Anthropology Theory Project

Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (photo courtesy of


Food, a biologocial necessesity and critical component of culture, is central to the human experience. Around the world, the different types of preparation, the style of eating, and even the food itself are as varied as the cultures themselves. No matter what the aspect of culture, there is food involved; religious celebrations, meetings, family gatherings, and everyday life all are sure to have food present. For this reason, there has been considerable study done by anthropologists relating the cultures that they are studying to the food available to them. Many anthropologists have dedicated their entire research into this and that is why the Society for the Anthropologists of Food and Nutrition was created. This article will examine basic information of the Society, its major roles and mission statements, its association with other nutritional anthropologists, and the research that people around the world have done concerning the study of food and the future of food.

Basic Information and Mission Statement[]

Because of the growing interest by anthropologists in the relationship between food and culture , the Council on Nutritional Anthropology was established in 1974. This was also due to "the increased interest in the interface between social sciences and human nutrition" according to the SAFN website. In 2003, at a board meeting, the then executive board, suggested to officially change the name. The idea was to change the name from the Council on Nutritional Anthropology to the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN). The idea was put to a vote by the members of the Council and it was passed during the 2004 elections. The SAFN website says that the main reason behind the name change was to "more fully engage the spectrum of theoretical and methodological perspectives of individuals AAA-wide."

They have three stated mission objectives which is to (1) "encourage research and exchange of ideas, theories, methods and scientific information relevant to understanding the socio-cultural, behavioral and political-economic factors related to food and nutrition," (2) "to provide a forum for communication and interaction among scientists sharing these interests and with other appropriate organizations," and (3) "to promote practical collaboration among social and nutritional scientists at the fields and program levels" which are listed on the SAFN website.



Janet Chrzan (photo courtesy of

The SAFN is governed by four different officers with multiple committees who focus on different aspects within the Society. The current president is Janet Chrzan who succeeded from the past president, Andrea Wiley. The current vice-president is Leslie Carlin and the current treasurer is Joan Gross. The contributing editor for Anthropology News is Rachel Black. Chrzan and Black are responsible for the column that is published in Anthropology News. There are six different committees which include awards, meetings and programs, nominations, book reviews, policy and liason, and student representative. These are chaired by Crystal Patil (awards), John Brett and Barbara Piperata (meetings and programs), David Beriss (nominations), Miriam Chaiken (book reviews), and Alexa Coe (student representative) with the chair for the committee on policy and review being unfilled.

Along with the officers and committee chairs, there are by-laws that the group follows. In all, there are fifteen different articles and these include: name, purpose, powers, membership, dues, officers, executive committee, committees, annual report, meetings, quorum, nominations and election of officers, finances, publications, and amendment. These by-laws are essentially the constitution for the SAFN and go into detail the rules that are supposed to be followed concerning the aspects of the SAFN.


The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition puts out, every month, a column that is part of the American Anthropological Association's newsletter Anthropology News. This two page column has a different topic each month and some examples include diet changes in America, Genetically Modified Organisms, interviews, the production of food, reports, and food securities (or insecurities). The SAFN also reviews books on a regular basis about food and then has those published. It reviews book that are anthropologically-informed and revolve around such topics as food and nutrition. The Council on Nutritional Anthropology used to have its own peer reviewed publication called Nutritional Anthropology. At the 2004 officer meeting, it was decided that Nutritional Anthropology would go on a two year hiatus and be put entirely online instead of a print version. The two year hiatus ended with the "cessation of publication of Nutritional Anthropology. The decision to cease print editions of this journal was necessitated by the increased cost of publication that resulted from a shift to AnthroSource, and from inadequate resources and support from our section to sustain the publication" according the 2006 annual report of the SAFN. The website of the SAFN has many of the functions that were previously held by Nutritional Anthropology. Currently, the Society doesn't have a publication to call its own. The reason that the publication was ended was due to the lack of funding that the SAFN was receiving. Membership into the Society was not increasing, therefore the amount of money that was needed to continue Nutritional Anthropology was not available. So, the Society decided to end publication and put it on their new website.

Because of the lack of the Society's own publication, some of the officers of the SAFN have written their own books and articles. David Beriss edited a book entitled The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat which includes ethnographies written by anthropologists who studied the restaurant and eating out aspect of society. He enjoyed looking at the work of ethnographies in restaurants because, "restaurants bring together nearly all the characteristics of economic life studied by cultural anthropologists - forms of exchange, modes of production, and the symbolism behind consumption - under one roof" say the editors of the book, David Beriss and David Sutton. Crystal Patil wrote a book called Weanling Needs and the Next Pregnancy Among the Iraqw of Tanzania that looks at the behaviors of mothers with newborns and recently weaned children and the nutritional buffering that can occur. Two other officers wrote on different subjects. Andrea Wiley wrote "Drink milk for fitness" which argues that the US government encourages milk consumption because of the deals with the dairy industry. This is despite the large number of lactose intolerant people in the country. Miriam Chaiken wrote a paper "Anthropology, Nutrition, and the Design of a Health Intervention Program in Western Kenya" which is about the malnutrition and malaria in the South Nyanza District and the efforts to reduce both threats by UNICEF.


