Tag Archives: race

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, July 12, 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.

Is there such thing as “American cuisine”? This is the sort of question that can sustain long discussions over drinks and snacks among food studies folks or endless panels at conferences, like last year’s Slow Food Nations in Denver. Ruth Tobias provides an overview of the deliberations, more or less in time for the conference this year. One may quibble with the details here, the strange absence of the concept of “creole” foods, or even wonder why the existence of an American cuisine matters…but this is nevertheless an interesting read.

While we are trying to associate societies and cultures with cuisines, this article, by Kyle Fitzpatrick at Eater.com, explores the existence of “queer food.” I have to admit, when I first started to read it I was skeptical. There are restaurants and bars frequented by LGBTQ people, of course, and certainly many LGBTQ cooks, chefs, etc. But how could there be something distinctive about the food? And yet, as a kind of holistic anthropological approach to a wide range of practices, ranging from the campy to kinship, from rituals to recipes, and much more, Fitzpatrick makes a convincing argument for Queer culinary culture. This is a very good essay and could be used effectively in all kinds of classes. Also, my colleague D’Lane Compton is cited.

There are cuisines—and peoples—that have faced persecution, genocide, and efforts to erase their trace from history. Reasserting their cuisines can be a way to revive historical foodways, but can also provide a context for difficult discussions about history, power, racism, and more. In this article from Eater.com, Suzanne Cope looks at the work of a group called the I-Collective in New York. Organized by indigenous activists from different parts of North America, the group uses food and cooking to explore indigenous foodways, but also to spark difficult conversations. As Hillel Echo-Hawk, a member of the group, says in the article, “People don’t like it when you call them a colonizer, and people don’t like it when you bring up genocide when you sit down and are having dinner. And… we do that.”

There may be trends in what people want to eat, but there are a lot of people, so keep in mind that a lot of them are not following the trends. That is one lesson we learn when David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin, of Marketplace, interview Jeff Harmening, the CEO of General Mills, about the way the corporation adapts to American food trends and tastes. This is fascinating. Harmening points out that rather than going in one direction—away from cereal for breakfast, for instance—American tastes go in a lot of different directions at once. Also, people still eat Lucky Charms for the marshmallows and still like Bugles. Bugles! Now that is something I have not had in a while.

Meanwhile, the state of the world’s fisheries is clearly something that should concern us. In this article, Livia Albeck-Ripka explores the somewhat counter-intuitive impacts of climate change on the lobster fishery in Maine. Boom, then possibly bust. Terry Gross interviews Paul Greenberg, who has written a new book about the Omega-3 supplement industry, revealing some very disturbing facts about a variety of fisheries. The same Paul Greenberg comments here on the difficulties we face if we want to eat local seafood, pointing in particular to a recent scandal involving a company that purported to do just that. Finally, as Congress considers reauthorizing and amending fisheries legislation, Marcus Jacobs, a New Orleans chef, weighs in with some insights into the relationship between the management of fisheries and restaurants.

The ongoing crackdown on immigration by the Trump administration has been having an especially severe impact on agriculture. Farmers are struggling in many places to find workers. In this article from Mother Jones, Maddie Oatman explores some of the current and potential impacts of these policies for wine makers in California. Mechanization is one possibility, although there are limits to how well that would work for smaller wine makers. Specific visa programs are also available, but the implications for workers and their families are shocking. Although much of the debate in the US has been about undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants, the deeper and more important question of managing immigration in general is made concrete in this article.

As recently as the 1920s, 14% of American farmers were black. Today they make up less than 2% of the farming population. In this article from Vice, Lauren Rothman explores the history of government supported discrimination against black farmers. She also looks into organized efforts by black farm activists to turn this around.

There was a great deal of surprise expressed last week when the U.S. used strong-arm tactics to try to modify or suppress a nonbinding resolution on breastfeeding that was being considered by the World Health Organization. In this article from the Atlantic, Olga Khazan explores the history of the cultural battle over advocating for breast milk. Industry advocates for formula play a role, but there are more complexities and a longer time frame then one might think.

It is summertime and it is hot, so you probably need a refreshing drink. Perhaps a Tom Collins? It turns out that this classic cocktail is in fact named after a man…and his name was not Tom Collins. It is a surprising tale. To learn more, listen to the latest episode of the Drink & Learn podcast, which features drinks historian Elizabeth Pearce and bartender Abigail Gullo. Pearce writes drink history, but is also a cocktail-focused tour guide and speaker here in New Orleans. Gullo leads the bar at Compère Lapin, a wonderful restaurant, also in New Orleans.

Last note, this one referring to what FoodAnthropology intends to read, but really has not read yet. The Southern Foodways Alliance suggests James Hannaham’s most recent novel, Delicious Foods (Little, Brown, and Company, 2015) as a summer read. To accompany that, they are going to publish a series of postings on their blog. Also, their fall symposium will have a focus on food and literature and Hannaham will speak there. Even if you are not planning on attending, this looks like a good read. Maybe we can get a food anthropologist to write something about the novel for us too.

 

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 10, 2017

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.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the political changes taking place at one time? Perhaps one way to get a grip on things is to focus on just one aspect of change. You might think about sustainability and food justice in urban environments, for instance. Fabio Parasecoli has written an intriguing review of two new books on this topic right here. The books are Rositza Ilieva’s “Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North” (Routledge, 2016) and Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen’s “Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City” (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

A team of AP reporters (Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza) researched and wrote a series of the most disturbing and incredible stories about the slavery in the seafood industry last year. The series won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. You can—and should—read all of it here. If you are eating imported seafood, once you read this you will be very concerned about who has been victimized in getting it to your table. Assign this in your classes.

