A Seat at the Table: Race and Top Chef, a Guest Post by Anita Mannur

The reality cooking show Top Chef finished its nineteenth season on June 2. Anita Mannur, author of Intimate Eating, is an avid viewer of the show and offers this guest post. Mannur is Associate Professor of English at Miami University, author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, and coeditor of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

Top Chef 15

Late last week, I tuned in to watch the season finale of Top Chef with a little more than the usual nervousness I often feel when watching the finale. I have watched all 19 seasons of Top Chef since it began airing in 2006 and have even taken in some of the spin-offs such as Top Chef Masters, Top Chef: Just Desserts and even Top Chef Family Style. I enjoy watching Top Chef because, even though contestants of color get eliminated more often than not, it seems to be the one cooking show that is interested in showcasing food, and not some gimmick around food that would act like seeing people run around a grocery store to collect items is even vaguely interesting. Top Chef showcases innovative and interesting cuisine, often at the hands of talented chefs across the country. The fact that the show is hosted by an Indian American, Padma Lakshmi—who has become a fierce advocate for marginalized peoples and important social issues—makes it even more meaningful. But my love-hate relationship with the show boils down to one simple fact: I find it incredibly frustrating to root for the contestants of color only to see them sent home much earlier than they should be. It is not that the people who win the contest are not talented; rather it is simply a case of wishing that there were more opportunities for chefs of color, and particularly women of color, to thrive in an industry that is dominated by cishet white male chefs. Whenever a person of color wins the season, I am relieved. When one roots for the person of color on reality TV, one is all too familiar with the feeling that they will not win the big prize. So, when they do win, it feels more like a relief than anything else.

This season I was especially excited because there seemed to be a record number of people of color on the show. About two-thirds of the season’s contestants were people of color. Week after week, I watched in surprise to see many of them remain on the show until, by some miracle, there were six remaining contestants—all of whom were people of color.  With apologies to Lauren Berlant, every time I watch Top Chef (or for that matter, any reality TV show), I often feel like I am engaging in a form of cruel optimism. Despite knowing better, I always hope against hope that the people of color will not be eliminated. And yet each week, my optimism fades as I see my favorites get eliminated. While it is certainly the case that there have been several people of color who have won Top Chef (and among them several Asian Americans), rarely do Black or Latinx women ever win. Though some may go on to have success in the culinary field, few—if any—get to hear the words, “you are top chef.” To date, no Black or Latinx women have won the title of Top Chef. And frankly, given the ways that Black and Latinx women have shaped America’s culinary history, that is outrageous.

Top Six

So, it was with considerable surprise and growing interest that I watched Season 19 unfold until, finally, there were six contestants left and every single one of them was a person of color. This moment felt unprecedented. At that point it seemed that it was inevitable that a person of color was going to win Top Chef—the finale would include three chefs of color. I was elated. And then I was reminded of the Top Chef spin-off, Last Chance Kitchen, a 10- to 15-minute show that airs on after the conclusion of each episode. As its title suggests, it is the last chance for eliminated chefs. Each week an eliminated chef competes against a previously eliminated chef. If they survive, they compete against the next eliminated contestant until finally a winner of Last Chance Kitchen is crowned and re-enters the main competition. I began watching LCK, and that old familiar feeling came back as I watched the contestants of color, one after another, lose their second chance until finally a winner was declared. Sarah Welch, a quirky white woman who had been eliminated early in the contest, re-entered Top Chef. While interesting in spirit, the whole premise of LCK seems to be that it offers a second chance to a deserving person. But in a moment when this country offers few second chances to people of color, and when different kinds of subjectivities are under erasure, it felt egregious to see that the concept of “deserving” is rooted in a narrative of talent. The dishes are purportedly tasted blindly, suggesting that a kind of equity is at play. And yet I cannot help but think that this utilizes the same logic as color blindness. What would it look like, in a country that is most certainly not color blind, to be more intentional about accessing a narrative of equity that extends to racial inclusion in determining who deserves a second chance? What if the idea of the “second chance” was not rooted in an apolitical and decontextualized narrative about who usually ascends to positions of power, but in one that would think about the political and affective resonance of having three incredibly deserving chefs of color make it to the end? Why, in the end, is it so unimaginable to have a major cooking competition decide that all its finalists will be people of color?

