Culinary Anthropology

Joined Jul 31, 2000
I'm curiuos to get your thoughts on this topic.

I was discussing this with some folks,and there was some mixed feeling about the relivence of this kind of thing being taught in Universities.

The sense I got from these people that the idea is contrived and selfserving? I strongly disagreed with them because I feel it is very relivent to the understanding of food history.I feel anthropology and archeology go hand and hand....once I challenged these people (whom are great writters in there own mind)about specific examples I gave them to justify my opinion the flow of the thread seemed to wain.

I don't know if this is the right forum to address this question, but I thought it should go here
Joined Mar 3, 2002
cc, the question is why it has taken so long to be taught in universities, not whether it should be. There is a very strong and essential connection between food, anthropology, history, culture (including art), politics, etc.

Our traditional divisions of knowledge, as represented by the structuring of courses in universities is arbitrary. One could easily imagine studying the history of mankind by starting with food and its preparation. This would lead you to archheology, anthropology, economics, politics, history, physics, sociology, psychology, etc. After all we had our beginnings as humans in our animal need for - you guess it - FOOD. One can easily postulate the need to eat generated the impulse to develop tools, ceramics, basketry and weaving, husbandry, farming, and thus leads on through increasing reticulations of complexity to bring us to the world we live in now. Cuisine as we know it in our time is an elaboration of that first act of cooking.

If you scroll down this forum (Cooking and How it Slew the Beast Within) you will find an article I referenced from the NYT that Athenaeus kindly copied onto the forum. Here you would find an argument that cooked food distinguishes us from other animals and the role cooking played in the development of our minds as well as our bodies.

Archeologists are interested in what foods people ate, the tools they used to cook it, etc. Consider after all, that for early man, the satisfaction of bodily required a lot more effort than it does for us. They made tools to hunt animals, developed ceramics and basketry to hold food and cook it in.

The eminent historian, Ferdinand Braudel, for example, devotes much of his work on the Mediterranean in 3 vol and also Civilization & Capitalism in 2 vol (see the first vol of each of these) to changes in the food supply. (For example he traces the trade in such things as wheat).

Another book I posted a reference to on the book shelf, Phyllis Pray Bober's Art Culture and Cusine, goes into cuisine itself in history and art (as opposed to just foodstuff).

Clifford Wright's A Mediterranean Feast is an attempt to write a history of the food of that region. Much of the history of the ancient and modern world is the consequence of the European quest for spices and other foodstuffs as they fanned out over the world looking for these things to satisfy their esthetic culinary sense. Culinary history shows, for example, the impact of one culture on another through appropriations of foods and methods of cooking as in some of the dishes that are still cooked in Spain and Sicily that depend on the Muslim cusine of the medieval conquerors of those regions.

You might also find Dorothy Hartley's Food in England interesting, too. It gives numerous examples of how some of our classic pairings of foods in indigenous cuisines arise from their physical proximity. (For example meat and the types of herbs the animals grazed upon).

All these books have extensive notes and bibliography which would lead to other sources.

If I have any quarrel with your position it is that you do not go far enough. Clearly anthropology and history bring us knowledge of the cuisine and diet of earlier people. But the domestication of plants and animals and the cuisine based on them bring great insights into the development of humankind as humankind and of our history, insight into our social and even psychological structure.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
Funny cape chef, during my short vacations I read Claude Levi Strauss " Raw or cooked" dedicated in the food habits of people.

Anthropology is the science that studies the habits of human in a society.
Food is one of those "habits"
So anthropology already studies how Food influences the behaviour of people in the context of a society.
The anthropology of Food is already a separate subject of study, the question is if it can be the subject of a separate lesson.

I would find a couple of lectures on Food anthropology ( although the term is conventional of course) usefull, but I don't think that we have a good deal of subjects and issues in order to create a separate department in an university.
Joined May 14, 2001
It is marvelous that this is finally getting some attention at major Universities. I know that B.U. now has a Masters degree in Gastronomy!

But where I would like to see a lot more of this sort of thing is in the elementary and secondary schools. History in these places is taught as no more than a chronology of war. And not just history - I defy you to name any school subject that cannot be taught using food as a basis.

