All posts by Ryan

Ryan Anderson is an environmental and economic anthropologist. His current research focuses on the social dynamics of coastal development and conservation in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the department of anthropology at the University of Kentucky. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

Of Quinoa, Agricultural Science, and Social Change

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Adam Gamwell rounds out the anthropologies #22 issue on food. Gamwell is a public anthropologist and PhD Candidate at Brandeis University working across food, design, science, and markets. His research is based in southern Peru on quinoa. He is also Creative Director and host for This Anthropological Life Podcast. Connect with Adam on academia.edu or linkedin.com –R.A.

Specters of the Dead

Aymara legend has it that some 5000 years ago there was a massive drought across the land, across what would become known as the Andean Altiplano spanning southern Peru and Bolivia. During this years-long drought harvests were lost, there was hunger, and many people and their animals died. Farmers, llamas and alpacas, travelers subsisting on the hospitality of locals all ran out of stores and eventually starved. There was virtually no food to be found, save for two plants that grew wild: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), and its cousin cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule). These two species grow primarily in the Lake Titicaca basin and are remarkably resilient in the face of drought and frost, and can grow in salty, sandy, and acidic soils that kill most other plants. People quickly realized the nutritional qualities of these plants, and quinoa became famous for sustaining those who ate its seeds. The plant was named jiwra in Aymara which translates in Spanish to “levanta moribundos” or that which raises the dying (Canahua y Mujica, 2013).

This legend was recounted to me in perhaps an unusual place by an unexpected storyteller: a plant geneticist told the tale in-between explaining the orthomolecular and nutraceutical qualities of quinoa. Continue reading

Reader Letters #1: Post-election edition

Last week we put out a call for letters from our readers. Here’s our first installment. If you’re interested in submitting a letter to Savage Minds, please keep the following guidelines in mind: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. Some months we will invite letters on specific themes. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines about tone and content refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity. For the next installment, please send us your letters by December 15th, 2016. We will publish the next round by December 22nd. If you want to write about Levi Strauss’s take on Father Christmas, or perhaps Panopti-claus, we would not object. Otherwise it’s up to you. –SM Eds.

On the exceptionality of the election

Melissa Harris-Perry’s keynote “What just happened?” at the most recent AAA in Minneapolis was a captivating appeal to stop viewing the U.S. election results as exceptional, shocking, or out-of-order. To her, Donald Trump’s election reaffirms the United States’ century-old hatred towards minorities. Whatever white anthropologists consider extraordinary, posits for many Black Americans and Black Anthropologists the ongoing fight against an everyday reality of discrimination and violence – and she is right. Yet Harris-Perry’s advocacy for denying the exceptionality in this year’s election complicates strategic political protest. Protesters need the semantics of the exceptional to show that Trump breaches a new set of rules that were introduced by Americans electing their first Black (even if male) president. For many on the ground, Obama’s time in office hasn’t changed the world profoundly. Yet it introduced better policies for the disenfranchised, and the poor. This progress is now at risk of being overturned by a nationalist demagogue who clearly articulated his intentions of returning America to its old racist and sexist self. This return needs to be framed as the extraordinary for two reasons. Firstly, referring to the exceptionality of the situation helps advocates to mobilize protest. They use the exceptional to display their disavowal of Trump’s new order. Secondly, however, allowing anthropologists to use the exceptional as a refusal of the status-quo hopefully induces more ethnographically grounded research on the causes and effects of this regrettable political degeneration in the ‘land of the free’.

Melanie Janet Sindelar, Vienna University Continue reading

The social role of anthropology’s racist uncle

There’s a certain trope that has been going around for years, and it has hit a peak these days as many people express their collective shock and surprise at recent events here in the USA. The narrative uses a family metaphor to talk about the problems of race and racism—and specifically the difficulties of confronting racism.

