Tag Archives: media


It may be a bit bold to declare a conference the 1st biannual (what if there never is a 2nd one?), but the organizers of this particular conference seem to be on to a hot topic, so their confidence may be warranted. Note the deadline (March 23) for submissions is coming up quite soon!


Centre for Communication, Culture and Media Studies
Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland (UK)

(supported by the Association for the Study of Food and Society)

20-21 September 2018

Call for abstracts

Food is one of the key aspects through which we represent ourselves individually and as a community. It is also located at the core of many social issues and interests (Lizie 2014), and the ways through which such relationships are constructed and communicated discursively speak of power, hegemony and ideology revealing the unequal and often problematic relationships within the food system. Food features as a powerful symbol in art, reminding us of associations it can acquire related to gender, class and ethnicity. Also, it is through food-related activities, such as restaurant spaces and eating manners, that most of us communicate with (and are being communicated to) throughout our daily lives.

Given such centrality of food, there has lately been an increasing scholarly interest in topics at the intersection of communication and food studies. While initially confined to private, often feminine and certainly not academic discussions, in the last decades, food has been embraced as a worthwhile topic of study across the humanities and social sciences, from history to political studies and beyond (e.g. Scholliers 2007), suggesting a need for an international platform related to food and communication to discuss current developments, new ideas and make scholarly connections.

This conference, which comes out of the FoodKom Research Network, established in 2015 in Örebro University (Sweden), and a Communicating Food symposium at the University of Chester (UK) in September 2017, aims to bring together researchers that work in the areas of food and communication, be it academically or non-academically. It aims to establish a regular, biannual platform which will offer scholars space to share and discuss research at the intersection of communication and food studies, but also at the intersection of academic scholarship and professionals that work in the areas concerned with communicating food. Apart from academic papers, we would therefore like to invite papers that share a non-academic perspective to the world of food communication but that speak to the current issues related to food communication in any capacity. Furthermore, in order to explore ways through which food can be communicated, we encourage participants to communicate their research findings or ideas via various (creative) forms of communication, possibly going beyond “classic” academic presentations.

While we hope to host scholars from around the world, we would particularly like to encourage scholars from geographical areas where research into food and communication is in its emerging developmental stages to apply; to this end, we are seeking funding to support their participation, although if successful, this will be currently limited to scholars travelling from Europe (for more details see below). New and early career scholars with work in progress papers are also welcomed.


All topics at the intersection of food and communication and communication-related disciplines of any methodology, are welcome, covering all geographical areas and historic periods, such as, but not limited to:

  • Food and the media (incl. film, newspapers, magazines, television etc.)
  • Food and art / food as art
  • Food and language
  • Food advice and cookbooks
  • Food and governmental discourse
  • Communicating food through education / food and teaching (including teaching in schools from practical perspective)
  • Professional communication related to food (e.g. chefs, restaurants)
  • Semiotics of food
  • Food and corporate discourse (advertising, marketing, etc.)

Keynote speakers

Professor Tania Lewis, RMIT University Melbourne

Tania Lewis is a world-renowned media and cultural studies scholar whose research broadly falls within two broad areas: green citizenship, ethical consumption and lifestyle politics; and global media formats and multiple media modernities, with a particular focus on South East Asia. Her publications include

Smart Living: Lifestyle Media and Popular Expertise and Telemodernities: Television and Transforming Lives in Asia (with Fran Martin and Wanning Sun).

Dr Stephanie Chambers, University of Glasgow

Stephanie Chambers holds an MRC/University of Glasgow Research Fellowship focusing on improving diet and effects of advertising and marketing on children. Previously, she worked on investigating sustainable and healthy food chains and public opinions on the causes of obesity and support for policies to address it.

Sheila Dillon and Dan Saladino, BBC Food programme

Sheila Dillon and Dan Saladino are best known as food journalist, producers, and presenters of the renowned Radio 4 BBC Food Programme through which they highlight and discusses a number of issues related to food in Britain and around the world, helping to establish food as a subject worth discussing critically. Dillon also received a number of awards for her work, including “100 Leading Influential Ladies” in 2010.

Abstract details

Abstracts should be submitted by the deadline stated below and must include an abstract (300 words without references) of the paper to be presented and a brief biographical note (50 words). If you would like to present in a non “traditional” format or your participation entirely depends on subsidy (see below under Travel and Accommodation) please let us know when you apply.

Deadline for abstracts: Friday, 16 March 2018  The deadline has now been extended to 23 March 2018 in solidarity with the striking colleagues at various British universities.

