Eating & Ambiguity

This is, quite simply, a blog about eating in the field. 

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Except, of course, that fieldwork is rarely simple, and food is even less so. As an anthropologist my impulse is to say: food is at the core of human sociality. But as a person compelled and undone by the foods that excite and soothe me, whose favorite days are spent in pursuit of adventuresome foods or in cooking and eating with friends, I’m inclined to say instead: Food is a little bit magical. 

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It beckons memories, houses desires, confers morality. Food implicates us in concentric circles of sentiment and reciprocity, sometimes invisibly—from family to community to society, rippling outwards in networks of subsidization and processing and distribution that alternately trickle and bludgeon their way across national boundaries. With fire, with symbolism, with ritual, with NAFTA treaties and salt and red dye #3, the world out there is transformed and crosses the fragile threshold into the body, altering the self. Food is the craziest alchemy there is.

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And just as surely as food is alchemy, fieldwork is hard. It’s meant to be hard, of course, to unsettle one’s comfortable relationship with the world enough that the insights shake out. But part of what’s difficult about consciously plunking yourself down outside your context and comfort zone is that it necessarily alters your relationship with food in ways both simple and profound. 

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Even when pursuing research questions that aren’t directly related to food and eating, this can provide it’s own kind of data and insights into local contexts, and these are certainly valuable (and often delicious). But the dislocation anthropologists purposefully undertake also means that finding creative ways of cooking and eating that are comforting and nurturing—even when local foodways are plenty tasty—takes on a certain emotional urgency.  

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So that’s what this blog is meant to be about: what is and isn’t on my plate in the coming months, how I feel about it, and what that might mean for the fieldwork experience. I welcome submissions and other forms of chiming-in from fellow fieldworkers past and present!

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