Archive for the 'Anthropology' Category

Pig Bug and Motivation

Well, I am currently sitting in the restaurant of my hotel in Huehuetenango, enjoying a second cup of hot chocolate. Yep. Second.

Two nights ago, when I arrived, I was curled up in my bed watching English-language movies while oscillating between feeling way to hot and feeling freezing cold, and wondering if my backache might indicate that I had something terrible like meningitis.  Feeling supremely sorry for myself, I thought, “It would really suck to die of swine flu after how much I’ve laughed at all this ‘pandemic’ media hype.”

Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I don’t have swine flu now.  I woke up the next morning with my nose having turned into a faucet, but otherwise feeling a whole lot better than the night before.  Damned rainy season cold.

However, I am now using this as my excuse for dawdling on getting my butt to my fieldsite, where I promise you there is no English-language TV, very likely no hot water, and certainly no free internet access. All of which my classy (that’s the word the guide book uses) hotel in Huehue has in abundance.

You see, swine flu (or “gripe A” as it’s called here) has been on the front pages of both major national papers for the past week and a half, as well as on the radios.  The health department is warning everyone to stay away from anyone with a runny nose or cough (however, they do not explain what to do if you happen to have a runny nose or cough. how helpful.). The hotel staff is already looking at me sideways, so I’d rather not repel potential contacts at my fieldsite with my plauge.

I’m hoping, in the meantime, that I will find the motivation to walk through the rain to the bus terminal to inquire about the schedule of buses to Sipakapa in this second cup of chocolate con leche.  If not, then maybe in the third.



My focus and energy have been dragging since about Sunday, not to mention my less-than-stellar mood.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s perhaps because my nutrition has taken a small dip this week– starting with a single piece of coffee cake at a cafe, and progressing into the replacement of my normal morning cereal with a very delicious, though nutritionally devoid, pecan coffee cake (Doc and) I made Sunday morning. That, of course, has snowballed into daily chai lattes and vegan chocolate chip cookies. Plus, I’ve neglected to take my vitamins this last week or so… oh, and did I mention that I ran out of decaf coffee last week, and so had a couple of cups of caffeine? I wonder if I’m suffering the fallout of that?

I’m cat-sitting for my advisor this week, and I never feel entirely comfortable in other peoples’ kitchens (including my mother’s kitchen). So, I haven’t been cooking as much, instead resorting to leftovers and more-convenient (though not “convenience”!) foods like crackers and cheese, and pitas and hummus. And coffee cake.

Ugh. Why do I let this happen? I know I’ll feel like crap if I eat like crap! Stupid stupid stupid lazy lazy lazy.

I need to find a way around this, actually.  Every time I go to the field, I end up either 1) gaining an obscene amount of weight (along the lines of 30 lbs), 2) losing an obscene amount of weight (along the lines of 20 lbs), or 3) suffering from general digestive discomfort (thanks to a near- complete lack of vegetables in my diet).  Or some combination of the above.  All of this in turn leads to and reinforces an already present depression or moodiness (hey! a structuring structure!).  Needless to say, not my most productive state.

The worst of it is, if I’m already homesick/ depressed, I really won’t give a sh*t about eating well.  And then it just forms a vicious cycle.

So, two questions: how do I avoid laziness at home, knowing full well that my mood and state of mind are closely tied to what I eat? and: how do I maintain a decent level of nutrition if I’m living with a family that subsists on tortillas, white rice, and beans (and noting that bringing my own food is absolutely not an option)?


My roommate came home from brunch two weeks ago looking decidedly troubled. She had gone to eat with her, um, Friend (also my friend, with a little ‘f’, to whom I introduced her) at a local/organic foods “breakfast club” held at an acquaintance’s house a few blocks away.

“It was like being at a cult meeting!” She had exclaimed to me.  “These people [pause for emphasis] are in a cult!”

We have had somewhat heated debates, sometimes tongue-in-cheek sparrings over what a certain sociologist actually means by “common sense knowledge” (yeah, we’re dorks), but lately we’ve been quabbling over localism in relation to our shared class on “Consumption.”

My roommate’s argument is that localism, like any other set of beliefs, is just that. It’s a system of values just like thrift, religion, or pacifism.  It happens to drive consumptive practices in certain spheres.  And yes, like in every value system, there are hypocrites.