Our society will take great leaps forward when we remember what our ancestors never forgot: food is not convenience, food is not fuel, food is not a chore, FOOD IS LIFE!
Joined Jul 3, 2002
The area of "food studies" is making its way into universities. Since it lends itself to cross-disciplinary work (anthro, econ, sociology, psych, lit, history, etc.), I'm not sure how many specific departments could survive, but coursework, classes devoted to such questions within a discipline, certainly will.
As I mentioned a little while back when I first introduced myself, I teach a writing class a the university level that uses food studies as its topic, and it's worked well. The students have written research papers on topics ranging from the history of the American diner to cannibalism. This quarter I've added new readings (I make my own "reader" for the class) that cover 18th century theories of vegetarianism, genetically engineered food, Christian dieting, and how the Chinese use food as medicine. The reader also contains essays on the symbolism found in Italian-American wedding food, cooking as a sacred act for Middle-Eastern Jewsih women, cookbooks and culture, Chinese table manners, fast-food advertising aimed at children, the organization of professional kitchens, etc. There are also chapters from Reichl (to make them laugh) and Bourdain (to scare them, just a little).
Any ideas you folks have would be much appreciated! I'm thinking about tailoring a similar class for Freshman Composition (this one is filled mostly with juniors and seniors).

Anyway, here's an article that came out a few years ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education . I tried using a link, but it needs my password, so I'm pasting the entire thing here:

From the issue dated July 9, 1999


More Scholars Focus on Historical, Social, and Cultural Meanings of Food, but Some Critics Say It's Scholarship-Lite


On a recent Friday afternoon at Rube's, "The Rice Maven's Haven" in the St. Lawrence Market here, yuppies toting cell phones scooped up wehani brown for $4 a pound, black Japonica for $2.95, and fragrant pecan rice for $4.95.
Several blocks away, Warren J. Belasco smiled to think that rice, long associated in Anglo culture with despised immigrants, drooling babies, and toothless old people, had become fashionable. "It's marketed as hip and sexy, in contrast to the square potato," he said.

At the conference where he was speaking, it was clear that Mr. Belasco's specialty, "food studies," is much like rice: Once shunned as too ordinary, it's now a hot commodity, available in countless varieties.

A professor of American studies at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Mr. Belasco is one of a growing number of scholars interested in the historical, social, and cultural meanings of food. Most of the panels at the conference -- a joint meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Society and the Society for Agriculture and Human Values -- were filled by nutritionists, rural sociologists, and political economists, who talked about sustainable agriculture, food security, and farmers' rights. But many of the participants were historians, philosophers, folklorists, or literary scholars, discussing what we can learn about human nature and particular societies from the way people cook, eat, market, and talk about food.

Mr. Belasco, for example, didn't give advertising all the credit for rice's rebirth. He also pointed to the modernist search for "authenticity," a postmodern desire to incorporate the Other, and the recent tendency to think of meals as medicine. "Grains have been recast as protective and life-sustaining," he said.

At panel sessions and over elegant meals featuring organic produce or one of Toronto's 80 different ethnic cuisines, other scholars talked about food as a symbol of power, an aesthetic display, a community ritual, and an expression of ideology or identity.

Food studies has puttered along the margins of anthropology and folklore for more than a decade. Now it is gaining momentum, with new interest on the part of theoretically inclined sociologists and scholars in the humanities. Small conferences devoted to the subject are sprouting everywhere, and journals as different as Southern Folklore, Social Research, and Proteus: A Journal of Ideas have recently published or soon will publish special issues on food. New York University has revamped its nutrition department to add a doctoral program in food studies, and other institutions, including George Washington University, are thinking about starting programs of their own.

Nowhere is the growth more evident than in scholarly publishing: Mr. Belasco says he has reviewed at least 10 manuscripts on food for university presses in the past year. Both the University of California Press and the University of Illinois Press are starting new series, and next year California will begin publishing a journal, Gastronomica, devoted to food and culture.

But while food-studies scholars are excited about the progress their field has made, they acknowledge that they're still elbowing for room at the academic table. And some say they're worried that too many cooks will spoil the broth.

"You have to play this game between emphasizing it because it's a hot new field and playing it down because people say, 'Oh ... food?'" says Alice P. Julier, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst whose dissertation is on food and social life.

