Tag Archives: museum

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, December 22, 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.

Hopefully with the holidays looming, you will have time to enjoy these articles. Got any favorites from 2018? Let us know!

One of the top problems confronting the restaurant industry this past year has been what to do about sexual misconduct. Helen Rosner, writing in the New Yorker, provides one small idea for training people who work in restaurants to understand what constitutes unacceptable behavior. Meanwhile, stories about how people are dealing with sexual misconduct and its aftermath in different restaurants continue. Maggie Bullock wrote in The Cut about what happened when chefs Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Merriman tried to take over the Spotted Pig restaurant in New York. Quite a minefield. They are not the only ones struggling across that particular minefield, as Julia Moskin and Kim Severson note in this discussion with April Bloomfield, also from the Spotted Pig. Given that men were the perpetrators of the sexual misconduct in all these cases, it seems a bit odd to leave this paragraph with mostly stories of women struggling with the aftermath. Here is a very recent reminder that the industry is still dealing with the problem itself: Brett Anderson’s article about Tariq Hanna’s resignation from Sucré, a dessert empire in New Orleans, demonstrates quite clearly the deep dangers that come when power, sex, and careers are mixed.

Restaurant critics are also learning to deal with writing about these issues, along with all the other social questions that swirl around restaurants. Just two examples for now, but there are many more out there. First, this rather terse review of The Four Seasons from Pete Wells at the New York Times clearly raises the question of whether a restaurateur’s conduct should impact the customer’s dining choices or experiences (and the review may have had some rather interesting consequences). Second, this rather fascinating interview with Soleil Ho, the incoming restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that critics will be (or ought to be) thinking very carefully about ethical and social issues as they do their work.

As long as we are mentioning the work of Soleil Ho, take a look at this article she wrote about the nostalgia that seems to have long framed the restaurant menus of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. Of course, the idea that memories of the country of origin and foods of the past haunt a lot of the restaurants run by immigrants of nearly every origin is one of the more fascinating elements in all the unresolvable debates about “authenticity” that will probably be with us forever.

And while we are discussing authenticity and nostalgia, we may want to bring on board appropriation, capitalism, industry, and more. Start with this amusing rant against industry-sponsored food “museums” by Erin DeJesus at Eater. I suppose I can see the point, but I have enjoyed similar museums in both the U.S and Europe (often kitschy, but if there are plenty of samples – chocolate, ice cream, cheese, beer – then I am a happy camper) and I hope we can trust that most visitors are aware that the ultimate goal of these places is commercial rather than educational. The tensions between well-meaning efforts to celebrate food and culture and commercialization are even more evident in this excellent story by Gustavo Arellano about the rise and commercial fate of National Taco Day in the U.S.

We might also want to ask if authenticity and nostalgia have any kind of reliable relationship with quality. Gustavo Arellano also recently wrote this article about the quality of food in small “mom and pop” immigrant restaurants. He points out that the search for the next hidden gem in the world of immigrant restaurants can often turn up restaurants that are not very good. He is correct of course, but this is just as true of any restaurant, not just those run by immigrants. Perhaps the more fundamental issue is that we tend to rely on some very simplistic (verging on racist) stereotypes about the relationship between ethnic identity and the ability to produce good food. Good cooking, like everything else, takes knowledge and practice. You may be born into a group, but you learn about food. And knowledge is not equally shared.

The politics that brought President Trump to power are complicated, but one often hears reference to resentful rural folks, especially in the West, where many feel that the Federal government controls too much of the land. And so when the administration moved to radically scale back the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, it seemed like they were responding to those complaints. This important article by Kathryn Schulz explains the improbable rise of a destination restaurant near the National Monument and the complex cultural politics involved in the reduction of its size. And, by the way, it also demonstrates that the Trump administration’s choice to scale back the monument had little to do with resentful Westerners and everything to do with serving corporate interests. You must read this.

In other stories of complicated food politics, it seems like efforts by cities to manage street food vendors is especially fraught in places known for high tech industry, where free food, a desire to appear modern, and a desire for food diversity all seem to clash. This article, by Christine Ro, compares Silicon Valley, in California, and Bangalore, in India. For some reason, this reminds me of a discussion of the changing landscape of pie shops in London, related to meat, eels, vegans, and gentrification, explained by Ronald Ranta in this article.

We often read claims by amateur anthropologists about the supposed benefits of “traditional diets” for combatting the ills of our modern industrial eating. It turns out that actual anthropologists sometimes do actual research on these issues and, perhaps unsurprisingly, their conclusions are unlikely to support the ideas spread by the fans of fad diets. This excellent article by three anthropologists (H. Pontzer, B.M. Wood, and D. A. Raichlen), provides an overview of recent research on small scale societies and diet, along with some data from original research with the Hadza, in Tanzania, and concludes that we should be careful about how what they learned might apply to people in industrial societies. A very good read.

One of the things that food journalism does best is create authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories of things that we need to know. Here, for instance, is a glossary of southern food terms, provided by the editors at Garden & Gun, a publication whose main purpose is to promote authoritative mythologies, lists, and categories about the South. Know that the accuracy of this list may be disputed and that unless you know how to pronounce the terms properly (“lid,” for example, is a two syllable word in much of the South), it won’t help much anyhow.

