American Anthropologist 2007

Renne, Elisha P. Mass Producing Food Traditions for West Africans Abroad. American Anthropologist December, 2007 Vol. 109(4):616-625.

Elisha Renne does an excellent job in this article of showing how food traditions reflect the changing lives of West African immigrants. Through field work with members of the Nigerian based Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) Church and research in many West African specialty grocery stores in the United States, Renne is able to illustrate how modern processing of traditional West African Foods has both maintained and changed the foodways of the immigrant population.

West African immigrants in the United States often remember home through various foods particular to their family or community. The rise in availability of prepackaged “traditional” foods from West Africa in the United States has allowed immigrants to retain their foodways while simultaneously integrating into the more fast paced lifestyle in the United States. Many traditional West African foods are time consuming to prepare and these processed foods offer a fast and easy way to enjoy the foods when traditional preparation is impractical. The marketing of these foods is meant to evoke thoughts of home and traditional food preparation techniques. The names of the specialty stores include references to African places, climates, objects, cities, languages, or ethnicities. The packages are emblazoned with images associated with traditional food preparation and open markets such as mortar and pestles and women carrying baskets on their heads.

Alongside packaging images are words that highlight the difference between these foods and their traditional counterparts. Claims that these foods are healthy and low in fat are meant to appeal to immigrants who have adopted a western attitude about nutrition. This is in contrast to buying food in West Africa where the main concern is “getting a good price for unspoiled produce.”(620) Even the fact that the foods are packaged, labeled, and sold in a store in the United States changes them significantly from their traditional counterparts which are bought as ingredients in unmarked piles or as prepared foods wrapped in “slips of newspaper and recycled school exam papers”(620).

At the same time these West African fast foods reflect the homogenization of culture that results from the same global forces that led these people away from their homes. Although the foods evoke feelings of home, space, and processing requirements limit the variety and variation of technique that is so important in West African cuisine. This parallels the homogenization of immigrant’s culture as they acclimate to their new country and come together with other West Africans of different nationalities in the C&S Churches. In West Africa, these churches are more community specific and the foods served there reflect local preferences. In the United States, C&S Church gatherings exhibit a more generic West African cuisine.

For West Africans, food is a constant. Food traditions go back many generations. Renne shows that while processed West African foods sold in the United States allow immigrants to retain their foodways and provide them with associations from home, they simultaneously reflect the homogenization of culture that takes place as immigrants adjust to their new home.

CLARITY: 4
MYA STOREY Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).

Rosen, David. Child Soldiers, International Humanitarian Law, and the Globalization of Childhood. American Anthropologist 2007 Vol.109(2):296-306

Rosen addresses the issue of children in warfare. He examines the international and historical definitions of childhood, as well as, the way western society views warfare and the prosecution of war crimes. He uses political and humanitarian documents (such as U.N. reports) to illustrate the differing views of childhood, the age at which a child can go to war, and whether child soldiers are war criminals or victims of war. He also explores why children are involved in warfare and the effects it has on them. His overall concern is that the scholarly approach to the child soldiers has been incorrect, and instead proposes that through ethnographic and anthropological research, a more cross-cultural solution to the problem can be discovered.

Rosen examines historical views of children in battle, pointing out that modern viewpoints tend to glorify past warfare and look down on modern warfare. This is due to the loss of the distinction between soldier and civilian. Combatants do not have distinctive clothing or battle formations, which (in combination with warzones in urban communities) leads to the confusion. Rosen attempts to disprove this view by pointing out collateral damage in feudal warfare in the past.

Rosen states that a universal definition of childhood is impossible to reach because childhood varies cross-culturally. Different societies have different ages in which a child is considered an adult. Laws written to govern these factors take a “protectionist” view.(pg. 300) This view removes blame from the children responsible for war crimes, and does not take into consideration the mental capacity of a child to make a free choice. While it is true that some children are taken as slaves and forced to fight against their will, Rosen points out that many children do choose to fight. He, also, points out that interviews with some of the former child soldiers, do not match up with many of the views held by western society. As adults, they feel they are more self confident and politically aware because of their time in combat.

Rosen points out the fact that political documents fail to address fully the issue of children in warfare because they do not take a multicultural viewpoint. He ascertains that to fully understand this issue, differences between cultures must be considered as there is no singular solution.

CLARITY: 4
BRANDON MCDUFFIE Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart)

Waterson, Alisse and Kukaj, Antigona. Reflections on Teaching Social Violence in an Age of Genocide and a Time of War. American Anthropologist September, 2007 Vol. 109(3):509-518

Waterson and Kukaj reflect on their personal experiences as teacher and student respectively as they both explore new approaches to understanding and humanizing societal violence episodes taught in colleges and universities. By recognizing approaches traditionally used by professors that unilaterally and historically isolate events from institutions, this ignores personal narratives that illustrate current structures of injustice.

Waterson and Kukaj implement teaching and learning traditions proposed by Paule Freire called pedagogical dialogue. Here, both teacher and student actively participate in a learning experience gaining insights from one another, contradicting the traditional “lecturing” styles that are effectuated by university professors. To make such connections, Waterson adds the notion of autoethnography by creating “intimate ethnography [as] a way for students to begin to see that their own life experiences with ‘small or big wars,’ with ‘visible or invisible genocides,’ are tied to larger, specific, and knowable histories”(513). Using this new methodology, allows a new angle for introducing issues and topics that are usually met with self-protecting emotions and mental defenses that “block knowledge acquisition” to better help the possibility for students and teachers to be real with themselves and their histories (513).

Waterson and Kukaj also recognize that because of the lack of activism in the overall curriculum, the capacity to make lasting social and institutional change with their class is small when a loss of momentum is experienced from the students after the class has been completed. They hope that utilizing this new method to approach the interconnectivity between personal experience and participation in institutions of oppression can be recognized through intimate ethnography. This methodology provides a potential for action that can shift the prevalence of crime in our global community while also providing a deeper understanding “of human suffering”. The lack of examples of what autoethnography looks like in the research they gathered from participants hindered the ability for one to conceptualize exactly how intimate ethnography formulates the connections it does and manifests in the type of inquiry one would give as an anthropologist.

CLARITY: 5
NATASHA FAST Valdosta State University (Melissa Rinehart).