Cultural Transformation and the Authentic Sonoran Dog

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image source: http://www.elguerocanelo.com/

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 Karl Koch.

In this week’s classes, we’ve discussed the role of food in cultural transformation, which often led to the topics of authenticity, tradition, and “cuisine.” The gist is that cultures continue to adapt over time, spurred by new cultural, political, or economic stimuli, and foodways change as a result. Traditions and food rituals change, authenticity becomes more subjective, and cuisines are developed as intentionally put-forth products of culture, often for outsiders to be able to recognize. Many readers may be familiar with how formerly alien New World crops have become staples in Old World cultures in relatively recent history, like the example of Italian food and tomatoes, or Irish food and potatoes. The list goes on. If we held cultures to strict standards of tradition without the infusion of new ingredients and foodways, Southeast Asian foods would be without their signature spicy chili peppers. National Ethiopian cuisine would never have been created out of different regional foods and codified under the 19th-century reign of Empress Taytu, in part to emulate European monarchies and the elite foods they ate (McCann 2010: 64-99). The pre-contact Hawaiian luau would be nearly unrecognizable to contemporary residents of the island, whether ethnically Hawaiian or descended from the many immigrant groups that have come to call the islands home (O’Connor 2008: 167-168). People in the UK would not have the sugar to put in their tea!

The point is that cultures and their foodways are continuously changing. Nowhere was this more apparent to me than in my experience of living in Tucson, Arizona last year. Working at a small Catholic school on the predominantly Latinx south side of town, I was privileged to be exposed to many new foods through the generosity of others. Menudo, chilaquiles, the best pork lard-laden refried beans—these foods fit my expectations of traditional Mexican fare. But I also learned about the particularities of Sonoran foodways as apart from an overarching “Mexican cuisine.” For example, Sonoran tamales typically include a single green olive in the center, which is quite unusual compared to tamales from other regions of Mexico. But I was most intrigued by the so-called Sonoran dog, offered at the near-omnipresent street carts and food trucks. A bacon-wrapped hot dog in a fluffy, sweet bun, overloaded with beans, tomatoes, avocados, mustard, and mayonnaise, the Sonoran dog became a quick favorite of mine. But was this traditional? Was it authentic?

For the residents of Tucson and elsewhere in the Arizona-Sonora region, yes. True, the American ballpark-staple hot dogs may originate in the Austrian capital of Vienna (Wien in German, people from which are called Wieners). And true, mayonnaise may be some French-origin sauce that is now a typical sandwich condiment. But in this mash-up of cultures, you get a uniquely Mexican-American product. As Ted Robbins reports for NPR, the Sonoran dog and other borderland foods like fish tacos, chimichangas, and margaritas have spread both north and south (2009). One hundred years ago, tortilla chips would have been just as unfamiliar in Mexico City as in Chicago. To this extent, the Latinx people of Tucson may share more cultural practices and foodways with the people of southern Colorado than in Oaxaca in southern Mexico (see Carole Counihan’s A Tortilla is Like Life: Food and Culture in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, 2009).

With what I have learned through this course, I can now see how the people of Tucson navigate different identities and interact with multiple layers of overlapping cultures: Mexican, Sonoran, American, indigenous Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui. As E. N. Anderson notes in his chapter on foods and borders in Everyone Eats, “food and foodways have been internationalizing for centuries” (2005: 208). So while a Sonoran dog may initially strike an outsider like myself as alien or jarring due to previously held notions of Mexican cuisine, the Sonoran dog is not any less authentic than menudo or chilaquiles. Yes, it is a hybridization of American and Mexican foodways, but the Sonoran dog is a perfect example of how cultures create something new out of different sources. Cultures and their foodways are dynamic and constantly transforming, especially in borderland cultures. Isn’t that a tradition unto itself?

 

Food Taboos and Cultural Identity in America: Eating Bugs

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 Stacy Mirabello.

Insect-farming3When presented with the idea of swapping out potato chips for a snack of crispy crickets, the typical American response generally includes slight twitches of the body, cringing, wrinkled noses, and expressions of disgust. American culture has developed strong aversions and visceral responses towards the thought of consuming insects on a regular basis, both in general and as a reliable food source. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is deeply rooted in the evolution of humans, and how we perceive food, according to anthropologists, is a reflection of our ecology. Insects have played an important part in the history of human nutrition in a majority of the world’s population, but not in North America. This suggests our ideas about what is good to eat are also cultural.