Top Chef

When Welch returned to the contest, there were five people of color: three African Americans (Ashleigh Shanti, Nick Wallace and Damarr Brown), one Latina (Evelyn Garcia) and one Asian Australian (Buddha Lo).  This was unprecedented. In its 16-year history, there had never been this many African Americans left in the contest at this late stage.  But then the old patterns reemerged, and one by one, each black chef was eliminated, and it became apparent that the finale would include a Latina woman, an Asian Australian man, and a white woman. Though I personally liked Welch and her quirky humor (and her deep commitment to showcasing different kinds of miso), I was a little disappointed. And to be honest, the finale was beautiful. All three contestants clearly respected one another and were rooting for one another in ways that felt more reminiscent of The Great British Bake Off than say, The Amazing Race. There is a real and palpable comradery among the contestants, and it was apparent that Garcia, Lo and Welch were invested in each other’s success. The expressions of intimacy and care felt genuine and were a welcome change from the backstabbing and snark that one often comes to expect in US-based reality shows and in several of the early seasons of Top Chef.

However, in the last few weeks of the season, I went from feeling excited about the prospects of a finale including only chefs of color to feeling deflated that it was all for naught and that Top Chef was once again merely pandering and would eliminate the remaining contestants of color for spurious reasons. At the end of each season, viewers are often told that the smallest details can send a person home. For chefs of color, that often takes the form of being sent home for not being “true to their origins or heritage,” a standard that is rarely applied to white chefs who are often praised for having knowledge of diverse cuisines.

In the end, the right person (I think) won. Buddha Lo’s food was inventive, took stock of his racial and ethnic heritage and was beautifully plated. But I was also disappointed not to see Garcia win—not just because she is Latina but because she was an exceptional chef in every way. But of course, only one person can win, even if the runners up do not have to hear the odious phrase, “please pack your knives and go.”

To the show’s credit, they made remarkable strides in showcasing so many talented chefs of color. And my guess is that, despite not winning, many of them will go on to have amazing careers.  But it remained disappointing to see that it took 19 seasons for the producers of the show to keep six people of color in the running, only to then get rid of them one by one, all the while conveying to the audience that a deserving white person needed to be at the final judging panel. Groundbreaking as it was to have this many contestants of color in one season, it was disappointing that it didn’t go further. To have the show come so close to doing something truly transformative, only to thwart expectations and desires at the last minute, was disappointing.

While I will not stop watching Top Chef anytime soon, it also does not escape my attention that we may not see a season like this again.  At the end of the day, it is not too much to ask to see more chefs of color standing in front of the judge’s table as a small, but important, gesture that would remind us that whiteness does not always have to be at the table.

Mannur coverTo read more from Anita Mannur, buy Intimate Eating from our site and save 30% with coupon code E22MANNR.

Q&A with Alex Blanchette

Alex Blanchette is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Tufts University and coeditor of How Nature Works: Rethinking Labor on a Troubled Planet. In his newest book, Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm, Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism.

How did this project start? What first led you to study the industrialized agrarian town you call Dixon in the book, which residents refer to as one of “the red meat capital[s] of the world?”

The gist is that I wanted to live in what is arguably the most “industrialized” of American industrial meat towns. Porkopolis started as a doctoral dissertation in the mid-2000s. At that time, the area where I grew up was seeing (in retrospect, relatively modest) growth in confinement animal agriculture. One impetus for the research was to inhabit a possible future for my home region. Agribusiness corporations in Dixon birthed and killed about 7,000,000 hogs per year through the labor of some 5,000 people. They were amongst the most vertically integrated meat production facilities—meaning that they control and derive profit from every stage of the species’ life and death, from genetics facilities all the way to bone-rendering plants. And they purported to be generating the world’s most uniform animal at scale. These companies appeared to be expressing a teleology for the future of agricultural capitalism. They were claiming viable paths for the renewed industrialization of an organism that already bears the weight of some 150 years of accumulated industrial engineering. This opened up the question of what labor with these overworked animals tells us about the very old yet ongoing intensification of industrial processes in swathes of a supposedly ‘post-industrial’ United States. And it is how I ultimately arrived at the ethnographic method and terms of critique that Porkopolis develops. Rather than a typical meat exposé that paints these places and the people who work within them as morally deviant or exceptional from American norms, the book moves across the modern hog’s life and death to examine fledgling workplace struggles and the consequences of trying to find new value in an intensely-valued organism. It takes hog life as an icon of our exhausted late industrial present.

Many studies of industrial farming focus on the harm caused to either the animals or the workers. You argue that the factory creates a “human-pig entanglement” with wide-reaching implications. How are humans in the factory managed in relation to pigs’ needs?

Ethnographic research taught me that centering analytical focus on either “human” or “animal” well-being has become a tough distinction to maintain. The states of human labor and hog bodies are intertwined in these agribusinesses. And though they are presently conjoined to mobilize projects for industrial growth, it also presents the possibility of political interventions that do not see human and animal interests as antithetical.  Most simply, making uniform hogs at scale—for branding purposes, or for increasing line speeds at the kill stage—has come to require a lot of specialized work. Whether it is someone who exclusively works on intensifying hog instincts in artificial insemination, or someone who makes 10,000 repetitive cuts of the left shoulder every day, realizing more standardized hog bodies requires some people to gain unique, intimate, and even potentially radical knowledge of particular dimensions of swine. 

