Conference Panels

FOOD, GLOBALISATION AND HUMAN DIVERSITY [IUAES Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (ICAF)]

Co-convenor: Helen Macbeth (contact person), Anthropology and Geography Department, Oxford Brookes University
Email: hmacbeth [at] brookes.ac.uk
Co-convenor: Nancy Pollock, Anthropology and Development Studies, Victoria University of Wellington (retired)
Email: nancy_pollock [at] paradise.net.nz

As the perspectives on human food and nutrition are many and they interrelate at every level, this panel on food, globalisation and human diversity will concern discussants from any branch of anthropology as well as from other disciplines concerned with food and nutrition. Papers may range from global issues such as hunger, climate change, biodiversity, industrialisation, multinational enterprises, etc. to local or regional food patterns, preferences, cuisines, song, dance, tourism and the role of the media, to organic foods, food safety, health impacts, and the effects of globalisation on any of these.

Food is nutrition and yet it is so much more socially. The social, cultural and economic contexts of food production, distribution, trade, preparation, preference, taste, status, consumption and disposal are uniquely human, and there are biological consequences, including with other species. Whether viewed globally or locally, whether within contemporary, historic or prehistoric settings, whether holistically from field to fork to physiology (and back to field again), we find cultural and biological diversity. While food practices and technologies have been diversifying continually, sharing and exchanging food has led to dynamic interchanges of foods, technologies and ideas. International concepts about food, nutrition and health develop and spread, provoking local reactions. As regards human food and nutrition, globalisation has occurred from earliest agricultural transitions to modern processing and fast foods, causing cultural adjustments and adaptations. Yet, human diversity remains.

The topic of food and globalisation draws together local knowledge, academic theories and issues in public discourse. As anthropologists we aim to view the situation holistically. We therefore hope that this panel will cross disciplinary boundaries and explore connections between perspectives. Case studies, reports of completed research and/or exploratory proposals for future research will be welcome.

  • SESSION 1: Diversity and Movement     Room: G202 SOC SCI     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 11.00-12.30     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Human diversity, globalisation and food: processes and effects
      • Helen Macbeth, Oxford Brookes University
    • Paper 2: Study on ancient people's diet of Xipo site (5000BP), China, through analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from human bones
      • Xuelian Zhang, Qiu Shihua, Zhong Jian, Wang Minghui, Li Xinwei1, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
        Ma Xiaolin, Institute for Archaeology and Relics of Henan Province
    • Paper 3: Travelling people, travelling plants: exploring the movement of food plants across transnational and generational landscapes
      • Hannah Jennings, Michael Heinrich, University of London
        Janice Thompson, University of Bristol
    • Paper 4: The Role of the Silk Road - connecting West and East: an empirical study of Uyghur Lagman (hand pulled noodles with spicy dishes)
      • Mirzaahmad Hojiamad, Xinjian University
    • Paper 5: Human-Fish Communities: Engendering a theory of inter-regional globalization
      • Elspeth Probyn, University of South Australia
  • SESSION 2: Markets, Communities and Globalisation     Room: G202 SOC SCI     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 13.30-15.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Wines of distinction and personality
      • Peter Howland, Open University of New Zealand
    • Paper 2: Quaffing wine and marketing globalised 'Natural' places
      • John Claridge, University of Adelaide
    • Paper 3: Eating Our Words: Profit and loss in the narrative economy of Western Australian truffle markets
      • Adele Millard, University of Western Australia
    • Paper 4: Local food and 'feel good' shopping at urban Victorian Farmers' Markets
      • Kim Neylon, University of Melbourne
    • Paper 5: Social values and food ways
      • Gabrielle O'Kane, Barbara Pamphilon, Coralie McCormack, University of Canberra
  • SESSION 3: Change, tastes and health     Room: G202 SOC SCI     Wed 6/7/2011     Time: 15.30-17.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Distinguishing Tastes in Pacific Gastronomy
      • Nancy Pollock, University of Victoria
    • Paper 2: Food Security in the Middle Fly, Papua New Guinea
      • Mark Busse, University of Auckland
    • Paper 3: What lies in the future for human nutrition?
      • Ricardo Ávila, and Barbara Gam, University of Guadalajara

