Tag Archives: nutrition

EM Thoughts and Readings!

Ellen Messer

March 17–St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday during Lent, when Roman Catholics ordinarily forego meat. But this year the Boston-based Roman Catholic Cardinal O’Malley gave everyone permission to eat meat–i.e., corned beef–so they could celebrate their heritage.

The unconsummated union of Unilever and Kraft-Heinz continues to generate commentary. Jack Nelson, in the Financial Times, praised Unilever’s “responsible capitalism” as contrasted with Kraft Heinz’s “red blooded cost cutters” who cut jobs and divisions with abandon, with no concern for affected workers and places. Will Hutton argues that “companies with a declared purpose perform better” (a reference to responsible capitalism as opposed to unbridled profits). Share holders, according to various sources, are of mixed opinions. Depends who you read and trust.

Avian flu has struck Tennessee farms that supply Tyson Foods. All birds within a 6 mile radius of the observed outbreak have been culled. Stay tuned. This is not the end of the story. Ask: besides the birds, who suffers the losses? You can track these and other avian flu pandemics here.

Score spuds for “The Martian.” The International Potato Center (CIP) one of the consortium of international agricultural research centers, this one based in Lima, Peru, has imitated “The Martian” (i.e., the movie’s) potato experiment on desolate Mars — this time for real in the Peruvian desert. The experiment reports promising results! The CIP experiment can also be looked at the opposite way: using Peruvian conditions to shape understandings of what might be grown on Mars under what modified conditions.

The Philippines, annoyed at the highest levels with US policy, has struck a trade deal to send agricultural (among other) products to China. Officially warming to the Chinese as a partner, the government is also scorning the US.

In keeping with new US administration policy on “America First” high level US officials push to raise US scrutiny of China food deals in the US (e.g., Chinese investments that result in takeover of US food companies).

Allegations assert that (a now retired) EPA official colluded with Monsanto to hide disease risks of glyphosate (Roundup herbicide) exposure.  Succinct summary of the issues can be accessed here. Almost simultaneously, EU official chemical assessment office gave glyphosate a pass on cancer risk, although the findings remain contentious, and no one questions findings that Roundup harms aquatic life. (See news summary here.)

What do I think? Company lobbyists are always trying to influence regulations and findings. Results of experiments designed to judge carcinogenicity, and impacts on ordinary people who use Roundup, depend on terms of exposure to the chemical and individual vulnerability.  As a result, different studies reach different conclusions with opposite safety-policy implications.  Why are these issues surfacing now?  Glyphosate’s safety evaluation is up for renewal in the US and Europe (and the world).

On another topic, leading chocolate companies have pledged to advance platforms and guidelines for sustainability; more precisely, to prevent deforestation.  Some of these companies in the past have posted confusing standards.  Note that the efforts are addressed at high levels (states, corporations) and while they voice concerns about small farmers, don’t formally integrate them into the proposed decision making for new normative practices.

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Research Methods for Anthropological Studies of Food and Nutrition! New Book Discount!

ChrzanVol3

Edited by two former SAFN presidents and containing articles by many SAFN members, the new three volume set “Research Methods for Anthropological Studies of Food and Nutrition” is finally available. Here is an announcement from Berghahn with discount codes for each volume or for the set. 

It is our pleasure to announce the recent publication  of the three volumes of our Research Methods for Anthropological Studies of Food and Nutrition series.

The series includes the following three volumes:

ChrzanResearchFOOD RESEARCH: Nutritional Anthropology and Archaeological Methods, Edited by Janet Chrzan and John Brett

FOOD CULTURE: Anthropology, Linguistics and Food Studies, Edited by Janet Chrzan and John Brett

FOOD HEALTH: Nutrition, Technology, and Public Health, Edited by Janet Chrzan and John Brett

The books are also available in a 3-volume set, which carries a 20% discount:

RESEARCH METHODS FOR ANTHROPOLOGICAL STUDIES OF FOOD AND NUTRITION

ChrzanCultureThe Key features of these books:

A comprehensive reference for students and established scholars interested in food and nutrition research.

Focuses on areas such as Nutritional and Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, Socio-Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, Food Studies and Applied Public Health.

These books would be suitable for courses on food and nutrition research in Nutritional and Biological Anthropology, Archaeology, Socio-Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, Food Studies and Applied Public Health.