The SAFN is interested in anything related to the way humans and food interact and relate to each other, including: people who have dedicated their work to the study of food, the way that food and humans interact, and the future of food. Their research has taken them to study breast milk and infants, the future of food, food insecurites, food and microfinancing, and food crises. Here is some research that some of the officers of SAFN took particular interest in or have done. It seems that some of the board members are interested in the idea of buying locally produced foods and finding ways to avoid the corporations that control the food market. It also emphasizes the idea that food should be available to everyone and not just those who can afford it.

The 2008-9 president of SAFN, Janet Chrzan, is interested in the work of Dr. Vandana Shiva who, though not an anthropologist, is a scientist and physicist who works with the future of food. In an interview that is posted on, Shiva discusses "the ability of all of us to have a choice of the foods that we eat, and for our farmers to be able to freely use their own seeds, and grow food in the manner that they choose". She is especially interested in this idea in developing countries like her home country of India. She argues that farmers are not able to produce enough and are pushed into debt and commit suicide. She also presents her model for the farming method that needs to be implemented throughout the world. One of the current models is monocultures, which are nutritionally impoverished, and needs to be changed to one which promotes biodivesity and organic and ecological methods. This means that an acre which uses monocultures can produce 5-10 times more product if it uses the other model. Finally, in her interview, she says that humans need to start standing up to "the large corporations that drive our global food system, and to make personal choices that promote local and more sustainable food production." This article is important because it shows that people around the world are trying to stay away from the large corporations that control the world and choose to support their local economies by buying locally. Buying locally enables the farmers to earn more money and thus produce more for themselves and for the people who are interested in buying from them.

The treasurer of SAFN, Joan Gross, has done research in 2008 in rural Oregon concerning new foodways that are developed by foragers and 'freegans' who dumpster dive looking for whole, unprocessed food. They tend to look for food, not behind fast food restaurants but behind organic food processors. The 'freegans' are looking for any of that type of food, such as organic or non-processed, as long as it is free. This is almost a grassroots movement that tries to fight against "'industiral' eating, that is, consumption of heavily processed, mass-produced food" says Gross. There are also the 'back-to-the-landers' who are looking towards self sufficiency and are trying to make their own food. She syas that these methods of getting food are reminiscent of subsistence agriculture and foraging. She also says that "both groups reject a lifestyle that requires spending the bulk of their time working for money in order to consume material goods" and that they are "opting out of modernity." This research was done becasue Gross was interested in "exploring the foodways of those who consciously attempt to disentangle themselves from the capitalist system and from industrial food." This article teaches us that money is not neccessary to be able to eat well. It is possible to find good food anywhere and not just in high-end grocery stores or restaurants. It also ties in with the work done by Dr. Vandana Shiva with the back-to-the-landers who produce their own food and sell it to local people thus boosting the local economy.



ICAF (photo courtesy of

The SAFN works with other groups of anthropologists worldwide who also study the relationship between humans and food. The International Commission on the Anthropology of Food (ICAF) also has some of the same objectives as the SAFN but they also "encourage indigenous expertise on food problems in developing countries" according to their website. The ICAF is an international commission which promotes food awareness around the globe but especially in developing countries which need the help, support, and ideas that they can offer. The ICAF has hubs in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Australasia with the situation in North America being a little different because of the already effective groups that exist.

The main focus of the ICAF is to take into consideration is, according to their website, the "changing ethic regarding food in international development." This involves many different people but especially experts in the field and development specialists. They are also very focused on the getting the work done by anthropologists available to agencies who can plan and make policies with that information. They expect then for the agencies to report back with their ideas so that the ICAF can take action. This open communication is vital to the ICAF and the work that it does.


Beriss, David and David Sutton, ed. 2007 The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat. Gordonsville, VA: Berg Publishers

Cooking Up a Story. 2009 Vandana Shiva: The Future of Food-Part 1. Electronic Document

Cooking Up a Story. 2009 Vandana Shiva: The Future of Food-Part 3. Electronic Document

International Commission on the Antrhopology of Food. 2009 What is ICAF? Electronic Document

Oregon State University. 2008 'Freegans' & foragers form new foodways. The Center for the Humanities Newsletter, Spring: 4

Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. 2006 Annual Report. Electronic Document

Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. 2007 About SAFN. Electronic Document