SESSION 1: Diversity and Movement

Chair: Nancy Pollock, Victoria University

Paper 1: Human diversity, globalisation and food: processes and effects

Helen Macbeth, Oxford Brookes University

Biological diversity between human individuals and populations is caused by the complex interaction of many processes. With the immense variety in the human genome, genetic differences exist within families, within populations and worldwide. However, biological diversity is caused by far more than genes. All life experiences are relevant, from conception to death, whether physical, pathological, psychological, cultural, social, economic, environmental, and dietary, etc. Both the quantity and quality of food and nutrition are particularly relevant, but must be considered from many perspectives. Those of us who work on topics related to humans and food have long been willing to work cooperatively in a cross-disciplinary way. This paper will be broad in scope, as it concerns migrations of humans, their genes, their food technologies and their cultures, past, recent and ongoing. The opposing forces of tradition, culture and adaptation to place on the one hand and of changes wrought by migrations of people, ideas and foods on the other will be discussed with an emphasis on dietary changes. The literature on some significant epidemiological changes that have occurred following such dietary changes in different populations, defined regionally, will be the focus of the latter part of the paper.

Paper 2: Study on ancient people's diet of Xipo site (5000BP), China, through analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from human bones

Zhang, Xuelian1 Qiu Shihua1, Zhong Jian1, Wang Minghui1, Li Xinwei1, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Ma Xiaolin, Institute for Archaeology and Relics of Henan Province

What did people eat in the past? Now, it can be explored by analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from human bones. Analysis of carbon can tell us the staple food of the past people and analysis of nitrogen can reflect the trophic level of them. Combination of the analysis of carbon and nitrogen can identify the people groups under different background of the food. We did some research on social ranks and social situations of prehistory by this kind of analysis during the work on ancient Chinese civilization in recent years and some achievement was made. The Xipo site, located in the southern part of Zhudingyuan, Xipo village, Yangping, Lingbao, Henan Province, in China and belongs to the medium period of Yangshao Culture, about over 5000BP. It is known by its big tombs and houses unearthed from the site. Over 30 tombs have been excavated and we collected almost all of the human bones from the tombs and researched by isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen. From it, the ancient people's diet was explored and the analysis referring to the tomb conditions and materials from the tombs also told us things on its society from another angle.

Paper 3: Travelling people, travelling plants: exploring the movement of food plants across transnational and generational landscapes

Hannah Jennings, Michael Heinrich, University of London
Janice Thompson, University of Bristol

The flow of people between urban Britain and rural Bangladesh is longstanding and there remains a continuous mutual exchange of material, social and cultural capital between Britain and Bangladesh (Gardener, 2008). Food and plants need to be understood in this context. Food, plants, seeds and knowledge as to their uses and values are transported between the two countries. The exchanges are both practical and highly symbolic processes and while transnational in nature have a significant impact at a local level. The paper is based on fieldwork in Sylhet (northeastern Bangladesh) and London on the therapeutic use of food-plants as part of my PhD research. The research focuses particularly on women's roles in the transmission of knowledge, finding that the nature of knowledge and interaction with the wider community (both at a global and local level) varies between generations both in Sylhet and London though differently in each place. The paper aims to provide an insight into peoples' relationships with plants, food and the land at both the interconnected global and local levels within the context of the Bengali community in London and their familial networks in Sylhet.

