Tag Archives: solidarity

Intercultural Learning Community on Food, Culture and Social Justice, Part II

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The Intercultural Learning Community at the vegan restaurant, Quinoa, operated by one of our own members, Luz Zaruma

Joan Gross
Oregon State University

Just as our fall term was wrapping up at Oregon State University, the Intercultural Learning Community headed to Ecuador to complete the second part of this experiential program. To read about the first part in Oregon click here.

Before covering some of the highlights of this trip, let me give a shout out to Claudia García who drew on her deep knowledge of Ecuador’s food systems and connections around the country to organize a rich and enjoyable trip, and to the EkoRural Foundation that served as our Ecuadorian financial sponsor. We began our trip with a visit to the highly integrated Atuk Farm outside of Quito run by the Dammer sisters. Sixty of the ninety hectares they own are in forest. The chickens live in large teepee-shaped tractors and clean the pastures of parasites à la Salatin. They had a clever way of turning the compost down a hill and a lovely outdoor kitchen where they served us a farm lunch. After lunch we retired to a hand-made mud brick building where Javier Carrera talked to us about the Seed Savers Network. The Guardianes de Semillas have been in existence since 1998 and includes 110 families in 15 Ecuadorian counties, though they also do seed exchanges in Colombia and Bolivia. The point goes beyond saving seeds to sharing ancestral knowledge about nutrition and promoting social change. He gave an historical overview of settlement and soils in Ecuador, emphasizing the migrations of food crops as well as the ways in which indigenous peoples in different ecosystems fed themselves. Moving to more recent times, he talked about the 2008 national constitution which protects the rights of nature and food sovereignty. Despite this progressive legal framework encouraged by indigenous groups and agrifood activists, implementation is more difficult and there is constant pressure to conform to the industrial food system. Mandatory pasteurization and slaughter in state approved facilities put small farmers at a disadvantage, just like in the US. Saraguro women were told that they had to deliver their milk warm to be pasteurized, but the facility was two hours away. They went on strike and several of the women were put in jail. Carrera said that 30% of the farms in Ecuador are small, family farms and they produce 70% of what Ecuador eats. They are fighting to keep a separate system for small farmers in order to ensure future food sovereignty. He shared with us several successful experiments in permaculture around the country.

The following two days were focused on metropolitan Quito. With 2,500,000 people pressed between two volcanoes high in the Andes and a poverty rate of 12.8%, the challenges of keeping people well fed are great. Add to that, over 300,000 recent migrants from Colombia and Venezuela. Other numbers that Alexandra Rodriguez cited were that 71% of food consumed in the city was eaten outside of the home and 63% of the population was overweight or obese. Since 2002 Rodriguez has been working with a participatory urban agriculture program (AGRUPAR) to expand urban and peri-urban agriculture in Quito. They now have 1400 gardens, involving 5000 people. 57% of the produce goes to home consumption and the remainder is sold. We visited one of the oldest farms and saw a variety of food grown in 1500 m2. We bought some for our own dinner that evening that we prepared under the direction of chef/group member Santiago Rosero at the Gastronomic Laboratory.

Quito’s food bank delivers to 77 institutions and 655 families, working almost entirely with volunteers and no federal support. Their main source of food is leftovers from the markets and supermarkets. They do not receive a tax break for donations, but it does relieve them of having to dispose of food they can’t sell. We visited two of the markets in the old center of Quito, San Roque and Central. At San Roque we heard from anthropologist Anahí Macaroff who has been doing research on the markets of Quito. She explained how they were all connected and should be defended against the growth of supermarkets. She cited several instances where supermarkets opened very near the older markets and lowered their prices for as long as it took to put the market out of business and then raised their prices.

Talking to people from the food bank and markets rounded out our picture of the urban food system. Farm-direct, agroecological markets are growing, but serve a small percentage of the population. This year Quito approved an Agrifood Strategy and a Climate Action Plan. This is a good start, but, as always, the proof is in the implementation. We stopped at a small recycling center that wasn’t quite operating yet. Its main purpose was to teach people how to recycle, but without access to designated receptacles it’s going to take a while.

