Publication Date

April 2003

Journal or Book Title

Anthropology of Eastern Europe Review


Anthropologists and sociologists, from Levi-Strauss to Bourdieu, have observed that consuming food is a profoundly social act through which people express relationships and perform concepts of social order. Historically, food has provided a rich political symbol and rallying point, from the Boston Tea Party to the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in colonial India, when Muslim and Hindu

troops rebelled against their British officers upon learning that their rifle cartridges were greased with suet and lard -- foods considered impure according to religious dietary taboos. Food features in Eastern Europe’s history of political

conflict; for example, the December 1980 Solidarity strikes in Poland were touched off by government announcements of Christmastime food shortages (Kubik 1995). Since 1989, food and daily provisioning has become the most immediate medium through which Eastern Europeans experience the vast political and economic shifts following the collapse of state socialism in their daily lives.

Perhaps no other area of contemporary political action has as much to say about food as the international environmental movement. In the past decade, Greenpeace activists have battled McDonald’s and Monsanto, the chemical agrobusiness giant. Grassroots environmental

groups in Cuba, the U.S., Argentina, and Mexico have advanced the cause of organic agriculture. The Slow Food movement, which began in the mid-1980s as a neighborhood action against the construction of a McDonald’s outlet at the Spanish Steps in Rome, went on to forge connections between gastronomical and ecological survival and has established chapters throughout the globe (Petrini 2003, Stille 2001). Food safety scares, from Alar-coated apples to mad cow disease, have

spurred alliances between consumer advocacy groups and environmental organizations in North America and Western Europe (James 1993, Strydom 2002). How do environmental activists politicize foods, and how does this process differ

cross-culturally? Drawing from my ethnographic fieldwork among environmentalists in Hungary in 1995-97 and 2000, I explore political discourses on food, diet, and risk.

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