The Meaning of Food

Seth Godin wanted to know:

What’s the deal with brown rice? How do people become so attached to the social implications of food that they are willing to starve or suffer from malnutrition rather than take a step backward? The price of rice has soared, yet it seems like people are still demanding white rice, instead of the more nutritious (and almost certainly cheaper) brown rice. How high does the price have to go before people make a different choice?

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Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War — Coming Soon!

I was flipping around on Google today and found a link to my forthcoming book, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War, on Amazon. And there’s a cover image! This is the first I’ve seen it, so I was pretty excited. The book isn’t due out until February 2008 (Amazon says January, so maybe they know something I don’t), and I haven’t even seen the page proofs yet, but you can sign up at Amazon to be notified when it comes out. [Continue reading]

When Monogamy Isn’t Monogamous

Originally posted at Savage Minds on November 16, 2005. Every time I teach the section on marriage in my Intro to Anthro class, I inevitably face the same question. The book lists four types of marriage: monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage. and someone always asks “What about swingers?” (Of course, I live and teach in Vegas…) The question points to a limitation of the concept of marriage not just for anthropological understanding but even within our own everyday usage. [Continue reading]

Categories Worth Questioning, Part I

Categories are arguments. The process of putting “things” (objects, people, ideas, places) into categories involves several claims: first, that the things in category x are meaningfully similar to each other; second, that the things in category x are more like each other than they are like the things in category y or z or simply non-x; third, that the similarities that define the things in category x as members of that category are more important than the differences between them. Good categories appear pre-given to us — who can argue that a ripe Rome Beauty apple or a traditional fire engine doesn’t belong in the category of “red things”? [Continue reading]

Cuteness and Culture

The Cute Factor, Natalie Angier Angier struggles to find some deeper biological meaning in our responsiveness to “the cute”, ostensibly evolved as a means of assuring adult human responsiveness to defenseless and oh-so-cute human babies.

Cuteness is distinct from beauty, researchers say, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.

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Other Judaisms

Ella Shohat is a professor of Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies at CUNY, and is one of the co-founders of Ivri-NASAWI, an organization devoted to the cultural life of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewry. I know of her indirectly, as one of my partner’s professors and as the author of an incredible essay on Sephardic second-class status in Israel, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims,” in Dangerous Liaisons, which she co-edited.

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