Marketing the Authentic Taco

As I drive through my home city looking for a place to eat lunch, I feel overwhelmed by advertising that offers what seems to be an endless array of food options. Do I want fresh and healthy or fast and fried? How about vegetarian, seafood, gluten free, halal, burgers, pub food, buffet, Chinese, fine dining, Indian, local, or organic? While my options seem endless, there is one type of food that seems to be available on every street ­‑ “authentic.” And with so many selling it, how does one differentiate between the inauthentic and the authentic? Continue reading “Marketing the Authentic Taco”

Caveman Grub: The Identity Politics of Paleo

Paleo

After one of my kids was diagnosed with a health condition last year, our doctor recommended that our whole family radically change what (we believed) was our otherwise healthy diet and embrace a way of eating that has popularly become known as the Paleo diet. “Paleo” is a term used to reference what many say were the eating habits of Paleolithic-era humans (more on that in a moment). This approach to food emphasizes the consumption of lean meats, veggies, fruits, and nuts (all things that one would hunt and/or gather, so the story goes) at the same time that it eschews grains, dairy, legumes, and all refined, processed, or artificial foods.

A little internet reading could easily convince the novitiate that there is a Paleo god looking to strike dead those who stray from its parameters, for there are a myriad of Paleo folks out there who argue vehemently about what constitutes the “truest” Paleo lifestyle.  Despite their differences, the philosophical tie that unites most Paleo adherents is the sense that “eating like a caveman” is the most “natural” and “authentic” approach to food possible, one closest to how our bodies are “designed” to be fed. Good health is often promised as the result of firm adherence to the philosophy, and this is the rationale Paleophiles have long provided for why so many people experience a multitude of positive health benefits when they follow it. Continue reading “Caveman Grub: The Identity Politics of Paleo”

The Social Has Effects

Just because we collectively make things happen — things that provide the conditions in which we all live and move, like defining this as race or that as religion, or this as meaning stop and that as meaning go — doesn’t make those conditions or our actions within them fake.

Ear Hustlin’: Notes from the Field

skepticon6logo

Culture on the Edge‘s Monica Miller is presenting at Skepticon 6, which is held annually in Springfield, Missouri. While there, she’ll be sending us her notes from the field.

Most people who know me well know how much I dislike flying — it makes me anxious, nervous, and worried about being lifted off the “ground of certainty,” so to speak. In order to distract myself from the angst I often feel while being in the air, I turn my own anthropological mirror against myself — as data, taking stock of all the religious-like-type-traces and rituals of certainty that rather unconsciously inform my habitus in moments of perceived uncertainty (I’ll spare you the hilarious and somewhat embarrassing details). Continue reading “Ear Hustlin’: Notes from the Field”

Bayart on Strategic Syncretism

edgebayart“While British colonial administrators fabricated ‘Indianness’, Hindu intellectuals were formulating Hinduness by resorting to ‘strategic syncretism’. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, this involved ‘structuring one’s identity in opposition to the Other by assimilating the latter’s prestigious and efficacious cultural characteristics’: ‘The appearance of an exogenous threat awakened in the Hindu majority a feeling of vulnerability, and even an inferiority complex, that justified a reform of Hinduism borrowing from the aggressor its strong points, under the cover of a return to the sources of a prestigious Vedic Golden Age that was largely reinvented but whose “xenology” remained active’.*…  In short, the reinterpretation of India’s ‘Hindu’ past by the nationalists and their instrumentalisation of ‘tradition’ for militant political purposes have for nearly a century sustained a political identity unprecedented in the cultural landscape of the sub-continent, by incorporating foreign representations into Hinduism — e.g., egalitarian individualism, proselytisation, ecclesiastical structures — and by seeking to ‘homogenise in order to create a nation, a society that is characterised by extreme differentiation’.** On the Indian political chessboard, the celebration of a golden Vedic age is a mere fig-leaf concealing modernity, like the versions of African ‘authenticity’ that developed in the wake of the colonial invention of tradition…” (37-38)

* Christophe Jaffrelot, Les Nationalistes hindous (Paris: Presses de la Foundation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1993, p. 24, 41).

** Ibid., 83-4.

 [This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]

The Color of Munny

2012-07-15-COLORRUN1The Color Run was in town yesterday — I know because the police blocked off the road to Munny Sokol Park, where I often walk my dog on the weekend. And a few Facebook friends are already posting pics, clad in white, smiling, awaiting the colored cornstarch that hits them in different zones along the 5 k race. Continue reading “The Color of Munny”

Frames of Identity

Museum Benaki

I find myself back in Greece to do research and so, a few days ago, I had the chance to visit a museum in Athens. What struck me as interesting—apart from the narratives that surround all such museum exhibits, that place them in a certain time and frame them in a way that justifies a nation’s origins—was that some artifacts were marked with numbers that corresponded to explanations beside their display case that made no sense. For example, I could see a horse but the explanation talked about a vase that also had the same display number. It took me a while to realize that in the various display cases some of the artifacts were placed in orange frames. Once I realized this I immediately searched for an explanation at the information desk. The lady enthusiastically informed me that these were objects from the gift store of the museum that, celebrating thirty years of its opening, were now included in the displays. Continue reading “Frames of Identity”