Eating is something that all humans share but is also something that we use to differentiate ourselves on a regular basis. As Americans, what we eat, how and when we eat, and whom we eat with have symbolic significance. The eating behaviors into which we are encultured from birth shape our cultural identity, using food as a foundation by which we create beliefs of what is suitable to eat and what to avoid. With that said, in a society that is born to worship juicy burgers and crispy bacon, the task of changing the American mind about integrating bugs into our diets is somewhat daunting. Most information that the public hears pertaining to bugs generally recognizes insects as a food source that is consumed in famine stricken deprived countries, thereby associating bugs with a survival technique. American TV shows such as Fear Factor and Survivor negatively depict entomophagy.  Although both of these shows push people to their limits in a more or less controlled environment, the camera always highlights a person about to eat a giant live beetle or a roasted tarantula with intense climatic background music before zooming in so we can hear the crunch.

With hopes of calling attention to our national bee crisis, the recent removal of Buzz the Bee from the boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios is an attempt to view insects as, basically, good for the environment. It is rare that people are encouraged to view insects as vital participants in the ecology that sustains humans. Many people around the world eat insects out of choice, simply because of they taste good, but most positive environmental impacts and nutritional health benefits that insects deliver are largely unknown to the American population.

In recent attempts to promote bugs as a food source, cricket flour protein bars became an item to hit elite grocery store shelves. Although this a

stacey mirabello
Stacy Mirabello

step in the right direction, it is still not enough to replace the American meals. The challenge of changing the American culture to accept bugs as a food source is going to take time. Look how long it took for people to catch on to sushi!  In conclusion, these territorial critters seemingly represent a threat to the cultural identity ingrained within American society. But a change in our cultural eating habits may be the way to help a growing concern of the global food system one bug at a time.

 

A Bread Baking Adventure

By Sydney Manning

Like Oprah, I love bread. I would eat it all day, every day if the end result wouldn’t be me documented on an episode of My 600-lb Life. Bread and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. As much as I love it, I have never been able to bake it without a hitch. Sometimes it’s over-proofed. Sometimes it’s under-proofed. And sometimes it’s shoved into a screaming-hot oven at 3:00 a.m. because I’ve had enough, and also can’t believe that I’ve been bested once again by a giant blob of dough that I’ve tried (and failed) to style into an intricate design. But I always keep trying. For New Year’s this year, I stayed in, struggling through a chocolate challah recipe that I got out of an old issue of Bon Appetit. Since I was totally snowed in this weekend, I decided to make not one, not two, but three loaves of bread because I like to push myself, and (apparently) I like getting no sleep.

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Have you heard about Uri Scheft’s cookbook, Breaking Breads? It came out in October and I absolutely love it. It’s incredibly detailed, beautifully photographed, and packed with tons of recipes for breads and for dishes like Algerian salad and Babaghanouj. I decided to try Uri’s version of challah to see how it would compare to other challah loaves I’ve made in the past. I started out by whisking two packets of active dry yeast into 1 2/3 cups of cool, room-temperature water in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Next, I added seven cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of fine salt, and five tablespoons of canola oil. I set the mixer to medium speed for one minute, scraping down the sides or pushing the dough down when it occasionally climbed up the hook. After about three minutes, I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pushed and tore it, folding it onto itself, then giving it a quick quarter turn before repeating the motion. I did this for two minutes, then rolled the dough around and around until it had become a smooth ball that was easily the size of a human head. I put the dough ball into a large, floured bowl, covered it in cling film, and set it aside in a warm place to rise for what I prayed would be 40 minutes, but knew in my heart of hearts would be longer.

Sure enough, nearly two hours (and two episodes of Chopped) later, I came into the kitchen to find that my dough had risen so much that it was very close to spilling out of the top. Had I left it to proof for too long? Probably, but there was no turning back. Carefully, I peeled it out of the bowl, making sure not to release any of the vital gasses that I had spent two hours of my life waiting to puff up the dough. I flattened the ball into a rectangle using my palms, then using a sharp bench knife, cut the dough into three pieces. I cut those three pieces into three more pieces each, totaling nine equal-ish sized pieces (perhaps it would’ve been wise to use my ruler, but who had time to find one?). I took a piece, flattened it into a rectangle, then folded the top towards me, and flattened it again. I did this three more times until I ended up with a cylinder. I repeated the process with the remaining eight pieces. Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the

Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the middle I placed an oval ramekin so that the loaf would maintain its shape while baking. The ramekin would also make a great holder for the dipping honey later on. Next I put one large egg, a tablespoon of water, and a pinch of fine salt into a bowl and began whisking. This was my egg wash. Very lightly, I painted the wash onto the loaf, making sure that every inch had a sheen. On one half of the loaf I sprinkled a generous amount of poppy seeds, spreading them out with my finger when I noticed clumps. On the other half, I sprinkled white sesame seeds. I placed clean kitchen towels over the two traditional loaves, then left all three to rise for 60 minutes.

