Thesis Proposal: Hannah Saltzman '11

Cow Controversy: Microbiopolitics of Sustainable Food in the Berkshires


The Cow is contentious. It is both a cause and a symbol of America’s unsustainable food system, unhealthy diet and environmental crisis: The livestock sector contributes 18% to global emission of greenhouse gases,1 1 kg of beef can generate as much carbon dioxide as driving 250 km in an average car,2 and diseases associated with the childhood obesity epidemic are projected to reduce our life expectancy for the first time in over two centuries.3 Yet in the world of sustainable agriculture, the Cow is a cause and a symbol of ecological redemption; people make and buy certain cow products
(such as grass-fed beef, organic milk, and artisan cheese) to diminish their carbon footprint, to improve their health, and to engage in both alternative food production and alternative culture. I propose to investigate how debates over how humans should live with cows reflect deep-seated disagreements about the proper relationship between humans, animals, and the places they co-inhabit, as well as how these disagreements shape cultural understandings about the connection between human and environmental health.

To do so, I will utilize and expand Heather Paxson’s framework of microbiopolitics, with which she argues that “dissent over how to live with microorganisms reflects disagreement about how humans ought live with one another.” In large part, my research will explore debates about microorganisms involved in cow products; I will use this focus to investigate disagreement about how humans should live with one another, contestation about how humans should inhabit space, and the microbial-to-global connections embroiled in these debates. Anthropological theories of scale and space are thus crucial to this approach, and in addition, I think that the concept of foodscape will help to frame the questions I ask in my research; I will describe these ideas shortly. The Berkshire area is a prime location to study the role of the cow in sustainable food debates. Home of the first agricultural fair and one of the first community-supported agriculture farms,5 the Berkshire area now offers many alternative-industry farms and food organizations, but also continues to depend on America’s conventional food system. Furthermore, as Williams College develops its sustainable food program, students’ enthusiasm and dissent add a dimension to debates sparked by wider ‘food movement’ agendas; for example, on Williams Students Online (WSO), the discussion thread ‘Meatless Monday’ features over 109 comments, and ‘Environmental Fundamentalism’ evidences heated opinions about moral politics of campus environmentalism. Thus, I choose this thesis project because: sustainable food encompasses some of the most critical problems of our time, the cow grazes at the centre of these concerns, and the Berkshire area, including Williams College, is extremely well suited for studying these issues.

Before delving into my research plan, I will briefly discuss three interrelated theoretical concepts informing my approach: scale, space, and foodscape. First, with the idea of scale, I will investigate how cows link humans to complex, non-linear, hybrid networks formed between human and non-human actors.6 The cow is “a link in a food chain, a thread in a far-reaching web of ecological relationships;”7 and this web of networks links the smallest scales (microbial) to the largest (global) through acts and discourses of production, consumption and regulation. Tensions within this web generate questions about the relationship between global and local, the debates between delocalization and relocalization paradigms,8 and the contested area between these conceptual ends.

Second, with the term ‘space,’ I refer to Massey’s conceptualisation of space as the open process of interrelations, constituted through interaction; space as a world one continually creates, rather than as a substance through which one simply moves.9 I also employ this term to enter anthropological debates involving the relationship between space, place, and culture in light of globalization,10 and how food and landscape become sources of place-making, of giving meaning to space. In addition, the concept of ‘space’ can open up a politics of food, by identifying the physical, discursive and conceptual spaces in which food, sustainability, and health are contested. For instance, we can think of the ‘quality’ of a food product as a competitive economic and spatial battlefield of knowledge, authority, power and regulation and spatial competitiveness.11 We can extend this idea to think about how the ‘quality’ of health or of landscape is contested space, raising political questions, such as: which actors define ‘quality,’ what assumptions are made in the term’s usage, whose interests are at stake, what policies result, and how different actors’ definitions collide or cohere.