We heard about several social justice-oriented projects. First, we heard from a group of multidisciplinary researchers from the Catholic University who have been working on nutrition projects in the province of Cotopaxi where a large number of children suffer from malnutrition. Then, we heard about the FUEGOS project to bring a culinary school and food tourism to the province of Manabi that was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. Finally, Marcelo Aziaga told us about feeding anti-austerity protesters. An estimated 20,000 people marched on Quito in October, closing the Panamerican highway and shutting down the capital city. The Catholic University, the Salesiana University, and the Casa de la Cultura housed several thousand people and chefs and food activists set up kitchens to feed them. The police dismantled the kitchens every night, which were then re-set up daily. Food arrived from various places. Volunteers organized food lines, dish washing and waste disposal. Medical students treated people who were wounded by the police, and also the police. Austerity measures were temporarily rolled back, but could re-emerge after the holidays. Later in our trip, we spoke with some indigenous leaders who recounted how they organized their participation through loudspeakers after the government shut down communications.

Driving north from Quito, we visited a biodiverse farm in the Andean dry forest that belongs to two of our group participants, Lucia and Fabian. We tasted four of the over 20 types of avocados that they grow and a variety of passion fruits and chirimoya. (I have to say, the Nacional avocado was to die for.) For lunch, Lucia made us a variety of Andean tubers, plantains and an excellent locro de zambo or squash soup. From there we continued north to Ibarra where we were hosted by MESSE, the Ecuadorian Movement for a Social and Solidarity Economy. Jorge García explained the Abya Yala Paradigm that reigned in the Americas before colonization. The four axioms are 1. Everything is alive; 2. Nothing is the same as something else and diversity generates life; 3. Everything is related to everything; 4. We are all of the cosmos and of the earth. He contrasted these with imported European beliefs about ownership and the primacy of humans that have led to environmental disaster. He gave examples of how the four elements: oxygen, fire, water and earth are the foundations of cooking.

Steve Sherwood outlined for us the relationship between agroecology and solidarity economies. Both share a focus on intersubjectivity between humans and between humans and non-humans, harking back to the axioms that everything is alive and connected. He encouraged us to focus on existence, rather than resistance, as we work to construct new ways of being through our own practices. He explained how food activists in Ecuador connected through various types of encounters that take place all around the country in a de-centralized fashion. This allowed food activists to come together during the strike and set up kitchens to feed people while the food industry called on the government to violently crush the strike, so that they could continue their businesses.

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A pambamesa offered to us at MESSE’s Kuricancha in Ibarra

In nearby El Chota, Luzmila Bolaños also spoke of the four elements as she explained the history and foodways of the Afroecuadorian population of the Chota Valley. She spoke frankly about discrimination and said that the mestizo Ecuadorians had a lot to unlearn before they could learn. She talked about local foods that are part of the local diet, non-local foods that are part of the local diet and local foods that are not part of the local diet. In the latter group are prickly pear cactus which came from Mexico. They are starting to sell the fruit in Ecuadorian supermarkets now, but there is still no local market for the tender young leaves or nopalitos. She and her friend made a salad out of them for our lunch along with a delicious soup.

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Luzmila’s cousin and his prickly pear plantation near El Chota, waiting for a market.
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Both in Ecuador and the US, it is difficult to make a living by farming. Agritourism is one way that families have been able to stay on the farm, so we spent the rest of our time in Ecuador supporting these efforts. The MESSE activists are new to this, so our students served as guinea pigs. (Oops, they eat guinea pigs.)

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The students had a variety of experiences: helping with farming, cooking and marketing and living without potable running water and indoor plumbing for two nights. One host woke up at 5am to walk 45 minutes to milk cows, then made cheese for the rest of the morning. The next four nights were spent with a more experienced community tourism group in Cotacachi. These indigenous women have been hosting tourists in their homes for 20 years and knew the importance of private bedrooms and bathrooms. They also let Claudia know that when stays are booked through the website, the money never leaves the men’s group, so we booked directly through the women’s committee. The women’s committee is focused on health and central to that are indigenous foodways. Discrimination and migration damaged ancestral farming and cooking traditions, and they are working to valorize these health-generating practices. They shared their knowledge about multiple varieties of corn and their uses, demonstrating the traditional preparation of chicha. They spoke to us about their process of stabilizing the recipe for the industrial production of chicha for sale.

The highlight of the Cotacachi stay was the preparation and eating of a pachamanka. Don Enrique had a huge bonfire going when we arrived in the morning, heating up the rocks that were used to line the hole making an earthen oven. Meat and vegetables were wrapped in leaves and placed in the hole which was covered up with leaves and sod and left to cook for about 2 and a half hours. The food had a delicious, smoky flavor and we enjoyed eating it together.

