The Nature of Culinary Choices: Foodways and the Environment

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Session Proposal for American Studies Association 2010 Conference
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[I am proposing a session for the 2010 ASA conference in San Antonio and am looking to fill out my proposed panel.]

CFP: In 2005's Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good, Clean, and Fair, Carlo Petrini defines food as the most basic feature of human identity, arguing that it undergoes a "series of processes […] that transform it from a completely natural base (the raw material) into the product of a culture (what we eat)." The nature/culture angle is nothing new to environmental studies, but with the recent publications of works like the best-selling Food Matters by Marc Bittman and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and the stream of documentaries such as Food, Inc. and King Corn, the focus on food has turned from the exploration and preservation of cultural foodways to include the protection and conservation of the natural world. Michelle Obama's purpose for reintroducing a vegetable garden at the White House highlights the political importance of sustainability, the social impact of the obesity epidemic, and the possibility of power over one's personal food supply. The garden, then, is the new (or recycled) symbol of self-reliance.
Accusations against the industrial food complex's environmental impact have not only sparked concern about the destruction of ecospheres and the debilitating and dangerous lack of biodiversity but also the safety, accessibility, nutritional quality, and cost of food. In fact, the peril in a McDonald's Value Meal, as Michael Pollan points out in The Omnivore's Dilemma, lies not only in the massive amount of fossil fuel required to produce and consume it but also its wide availability and cheapness, often forcing the underprivileged to make food choices based on cost rather than nutrition. Thus, destruction of the environment at the behest of food production plays into issues of environmental and social justice.
This session proposal seeks papers for an interdisciplinary approach (political, sociological, literary, philosophical, scientific, historical, etc.) to the issues surrounding our food supply and the environment. In keeping with the theme of the 2010 ASA meeting, some questions you might want to consider include:
• How does the so-called "foodie" movement, manifest in the proliferation of cookbooks, celebrity chefs, and television cooking shows, have to say about the way we consume both food and natural resources?
• How does environmental justice for minorities and the underprivileged play into issues surrounding the accessibility of food?
• How do chains of production and consumption coincide with environmental impact?
• How have grass-roots and larger organizations influenced the politics of food ecology?
• Is this question of the environment and food unique to our times?
• How and why do cultural representations (advertisements, art, film, literature) engage with portrayals of the raw material of the food supply?
• What changes have come about since the turn of the twenty-first century to influence the profusion of debates surrounding food?
• How have certain cultures and foodways impacted their local ecospheres?
• Are there any "responsible" and sustainable ways to produce food for a growing population of consumers?
Please send a 300-word abstract and biographical information (name, affiliation, email address, and one-page vita) to Jill E. Anderson at by December 31, 2009.