Third, in my research I plan to combine ideas of scale and space in order to develop the notion of ‘foodscape,’ which I think can become a useful term for using anthropology to study sustainable food. Although this term has appeared in a handful of social science publications,12 to my knowledge it has not yet been clearly defined, nor well developed. Building on past usages of the suffix ‘scape’ in anthropology and geography, I use this term to explore tensions within notions of scale and space; to me, the term ‘scape’ signifies that a concept is active rather than static. The term ‘landscape,’ which encompasses physical and cultural processes, has changed considerably in the past century in discourses of anthropology and geography. Landscape can be seen as the result of inscription (as a text to interpret, involving an anthropologist’s specific method of unpacking symbolic value, both something to see and a way of seeing);13 and landscape can also be seen as ongoing process (processes that create a landscape, processes through which a landscape then impacts social relations, and processes by which an anthropologist studies landscape).14 Landscape is not something static hanging in a photo frame; landscape is an active source of tension.15

‘Scape’ also signifies activity in other anthropological fields that strongly relate to the study of sustainable food. In a fundamental contribution to the anthropology of globalization, Appadurai employs the suffix ‘scape’ to identify and label dimensions of global cultural flow, including: ethnoscape (human movement; creating place/community in light of constant human motion), technoscape (driven by relationships between money, politics and labour), finanscape, mediascape (narrative-based accounts and images then constitute people’s own narratives; imagined communities), and ideoscape (organizing political cultures around certain keywords).16 He argues that disjunctures between these ‘scapes’ generate an “infinitely varied mutual contest of sameness and difference,” identifying tensions between heterogeneity and homogeneity, between mobility and fixity, in light of global flows. Each of these ‘scapes,’ as well as his analysis of disjuncture, is relevant to studying sustainable food in the world of globalization. By combining Appadurai’s ideas with the ‘scape’ of landscape studies, the concept of ‘foodscape’ can complicate studies of land and globalization, and can help to investigate how the interaction between mobile and fixed resources underpins the “new geography of food.”17

Research Plan

I propose to study the cow as a ‘companion species’ with which we co-inhabit our environment,18 as a mediator of human-environment relations. My overall research question is as follows: How does the cow reveal: 1. Human-environment relations that permeate the microbial, product-level, community-level, regional, national and global levels; 2. Disagreements about how humans should relate to one another, to animals, and to their environments; and 3. Cultural understandings about the connections between human and environmental health?


To investigate this question, I choose three main focuses of study: microbiopolitics; overlapping discourses; and place-making. I will use a combination of interviews, discourse and textual analysis, literature review, and short-term participant observation (the ‘go-along’) to explore each of these areas. In the remainder of this proposal, I will first discuss each focus, and then will consider sources and methodologies with which I hope to approach all three simultaneously.


Foucault’s theories of ‘governmentality’ express how governments aim to “organise organising the conduct of conduct,” such that individuals choose the “correct” behaviour.19 Governments utilize techniques of ‘biopolitics,’ through which social policy handles collective processes concerned with the life of a population, and ‘anatomo-politics,’ in which the therapeutic space of healing an individual becomes a political space.20 Heath geographers and anthropologists have used these theories to understand regulation, self-surveillance and resistance. In order to investigate the politics of cheese made from raw milk, Heather Paxson extends governmentality to the smallest scale, introducing the term microbiopolitics to investigate how disagreement about how to live with microorganisms reflects controversy about proper human-human relationships. She defines microbiopolitics as, “The creation of categories of microscopic biological agents; the anthropocentric evaluation of such agents; and the elaboration of appropriate human behaviors vis-`a-vis microorganisms engaged in infection, inoculation, and digestion.”21

This concept facilitates exploration into: connections between the smallest scales of the microbe with the largest scales of national (and even global) policy; types of evidence used to generate policies, how that evidence is framed through different discourses, and whose interests are at stake; and manifestations and motivations of resistance to different ‘anthropocentric evaluations’ of microbes. This notion fits well with Beck’s concept of the ‘risk society’ (what defines risk, who defines it, how is it managed),22 as well as with the idea of the ‘evidence-policy-practice gap’ (how much evidence is needed for policy change, what type of evidence, what else are policies based on, what are the sources of the gap).23 Paxson argues that “Placing microorganisms such as bacterial cultures and cheese mold at the center of accounts of food politics can show us how public understandings and appropriations of sciatic knowledge are reshaping how people think about food, its production, its nutritional and cultural value, and the regulation of its safety.”24 I find this idea compelling, and also particularly well suited for exploring politics of cow-based food products. I will expand Paxson’s concept of microbiopolitics by investigating how debates surrounding cow products reflect disagreement about how humans should live with one another and how humans should inhabit space, as well as how these disagreements are enmeshed in connections linking microbial to global issues.

