What We’re Reading: November 25, 2014

Gabrielle Langholtz: “What’s Wrong With What We Eat, TED
I came home from the New York Times Food for Tomorrow summit (see Mark Bittman’s keynote above) hungry for more sermons from the greatest minds fighting for food-system change today. So I turned to TED. Their “What’s Wrong With What We Eat” nine-talk playlist features powerfully persuasive presentations on everything from seafood to waste. My two favorites: heroes Jamie Oliver and Ann Cooper, who pound the pulpit about the shitstorm we feed American children, and what to do about it. I turned them up while cooking and shouted alleluia at my cutting board.

Caroline Lange: Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, eds. Julian Agyeman and Alison Hope Akron
I’m taking a class this semester called Food, Ethnicity, & Globalization. It is as interdisciplinary as food itself is: our reading list spans from Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress, & Indigo, a novel which features colloquially written recipes (“Red Sauce: Sassafrass’ Variation Du-Wop ’59” and “Emergency Care of Open Wounds/When It Hurts,” for example) of three sisters of Gullah/Geechee heritage; to MFK Fisher’s “Anatomy of a Recipe’; to articles on hunger strikes in Irish prisons and Guantanamo. Now we’re reading essays from an anthology called Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, a book that interrogates the food justice movement and food activism through multiple lenses.

The essay I’m reading now is called “Environmental and Food Justice: Toward Local, Slow, and Deep Food Systems,” by Teresa M. Mares and Devon G. Peña. I’ve heard, of course, food systems described as “local” or “slow” — but I appreciate this addition of “deep,” an adjective that implies consistency, intention, perseverance and respect: depth over breadth. “Is it deep enough merely to consider our carbon footprints, or must we consider the broader societal and cultural footprints that we leave behind? Second, should we not also consider how a call to eat locally invokes spaces that have been settled, colonized, ruptured, and remade through complex processes of human movement and environmental history making?” Mares and Peña ask. In the essay, they explore “how diasporic and immigrant gardeners mobilize deep senses of personal and collective identity while employing place-based agroecological knowledge in urban spaces,” and how we think beyond “food security” to “food sovereignty.” Their points all feel extremely relevant here in New York, a place that has seen enormous amounts of settlement, gentrification and disparities in capital and access.

Eleonore Buschinger: Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants by Wolfgang Schivelbusch
I’ve been devouring W. Schivelbusch’s book. He analyzes the role that various stimulants like spices and coffee have played in the social and cultural history of Europe. He argues that spices functioned as stimulants to History and played a catalytic role in the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. He describes a very interesting distinction/imitation dynamics that helps to understand the temporality of food habits. In the Middle Ages, the aristocracy favored heavily spiced dishes. These dishes became a way for the aristocracy to differentiate itself from the lower classes. Spices soon became the most valuable market commodity. However, with the discovery of cheap spices in India and Southeast Asia, the market was saturated and Europe’s palate grew to prefer blander foods. After addressing the spice question, he devotes a chapter to the history of coffee, chocolate and tobacco. The way he describes how coffee started as a public drink and only later migrated into the private sphere to be served at home, is absolutely fascinating.

Eileen M. Duffy, Amicus Podcast at Slate
Dahlia Lithwick is already one of my favorite writers, and I find the Supreme Court fascinating, so the combo is irresistible. Lithwick’s been writing about legal issues and SCOTUS for years, but now she has started a podcast that covers the current session in depth by talking to lawyers who have argued before the court and other followers of this immensely important institution that depends on exact meanings and produces decisions that will impact coming generations. If you want to hear some (very) dry humor about grouper as evidence or 15 minutes on whether allowing someone to list Jerusalem, Isreal, as their place of birth on their passport is a political statement endorsed by the U.S., this is for you. Can’t wait until the Mayo Wars go before the bench.

Photo credit: Flickr/Skakerman

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