, it seems that concerns over the President’s steak are part of a broader cultural critique, as this article by the editor of Eater.com makes clear. I wonder if we could interest President Trump in some Gulf seafood instead of steak, at least until Easter.

Of course, at FoodAnthropology we are in no position to criticize anyone who takes food seriously. Yet we do have to wonder what we might be missing while thinking about President Trump’s well-done steak and ketchup. For instance, there is this article, by Brian Barth, that looks into the deeper ambiguities of farm labor in the United States. Why is food cheap? One major factor is that food is grown, harvested, and processed by poorly paid and deeply exploited workers. Many of them are the undocumented migrants the new administration wants to deport. Certainly, the plan to deport people seems unjust, but as this article suggests, questions of justice—about wages, working conditions, and more—are far deeper than debates about immigration status would suggest (as we have noted before here on the blog, of course).

The most recent episode of Evan Kleiman’s KCRW radio program “Good Food” is devoted to immigration issues across the food industry, including immigrant restaurants, slaughterhouses, farms, farmers markets, and more. And there are points of view from across the political spectrum as well. Get your students to listen and start a discussion.

In the context of a new administration that wants to emphasize building and buying American, should we reevaluate the food movement’s obsession with the local? Read, for instance, this fascinating article about efforts to make the food provided on University of California campuses sustainable. In this version, “sustainability” is apparently defined by being produced in California. There is quite a lot of food produced in that state, but some things, like coffee, are generally not grown there. Is it more “sustainable” to find a way to grow coffee in California? Or are there arguments for some kinds of globalization worth considering?

Where you get seated in a restaurant matters. Ruth Reichl noted this in her famous review of Le Cirque in 1993, when her experience of dining in disguise and dining as the New York Times food critic led to rather different experiences. But the politics of the dining room can be complicated by any number of factors, including race and gender, and not only in the most famous fine dining establishments. Read, for instance, this brief, but ethnographically detailed piece by Osayi Endolyn on her experiences as a hostess in various restaurants. You will never look at restaurant dining rooms innocently again.

After the recent elections, many pundits suggested that the Democrats paid insufficient attention to suffering in rural America. This dovetails with many of the critiques leveled by food activists in recent years, who argue that failing to pay attention to who produces our food—and in what kind of conditions—is a major problem. This critique is also shared by James Rebanks, an English sheep farmer, who has traveled through rural America and suggests that the industrialized model of farming is problematic at many levels. His critique is similar to the analyses documented by Susan Carol Rogers in her article about the relationship between French agriculture and the French nation.

On a related note, there are also presidential elections in France, coming up in just a few weeks. In an obligatory effort to avoid being accused of neglecting rural France, the candidates make a point of showing up for the enormous agricultural exposition in Paris. This article from NPR examines the thinking of French farmers on the upcoming election…and if you read the Rogers article we cite above, this whole thing makes complete sense.

France is often the example we turn to when we want to point out a country that has not abandoned all the good things—meat, dairy, bread—in favor of one or another fad diet. Indeed, according to one study, only 37% of French people exclude some item (like meat or gluten) from their diet, compared to 64% of people worldwide (44% in Europe, 50% in North America, 84% in Africa and the Middle East). But this is changing, according to this fascinating article from Le Monde (which is where the statistics come from). It seems that the “individualization” of the French diet has led to all manner of interesting changes in what people will eat. Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this article is the fact that it never addresses religion, which is what probably motivates most people around the world to avoid particular foods and an area that has been especially fraught in France in recent years. This could be a great article for discussion with your students, but it is in French.

And while we are on the topic of fad diets, food scholar Emily Contois has recently published an article about food blogs that strive to create new ideas about nutrition, related to gender, class, and ethnicity. And food porn. She has written an extended description of the article on her blog, which you should read.

Here is a nice little piece by Amanda Yee on the African-American shoe box lunch. These were lunches packed for African-Americans traveling across the U.S. prior to the Civil Rights Act, when segregation meant that dining opportunities were rare. Nicely written, with a few good photos too.

It is fitting that we end this week more or less where we started, with some musings on the literary fate of restaurant criticism, by Navneet Alang. Alang riffs off of the work of Elijah Quashie, aka the Chicken Connoisseur, a London-based critic of fast-food fried chicken shops in the UK. Quashie’s reviews, which are available on YouTube, are wonderful in and of themselves, but for Alang, they represent a pivotal moment in the history of restaurant criticism. The tension between snobby elitism and populist fried chicken echoes certain themes in recent UK and US politics. Enjoy.

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On Food and Labor, Briefly

David Beriss

Andrew Puzder has decided to withdraw his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor in the Trump administration. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, nominating a fast-food executive who opposes raising the minimum wage and likes the idea of replacing workers with machines raises a lot of questions. Yet even without Puzder, most of those questions remain relevant, especially since Mr. Trump has, in his other cabinet picks, pursued an agenda that favors big corporations and their leaders over improving the lives of workers. As a consequence, the conditions faced by workers in the food industry need to be at the core of the food movement for the foreseeable future.

When I posted the weekly reading digest earlier this week, I forgot to include a link to an important editorial on immigration, restaurant work, and low wages. Written by Diep Tran, for the NPR food blog, the piece focuses on the problematic idea that foods associated with certain ethnicities and immigrants should be cheap. Tran, who runs Good Girl Dinette in Los Angeles, points out that the expectation of cheap food in Vietnamese, Mexican, or other restaurants can only be met if workers in those restaurants are very poorly paid. His article is a call for better pay and working conditions in “ethnic” restaurants, linked to a willingness by consumers to pay a more reasonable price for the food they serve.