Paper 4: The Role of the Silk Road - connecting West and East: an empirical study of Uyghur Lagman (hand pulled noodles with spicy dishes)

Mirzaahmad Hojiamad, Xinjian University

The Silk Road, the great trade route across Central Asia, linked East and West. Well before 6000 B.C.E., large villages with complex cultures and abundant domesticated rice occurred widely in the Yangzi Valley and elsewhere of ancient China. Wheat and barley spread across Asia from their domestication sites in the Fertile Crescent region of the Near East. In ancient archaeological cites of Tarim basin, located in Xinjiang province of China, and the mystery of the peoples who lived there. Nowadays, one easily can see a Uyghur restaurant specialise with Lagman (hand pulled noodle with spicy dishes) everywhere in mainland China and in almost all Chinatowns in the world. Through fieldwork among Uyghur restaurants in mainland Chinese cities and their role on succession of minority entrepreneurs in China, look at food culture of the Uyghur people taking Lagman as an example. I am also doing research on Italian Spagetti and Lagman, and the relationship between these two well-known noodles. My question is: Is there any relationship between Marco Polo's trip along the Silk Road and introducing noodle to Italy? If yes, why has Italian Spagetti become so popular in the world while Lagman remains popular only among the Chinese? Through this research my aim is to contribute to global knowledge of Uyghur food culture and introduce this multicultural food business worldwide.

Paper 5: Human-Fish Communities: Engendering a theory of inter-regional globalization

Elspeth Probyn, University of South Australia

This paper presents research on how different fishing communities and industries have been forged through the migration of people and the movement of fish. It takes the Southern Bluefin Tuna as an emblematic object for a materialist framing of globalisation. Spawning in the Java Sea it travels through several international and state marine jurisdictions. It is central to the fishing industry in Port Lincoln in the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, home to the mainly Australian-Croatian fishers who themselves followed the fish and migrated from Soviet Croatia in the 1950s. The story of the Southern Bluefin Tuna compels a more-than-human perspective in order to grasp the intricate connections between humans, technology, fish and globalisation. As a secondary and different case study of seafood-human communities, I turn to the oyster farming industry in small towns in the Eyre, which are using oysters to grow community pride through the local school's oyster leases. Through the oysters, places like Cowell (pop. 1000) are tied into intimate connections with Japanese and Chinese buyers. These case studies are the basis for a theorization of local and inter-regional globalisation through fish.

SESSION TWO: Markets, Communities and Globalisation

Chair: Mark Busse, University of Auckland

Paper 1: Wines of distinction and personality

Peter Howland, Open University of New Zealand

Martinborough, a small, rural boutique 'wine village', approximately one hour's drive from Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, is a popular holiday destination for the capital's affluent, tertiary-educated and urbane middle classes. Martinborough's new middle-class tourists are attracted by romanticized notions of the rural idyll; the prospects of a relaxing 'time out' from city life that Martinborough's vineyards and surrounding farmlands appear to offer; by opportunities for the urbane consumption of Martinborough's renowned pinot noir and other cosmopolitan offerings (e.g. luxury accommodation, hand-made cheeses, designer clothes); the likelihood of enjoying 'quality time' with friends and lovers; and by in-situ vineyard experiences - including personalized meetings with artisan winemakers. Martinborough's holidaymakers aspire to endeavours that are popularly associated with the rural and metropolitan - indeed the vernacular rural idyll routinely assigned to Martinborough provides the moral foundation for the tourists' metropolitan-derived desires, dispositions and ideals. Thus tourists effectively cast Martinborough as a metro-rural idyll - an episodic, performative site of rural leisure, elective sociality, urbane consumption and middle-class distinction/ stratification. In addition various mechanisms are deployed - including the promotion of personalized wine tastes and the democraticization of wine connoisseurship - that sanction reflexive individuality and associated reflexive narratives/ displays of social distinction. These factors, in combination with an emphasis on the production and consumption of a highly differentiated (by vineyard, vintage etc) and constantly evolving product, results in a form of benign, globalized cosmopolitanism that celebrates both human and product diversity yet ultimately seeks to limit and standardize both.

