Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Cosponsored by: Culture and Agriculture
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Health
Human civilization’s current path of immense resource extraction, mass consumption, and waste generation is harming human and environmental health. Food is central to the problem since, globally, agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than transport and, annually, more people die from diet-linked chronic diseases than from all infectious afflictions, road accidents, and crime, war, and terrorist acts combined. We need change and anthropology can play an important role in helping to drive it.
The discipline has amassed rich data and analyses of the drivers of eating (Mintz & DuBois 2002; Farb & Armelagos 1980) and farming (Netting 1993; Barlett 1980, 1989) practices in hundreds of cultures and groups. Yet, partly due to its unwillingness to repeat the mistakes of anthropology’s colonial past (Lewis 1979), it trails behind other fields, like psychology and economics, in building cohesive, evidence driven, and actionable theories of change. Yet, careful, respectful, and well-founded anthropological interventions that proceed with an eye on social justice (Bradley & Herrera 2016) could be at the forefront in helping to heal human bodies and our natural communities.
In fitting with this year's AAA meeting theme of "Change in the Anthropological Imagination: Resilience, Resistance, and Adaptation," this session is one of two proposed panels bringing together researchers who are distilling anthropology's insights into theoretically-driven proposals for fostering greater food system sustainability (Holt-Gimenez 2011). This first panel focuses on eating.
The post-world war industrialization and corporatization of foodways wrought massive changes in what, how, and where people eat. The pace of change has been more recent and more rapid in Southern nations, its effects persisting in the bodies and memories of those alive today. Drawing on narratives of change of Mexican immigrants in New Mexico (Stanford) and residents of Guatemala (Fenton) – people from historically agrarian and cuisine-rich nations - this panel elucidates both emic and etic theories of how families’ food habits changed in the recent past and how some are trying to eat differently now.
While some in Mexico and Guatemala can still recall eating only locally-generated foods, many communities have seen such memory and skill wither. Education thus becomes a primary site of intervention. But not all education is equal and this panel looks to examples from Mexico (King) and the United States (Thompson et al.) to theorize the factors that can make nutritional and “conscious eating” instruction effective in fostering individual and community change.
Consumption is but one side of the food system puzzle. The panel ends with a project in Appalachia (Veteto) that asks what it takes to bring consumers, producers, and advocates in the food system together to build the “cultural topsoil for regional food sovereignty.” Together with the discussion, this final presentation bridges over to the second panel that focuses on the production and distribution of foods. As sustainability issues rise in prominence, the theories the sessions generate may contribute to anthropology’s role not just as the study of human diversity but also as an important lens for addressing human problems at a human scale.