The narratives center upon the figure of the stereotypical family member, like the old racist uncle. This narrative goes something like this: White liberals think of themselves as progressive and they condemn racism, etc. They “get it,” you know, and want to do something about the issue, and are definitely not racist. But, there’s a problem. They have a lot of family members who don’t think this way, and it’s often uncomfortable to deal with them and talk about issues of race and racism. It’s those family members who are the bigoted, racist, 19th century leftovers, and, therefore, the real problem. The racist uncle personifies this conflict:

One response to this trope is that white liberals need to just get over it and confront their collective racist uncles (read: the older generations who still hold onto strong prejudices and hatreds). This is perhaps not a bad starting point. But there’s something deeper to think about here. Another response critiques the whole scenario, arguing that the trope of the old racist uncle is just an excuse people use to avoid talking about and dealing with the broader causes and conditions of racism. That hypothetical family member is a rhetorical device that people use as a point of comparison to say “Hey, at least I’m not like that.” Continue reading

Anthropology after November 8th: On race, denial, and the work ahead

For some people, the election that just took place might seem like just another choice between the lesser of two evils. One more election that we all learn to deal with, but that won’t fundamentally change much about their daily lives. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For many people around the country the results of this election, which was fueled by messages of hate, bigotry, racism, and intolerance, has devastating implications. It’s not a matter of if it will affect their lives, but when and how. It is a privileged position to see this as “just another election” that we lament, accept, and endure. Many people here simply do not and will not have this choice.

Shaun King’s Twitter timeline this past week was just one indication of what these election results portend: a surge of racist, bigoted attacks across the country. This election has empowered and emboldened many people to express their contempt, disdain, and hate. According to local news reports, a Muslim woman at San Diego State University was attacked and robbed by two men who made comments “about President-elect Trump and the Muslim community.” This incident took place at 2:30 pm on Wednesday (November 9th). In a separate incident on the same day, a swastika and the words “Heil Trump” were painted on the sidewalk at a UC San Diego bus stop.  Continue reading

Veganism, conversion, and adequation: How to make a strange diet seem familiar

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Continuing with the Anthropology #22 Food issue, this next essay is from Aimee J. Hosemann, who is currently ABD at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Hosemann’s work focuses on linguistic and sociocultural anthropology. -R.A.

A May 7, 2015, piece on the website Science of Us, entitled “Diets are a Lot Like Religion”, cites Alan Levinovitz, a James Madison University professor who describes numerous parallels between religion and dietary regimes. Among reasons why dietary and religious practices are so similar is that both reduce complexity; play into nostalgia about a pastoral utopic past; engage discourses of morality using similar discourses of “good” and “bad”; and provide a sense of community (Dahl 2015).

I got interested in this as I was reading stories by people who have converted to vegan diets and share stories through blogs, books, and podcasts that detail their journeys through this new lifestyle (the Happy Herbivore Lindsey S. Nixon and No Meat Athlete Matt Frazier are but two examples). The stories often have all the elements of good conversion narratives – the teller is going about their business as usual, perhaps burying recognition of the ways they were cruising toward disaster at their own hands. Some series of increasingly threatening vignettes leads to a crisis in which it becomes clear that an immediate intervention is required for survival, and control is given over to some external power.  This higher power may be God, Alcoholics Anonymous, or the ethic behind a particular way of eating. Continue reading

Evangelizing in the Garden: Conservative Christian efforts to Convert Non-Believers via Urban Agriculture in US Cities

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Up next for the Anthropologies #22 Food issue we have this essay from Chhaya Kolavalli, who is currently a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. Her research interests center on the raced and classed impacts of US socioeconomic policy, US cities, and the alternative agrifood movement. Her dissertation research explores the racialization process at the center of food justice work, through investigation into differential understandings of racialized urban space, understandings of hunger and ‘food desertification,’ and racially restrictive urban development. –R.A.

“In faith work, you want your faith to fuel you, personally, and it will shine out in what you do—you won’t have to try to convert anyone. We don’t want to tell people what to believe. But we do want to beg the question, ‘Oh my gosh, why are things going so well for them?—Well, let me tell you! It’s because of the light of the lord. And you know I’ll answer questions if people ask, but I won’t push it. And lots of times people start asking these questions in our garden”

– Carly Smith, co-founder of a Midwestern urban-agriculture centered faith based organization (FBO).

