Category: "food and drink"
Oil is vital to our growth economy. Yet, our need for continued access to fossil fuels drives many of today’s conflicts. And we are in the last days of cheap oil and need alternatives. In his guest editorial in the new issue of Anthropology Today (subscription required unfortunately), Thomas Love encourages anthropologists to examine the complex relationship between our lives and fossil fuels.
What are the consequenes of rising oil prices? Rising energy prices may prolong availability for those who can afford it, but will will cause uneven economic development and contribute to the deterioration of labour conditions in sweatshop economies, he writes.
A quick search reveals following news: Rwanda: High Oil Prices Make Essential Commodities Costly (allAfrica 28.3.08), Higher petrol costs ‘act like a tax on consumption’ (CNN, 7.8.06) Food prices are rising worldwide. Weather, oil costs among factors (Boston Globe 30.3.08), Oil prices hit hard on Asia’s poor. UNDP report ranks countries according to a new Oil Price Vulnerability Index (UNDP 25.10.07), and “What about the poor?”, askes the Energy report (1.8.07).
Thomas Love proposes following research questions:
How does this crisis resemble previous ones? What metaphors and symbols do people use to make sense of it all? To what discursive structures will people turn to make sense of the potential unravelling of their worlds? (…) How has the fossil-fuelled growth system already affected the lives of people in producing areas?
We need cross-cultural perspectives and commitment to ethnography to understand how such large-scale forces play out on the ground in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Detailed grasp of the non-fossil-fuelled ways of living of pre- and non-industrial peoples will convey to interested publics and policy-makers alternative ways of organizing human society. We can help understand how humans might manage to power down without precipitating collapse.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns ominously of an ‘unforeseen and unprecedented’ decline in world food supply. Anthropologists should contribute their expertise and knowledge to this emerging problem, Solomon H. Katz writes in the current issue of Anthropology Today (accessible for subscribers only).
First, anthropologists are often on the ground in remote places in societies which should, but often do not, figure in the mainstream of news stories about food problems. By the nature of our work, anthropologists are often close to the centre of the most desperate problems. We need to report these problems, especially through blogs, wikis and other instant communications within our means.
Second, anthropologists need to communicate beyond our own field about these food problems – with other scientific disciplines, the media, public policy advocates and elected officials who can help implement corrective change. The economic community has begun to focus on the micro level, which is consonant with the anthropologist’s study of problems at the local level.
In the case of food problems, for example, we can share our knowledge of how households, villages and communities are being affected and are coping with the rapidly increasing price of food throughout the world, and we can do so without delay.
Third, anthropologists need to be fully involved in building increased lines of communication that represent their collective perspectives more effectively, and can provide new insights for the media and policy-makers and help change the way societies think and act on problems of global concern.
Finally, we need to help develop a systematic way for government policy affecting the human food chain to be tested before it is adopted, in order to avoid unintended consequences.
The anthropologist is mentioning an online wiki web page and database of reports from the field as part of a new ‘world food problems’ wiki that he launched in December 2007 at http://wfmo.pbwiki.com Unfortunately, it seems he has taken it down already as it is password protected.
Katz has organized a panel entitled ‘Food to Fuel’ that I organized for the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington in December 2007.
He writes that the food crisis is the result of the sharp rise in competition between food and fuel, together with the higher costs of energy to produce and transport foods, the increased use of maize as animal feed in China and elsewhere, and the rapid changes in climate and rainfall patterns:
Last winter, within a month of Felipe Calderón taking office as the new president of Mexico, there were so many protests over the rise in corn prices induced by the US corn-to-ethanol policy that Calderón had to reverse his free trade philosophy and immediately fix corn prices or risk further street violence during the opening days of his presidency.
Similarly, the wheat price crisis has sparked street protests in Italy and Russia. In Africa there have been major protests, and the real spectre of food shortages this year resulting from prohibitively high prices looms in at least 37 countries.
UPDATE: The Guardian (26.2.08) reports Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits
Ethnobotany in not only about “exotic” plants in the rain forest: “The ethnobotany of British home gardens: diversity, knowledge and exchange” is the title of a new research project at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kent. Among other things the anthropologists will look at the the social networks along which plants and knowledge are exchanged.
“We hope to be able to demonstrate scientifically the wider value of home gardens beyond the material worth of the land that they occupy", Simon Platten explains. “We wish to learn how people learn to become good home gardeners. Whilst biological diversity in itself is important, so are the skills and knowledge that maintain it”, project director Roy Ellen says.
Despite high rates of participation in gardening there is according to him relatively little work on the basic social, cultural and ethnobotanical dimensions of home gardening.
Why see uncertainty as a hindering aspect of human experience, instead of an enabling one? In her thesis Good Lives, Hidden Miseries: An Ethnography of Uncertainty in a Finnish Village, anthropologist Susanne Ådahl from the University of Helsinki argues that there can be something called "good suffering", a suffering which creates positive meaning and creative action:
There is a reason why people continue doing things, working, producing on the land, maintaining sociality and community although a lot of it goes against all economic logic. For farmers it is not only a matter of being engaged in practical action, but that the action has a quality of "meaningfulness" to it.