Authors notification: Friday, 6 April 2018

E-mail for submissions: foodcommunication@qmu.ac.uk

Associated costs Fee

Fee for conference attendance is £70 and will cover the cost of food and drink during the conference, including conference dinner on Thursday evening. If, however, you do not wish to attend the dinner, you will have a chance to opt out, and the cost will then be £50.

Travel and Accommodation

Travel and accommodation costs will need to be covered by participants themselves.

However, we managed to secure a grant from the Association for the Study of Food and Society to subsidise travel/accommodation/fee costs for scholars travelling from Europe for whom these costs would be an obstacle to attending the conference. We are currently able to support three scholars at the maximum value of 300 GBP each.

Priority will be given to scholars from countries that can demonstrate such circumstance, either due to lack of funding at home institutions, currency conversion issues or other relevant circumstance. Award will depend on quality of proposed abstract and individual circumstances.

An update on this will be sent at a later date to all those whose abstract have been accepted and they will have an opportunity to apply. The Committee’s decision will be final.

Local Organising Committee (Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh)

Dr Ana Tominc

Dr Rebecca Finkel

Dr Isidoropaolo Casteltrione

Mhairi Barrett

Please send any queries related to the conference to Dr Ana Tominc at atominc@qmu.ac.uk.

International conference advisory committee

Prof Angela Smith (University of Sunderland, UK)

Prof Goran Ericsson (Örebro University, Sweden)

Prof Mike Goodman (University of Reading, UK)

Prof David Machin (Örebro University, Sweden)

Dr Ana Tominc (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, UK)

Dr Andreja Vezovnik (Ljubljana University, Slovenia)

Dr Francesco Buscemi (University IUAV Venice, Italy)

Dr Helen Andersson (Örebro University, Sweden)

Dr Ian Rasmussen (University of Chester, UK)

Dr Joanne Hollows (UK)

Dr Simon Roberts (University of Chester, UK))

Dr Tanja Kamin (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Gwynne Mapes (University of Bern, Switzerland)

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, Food Studies

What EM Is Thinking

Frequent FoodAnthropology book reviewer Ellen Messer has sent us this eclectic collection of comments and insights into recent food and nutrition related news. We hope to be able to publish more commentary from food and nutrition anthropologists on current events and public policy in coming months.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

16 Jan 17. What’s news? New York Times

Sugary sodas account for 10% of one grocery chain-store food tabs of SNAP beneficiaries, whose receipts show they also buy lower amounts of fruits and vegetables than non-SNAP consumers.  Will this convince law makers to dis-allow sugary beverages as SNAP purchases?  Or will lawmakers use this as an excuse to cut SNAP benefits so government food-and-nutrition benefits don’t contribute to chronic-disease inducing high consumption of sugars?  Nutritionist and food-policy analyst Marion Nestle sounded off against the evil, sugary beverage industry lobbyists, with support from David Ludwig, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s New Balance Obesity Prevention Center.  Another critical voice is Michele Simon, a public-health lawyer, who railed against government (and taxpayer) subsidized sugar and diet-related disease.  In the past, surprising voices against restrictions have included the Food Research and Action Center, which resists any policy change that might stigmatize low-income SNAP beneficiaries.  Perhaps they are also thinking that stigma might resonate with those who want to cut SNAP benefits—period.

Do those who analyze food purchases and dietary intakes have the right methodologies? Should sugar intakes be restricted for everyone? If so, how?

Gary Taubes, a food writer whose earlier book demonizing nutritionists as a large part of the problem of establishing fat over sugar as the culprit, has spent an additional four years trying to understand the science behind sugar’s debilitating impacts (see Chef/Sustainable Food Advocate Dan Barber’s NYTimes review).  Taube’s basic contextual arguments are as follows: Since the 1960s, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease have become worldwide epidemics.  He thinks surging intakes of refined sugar, a category that includes cane, beet, and high-fructose corn sugar, is the cause.  His research traces increasing intakes everywhere. In the US, big intakes of sugar followed the earliest Surgeon General’s report and associated Dietary Guidelines advising Americans to eat less fat, especially saturated (animal) fats.  The food industry happily complied, by reformulating products that contained less fat, especially saturated fat, but contained more sugar.  To substantiate the science, Taubes zeros in on the different ways the body metabolizes different sugars.  The arguments, and a continuing diatribe against professional nutritionists who insist that calories do count, and that sugar alone can’t be blamed, so aid and abet the sugar industry, can be accessed here.  There is also a badly edited, earlier video that features Taubes with Tufts Nutrition Dean Mozaffarian, available here.