Federal welfare rollback has made nonprofits and faith-based organizations like Carly’s increasingly responsible for urban governance and welfare provision in the United States (Morgen and Maskovsky 2003; Swyngedouw 2005). The 1996 Personal Work and Responsibility Act (PWORA), specifically, ushered in drastic policy changes—PWORA’s “Charitable Choice” provision opened up funding for religious nonprofits, allowing them to retain religious identity while competing for government contracts (Nagel 2006). Concurrent with these policy changes has been the rise of new, youth-led conservative Christian movements—championed by former mega-church attendants, disenchanted with what they see as “consumer Christianity” and outmoded methods of evangelism (Bielo 2011b; Clayborn 2006). Many of these movement participants, largely white, upper-middle class Americans in their 20s and 30s, attempt to enact their faith through simple living and social service—an increasing number are moving to urban areas, staying in Catholic Worker houses, neo-monastic intentional living groups, forming non-profits, and working in service of the urban poor (Bielo 2011a; Bielo 2011b).

A dominant trend among these “new” Christians has been to utilize urban agriculture and community gardening as a means of feeding and creating community with the poor (Carnes 2011; Clayborn 2006; Roberts 2009). The garden, however, is also emblematic of new methods of domestic evangelism (Elisha 2008)—as outlined by Carly, above. For the evangelical urban gardeners involved in this study, the garden served as a site to recruit new church members and to ‘model’ several aspects of their conservative religious ideology—most notably, as I’ll argue, a heteronormative patriarchal family structure and gendered division of labor. Continue reading

The Taste of Nostalgia: Vanishing Flavors from the Ancestral Japanese Village

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Next in line for the Anthropologies #22 Food Issue, we have this essay by Christopher Laurent. He is currently a Cultural Anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Montreal in Quebec Canada. Laurent’s research primarily focuses on regional food revival in Japan. Check out his blog Chanko Food, and look for him on Twitter: @SFchanko –R.A.

On a vernal Sunday morning, I meet with a group of retired women to travel to the mountains of rural Kochi in Japan. The day is overcast, yet the drive outside the city is pleasant with patches of flowering trees dotting the side of the road. We reach a small windy lane wide enough for one small car. Mitani sensei, the driver, tells me that the road did not exist when she was younger and the trip had to be made on foot. We reach her hometown, a hamlet, also called Mitani where we came to collect wild mountain vegetables called sansai. For many in Japan, spring evokes recollections of a peculiar grassy bitterness that can only be found in these wild mountain greens. This bitter taste is one that Japanese people seek as it reminds them of seasonal flavors from times immemorial. The aim of this essay is precisely to uncover the relationship that exists between unique flavors of the past and the elusive sentiment of nostalgia.

sansai
Sansai. All photos by Christopher Laurent.

Continue reading

Local Food, Process, and Social Change

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

The next installment of the Anthropologies #22 Issue on food comes from Allison Perrett, who is part of the Local Food Research Center and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. –R.A.

In 2007, I moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina to conduct research for my doctorate in applied anthropology and begin my immersion in an initiative to build a local food system through the efforts of one particular organization, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). Nearly 10 years later, I’m still here. I co-direct the work of Local Food Research Center, the research arm of the organization that is looking at what happens when we localize food systems and more specifically at the actions we need to take so that local food system building creates the economic, environmental, and social changes we imagine are possible through this process.

Ten years ago one of the first meetings I attended at ASAP was around the development of a local food brand, Appalachian Grown™. With a group of farmers and other entrepreneurs making value-added products with locally-sourced ingredients, we met one afternoon to talk about brand qualities and standards. As we were waiting for members of the group to arrive, I took the opportunity to ask Greg[1] one of the organizers at ASAP, “So what production standards will the logo stand for?” His response was “none.”  To further clarify my understanding of the purpose of the brand, I asked, “So other than the location where it was grown, what will the brand stand for?”  In reply, he said, “Well, the logo will brand food grown on family farms in the region that we serve.” Seeing the blank look on my face, he continued, “If we limit the program to farms growing in a certain way, then we are leaving out the majority of farms in the region and all of them need support. Without it, we will continue to lose farms and farmland. And farms can’t grow food or shift their production [to environmentally sustainable methods] if they are no longer in business.” Continue reading

Colorado Cuisine: From Traditional Food to Porno-Molecular Gastronomy

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Up next for the anthropologies #22 food issue, we have an essay by Fernando Valerio Holguín.*–R.A.

