Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also: In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”
Can planet Earth be saved?
In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.” On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”
Two media sources included commentary from anthropologists about the Pope’s messages during his visit to the United States. The Real News Network (TRNN television) provides a transcript of a panel discussion in which Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley discussed the Pope’s language about and position on capitalism and how his message does or does not resonate with poor people in Latin America. KNPR (Nevada) aired a discussion about the implications of the Pope’s U.S. speeches for the state of Nevada, including insights from Kevin Rafferty, archaeologist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada where he chairs the department of human behavior.
Food studies and activism rising
KQED (California) reported on the rising popularity of food studies courses and degree programs on U.S. campuses as well as student food activism. The piece mentioned Emory University’s Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, who has introduced several food courses including the Anthropology of Coffee and Chocolate and Fast Food/Slow Food. Indiana University, which established the first Ph.D. in the anthropology of food in 2007, reports an upswing in the addition of and student interest in food-related courses; food was a university-wide focus during the spring semester.
Gillian Tett, columnist for The Financial Times and an anthropologist by training, describes the increasing inclusion of cultural anthropologists and other social scientists in tech/design research labs around the world for their ability to learn about people’s consumption patterns and preferences. Tett offers the example of Ford, which is opening a new center in Silicon Valley: “These psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are trying to understand how we interact with our cars in a cultural sense. It is a striking development and one worth pondering in a personal sense if, like me, you spend much of your life rushing about in a car.”
She emphasizes the value of localized, cultural knowledge in a globalizing world: “…Chinese consumers often have radically different ideas of what makes a great car, especially if they are female.”
What makes a health project work?
Culturally informed research design in health projects is critical to success. Medical anthropologist Ida Susser of Hunter College, City University of New York, published an op-ed in Al Jazeera about the importance of not blaming the victim when an HIV intervention fails to show positive results. Instead, the blame may lie in a faulty research design. She examines a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine as an example of blaming the victim.
Known as VOICE, or Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic. The evaluation of the intervention failed to show any preventive results for women in southern Africa using ARV-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pills or topical microbicide gel. Susser writes: “It’s a particularly unsettling failure because previous studies have demonstrated that these ARV-based methods work. Most of the women who participated in the VOICE study did not use the tablets or gel, but those who did were protected. In other words, the study failed not because the products didn’t work but because they weren’t used.”
Susser argues that the research design was to blame, not the women: “The challenge of this research is more social and behavioral than medical; to succeed, we must better understand which routines and methods work best for women in stressful daily conditions. If the offered methods are not used, then researchers must rethink their approach or at-risk women will continue to become infected with HIV, and the epidemic will spiral.”
Islam and feminism can be compatible
A lot depends on how you define feminism and women’s rights, according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report. Many believe a combination of the two is implausible, but it is, however, possible if one is prepared to accept that there are multiple feminisms and Islamisms in the world today. The article cites cultural anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University. She argues that Muslim women in different contexts and situations experience structures of domination differently. For example, a Muslim woman in a poor neighborhood of Riyadh experiences gender discrimination differently from a businesswoman. In other words, one should not “totalize” the experience of “Muslim women.”
Brazil: Sweet and sour
An article in The Huffington Post on Brazil as an emerging “food superpower” points to how agribusiness success is tied to growing landlessness and hunger in a country that is exporting massive amounts of food: “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Brazil became the world’s number one beef exporter and star in the exports of sugar, coffee, orange juice, corn, soy, and cotton.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15”→
[Blogger’s note: Here is the last anthro in the news for 2014. Please stay tuned for my annual “best cultural anthropology dissertations” post coming soon]
U.S. Cuba relations: Hoping for a miracle
Ruth Behar, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, published a piece in The Tico Times, reflecting on President Obama’s recent statement on U.S.-Cuba relations:
“When I awoke to the news of President Barack Obama’s proposed U.S. policy changes, I immediately thought: Isn’t it amazing that this occurred on Dec. 17? It’s a day of great significance to Cubans, when thousands of them make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Rincón to mark the feast day of San Lázaro…It is a Cuban custom to bring pennies to San Lázaro, hoping they will translate into miracles. Even my father likes to scatter pennies on the porch of his house in Queens…Right now, I don’t know whose promise of miracles to believe in more — those of San Lázaro and Babalu Ayé, or those of President Obama. Maybe both. Maybe both.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/29/14”→
In this exposé, an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry through their ingenious Fair Food program, which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the United States.
There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved – all within the borders of the United States. Continue reading “Upcoming film: Food Chains: The Revolution in America's Fields”→
Trafficking narrative databank for empowerment, research and policy
Reuters carried an article about the work of cultural anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi, a professor at Pomona College, who is collecting narratives of trafficked persons as testimony. The project, Stories Beyond Borders, seeks to contribute to a solution to the multi-dimensional problems experienced by trafficked people. It is a global online portal wherein survivors, activists, academics, and friends and families of survivors can tell their stories online. Beyond providing a global platform for survivors that could be anonymous (if the person so chooses), the portal will also generate a treasure trove of data for academics and policy makers to analyze. Policy makers, including officers of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report and other global initiatives have often asked for a way to locate the data reflecting lived experience; this portal will allow just that. In addition to providing data, and giving survivors a voice, the portal is a place for community building for survivors who often feel isolated due to their experiences, as well as a center wherein those seeking help and outreach can locate services based on country of residence or origin. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/26/14”→
Thanks to RocketNews (“yesterday’s news from Japan and Asia today”), readers can learn about Ainu indigenous food, at least as it is provided at Tokyo’s only Ainu restaurant. Great photos are included showing dishes such as rataskep, ohaw, and mefun. The author’s favorite is kampoca rataskep (pictured here), made with sweet Japanese squash: “It’s like having all the sweetness of nature melt on your tongue! But the flavor is balanced with roasted pine nuts and some medicinal plants in the rue family.” Enjoy!