Food anthropology

Joined Feb 18, 2009
IS this a workable Career these days? I would like to, as one of my tasks, research eating habits throughout the world so I can write and draw people in about the wonder of other cultures. I feel this is part of my responsibility as a conscious aware human being.

I would particularly like to know more about African, Indian and Middle Eastern Culinary interactions over the years and with the rest of the civilizations of history. South American, LAtin and West Indian stuff is also fascianting, and really its all amazing. Turk to Austria to France to Persia to Germany, England, the Mesomaericans, Moors, Arabs, North african nomadic Tribes, portuguese, norse, swedes and back again to west africa, the congo, Mesopotamia, the Euphrates, the nile, the ganges, and the amazon.

Theres a lot of stuff: linguistics, trade routes, empire building and ethnic discovery and rivalry that is going on surrounding all of this.

Kecheree in India, Kosheri in egypt, etc, Just the tip of the iceberg.

What do you think?

Kind of like Katherine Dunham
Joined Jan 5, 2007
Can't see why not - after all, many of the TV chefs do just exactly that... wander the face of the globe, stuffing their faces and talking about the foodstuffs and history/culture!
Joined Oct 18, 2007
My 2 cents to spend as you wish....

I think it would difficult to make a career of it, but not impossible.
As mentioned, there are already some doing this on TV in some fashion.
If you want to go the TV route, what makes you unique?
Are you already semi-famous?
Are you more good looking, better personality?
Or are you going to do a version that they aren't already covering, delving deeper into the history?
And is that marketable, will the viewing public tune in enough to satisfy sponsors?

The other route would be academic.
How will it benefit others?
Can you get a grant for this research?
Can you in fact make it your career?

I think the second route is more viable, but not having ever done it myself, my opinion is only worth so much.
About 2 cents actually. :lol:

Others may be able to give you better feedback.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Anthropology is a cool field of study but has little marketability and poor incomes in general. If you can market a name for yourself like Bourdain has done with No Reservations. But that's not really quality anthropology.

The exception is ethnobotany for major pharmaceuticals. Go read Wade Davis' The Serpent and The Rainbow. Great book; weak and weird movie.
Joined Jan 5, 2007
Sadly, as someone with rellies in the anthropology field.....

I suspect the answer is as JustJim has outlined: you have to be famous, goodlooking and well.... already 'discovered'!

We in the UK have had various chefs try this route - Keith Floyd, Gary Rhodes, Rick Stein.

It's a truism - there ain't nothing new, under the sun. :cool:
Joined Feb 18, 2009
Thanks, interesting. Good advice. I will have to think about it.

Maybe I need to get media management and communications experience in gradschool, instead of anthropology/english/psychology.... that way I can have access to experience in creative outlets that reach the masses!

Or I will stay the psychology/anthropology/english route and stay in academia as long as possible....

I think this stuff benefits humanity because it inspires a hunger for life and knowledge and peace.
Joined Jan 5, 2007
I'm not sure your last statement is true :cool:

It might inspire those feelings in YOU... I suspect it doesn't in the population as a whole.
Joined Oct 9, 2008
Academically, the field is growing, but only rather slowly. To make it successfully, you'd have to go to a darn good school and do very impressive work. It's possible that the job situation will change, but at present it doesn't look good for new fields about which there is a common perception that it's not "serious."

There's a whole anthro macho thing: if you didn't do fieldwork where you were basically sleeping in mud with bugs and surrounded by people and animals who might kill and eat you, you're not one of the cool kids. Food anthropology has the difficulty that a lot of it is done in civilized areas, and basically you sit around and eat and drink and talk to people about eating and drinking. Sounds like a soft option, so you have to work extra hard to gain macho cred.

The academic road is long and hard. Don't do it because it sounds like a good way to get celebrity status -- it's not likely to pan out, and you'll hate every minute of it.
Joined Feb 18, 2009
indeed! I would like to do serious field work. I think the food anthropology would be a side project. to incorporate my passions
Joined Oct 9, 2008
If you're really serious about this, PM me. I'm not quite in that business, as it were, but I know people who are.

I will say that doing hard-core old-fashioned fieldwork need not be at odds with an interest in what these folks like to call "foodways" - horrible term, if you ask me, but it's become standard. For example, to take an extreme case, one could do fieldwork among deep-forest Brazilian tribal natives, some few of whom largely retain their old ways. Food is not a passing interest here: not only are they not all that far from subsistence economies, of course, but food is a major concern in their myths and so on. It's not without reason that the late great Claude Lévi-Strauss titled three volumes of his vast Mythologiques "The Raw and the Cooked," "From Honey to Ashes" (bear in mind that honey is a significant food-source in South America), and "The Origin Of Table Manners."

If you approach things by that kind of route, you'll have all the anthro street cred in the universe. (Jeepers, he ate bugs with these people and discussed what it tasted like!)
Joined Dec 23, 2000
Anthropology is a cool field of study but has little marketability and poor incomes in general.