Yet, further capitalizing on animal bodies—while maintaining existing scales of concentration—has also led to attempts to remake human life and labor. For instance, managers felt compelled to intervene in employees’ living arrangements outside of work to reduce the risk of hog diseases from the slaughterhouse transferring across human bodies and infecting barns of pigs. Taken-for-granted forms of nuclear kinship and household-making practices were becoming threats in terms of their effects on pig proliferation. This led companies to enact forms of social distancing ideals to protect hog growth, well before this practice became a common term to protect human health in the wake of COVID-19. Conversely, the very physical composition of the hog, I would argue, is inseparable from the state of rural labor. Using pig genetics that are very fecund but also biophysically fragile necessitates a lot of work to care for and regularize piglet bodies. The sustenance of these capitalist pigs requires low-paid (yet knowledgeable) labor. I do not think we can easily separate racial projects to further cheapen labor today from how industrial animals physically appear on farms. A constellation of things—precarity-making squads such as ICE, discourses that frame everyone working on farms as “unskilled,” or outdated policy that makes it difficult for farmworkers to unionize—can be seen to be manifesting within the very diminished qualities of pigs’ muscle fibers.

Modern capitalism assures that every part of the pig is used to create over 1,000 product codes. What are the ethical implications of this for people who object to the factory farming system?

By the end of Porkopolis, one of the points that I emphasize is that we have paid insufficient attention to the ways that capitalist slaughter, for a very long time, has built its margins and profit by developing commodities that arch far beyond food. A factor that underlies the remarkably cheap American meat of today is all of the other non-meat products made from hog bodies. These range from pet food flavorings, to various kinds of adhesives and infrastructural materials, to fat converted into biodiesel, and to a series of biomedical drugs derived from animal organs. Even though this is not new—the early 20th century Chicago meatpackers said they used “everything but the squeal”—it remains an ongoing process as companies try to achieve growth by disassembling hogs in more precise and diverse ways, creating new economic claims on animal biology. 

This is often greeted as a neutral matter of economic rationality, or even as a laudable act of stewardship by limiting “waste.” Yet, efforts to find more “sustainable” ways to transform excess biological material into commodities also have the effect of sustaining this system of corralling and taking life, making society as a whole more dependent on these facilities. A consequence is that it has become difficult to go about one’s everyday activities without being in contact with processed hog particles in infrastructure and the built environment. Amidst discussions that exalt the market as a space where we can (and must!) make ethical choices, there have been parallel efforts to turn the conduct of our everyday lives into a minor subsidy to meat. I think that it is important to at least politicize these kinds of processes. Minimally, it would reveal how much science and knowledge is expended to develop this unending array of products—the sheer amount of human creativity diverted to maintain industrial animal growth.

Slaughterhouses have become hotspots for COVID-19 across the United States. Does your research on human-animal relations have anything to add to our current moment?

The moral, economic, and biophysical pressures being foisted onto people who work in slaughterhouses across the United States are unfathomable. Not only does Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act mark an attempt to limit corporations’ legal liability for sickening workers. We even see governors going further to deflect moral culpability from agribusiness by making absurd racist claims that outbreaks across slaughterhouses result from the social lives of immigrants rather than cramped, refrigerated warehouses where 150 years of obsessive industrial refinement ensure that every square inch is dedicated to maximizing output and labor productivity. From workers being denied bathroom breaks on the line because these systems cannot “accommodate” the bladder, to companies compelled to include the cost of injuries in their profit model, the human body was a (largely ignored) problem of production for this system long before COVID-19 threatened to make meat less plentiful. One of the points of Porkopolis is that so-called efficiency itself has long been out of control on American meatpacking lines. Increased efficiency is synonymous with physical violence. Hogs’ bodies are standardized across their lifetimes through quasi-invasive labor to intensify line speeds via simplified repetitive motions at their death—leading to harmful and painful burdens on the tendons of workers as they make thousands of cuts.

 But this new moment has also started to expose the vulnerabilities of unending productivity, and we are witnessing things that were rare in the 2010s. There are protests in packinghouse parking lots, and calls for boycotts of meat from worker advocacy organizations. Children of people who work in slaughterhouses are coming together to refuse the idea that their parents should risk their lives for a livelihood—or for meat. Our analyses should try to follow the lead of these emerging voices, activists, and demands.  

