Tag Archives: urban agriculture

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, April 21, 2017

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.

As the Trump administration nears its 100 day mark, it is worth noting that the US Department of Agriculture, with over 100,000 employees spread out over 29 agencies, regulating parts of an industry that contributes around $992 billion to the U.S. economy, is still without a confirmed leader. Lack of leadership has not stopped the Trump administration from acting, however. For instance, a rule proposed under the Obama administration that would have protected the rights of farmers to sue corporations for whom they raise chickens and hogs has been suspended for six months—and possibly permanently—much to the dismay of some of those farmers. The unconfirmed nominee has had a hearing, with mixed reviews, as you can see here and here.

Also on agriculture, but on a more global scale, the Lancet has recently started an open access online publication, “The Lancet Planetary Health,” that will focus on “human health within the context of climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity, food and nutrition, sustainable fishing, agricultural productivity, environmental exposures to contaminents, waste management, air quality, or water and airbourne diseases.” The first issue is worth a look. It includes an editorial about the role of smallholder farms in the global food system and several related articles.

And while we are still thinking about agriculture, take a look at this article and short film about a form of urban agriculture that is rarely discussed. The focus here is on farmers in Guangzhou, China, who continue to farm even as their village has vanished around them, replaced by endless rows of skyscrapers. This process is an old one, but watching this raises a lot of questions about food, culture, and the future of our food supply.

There has been a lot written about American barbecue cultures and racism in recent years. This New Yorker article, by Lauren Collins, focuses on the particularly bitter history and present of Maurice’s Piggie Park, in South Carolina. Collins does a great job of unpacking the nuances of this particular story in a way that would make for a great discussion starter in a class on…food, racism, American society, or the country’s political present. Alas, this is an article about barbecue that may cause you to lose your appetite.

From the UK, we have this interesting observation about a new restaurant in Seattle that will feature foods from the American South…served with an “encyclopedia” that explains the cuisine. The idea is to combat racist perspectives associated with the cuisine.  Food that insists you think.

Everyone wants to know where their food comes from, but who looks at how it gets to you? This episode of the podcast Bite focuses on an interview with Alexis Madrigal, who has his own podcast series on the world of containers and shipping. In this instance, he discusses the place of small batch coffee in the world of enormous containerized shipping. The way this shapes the world of food is really so huge that it is hard to fully grasp. You should listen to this; it is where much of what you eat comes from. Also, the podcast starts with a brief segment on Indian cooks in America who are thrilled with their Instant Pot electric pressure cookers…which ought to be inspiring for anyone who has one.

Many people are distressed at the demise of Lucky Peach, which provided a place for all kinds of food writing that was hard to find elsewhere (at least in an accessible format). For an example of why, read this amusing (yet possibly serious) article on the most beautiful Taco Bell in the world. Also, if you draw, you could join the Taco Bell Drawing Club.

Why are so many people being asked to work for free? This has been a crisis in the arts for a while, of course. Internships, mostly unpaid, seem increasingly necessary for college students before they can hope to start developing careers. Unpaid labor is also an important part of the world of food, with cooking school graduates and other aspiring cooks often engaging in “stages” (one of the culinary world’s words for “internship”) in restaurants. How useful is this? How exploitative? Is it even really legal? Corey Mintz explores these questions by looking at the astonishing extent to which the world’s most elite restaurants actually depend on unpaid labor.

The hipster food world is in love with mobile food vendors, perhaps best represented by trendy food trucks. Along with trendy trucks, a lot of food vending happens in carts that sell nearly every imaginable food.  This very useful article by Tejal Rao illustrates a day in the life of a New York City food vendor. His food looks great, by the way, but it is the result of hard work and what look like terrible economics.

In the realm of obscure-but-fascinating items, historian Paul Freedman provides this brief overview of the history of food at private clubs. The article includes lists and photos of current specialties at a variety of clubs around the U.S. One might expect the food to be rarified and elegant, but the photo of macaroons with Halloween candy corn suggests otherwise.

Finally, the first round of the French presidential elections is this Sunday (4/23). The outcome is anything but certain and, depending on your politics, you may need a drink afterwards. A French friend recently sent a clip from the movie “Le Tatoué,” with Jean Gabin and Louis de Funès demonstrating how to eat and drink with gusto. Even without faith in French politics, this should inspire everyone to have at least some faith in French cuisine, no matter the outcome. Remember this advice: “Manger des tripes sans cidre, c’est aller à Dieppe sans voir la mer.” Enjoy.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, anthropology of food, film, Food Studies

What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, April 3, 2017

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.

Let’s start with U.S. policies that can have an impact on what we eat and drink. Over at Modern Farmer, Brian Barth has this round-up of cheery news, from the incredibly slow confirmation process for President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture (still not confirmed), to proposed budget cuts for USDA and EPA, and opposition to something called (not by its authors), the “filthy food act.”