Specifically, my research will use the notion of microbiopolitics to investigate four issues related to the cow: pasteurization, grass-fed beef, antibiotics, and slaughterhouses. Based on conversations I have had, farmers in the Berkshires are in the midst of heated debates about raw milk politics. Raw milk can host pathogens including salmonella and e.coli; in response, the FDA requires that milk be pasteurized as a public health measure (e.g. the FDA Internet article about raw milk says in bold, “Pasteurization DOES save lives”).25 On the other hand, a growing group of farmers, artisan cheese- makers, and others believe that Pasteurian regulations usurp the individual’s power to prevent illness, from the scale of the farm (e.g. milk from small herds of grass-fed cattle has different pathogens than milk from mass-produced cows in feed lots) to the scale of the intestines (without exposure to diverse pathogens, humans lose their ability to fight certain diseases).26 I want to explore the nature of this debate in the Berkshires, and am particularly interested in an aspect that Paxson does not address in much detail: the moral economy surrounding raw milk, as a lens into the moral economy of sustainable food in general. To give one telling example of where this might lead: the early Organic Movement wanted to establish alternative style of production (chemical-free farming), distribution (anticapitalist food co-ops) and consumption (countercuisine). A strong moral component permeated all three elements; all brown foods (rice, eggs, bread) were considered superior to all white foods, because they were seen as less ‘adulterated by industry,’ as camaraderie with the ‘world’s brown peoples,’ and as rejection of national governmental practices (and only later did people realize the added health benefits of many brown foods).27 What role does this notion of resistance to industry play in the debates surrounding raw milk, and how can this reveal the moral economy surrounding the human-cow relationship?

Although cows are ruminants, which are biologically designed to eat grass, in America they are largely fed on corn, for a variety of reasons implicated in our national production, distribution and consumption systems.28 The fields of environmentalism and public health both advocate eating grass-fed beef instead. Debates about grass-fed vs. corn-fed beef offer openings into looking at the integration of sustainable food and medical discourses. For instance, in line with numerous other environmentalists, Pollan claims that “corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us,” but does not offer much specificity in what he means by ‘healthy,’ besides mentioning saturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids levels.29 How can microbiopolitics, by looking at the types of particles and substances people consider ‘healthy,’ add another dimension to the existing literature about the role of corn in environmental and public health issues?

The invention of Penicillin is widely considered one of the most important advancements of the 20th century, but now, human resistance to antibiotics is becoming an increasing public health concern: overuse of antibiotics creates bacteria that can survive even in the midst of the strongest antibiotics.30 Critically, most antibiotics sold in America end up in feed lots, fed to sick cows; cows, as ruminants, become sick when sustained on a corn diet.31 Pollan notes that some public health experts want medicines such as Rumensin and Tylosin to be banned from feed lots, which would have far-reaching implications for the national food system: significantly more cows would die without the medicine, and the feed lot system would then have to change.32 What do farmers, policymakers and public health experts identify as the primary problems and solutions of relations between cows and antibiotics? What debates are occurring in the arenas of public policy, healthcare, and farming practice? What are perceptions about antibiotics, and how much do people know?

Slaughterhouse politics offer a fourth way to investigate how the human-cow relationship links national policies, local farming industries, microbial agents, and levels of scale in-between. There are far too few slaughterhouses to meet the growing demand for locally raised meat, particularly in the Northeast states; and many small, family-owned slaughterhouses closed in 1999 upon the implementation of strict federal rules regarding health control. 33 Nation-wide, the number of meat-processing centers has declined over the past three decades, because the meat industry has turned to large facilities that can slaughter hundreds of animals in a day. Farmers dedicated to sustainable and humane practices on their farm thus often end up driving hundreds of miles, delivering stressed-out cows to be slaughtered in the same manner as conventional feed-lot cows, which the same farmers see as unsustainable, inhumane and unhealthy.34 How do slaughterhouse politics reveal interplay between national and local interests; how does this issue elucidate the role of the state in creating opportunities and barriers for alternative food sectors?35 How are safety regulations for slaughterhouses determined, and what are farmers’ opinions about the federal requirements? What options do farmers have for slaughtering their cows, and how do these questions reveal another dimension of national biopolitics?

In addition, slaughterhouses offer an interesting and relatively unexplored dimension of microbiopolitics: bacteria in cow manure. Corn-fed cows’ stomachs harbor dangerous pathogens, including e.coli, and there is controversy about the best way to prevent these pathogens from reaching human consumers. Jim Russell, a microbiologist at Cornell University, discovered that if corn-fed cows are fed on grass during the week before being slaughtered, the lethal bacteria in their stomachs is minimized.36 Rather than take this recommendation, the USDA chose to focus on manure: with 400 cows slaughtered and processed each hour in a typical slaughterhouse, manure on the ground and on cows’ legs inevitably becomes ground up in some of the meat. Instead of changing the cows’ diet for a week, the USDA recommends attempting to sterilize the manure through irradiation. I want to find out more about this issue: why does the USDA favour irradiation, and why are environmental activists like Pollan opposed to this decision? What evidence is prioritised in making this policy; what types of evidence are considered important and trustworthy to different actors? What are farmers’ and public health professionals’ views? How do national regulations involving slaughterhouses affect farming practices in the Berkshires and farmers’ opinions about potential opportunities for generating sustainable and healthy cow products?