So I will just make a narrow point for further context on why the use of the Defense Production Act for meat is so troubling. These models have evolved to the point where agribusinesses deploy (and exploit) labor to monopolize all known money in the porcine species. We might say that these companies are totalizing because they are fragile: they are trying to realize value under low profit margins (that they helped create). But they are also fragile because they are so totalizing: they require so many distinct labor processes to create new niches of profitable pork and animal products, and maintain their model. The sheer quantity of people working in modern slaughterhouses is a reflection of this totalization, as people carve animals into ever-finer sale-ready pieces in acts of labor that would have, a couple generations ago, been done by urban butchers in a less concentrated value chain. Loins injected with flavoring. Shoulders sliced thinly for higher-margin export. The working and reworking of skeletons. The issue is not only that slaughterhouses have become so large that single plants ship 5% of the national pork supply. It is also how the unending search for more value and value-added products packs more people into refrigerated rooms. Invoking the Defense Production Act naturalizes and renders indistinguishable a wide array of labor processes under the label “meat.” I have read little state guidance—let alone regulatory force—on a host of things that could conceivably create space in these plants: mandating reduced daily slaughter capacity, slowing disassembly line speeds, barring certain value-added tasks, or even just cutting up animals less. Some of those things are happening due to a sheer shortage of labor, but the question is whether this industry can sustain them indefinitely. 

We should be questioning whether meat itself is essential, in this moment or otherwise. I do not believe it is. But what the DPA and its oppression of workers appears to be about is an effort to sustain cheap meat—and, further, a refusal to grant us even a moment of pause to question the social value and racial logics of industrial “efficiency.”

What is something you hope readers will take away from this in-depth account of factory farming in the United States? What kind of future research do you hope it might inspire?

This is an extension of what I said above. Despite the fact that I have encountered few people who think that contemporary animal agribusiness is a socio-ecological ideal or even a good thing, I am always struck by the social resources and imagination that is being marshalled every day to keep these institutions in the world. It is almost paradoxical: their late industrial vulnerability seems to call out for and invite people to help them. When these animal assemblages near collapse due to their own scale and concentration—during this pandemic, but also in many other moments such as when a hurricane event buries a community in manure—we tend to instantly see even ostensible critics proposing new inventions, fixes, or schemes to make them more tolerable. If we keep performing these institutions as indispensable, then the cumulative ideological effect is to block our ability to believe that there really are other viable and desirable ways of doing things. I hope that Porkopolis is a contribution to ongoing conversations on experimenting with alternative ways of more equitably working, living, and eating—but also of learning to effectively insist on the need to let some things go. 

Read the introduction to Porkopolis free online. Save 50% off this and all in-stock titles with coupon SPRING50 until May 25, 2020.

New Books in October

October is upon us, and we have a number of new books to introduce to you this month. Be on the lookout for these exciting titles at bookstores, online, or at academic meetings later this fall.

978-0-8223-6918-9In The Right to Maim, Jasbir K. Puar continues her pathbreaking work on the liberal state, sexuality, and biopolitics to theorize the production of disability, using Israel’s occupation of Palestine as an example of how settler colonial states rely on liberal frameworks of disability to maintain control of bodies and populations.

Jennifer Terry, in Attachments to War, traces how biomedical logics entangle Americans in a perpetual state of war, in which new forms of wounding necessitate the continual development of treatment and prosthetic technologies while the military justifies violence and military occupation as necessary conditions for advancing medical knowledge.

978-0-8223-6973-8Life in the Age of Drone Warfare, edited by Lisa Parks and Caren Kaplan, explores the historical, juridical, geopolitical, and cultural dimensions of drone technology and warfare, showing how drones generate ways of understanding the world, shape the ways lives are lived and ended on the ground, and operate within numerous mechanisms of militarized state power.


Tracing the college experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in her new book Grateful Nation, Ellen Moore challenges the popular narratives that explain student veterans’ academic difficulties while showing how these narratives and institutional support for the military lead to suppression of campus debate about the wars, discourage anti-war activism, and encourage a growing militarization.


The Extractive Zone by Macarena Gómez-Barris extends decolonial theory into greater conversation with race, sexuality, and Indigenous studies; and traces the political, aesthetic, and performative practices of South American indigenous activists, intellectuals, and artists that emerge in opposition to the ruinous effects of extractive capital.

Essays, interviews, and artist statements in Collective Situations —many of which are appearing in English for the first time—present a range of socially engaged art practices in Latin America between 1995 and 2010 that rethink the boundaries between art and activism. The collection is edited by Bill Kelley Jr. and Grant H. Kester.

In Never Alone, Except for Now, juxtaposing contemporary art against familiar features of the Web such as emoticons, Kris Cohen explores how one can be connected to people and places online while simultaneously being alone and isolated. This phenomenon lies in the space between populations built through data collection, and publics created by interacting with others.

Originally published in 1939, Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal is a landmark of modern French poetry and a founding text of the Négritude movement. Journal of a Homecoming, a bilingual edition, features a new authoritative translation, revised introduction, and extensive commentary, making it a magisterial edition of Césaire’s surrealist masterpiece.

