A Taste of Brown: Alimentary Anthropology Between Michoacan and Washington

Jose Romero, University of Pennsylvania

This paper was part of the 2014-2015 Penn Humanities Forum on Color. Find out more at http://www.phf.upenn.edu/annual-topics/color.

Abstract

Alternative food movements in this country (veganism, local eating, organic, etc.) have often had to frame their demands around the idea that food is both medicine and life, often ignoring the migrant bodies picking these crops. “A Taste of Brown” filters this issue from the perspective of nationalism and capitalist development. It thinks with the experiences of primarily Mexican farm workers in Washington and their distant families and communities of origin in Michoacán, Mexico. Interviewing over twenty people in both locations, it works intergenerationally and transnationally in order to effectively explore how labor affects kinship and expand the discourse around the genesis of immigration. Audio and video equipment helped refuse the structural abstraction of some food commodity analysis by honing in on the crucial non-textual and visceral elements of food that make taste different across varying social contexts. The primary focus is on how alimentary processes are embodied in my informant’s everyday lives in order to attend to how racial and sexual histories are coded in the tastes of different foods. Close attention is paid to culinary memory and labor experience as it relates to agro-labor policy, border militarization, and nation-building at large. Methodologically the thesis mobilizes brownness as a more-than-human conceptual frame for racial difference. That is to say, brownness brings attention to the soil, sweat, and other nonhuman objects such as pesticides that shape the experience of Mexican migrants and agro-food employees in and across the Americas. Ultimately, “A Taste of Brown” gestures towards the dynamic processes by which brown bodies inhabit and find sustenance at the limits of normative forms of political mobilization.

 

Date Posted: 17 November 2016