Overlapping Discourses

Reading literature about sustainable food (ranging from academic articles, to informational activist websites, to personal blogs), I have been struck by the substantial overlap in discourses of health, sustainability and landscape. Terms such as ‘healthy,’ ‘local,’ and ‘sustainable’ are often paired together, associated with the same items. To make this less abstract, here are snippets from four different sustainable food discourses. From a social science academic text: ‘Food security’ demands a new ‘health-enhancing food system’ that will feed everyone ‘sustainably, equitably and healthily.’37 From a medical nutrition journal: Adolescents who valued organic, local, nongenetically engineered, and nonprocessed were more likely to also meet standards for Healthy People 2010 objectives.38 From a well-established environmental activist information website: “Sustainable agriculture involves food production methods that are healthy, do not harm the environment…in order to protect and promote their health, consumers have a clear choice: shop sustainable.”39 From Williams Students Online thread about Meatless Mondays: “The human body is not designed to eat meat as often as most of us in the US do… we are also not equipped with the type of meat digesting engines of lions… Not eating meat once a week will reduce the amount of meat that this campus consumes (certainly a good thing for the environment and issues of global hunger).”40

Overlap in discourses of health and sustainability comes with a spectrum of differentiation between the two. Often, the author presents the connections as self- evident, as though what is healthy for a human body and for a particular environmental landscape were necessarily one and the same. Sometimes, an author (or speaker) clearly explains the rationale for this belief; for instance, Pollan claims that before the invention of industrial agriculture, it was quite common to believe that the health of the soil is inextricably linked to the health of all creatures depending on it, to national health, and he fights to revitalize this idea.41 However, oftentimes an author does not explain this connection between human and environmental health, and likely does not even realize s/he is making that connection; rather, the author assumes that a certain definition of ‘sustainable’ comes with a certain definition of ‘healthy,’ and then uses that assumed correlation to make an argument about human or environmental health. On the other end of the spectrum, certain discursive genres seem to refrain from overlap to an extreme degree, ignoring or overlooking critical points of intersection.42

The assumptions present in debates about sustainability can have critical consequences. For example, the international ‘sustainable development’ discourse (which trickles down into many small-scale development projects) holds commonly shared assumptions surrounding particular words (e.g. sustainable, development, community, local, participation, indigenous knowledge); these assumptions can actually undermine efforts toward sustainable development.43 Returning to Appadurai’s concept of the ‘ideoscape,’ which refers to how political cultures are organized around particular keywords, I think that analysis of key terms present in texts about sustainable food can elucidate how environmental and public health discourses constitute political cultures. For my thesis research, I will identify and analyze keywords in sustainable food and public health discourses to investigate how people negotiate the contested spaces of cow products by using discourses to frame issues in specific ways. These keywords will include: sustainable, healthy, local, organic, grass-fed, vegetarian, vegan, milk, organic, pasteurization, butter, cheese.

I hope to discern discursive overlap among different levels of scale, space, and disciplines; assumptions that different actors make regarding these keywords and these types of overlap; and power relations that influence both the assumptions and the way these discourses are utilized. I hypothesize that major types of overlap might include: health and sustainability; medicine and food; international and local (such as using international development and ‘universal’ biomedical discourses outside of the international arena); health and social class (class as perception of status, rather than measured in economic terms); and environmentalism and social class. To investigate concepts of scale and space, and contested spaces of foodscape, I am particularly interested in finding out about different actors’ perceptions about these questions (note: to answer these questions, I will not necessarily ask them as written; rather I will probably use less direct questions to get at these issues): What is the relationship between local and sustainable?44 To what extent does the ‘sustainable food movement’ represent, involve, and act in the interests of a particular social class? To what extent does the food movement label groups of people, what labels are given, what are the responses to being labelled?45 How does a particular conception of health or sustainability influence a corresponding conception of the other type (for example, if an environmental activist believes vegetarianism is sustainable, will s/he then also believe it is healthy? Or, if someone believes that meat at every meal is the healthiest diet, will this alter his/her beliefs about proper sustainable practice and/or obligations?) How do policy makers utilize overlapping discourses to envision policies that meet multiple interests at once? Which cow products do people view as healthy or unhealthy, which authoritative discourses inform these beliefs, and how do environmental and medical texts present different cow products?


