Research

I am a Cultural Anthropologist with expertise in the Anthropology of Food and in Environmental Anthropology, and a regional focus on South India.


Snack Shop

My current research explores the roles of foods and food-related practices construed as traditional, within new and changing cultural contexts. My focus is on the consumption side of the food chain, with particular concern for cooking, serving, eating, and public discourse. However, the relationships these activities have with wider food system issues of public health, environmental sustainability, and local and global political economy are also of central importance to my analysis.


Current Projects

Future Faculty Teaching Fellow at IU South Bend

Wiekamp Hall, IUSB

I am teaching and working as a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at IU's South Bend campus during the 2018-2019 academic year as part of a program of the University Graduate School and Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching (FACET).

I am performing a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) study to investigate how students in an introductory cultural anthropology course develop expertise in elements of critical thinking central to an anthropological perspective, and which aspects of the course and teaching contribute to that process. Specifically, the study is interested in how and to what extent students adopt a cultural relativist approach to analysis of human behavior and critique their own ethnocentrism, through exposure to cross-cultural case studies, their own ethnographic analysis, and personal reflection.


Publications

“Biopiracy”
  • The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues
  • 2015
  • Abstract
    “Intellectual Property Rights”
  • The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues
  • 2015
  • Abstract
  • “Environmentalist Food Localization and Ethnographic Accounts of Tamil Hindu Place-Based Identities”
  • Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives
  • 2014
  • Abstract
    1 [Review] “Chrzan, Janet, and John Brett (eds.) 2017. Food Culture: Anthropology, Linguistics, and Food Studies [...].” Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale. 2018
    2 “Transforming Millets: Strategies and Struggles in Changing Taste in Madurai” Food, Culture & Society 2017
    3 “Biopiracy” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues 2015
    4 “Intellectual Property Rights” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues 2015
    5 “Environmentalist Food Localization and Ethnographic Accounts of Tamil Hindu Place-Based Identities” Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives 2014
    6 “Ideologies of Fermented Foods” Indiana Food Review 2012
    7 “[Film Review:] Eating Alaska Directed by Ellen Frankenstein” Visual Anthropology Review 2011
    8 “Local Foods/Local Cookbooks: Can Local Food Cookbooks Live Up to the Local Food Movement?” ” Indiana Food Review 2010

    Conference Presentations

  • “Our Drama, Our Food: Distinguishing ‘Special’ Practices in Tamil Nadu” (presented by co-author, Susan Seizer)
  • Annual Conference on South Asia
  • October 2018
  • “Country Chicken, Globalization and Discourse: Young Tamil Women’s Cultural Critique”
  • Transecting Healthy and Sustainable Food in the Asia-Pacific Workshop
  • August 2018
  • “Our Madurai, Our Food: Multiple Ideologies in Local and Traditional Food Advocacy in Tamil Nadu, India”
  • American Anthropological Association
  • December 2017
  • “Conflicted Consumers: Nutrition Discourse, Modernity, and Tradition in Tamil Nadu”
  • Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society
  • June 2017
  • “How to Make a Food Institute”
  • Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society
  • June 2017
  • “An Anthropological Approach to the Promotion of Traditional Tamil Foods”
  • International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health
  • June 2016
  • “The Good, the Bad, and the Right: Heritage and Food in Tamil Nadu”
  • South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference
  • March 2016
  • “Granny’s Legitimacy: Exploring the Relationship Between Tamil Folk Dietetics and Nutrition Science”
  • American Anthropological Association
  • Nov. 2016
  • “Between Meals and Meanings: Notes on Snack Culture in South India”
  • Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society
  • June 2015
  • “Millet Madness: Health in Heritage or Food to Leave in the Past?”
  • American Anthropological Association
  • Dec. 2014
  • “Environmentalist Food Localization and Ethnographic Accounts of Tamil Hindu Place-Based Identities”
  • Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives International Conference
  • Dec. 2014
  • “Variety As the Spice of Life: Considering Delight In Dietary Diversity As Potential Contributor to Health”
  • American Anthropological Association
  • Nov. 2012
  • “Ideologies of Fermented Foods”
  • Food for Thought, Eighth Biennial Graduate Group Symposium
  • Nov. 2011
  • 1 “Our Drama, Our Food: Distinguishing ‘Special’ Practices in Tamil Nadu” (presented by co-author, Susan Seizer) Annual Conference on South Asia October 2018
    2 “Country Chicken, Globalization and Discourse: Young Tamil Women’s Cultural Critiqu” Transecting Healthy and Sustainable Food in the Asia-Pacific Workshop August 2018
    3 “Our Madurai, Our Food: Multiple Ideologies in Local and Traditional Food Advocacy in Tamil Nadu, India” American Anthropological Association December 2017
    4 “Conflicted Consumers: Nutrition Discourse, Modernity, and Tradition in Tamil Nadu” Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society June 2017
    5 “How to Make a Food Institute” Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society June 2017
    6 “An Anthropological Approach to the Promotion of Traditional Tamil Foods” International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health June 2016
    7 “The Good, the Bad, and the Right: Heritage and Food in Tamil Nadu” South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference March 2016
    8 “Granny’s Legitimacy: Exploring the Relationship Between Tamil Folk Dietetics and Nutrition Science” American Anthropological Association Nov. 2015
    9 “Between Meals and Meanings: Notes on Snack Culture in South India” Association for the Study of Food and Society and Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society June 2015
    10 “Millet Madness: Health in Heritage or Food to Leave in the Past?” American Anthropological Association Dec. 2014
    11 “Environmentalist Food Localization and Ethnographic Accounts of Tamil Hindu Place-Based Identities” Solutions to Ecological Challenges: Multidimensional Perspectives International Conference Dec. 2014
    12 “Variety As the Spice of Life: Considering Delight In Dietary Diversity As Potential Contributor to Health” American Anthropological Association Nov. 2012
    13 “Ideologies of Fermented Foods” Food for Thought, Eighth Biennial Graduate Group Symposium Nov. 2011

    Dissertation Abstract

    “Traditional Food for All?:
    Heritage & Food Culture in South India”

    Meal

    This project is focused on understanding the salience of concepts of tradition and modernity in relation to changing diets and food culture in and around the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, South India. It relies on ethnographic methods including participant-observation, media analysis, and open-ended and semi-structured interviews. The project examines how ideas about Tamil tradition and place-based identity influence food-related activities, like shopping and cooking, among urban and rural consumers. Moreover, it investigates how these activities relate to messages disseminated through institutional actors, including NGOs, public experts, entrepreneurs, and popular media, that encourage consumption of particular foods marked as part of the local heritage.

    One case study in the project is the category of grains collectively known as millets, which various actors in Tamil Nadu are currently promoting as heritage foods. They are working to encourage the re-embrace of millets for improvements in personal health, environmental sustainability, and local economy. The discourse surrounding millets extends to other consumables, including home remedies, spices, and special dishes, and generally holds that the old ways are the best.

    Ammi

    Contemporary nutrition science and international food fads are used to laud “Indian superfoods” and underscore broader beliefs in Tamil and Indian cultural exceptionalism. This project argues that such beliefs and narratives share aspects of post-colonial nationalism and cultural commodification with heritage food promotion efforts in other contexts, but that the case of Tamil Nadu is unique, due to particularities of Dravidianist political history, Tamil literary tradition, and contemporary popular culture. It utilizes ethnographic evidence to support these claims.