Anthro in the news 9/2/13

Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru. The Amazons. 2012.
Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru.2012. From The Liquid Serpent by Nicolas Janowski

• A photo is worth a thousand words

The New York Times highlighted the work of Nicolas Janowski, a freelance photographer who was trained as an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In recent years, he has traveled around the western part of the Amazon in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. One result of his ongoing project is a photographic essay called The Liquid Serpent, referring to an indigenous term for the river that flows through the heart of the Amazon. The title offers a glimpse into Janowski’s conception of the region as having magical and mystical qualities. He says in his introduction: “The Amazon is neither man nor animal; she is nature’s hybrid.”

• The shifting odds of life and death in the Alto

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, published an article in Natural History magazine describing changes in a shantytown in northeastern Brazil. She first lived in the Alto as a Peace Corps worker in 1954 and later returned to do fieldwork on poverty, hunger, and child death. Those experiences led to her book, Death Without Weeping and many other publications.

Death Without Weeping
Book cover

The undercurrent driving the book is the very high rate of infant and child mortality at the time. Parents responded through delayed bonding until a child made it through the early years.

Fifty years later, fertility rates are down in Alto as are infant and child mortality rates. Scheper-Hughes writes: “…the bottom line is that women on the Alto today do not lose their infants. Children go to school rather than to the cane fields, and social cooperatives have taken the place of shadow economies. When mothers are sick or pregnant or a child is ill, they can go to the well-appointed health clinic supported by both state and national funds. There is a safety net, and it is wide, deep, and strong.”

Yet, now “The people of the Alto do Cruzeiro still face many problems. Drugs, gangs, and death squads have left their ugly mark. Homicides have returned with a vengeance, but they are diffuse and chaotic … One sees adolescents and young men of the shantytowns, who survived that dangerous first year of life, cut down by bullets and knives at the age of fifteen or seventeen by local gangs, strongmen, bandidos, and local police in almost equal measure.”

As Scheper-Hughes has written so compellingly for many decades, the “modernization” of life and death churns on, taking different shapes in different contexts. One wonders what the next fifty years will bring to the people of the Alto.

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State of hunger: Food insecurity’s place in anthropology

Guest post by Natalie Sylvester

Food insecurity is considered by major aid agencies to be the world’s biggest health risk (World Food Programme 2011). Food insecurity, however, receives far less research attention and aid than other world health problems such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. This bias in attention holds true in cultural anthropology as well.

One-seventh of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Yet anthropology does not have an edited volume that addresses the wide-ranging topics of food insecurity. The subfields of medical anthropology and nutritional anthropology are especially well-equipped to study food insecurity and its related issues in nuanced, reflective, and powerful ways.

This review, originally prepared for a graduate seminar in medical anthropology, examines works written about food insecurity in the anthropological and closely-related social science literature. I highlight what is, and is not, being spoken about within the anthropological food insecurity discourse. My review reveals three major connections and complications: Development Policy and Food Insecurity, Mental Health and Food Insecurity, and HIV/AIDS and Food Insecurity.

Development Policy and Food Insecurity

The Cauca Valley is in southwest Colombia.

Food insecurity is often the subject of policy and those development projects that attempt to enact policy. Taussig (1978) in his classic article “Nutrition, Development, and Foreign Aid” is one of the first to demonstrate the complex interplay between food insecurity of a population, outside political and economic intervention, and its consequences. 

Taussig focuses on the Community Systems Foundation (CSF) which found that in the Cauca Valley, “50 percent of the children under six years were malnourished” (1978:109). The CSF’s solution was to increase peasant’s consumption of soya, which would close both the protein and caloric gaps.

Taussig examines three important points that exemplify why the CSF intervention failed to work. He first explains that the caloric and protein gaps that the CSF were concerned with were based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) daily requirements (1979:110). That is, the CSF came up with a guideline, without basing those guidelines on their population’s actual energy expenditures and what they needed to consume.
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