Introduction

According to the old German saying, “We are what we eat.” Therefore, many gastronomic stereotypes have come to describe people from various countries according to their food preferences.  For example, Italians are known as “macaroni”, English as “roast beef,” Belgians as “chip-eaters”, French as “frogs” and Germans as “krauts” (Fischler 1988: 279). The word ‘stereotype’ comes from the Greek, ‘stereos’: solid, and the French ‘type’: type, meaning “stereotype plate” or “image perpetuated without change” (Online Etymology Dictionary). As can be observed, some cultures reduce (and) locate other cultures by means of various gastronomic stereotypes. Hence, the ingestion of certain types of foods is what comes to define one’s culture.  This metonymic reduction (‘food’,(substituting) for ‘the diner’) is not free from disdain, scorn, or satire toward these respective cultures, and constitutes an expression of political power.

The question arises about the gastronomic stereotypes with respect to Americans, and specifically, Coloradoans. What is Colorado’s cuisine and thus, what is the culinary stereotype that defines Coloradoans? According to Linda Hayes, “We [Coloradoans] are known for our lamb, as well as wild game…” (Cited in Cross Castañeda xviii). If lamb defines Coloradoans, then should the Coloradoans be called “Lamb eaters?” My purpose in this article is to analyze Colorado’s gastronomic identity. Furthermore, I suggest that in addition to the traditional cuisine, over the last decade, international, vegetarian and molecular gastronomies, as well as cannabis, have been integrated into the Colorado cuisine, making it one of the most diverse gastronomies in the United States. More even than (simply) the different types of food – which can be found alone or in combination in other states of the American Union, what makes the gastronomy of Colorado unique is the co-existence and varying combination  of all the types of cooking already mentioned,  thus creating a century-old, multicultural gastronomic identity. There seems to be a discursive struggle of flavors and tastes that has affected the gastronomic identity of Coloradoans. Continue reading

ArXiv for anthropology: @SocArXiv + #AAA2016 = Open Access Strikes Back

Cliffs Notes version of this post: @SocArXiv is a Green Open Access digital repository that is currently being developed for the social sciences. I think this is a good thing. Let’s talk Open Access and publishing at #AAA2016. –R.A.

Back in May, fellow Savage Mind Chris Kelty wrote a post about Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN (aka the Social Science Research Network). The short version of the story is that this purchase is Not Good News, although some folks think it’s Worse News than others. Kelty’s primary argument was that SSRN users needn’t worry so much about their papers, and that DATA was the actual issue. Data, he wrote, is the real reason why Elsevier was attracted to the idea of getting their hands on the SSRN. This data is valuable, Kelty writes, because: Continue reading

Eating with Strangers: Bringing an Anthropological Perspective to the Table

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

The anthropologies food issue continues! Up next we have an essay from cultural anthropologist Christy Shields-Argelès, whose current research focuses on the tasting practices of Comté cheese producers in the Jura mountains of eastern France.  She is an assistant professor in the Global Communications department of the American University of Paris.  You can reach her at cshields AT aup dot edu –R.A.

Anthropologists have long studied commensality as a means to gain insight into the life ways and worldviews of others.  Sitting at another’s table, mastering their etiquette and incorporating their cuisine are powerful ways to encounter and learn about other societies.  It is for this reason that I have long used commensal events as teaching tools in my anthropology classes at the American University of Paris.  A unique institution where Anglophone students come to study in the French capital – sometimes for a semester, though more often for their entire undergraduate education – AUP provides the perfect setting for a hands-on approach to learning the practices and perspectives of the anthropologist. In this short article, I want to explore commensality, and in particular welcome meals abroad, as a site for intercultural learning.  Continue reading

A seat at the bar: Issues of race and class in the world of specialty coffee

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

For the third installment of the anthropologies food issue, we have an essay from William Cotter and Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson.* –R.A.

From a Caffeinated Elite to Average Joes

If you’re in academia, you probably have a very close relationship with coffee. For most Americans, coffee feels like a necessary part of our day, crucial to our higher-order cognitive functioning. Coffee has been a staple in American households and workplaces for over 100 years, and coffee as a commodity is one of the most widely traded and profitable items on the international market (Pendergrast 1999). In early 19th century, coffee served as a strong index for the elite classes of American society. It was expensive, often challenging to obtain, and was consumed primarily within prestigious social circles. However, the increasing reach of white European imperialism and the fine-tuning of the mechanisms of colonial trade and exploitation led to such resources becoming accessible to a wider range of consumers. In less than a century, the notion of coffee as a beverage consumed in the drawing rooms of the upper crust eroded. Coffee instead became a ubiquitous fixture of the American working class, tied to notions of cheery productivity and the booming prosperity of the American labor force (Jimenez 1995).