The third main topic I want to investigate centers on how sustainable food fits into broader anthropological debates about place/space and local/global. As there has been an “assumed isomorphism of space, place, and culture,”46 anthropological study has long emphasized physical space. However, processes of globalization have challenged this anthropological focus, as the heightened mobility of people and the ‘refusal of cultural products and practices to stay put’ have largely eroded the cultural distinctiveness of places. Yet at the same time, the mobility and changing identities that characterise globalization offer new impetus for people to actively create specific places with which to identify.47 In terms of the local/global debates, we often treat ‘the local’ and ‘the global’ as completely separate entities. Yet for the sake of anthropological study of globalization, it might be more useful to dissolve that distinction. Nunstad claims, “The global and the local is better understood as two perspectives that are applied to the same objects: these objects, in turn, appear as either local or global, depending on the context into which they are put.”48

I think this concept is useful because perspective then becomes an important part of thinking about scale, and exploration into connections between different levels of scale involves using multiple perspectives to approach the same object, relationship or phenomenon. I believe that one’s engagement with food extends far beyond the rationalities: beyond rational decisions based on the economic market, sustainability, or health. Mundane practices can produce meaningful connections with more-than-human communities, and we need more research about understanding the processes by which people give meaning to these mundane activities, with the result of a more sustainable lifestyle.49 These intertwined notions of making place, local/global divisions, and giving meaning to (and finding meaning from) mundane activities unleash numerous questions about human-cow, human-environment, and human-human relationships. I will raise some of the most important ones here.

How does relationship with landscape impact the extent to which someone believes s/he can change that landscape, the extent to which s/he feels the responsibility, obligation, capability, and/or desire to either improve or degrade that landscape? In broad terms, how does one’s relationship with landscape influence perceptions about the spaces one creates, as well as the types and scales of space relevant to one’s own life? How do humans give meaning to the landscape of the Berkshires through the relationship with the cow? How does engagement with cow-based food products create a basis for local, regional and/or national identities? How does tension between food delocalization and food re-localization play out in the Berkshires? How does one’s relationship to the Berkshire landscape (through perceptions, activities, personal background), influence one’s perception of the cow, of cow-based food products, and of what it means to be sustainable and to be healthy? How does one’s relationship with the cow and with the landscape influence one’s perception of scale: how do different actors conceptualise of global issues related to the cow, including global warming and the potential food crisis, and how do different human-human, human-cow and human-environment relationships influence conceptions and priorities?

At the level of the food product, what connections do people form with the food on our plate, and how does this relate to their relationship with the land and with the cow? For instance, Pollan claims that, “Part of the appeal of cheeseburgers and nuggets is that their boneless abstractions allow us to forget we’re eating animals.”50 To what extent do cow products become boneless abstractions, what determines these perceptions, and what are the consequences (for one’s relationship to food, to land, to health)? Sustainable food activists (ranging from Wendell Berry to Alice Waters) often claim that a central problem with America’s food system is that people are physically and conceptually distant from their food: their foodscape is placeless and faceless. In what ways do processes generating perceptions of food constitute processes of place-making? Furthermore, Pollan also claims that the industrial food industry “obscure[s] the histories of the foods it produces by processing them to such an extent that they appear as pure products of culture rather than nature—things made from plants and animals.”51 To what extent does the food industry depend on constructing a nature/culture binary divide? In the Berkshires, how are people’s conceptions of ‘nature’ reflected in their perceptions of food? To what extent does sustainable food activism depend on dissolving that nature/culture divide? How does ethnography of sustainable food complicate traditional anthropological theories in which culture involves conversion from the raw to the cooked?52