Sometimes journalists tell us what we ought to think about and then they check back to see if we really did. Which can be very amusing. Bret Thorn and Nancy Kruse, writing in Restaurant Hospitality, provide us with predictions for food trends in 2019 and look back at their predictions for 2018. For the coming year, Thorn predicts the rise of West African cuisine, lager, oat milk, and kachapuri in the U.S., while Kruse celebrates Juniper Lattes, Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs at Bahama Breeze, and the Maple Bourbon Shake from Krystal (which is a Southern little burger chain, curiously not mentioned in the glossary cited above). Also, Kruse notes that restaurant names are getting more amusing, noting, for example, “Hello, Sailor,” near Charlotte, NC. This article makes for a fantastic reading of the state of American food culture, although I am sure Walter Benjamin would be horrified.

If those trends are not enough for you, Sara Bonisteel provides an overview of the 17 most read food articles from 2018 in the New York Times here. From the Instant Pot to the untimely deaths of Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain, along with stories of sexual misconduct, this is also probably a useful snapshot of the moment.

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Food at the Museum

A brief reminder about two off-site events during the AAA meetings in DC:

The SAFN distinguished lecturer, Paula J. Johnson, is a curator, project director, and public historian in the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Along with presenting her work to us at our reception on Friday evening (December 1, 7:45 pm, details here), she has offered to give us a personal tour of the exhibit: “Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000” (which she curated).

Ryan Adams, who organized all of this, reminds us that this tour will take place on Saturday, 12/2. We will meet at 11 am at the Constitution Avenue entrance (1st Floor) to The National Museum of American History.

Ryan has also called our attention to a cooking demonstration occurring the same day at the museum. For those of you who may be confronted with fruitcake during the upcoming holidays, this could be a transformative experience. Ryan sends us the following information:

Holiday Traditions with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Guest chef: Jennifer Selman
1:00 p.m. Saturday December 2, in the Demonstration Kitchen

Celebrate the holidays and the 50th Anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival with a trip to the Caribbean. Jennifer Selman, chef/owner of Crown Bakery in Washington, DC, will shatter any negative notions you have about fruitcake with her Trinidadian version. She will also brew up the healthful and tangy holiday drink, sorrel. Chef Selman will be joined by long-time Folklife Festival researcher and presenter Camila Bryce-LaPorte, who is also the last person in her family to continue her own Caribbean and Panamanian fruitcake traditions. Learn how the Caribbean community of Washington, DC builds community through food and fellowship, especially during the holidays.

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Collecting and Curating Food History for a Hungry Public

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is thrilled to announce our distinguished speaker for the Annual Meetings: Paula J. Johnson is a curator, project director, and public historian in the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.  She is responsible for the food technology and marine resources collections and is the project director and co-curator for the exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000, which opened in 2012. Johnson was one of the curators who collected the home kitchen of Julia Child in 2001, and developed the exhibition Bon Appétit! Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian.

Paula Johnson_2s

Paula Johnson

She will be delivering a talk at our reception which will be held on Friday, December 1st at 7:45pm, entitled “Collecting and Curating Food History for a Hungry Public”. Join us and enjoy appetizers and drinks while we reconnect and socialize! Following our distinguished speaker, we will present awards for the Christine Wilson Award and the Thomas Marchione Award.

To celebrate her participation, we are planning a special trip to visit the Food Exhibit at the Smithsonian the same day. Those who are interested in joining us should plan to meet at the Obelisk near the registration desk in the Marriott Lobby at 11:30am on Friday, or meet us at the doors of the Constitution Avenue Entrance of the National Museum of American History at noon. This is quite a large exhibit and covers a tremendous amount of historical and cultural territory. The New York Times described it in this way: “It explores changes in the way our food is grown, manufactured and distributed, with a look at how gender and immigration influence food, as well as the greater role of wine at the table.”Paula Johnson copper pots Julia Child

 

Presentation Title and Abstract

Collecting and Curating Food History for a Hungry Public

This presentation will explore how an interdisciplinary approach to food history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is creating new opportunities for research and a vibrant, multi-layered experience for museum visitors. By broadening its research, scholarship, and collecting of objects and archives, the museum’s food history team is building a solid foundation for the study of food history and culture in the United States. The team has also expanded its programmatic offerings to include live cooking demonstrations that link the history of ingredients, culinary techniques, and cultural traditions to larger themes and events in American history. Through experimentation with different program models and rigorous evaluations, the team is developing a new, sensory-rich menu for reaching diverse audiences and for creating new relationships and partnerships. This presentation will reveal lessons learned and encourage dialogue among participants.

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Austerity Bites: Food Stories from Lewisham

Are you planning to be in or near London anytime between May 25 and June 6? If so, you may want to head over to Lewisham, where you can see an exhibit on the foodways of the area organized by the Goldsmiths Department of Anthropology. The exhibit, “Austerity Bites: Food Stories from Lewisham,” will open on May 25, but if you happen to be around on May 24, there is a reception that is open to the public.

According to the web site, the exhibit is based on a project exploring the impact of the UK’s austerity policies on the foodways of people in this very diverse borough. The research seems to have ranged widely, including ethnography, workshops, collection of objects, interviews with groups, story collecting, etc. You can see some of what was done on the blog devoted to the project here. Topics include food memories among immigrants, what constitutes a reasonable price for lunch (as well as what a reasonable lunch might look like), and the history and practices involved in growing one’s own food in an urban environment.

Details:

Venue: Weston Atrium, Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths
Private View: 24th May, 17.30
Dates: 25th May – 6th of June
Opening Times: Mon-Sat 9.00-21.00

The exhibit was curated by Gabriella Nicolescu, Dominique Santos and Henrike Donner.

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