We encourage you to take advantage of a limited time 50% off discount offer available on our website for each title. Just enter the following codes at checkout:

ChrzanHealthCHR876 – Food Research

CHR890 Food Culture

CHR913 Food Health

If you are interested in purchasing all 3 titles in the set (the RRP for which already carries a 20% discount), we are delighted to offer an additional 50% discount if you enter the code CHR975 at checkout  

These are the initial hardback library editions; should you wish to ensure that your library include any of these titles in its collection, please find library recommendation forms for your convenience at the links above.

If you are interested in reviewing  any of these titles for a firm course adoption, please contact us at publicityUS@berghahnbooks.com or publicityUK@berghahnbooks.com for more information on pricing and student purchasing options.

For further details on this title or any other from Berghahn Books, please visit www.berghahnbooks.com.

 

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, Book Announcement, methods

Panel Proposal, AAA 2017: Interdisciplinary Work in Food and Nutrition

This is an abstract for a panel for the AAA 2017 meetings in DC. Click here to see the CFP for the conference from SAFN and here for more details on the conference. Contact information and deadlines for this proposal are below.

Building the Big Tent: Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Work in Food and Nutrition

Systems thinking and interdisciplinary work are essential to facing challenges in contemporary food environments that are complex and globalized. Issues such as the nutrition transition and sustainable food systems are difficult to comprehend or address using a single lens or discipline. National initiatives such as Healthy People 2020, and international efforts by the World Health Organization urge greater scrutiny of the social determinants of health to target health conditions, like chronic disease, that have a long chain of causality. These are often rooted in historic trends such as colonization, urbanization, and globalization, with deep political and cultural implications. Biomedical or socio-cultural approaches prove inadequate on their own to establishing lasting solutions. Integrative research in nutrition uses systems thinking to connect research about human nutrition and the experience of food across biological, socio-cultural, economic, and political dimensions. Transdisciplinary and integrative research that transcend the politics of siloed academic research and scholarship and build the big tent are critical to crafting effective responses to intractable global health and nutrition issues.

Despite academic recognition of the importance of interdisciplinary work, there is limited scholarship and deliberation about best practices. Even while interdisciplinary programs emerge, there is little discourse on how to include such approaches within courses, across curricula, and in institutions. There is a need for more research and sharing of best practices in interdisciplinary work and integrative research that help us move forward. This session will focus on the process and nature of interdisciplinary work and integrative approaches to research in community food and nutrition. We encourage submissions that address, but are not limited to, any of the following:

  • The role of anthropology in interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and/or inter-professional work in community food and nutrition
  • Models of ecological and systems thinking, including best practices and methods using integrative research approaches
  • Stories of difficulties faced and lessons learned: bridging distances, developing common language and culture
  • Examples of emerging projects and questions posed
  • Reflections on being an interdisciplinary scholar
  • Developing courses and curriculum in higher education settings
  • Using transdisciplinary platforms to inform and influence policies, programs, and interventions

Please submit a title and 250 word abstract by March 28, 2017 to Kimberly E. Johnson (kjohnson4@wcupa.edu ) and Susan Johnston (Sjohnston@wcupa.edu).

 

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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

Post Doc: Dietary transitions in Ghanaian cities

Post Doc Opportunity that may interest FoodAnthropology readers:

PROJECT INFORMATION 

Title of project: Dietary transitions in Ghanaian citiesmapping the factors in the social and physical food environments that drive consumption of energy dense nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods and beverages, to identify interventions targeting women and adolescent girls throughout the reproductive life course.

Project objectives: To examine factors in social and physical food environments of African cities that drive consumption of EDNP foods and beverages, and harness this understanding to develop interventions to reduce their consumption.

Institutions Involved:

Full name of lead organization: University of Sheffield, UK

Name and title of project director: Professor Michelle Holdsworth School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield,

Setting:

Two Ghanaian cities of different stages of transition: provincial city (Ho), and capital city (Accra).

Study population:

Women/adolescent girls living in lower wealth quintile neighborhoods at four key stages of the reproductive life course: i. Early adolescence (13-14y) not pregnant or breastfeeding; ii. Pregnancy (15-49y); iii. Breastfeeding (15-49y); and iv. Women/older adolescents not breastfeeding or pregnant (15-49y). Community informants and national stakeholders will also be interviewed.

Proposed methods:

A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to examine factors in the social and physical food environments that drive consumption of EDNP foods and beverages: longitudinal qualitative interviews with women/adolescent girls including 24hr recall and Photovoice; Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping; and a photography exhibition.

