Reading Collective Notes

Omnivore Books.

Session 1

Book/Sections: Reese, Ashanté M. Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. Chapters One, Three, and Five.

Date|Time: January 8th, 2020 | 4pm EST/ 1pm PST

Host(s): Erica Zurawski. GAFS Co-President, Alanna K. Higgins, GAFS Board Member, and James Edward Malin, GAFS Board Member

Number of Attendees: 12

Notes on Session 1:

Our new inaugural GAFS Reading Collective meeting started with a bang! Erica, Alanna, and I hopped into the zoom meeting a bit early to discuss some logistics and check-in. All three of us were psyched and prepared! As the minutes ticked by, participants started trickling in. By 4:05/1:05 (EST/PST) our entire group had arrived — eleven participants!

Our discussion began with introductions first of GAFS, the reading collective program, and then of ourselves. Our intimate-enough group allowed us to thoroughly get to know all the participants in the call. Grad students (and at least one future-grad student!) represented diverse fields, degrees, geographic locations, and disciplinary interests.

We began our chat about Dr. Reese’s work simply — each of us discussed what we really liked or appreciated about the work. Some topics discussed were:

  • Dr. Reese’s extraordinary writing style. Some adjectives discussed the style were: Very Human, Brief, Clear, New directions in food studies, interesting methodologically.
  • It was clear that Black Food Geographies was received as something of a grey area between history and ethnography. Reese researches in historical archives, but also blurs the line between oral history and ethnographic methods. This grey area undergirds the works with a multifaceted and compelling narrative style. Reese presents her subjects’ contexts while capturing their actions and works.
  • Another aspect of this methodology that folks seemed to enjoy was that Reese deeply focuses on people as subjects. (The subtext here, of which I had not truly appreciated, is that much of academic food justice or geography work hinges on place. A neighborhood, rather than the people within it.) This had the positive effect of humanizing the subject matter. This scholarly monograph almost reads like a nonfiction narrative. However, the work’s lack of a specific villain or hero added a refreshingly critical appraisal to a food justice narrative.
  • An essential theme discussed in Black Food Geographies was “nothingness.” What is nothingness? Where are the gaps? Who is silenced in the archive, in the academy, in boardrooms, and capitol buildings?
  • Another theme discussed was People, Place, and space
  • I posed a question (in my ignorance) about “what is geography, anyway? Why does geography scholarship seem to run parallel with the food studies? What is the ‘geographic’ aspect of Black Food Geographies?” GAFS’ resident Geographer, Alanna K. Higgins, explained how geographers tend to study, what she described as, manufactured spaces. This runs parallel to food studies because the cultural economies wrapped up in food. To use Dr. Reese’s example again, “food deserts,” are a place manufactured by companies or governments, to denote a market or policy gap. Similar to the way food studies tends to approach archival methods against the grain (What is missing? who is writing them? Who cooked their dinner?) geographers use space, archives, geographic information, and maps, to do the same.

Around this time in our discussion, a twelfth surprise member joined our zoom reading. Ashanté Reese herself! After the initial surprise, our group offered greetings and general praise for the work. Then, Dr. Reese offered a bit of an introduction. She described herself as a historian at heart, but anthropologist as well. Her evidence is what she described as “oral history-ish.” Some of her inspirations were the work of Zora Hurston and Ralph Trulio(?).

 Next, Reese let us do some Q&A. Here are some notes from that part of the session:

  • How do you use theory so clearly in your writing?
    • She asks herself “what’s the point?” How does the theory enhance an argument? How does it make sense applied to this scenario? etc.
    • Also, Reese took a creative nonfiction class in graduate school and recommends many authors do the same. Taught her how to tell a story really well!
  • What are moral economies?
    • An example of a moral economy in Black Food Geographies might be a group’s economy about cache.
      • An example is a Deanwood family that, when their store was burnt down, decided to stay in town, even when they had the opportunity to leave. This commanded respect, even among young people.
      • (By the way, eldership, and age, an underrepresented concept in Food Studies)
  • Black Food Geographies’ Resonance Beyond the Academy
    • Reese says she’s writing within the academy but “to people doing food justice work”
    • Her work takes a scholarly approach to many of the critical of problems with the current food justice system, itself.
  • How do you succeed working among or within multiple disciplines?
    • Reese said suggests to ask yourself “what can a discipline do for you?”
      • It might professionalize you, perhaps but your interest and scholarship might be of multidisciplinary interest

Further Reading List:

Abarca, Meredith E. 2006. Voices in the Kitchen: Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women. 1st ed. Rio Grande/Río Bravo, no. 9. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Hope Alkon, A. 2019. “From Companion Planting to Cross-Pollination: Thoughts on the Future of Food Studies.” Graduate Journal of Food Studies, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.21428/92775833.cf836d34

McKittrick, Katherine. 2013. “Plantation Futures.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 17 (3): 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-2378892.

Sbicca, Joshua. 2018. Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Thompson, E. P. 1971. “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century.” Past and Present 50 (1): 76–136. https://doi.org/10.1093/past/50.1.76.

Further Authors:

  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Andrew Newman

Suggested Readings for Next Time:

Gaddis, Jennifer E. The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools. California Studies in Food and Culture 70. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019.

Penniman, Leah. Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018.