On that last point, you can read more about the effort to streamline government regulations (as it pertains to food) in a variety of places. On the broad issue of regulatory reform, this article from Politico provides a helpful overview. It is worth being skeptical of anyone who claims that they just want to make government more efficient, especially if the areas in which they focus their efforts happen to benefit their supporters. This editorial at Food Safety News makes the case that the regulatory reform proposed by the current administration will significantly undermine the regulation of food safety. Here is another analysis, from the Environmental Defense Fund.

On the proposed budget cuts, this article from Civil Eats, points out some of the effects of the president’s proposed budget on the regulation of food, on agriculture, and on food-related workers. It is, of course, only a proposed budget blueprint, not real appropriations for real agencies. However, the proposed budget is meant to provide insight into the new administration’s priorities, in case you were wondering about them.

We all probably know that kids who are not hungry do better in school. According to this article from The Atlantic, recent research in American schools suggests that better quality school lunches can improve student learning (or at least test scores) too. The idea that studies like this are necessary to justify feeding children better food at school tells us a great deal about American thinking about food, education, children, and more.

On the NPR blog The Salt, yet another reminder that the food industry (in this case, restaurants, bars, and agriculture) plays a significant role in human trafficking. Many people find themselves working in what amounts to slavery. The article refers to a recent report human trafficking and modern slavery, which you can find here.

The state of Arkansas recently passed legislation that would make anyone who takes pictures or videos of activities in nonpublic areas of private businesses subject to civil penalties. This is being criticized as “ag-gag” legislation because it was written to protect the poultry industry from animal rights activists. As it is written, the law could also limit the activities of whistleblowers in any number of industries.

What might those activists want to photograph? Perhaps meat processing plants. In Brazil, one of the world’s largest meatpacking companies is in the middle of a scandal in which its employees have been selling rancid meat to schools, grocery stores, etc. This article, from Civil Eats, points out that even if you buy only locally produced meat, you may still feel the global effects of the industrial meat industry.

From pemmican and tourtière, to poutine and Tim Horton’s donuts, this interesting article uses iconic foods to tell a story about Canadian history. Fascinating, to be sure, but also clearly just a start. Still, you have to give the author, Ian Mosby, credit for hard eyed realism. He includes fish sticks, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, pablum, and other items that one generally does not associate with the word “cuisine” but that have had a real impact on everyday diets.

While we are in Canada, it is interesting to consider the ongoing debates around the links between food and ethnicity. This article, by Sara Peters, makes a case against something called “culinary gentrification,” which is the appropriation of foods (or of discourses about food) of an immigrant group by people in positions of greater power. The setting is Toronto, where there are indeed many kinds of people and foods.

Just when you thought it was safe to talk about urban agriculture, Wayne Roberts decided to review three books and insist on the use of the plural—urban agricultures—when discussing the topic. That covers an actual serious set of questions and issues that really are worth thinking about, like the relationship between urban agriculture(s) and urban planning, or the ways people can make urban agricultural practices part of their lives (like, I assume, cleaning up after your dog). There are a lot of ideas covered here, many of which could be of use in urban anthropology or food and culture classes.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 27, 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.

Among the Trump cabinet nominees most likely to have an impact on the global food system is former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who has been picked to lead the Department of Agriculture. What sort of leader will he be? There are a lot of opinions, many of them collected here in this very interesting piece from Christina Cooke at Civil Eats. Tom Philpott, at Mother Jones, adds additional interesting facts here.

What does the new administration mean for food systems in the U.S. and around the world? At Food First, Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Giménez have written an incisive critique of the privatization of the presidency and where they think this is going, at least for food. They also provide some ideas about what people can do about this.

It seems that the U.S. will be building some sort of wall on the southern border and cracking down on immigration. This will inevitably have an impact on many aspects of our food system, from agriculture to restaurants. This article from Brian Barth at Modern Farmer examines some of the consequences.

Food activists can certainly be critical of the incoming administration. But it is perhaps even more important to have an idea of what sort of policies should be implemented for food and agriculture. The folks at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future have published a very interesting agenda for food and agriculture policy for 2017. Read it and be inspired.

The new U.S. administration is clearly a concern for many people in the food movement. Perhaps we are over-emphasizing the role of the government in D.C., to the detriment of local activism and local government. In this article, Paula Daniels argues that food system change should take a more decentralized approach. Consider it!

Meanwhile, clever entrepreneurs are devising ways to make sustainable urban farms in really unlikely places. In a recent New Yorker, Ian Frazier writes about the development of vast vertical farms that use very little in the way of resources. Right now, it seems that in the future we will all be eating very expensive microgreens. And maybe nothing else. For an alternative version of urban farming, this NPR piece by Sarah Feldberg looks at more horizontal farming in Las Vegas.