This is certainly true. My wife has an AB in Physical Anthropology - from one of the Seven Sisters - and there is absolutely no market for her, unless she got a PhD and went into teaching.

The subject matter you describe sounds pretty cool, but I wouldn't expect to find a market for such narrowly-focused skills without advanced degrees. You could do as my wife did - study it because you enjoy it - but don't expect to make a living at it. :rolleyes:

Joined May 26, 2001
Please don't let the naysayers get to you.

It is a highly specialized field, more academic than practical (meaning you're more likely to find work in research than in a kitchen), but as ChrisLehrer noted there are indeed people who do that sort of thing. There are also people who started out in anthropology and became chefs.

Check out groups like Culinary Historians (there may be a chapter near you), people like Rachel Laudan, schools like NYU's Food Studies program and Boston University's Gastronomy programs. Also look at issues of Gastronomica, published by the University of California (sorry, but Google won't let me go to their actual Web site). While some of these study the histories of food, it is pretty close to studying the anthropology.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
I think that if you study something you are passionate about you will find a way to use it more than if you study something "practical" that you're so so about just because there are lots of jobs. (And who knows what jobs will be there later anyway?)

I recently read about a study concerning food and cultures in the context of diet and nutrition and health. (Maybe i got the link here, i don't really remember). It was about australian aborigines who had become citified and their health went down, and they had them move back to their original context and eat the same food they grew up with, mainly grubs and other stuff, and their pressure went down, their weight went down, their blood glucose went down, etc. It was a very practical study with practical implications. It also involved other cultures, and their food habits.

I don;t know about the FAO's policies these days (Food and agriculture org of the UN - they're in Rome so i know about them a little) but the questions of biodiversity are hot issues. I imagine at some point (or maybe already) they will need to consider seriously the fact that even if a crop grows fast and well, a culture's food traditions are not simply acquired tastes, but are a factor in their survival. The relation between food eaten, the kind of lifestyle, climate, etc and what grows easily and is robust in that co0ntext are all tied together. (We would probably die of a diet of whale blubber, but we don't live a hard life in the arctic, just to mention an example).
In programming what kinds of crops to plant, knowledge of the anthropology of the food eaten traditionally is not simply a matter of taste and habit.

Consulting for these kinds of organizations will surely be important - the biodiversity movement is gaining strength, as is the importance of starting at the ground level (communication with local people rather than decisions made at an international level).

There a re ltos of international planning organizations that use anthropologists, and i know one here who started his own company and was quite successful.

I recommend that nowadays, unfortunately, you will need a phd. We've become ever more bureaucratic about counting things these days, whether degrees or SAT scores or whatever, even when not specifically relevant - though in this case it probably is.
Good luck, don;t give up your real interests for what may seem more practical ones. Look for a good grad school with a good program and go for it.
Joined Jul 3, 2002
Hi Chalkdust,

First of all: Go For It! I'm not sure why some of the posters thought you were saying you wanted to be a TV star using Food Anthro. From what I read, you seem interested in the field and in writing on the subject. As a retired academic (in English), I can give you at least some help.
As some here have said, a PhD would be helpful (if you want to teach or publish in academic journals), but a Masters with some field experience and writing chops might work out just fine for more popular publications.
The field is relatively new, but has been building respect. You can come at it from all sorts of angles: anthro, psych, ag, art, literature, geography, history, etc. The list goes on and on.
Are you currently in college? It sounded like it. If so, you'll have access to full-text articles (loads and loads of them) in the areas you're interested in. If not, PM me and I can send you some info that might help.
Although it wasn't my academic field, I did teach a class in writing research papers. Each professor picked a cross-disciplinary topic so students could use their own fields in the exercises. I picked food and after getting over their initial shock, they found loads to write about from poverty and food insufficiency to Chinese festival foods to cannibalism.

Anyway, let me know if I can help. By the way, getting a PhD isn't (and shouldn't be) as daunting as it might sound. ;)
Joined Oct 18, 2007
If you're referring to me, I wasn't implying that.
I was putting it out there as an option, albeit a limited one.
Joined Feb 18, 2009
Thank you, I am interested in all areas: psychology, mythology, biology. physics, evolutionary biology, biophysics, musicology, mathematics, folkloric african music, african and eastern religions (vodou, akan, dogon, egyptian, afro cuban santeria and lucumi) martial arts
(karate, kung fu, african martial arts like capoeira, african dance) , etc etc etc.

i was just reading about austrian, hungariaN and czech food!

so fascinating!

I would love to write. Maybe get with a photographer or do the photography myself.
Joined Jan 5, 2007
As was I - It seemed a logical step.

As an academic.... I know how hard it is to make your mark in a field where the number of students is high and the oportunities low.
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