Although Taubes accepts the nutritional wisdom that individuals and populations differ genetically on their capacities to metabolize foods and their nutritional components, he favors a tobacco analogy that asserts there is no safe level of refined sugar intake.  The biological key to understanding why sugar is so toxic concerns its metabolism and impact on insulin function, the pancreas and liver, and resulting skewing of energy use and fat storage in all foods.  This biochemical process is still incompletely understood, and may involve not only sugar’s direct impact on human biology but also the consequences of not eating certain foods that protect against sugar’s harmful effects.  As a former chain smoker, who has weaned himself off tobacco but for years used nicotine patches to dull the craving, he favors complete elimination of sugar; i.e. “no safe level” although he recognizes this is unrealistic given that sugar is an ingredient in most foods.  (This was one place where his culinary knowledge was faulty, because sugar not only contributes “sweetness” but also binds other flavors together, which is why it appears in recipes for sauces and stews.  Before sugar production and processing became part of the colonial Triangular Trade, it was a valuable spice that was used sparingly like other relatively expensive spices.)  He also demonstrated an unwillingness to think more completely or complexly about the combinations of sugar plus other foods that might be skewing nutrient utilization.  Other likely contributing factors are separated vegetable fats that enter the food stream at greater scale during the same period, after the 1960s, when overweight up-ticks dangerously along with chronic disease. Other possibilities are more hormones or chemical additives or unintentional toxins in animal products. In general terms, he does wonder whether there is something missing in the diet that might have been protective, including fats of various types.  This dietary gap is intrinsic to Tufts Nutrition Dean Dariush Mozaffarian ’s argument that the epidemiological data does not rule out high consumption of sugar, as opposed to fat, as a risk factor for heart and other chronic diseases.  Taubes’ response is that sugar is the common denominator everywhere, but especially sugary beverages.  These other foods are not necessarily present or part of the epidemiological picture everywhere in the world. But I wonder, as I think not only of sugar and alcohol, but fry bread that is part of Native American foods, and all the hush puppies and other fried foods that are typical in African American diets.

I sense nutrition shares with agricultural sciences the dilemma that existing methodologies do not allow researchers to ask more complex questions about diet.  The equations handle one or at most two or a few dietary factors at a time.  In dietary studies, researchers also aggregate primary and secondary foods in what may be unhelpful ways.  Thus, USDA researchers, analyzing SNAP vs. non-SNAP food-purchase data from the receipts of a major food chain, find that SNAP recipients, in aggregate, purchase soft drinks as 10% of their food expenses.  This does not count the beverages purchased at corner convenience stores or prepared food venues.  The rest of the tallies reveal 80 percent of the tabs go for primary (40%) and secondary (40%) food staples, two categories that overlap in that “milk” is counted as a primary staple but “dairy” is a secondary staple.  Legumes overlap primary and secondary.  Nutritionists such as Marion Nestle champion reduction and preferably elimination of sugary beverages in diets. This is not going to happen, but what could change?  How might nutritionists adjust their methods (“cluster analysis”) to take into account fuller dietary patterns?

Meanwhile, laboratories in the US, Europe, and elsewhere are trying to reduce (red) meat consumption for any number of environmental, ideological, or political reasons. Laboratory efforts to mimic beef burgers with microbial ingredients has become a growth industry for food chemists and sensory experts and food-studies (especially social and cultural studies in the history of science and technology) researchers who track and compare the motivations, terms of analysis, and sensory and economic results of such lab-meat efforts.  The latest entry concerns “Impossible Burgers” which contain a clone of “heme” iron, which is what gives meat burgers their flavor.  The article also includes a video, which makes the burgers seem (to me) quite unappealing.

Sensory analysts are also busy developing more flavorful berries.  An engaging professional profile describes the passionate expertise of one Driscoll employee, who applies the lessons learned in his UC Davis undergraduate concentration Nutrition, and two master’s degrees; one in nutrition biology, a second in food science and technology.