The pull of “purity politics” sometimes seemed to be deeply embedded in the food movement. We are often told that we can change the world by changing our diet, by eating fewer (or no) animal products, by following strict diets, etc. In this wide-ranging interview, Alexis Shotwell, author of the recent book “Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times” (U of Minnesota Press, 2016) provides a deep critique of this approach to food and other areas of life, including useful insights on why this is not an effective approach to politics.

Are you a food media producer of some sort? Would you like to win €10,000 for your work? You might want to enter your writing, photos, or video into the Thomson Reuters Foundation Food Sustainability Media Award competition, which you can read about here. Want another award opportunity? Apply, by March 15, for a UC Berkeley Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship. This is for journalists, but one supposes that that could be widely defined. It is an opportunity to work on long form food systems stories.

Food historian Ken Albala has been deeply involved with all kinds of noodles for quite some time. Read about some of his experiments in noodling around (sorry, but that pun was inevitable) here. You may feel a need to find (or make) something with excellent noodles after you read this. Prepare yourself.

Need something to eat that you can afford and that may make you feel hopeful about the coming year? You do…and you will. The New Economy Chapbook Cookbook proposes just the thing. Read about it here and then follow the links to download a copy.

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, October 26, 2016

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.

Sorting out the costs and benefits of fish farming in the Mississippi Delta is at the heart of this fascinating article from Brett Anderson that appeared in Landscape Architecture Magazine. The focus is mostly on the work of Forbes Lipschitz, who teaches at Ohio State University, using photography of landscapes to think about food production. This would be a useful article to use in contrast with articles that insist on the superiority of organic agriculture.

On a related theme, this interview with Dr. Jillian Fry, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project, addresses some similar themes, while focusing on different ways of evaluating the impact of fish farming. In fact, comparing these two articles ought to make us think carefully about how evaluations are done.

While we are reading about types of farming, here is a provocative opinion piece on farming as a modern occupation, a high-tech industry, a piece of history, a part of globalization, a lynchpin of communities, and much more. Clearly, farming is good to think.

Urban agriculture has been proposed as a way of dealing with a variety of problems in contemporary societies. As it happens, there is a journal, Urban Agriculture Magazine, devoted to the topic and you can read the latest issue for free. You may be able to read all the issues there too. Enjoy.

The 2016 Faces of Hunger Short Film Festival took place a few weeks ago, but the films that were shortlisted for prizes are still available here. These are all powerful, sometimes a bit hard to watch, but nevertheless worth watching. Not sure how long these will be available, so watch them soon.

Restaurant economics are either pretty simple or very complicated, depending on who you ask, but either way, the reality is that a lot of restaurants go out of business every year. This article contrasts the economics of fine dining with that of fast casual or fast food, showing the issues confronted by both.

Here is a manifesto on restaurants and race. Ranging from fine dining to fast food, the author raises questions and demands action on making restaurants and dining in general more inclusive and more culturally aware.

Did you know that cafeteria workers at Harvard have been on strike for the last three weeks? They may have reached a settlement, but it is nevertheless worth reading about what it is like to be a very low-wage worker struggling to pay health insurance premiums at the richest university in the U.S.

On a related note, you may want to know if slaves produced the food you are eating. This article provides an overview of a recent study that graded twenty of the largest food and beverage companies on their use of forced labor. You may want to put down your lunch while you read it.

Good news! You can keep going to the dentist even after you are dead. Sort of: dental anthropologists may dig you up and take a look at your teeth to figure out what you ate. Ok, maybe not you, but people in general. Neat stuff, from NPR.

To be an anthropologist is to be constantly amazed and fascinated by the thinking and behavior of humans. The rest of the world often returns the favor by being amazed by the fact that anthropologists are amazed by ordinary things. In this instance, Dr. Kirk French at Penn State is offering a course on the anthropology of alcohol (“Booze and Culture”) and this article from an alternative student web site explains it. You may want to go have a drink with some humans after you read this.

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Workshop on Feeding Cities: Ethical and Policy Issues in Urban Food Systems

Call for Abstracts!

Workshop on Feeding Cities: Ethical and Policy Issues in Urban Food Systems

Northeastern University, Boston, MA

March 27-28, 2015

Food defines cultures, is at the heart of religious and ethnic traditions, is central to familial and social gatherings, gives us joy (and sometimes pain), and shapes the rhythms of daily life. Of course, food is also about survival. Societies thrive – or collapse – based on ready, reliable, and equitable access to food. There is currently rising demand for food due to population growth and spreading affluence, as well as increasing production and distribution challenges, such as water and land scarcity, climate change, depletion in seafood stocks, and dependency on global food chains. All of this takes place amidst accelerating urbanization; over half the world’s population now lives in cities. Together these trends make studying urban food systems – and developing practices and policies for improving them – crucial to building socially just and ecologically sustainable societies.

