Why Studying Food is Relevant

When I told a neighbor that I was moving to London to study the anthropology of food, she responded, “that sounds like underwater basket-weaving.”  I quickly realized that I did not like her.

I still do not have a succinct answer to everyone’s first question, “what is that?” or a meaningful answer to the follow-up question, “what are you going to do with that?”  However, my lack of ideal answers is not because studying food is underwater basket-weaving.  Rather, the anthropology of food (or at least my course) has a very broad focus, covering among many other topics: state agriculture and food policies; international trade agreements; famine and food security; and biotechnology.  Consequently, there are theoretically any number of jobs I can pursue when I graduate.

In practice, finding a job may prove difficult, (insert comments about recession), but the world is finally focusing on food in a way that it hasn’t before.  Yes, there are lots of celebrity chefs and books/movies about food, like Julie and Julia.  But more importantly, people are paying attention to the numerous issues surrounding food production/consumption and how to fix them.  (But then again I may just be paying attention to an elitist group that wants to take away dessert and fast-food.)

Anyway, as proof of the increasing attention on food and the incredible relevance of its study, I offer the following articles published within the last ten days.

If you read one, make it this piece by Mark Bittman: A Food Manifesto for the Future.  (One comment I have, though, is that it appears to be a manifesto solely for Americans – it does not address how our international trade and food-aid policies affect those in the Global South.  Granted, these policies are linked to domestic farm subsidies, but Bittman seems to call merely for the end to subsidies for “processed” food.)

Other articles:

Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less (NYT Business, 1/31)

Protests and the Pump: The Egypt effect may be more pronounced for food than oil (Economist, 2/3)

U.S. Says Farmers May Grow Engineered Sugar Beets (NYT Business, 2/4; Kind of like the USDA’s decision to approve GM alfalfa on January 26th.)

Raw Milk Cheesemakers Fret Over Possible New Rules (NYT Business, 2/4)

Restaurant Nutrition Draws Focus of First Lady (NYT Politics, 2/6)

Draughts, Floods, and Food (NYT Opinion, 2/6)

U.N. Food Agency Issues Warning on China Drought (NYT Business, 2/8)

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