Father writes to ethicist—my son, after one season at a pricey Ivy League university, is passionate about sustainable agriculture and says he wants to be a farmer.  Is it acceptable for me, the father who is paying the bills, to be upset?  The ethicist (Anthony Appiah) replies: did you contract for a major investment career when you invested in his college education?  He will yet hob-nob with the children of millionaires and major investment-house officials. In any case, sustainable food enterprise or farming are respectable and ethical occupations…

Finally, in preparation for the inauguration of Donald Trump:

  • Go back a week to food-writer Corby Kummer’s review of three recent books on the history of U.S. food culture. It suggests that the overall theme in American food history is to welcome immigrants.
  • On evolved or un-evolved behaviors, check the January 16, 2017 science and culture reflections by an NPR correspondent, who cites interpretations of Donald Trump’s character by primatologists and ethnographers of foragers. These traits are consistent with non-human and human primates asserting dominance, like a would-be alpha male (chimp) leading his troop, or a forager bragging about his success as a hunter bringing down prey.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, applied anthropology, Food Studies, nutrition

How to Eat Food

It is Friday and that may be a good enough reason to add some radio comedy to our anthropology. Alert SAFN member and blog correspondent Leslie Carlin sends in the following recommendations for our readers.

For a fun– and clever- riff on food and society, have a listen to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation: How to Eat Food‘ (Best line from this week’s show, when it touched on agri-business: ‘Big Farma’).

This is apparently part 1 of 4, but note that each episode is only available on the web site for 7 days and by the time we post this, you will have roughly 5 days to listen to the episode above.

Also on BBC Radio 4, and often entertaining, is ‘The Kitchen Cabinet’, hosted by Jay Rayner; it’s a bit like the Splendid Table.

The station’s flagship food-related show is The Food Programme, which is more earnest and topic-focused.

Food radio appears to be thriving, which might seem counter intuitive in the television and internet age. The number of food shows on American radio, both local and national, is increasing so fast that it is hard to keep up. It would be interesting to know more about food radio in other countries. Please feel free to send us your recommendations from all over the world!

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Filed under anthropology, foodways, media, radio

Evolution and Meat

Smoked chicken!

There was a fascinating piece on the National Public Radio news program Morning Edition (on the August 2, 2010 show) regarding the links between human evolution, meat eating and cooking.  Naturally, this caught our attention here at FoodAnthropology.  It featured insights from several anthropologists and was about food.  What more can one ask from a news story?  Read and listen to it here.

There are several points of interest.  First is the idea that eating meat allowed humans to develop the kinds of brains that we have now.  A good idea, but apparently eating the meat raw was not sufficient.  In fact, eating most things raw was more difficult and, in some cases, less nutritious than eating the same things cooked.  Of course, this adds culture to evolution.  Fascinating aspect of adaptation, really.  This is precisely the kind of thing that makes evolution so amazing.  This may be an old insight in anthropology (Claude Lévi-Strauss made some observations on cooking, culture and evolution, for example), but it is not really appreciated by non-anthropologists, I think.

Now, I can imagine that all of this could be considered controversial from some points of view.  Folks in the vegetarian, vegan and raw food camps probably have interesting things to say about this.  They might assert that pre-historic diets of nuts and fruit, eaten raw, were really all our (very distant) ancestors needed.  So why should we need more?  They may make strange assertions about what our guts are designed to digest and suggest that we avoid meat, milk, cooked foods, etc.  The archaeologists and biological anthropologists can show that their view of our ancestors is incorrect, but that may not matter.  They will invent new ancestors.  People love to legitimize their positions through imagined ancestors.

In addition, if you read the comments at the end of the NPR piece, you will see people grappling with another kind of issue: if our ancestors developed big brains by eating meat, they seem to ask, does that mean my kid will get a big brain if he or she eats steak?  Well, no, not exactly.  There is a misunderstanding here between the idea of what is adaptive for populations and what is healthy at any given time for individuals.  Here too, people are looking for legitimacy in ancestors, but the problem is that the units of analysis are off.

The links between diet and evolution—including the choices to eat meat and to cook—were probably not well understood by our ancestors, but they did prove to be adaptive.  Are they still adaptive?  It is hard to tell.  Are they healthy for us as individuals?  You can’t really read that from the evolutionary record.  That said, it seems likely that the manner in which we produce most meat today is not sustainable.  And by sustainable, I mean that it harms the environment in ways that may harm us.  Does this mean we should cease eating meat?  Eat less of it?  Produce what we do eat differently?  I like some of those ideas, but not because I know they will prove to be adaptive in an evolutionary sense.  You can’t really make sense of the world that way—it is too abstract.  Our ancestors started at some point to eat meat and later started to cook it, along with other things.  This proved to be a great idea at the time.  I love grilling meat, so I think it is still a great idea.  But you’ll notice that one of the anthropologists cited in the story is a vegetarian (that would be Richard Wrangham, author of the very interesting book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, 2009, Basic Books).  He understands the adaptive nature of meat eating and cooking in the past.  So what does his choice mean now?