Research Methods

I thus propose to investigate pressing sustainable food problems by studying the cow in the Berkshire area. I hope that by studying the cow as a companion species with which humans co-inhabit their environments, I will gain insight into human-environment relations that permeate levels of scale from the microbial to the global; disagreement about how humans should relate to one another, to animals and to their environments; and cultural understandings about the connection between human and environmental health. The interrelated concepts of scale, space and foodscape form the framework for my research questions, which constitute three main areas of study: microbiopolitics, overlapping discourses, and place-making. Although to explain this research proposal, I have presented these as separate focuses, I largely chose them because of their substantial conceptual and methodological overlap. For example, when analyzing texts and conversations about microbiopolitics of raw milk, I likely will encounter overlap in discourses of health, sustainability and power relations; and when analyzing texts for relationships among discourses, I likely will learn about specific issues such as raw milk. Place-making and identity are broad areas of study that likely permeate a spectrum of sustainable food discourses and issues. I expect that my separate focuses will inform one another and that I can approach them simultaneously, using many of the same interviews and texts to investigate all three areas. To do so, I will combine interviews, short-term participant observation (which involves visiting farms, stores, activist meetings), ‘go- alongs,’53 textual discursive analysis, and literature review. As the themes in the three sections are very interrelated, I can likely use many of the same interviews and texts to investigate these different issues; here is a preliminary list of people to interview, places to visit, and texts to read.

Interviews (a preliminary list; I plan to add more to each section):

  • Farmers: Sean Stanton (runs Blue Hill Farm and North Plain Farm, sells raw milk, has cheese room, raises pastured beef); Kim Wells (raises pastured beef); Dominic Palumbo (Moon in the Pond Farm); Bridge McCracken (Project Sprout); Animal Farm in Orwell, VT (received the highest rating in Cow Star Ratings for the organic scale for dairy, makes butter); Butterworks Farm in Westfield, VT (high rating, makes yogurt); Chris and Shannon Barsotti (Longview Farms in VT); a couple of representatives from factory farms in the Berkshire area
  • Sustainable Food Movement: Peter Hansen, director of Hancock Shaker village; Barbara Zheutlin, director of Berkshire Grown; Amy Cotler, author of The Locavore Way; Brian Moyer, director of Rural Vermont; Cris Coffin, New England Director of American Farmland Trust; Kathy Ruhf, coordinator of Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group; Caroline Alexander, editor of Berkshire Food Journal; John Gerber, Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming at University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Health Professionals: Marion Madden from Berkshire Medical Center; Tasha Judson from Tasha Yoga (involved in alternative health therapy); representative from nutrition section of Berkshire Wellness Center
  • Scientists: Jim Russell at Cornell University (Pollan’s reference in e.coli discussion); Williams professors who are interested in food, health and/or sustainability issues (e.g. Lee Park, Amy Gehring, Hank Art, Julia Pedroni, Lara Shore-Sheppard)
  • Policymakers: Richard Alcombright, Mayor of North Adams; Michael J. Moore, R.S., Director of Massachusetts Food Protection Program (within Bureau of Environmental Health in the Department of Public Health); Congressman Jim McGovern
  • Meat industry: Randy Quenneville, program chief for the Vermont meat inspection service; Dan Mandich, owner of Westminster Meats, the newest slaughterhouse in Vermont (opened last year; market is small farms; has New England’s first thermal intervention kit, which pasteurizes carcasses with a 180-degree water spray followed by a lactic-acid spray that kills E coli and other bacteria); representative from a larger slaughterhouse; a farmer in Vermont who slaughters his/her own cattle (in VT it is legal to slaughter for one’s own consumption, but not for selling purposes).
  • Food distributors: Nick Moulton, director of Mezze Restaurant Group; Michael Faber, General Manager of Wild Oats
  • Williams Students: a random sampling; members of Thursday Night Group; members of Williams Sustainable Growers; members of Log Lunch staff; athletes (wear cow-print uniforms! Also are among the most vocal expressing anti-Meatless Monday vies); people who grew up on farms and/or work on farms currently; people who grew up in cities; Outing Club; people studying environmental science, public health, political science; people who have voiced strong opinions on WSO or in the Record about these issues).

Places to Visit: I hope to conduct short-term multi-site participant observation and ‘go- alongs’ at the places where I interview the people listed above (touring farms; attending sustainable food organizational meetings; seeing the slaughterhouse; participating in activities such as learning to make butter, yogurt or cheese; watching farmers interact with cows; interacting with cows myself (in order to understand the human-cow relationship and landscape, in the style of geographers like Hayden Lorimer).

Texts: To look at overlap in discourses (and probably the other two sections as well), I will explore a range of academic journals (environmental, public health, agriculture), environmental activist websites and blogs, Internet and/or printed-text reactions to environmentalism, and podcasts. To investigate making place in the Berkshires, I will look into poetry, literature, and art made in this area (and how it relates to landscape and the cow). In terms of existing literature, I have an extensive list of potential sources; for this proposal, I am including a bibliography of what I predict will be some of the most important sources (for most of these texts, I have read at least part of them already):


Chen, Nancy N. 2009. Food, medicine, and the quest for good health: nutrition, medicine, and culture. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Cronon, W. 1983. Changes in the Land. Canada: Harper Collins.

