Digital Field Work: A Call for Anthropological Research on Food’s Roles and Meanings in Social Media

Our summer blog series “Perspectives from Anthropology of Food” presents work written by the students in the summer Anthropology of Food class (ML 641) in which they reflect on current issues, discuss assignments they have worked on, or address topics of particular interest to them. Today’s post is from Gastronomy student Morgan Mannino.

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Morgan Mannino

My life as a Gastronomy student by night has started to seep into my role as a Senior Social Media Coordinator at America’s Test Kitchen by day. This summer in particular, I am enrolled in MET ML 641, Anthropology of Food, and have started to observe interactions that are happening online and to think about my role as a content producer through an anthropological lens. At face value, the world of social media and anthropological research may seem planets apart. And when one looks at what has been written, there is certainly a large gap between the traditional anthropological approach to what constitutes fieldwork and observation and what is happening online. However, many of the same concepts we’re exploring in Anthropology of Food—food as a system of communication, food being used to signify social relations and construct identity, feasting and commensality, etc.—are being enacted on social media. Thus, I am starting to see that there is a wealth of anthropological information that can be observed and analyzed through food’s role in social media. So, this is a call for anthropological fieldwork and observation to begin to address the value in applying an anthropological lens to food on social media. To start, I will present two examples that could make great research subjects.

 

This past year at America’s Test Kitchen we started a private Facebook group. We wanted to provide a place for our paying members to connect with each other, share their favorite ATK recipes, interact with cast members and staff, etc. A group like this (or really any food-focused Facebook group) could provide a wealth of information to an anthropologist. In our members group in particular, food is being used to express identity and status. One example of this is a thread where members have begun to post images of their kitchens and kitchen gadgets. These photos project members’ status as cooks—the more expensive or “professional” the gadgets or kitchen, the more they are perceived as better and more skilled home cooks to the group at large.

Food trends on social media are also rich places for studying the anthropology of food. The recent trend of “rainbow food” or “unicorn food” is a great example. Using Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, some questions to ask are: What does it mean when food transcends nourishment (or even taste-appeal or food-appeal) into pure spectacle? How is this trend gendered? How is status expressed through eating this food or even just taking pictures and sharing them? Here is a food map I created that begins to explore some of these questions about the trend of rainbow food on Instagram. In this map I used two variables: the y axis represents two poles of cultural capital, “high” vs. “low,” and the x axis represents two poles of material composition, “natural” vs. “artificial.” This is only one way to begin to analyze this trend, but already I was able to see how rainbow foods that are Instagrammed (the map also shows rainbow foods that aren’t Instagrammed to provide context) have high cultural capital, either because they are natural or, if they are artificial, their high cultural capital is derived from their exclusivity. This map help illustrates how rainbow food is a modern form of conspicuous consumption (on par with the sugar sculptures of Colonial England) and it is a fascinating example of identity and status being negotiated in food culture on social media today.Mannino_RainbowFoodMap

It’s also interesting, from the perspective of my work at America’s Test Kitchen, how meaning and identity are constructed through the rejection of food trends as well. Fans of America’s Test Kitchen in particular may shape their identity as cooks who are “above” food trends and instead look to mastering technical skills and/or iconic, classic recipes to inform and express their status as cooks instead.

In conclusion, there is wealth of information that can be learned by applying anthropological research practices to the ways we are expressing food meaning on social media. From private cooking groups to rainbow food, we’re negotiating identity, status, gender roles, and meaning through food images online.

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Upcoming Events

Gastronomy students!!! You may be interested in these upcoming events. Check ’em out!

Venture Capital Investment for Food

VC Investment

The top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share between 2009 and 2016.

Venture capitalists are shelling out billions hoping to transform agriculture and scale food ventures that reduce waste and use of synthetic chemicals, conserve resources, accelerate distribution, and improve population health. While venture investment in the food sector seems to be slowing, exits and capital raises continue to abound and gain massive recognition. We’re seeing companies like Justin’s Peanut Butter sell to industry giant Hormel for $286 Million, local tech businesses like ezCater raise upwards of $70 Million across multiple funding rounds to bring food to corporate office spaces, and industry leaders Campbell Soup, General Mills, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and others establishing VC funds to acquire entrepreneurial brands that meet Millennials’ demand for high-quality products.

The food movement is here, it’s not slowing down, and startups are launching locally and globally signaling a certain shift in how our planet eats.

Join Branchfood as we bring together food venture investors across the food and foodtech industry to discuss financing food businesses, opportunities for innovation in food, market trends, and how to launch and grow a successful food business. At this event you’ll get to connect with food industry mentors, advisors, investors, and more, and sample awesome food products too!

Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:

Thursday, April 6, 2017 from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM (EDT)

Branchfood
50 Milk Street
Floor 20
Boston, MA 02109

 

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The Future of Food and Nutrition Graduate Student Research Conference, hosted annually by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, provides a unique venue for graduate students to present original research related to food and nutrition. Historically, more than 200 attendees from over 30 different institutions have come together each year to hear students present research from diverse fields ranging from anthropology to nutritional epidemiology.

As a presenter or attendee, you will gain valuable professional experience presenting and/or discussing novel, multidisciplinary research. The conference also provides a great opportunity for networking with fellow students and future colleagues – the next generations of leaders in the field.

Registration for the 10th annual conference to be held on April 8th, 2017 is open now! Visit our registration page for more details. We hope to see you on April 8th.

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The BU Gastronomy Students Association has a few upcoming events! On Thursday April 6th from 7-10pm they will be meeting at the BU Pub on campus to share a few drinks before the BU Pub closes for renovations. This will be the first event of 2017 and a chance to meet new members!

The second event will be starting the BU Gastronomy Students Association Test Kitchen. On Sunday May 7th members and prospective members will meet at 3pm and test out a recipe or two together.  Recipes are still being debated and open to suggestions! Some ideas are home-made gummy bears or spring asparagus tart, or maybe both. If there’s a recipe you’ve always wanted to try just let them know. Please contact us for specific location details.

Lastly, some of the members will be traveling to NYC on May 12th to attend the NYC Food Book Fair and eating at Ivan Ramen that Saturday. If anyone plans on also being in New York, or interested in traveling to NY with the BU Gastronomy Student Association for the event or dinner, please reach out to gastrmla@bu.edu.

Link to learn more about the Food Book Fair: http://www.foodbookfair.com/

If you’re interested in joining the Gastronomy Students Association but can’t make the first few events, don’t worry, we’ll have plenty more cooking, eating and socializing going on over the summer!

 

Taste of WGBH: Edible Scienceunnamed

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 7-9PM

WGBH STUDIOS, BRIGHTON, MA

Do you have an interest in science as well as a passion for the food and beverage industry? Then you are not going to want to miss this event.

Join us at WGBH Studios on Wednesday, April 19 at 7pm, and experience how Boston is influencing “edible science.” Edible wrappers, liquid nitrogen-based ice cream, grasshoppers as a form of protein and much more await you. Not only will you get to taste these scientific treats, but you will also hear the innovators speak about how these products came to be and what it means for our bodies now and in the future.

Get your tickets now because this event is sure to sell out.

You must be 21+ to attend this event. Please bring a valid form of identification.

This is not a seated event.

 

Thanksgiving with BU Gastronomy Students

We hope you had a great Turkey Day and spent lots of time reflecting on what you are grateful for!  BU is off for the holiday and we were curious about how Gastronomy students spend Thanksgiving.   Meet Michelle and Catherine who have shared their Thanksgiving traditions with us!

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

For Puerto Ricans, Thanksgiving, or the day of the turkey, is a very special holiday. It represents the start of our favorite time of the year, Christmas. All my life, on this special day, my family and I have gathered at my maternal grandparents house. My grandmother has always been responsible for preparing the turkey with a special filling of “mofongo” (mashed plantain) and ground beef, and to make rice with “gandules” (pigeon peas), which is our official symbol of festive food.

My aunt always brings boiled root vegetables and pieces of roasted pork (simply because a Puerto Rican party without pork is incomplete). While in my home we take care of the desserts, whether a good homemade carrot cake, a flan or a “tembleque”, which is custard made with coconut milk, cornstarch and cinnamon. In addition to that, at the table we will always find “pan criollo” (our traditional bread), potato salad with mayonnaise, “pasteles boricuas” (similar to Mexican tamales but based on plantains), “coquito” (a drink made whit coconut cream), and finally “ron caña” (a clandestine rum, illegal for not paying taxes and for not meeting the requirements of health and quality controls).

After chopping the turkey and serving all the plates, my grandparents, my uncles, my parents, my siblings and I stood around the outdoor dining table, and my grandfather lead a prayer of thanks. Once my grandfather finishes the prayer, we say to each other “buen provecho” (a typical phrase that is said before beginning to eat to desire a good digestion) and we run to enjoy the exquisite food that adorns the dishes. The evening is distinguished by the typical Christmas music of Puerto Rico, the loud jokes of my father and planning the parties for the rest of the Christmas.

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

This year is the first time I will celebrate Thanksgiving away from my warm home, but with my extended family.

My Puerto Ricans friends who live in Boston will come to my apartment and we will recreate the typical Puerto Rican Thanksgiving party that I described earlier. I’m sure the only difference will be the cold weather and the possibility of snow, but we will do our best to bring Puerto Rico to us and spend it as warm as if we were at home.