978-0-8223-6949-3In Neoliberalism from Below, Verónica Gago provides a new theory of neoliberalism by examining how Latin American neoliberalism is propelled not just from above by international finance, corporations, and government, but by the activities of migrant workers, vendors, sweatshop workers, and other marginalized groups in and around the La Salada market in Buenos Aires.

Kristen Ghodsee, in Red Hangover, examines the legacies of twentieth-century communism on the contemporary political landscape twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, reflecting on the lived experience of postsocialism and how many ordinary men and women across Eastern Europe suffered from the massive social and economic upheavals in their lives after 1989.

978-0-8223-5884-8Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and his experience trading derivatives, in The Social Life of Financial Derivatives, Edward LiPuma theorizes the profound social dimensions of derivatives markets and the processes, rituals, mentalities, and belief systems that drive them.

In Monrovia Modern, Danny Hoffman uses the ruins of four iconic modernist buildings in Monrovia, Liberia as a way to explore the relationship between the built environment and political imagination, showing how these former symbols of modernist nation building transformed into representations of the challenges that Monrovia’s residents face.

Steeped in Heritage, by Sarah Ives, explores the racial and environmental politics behind South Africa’s rooibos tea industry to examine heritage-based claims to the indigenous plant by two groups of contested indigeneity: white Afrikaners and “coloured” South Africans.

In Tropical Freedom, Ikuko Asaka examines emancipation’s intersection with settler colonialism in North America, showing how emancipation efforts in the United States and present-day Canada were accompanied by attempts to relocate freed blacks to tropical regions, thereby conceiving freedom as a racially segregated condition based upon geography and climate.

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Q & A with Brad Weiss

Weiss 1Brad Weiss is Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary and the author of The Making and Unmaking of the Haya Lived World: Consumption, Commoditization, and Everyday Practice, also published by Duke University Press, and Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops: Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania. In his new book, Real Pigs: Shifting Values in the Field of Local Pork, Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.

real pigsIn Real Pigs, you grapple with the definition of “real food.” In a nutshell, what’s your interpretation of the term?

I approach this question in an ethnographic way. What I mean by that is I’m really interested in how and why various communities use this term – in their writing, in their sales, in their own accounts of why they do what they do. And then I try to understand the patterns – the convergences and the conflicts – that come to define (if loosely) what makes some food “real.”  For people who are interested in “real pigs” (which is, after all, the title of the book) it has something to do with both the pigs themselves – the fact that these animals have characteristics that distinguish them from industrially produced pigs – but probably even more to do with the methods by which they are raised. That is, in the outdoors, reproducing under their own terms (e.g., building nests), and with a concern for their welfare as living creatures.  Somehow, this makes the pork that derives from this encounter between “pigs and the people that love them” (this was the joke title my farmer friends came up with for this book) more “real.”  I should add that I also want to hold the term “real food” up to some scrutiny. It can often lead us to misunderstand how and why people who do not have access to what is deemed “real food” actually eat.  So much of the language of food politics has an unfortunate moralizing tone, and I want to be cognizant of the implications of this kind of discourse.

As part of your research, you spent most of a summer working on a North Carolina farm. How did this experience change your perspective on pig farming?

Well, I’m not sure I had any perspective on pig farming before I did this work. I had done work with farmers in Tanzania for some earlier field research (I’m really an Africanist; I just happened to find the pigs while I lived in North Carolina), some of whom raised animals, though by no means were they engaged in animal husbandry as a livelihood. Many folks had a goat or two, but that was about it.  My very anecdotal understanding of pig farming was that a lot of people I knew talked about how intelligent pigs are, and I thought that this must inform how farmers thought about their work with these animals. Indeed, lots of farmers do talk about this, and adapt their husbandry to their animals’ personalities. On the other hand, there are plenty of farmers that don’t care about this very much at all – they just like having a few pigs around to eat up their garbage, the leavings from their gardens, and turn their soil for them.  And the pigs are happy to oblige.  What I really learned about pig farming was how complicated the entire operation is, and not just the pigs.  What do you do when the price of feed goes up 40% because of a massive drought in Russia? If blight decimates your tomatoes, where are you going to get the money to build the farrowing houses you’ve planned on?  Can you raise the price of your pork if half of the turkeys you decide to breed keel over in a rainstorm? Everything is interconnected in farming, and you are very much at the mercy of natural and cultural forces beyond your control.

In the book, you publish interviews with several figures in the food community: farmers, restaurant owners and chefs, and marketers. Why was it valuable to you to include these interviews?

As I say in the book, I wanted to let some of the most important people – activists, entrepreneurs, scholars – in this food movement in the Piedmont speak for themselves.  I tried to very minimally edit the conversations to allow their views to come through. In part, I wanted readers to recognize how some of the wider themes I address in the book as a whole – about “connection” and other topics – are really very present in these kinds of conversations. I also wanted to present views that are, each in their own way, somewhat different from my own. In this way I hope there is a kind of open-ended quality to the discussions that allows- or maybe requires- the reader to decide for themselves what the important questions are.

