Food Studies: Farmers' Market Ethnography

In which Erin, cupcake baker turned gastronomy student, leaves the safety of the library to conduct on-the-ground food stamp research.

Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Erin's first post, which explains her journey from cupcake baker to Boston University gastronomy student.

For my first semester of graduate school, I stuck with classes that were familiar to me, and allowed me to function within my academic comfort zone. I deliberately chose courses that required lots of reading, and allowed me to do most of my research in the library.

For my second semester, I decided to take classes that forced me into interacting more directly with the food system. I signed up for food ethnography, an intensive elective where we would have to do field work in the Boston community. While I wanted to be challenged this semester, I had no idea how difficult the ethnography course would be for me. For this class we have to do a combination of participant observation and interviews, among other research methods, to gather original data. Moreover, anthropology requires a completely different writing style than the one I am used to.

I choose to focus on food stamp usage at farmers' markets. I wanted to find out what systems were in place and what the pluses and minuses of such programs might be. The idea was that we would conduct research throughout the semester, with progress reports due at different points, culminating in a 20- to 30-page final paper.

As it's the winter months, there is currently only one market that I can visit. I've been there five times so far, taking notes about what different vendors are selling, what they have to say about their products, and the demographic groups shopping there. In addition to these on-the-ground observations, I've slowly been setting up interviews with different market managers, in an attempt to find out more about their experiences running markets that take food stamp benefits.

Initially, I discovered that while I am normally a very outgoing and confident person, asking people for interviews, taking photos at the farmers' market, and chatting with vendors as a means of research made me feel like a bumbling fool. As I've succeeded in setting up more interviews, written more papers about the data I'm beginning to gather, and made it to the market every week, I'm realizing that—fortunately—it just gets easier.

While my initial reaction when I realized how challenging this course would be for me was to fret over my grades, I now know how important learning new ways of approaching academic research is—and come to appreciate the richness of the experience of actually talking to people as opposed to sitting in the library.

To be continued... Erin is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang here.

All photos courtesy of the author.


In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

An anonymous White House official claims President Trump cruelly limited Hispanic immigrants in their new book, "A Warning."

The book, to be released on November 19, gives an alleged insider account of the Trump White House and paints a picture of the president as a chaotic man who lacks the mental and moral acumen required for the job.

The anonymous staffer says that Trump once feigned a Hispanic accent and made fun of women attempting to immigrate to the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The 2020 election is a year away, but Donald Trump has some serious ground to cover if he doesn't want it to be a historical blowout.

A Washington Post- ABC News poll released Tuesday shows that Trump loses by double digits to the top Democratic contenders.

Vice President Joe Biden (56%-39%); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (54%-39%); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (56%-39%); South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (52%-41%); and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (52%-41%) all have big leads over the president.

Keep Reading Show less
Yad Vashem

Since 1992, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has been holding reunion ceremonies between Holocaust survivors and rescuers once a year. But the tradition is coming to an end, as many have died or are too frail to travel. What might be the last reunion of its kind took place when a 92-year-old woman met up with the two surviving family members that she helped hide during the Holocaust, and their descendants.

Sarah Yanai and Yossi Mor introduced Melpomeni Dina (nee Gianopoulou) to their almost 40 family members, all decedents of the Mordechai family, the family of seven that Dina and her two sisters hid during WWII. "There are no words to describe this feeling," Dina told the Jeruselum Post. "It is very emotional for us to be together again."

Keep Reading Show less