“¡Buen provecho y que empiece la fiesta!”

By Michelle Estades, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

It’s All About Pie

One of the key elements of any Thanksgiving meal, arguably the most important, is the dessert. Of course no Thanksgiving dessert spread could ever be complete without the perfect pumpkin pie, at least that is how my family feels. Beginning at a young age I began to help my father make the annual Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I began to help more and more until, around the age of eleven or twelve, I had completely taken over the pumpkin pie making duties. At that point the only thing I did not do was actually cutting the pumpkins in half. I don’t know many twelve year olds who have the upper body strength to chop a pumpkin in two, so my dad continued to make that contribution for several years.  

It is always vital that I make every bit of the pie from scratch, from the crust to the pumpkin puree for the filling. Absolutely no canned pumpkin in our house. What really turned the tables was the summer that our compost pile in the backyard began to sprout a mysterious vine. By the fall the vine was producing the most perfect pie pumpkins. Not only was our annual Thanksgiving pie made completely from scratch, it was also made from local, metro-Detroit pumpkins, grown in our very own backyard.  

Backyard grown pumpkins are not the only element that I use to create our traditional pumpkin pie. The classic pumpkin spice, the correct balance of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, isn’t even the most important part of the filling. It is all about the secret ingredient, dark rum. The rich, molasses-like flavor of the dark rum brings the whole pie together in a way that no other ingredient can. Over the years other members of the family have tried to make other things for dessert, like pumpkin cheesecake, or pecan pie, and it is never quite the same. It simply would not be a Santrock family Thanksgiving without a rum flavored pumpkin pie. We usually like to be a little adventurous with our Thanksgiving menu, this year we are replacing the turkey with lamb, some years we don’t even have mashed potatoes! As far as I’m concerned, we could have our entire meal be pumpkin pie and we would still be keeping to tradition.

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Photo: Catherine Santrock
By Catherine Santrock, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

 

Tasting the North End

Students from the Fall ’16 Food History course explored the North End to do research for a group project on Sicily. Below are some snippets from their tour!

Entering the North End

Little Italy began in Boston’s North End with its first Italian immigrants in the 1860s. The neighborhood’s new residents sold fruits, cheeses, and other foodstuffs in the early migration.  By 1930, The North End was a flourishing Italian community of 44,000.

Salumeria Italiana:

Salumeria Italiana has served the North End Community for over four decades.  A variety of Italian imported grocery and deli items are available with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar among the best-selling items in the store.    Check out their website! https://salumeriaitaliana.com/

The Daily Catch:

The Daily Catch is a Sicilian style seafood and pasta eatery established in 1973 by Paul Fedora, a North End native.  Mr. Fedora began by selling calamari and other squid products at his 20 seat North End location on Hanover street.  Offerings include Black Pastas, Calamari, and grilled Fish at their Brookline, Seaport and North End locations. Find out more at http://thedailycatch.com/.

Mike’s Pastry:

Don’t let the line intimidate you!  Known for their delicious cannoli, Mike’s Pastry draws a huge crowd. This family owned establishment on Hanover St. serves more than just jumbo sized cannoli with perfectly crisp shells, a variety of pastries, coffee, and gelato can also be purchased.  http://www.mikespastry.com

 

Treat Yourself for Halloween

There are a lot of great events going on in Boston this Halloween weekend.  Here are a few that Gastronomy students might enjoy:

The Rise

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Photo: therise.com

Soooo many pumpkins!  Over 5,000 hand carved pumpkins will be displayed at Boston’s Seaport Hotel and World Trade center this weekend (Oct 27- Oct 30).  Can you imagine all of the pumpkin pies and roasted pepitas made from the innards? Click the link above to check tickets and times.

Rosebud Kitchen

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Photo: bostonchefs.com

Get a candy treat topped milkshake from this Davis Sq. gem this Halloween.  You can even  trick it out with a shot of Evan Williams Bourbon!  Get more details at bostonchefs.com

The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show

A real Whodunit?  Solve the murder mystery this Halloween with the Dinner Detective.  This interactive dinner show will have you playing Sherlock Holmes while you fill your belly!  For tickets and private shows at the link above.

Boston Chocolate Tours

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Photo: bostonchocolatetours.com

It’s like trick or treat or adults!  Take a chocolate tour through Back Bay or quench that Cupcake craving with a crawl before the evening festivities begin.  These tours are held seasonally every Saturday.

Dining in the Dark

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Photo:dininginthedark.com

Dine in the dark at the Hampshire House in Boston.  This 100-year-old Victorian townhome is the perfect setting for a spooky blindfolded dinner!  Built in 1910, the Hampshire House has accommodated Bostonians for generations; it HAS to be haunted right?  Click the link for tickets!