Tag Archives: meat

2017 Christine Wilson Award Winners!

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Christine Wilson Awards. These awards are presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives of nutrition, food studies, and anthropology. Award winners each receive a check from SAFN and a free one-year membership in the American Anthropological Association and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Of course, they also receive fame and glory.

The award committee this year was led by SAFN Vice-President Amy Trubek.

The awards will be officially presented to the winners at the SAFN reception during the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, December 1, 2017, from 7:45-9:00 pm, in Washington DC. In coming days, we will be posting more information about the upcoming meeting, so watch this space!

For now, congratulations to Sarah Howard, a PhD candidate in anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London and to Kate Rhodes, an anthropology major at Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the two winning Christine Wilson Award papers. Their paper titles and abstracts are below.

Coffee and the State in Rural Ethiopia
Sarah Howard

Although coffee is enjoyed for the material qualities of its taste, smell and stimulant effect, it is the social and symbolic aspects of coffee drinking that make it central to daily life in Ethiopia. Based on research in eastern Amhara Region between 2011 and 2015, the paper explores the buna ceremony during which coffee is prepared and served, and its role in the lives of rural government workers. Starting with an interest in the disconnect between the reach and control that the Ethiopian government is popularly supposed to hold over its citizens and the lived reality of low-level state workers who are charged with exerting this control, I realised that coffee consumption could be a useful lens through which to review received ideas about state power and hierarchy. While Ethiopian society is commonly portrayed as highly authoritarian with a vertical power structure, this paper shows, through the medium of coffee practices, a range of forms of sociality between government workers and farmers, encompassing closeness and trust as well as highlighting the material and social disadvantages faced by the bureaucrats, complicating the picture of a strict divide between state and society. The kin-like social relations that are built between state employees through buna drinking help to mitigate their vulnerability, as well as build a space for them to critically reflect on their position in ‘producing the nation’. This paper is thus a contribution to calls for attention to the ways in which material practices, such as coffee drinking, continually constitute the state as a reality.

Having a Steak in the Matter: Gender in the Buenos Aires Asado
Kate Rhodes

Asados have their roots in the romanticized culture of the Argentine gauchos, or cattle herders, where men, free from the confines of urban life, could express their masculinity through cooking meat outside over an open fire. These macho characteristics have reinforced the notion that asados are a masculine activity. In this paper I address why it is that women cook on a daily basis, but the gastronomic identity of Argentina is rooted in the single dish men traditionally cook. I argue that the culturally accepted deviation from the historically feminine kitchen space can be explained through the symbolic importance of male interactions with meat throughout Argentine history, the construction of a masculine meat narrative, and a media that sustains traditional culinary gender norms. I break the concept of a masculine meat narrative down into the three factors that work to define meat as male, mainly the physical characteristics of an asado that link it to the time of the gauchos: fire, cooking outdoors, and the primitive manipulation of bloody meat. I supplement a review of the literature on this subject with opinions and anecdotes from informants which illuminate trends in perceptions of masculinity from both men and women. I conclude that the recent push for gender equality in Argentina, specifically the rise of the Ni Una Menos movement to end gender violence, is mirrored in asado culture, as women publicly take to the parrilla.

Leave a comment

Filed under AAA, AAA 2017 Washington DC, anthropology, awards, Christine Wilson

How Americans Think: About Horsemeat, For Example

by David Beriss

Photo by David Beriss

Should the slaughter of horses for food be permitted in the United States?  This question was raised recently when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would permit horse slaughter in the U.S. for the first time since 2007. Back in 2006, Congress passed a bill that prohibited the USDA from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, which effectively stopped all horse slaughter in the country. This November legislators passed a measure to allow inspections to restart.  President Obama signed the bill and inspections (and thus slaughter) are again legal.  So far, no horse slaughterhouses have opened.  But it could happen and if it does, it will be controversial.

The first thing Americans often ask when they hear about horse slaughter is whether or not horse is actually good to eat. At the risk of being called horrid names, let me confess that I have eaten horse—in France, where they serve horse and have specialized “boucheries chevalines”—and I don’t remember anything special about it.  It was much like beef.  Horse is consumed in many countries in both Europe and Asia.  Anthropologists who visited Montreal in November might have tried the steak tartare at the “Frites Alors!” Belgian-style French fry chain there, which is offered in both beef and horse versions. According to the 1988 edition of the Larousse Gastronomique, steak tartare is prepared with horse “according to the purists” and in Belgium is known as “filet américain.”

