Week 8: Food
Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body.
Cuisine is about the style of cooking the food.
There are two distinct categories that all foods fit into – junk (or processed) foods and healthy foods.
Processed foods are foods that are prepared in mass numbers at factories to make it easier to make and eat meals. These include sodas, cookies, and chips.
Healthy foods are food prepared in a kitchen for individual consumption. They include fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, and beans.
Anthropologists study food because it tells us a great deal about the people in a culture. The level of technology people have, the types of environment people live in, and the level of nutrition and health are all things that can be better understood by studying the food of a culture.
Pictured are traditional meals from West Africa, including squash stew and cooked bananas with beans. Students tried several dishes indigenous to the area.
Each student group will free list for two minutes all the foods that they can think of, no matter the type. Then the students will take these foods and place them in different categories, such as good and junk food. Students were asked why they put these foods into different categories and discuss why each person may have different conceptions of what is good/junk food or what meal a food belongs in.
Students were very competent and realized that “chicken” or “potatoes” could be considered healthy or unhealthy, depending on how it was prepared. A student noted chicken breast cooked in olive oil is nutritious, while chicken wings dipped in buffalo sauce is not. Tea also ended up in the ‘middle’, because hot tea without sugar or milk is very healthy, but sweet tea is full of sugar.
Students ate cuisine from West Africa, prepared by Anna. Some recipes were modified, however, to not include peanut oil. The students ate:
• Sweet Potato Fritters
• Banana Fritters
• Fresh mango
• Crickets (again)
I was happy every student tasted all four items available. No one in the class had eaten mango or sweet potatoes before (as far as they were aware). One student asked us to show a picture of a whole mango so that she could ask her mother to purchase one next time they went grocery shopping.
During the first activity, most of the students noted they ate lots of processed foods and most of their meals were cooked in fatty oils or excessive amounts of butter. In deliberately choosing dishes popular in West Africa, we were able to expose students to cuisine outside of the traditional regional staples.
Week 2: Ethnography
Ethnography is the way that anthropologists study and teach others about cultures. Anthropologists learn about cultures by engaging different groups of people, asking questions, writing down their answers, and then thinking about the best way to understand behavior.
Cultural anthropologists use an emic perspective when studying another group, meaning they describe a particular culture in terms of its internal elements.
The focus of this semester is West Africa, and this week our lecture was about Benin. Students were intrigued that the people of Benin snack on bush rats! They also bonded over a love of soccer.
Last week students were broken into three clans. Each clan chose a name, selected a language, and determined a social structure. They even designed a flag.
This week each clan selected 1 ethnographer per group, and then sent that ethnographer out to observe another clan’s culture using the Ethnographer’s Guide.
After interviewing other clans, told us what they learned about the new culture.
Lastly, the clan defended errors of interpretation.
I am lucky enough to have three amazing teaching assistants, who each govern a separate clan. They manage the students productivity and limit their rowdiness. (A task I can not be more grateful to not be handling alone.) They helped the clan select an ethnographer to travel to another group. Surprisingly, we had multiple students volunteer. I was giddy over the level of participation. All students were interactive as the ethnographer completed the survey. The TAs helped narrow the clan members answers, but every one seemed engaged for the length of the activity. When the ethnographers presented to the class, they were confident and demonstrated they had grasped the concept. I was very proud of these three students. (I rewarded them with lots of stickers to show my gratitude. Amazing what an 11 year old will do for a sticker!) In my opinion, this activity was a success. Although, I was unable to gauge if the students answering the questions understood ethnography as well as I could with the anthropologists.
The next several posts will include the lesson plans we used for the UA partnership with the Tuscaloosa Magnet School. This semester the classes were taught by Taylor Burbach, Meghan Steel, and Erica Schumann, with the direction of graduate student Greg Batchelder. Enjoy!
Activity: Becoming Ethnographers
Discussion: How do we study culture?
- What is culture?
- Why is it important?
- Why and how do we study other cultures?
- Cultural Anthropology: the branch of anthropology that studies modern humans
- Ethnography: the way that anthropologists study and teach others about cultures
- Do we always understand other people’s cultures?
Students will divide into clans. Each clan will select informants and 1 ethnographer per group for each group, and then send that ethnographer out to observe another clan’s culture using the Ethnographer’s Guide.
After interviewing other clans, students will tell us what they learned about each clan.
Clan defense to discuss errors of interpretation.
How do anthropologists learn about culture?
Anthropologists learn about cultures by engaging different groups of people, asking questions, writing down their answers, and then thinking about the best way to understand behavior. Since anthropologists only work with the cultures they study for a limited amount of time, it is impossible to learn everything there is to know. However, anthropologists can learn about culture by understanding why people do the things that they do. We can also look at how culture change over time, because we know that it does change relative to a number of factors.
What are some factors that may cause culture to change?
Do we automatically understand someone else’s culture?
What makes it hard to get it right?
Would an informant ever misdirect an ethnographer? If so, why?
When conducting ethnography, what is important for making make sure that your interpretation is correct? (good questions, good informants, coming at with an open mind, etc.)
Comparison of clans: Which were the most alike? Which were different?