The reasons for the rise of food studies may be as much economic as intellectual. In an age of celebrity chefs, culinary chic, and skyrocketing cookbook sales, university presses see books about food as a way to reach coveted non-academic readers. But credit also goes to the work in women's studies and cultural studies that has drawn scholars' attention to the importance of ordinary, domestic practices. What's more, food is a window into those popular scholarly subjects: gender, class, race, and ethnicity. In the United States, where sushi and fajitas are as run-of-the-mill today as pork roast and mashed potatoes once were, it's nearly impossible to talk about food without touching on such issues.

"Food underwrites ongoing debates about the substance and boundaries of American personhood," said Doris Witt at the Toronto meeting. An assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa, she has just published Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity (Oxford University Press), which examines debates within the black-power movement over whether or not to celebrate "soul food," such as chitterlings and collard greens, that had been stigmatized because of its association with slaves. Often, she writes, the same people who embraced soul food denigrated black women, the traditional makers of that food.

Ms. Witt became interested in African-American culinary history after she noticed how central it was to the work of contemporary black female writers. Scholars who study food often say they came to it accidentally. Mr. Belasco's first food project originated as a study of how corporations had co-opted hippie rhetoric to sell blue jeans, rock music, and health food. But Mr. Belasco -- who tended an organic garden and became a vegetarian himself in the '60s -- decided to focus on "the connections between palate and power." The subtitle of his resulting book, Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry (Pantheon, 1990), might be amended to add " -- and Lost." Mr. Belasco concluded that as big business began marketing "natural" and "organic" foods those words became meaningless. Today, the "supermarket is an additive minefield, processors are consolidating rapidly, the farm belt is a disaster area, pesticides are out of control," and even people who support organic, local farms "reek with contradictions like everyone else," he writes. The influence of American agribusiness on the government, along with skepticism among scientists and the mainstream news media, succeeded in disarming a disorganized movement.

Mr. Belasco has continued to specialize in the study of food, and is now writing a history of the 200-year-old debate between Malthusians, who fear that the world will run out of food, and "Cornucopians," who believe that scientific and political innovation will save us from mass starvation.

Amy Bentley, an assistant professor in the food-studies program at N.Y.U., was doing research into wartime victory gardens as a graduate student in American civilization when she was struck by how food rationing during World War II turned cooking and eating into political activities. In Eating for Victory: United States Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity (University of Illinois Press, 1998), she describes how in propaganda, "the family dinner became a weapon of war, and the kitchen a woman's battlefront." One advertisement depicted a woman holding her ration coupons and a cookbook and saying, "Planning meals is the way I can fight." Amid the disruption and scarcity of war, images of food and women "were used to portray American society as ordered, calm, and stable," Ms. Bentley writes, "particularly with regard to established hierarchies of race and gender. ..."

"I just stumbled on it and had to write about it," says Ms. Bentley, who is now at work on a book about how mass-marketed baby food, introduced in 1930, came to seem a natural and necessary part of infant diets.

Lucy M. Long, who teaches in the popular-culture department at Bowling Green State University and is editing a book on "culinary tourism" -- the exploratory eating or cooking of another's cuisine -- for the University Press of Kentucky, did her graduate work on music. "I would get so tired of my dissertation that I would do something on food," she says. "I ended up finding that more interesting. It's so central to questions of identity."

That may be true, but food has been anything but central in the academy. "It's been a disdained and patronized subject, and people who study it have been disdained and patronized," says Sidney W. Mintz, a professor of anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University, whose book Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Viking, 1985) is a landmark in the field. "I'm still trying to make people who are not anthropologists aware of the tremendous importance of food in our lives and worldwide, politically," he says. "The drive for food is more powerful than the sex drive, but we don't pay attention to it, because we're fed three times a day."

Darra Goldstein agrees. "Food has long been overlooked as a serious subject, because we take it for granted," says the professor of Russian at Williams College, who is also a cookbook author and is combining her interests by working on a history of the feast and the fast in Russian culture. She will edit California's forthcoming book series, "California Studies in Food and Culture," as well as Gastronomica, the new journal. "I'm hoping to make food studies more credible in the academy," she says.

Academically, perhaps even more of a strike against food than its dailiness is its long association with women. "Food is cute," says Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, a professor of sociology at Columbia University who has written on the connections among gastronomy, writing, and French national identity. "The attitude has been, Real men don't eat quiche, and real men certainly don't write about quiche."