Her thesis is an ethnographic study, in the field of medical anthropology, of village life among farmers in south west Finland, based on 12 months of field work conducted 2002-2003 in a coastal village.
Ådahl asked people about their life histories, the meaning of the home, work, social solidarity and social interaction, notions of illness and well-being. She was primarily interested in finding out how people experience social change and what they do to deal with it. And by working with farmers she "came to understand the central symbols of farming life and the impetus that keeps these people going although outside forces are reducing their living space, both symbolically and literally".
When she started her fieldwork Finland had been a member of the European Union for seven years, and farmers felt the EU had substantially impacted on their working conditions, she writes:
Perhaps one of the greatest losses they are experiencing is that of their autonomy, the freedom to decide over life which seems to be equivalent to a loss of honour, and an honourable way of dealing with the dependence on structures beyond their control. It is also a potential loss of the home. There was complaint of other pressures in life such as work related stress, the fast pace of life and strained inter-personal relationships. Informants expressed worry over the ingestion of artificial foods and other harmful substances in the environment.
Felt uncertainty in their lives is brought about by increasing social isolation, feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and distress. A concrete sign of the structural changes that are taking place in society is the emptying of villages.
The introduction of on-farm inspections and with it the issue of doubt and distrust that is inherent in this practice is perhaps one of the hardest blows to farmers' pride. They feel that a bureaucratic entity has penetrated into the sanctity of the home, transgressing boundaries of intimacy. Many also equate the present subsidy system with social welfare, living off a system, losing your independence. This has resulted in a loss of motivation to produce, because the reward for being a good farmer, one that strives to maximise his or her yields, is gone.
They feel that decision makers and representatives of the EU cannot understand, nor recognise the significance of local level knowledge, based in the reality of farming in Finland as well as the geographically specific areas of the country that "good farming practice" is based on.
In the midst of constraints and the demands to mould oneself to the social order there are also minimal forms of resistance, like writing "No EU" in bricks of contrasting colours on the roof of one's barn. Or being active in a producers' organisation, in municipal or party politics so as to influence the outcome of political decisions that impact on one's life:
One of the most obvious forms of resistance is related to the "cancer talk" that people engage in. It is used as a political commentary of the state of affairs, of people's fear of something foreign controlling their lives. It is a form of blaming society for making their living environment dangerous to dwell in and their food contaminated, and yet they keep on living in this environment.
So why can suffering be good and meaningful? The anthropologist explains:
For farmers it is natural to think that the importance of producing food makes their suffering meaningful, valuable and honourable. This positive, meaningful suffering produces wholesome food that feeds the nation and maintains our independence in terms of food security.
It is through working and being active in associations and other social activities that farmers can fulfil the central values of the farming life, those of continuity regardless of how economically unprofitable it has become to engage in farming especially for small holders. Farmers make the ambiguity of their lived realities understandable by referring to these core values that spring from the local context.
I believe that the central role of agency in the lived experience of human subjects emerges precisely because it is set against the backdrop of suffering, of the idea that those things which are at stake in one's life are threatened.
Her reserach was part of the research project Ethnographies of Illness Experience in Contemporary Finnish Contexts that has published three medical anthropology papers online.
The picture was taken from her thesis.
Ramadan is being increasingly observed by France's Muslim community - but also for a few French non-Muslims, afp reports. "I do it sometimes to show my support for my Muslim friends," said Lorie, a schoolgirl in the eastern suburb of Montreuil.
The trend is especially prevalent among young adults. 88 percent of all Muslim adults in the country fasted for Ramadan - and 94 percent of those aged under 30 did, according to a recent survey in a Catholic weekly, La Vie.
French anthropologist Malek Chebel, said that the surge in interest in Ramadan "is a phenomenon we've been seeing for 15 or so years".
"Essentially, it's a phenomenon of cultural identification - French Muslims have the feeling of belonging to all other Muslims around the world," he said. The physical rigor of observing daily fasting for a month made Ramadan a sort of macho competition among boys and young men.
Abdel Rahman Dahmane, the president of the Council of Democratic Muslims in France says that Ramadan has become a month of identification for all a community.
>> read the whole story in the Middle East Times (link updated)
SEE ALSO RAMADAN-RELATED:
On OhMyNews, Fiza Fatima Asar gives in My Ramadan. From Pakistan to California and back again a nice description:
Ramadans are really so special in Pakistan. It is a different feeling altogether -- an entirely different world. All the restaurants are closed during the day and open right before sunset when people start pouring in for iftars at their favorite restaurants, the ones that stay open all night until five in the morning. (...) When we hear someone say "the city never sleeps" we really needed to visit Karachi during Ramadan to know what that phrase really meant. Boys and young men arrange night cricket matches out in the streets with lights fixed along the street light poles and the neighborhood collected to watch the matches. These matches end right before suhur during weekends.