You can’t really plan an evolutionary strategy.  You can only tell that what your ancestors did worked at the time.  If our choices are adaptive today, we will have descendants who can look back and appreciate those choices.  I guess that is why it is evolution, not revolution.

posted by David Beriss


Filed under anthropology, evolution, food security, media, nutrition, sustainability

Behavioral Economics, Food and Culture

Picture courtesy of Emily Yates-Doerr

Try this as a thought experiment: Imagine a store that sells broccoli and doughnuts, along with everything else a grocery store sells.  Now, let’s manipulate the prices of those two items to see whether or not we can get people to buy more or less of each.  Why?  Well, we are going to assume that broccoli is healthier than doughnuts and we want to find out if we can get people to buy more of the former than the latter.  Of course, we can probably use price to influence these purchases.  But wait, you might say, that is silly.  Nobody substitutes broccoli for doughnuts.  People buy them for entirely different occasions.   And you might add that just buying them doesn’t tell us much.  Do people who buy broccoli actually eat it before it rots in the fridge?  Do they smother it in butter or cheese?  Is there someone out there who ponders whether or not to have doughnuts rather than broccoli with their steak?  Clearly this experiment leaves a lot of relevant information out of the picture.  We probably would not want to use this sort of experiment to figure out how to address obesity in the U.S.

One of the key insights of nutritional anthropology—of all anthropology, really—is that human behavior can best be understood holistically.  This means that food consumption choices, for example, can rarely be explained by only one thing, like price.  To understand why people purchase items at a grocery store—and why they later consume them, assuming they do—we need to look at the social relations those items help create and maintain, as well as the meanings people attach to particular goods.  We also want to put the whole set of transactions and meanings into historical and political-economic context.

In other words, when you buy broccoli or doughnuts, there is a lot of explaining to be done.  And if we, as a society, decide that we are too fat, we need to look very carefully at the whole context of fatness in figuring out what kinds of policies might help address the problem (for one good take on that, check out the wonderful book Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession, edited by Don Kulick and Anne Meneley).

About a week ago, National Public Radio ran a story on an effort to encourage grocery store shoppers to buy healthier food.  The journalist, Allison Aubrey, cited a study by researchers at the University of Buffalo who set up an entire fake supermarket and then recruited some mothers to shop there.  They supplied the mothers with money and then manipulated prices on items they (the researchers) decided were healthy and junk in order to see if they could influence choices.  They discovered that prices can have an impact, although they also found out that the mothers would still buy “junk” if they had money left over after purchasing reduced price broccoli.  The reporter also found a “behavioral economist” who, citing a “theory of loss aversion,” said he found this behavior (by the mothers, not the researchers) unsurprising.

As far as I know, they did not study whether or not anyone ate any of the stuff they bought.

This is stunning, you have to admit.  No, not the price sensitivity.  I think that is pretty obvious.  Rather, the idea that researchers would set up an entire fake grocery store.  Why not study how people really shop, in real stores?  Why not see what they do with the food they buy?  And find out what their families do with it?  Maybe even ask them about it.  No, not in a survey.  Not even in a focus group.  Go watch them.  Hang out with them.  Follow them around.  Check out differences between what they think they do, say they do…and really do.  The fake grocery store merely allows researchers—perhaps this is what behavioral economists do—to assume away big chunks of social, cultural and historic context.  It turns out, of course, that there are anthropologists who have studied consumption practices in a more holistic manner.  Daniel Miller and colleagues (check out the Material World blog) have done some great work in this area, for example.  And read this brilliant story about what happens when an anthropologist observes a family actually eating breakfast.

The vigilant team here at FoodAnthropology has found even more fantastic recent work by anthropologists that help put these choices in context.  Amy Paugh and Carolina Izquierdo recently published work on the battles between parents and children over what constitutes healthy dining in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology (“Why is This a Battle Every Night?: Negotiating Food and Eating in American Dinnertime Interaction,”2009, vol. 19, number 2).  Joylin Namie has produced some very useful recent work on the role children play in family food choices, writing recently in Anthropology News that “When it comes to food in US households, children may not be driving the car, but they are often driving the cart” (“The Power of Children Over Household Consumption,” 2008, volume 49, number 4, pages 11-12).  Price, it turns out, is only one factor in determining why people buy food.  We need, as these anthropologists (and many others) show, to pay attention to what people really do and to why they do it if we want to develop policies that will really address obesity.

Otherwise we may as well be comparing broccoli and doughnuts.

Posted by David Beriss.


Filed under economics, media, nutrition, obesity