_ Sea of Islands

Pacific ideas shared, in memory of Epeli Hau'ofa

Call for Papers

for a working session of the 2015 annual meeting of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania, Santa Fe, New Mexico, February 3-7, 2015

New Food: Cultural Consequences of Dietary Change in the Pacific

Ryan Schram (University of Sydney), new.food@rschram.org

Our yams nearly all gone, and many still refusing to eat rice, Mr. F. [the government agent] said he must adopt heroic measures. With a great deal of sound and fury he told the boys they must ki-ki rice, or else—! —Julian Thomas, reporting from on board the Lizzie for the Melbourne Argus, 1883-1884 (quoted in Banivanua-Mar 2007: 47)

Session Description

For years, we've heard that with globalization, people's diets have become more industrialized, more Western, richer in animal protein and highly-processed starch, and come from greater distances (Khoury et al. 2014). Studies of household consumption in the Pacific have followed the global trend, and show a steady shift away from locally-produced food to imported foods such as rice and lamb-flaps (Parry 2010). At this time, it's common to hear calls for a return to the garden and indigenous foods because they provide better nutrition, greater economic security and greater environmental sustainability. In recent years, a number of exotic species from indigenous and peasant pantries have been trumpeted as wonder crops and super foods that will feed a 'hungry world' (Barclay 2014; Pryor 2014). In the Pacific, where food has always been the chief medium of social relationships, everyone is eating new food, and everything old is new again. People renew kinship bonds with purchased food, and they discover that in new institutional contexts and with new discourses, gardeners of taro and harvesters of kumara have new kinds of global agency. Can new food open a perspective on social transformations in general, especially in a world in which economic globalization is giving way to multiple global orders of governance, knowledge, and politics?

The organizer and participants invite everyone to present papers on the cultural consequences of dietary change in the Pacific, and also what happens when people reconfigure the relationships among diet, commerce, environment and health. In this session, we emphasize anthropology's classic double vision: Newness is relative and what's new for one is old for another. Furthermore, we recognize that knowledge about food and change is today distributed across many sites. There are no priviledged external positions from which one can assess the direction of dietary change. Rather, often what we see is not linear movement, but ontogenesis. New food is produced when different knowledge practices are assembled into a network of inscription, translation and representation. Hence, the new foods we want to analyse often come into being through new ways of seeing and eating. In past sessions, we discussed 'new foods' such as spam, sweet potato, rice, and ice (frozen water), And we discussed emerging ideas about health and nutrition which were giving old food a new look. Ethnographic and historical research have both been presented. We welcome proposals for new presentations along these and similar lines.

To participate, please send a title and abstract to the organizer, Ryan Schram, at new.food@rschram.org, by October 15, 2014. See http://asao.org for more information about ASAO and the 2015 meeting in Santa Fe from February 3-7.


Banivanua-Mar, Tracey. 2007. Violence and Colonial Dialogue: The Australian-Pacific Indentured Labor Trade. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Barclay, Eliza. 2014. “Native Americans Have Superfoods Right Under Their Feet.” National Public Radio (United States). The Salt. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/06/02/317444736/native-americans-have-superfoods-right-under-their-feet.

Khoury, Colin K., Anne D. Bjorkman, Hannes Dempewolf, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Luigi Guarino, Andy Jarvis, Loren H. Rieseberg, and Paul C. Struik. 2014. “Increasing Homogeneity in Global Food Supplies and the Implications for Food Security.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (11): 4001–6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1313490111.

Parry, Jane. 2010. “Pacific Islanders Pay Heavy Price for Abandoning Traditional Diet.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 88 (7). http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/7/10-010710/en/.

Pryor, Cathy. 2014. “Could Australia's Floral Emblem Hold Answers for a Hungry World?” Radio National First Bite, August 2. Radio National (Australia). http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rnfirstbite/wattle-seeds/5631482.