In the chapter “Pigs in a Local Place,” you note the strong appeal of local food. Why do you think farmers and consumers have fixated so heavily on locality?

The whole question of “local food” is in some ways an overarching theme of this book, and that is because it is so strongly associated with efforts to create an alternative food system.  Why this is so is a pretty complicated matter, and I’m as interested in how it is put into practice as I am in suggesting reasons why “the local” is so important.  I would say there are different kinds of reasons at different scales of analysis.  For one thing, in Europe there are very specific ideas about how regional foodstuffs and cuisines are threatened by commodity production; but then many of these products are protected as regional products through a legal order of what is called denomination.  So the current scene is, in many ways, overdetermined by this longstanding effort to legally protect culinary products in ways that ties them to specific places of origin.  At the same time, many activists argue that there are strong connections between places and tastes, and it is this sensory relationship that is central to “good” food.  I try, in the book (and this chapter in particular), to ask: what is it that makes places so compelling? What are their sensory, and social, and cultural qualities? How does place become an expression of value? Because, ultimately, a place is not just a geographical location, it is a way of evaluating the relationships that define and inhabit a recognizable locale.

You mention that “the presence of people of color remains notably limited in farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and the like” (253). What potential solutions exist for this racial divide?

If I could really answer this question it would be a major accomplishment. It is a challenge, and  – I hasten to add – it is one that almost everyone in the alternative food scene in the Piedmont recognizes, and is trying to address. North Carolina has a long, well-documented history of systematic discrimination against African-American farmers, and not just because of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. US Department of Agriculture policies denied farm loans to qualified African-American farmers through the 1990s. The courts are just beginning to address these claims, which entails the largest civil rights settlement in US history.  So it’s perfectly predictable, in many ways, that African-American farmers would have a hard time bringing their products to market, and African-American consumers would be wary of, even progressive, “alternatives” that seem to want to include them in North Carolina.  How do we overcome this history and its ongoing effects? As I’ve said, many very talented activists, market managers, and others are sincerely working to do better outreach, make Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT, or Food Stamps) viable for use at farmers markets, recruit farmers of color, etc.  There is some limited change that can be seen on these fronts. I also think the efforts to pull more African-American farmers into marketing relationships that do not require them to go to farmers’ markets (which can be incredibly time consuming, and might just not be worth it at all for farmers raising only a few animals, or growing limited quantities of produce) are promising.  The North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association has made efforts to include a diverse group of farmers, as have aggregators like the company First Hand Foods that I discuss at length in the book.  These efforts are certainly not free of racial conflict. But they are aware of the challenges, and they are definitely creating more opportunities.

Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from this book?

I have to say that I have a diverse readership in mind, and so I would expect different people to get different things out of the work.  In part, of course, this is a work of anthropology and I would like to think that I am making some contribution to the anthropology of food, of value, and of space.  But, I have also really tried to write this book in a way that almost anyone who has ever been to a farmers market, or eaten grass-fed beef at a restaurant – or even wondered what that was – might find something interesting and engaging in the work. I hope that these readers come to understand how complex the relationships between farmers, chefs, markets, and consumers are. They can see that every market has its contradictions and its challenges.  I do also want avid participants in these alternative practices- folks who already buy pasture-raised pork chops, and go on farm tours – to recognize that just buying local food, or cooking for your family really is not sufficient as a political action to overcome the effects of industrialized production. These are nice, even fun things to do; I do them myself. But they can also reinforce some of the very problems of exclusion and stratification that American society is not very good at recognizing, let alone confronting.

You can order Real Pigs from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available), or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16PIGS to save 30%!

New Books in July

We are excited to open our Fall 2016 season with these wonderful books, coming out in July. From Black music to the Cold War, we have something for everyone. Keep an eye out for these books this month.


Flyboy 2 provides a panoramic view of the last thirty years of Greg Tate’s influential cultural criticism of contemporary Black music, art, literature, film, and politics. These essays, interviews, and reviews cover everything from Miles Davis, Ice Cube, and Suzan Lori Parks to Afro-futurism, Kara Walker, and Amiri Baraka.

In Real Pigs Brad Weiss traces the desire for creating “authentic” local foods in the Piedmont region of central North Carolina as he follows farmers, butchers, and chefs as they breed, raise, butcher, market, sell, and prepare their pasture-raised hogs for consumption.


from washingtonIn Cold War Ruins Lisa Yoneyama argues that the efforts intensifying since the 1990s to bring justice to the victims of Japanese military and colonial violence have generated what she calls a “transborder redress culture” that has the potential to bring powerful challenging perspectives on American exceptionalism, militarized security, justice, sovereignty, forgiveness, and decolonization.

