Tag Archives: meat

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 10, 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.

I have been on a bit of a vacation from the blog, but that does not mean I have not been reading…and the result is an overstuffed collection for you to enjoy. A lot of these items may be of use for class readings, which should come in handy for the new academic year.

Let’s start with an interesting article from Finbarr O’Reilly, in the New York Times, on the production and distribution of vanilla in Madagascar. The article notes that about 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from that country, but the production and sales are subject to both crime and corruption. There are some great photos here too, although at least one recent visitor to the area tells me that the article makes the region look gloomy and scary, which she insists is a misrepresentation. A critique of this representation could be a great class exercise.

Making a non-meat burger that tastes anything like a real burger has been a mostly impossible task. I have long thought that the best vegetarian burgers would sell better if we all just agreed they are more like falafel in puck form and stopped pretending they are hamburgers. And yet, there is the “impossible burger,” a fake burger that “bleeds” like one made of meat and that has a taste and mouthfeel (in my opinion) remarkably like the real thing. Could this be a really sustainable food product destined to help us reduce our meat consumption? Maybe not, according to this article by Clint Rainey, that appeared on Grub Street.

If you want to help your students think about how science works, you might have them read this article, by Joel Achenbach, from the Washington Post, which reports on a study that claims that the “optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none.” It is a both an interesting report on a study and an opportunity to discuss the difference between studies of populations and conclusions about what might be best for individuals, along with ideas about health, risk, quality of life, etc. One useful corrective appeared in this article, by Aaron Carroll, in the New York Times.

Blog editor Amy Trubek recently wrote here about the implications of meal kits for American culinary culture. There have, of course, long been efforts to simplify cooking for Americans, including meal kits that you can buy in the grocery store. In this blog entry on the Historical Cooking Project web site, Katherine Magruder presents the fascinating and bittersweet history of Old El Paso taco kits and their associated products. Back in the 1960s and 70s I think a lot of Anglo Americans probably thought that this was the only way to get tacos outside of a Mexican restaurant.

Echos of slavery and of the Civil War continue to inhabit American life. Perhaps our inability to make sense of the past is rooted in an unwillingness to fully confront the consequences that echo even today. In this article from the Oxford American, John T. Edge explores why a new Southern vodka (Dixie Vodka, originally called Beauregard Dixie Vodka) raised these issues for him. While we are on the subject of the U.S. South, you might also want to read this tribute to John Egerton, also by John T. Edge, from The Bitter Southerner.

If you are thinking about the U.S. South and the Caribbean and the legacy of slavery, then you might as well think about sugar too. In this wide-ranging bit of art and social criticism and history, Ruby Tandoh (on Eater), looks into the material and metaphorical place of sugar across both time and cultures. There is some amazing art in all of this too.

I have lately been obsessed with the possibilities of podcasts and audiobooks. There are a lot of good food podcasts out there, but one of my recent favorites has been the oddly named “Racist Sandwich.” They deal with questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in the world of food. Here are links to three recent episodes that I found interesting and that you can use to start discussions with students. First, in this episode, author Lilian Li talks about growing up in the U.S. and Chinese restaurants. Next, Darnell Ferguson, one of the few black chefs in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses his career and mentoring in the industry. Finally, an exploration of why Asian communities may be making Houston the most interesting food city in America. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.

Part of the allure of Houston these days (which David Chang also promoted in his Ugly Delicious Netflix series) are the innovative ways in which Vietnamese-American chefs are approaching Cajun and Creole dishes. This has resulted in a debate over who makes the best boiled crawfish (which, just FYI, are out of season now, so you can’t have any). In this article from GQ, Brett Martin argues for everything being in its place and peace among crawfish eaters. He may have a point. By the way, over at the New York Times, Pete Wells has recently argued that David Chang “matters” to the food world today, but less for what he says than for how he manages his many restaurants. Wells does not take a stance on crawfish in this article.

Kenny Shopsin, owner of the eccentric restaurant Shopsin’s General Store, died a few weeks ago. A great lamentation was heard across the food world, especially from chefs and others who admired the history and management and food, along with the owner and his interesting writing. Neil Genzlinger wrote a helpful obituary in the New York Times. Perhaps an even better way to understand the significance of Kenny Shopsin would be to read this article by Calvin Trillin, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.

It is always interesting to think about the foods people could eat, but mostly do not. Goat, for instance, is relatively popular around the world, but not so much in the United States. According to Jan Greenberg, from the New Food Economy, this may be changing as both immigrants and farmers work to popularize the meat (goat cheese is already popular in the U.S.). In New England, figuring out how to market an underappreciated crab—the Jonah Crab—is a problem confronted by fishers, according to Dan Nosowitz, writing for Modern Farmer. By the way, the goat article makes the claim that goat is the most popular meat in the world. In this article from the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson disputes that claim.

Debates about whether certain kinds of foods are in fact drugs or if certain drugs are in fact food are, it turns out, pretty old. In fact, a few of Sidney Mintz’s old “proletarian hunger killers” were included in those debates in Europe in the seventeenth century, as historian Ken Albala explains in this article, from EuropeNow. Go get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate (or, if you are in the right state, some marijuana infused versions of these, just to enhance the point) and read the arguments for and against the drug or food nature of these items. The humors may be different, but the core of the argument really seems not to have changed for a few hundred years.

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Filed under anthropology, food history, Food Studies

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.

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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.

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