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Loading up the Pachamanka
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Eating the Pachamanka

Our final stay was at Pambiliño Reserve run by one of our past participants, Emilia Arcos and her husband, Oliver. As we descended through the cloud forest, the air grew hot and humid and vegetation turned thick and tropical. Emi and Oliver self-identify as neo-campesinos or new farmers who are passionate about environmental education. Together with friends and family, they are re-creating food forests on land that was once dominated by cattle-raising and mono-cultures. On our last day there, we broke into groups and went foraging in the surrounding forest, bringing back cacao and macambo pods, different types of plantains and bananas, cardamom, oranges, lemons, yuca, guayabilla fruit, edible flowers and various herbs for teas. We made a wonderful lunch, using only very few staples from the kitchen.

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Luz, Camilo and Lisa foraging for their lunch at Pambiliño Reserve

Reading about similarities and differences in agrifood systems and conversing with people from other countries and other ecosystems who share your interest in creating more equitable and environmentally sustainable food systems are wonderful activities. What a privilege, though, to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell what people living different kinds of life experience.

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“It tastes like ginger”

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Fear, Fire, and Solidarity in New Orleans

David Beriss

Someone tried to burn down the Flaming Torch restaurant last week. The restaurant, flaming-torch-menu-signlocated in my neighborhood in New Orleans, is a French bistro that has been in business since 2004. It is small and friendly, with good French food, a little bit fancy (they have tablecloths), but very much part of the neighborhood. It is a reliable place for locals seeking classic French dishes (they make a great coq au vin), not a tourist destination. I have eaten there many times, but I especially remember eating there soon after Hurricane Katrina. The Flaming Torch was one of the first restaurants in the neighborhood to reopen and although they were desperately short-staffed, their presence was deeply appreciated by those of us who had come back to the city, because they provided a much-needed place to reunite with neighbors around good food and wine.

The fire, according to news reports, was deliberately set. The owner, Zohreh Khalegi, says she was upstairs, doing inventory, when someone broke into the dining room, doused the place with gasoline, and set it on fire. At least some of this was recorded by a security camera. She escaped to the roof and was rescued by the fire department. The interior damage is apparently quite extensive, so the restaurant’s future is uncertain.

flaming-torch-doorThe arsonist’s motives are unclear, but suspicions have been raised that this may have been a hate crime. Zohreh Khalegi, who started the restaurant with her late husband Hassan Khalegi, is an American citizen who immigrated decades ago from Iran. Although their origins were no secret, until recently there was very little in the restaurant that might have indicated the owners had any ties to Iran. In the last few years, the restaurant had begun to feature occasional special menus with Persian food. Certainly, for many people, this only made the restaurant more attractive, since there are not many other places to eat Persian food in the area. But the current American political context seems to have encouraged and given legitimacy to prejudice against people from countries like Iran (one of the countries subject to President Trump’s immigration ban). Could such prejudice have motivated someone to act against the restaurant? As far as I know, nobody has claimed responsibility for this act. But there have been threats and incidents of violence against immigrants and minorities all over the country since the presidential election. All of this is of grave concern and if the fire at the Flaming Torch is any indication, such things must be taken very seriously.

We do not know if this crime was related to anti-immigrant prejudice. But the fact that people are ready to believe that it is suggests that the political climate in the United States has reached a point (not, of course, for the first time) of critical danger. From fine dining to neighborhood diners, immigrants from many countries play a major role in the American restaurant industry. In New Orleans, as elsewhere in the United States, there are many restaurants owned and operated by people from predominantly Muslim countries, serving food from those regions. There are also many immigrants (perhaps most) who prepare and sell foods that have nothing to do with their origins, so they may not be visible as sellers of foods associated with immigrants. All of them may be targets for people who want to advance the nationalist agenda that has accompanied the rise of President Trump.

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There has been an outpouring of support for Zohreh Khalegi and for the restaurant. People have posted testimonials and statements of support on the restaurant’s doors. Money has been raised to help with expenses. There are many people here in New Orleans who are eager to show their solidarity. The stakes involved are very high. By choosing to stand by owners of restaurants and other businesses that are targeted by racists and nationalists, we make a statement about what kind of community and nation we want to live in. We must all consider where we stand at this moment and what we will do to make sure that heated political rhetoric is not turned into more violence.

So why document this on an anthropology blog? There is a lot that anthropologists and other social scientists can do—and are doing—to help us understand the rise of nationalism and fear around the world in recent years. For anthropologists, this sort of incident can be an opportunity to think about how institutions like restaurants tie communities together, as well as about the ways violence, fear, and terror, can work to tear communities apart. We can call attention to the way such acts are named and discussed. President Trump recently claimed that many acts of terror are not adequately covered by the media and that, as a consequence, people do not take the threat of terror seriously enough. This act of arson, if it turns out to have been motivated by politics or hate, is an act of terror, but one that Mr. Trump will probably not define as terror, either because it is too small or because it had the wrong sort of victims. Yet acts of mass violence, including attacks on restaurants, schools, or religious communities, create exactly the kind of fear that terrorists try to achieve. We need to document the impact of these events and examine why they are interpreted by people as acts of terror. And, in this case, we can also show people coming together to resist and to show solidarity. In doing all of this, anthropology can help increase understanding and help resist those who would sow fear among us.