In From Washington to Moscow veteran US Foreign Service officer Louis Sell draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Nation Within is the complex history of the events between the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 and its annexation to the United States in 1898. Highlighting the native Hawaiians’ resistance during that five year span, Tom Coffman shows why occupying Hawaii was crucial to American imperial ambitions.

this thing called.jpgDebjani Ganguly’s This Thing Called the World theorizes the contemporary global novel and the social and historical conditions that shaped it, showing how in 1989 the consolidation of the information age, the perpetual state of war, and the focus on humanitarianism transformed the novel into a form that addresses contemporary social, technological, and political upheavals.

Offering a new queer theorization of Melodrama, Jonathan Goldberg explores the ways melodramatic film and literature provide an aesthetics of impossibility and how melodrama as a whole provides queer ways to promote identifications that exceed the bounds of the identity categories that regulate and constrain social life.

color of violenceIn Encoding Race, Encoding Class Sareeta Amrute explores the lives of Indian IT coders temporarily working in Berlin, showing how their cognitive labor reimagines race and class and how their acceptance and resistance to their work offers new potentials for alternative visions of living and working in neoliberal economies.

Presenting the fierce and vital writing of organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center, covers violence against women of color in its myriad manifestations, and maps strategies of movement building and resistance.




French Historical Studies publishes special issue on the history of food in France

FHS_36-2_covWhat could be better than France and food? The special issue editors of “Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History,” Erica J. Peters and Bertram Gordon, are proud to publish this issue of French Historical Studies attesting to the growth of interest in food history. In this guest post, they give an overview of the topics selected.

In the last generation, food history has gained increased attention on the part of researchers and the general public. The Food History News website currently lists fifteen culinary history organizations in the United States, Canada, and Australia and some twenty-two academic periodicals are devoted to food studies. The five articles published in the FHS special issue offer a broad range of social and cultural insights into the development of French gastronomy ranging chronologically from the introduction of coffee into seventeenth-century France to the black market restaurants in Paris during the Second World War.

Acquiring a new taste for coffee, seventeenth century consumers willfully ignored the slavery that helped produce it. The new beverage also fueled images of sexuality onto exoticized harems as Julia Landweber shows in “‘This Marvelous Bean’: Adopting Coffee into Old Regime French Culture and Diet.” In his “La construction de la renommée des produits des terroirs, Acteurs et enjeux d’un marché de la gourmandise en France (XVIIe-début XIXe siècle),” Philippe Meyzie demonstrates how the promotion of terroir in the eighteenth century ties into issues of social status among an aspiring middle class in France.

Two articles focus on the social dimensions of food in turn of the twentieth century France. Martin Bruegel‘s “Workers’ Lunch Away From Home in the Paris of the Belle Époque: The French Model of Meals as Norm and Practice” shows the gap between a popularly imagined “repas normal,” or standard meal, and the reality of the more meager lunches of the working class French, while Patricia Tilburg makes a parallel case for the midinettes, working women who survived on street food for lunch. As with the “repas normal” and the reality of workers’ lunches, the popular image of the midinettes as carefree, happy-go-lucky, and indifferent to food was very far from the reality. Kenneth Mouré‘s, “La capitale de la faim: Black Market Restaurants in Paris 1940-1944,” demonstrates that access to Paris’s most exclusive restaurants became a trophy first seized by German forces in 1940 and then claimed by the Americans in 1944.

The special issue of French Historical Studies attests to academic interest in food history while opening new vistas into French history.

Check out the full issue here. To subscribe to French Historical Studies, visit

Celebrating TSQ at the Berkshire Conference, Toronto, May 2014

We were so excited to welcome TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly with an official launch at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in Toronto last week. The inaugural double issue, "Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a 21st Century Transgender Studies," features nearly ninety keyword contributions that "showcase the breadth and complexity of the field." You can subscribe to the journal here.

IMG_3360Editors Paisley Currah and Susan Stryker, along with editorial board membors A. Finn Enke and Frank Galarte, participated in a roundtable on TSQ that included information about the initial conception of the journal, current calls for papers, ideas for special issues in the future, the necessity (and difficulty) of the book review section, and how fashion would be an exciting part of the journal with Frank Gallarte acting as the Fashion Editor. It was thrilling to have an engaged audience participating in the conversation surrounding the bright future of the journal.

Following the roundtable, we had an official launch reception for TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly in the beautiful Croft Chapter House. We were happy to toast the journal with so many interested scholars, contributors, fans of the field, and conference organizers!The temporary tattoos we gave away with the TSQ asterisk were a big hit and it was fun to see so many attendees rocking the tattoos for the rest of the conference.

Check out the photos below for some highlights from the official launch. We hope that everyone will continue to contribute to the conversation on social media using the #TSQjournal hashtag.

