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ASFS 2019 at University of Alaska Anchorage + a Call to Action

The Association for the Study of Food and Society is routinely my favorite annual conference, but this year’s host location at the University of Alaska Anchorage took my breath away from the first moments of our flight’s descent…

…and our first steps on campus as well.

And yet, the conference theme—Finding Home in the “Wilderness”—reminded us to problematize the idea of “the wild.” I cannot say it better than the conference’s call for papers, which read:

We acknowledge the concept of wilderness as a contentious one, influenced by Western notions of separation, dominance, and later, preservation. The conference taking place in the Circumpolar North, and specifically in the diverse, multiethnic urban setting of Anchorage reminds visitors that wilderness is not something to be sought after on a hiking excursion. Rather, it is a factor that may influence our food practices, such as the harvest of wild foods, economic and climatic constraints on production, and issues around access, storage, utilization, and distribution. Additionally, philosophical conceptualizations of nature exist in a specific power hierarchy, where rational and neoliberal systemic approaches push against traditional and ecological ways of knowing that problematize the distinction between “wilderness” and “civilization.”

Conference sessions, talks, and meals (see below!) pushed us at every turn to reconsider what we thought we knew about Alaska and about food studies.

A great exhibit at the Anchorage Museum (on view during the conference’s opening reception) also provided stories and context for eating in Alaska in the past, present, and future.

I extend huge huge thanks to the conference co-chairs—Zeynep Kilic, Professor of Sociology, UAA (pictured below); Rachael Miller, Assistant Professor of Business, Alaska Pacific University; and Elizabeth Hodges Snyder, Associate Professor of Public Health UAA—and the rest of the local steering committee. This conference is a gigantic labor of love and service that I appreciate beyond measure.

For more information about the 2019 conference, check out the conference program, the #foodstudies19 coverage on Twitter, KC Hysmith’s Twitter photo essay, and the following Twitter threads, which cover the high points of select sessions. With thanks to KC Hysmith, Esther Martin-Ullrich, Lisa Haushofer, Erica Zurawski, Jessica Carbone, the Graduate Association for Food Studies, and many others for their live-tweeting efforts to capture, archive, and share the brilliance of this conference.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Normally, this is where my annual conference post ends, but this year it cannot.

It was devastating to learn, in the midst of the conference, that Alaska’s governor cut 41% of the University of Alaska system’s state appropriations through a line-item budget veto. This follows previous years of budget cuts and the loss of hundreds of faculty and staff positions. If not overturned, these new cuts will have dramatic effects, such as closing campuses, eliminating programs, and laying off of tenured faculty if financial exigency is declared. This poses a perhaps unrecoverable blow to education (at every level) throughout Alaska, which will compound current challenges driving state population decline and unemployment. Such cuts to higher education affect all of us, not just Alaskans and not just those of us who work in universities. Cuts like this should trouble everyone who wants to live in a society that values knowledge, culture, and equitable access to quality education. I, along with many other members of ASFS who have personally declared so, stand in solidarity with those within the University of Alaska system and call upon the Alaska legislature to support a veto override. For more information, view the advocacy resources from the Office of the Chancellor at Anchorage and at Fairbanks.

In these times, I find new application for the conference organizers’ words from their call for papers last fall, “Finding nourishment in this wilderness is no easy task but we search nevertheless.” We must search together.


Feature Image, Center: Liz Snyder, with artwork and logo by Evon Zerbetz 

Feature Image, Right and Left: Emily Contois, 2019 

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