Once you have read the AP report, you will want to find out where you can get seafood that is not produced by slaves. You may also want the supply chain to be shorter, the seafood to be sustainable, and more. PBS and NPR have produced this fascinating story by Allison Aubrey on an effort in New England to get Americans to eat domestic seafood that meets those criteria. Similar efforts are going on around the country, of course, so look around locally and you may find something.

Has the United States been experiencing “the Golden Age of Restaurants” and is it about to come to an end? In this thrillist article, Kevin Alexander examines the evidence for the imminent bursting of the restaurant bubble economy. This the part three of three articles. Links to the other two are in the article, of course.

Meanwhile, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells recently gave no stars to the star-driven healthier fast food alternative restaurant Locol in Oakland. This might seem like an odd restaurant for the New York Times critic to review, but given the high profile of the owners (Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi) and the highly publicized social mission (“the most important fast food restaurant in America,” according to Willy Blackmore, at eater.com), perhaps it is not surprising. Whether he should have and whether he committed an injustice in so doing has been the object of much social media attention. The response from Chef Choi is here. Here is an overview of the debate from Jay Barmann and here is where LA food critic Jonathan Gold commented.

One of the more inspiring TED talks I have seen in a long while was this very brief lecture by culinary historian Michael Twitty. In it, he recounts both his personal trajectory and his ideological commitment to challenging the way Americans think about race and food. Excellent scholar activism and potentially very useful for class discussions.

Raising related issues, but in a curiously essentialist manner, this piece on the Intersectional Analyst blog by Lorraine Chuen attacks culinary appropriation by white chefs. The fundamental issue is an important one, but this blog posting seems to suffer from a deeply reductionist understanding of things like cuisine, culture, race, and ethnicity. This might be because the author is focused in this article on “data” rather than on actual people. All that said, it would make for a great reading if you want to spark a discussion in a class.

Why are cured foods so trendy and how does that relate to the former Soviet Union? It doesn’t, really, but you might think so if you read this lovely discussion between Christina Crawford and Darra Goldstein from Harvard Design Magazine. Great hypotheses are tossed out and discarded, large pieces of furniture are discussed, a jar of mushrooms is produced from under a bed. Get some dark bread, some herring, and vodka and enjoy.

What happens to culinary media stars in the wake of the election? Do they also think food is political? Anthony Bourdain clearly does. Read this biting and bitter interview from a few weeks ago, conducted by Helen Rosner. Bourdain appears to have a strong moral compass and a colorful way of speaking about it.

Let’s end this with the suggestion of a drink: Black Lightning. From the always-interesting Southern Foodways Alliance, this discussion between Jonathan Green and Kevin Young about the disappearance of black bootleggers from the public imagination. Get yourself a drink and settle in for a fascinating discussion. Enjoy the fact that anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston sets the theme.

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Blackness, Food, and State-Sanctioned Violence

Ashanté M. Reese, PhD

I began research on food access in Washington, D.C., knowing that I wanted to learn about a) what people were eating b) where they were shopping, and c) how (if at all) they engaged urban agriculture movements.

During my first interview, a participant made it clear that a) she did not want to talk about any of those things right away, b) she would get to them when she was ready, and c) there were other more pressing things I needed to know so that I could understand her food choices. That first interview sent me back to the drawing board to reconsider how I conceptualized the study of food.  After conducting 40+ interviews with D.C. residents (and another 40 interviews with Baltimore residents for a separate project), I now realize that most of my participants talked about, theorized, and understood their lives at the intersections of multiple forms of state-sanctioned violence. I came to them wanting to discuss food access. They came to me with stories about their lives, the histories of their neighborhoods, gentrification, policing, and other black people they didn’t know but to whom they felt a connectedness. Food, the subject that brought us to the table, provided a framework for discussing some of the precarious elements of navigating spaces in black bodies.

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Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

In the most terrifying, in your face moments, we watch Black Death on repeat as video after video captures unarmed black people being shot down in the streets by officers of the state. It is heartbreaking and sometimes terrifying to watch. Yet, as I learned from my research participants, these murders occur within a larger frame of the everydayness of violence they witnessed or experienced. State-sanctioned violence not only shows up in public murders and the collective trauma in their aftermaths but also in the ways in which people experience (and navigate) inequalities on a daily basis that provides context for the food research we conduct. We need only examine the systematic ways Black farmers were denied access to federal funding that could have made a difference in their abilities to compete in the transitions toward agribusiness. Or the ways federal and state governments co-opted the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program while at the same time blacklisting, criminalizing, and surveilling the Panthers themselves.

State-sanctioned violence normalizes death and inequalities through the slow but steady unraveling of individuals’ character in the moments immediately following their public executions, the decline of publically available resources, and through the now colloquial understanding of “food deserts” that points to outcomes (lack of food access, individual choice, etc.) but often obscures processes (systematic racism, increased suburbanization, etc.).  Though it is easy to compartmentalize, these different forms of violence  stem from shared roots that attempt to curtail black mobility in and access to public space.  Some are very public, instantaneous deaths at the hands of police like those of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and as of today, Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. These are the spectacular, shocking deaths (although, they are happening often enough to question if they are as shocking as they were). Others are slow, walking, everyday deaths: the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods; the continuous expansion of multinational food corporations that not only control access but also wages of folks who produce food; the cutting (and erasure) of social services.

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Photo taken at a protest/rally in Ferguson, MO. April 2015

I see the critical examination of these intersections as part of the work Sidney Mintz envisioned when he challenged food anthropologists to engage with–not run away from–the power structures that shape access, tastes, and perceptions. The worlds in which we live–the worlds in which my predominantly Black research participants, friends, and I live–are circumscribed by power dynamics that shape not only food access but also experiences with other forms of state-sanctioned violence that are sometimes literally a matter of life or death.

 

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Filed under anthropology, food, food activism, food deserts, food politics