Crosby, A. 1986. Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

D’Silva, J. and Webster, J (eds). 2010. The Meat Crisis: developing more sustainable production and consumption. London: Earthscan.

DuPuis, E. M. 2002. Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink. New York: New York University Press.

Fonte, M. and Papadopoulos, A.G. (eds). 2010. Naming Food After Places: food relocalisation and knowledge dynamics in rural development. Cornwall: TJ International.

Foucault, M. 2003. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (3rd edition). London: Routledge.

Haraway, D. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Lagour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lang, T., Barling, D., Caraher, M. 2009. Food policy: integrating health, environment, society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lawrence, G. et. al. 2010. Food security, nutrition and sustainability. London: Earthscan.

Morgan, Kevin, Terry Marsden, and Jonathan Murdoch. 2006. Worlds of food: place, power, and provenance in the food chain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paxson, Heather. 2008. Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw‐Milk Cheese in the United States. Cultural Anthropology 23:1.

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin.

Rifkin, J. 1992. Beyond Beef: the Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. New York: Dutton.

Schlosser, E. 2002. Fast Food Nation: What The All-American Meal is Doing to the World. London: Penguin Ltd.

Singer, P. and Mason, J. 2006. Eating. London: Arrow Books.

Whatmore, M. 2007. Spaces of sustainability: geographical perspectives on the sustainable society. London: Routledge.

Wylie, J. 2007. Landscape (Key Ideas in Geography). London: Routledge.


1 Steinfield, H. et. al. 2006. Livestock’s Long shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, FAO, Rome.

2 Ogino, A. et. al. 2007. Evaluating environmental impacts of the Japanese beef cow-calf system by the life cycle assessment method. Animal Science Journal 78: 424-432.

3 Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC et al. 2005. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. New England Journal of Medicine 352: 1138–1145.

4 Paxson, Heather. 2008. “Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw‐Milk Cheese in the United States.” Cultural Anthropology 23:1, 16.

5 Vanhoenacker, M. 2010. In the Berkshires, Dinner’s Not Far Away. The New York Times (August 18, 2010).

6 Ideas of networks, linearity and hybridity as developed in: Urry, J. 2003. Global Complexity. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

7 Pollan 2006, 81.

8 Morgan, K., Terry, M., and Murdoch, J. 2006. Worlds of food: place, power, and provenance in the food chain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 71.

9 Massey, D. 2005. For Space. Michigan: Sage.

10 For instance, as articulated by: Gupta, A. & J. Ferguson. 1992. Beyond “culture”: space, identity and the politics of difference. Cultural Anthropology 7, 6-23.

11 Morgan 2006, 71.

12 Including: Morgan 2006; Morgan, K. 2010. Local and green, global and fair: the ethical foodscape and the politics of care. Environment and Planning A 42, 1852-1847. Cummins, S. and Macintyre, S. 2002. A Systematic Study of an Urban Foodscape: The Price and Availability of Food in Greater Glasgow. Urban Studies 39:11, 2115–2130. (In this article, the term appears only in the title).

13 E.g.: Duncan, J. 1981. The Super-organic in American Cultural Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70, 181-192.

14 E.g.: Mitchell, D. 1994. Landscape and surplus: the making of the ordinary in Brentwood, CA. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12:1, 7-30. Guo, P. 2003. ‘Island Builders’: Landscape and Historicity Among the Langalanga, Solomon Islands”, in Stwart, P. and Strathern, A. (eds) Landscape, Memory and History: Anthropological Perspectives London: Pluto Press.

15 Wylie, J. 2007. Landscape (Key Ideas in Geography). London: Routledge.

16 Appadurai, A. 1990: Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy, Theory, Culture and Society 7, 295-310; reprinted in M. Featherstone (ed) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalisation and Modernity.

17 Morgan 2006, 8.

18 Haraway, D. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness. Prickly Paradigm Press: Chicago.

19 Scambler, G. (ed). 2003. Sociology as Applied to Medicine, 190.

20 Gastaldo, D. 1997. Is health education good for you? Rethinking health education through the concept of bio-power. In Petersen, A. and Bunton, B. (eds), Foucault: Health and Medicine, 114.

21 Paxson 2008, 17.

22 Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity.

23 Lang, T., Barling, D. and Caraher, M. 2009. Food policy: integrating health, environment society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 13.