Even feminist scholars, who taught their colleagues the importance of women's experiences, have not always been sympathetic to food studies. Barbara Haber, curator of printed materials at Radcliffe College's Schlesinger Library, collects cookbooks there. At first, she said in a talk at the Toronto conference, her colleagues thought she was trying to send women back to the kitchen. The library's mission, as they saw it, was to prove that women had been part of public life. Ms. Haber said her slogan became: "This, too, is women's history." Cookbooks are social documents, she said, "the prescriptive literature" that showed women how to spend their time.

Women's studies is now a mature enough field to accept food studies as legitimate, she said. She now receives more inquiries about Schlesinger's culinary collection than about any other collection in the library. And, she noted, more than a dozen other universities are building collections of cookbooks, which had been headed for the trash bin with the demise of home-economics departments.

Still, Ms. Haber and others say they still have to fight for legitimacy within the academy.

Rafia Zafar's work on food threatened to damage her career. She was denied tenure in 1996 by the English department at the University of Michigan in part, she says, because one of her writing projects took cookbooks seriously: "I was advised to pursue more 'literary' research." She now has a contract from Oxford for her second book, And Called It Macaroni: Food in the Formation of Our National Identity, which argues that American writers have used food and cooking to help construct an American literary persona. Ms. Zafar, who directs the African- and Afro-American-studies program at Washington University, adds that the academic climate has not completely warmed up to food studies. "I've had many an eyebrow raised when the topic of my second book has come up, and that hasn't stopped."

Members of the current generation of graduate students often set out to study food, but not without resistance from their mentors. Jane Dusselier, who will begin work this fall on a doctorate in American studies at the University of Maryland at College Park, wrote a master's thesis at Sarah Lawrence College on the history of candy. "My thesis advisers were always trying to get me to write about candy workers," she says with a laugh.

With the number of university jobs designated for "food studies" countable on one hand, it's no wonder advisers are cautious. Charlotte Biltekoff, a graduate student in American civilization at Brown University, worked for five years as a chef at Greens, a famous San Francisco restaurant, before returning to campus with the idea of combining her professional and intellectual interests. But while her department has been supportive, professors have warned her that food studies is not marketable. "I have been urged to prepare myself accordingly," she says.

Even within food studies, some scholars are concerned that the new work is, well, half-baked. They argue that some in the field simply wax nostalgic about "my grandmother's spanakopita," or catalogue the culinary wonders of a favorite region. They point, also, to the number of non-academics involved in publishing or lecturing on food. Sitting with scholars such as Mr. Mintz and Ms. Haber on the editorial board of California's new series, for example, are the owner of a trendy cookbook store in New York and the proprietor of a collection of rare books on food and wine. Andrew F. Smith, editor of Illinois's planned series, is a self-trained culinary historian who has written popular books on catsup, the tomato, and popcorn.

Some food scholars who have been quietly laboring in the vineyards for years fear that whatever hard-won legitimacy they've achieved will be lost if their colleagues conflate them with food enthusiasts and popular historians. "I've seen scores and scores of syllabi and bibliographies that shock me because they play to the most superficial notions of what food is," says Steven L. Kaplan, a professor of history at Cornell University and one of the editors of Food and Foodways, an international journal that began publication in the late '80s.

"It's not about simply Julia Child in the kitchen. It's about the whole range of issues from feasting to fasting -- from great famines and the humble efforts of ordinary people to forge a minimal survival diet, to the more extravagant and elaborate dimension of bourgeois self-indulgence and the aestheticization of food," Mr. Kaplan says. He thinks that university administrators are endorsing food studies simply to boost enrollment.

And while some of the new theoretical work in food studies excites him, he worries that much of the research is so interdisciplinary that it lacks rigor. "Before the rise of food studies in the humanities, food was treated only as fuel," he says. "Now we have, paradoxically, the reverse problem: A great many people are talking about food in terms of vaguely symbolic language, without mooring it in the tension between the symbolic and the physical."

"I know how he feels," says Mr. Mintz. "It's rather like when lawyers began advertising on TV." But he disagrees that the new work lacks seriousness. And other researchers in the field respond to Mr. Kaplan's criticisms by calling his journal narrow, even "stuffy."