Congratulations, TSQ!

TSQ Roundtable

From left to right: Book Review Editor A. Finn Enke, co-Editor Paisley Currah, co-Editor Susan Stryker, moderator Elspeth Brown, and (joining the roundtable via Skype) Fashion Editor Frank Galarte
TSQ Roundtable Audience

Much of the roundtable was facilitated by enthusiastic questions from attendees. It was also enjoyable to follow the thoughts of those who were live-tweeting.
TSQ Reception

The recption, held in Croft Chapter House, included food, drinks, temporary tattoos, and a lot of great conversation (all the necessary items to make a good party!).






Susan and Paisley at the TSQ Reception

Co-editors Susan Stryker (L) and Paisley Currah (R) address the reception attendees.

Celebrate Mardi Gras with our Journals

Maybe Mardi Gras isn't celebrated in your city, but who says you can't get into the spirit? Duke University Press has published many journal articles on Mardi Gras, and we've made these two freely available for the holiday—so don your beads and mask, cut a slice of king cake, and dive into these articles.*

B2_logoOutline_k_web"Spenser and Milton at Mardi Gras: English Literature, American Cultural Capital, and the Reformation of New Orleans Carnival" by Richard Rambuss in boundary 2 (27:2)

Read an excerpt:

Milton may be far from mind when one now thinks of or, better, experiences what is advertised as the world's greatest free party. Yet, as we have begun to consider, a rather detailed, even learned usage of literature—particularly English Renaissance and classical literature—played a structuring role in Comus's endeavor to appropriate and dignify the residual Latin traditions of Carnival. Propounding a caste status for its founders that was then more an aspiration than an actuality, a commemorative booklet issue by the Mistick Krewe in 1947 thus explains that 'as the members of Comus were socially important this meant that their celebration of Mardi Gras was orderly, educational and cultural.' (pages 49-50)

For more of "Spenser and Milton at Mardi Gras," click here.


GLQ_black_web"Mardi Gras Tourism and the Construction of Sydney as an International Gay and Lesbian City" by Kevin Markwell in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (8:1-2)

Read an excerpt:

Mardi Gras attracts many domestic and international tourists to Sydney during February, and their numbers peak just prior to the parade and party at the end of the festival. The festival, parade, and party are major events on Australia’s tourism calendar. There is a strong representation from countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and France, as well as increasing numbers of tourists from Southeast Asia, and Mardi Gras packages are advertised in the gay and lesbian press in European and North American countries. While approximately 15 percent of the eighty events at the festival are free, many of the most popular ones require tickets… Full participation in the festival is an expensive undertaking, especially when coupled with the costs of outfits; body treatments such as waxing, tanning, gym training, hairstyling, and party drugs; and, for tourists, accommodation and transportation costs. Many people are willing, however, to spend large sums because Mardi Gras becomes for them the major yearly event that helps define their gay or lesbian identity. (page 84)

For more of "Mardi Gras Tourism," click here.


Roll With ItDon't forget to check out Matt Sakakeeny's new book Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans while you're on your Mardi Gras kick!


*If you're in a location that really celebrates Mardi Gras, don't be concerned. You can still read these articles through the end of the month. Recover from your festivities and then get to reading.

Two Radical History Review Articles Win Awards

Two articles published in the Duke University Press Journal, Radical History Review, have recently won awards. Congratulations to the Radical History Review and to these authors!

107_coverGregg Mitman and Paul Erickson’s article "Latex and Blood: Science, Markets, and American Empire" from the special issue Transnational Environments: Rethinking the Political Economy of Nature in a Global Age (issue 107) has been awarded the Ralph Gomory Prize, which distinguishes historical work on the effects of business enterprises on the economic environments of the countries in which they operate.


Camille Bégin’s article “‘Partaking of choice poultry cooked a la southern style’: Taste and Race in the New Deal Sensory Economy,” which appeared in the special issue Radical Foodways (issue 110) has been awarded The Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence from the American Society of Food Studies. 


Radical Foodways

RHR tumblr Today’s New York Times features an article about a school district in Greely, Colorado that is a forerunner in the back-to-scratch food movement.  Most of the school’s lunches will be prepared from scratch this year, rather than relying on packaged or frozen foods, in an effort to combat obesity and poor nutrition.

The back-to-scratch movement is just a small part of the growing “Good Food Revolution” that Americans have embraced. “Radical Foodways,” the most recent issue of Radical History Review examines this “revolution” (evidenced by best-selling books, popular movies and TV shows, local and organic agriculture initiatives, even a vegetable garden at the White House). It also looks at the foundations of the problems in our food supply, including the historical structures of colonialism, labor, regulation, memory, racial and gender inequality that persist in every bite we eat. 

Read the introduction for free here.