Figure 1
Source: Mitch O’Connell.

Continue reading

Anthropologies #22: Reflections on Food in Food Research

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

The second installment of the anthropologies issue on food comes from Zofia Boni, a food anthropologist. Boni’s PhD (SOAS) focused on food and children and the negotiations regarding feeding and eating in Warsaw. Currently, she is a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. Her new research project focuses on the social dynamics of childhood obesity in Poland. –R.A.

Food is an intrinsic element of all anthropological research. Sharing food can be an ice breaker; it can provide a context or an opportunity for the conversations with your interlocutors, it provides insights into their lives and often means that “you are in!” or at least you are getting closer.

In the case of anthropology of food, however, food becomes particularly important as it is placed at the heart of the research. What happens when food is not only a research tool which facilitates interactions, but also becomes the object of the research? How can we actually study something so ephemeral? And what happens when we eat it and therefore embody the object of our research? What sort of implications does it have for the researchers and the researched? What sort of tensions or connections does it create? Though anthropologists reflect on those issues, the centrality of food and its importance for many anthropological encounters, to a large extent, stays implicit. This essay aims to inspire the discussion about the role and place of food in anthropological research on food. Continue reading

Anthropologies #22: Some thoughts on food, animals, and anthropology

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the Anthropologies #22 series.

Here it is: the long-awaited first installment of the anthropologies issue on food. We kick off the issue with a short essay by James Babbitt, who is a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. Babbitt’s main research interests are animal agriculture and affect in the United States. He is currently confused by the complexities of human-livestock worldings. –R.A.

Right now, I am on a farm in rural New England where hundreds of meat chickens and turkeys are being raised. About a mile down the road is a dairy where a couple dozen cows are milked twice daily. I study animal agriculture in the United States. This summer I am conducting preliminary fieldwork. Animal agriculture is not new to Anthropology. Steven Striffler’s Chicken, Timothy Patchirat’s Every Twelve Seconds, and Alex Blanchette’s article, “Herding Species”, in a recent issue of Cultural Anthropology, are all worth checking out if one is interested in how the majority of meat in America is industrially produced. However, these studies do not look at small-scale production. It is the smaller scale operations that I am most familiar with, having worked as a killer on a small organic chicken farm. But before I discuss, that I will provide a bit of background to flesh out where I am coming from. A good place to begin is vegetarianism.

As a teenager, I was introduced to vegetarianism through punk bands like Propagandi, and was an on and off again vegetarian throughout my twenties. Without punk I probably would have never seriously thought about what I put on my plate and in my mouth. In this I am not alone, for punk seems at least partially responsible for the diets, politics and worldviews of many of my peers. At DIY punk shows there would occasionally be food and it was always vegetarian. To do otherwise would be taboo or heretical. There are a number of great songs about animal rights, animal liberation and vegetarianism/veganism by punk and hardcore bands. My personal favorites are Mob 47’s “Animal Liberation” and “Stop the Slaughter”. Continue reading

Anthropologies #22 Call for Submissions: The anthropology of food!

Hawk_Burgers_flickr1
Burgers, Plate 4. Photograph by Thomas Hawk, 2009.

Everyone eats, and there are cultural and social meanings embedded in the food that we consume. This issue of anthropologies will look at the anthropological understanding of food and the values, beliefs, technologies, ideologies, and imaginaries that we construct around its production and consumption.

What is food? How do we decide what food is desirable and undesirable? Where does our food come from? How is it produced? What effect do our food habits have on others both human and non-human? What, ultimately, does food mean? We are looking for submissions from every corner of anthropology – linguistic, biological, cultural, and archaeology – and from a variety of perspectives within the discipline. So tell us what food means to you, or the role that it plays in the lives of people you work with.

Deadline for submissions: January 10, 2016

Publication Date: March 2016.

Email submissions to: anthropologiesproject AT gmail dot com

Jeremy Trombley and Lauren Moore will be the co-editors for this issue. We already have a few contributors lined up, but we have room for more! See below for more information. Continue reading