Paper 2: Quaffing wine and marketing globalised 'Natural' places

John Claridge, University of Adelaide

Using case studies surrounding tourist practices, this paper discusses the marketing and media promotion of several wineries in South Australia, including Banrock Wine and Wetlands Centre, as distinct experiences of 'naturalized' places. I also ask how visiting places and the consumption of wine products are conceptualised as not only leisure practices, but also as sensual experiences by intrastate and global travellers. Given the wide choice of consumer goods, differentiation of similar products or services is a dominant theme in marketing (Douglas and Isherwood 1979). Thus, 'nature' or the taste of similar wine varietals are promoted in diverse ways, such as organic wine or ecotourism. Augé (1999) argues that post-modernity involves the experience of non-places, such as airports and freeways. Nevertheless, tourists still desire, reminisce about, imagine, and enjoy their holidays while visiting distinctive and memorable places.

Paper 3: Eating Our Words: Profit and loss in the narrative economy of Western Australian truffle markets

Adele Millard, University of Western Australia

In his edited volume, The Social Life of Things, Arjun Appadurai (1988) argued that commodities have social lives. This is especially so in truffle markets, where an edible fungus is imbued with so much more than nutritional value and economic exchange - as complex as those may be. Truffles and their processes of exchange are loaded with rich narratives that transcend, unite and divide dynamic food-actor-networks of scientists, traders, farmers, consumers, artists, chefs and marketers across time and space. Just as food scientists introduced truffle spores to enrich Western Australia's agricultural economy, so too did they inoculate the state's food-actor-networks with new European narratives. The historic and artistic narratives of truffles and their social lives are appropriated from France and Italy and supplanted in Western Australian markets, where they are further enriched with local narratives from their adoptive home - appealing to new markets and drawing in more consumers to the food-actor-network. This richness of narratives and the scarcity of the resource combine to enhance an already powerful commodity of symbolic capital, which further contributes to its high economic value and dynamic movements in food-actor-networks. As new markets develop, consumer markets expand, and the narrative economies of truffles, which unite and divide producers across time and space, also expand. New and dynamic fields of collaboration and contestation develop within and between producer regions locally, nationally and globally as food actors vie for fiscal capital, status and a secure 'place' in the narratives that define truffle provenance.

Paper 4: Local food and 'feel good' shopping at urban Victorian Farmers' Markets

Kim Neylon, University of Melbourne

In recent years, a global agro-industrial system has come to dominate food production, with large-scale farming and global food chains separating consumers from the production of food. "Farmers' Markets", a particular brand of market introduced to Australia a decade ago, aim to reconnect consumers with local produce through direct producer-to-consumer transactions. At these markets, 'local food' is often idealised as not only good for the local economy, but also better for the environment and better quality, with the markets providing 'authentic' consumption experiences. Recently, market organisers in Victoria have sought to ensure 'authenticity' at the markets through certification. My recent ethnographic research at urban Farmers' Markets in Victoria, Australia, examined the ideology of the Farmers' Market brand. This research revealed a desire for local, unique and 'authentic' experiences, which are symptomatic of late modernity. Local products were given not only attributes of quality, freshness and exclusivity, but as morally or ethically positive choices, 'feel-good' shopping experiences, that allowed customers to 'know where their food comes from'. In this paper, I will unpack the rhetoric of local food at Farmers' Markets, from origin narratives by producers, to possible nationalistic undertones in 'knowing' that local food is 'good', where produce in supermarkets is 'unknown' and potentially a risk to consume. This is viewed in a context where many small-scale Victorian producers rely on Farmers' Markets to maintain their livelihood, using them as an alternative mode of distribution in a globalised food system.

