Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Culture and Agriculture
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Social movements
Secondary Theme: Resilience
Anthropology 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. It has also been at the forefront of showing how our current globalized industrial food system is damaging to the environment and people’s health and wellbeing. Anthropology now has an equally important part to play in using the discipline’s theoretical understandings to demonstrate what kinds of changes are possible, probable, and advisable.
In fitting with this year's AAA meeting theme of Change in the Anthropological Imagination: Resilience, Resistance, and Adaptation, this session brings together anthropologists who are distilling their research insights into theoretically-driven proposals for fostering greater food system sustainability (Holt-Gimenez 2011). The panel is the second of two and it focuses on food production and distribution, beginning with a past example of food system change, followed by an analysis of how farmers’ suffering can be addressed through support frameworks, and then moving on to analyses of food system reform efforts centered variously within the distribution, wholesale, and retail sectors.
Anthropological theorizing is strengthened by examining food system changes across past and present human societies and engaging multiple fields of the discipline. This session begins by considering the archeological record of food systems change in Yucatán, Mexico, from the Spanish conquest to the present (Dedrick). It asks what happens when cuisines and agricultures collide through the contact of disparate peoples and differing ideas about the “right” ways to produce, prepare, and eat foods, a question that remains ever relevant in an era of increasingly moralized food discourses.
Following colonialism, the advent of Green Revolution technologies and global commodity markets further massively restructured global food production. As a consequence, producers who are squeezed between cheapening commodity prices, increasingly expensive farm inputs, and destabilizing environmental changes suffer. Efforts to help farmers often include multiple civil society actors. Drawing on examples of organizations addressing farmer suicides in India (Meek) and creating food hubs in the United States (Papavasiliou), this panel asks what factors can help farmers thrive economically and psychologically and what could other communities learn as they look for ways to resist or adapt to global changes.
Recognizing the struggles producers face in larger markets, many advocates instead promote connecting farmers to local consumers in a bid to create more just and sustainable local food systems. Yet, in the Global North, sustainable local food sold at farmers markets, food cooperatives, and niche restaurants has taken an aura of “Yuppie Chow” (Guthman 2003) that has been widely criticized for driving class (and race-class) differentiation. This panel concludes with two sessions that consider whether exclusive foodie restaurants (Adams) and community cooperatives (Markowitz) are only serving privileged class interests or if they represent pathways to wider social transformation. Together, the two sessions seek to generate discussions about how anthropology can theoretically contribute to reversing food-linked global ill health and promoting agricultural resilience in the face of global environmental change.