When my loaves had sufficiently risen (or I just grew impatient, I can’t be sure), I placed racks on the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheated it to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I brushed the remaining loaves with the egg wash, and baked each loaf for 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the 15-minute mark. Finally, nearly seven long hours later, I had three unevenly-sized but no less beautiful (to me) loaves of challah cooling on the counter. As warm and wonderful-smelling as each loaf was, I have a very strict “no eating after midnight” policy, and it was well past that cut-off. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that I was finally able to taste the breads. The loaves sat uncovered overnight, so the first order of business was to wrap my two traditional loaves in two layers of cling film, then a layer of aluminum foil for good measure. They were on their way to the freezer for safe-keeping. It was the circle loaf that I was after.

Bread is best eaten slightly warm, so I placed the circle loaf in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, just to give it a little jolt of life. Once it was out, I placed the whole thing, sheet pan and all, on the table and grabbed the honey (I’d made a point to get the “good” honey at the market.) I cut off a generous piece for myself, really sunk it into the honey (I had to get my money’s worth), and took a bite. Good, I thought, but not great. Perhaps I would try again, but this time without the honey. Again, good, but not great. There was something different about this challah. For starters, it wasn’t as sweet as challahs that I had made in the past. And it lacked that signature pillowy-ness. Where had I gone wrong? Should I have left the dough to rise for a shorter amount of time? Maybe I should’ve left the ropes a little looser when I braided them. The bread just seemed a little…dull. But, all was not lost. I still had two other loaves in the freezer just begging to become french toast one day. The cure for dull bread is frying it in butter and drenching it in Vermont maple syrup.

Thinking back, would I make Uri’s version of challah again? Yes. Next time, I’ll shorten the proofing time. I’ll add a little bit more sugar. Perhaps I will even give it a filling like Nutella, or cinnamon and brown sugar. No matter what happens, bread never disappoints when there’s filling in the middle.

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.

 

Alumni Spotlight: Chris Maggiolo

Alcohol is an ancient food. It is a social lubricant. It is a component of ritual, of art, of dream-making. It is powerfully charged and, yet, so completely misunderstood in American culture.

chrisI moved from Virginia to Boston in September 2011 with these words in mind – words jotted down while taking notes during my freshman seminar in alcohol and culture. I was keen on studying the anthropology of alcohol and the Gastronomy program, I felt, was the perfect tool by which to do so. A few years honing my studies and then I’d apply to a PhD program. Well, the best laid plans…

To say I concentrated in alcohol studies would be putting it lightly. It was everything I did. I worked full time managing the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge, leveraging contacts and a vast network of brewers to find interview participants and volunteer opportunities. I took a second job in the summer managing relationships between wholesalers and retailers. I conducted every project and wrote every paper (save for one, I think) on the subject of craft brewing and alcohol culture. And when I wasn’t working or hunkered down over a book for school, I volunteered with breweries and, later, distilleries. I believed in the holistic approach fostered by liberal arts studies, and I tried to engage the industry from all angles.

siloUltimately, it was the liberal arts approach that landed me my job at SILO Distillery. Craft producers need to be swiss army knives rather than specialists, and the Gastronomy program prepared me well for this. To a degree, I understood marketing and sales, production practices, legislature and regulations. In a pinch I can crunch financials. And if I didn’t know something, I had the tool set to figure it out. I never would have guessed that I would know as much about boiler systems as I do now, but last week I answered a call from an aspiring distiller with a background in chemical engineering and we had a half hour call about our boiler unit. The liberal arts approach is real, and it can be very valuable.

But it can also be too vague, too broad. It’s important to have a goal in mind – something to anchor the Gastronomy net. Focus your intent, and the program will open amazing doors.

I frequently draw on my experiences with the Gastronomy program to fuel SILO’s growth. As a company we focus intently on local and regional agricultural systems. I’ve held meetings with groups of farmers in order to discuss potential crop growth for distilling purposes and to facilitate the collection of our spent grains. Having an understanding of their work and struggles goes a long way to securing these relationships. In conceiving of new products, I consider both modern trends and historic and cultural precedents. For example, amaro is really hot right now in trendy restaurants and cocktail circles. I’ve been working on a fun analog rooted in a mid 17th century cookery book. It’s been a blast and I think it’ll be quite successful.

Just as Gastronomy studies the art and science of food, distilling practices the art and science of spirits. In a craft that is as technical as it is creative, having a liberal arts background is a keystone of success. Sure, work can be stressful at times, but familiarity with the big picture brings everything back into perspective and keeps me energized and excited for what lies ahead.