On the Spot with Jason Ellsworth

“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.

1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?

The answer I provide to this question is often contingent on the context in which I’m asked. Is the question being asked at an academic conference, with family or friends, or perhaps while doing fieldwork? My general response — I used to simply say that I studied religion (religious studies). Partly because it was a nice quick sentence that bundled everything up into a simple box. But it was also an exercise, as I was curious about what responses and questions people would come up with for me. How did they envision something called religion? Some would ask if I was in training to be a clergy or priest, while others would begin to talk highly about all the good deeds that religions were doing in the world. Some might ask me a question about a very specific recent news story that a so called religion had been mentioned in, or they might ask what I hope to do with a degree in something like this, and others might start talking about the need for the separation of religion and the state (or politics). It provided an opportunity to engage them on their views of the topic of religion and then explain how my own study of “religion” addresses what they were talking or asking about — hopefully extending the conversation into a variety of directions that challenged us both. This can be a longer exchange and so other times I say that I study religion from a social scientific or anthropological perspective. It’s interesting that when I answer this way, I get a lot less of the responses and questions I just mentioned. Instead, since I added the word “science” it seems to justify my study as somehow more legitimate. The question may arise on what I hope to do after I finish my PhD, or they may offer a critique against “religion” in the world — but either way my description usually satisfies them more quickly.

Continue reading “On the Spot with Jason Ellsworth”

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”

A Matter of Taste

Two Filipino cooks making tamales

I was listening to the radio today — you know, the place where we used to hear what we now call podcasts, as long as they come over our computer’s or smartphone’s speakers…? — and heard an interesting episode of the cooking show The Splendid Table, devoted to Filipino food.

Give it a listen. Continue reading “A Matter of Taste”

Looking for a Thesis Topic?

Did you catch the NY Times piece on who owns poutine?

Those who know something about the founding of Canada as a colonial possession, by both France and Britain, might also know something of the long history that has led to some in one of Canada’s provinces, Quebec, having a strong sense of themselves as being so distinct from the rest of the country as to justify their political autonomy (there’s been a few province-wide referendums on whether to separate). Continue reading “Looking for a Thesis Topic?”

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”

Pizza Hut: The Best Indian Food Around

 pizza

I had the good fortune to be able to accompany a group of my students on a short-term study abroad trip to India last year.  It’s perhaps no surprise that, while there, I consumed a lot of Indian food.  On the surface, that last sentence may seem rather ridiculous if only because it seems so obvious — much like saying “While in India, I saw Indian things!”  But an event on our trip forced me to reconsider just how simple that observation really is, and where the parameters surrounding “authentic” and “traditional” cultural labels really lie. Continue reading “Pizza Hut: The Best Indian Food Around”