24 Paxson 2008, 18.

25 FDA. 2011. The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk. Accessed online 05/04/2011:

26 Paxson 2008, 17.

27 Pollan 2006, 143.

28 Corn has recently become one of the most thoroughly investigated areas of sustainable food. For an introduction into how corn has become completely woven into the fabric of American society, with repercussions for public health, farmer’s livelihoods, and environmental sustainability, see: Pollan 2006; Cheney, I. and Curtis, E (directors). 2007. King Corn (Documentary film).

29 Pollan 2006, 75.

30 National Institute of Health: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2006. ‘The Problem of Antimicrobial Resistance.’ Accessed online 05/03/2011:

31 Pollan 2006, 79.

32 Pollan 2006, 79.

33 Zezima, K. 2010. Push to eat local food is hampered by shortage. The New York Times (March 27, 2010).

34 Ferry, D. 2011. Slaughterhouse shortage stunting area’s eat-local movement. The New York Times (April 7, 2011).

35 Morgan 2006, 87.

36 Pollan 2006, 81.

37 Lawrence, G. et. al. 2010. Food security, nutrition and sustainability. London: Earthscan, 14.

38 Robinson-O’Brien, R. et. al. 2009. Characteristics and Dietary Patterns of Adolescents Who Value Eating Locally Grown, Organic, Nongenetically Engineered, and Nonprocessed Food. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 41:1, 11-18.

39 Sustainable Table: Serving up Healthy Food Choices. 2011. Accessed online 05/05/2011:

40 April 18, 2011;

41 Pollan 2006, 148.

42 This seems to be a phenomenon in environmental issues in general, and one that I am both quite interested in and bothered by. For example, I did a review of abstracts and found that almost no articles about forest management from a leading biology journal included reference to humans or community development; likewise, there is shockingly sparse mention of environmental degradation as a national and international security concern in international relations literature. Lack of integration between academic disciplines can have serious consequences, particularly for environmental issues.

43 These themes come through in articles such as: De Bals, D.E. et al. 2009. External Influences on and Conditions for Community Logging Management in Cameroon. World Development 37: 2, 445-456; Nustad, K. G. 2011. Property, rights and community in a South African land-claim case Anthropology Today 27: 1.

44 Within the sustainable food movement, there is a lot of controversy about this question; it is particularly relevant to the Berkshires area, because the food movement here largely embodies the ‘locavore’ and ‘foodshed’ perspective.

45 Numerous medical anthropologists have ethnographically demonstrated that people resist well- intentioned public health campaigns if they feel labelled as unhealthy, because based on power relations with health officials and with scientific discourse in general, they perceive the ‘unhealthy’ label as indication of moral inferiority and/or blame. Health geographers and sociologists have recently begun to add quantitative analysis to this problem. I hypothesize that similar notions of labelling and moral inferiority can partly explain why people resist sustainable food activism. E.g. see: Balshem, M. 1993. Cancer in the Community. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. Shutkin, W. and Mares, R. 2000. Brownfields and the redevelopment of communities: linking health, economy, and justice. In Hofrichter, Richard, ed. Reclaiming the Environmental Debate: The Politics of Health in a Toxic Culture Cambridge: MIT Press. Smith, S.J. and Easterlow, D. 2005. The strange geography of health inequalities. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 30, 173–90.

46 Gupta and Ferguson 1992, 7.

47 Olwig, K. 2003: Global places and place-identities: lessons from Caribbean research. In Eriksen, T. H (Ed). Globalisation: Studies in Anthropology, 59.

48 Nunstad, K. 2003: “Considering Global/Local Relations: Beyond Dualism,” in Eriksen, T. H. (ed) Globalisation: Studies in Anthropology, pp. 125.

49 Donati, K. et. al. 2010. Bodies, bugs and dirt: Sustainability re-imagined in community gardens. In Lawrence, G. et. al. 2010. Food security, nutrition and sustainability. London: Earthscan, pp. 208.

50 Pollan 2006, 114.

51 Pollan 2006, 115.

52 As in: Lévi-Strauss, C. 1969. The Raw and the Cooked. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

53 To the best of my knowledge, Kusenbach was the first person to use this term, which means accompanying people on their daily trips and activities without structured interviews (Kusenbach, M. 2003. Street phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool. Ethnography 4:3, 455-478). Many anthropologists and geographers studying human-environment relations have used this technique (e.g. going on bike rides with different cycling teams to study the experience of ascension; working as a guide taking blind people on hikes to study ‘marginalized embodiment;’ accompanying undercover police on subways).