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Resistance.

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Filed under anthropology, food activism, Food Studies, New Orleans, restaurants

The Amatriciana per Amatrice Campaign: Reflections on Food, Solidarity, and the Earthquake in Central Italy

Elisa Ascione and Michael A. Di Giovine

In the early hours of August 24, 2016, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Central Italy. Its epicenter lay below small medieval towns on the mountainous border of four regions—Umbria, Latium, Abruzzi, and The Marches. The earthquake was so intense that it was felt from Bologna to Naples, and soon the world would awake to the previously unknown town of Amatrice flattened into a pile of dust and rubble. Bearing the brunt of the earthquake, Amatrice lost 236 lives that day; another 51 deaths were reported in Arquata del Tronto and 11 in Accumoli, as well.

Together with rescue teams organized by the Italian State, a multitude of volunteers spontaneously organized themselves, sending goods, money, and medicine to relief efforts in the affected areas. Indeed, earthquakes have a destabilizing effect on communities, but they are also events that characterize change and mobilize different kinds of work, both material and symbolic (see, for example, Silvia Pitzalis’ recent Italian-language book).

amatricianaOne of the most significant spontaneous solidarity movements following this earthquake had food at its center: the “Amatriciana per Amatrice” campaign, proposed on the internet by a blogger, and then publically applauded and sponsored by Carlo Petrini, president of the Slow Food Movement. Long hailed as one of the quintessential dishes of the Roman region of Latium that was impacted in the earthquake, spaghetti all’amatriciana consists of long spaghetti in a sauce based on olive oil, tomatoes, white wine and guanciale (pork cheek). Importantly, its name comes from the town of Amatrice, which has jealously guarded its recipe against imitators; once, the mayor even sued MasterChef Italia’s Carlo Cracco for divulging an inauthentic recipe for the dish. Ironically, when the earthquake struck, Amatrice was in the final days of preparation for its amatriciana sagra, an annual festival celebrating the dish.

The “Amatriciana per Amatrice” movement began by encouraging restaurants across Italy to put amatriciana on their menus and encourage customers to consume it in solidarity; restaurant owners would also donate €2 of each dish sold to rescue efforts. This was then taken up by voluntary associations and community groups, which organized amatriciana feasts in public settings like town piazzas for fundraising purposes. The movement has also spread abroad, and an interactive map was created to aid customers find a participating restaurant from New York to Scotland.

Yet this movement is not without its tensions as it is claimed by different groups. Such phenomena push actors to debate and negotiate the fundamental cultural components of the dish. What is important? What should be preserved? Can food unite people in a time of crisis, or is it a means to state particular identity claims—as food so often is in Italy?

In the Umbrian capital city of Perugia, which fortunately was not damaged in the earthquake, people have attended those events to show concern and to donate money; participants have said that the act of eating together with others has been a way to share feelings of mourning and loss, creating a sense of identity and intimacy with those that have been affected by the nearby earthquake. One cultural association in Perugia, which aims to promote the revitalization of public spaces through food and small scale, local production and agriculture, took part in the campaign, cooking gnocchi all’amatriciana one night in the main square. Vats of Italian potato dumplings smothered in amatriciana sauce were sold to patrons in Perugia’s piazza, and the organization donated all of the proceeds (3,850€) to volunteer groups working for reconstruction in the affected area. Yet the chef and organizer, “Sergio,” said this event was intended to foster solidarity not only with the earthquake victims, but with people around the world who have lost their homes and security at the hands of catastrophic events:

We’ve come here in the main piazza with pots and pans to cook this famous dish based on tomatoes, onion, bacon, pepper and a lot of love. This dish represents Italy abroad, and this country has a lot of love to give, really wants to have a sense of community, and wants a comeback. We eat this dish in the piazza thinking about those populations that do not have a kitchen and a stove anymore, but not only in Italy, also in Syria and in those places where there are conflicts. Ours was a conflict given by Nature, but we, as humans, are so stupid that we create conflicts ourselves.