This seems quite ironic since Americans generally do not eat horse. In fact, horse meat has not been consumed in the U.S. in any regular way for a very long time.  At the end of the Second World War, when beef was scarce, Americans resorted to horsemeat and Republicans ran against “Horsemeat Harry” Truman.  Again in the early 1970s, when beef prices skyrocketed under the Nixon administration, people tried horsemeat, a trend illustrated on an episode of “All in the Family.”

Today eating horsemeat  is very controversial, to the point that activists object to any law that would allow slaughter, even for consumption in other countries.  But with plenty of affordable meat in the U.S., the debate now is not really about food.  It is about a series of other issues, ranging from how Americans classify and treat animals, to how they evaluate the social and political organization of society.

There have been many controversies regarding the humane treatment of animals in the past several years.  Foie gras is one such item, condemned because of the manner in which ducks and geese are raised to produce very fat livers.  Similarly, veal is often reviled because of the treatment of calves prior to slaughter.  I suspect, however, that most opponents of these foods do not object in principle to the consumption of these animals.  If it were possible to obtain foie gras or veal without inhumane treatment, they would probably cease to object to consumption (read here about humane veal and here about humane foie gras).  Ducks, geese, sheep, and cows are all seen as livestock, raised to become food.

People have, of course, long raised objections to animal slaughter in general.  Watch, if you dare, this short 1949 documentary by French filmmaker Georges Franju, “Le Sang des Bêtes.

It starts out like a surreal film of life on the edges of Paris, but quickly becomes a meditation on the slaughter of animals, including a horse. It is graphic, bloody and full of death.  It is worth considering, along with the conditions in which cows, sheep and poultry are raised for mass consumption in the U.S. today.  Why do horses stand out amidst the larger problems of our industrialized meat production system?

Horses are not seen as livestock.  At least not by anti-slaughter activists.  One might invoke the history of horses in the American imagination, associated as they are with everything from Paul Revere’s ride to the Wild West.  The terrible fate that awaited unwanted, lame or old horses was always the glue factory, not the slaughterhouse.  That was bad enough.  Click here to view an early Popeye cartoon about a rescued glue factory reject. Eating horses has not been central to the American equine imagination in quite a while.

Yet horses are not exactly pets either, at least not like cats and dogs.  They are still working animals, racing, pulling tourists, herding cattle, etc.  We name our horses, cats and dogs and tend to see them as having a closer relationship to us than livestock.  Horses seem to fit somewhere in between pets and livestock, neither edible nor entirely part of the family.

American horses become food when something else breaks down in their relationship to humans. They are unable to continue their other roles, due to age or infirmity. Or their humans are unable to continue to support them.  One of the motivations behind lifting the ban on horse slaughter inspections was a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office arguing that the same number of horses that had been slaughtered prior to the ban were now being shipped, often in difficult conditions, to Canada and Mexico for slaughter there.  In addition, with the recession, the number of cases of neglect or even abuse of horses has increased significantly in the U.S.  Horse rescue organizations are overwhelmed and unable to meet the need.

The GAO report recommended, among other things, re-establishing slaughter inspections as a way of addressing this problem.  This suggests that we think differently about horses, even if we do name them.  When people abandon dogs and cats, we do not slaughter them for human consumption.

It is worth noting that the debate around horse slaughter has taken on some of the same terms and concepts used in other political debates in the U.S.  For example, a video on the United Horsemen web site, a pro-slaughter group, asserts that “saying that the slaughter of horses for human consumption is wrong because we do not eat it ourselves…shows how far this country has fallen.”  They go on to claim that suppressing slaughter is the same thing as suppressing freedom.  This is, if I am not mistaken, Tea Party language.

Similarly, opponents of horse slaughter draw on the language of the left to make their points.  The Humane Society recently issued a call to action that could have come from those denouncing the banking industry, arguing that “the predatory horse slaughter industry has cash signs in its eyes, and it’s unrestrained by any compassion for these creatures. Its profiteers treat the horses like commodities on the hoof.”

Freedom horses. Horses as commodities. Somewhere between livestock and companions, horses may not be food for the American table, but they certainly show us a thing or two about how Americans think.

7 Comments

Filed under anthropology, culture, film, food policy, horsemeat, humane slaughter, Montreal