Even some up-and-coming scholars share his concerns, however. In some food-studies work, says N.Y.U.'s Ms. Bentley, "there's an emphasis on the artisan, which is a narrow, utopian, elitist view of food." And Ms. Julier, of the University of Massachusetts, echoes Mr. Kaplan's other concern: "I get very nervous about the way books get turned out very quickly. We need more studies of what people are actually doing," studies that connect theory with research.

"It's true, there are lots of hobbyists and enthusiasts" in the field, said Brown's Ms. Biltekoff after one session at the conference. "But I think they add something." She had dreamed the night before of a giant sandwich of Gouda cheese and hot peppers on a French roll.

"If you don't want to read one of their books about catsup, fine," she said. "Read a more scholarly book about catsup."


Selected Books in Food Studies
All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France From the Middle Ages to the Present, by Stephen Mennell (University of Illinois Press, 1995).
[How to buy this book]
The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power, edited by Carole M. Counihan (Routledge, forthcoming).
[How to buy this book]

Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry, by Warren J. Belasco (Pantheon, 1990).
[How to buy this book]

Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity, by Doris Witt (Oxford University Press, 1999).
[How to buy this book]

Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat, by David Bell and Gill Valentine (Routledge, 1997).
[How to buy this book]

Consuming Passions: Food in the Age of Anxiety, edited by Sian Griffiths and Jennifer Wallace (Manchester University Press, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Consumption in the Age of Affluence: The World of Food, by Ben Fine, Michael Heasman, and Judith Wright (Routledge, 1996).
[How to buy this book]

Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, edited by Deane W. Curtin and Lisa M. Heldke (Indiana University Press, 1992).
[How to buy this book]

Eating Culture, edited by Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz (State University of New York Press, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Eating for Victory: United States Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity, by Amy Bentley (Illinois, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Fed Up, by Catherine Manton (Bergin and Garvey, 1999).
[How to buy this book]

Food: A Culinary History, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari; English edition edited by Albert Sonnenfield (Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole M. Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (Routledge, 1997).
[How to buy this book]

Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy, by Carolyn Korsmeyer (Cornell University Press, forthcoming).
[How to buy this book]

The Mouth That Begs: Hunger, Cannibalism, and the Politics of Eating in Modern China, by Gang Yue (Duke University Press, 1999).
[How to buy this book]

The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine, by Diane M. Spivey (State University of New York Press, forthcoming).
[How to buy this book]

Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America, by Andrew F. Smith (University of South Carolina Press, 1999).
[How to buy this book]

¡Que Vivan los Tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity, by Jeffrey M. Pilcher (University of New Mexico Press, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories, edited by Anne L. Bower (University of Massachusetts Press, 1997).
[How to buy this book]

Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, by Harvey A. Levenstein (Oxford, 1988).
[How to buy this book]

Rooted in America: Foodlore of Popular Fruits and Vegetables, edited by David Scofield Wilson and Angus Kress Gillespie (University of Tennessee Press, forthcoming).
[How to buy this book]

Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table From 1300-1789, by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).
[How to buy this book]

Selling 'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food, by David Gerard Hogan (New York University Press, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society, edited by Alan Beardsworth (Routledge, 1997).
[How to buy this book]

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, by Sidney W. Mintz (Viking, 1985).
[How to buy this book]

The Taste of American Place: A Reader on Regional and Ethnic Foods, edited by Barbara G. Shortridge and James R. Shortridge (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions Into Eating, Culture, and the Past, by Sidney W. Mintz (Beacon, 1996).
[How to buy this book]

Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking, edited by Arlene Voski Avakian (Beacon, 1997).
[How to buy this book]

We Are What We Eat: Food and the Making of Americans, by Donna R. Gabaccia (Harvard University Press, 1998).
[How to buy this book]

Section: Research & Publishing
Page: A17

Copyright [emoji]169[/emoji] 1999 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education The Chronicle of Higher Education
Joined Jul 31, 2000

It would be great if you can keep us posted once in a while in regards to your classroom developments.

Perhapes even some of your students can practice thier culinary history on cheftalk :)
Joined Mar 13, 2001
in my informal cooking sessions with groups,
and intercultural chats,

" Eat a home cooked meal in your host's home
and you'll get to know his/her culture more intimately"

has been my belief of understanding other more quickly and better.

also in vino veritas
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