However, the same processes also may serve to reinforce localism, as illustrated by the case of “Antonio” a restaurant owner in Perugia. His family is from Amatrice, and clearly “Amatriciana is a serious thing” for him; he once challenged Carlo Cracco to an amatriciana cook-off against his grandmother, in a symbolic assertion of amatriciana authenticity. After the earthquake, Antonio also joined the “Amatriciana per Amatrice” campaign, but while he’s pleased that there have been many solidarity events in Perugia, he was annoyed that some organizers haven’t followed the original recipe. For him, the often subtle changes are more significant than they might appear, and represent a greater threat to his community’s collective heritage:

The risk, for such small places, is of course that they’ve lost hundreds of lives, but also that they could lose their identity. Holding onto Amatriciana is like an act of personal defense. If my granny, for example, has a guest at home for dinner, she will always cook Amatriciana; it’s the first dish that she would cook: you have to know the dish, it’s a way for her to tell you who she is, and guai a dire che non ti piace—don’t you dare to say that you don’t like it! She would go crazy!

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Norcina per la Solidarietà

Amatriciana per Amatrice has also triggered a sort of regional competition, stimulating other groups to also focus on their typical dishes for creating solidarity, as well as for promotional purposes. That is the case of “Norcina for solidarity,” which served to collect money for reconstruction efforts in Norcia by serving its quintessential pasta with a sausage, mushroom and cream sauce. But it was also specifically conceived as a way to re-attract, through the seductions of food, those tourists who fled Umbria after the earthquake. “We are Umbrian; we should also take care of our people in need, as well as our traditional dishes,” said the organizer.

The flurry of activity—some of it competitive—in utilizing food to mobilize people demonstrates the core relationship that Italian identity has with food. This was not overlooked by the irreverently satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, whose insulting images of Muslims prompted last year’s tragic terrorist attack at its head offices in Paris. In response to the earthquake, the magazine published a cartoon depicting “earthquakes the Italian way” with the three severely damaged Italian towns portrayed as commonly eaten pastas in France; one, clearly depicting Amatrice, shows people under ruins as if they were layers of lasagna. Italians were outraged by this cartoon, publicly denouncing what they perceived as a tasteless and “irresponsible” act. Doubling down on their stereotyping, the newspaper answered with another cartoon saying that the Mafia, not Charlie Hebdo, built their houses—identifying the totality of the nation with organized crime.

These tensions reveal that, even in emergency situations, food is never just a biological necessity, and heritage food is used to mobilize identity claims and responses at different levels.

Literally minutes after we submitted this post on October 26, two more earthquakes rocked the region in quick succession. While there have been literally thousands of small after-shocks, these two were quite shallow and strong, and caused more damage to other mountain villages and towns in the region, but fortunately no lives were lost. The longer-term effect these new quakes will have on both the social fabric and the foodways of this area are uncertain, and we will be following these developments as they unfold. Will the Amatriana per Amatrice movement intensify, take on new meaning, or perhaps dissipate in favor of other more tangible efforts? Will this new disaster, which once again affected the city of Norcia, strengthen the nascent Norcina per Norcia movement? Will it spawn new food-based movements for solidarity, for food security, or to draw domestic and foreign tourists back to the land?

For more information on the Amatriciana per Amatrice program, including ways to participate, see: http://www.unamatricianaperamatrice.it/english-version/

For CNN’s list of charities and NGOs to whom you can donate, see: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/24/world/iyw-italy-earthquake-how-to-help/index.html

To donate to the Italian Red Cross: https://www.ammado.com/fundraiser/italy-eq/donate

Elisa Ascione is the Coordinator of the Food & Sustainability Studies Program at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program located in the historic center of Perugia, Italy, that hosts nearly 400 students from more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities each year, including Italian students from local universities. Elisa teaches courses on Sustainability and Food Production in Italy, Anthropology of Food, and History and Culture of Food in Italy. She has received a MA in Refugee Studies from the University of East London, UK, and Ph.D. in Anthropology for The University of Perugia. She has conducted research and published on heritagization processes of foods in Central Italy, and on the intersection of migration, work and gender relations in Italy.

Michael A. Di Giovine is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania (USA) and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A board member of the American Anthropological Association, Michael is the Convenor-elect of the Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group at the AAA, and the director of West Chester University’s Ethnographic Field School in Italy, in partnership with the Umbra Institute. The editor of the book series, The Anthropology of Tourism: Heritage, Mobility and Society with Lexington Books, Michael is the author of The Heritage-scape: UNESCO, World Heritage and Tourism, and the co-editor of Edible Identities: Food as Cultural Heritage.

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