There are many reasons to call attention to the issues raised in this editorial. Questions of low pay and bad working conditions are critical in many parts of the food industry, not just in restaurants. A number of anthropologists have in fact written about these issues – Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, for instance (on undocumented Mexican workers in Chicago restaurants), or Steve Striffler (on workers in a chicken processing plant, mostly immigrants), or Seth Holmes (on migrant farm workers). As these authors (and others) all indicate, the struggle over wages and working conditions in the food industry is also related to debates around immigration in the United States.

Although many of us like to celebrate the idea of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, it is worth keeping in mind that it has long been a nation in which those immigrants are exploited and abused, especially if they are undocumented. People often seem to remember Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” for its depiction of the horrors of the meat packing industry in early twentieth century Chicago. Those horrors were inflicted mostly on immigrant workers. In fact, virtually every way in which those workers were exploited in the novel is still being practiced somewhere, either in the United States or elsewhere, today, as we have pointed out on this blog before. We should keep that in mind whenever we wonder about why food at the grocery store, the fast food restaurant, or “ethnic” eatery seems ridiculously cheap. Perhaps what we should be celebrating is that, historically, the U.S. has also been a nation of labor activists, in which workers have mostly received better wages and working conditions when they have successfully organized for them. That is happening now in much of the food industry and seems more necessary than ever.

Anthropologists will no doubt continue to do an excellent job of documenting the exploitation and dangerous conditions that workers—immigrant or not, documented or not—encounter in the food industry. We also need to remind people that if workers are going to have living wages and decent working conditions, all of us may have to pay more for our food. This points to a broader issue, since food industry workers are far from alone in being poorly paid. The struggle for a living wage for all workers, linked to access to affordable housing and health care, should be central to the food movement itself. And, of course, it remains the core issue confronting the future Labor Secretary, whoever that turns out to be.

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Anthropological perspectives on migration, food and nutrition

Preparing injera, a transnational Ethiopian dietary staple

With the permission of the editors of Anthropology News, we republish SAFN’s monthly news column from that publication.  This is the May 2011 column, edited by Kenneth Maes and Alyson Young.

In this column we highlight a recently published NAPA Bulletin (vol 34), “Anthropological Perspectives on Migration and Health,” edited by SAFN President Craig Hadley. Articles in this volume address the diet and nutrition of various migrant groups that navigate complex and changing cultural, political and economic contexts.

Hadley’s introduction underlines that interactions between migration and health are highly complex. Anthropologists and allied health professionals have struggled with this complexity, hindered by the use of categorizations that obscure the heterogeneity between and within migrant populations; by imprecise proxy measures of acculturation, which are unable to specify mechanisms by which migration can impact health; and by too often focusing on the health impacts of individual-level agency and group-level cultural norms rather than on social inequalities and public policies that limit access to wealth and information.

Heide Castañeda provides a theoretical and methodological overview, asking what larger anthropological questions can be advanced by studying migrant health. She notes that the study of migrant health highlights global inequities related to labor and health care. The study of migration and health also encourages a rethinking of borders, connections and identities, and ideally forces anthropologists to consider how the knowledge they produce affects study participants and serves certain political agendas. Castañeda asserts that widespread reliance on charity clinics, volunteerism and humanitarian efforts for providing migrants with health care reflects that societies have become accustomed to inequality, and that states are unwilling to address “conflicting economic and political demands related to the continued need for certain forms of migrant labor” (p 20).

SAFN Treasurer Crystal Patil and colleagues report on exploratory ethnographic study of food access and diet among refugee groups of various African and Asian countries resettled in Midwestern US cities. The authors note that refugees face many challenges and opportunities as they transition from low-income contexts characterized by high mortality and low reliance on processed foods to high-income contexts characterized by low mortality and high reliance processed foods. Their ethnographic data suggest multiple ways in which “health and well-being are produced and eroded on arrival in the United States” (p 155), involving interactions among the resources and services available within environments of resettlement, migration geopolitics, the influences of peers, resettlement agencies and ethnocultural norms, as well as individual characteristics and household socioeconomic status.

Ramona Pérez, Margaret Handley and James Grieshop provide an account of the political, economic and nutritional implications of lead-contaminated ceramic cookware produced in Oaxaca, Mexico. This cookware is sent along with food care packages to migrant families in Monterey County, California through envios. In the late 1990s, the cookware was linked to lead toxicity resulting in gastrointestinal distress, severe headaches and malaise, which were detected among Mexican-American children seeking care at public clinics in Monterey County. In California, the public policy response was to conduct unannounced health inspections on businesses thought to be involved in the envios system, to confiscate food items and threaten to fine the businesses. This approach was perceived as akin to racial profiling and discrimination and drove some envios underground. In Mexico, the policy response has been largely nonexistent because Mexican officials do not consider lead exposure a significant problem. In addition, the Mexican state cannot afford to provide ceramic-producing communities with resources necessary for production techniques that do not require lead. Faced with these sensitive political and economic challenges, Pérez and colleagues decided that one way to address the health impacts of lead exposure was through nutritional programming in both Oaxaca and California. Promoting diets rich in calcium and iron can prevent the rapid absorption of lead. While this approach does not eliminate the problem, it “provides profound opportunity for a healthier life despite the lack of intervention by Mexican government officials and absence of community based health programming by health officials in the Monterey area” (p 120).

Other food and nutrition-focused articles in the volume include Horton and Barker’s on the diets and oral health statuses of Mexican immigrants and their children in California’s Central Valley; Dharod and Croom’s on the prevalence of child hunger among Somali refugee households in Lewiston, Maine; and Trapp’s on the implementation of the USDA and Office of Refugee Resettlement Food and Nutrition Outreach program.

Please send your news and items of interest to Kenneth Maes or Alyson Young.

Posted by Kenneth Maes.

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