Paper 5: Social values and food ways

Gabrielle O'Kane, Barbara Pamphilon, Coralie McCormack, University of Canberra

Food choice depends upon the food system available to consumers. The globalised food system discourages food diversity and connections with nature and food producers and causes substantial environmental and health costs. The purpose of this study is to explore people's sense of connection with the food system and their motivations for selecting a particular place for procuring their food, which may be from supermarkets, farmers' markets, community supported agriculture enterprises (CSAs) or community gardens. This study gathers and reconstructs stories told in four focus groups. This paper will discuss stories from three groups: farmers' market attendees, CSA customers and community gardeners; those of supermarket customers are yet to be gathered. Stories of community gardeners suggest that people seek to interact with others to exchange food, gardening knowledge and skills and to teach children about growing and cooking food. Customers at farmers' markets tell stories about the value of social interactions with friends and the food producers. The stories from CSA customers reveal their respect for the hard work of the food producer, motivating less food waste. A lack of trust in the dominant food system and a desire to eat seasonal, high quality food are common threads in the stories of community gardeners, farmers' market attendees and CSA customers. This study has the potential to inform public health policy on the food procurement environments that best support health for all and contribute to more socially sustainable food systems.

SESSION THREE: Change, tastes and health

Chair: Helen Macbeth, Oxford Brookes University

Paper 1: Distinguishing Tastes in Pacific Gastronomy

Nancy Pollock, University of Victoria

Tastes as cultural expressions of food habits have come to the fore as anthropologists consider gastronomies beyond the material representations of foods (Freedman 2007). "Flavour/taste is an integral part of any eating experience", as Barbara Santich has noted (1996:4). As part of an aesthetical appreciation of life, food tastes have come to be associated with positive or negative valences; certain foods become acceptable because of a 'good' taste, while others are rejected. Additionally messages are transmitted world-wide about 'unhealthy' foods, such as fatty or sweet foods, because of their links to modern diseases, according to Euro/American measures of health/taste links. Consumers choose between a variety of tastes and their valences, using either/both internal or external criteria. In Australasia and the Pacific, taste influences came initially from the Asiatic west, as settlers moved out of Asia to establish a basic gastronomy suited to new island homes; it focused on a continuing basic tenet of a starchy food, to be eaten with a tasty accompaniment (Pollock 2010). Later influences on tastes introduced by missionaries and colonial settlers added fried foods and sweet desserts to their menus, with health consequences. As new tastes are being added rapidly to the gastronomic inventory, whether frozen Indian curry, or MacDonalds, choices on the basis of taste are challenged and reformulated by pragmatics of access, economics and healthy messages. The underlying principles are both regional and global.

Paper 2: Food Security in the Middle Fly, Papua New Guinea

Mark Busse, University of Auckland

This paper explores the causes and consequences of contemporary food shortages among Boazi-speaking people living along the middle reaches of the Fly River in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. At the time of my initial research in the Middle Fly in the 1980s, people ate sago and fish every day, and pig, cassowary or deer meat two or three times a week. People worked hard to make a living, but there was enough food. At the time of my last research visit in 2009, food was short. Not only did people say that there was a food shortage, but they squabbled about food, and traditional patterns of food sharing and reciprocity appeared to be breaking down. Possible causes of this food shortage include population growth, climate change, and pollution and sedimentation from the Ok Tedi copper mine up river. In addition to describing contemporary food shortages, this paper will discuss the inadequacy of the current regime of cash compensation and explore the effects of food shortages and environmental changes on people's sense of themselves and their place in the world.

Paper 3: What lies in the future for human nutrition?

Ricardo Ávila and Barbara Gam, University of Guadalajara

Being systematic and precise, the diachronic study of social processes serves as a basis for taking a glimpse at possible future trends of human behavioral patterns, as an individual or as part of a group. This statement is Jacques Attali's point of departure in regards to a reflection on the likely future of medium-term global social relationships for the next fifty years. Similar conclusions about possible paths to be followed by global society can be deduced from the John and William McNeill essay relating to network-history; this retrospective/prospective being the core of Eudald Carbonell's reflections about the future of mankind. Our intention in this paper is to outline some reflections on the future of human nutrition on a global scale. Our analysis is based, firstly, on the reflections of the three aforementioned authors; secondly, on some examples of abundance and famine occurring during the history of mankind and, in particular, in the case of Mexico; and thirdly, data will be analyzed in respect of the consumption of global resources and their overall trends under the influence of global climatic change.

Discussion: ICAF, food, nutrition, human diversity and globalisation