And she explains:
Ramadan is not just about starving and fighting your thirst. Well, I knew that before too. But in the past I thought, fine, Ramadan is also about charity, about perseverance and about patience. This year I learned more. Ramadan is really about bringing one closer to the other. Ramadan is about sharing and missing people. Ramadan is about loving the other and thanking God they are there to be with you.
On GlobalVoices we learn that during Ramadan there are much more beggars on the street. These people would like to exploit this holy month as much as possible and play on the high level of religious emotions of people during this special time, Tunisian blogger Zayed writes.
Anthropology of Food is one of the few anthropological Open Access Journals. In their new edition, we'll find five articles on food and religion in English (two in French), among them:
Michelle Lelwica: Redefining Womanhood (?): Gender, Power, and the “Religion of Thinness”
Although women who are devoted to losing weight do not constitute a “religious” group in the traditional sense of the word, the symbols, rituals, and beliefs surrounding their pursuit of thinness have come to function much like a religion.
Adele Wessell and Andrew Jones: Reading religion and consuming the past in the feast of Guadalupe
Food is integral to the religious expression and community identity of the fiesta, echoed in its translation as the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this paper the meal served in the Casa de Comida will be used as a historical text, as a form of communication or representation of the community and its history. Attention is directed to the interdependence of indigenous and immigrant histories expressed in the preparation and consumption of meals, as well as to the legacies of colonialism inherent in the feast.
Meritxell Martín-i-Pardo: Colombo Cabri or vegetarian meal: wherein lies the power?
“Colombo Cabri or Vegetarian Meal” argues that certain foods are used to configure two competing sectarian Hindu groups in Guadeloupe, French West Indies. What are appropriately identified as “traditionalist” and “globalist” Hindus define a rhetoric for legitimating their different claims by appropriating or rejecting “colombo,” a curry of meats simmered in this sauce, as the ritual meal for the sect whose narrative rightly claims to define the correct path for the Hindu community on the island.
By studying beer cultures, you may learn lot about identity. In the United States, German-American identity is rarely marked. But given the association between Germany and beer, craft beer allows for the active negotiation of German-American identity, anthropologist Alexandre Enkerli writes in a draft of his paper Brewing Cultures: Craft Beer and Cultural Identity in North America, that he 's published on his blog.
"Craft beer" refers to barley malt beer brewed locally by a small commercial brewery. The "craft beer movement", Enkerli explains, is oriented against the beer globalization. Slogans like "Think Global, Drink Local" are popular in the craft beer world.
Enkerli also discusses gender aspects:
Not only is the overwhelming majority of craft beer people male but masculinity and even virility are significant aspects of craft beer culture.
The negotiation of gender identity is an especially significant dimension of homebrewing, Enkerli writes. It often relates to the gender differentiation of food in general:
Historically, alewives and other brewsters have been responsible for domestic beer production. Contemporary (male) brewers often acknowledge the importance of women in the history of brewing. Yet the passage from a woman-centric domestic brewing practice to a male-dominated brewing industry and then to an overwhelmingly male craft beer culture rarely seems to represent a continuous process. It is as if male brewers, and especially homebrewers, were saying that despite their presence in the kitchen, they were still men.
Enkerli is both anthropologist and a craft beer enthusiast and has been homebrewer for several years.
PS: The picture was taken at a Norwegian-German wedding. For the wedding, two barrels of Bavarian beer were transported by the couple from Bavaria to Norway by car. Enkerli's point about negotion of German identity in the US might also be true for Norway.
A Montreal newspaper story has rapidly sent Filipino tempers rising around the world. Luc Cagadoc, a 7-year-old pupil, was punished by a lunchtime day-care monitor: “You are in Canada. Here in Canada you should eat the way Canadians eat,” the Quebecois educator allegedly said, and went on to observe that Luc “ate like a pig.” The reason: Luc insisted on eating with a spoon and fork as most Filipinos do.
"Educators and parents alike should find ways to work together to avoid traumatizing children who deserve more than to be made to feel inferior because of their parent’s culture", the editor (I suppose) of the Philippine Daily Inquirer comments.
In a follow-up article called Spoon Wars, anthropologist Michael L. Tan gives us more information about food, eating habits and cultural history (that's the role anthropologists should play, isn't it?):
For Filipinos, and most Asians, spoons were the greatest invention ever. Throw away the knife and the fork but never the spoon, which we use for soups, desserts, vegetables, even to cut meat.
Anyone with knowledge of culinary history can tell you the spoon was the first eating utensil to have been invented. Knives, well, they were originally invented as weapons, and then got reduced for the dining table. And the fork, the infamous fork that westerners insist is the main eating utensil? They come much later, introduced from the Middle East into southern Europe, but treated with disdain by the northern Europeans.
Etiquette changes all the time because they’re based on meanings we give to people, events, places. In earlier less civil times, meals could become quite violent so the last thing you needed were utensils brandished like weapons, which is why the Chinese resisted knives and forks and stuck to chopsticks.
But don’t worry, with 8 million Filipinos living and working in Canada and all kinds of other remote, savage lands, many infiltrating homes as nannies and cooks and housekeepers, we’ll teach the world that the proper way of eating is with a spoon and a fork.