This workshop aims to foster cross-disciplinary inquiry on topics relevant to urban food system sustainability, health, and equity. We invite abstracts of no more than 750 words from researchers working on social, ecological, political and ethical issues associated with urban food systems. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • Whether local or global food systems are better positioned to promote food availability, food security, resilience and food justice in cities
  • Opportunities and limits of urban agriculture and community-based food systems
  • Relationship between urban food systems and other urban issues, such as affordable housing, land use and environmental justice
  • Evaluation of particular technological and system innovations within urban food systems, with respect to such things as increasing food production, improving tracking/monitoring, promoting food access, and reducing wastage and improving waste management
  • Historical perspectives on food systems and cities
  • Strategies for developing climate change resilience within urban food systems
  • Studies of the structure and efficacy of alternative food advocacy groups or movements, as well as assessment of concerns raised regarding them
  • Whether the concept of ‘food miles’ is useful and, if so, for what end or in what contexts
  • Studies of the economics of urban food systems
  • The role of cultural identify in urban food practices and the construction of urban food systems
  • Issues related to food system workers, particularly in urban contexts
  • Evaluation of food security programs in cities – federal, state, local and non-governmental
  • The extent to which cities ought to be able to regulate foods to promote public health
  • Challenges of democratic governance related to urban food system

The abstract submission deadline is December 15th, 2014. Please email submissions (and questions) to Christopher Bosso (c.bosso@neu.edu) or Ron Sandler (r.sandler@neu.edu). Those accepted will be asked to submit papers one month prior to the workshop, and papers will be made available to other workshop participants. Papers can be of any length and may be stand alone articles or chapters/sections of larger projects, but speakers will be limited to twenty-five minutes to present their ideas, followed by thirty minutes of discussion. For more information go to http://www.northeastern.edu/foodsystems/.

This workshop is sponsored by the Consortium on Food Systems Sustainability, Health, and Equity and the Ethics Institute at Northeastern University, with financial and logistic support by the NU Humanities Center, College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

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Fruits & vegetables are just as beautiful as flowers

Photo by Rachel Black

Last year, I planted a new garden in the backyard I share with my downstairs neighbors. One afternoon, we sat down to plan the garden and I put forward the idea of planting vegetables and fruit trees. My neighbors faces wrinkled up: “But vegetables are ugly. I don’t know…” I retorted with another point of view: “Vegetables are beautiful and delicious! What is better than a garden you can eat.”

I imagine that my neighbors had an image of a vegetable garden carefully tended in rows; a working garden is supposed to have a certain geometric order in most people’s minds. Yes, I will say that having rows with spaces between makes the garden easier to tend. However, we did not have much space and that just wasn’t going to work. I suggested a compromise of mixing ornamental plants, flowers and vegetables, along with a few fruit trees. My neighbours were open-minded enough to give it a try.

As I paced the aisles of plants at the garden center, I felt the pressure of having to over turn the aesthetic stereotype of a typical kitchen garden. I had to work some magic to show the beauty of edible plants. Really, it wasn’t so hard.

In our tiny terraced garden, I planted patches of lettuce, tall artichokes in the back, onions and garlic here in there, cabbages, beans in the lower sections and herbs within easy reach from the patio. In late spring, tomatoes went into pots and others were placed where the artichokes had been. The garden was constantly shifting and changing with the seasons. The composter was carefully hidden under the stairs and the fruit flies kept under control. The neighbors still haven’t got their heads around the importance of compost but I am slowly working on converting them into backyard farmers.

Thanks to the mild San Francisco winter we ate lettuce, kale and sorrel throughout the winter. I left large bags of greens at my neighbors’ back door. The cabbage’s graced the winter garden like huge prehistoric purple flowers. Slowly, my neighbor’s were won over by the beauty of the vegetables and as they ate their way through the seasons, they started to understand my point of view. I could see their eyes light up as the onions began to sprout their elegant buds and burst into spectacular blossoms that seemed to just float along the garden. The neighbors declared that the artichokes from our garden were the most delicious they had ever eaten (not to mention they were incredibly beautiful). This time the proof was in the salad bowl–a vegetable garden can be just as beautiful (and certainly more gratifying) than an ornamental garden.

I was very pleased to see it is not only my neighbors that are starting to rethink the aesthetic and function of backyard gardens.  Today there was an article in the New York Times about this very topic:  “Botanical Gardens are Turning Away From Flowers.” This is an important movement because it really does help people reconnect with their food. City dwellers in particular are coming to understand the work involved in producing food and the seasonal variations for fruits and vegetables. Urged on by the economic crisis, people are interested in supplementing the food they buy with items that they grow. There are few people who can be self sufficient in cities but growing food brings people in touch with their environment and raises awareness about the issues that face farmers.

Posted by Rachel Black

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Filed under economics, food security, sustainability