Project duration – 24 months

Proposed start date – November 2016

Number of postdoc positions: Two, a 24 month, and a 12 month – available; start date Nov 2016.

Potential Candidates at this stage should email their CV (including referees) and statement of research interests to the following contacts:

Dr. Amos Laar, University of Ghana, School of Public Health, Accra, Ghana.  Email: alaar@ug.edu.gh or amos.laar@gmail.com

More information about the conditions for the postdoc will be included in the official advert.

Deadline for submission of pre-application expression of interest:  September 5 2016.

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The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the obfuscation of measurement

Andrea Wiley
Indiana University

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) were finally released on January 7 2016 to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA).  The long delay between the DGA Advisory Committee Scientific Report completion (February 2015), the end of the public comment period (May 2015), and the announcement of the 2015 DGAs in January 2016 suggests a protracted period of lobbying by various food industries that ultimately produced particularly vague and timid DGAs that state that American diets need only be “nudged” by small “shifts.”  Most of the press has been appropriately cynical about these, and there is no need to belabor the role of food industry lobbyists and their insidious negative impact on the process of developing useful guidance and related policies that could actually enhance the health of Americans.  Most notably, the Scientific Report had highlighted sustainability as an important consideration for dietary guidance for the first time, and it specifically recommended that Americans reduce their consumption of red and processed meats.  Neither made it into the DGAs.

Instead, the 5 key messages of the 2015 DGAs are:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the life span.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

What is one to make of such a set of bullet points?  The only one that seems even remotely more than sloganeering is the third, and there is a curiously large gap between limits on nutrients and the overall DGA emphasis on whole eating patterns.   The third bullet point requires some knowledge of where items might be found, since nutrients, rather than foods, are its focus.  What are the main sources of added sugars?  Sodas!  Saturated fats? Red meat and cheese! Sodium?  Virtually all processed foods!

Marion Nestle has already pointed out that “eat less” messages in the DGAs are couched in terms of nutrients, while “eat more” messages encourage foods (e.g. lean meats).  The cmp_slideshow_plateMyPlate translation of this guideline is: “Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars”.  These are not obvious items to avoid on grocery store shelves, nor do their food sources come with bold messages: High in Added Sugar! High in Sodium!

But an additional area of obfuscation in the DGAs specifically and nutrition labeling more generally, is quantification. The first two should make up<10% of total calories (a unit most of us struggle to comprehend), and sodium should be <2300 mg. Given American’s longstanding rejection of the metric system, it’s curious that nutrients are listed on food labels or referenced in the DGAs in metric units.  In science, these are standards, but from the perspective of metric-illiterate American consumers, they are utterly useless.  For example, a 12 ounce can of soda (note use of the U.S. customary weight measure for food) has 33 grams of sugar.  How much is 33 grams? A gram seems like such a tiny unit, so this must be a minuscule amount.  Measured in more familiar units, 33 grams of sugar is over 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons or 1/8th of a cup).  In contrast, 2300 mg of salt seems like a lot, but it is in fact only 1 teaspoon (or 2.3 grams, which makes it seem like very little!).  The teaspoon unit appears only once in the DGAs, in the recommendation for oils (to replace solid fats).

There is much more to say about the 2015 DGAs as a lost opportunity to take a strong stance on diet in relation to Americans’ high risk of diet-related chronic diseases and the long term viability of our food supply.  As it stands, it continues a long history of vague dietary guidance that will have little impact on American dietary patterns.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, food policy, food politics, nutrition

AAA Webinar Wednesday: Research Methods for Anthropological Studies of Food and Nutrition

SAFN is organizing a webinar with the American Anthropological Association. Former SAFN presidents Janet Chrzan and John Brett will lead a discussion of their forthcoming edited collection on research methods for the anthropological study of food and nutrition.

The volume is a truly comprehensive collection of methodological essays by many of the leading scholars in our field. Of course, many of them are SAFN members. You can read more about the book here. It will be published by Berghahn, in a series organized by SAFN, which you can read about here.

This is a great opportunity to learn about the book, discuss the stunning range of methods the book covers, talk with Dr. Chrzan and Dr. Brett, and make contact with others interested in methods issues.

The webinar will be on October 7, at 2 pm Eastern time. Participation is free, but you must register in advance. To do that, visit this web site soon. The password is “anthro” (without the quotes).

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