I really don’t argue with her there. I’m totally aware of the constructed-ness of localism as a value system.  And yeah, it happens to be a value system that I ascribe to myself.  What I don’t understand, though, is why it bugs her so much and why, for example, religion does not.  I understand that she might feel like she’s at a cult meeting during brunch or at the Farmers’ Market, but I feel like I’m at a cult meeting during church services.  She says it’s the self-righteousness of locavores (those that eat local food).  Clearly she has not had a nice long discussion on morality and religion with my aunt.  Different strokes for different folks.

Maybe I took a big glug of the Koolaide, though. Or make that “locally roasted, fair-trade, organic coffee.”

So I dragged my Friend (in town for spring break) out of bed early on a Friday (okay, technically, he dragged me out of bed because I kept hitting snooze on the alarm, which is a pet peeve of his. tee hee hee.) to go with my friend (who is my roommate’s Friend… get it?) to this dude’s house to have brunch made by a guest-local chef.  My roommate stayed cozy in her bed.

This whole thing started about a month ago with a fundraiser for the Farmers’ Market and Slow Foods Huron Valley.  It was apparently so much fun, that this dude (I’m going to keep referring to him as that) decided to hold brunch every week.  He named it “Café Selma” and posts a sign out in his front yard on Friday mornings to let his neighbors and passers-by know to come on over.

The menu and chef change every week, and the staff is all volunteer.  This week, the chef was the owner of Arbor Teas (, a locally-owned organic tea distributor.  The menu included an omelete made with eggs from chickens in the dude’s backyard, mushrooms, cheese, and my friend’s greens (; waffles and fruit; and homemade granola and yogurt.  I know that following my usual eating-out policy, I should have gotten the waffles (because I don’t have a waffle iron at home and so can’t make waffles). But the omelete looked really good, and we all know that I’ve been on an omelete kick lately.

I also (drumroll please) had a cup of regular coffee, because they didn’t have decaf. Make that two cups of coffee. I am now hallucinating and twitching.  No, I won’t resume that habit; it was a treat and helped to get me perked up for what will be a pretty solid day (1pm-10pm run run run).

The crowd was mostly late 30s, 40s, and early 50s… my Friend and I were definitely the youngest ones there (and my friend referred to some local roasters as “28-year-old kids”, which made me feel like a baby!).  The demographic was about what you’d expect for Ann Arbor.  White, highly educated, working in the creative or intellectual industries.  Able to take Friday morning off from work.

I chatted with the folks that sat at the table with us (most of the others were on the couch or at the counter in the dude’s gorgeous kitchen) about anthropology, and they asked me if I was working for the government.  Didn’t know quite how to reply to that… I got the feeling that “the goverment” were “good guys” for these folks.  Granted, they’re not “bad guys” for me, but they’re definitely not “good guys” either. Hm. Hard to know what to say when your political leanings don’t quite jive with mainstream democrats, but there’s no other way to describe them.

The food was quite tasty.  A real treat was the home-cured ham in the omelete; I almost never eat pork, but this was really delicious.  My Friend also happens to be a fan of pork, and we got the low-down on how the dude had cured the ham.  He has quite the set-up in his basement.  We also got to sample some of his proscuttio, which I (uncultured as I am) had never tried before. Quite tasty.

Payment was by “donation only,” which really meant that in order to not appear as a total jerk, you had to donate something.  We ended up paying about $10 each (which was “suggested”).

I’m still digesting (um, literally and figuratively) the whole experience in relation to my roommate’s critiques, and in relation to this class on Consumption I’m currently in.  The critiques in regards to class and values are on the mark and relevant, but I don’t know if that justifies passing judgement on localism as a value system.  Of course its flawed, but so is any other set of beliefs, and no one is value-free.  What to do?  I think I’ll go again next week.

Pine Nuts: A Proposal

This paper recognizes the inherent deliciousness and nutritiousness of pine nuts. Their deliciousness and nutritiousness is recognized both by the flavor they impart in dishes, and by their nutritional profile. Acknowledging these two qualities, I will seek to incorporate pine nuts into every feasible dish, until my supply runs out. I then propose to purchase more of them.


When I visited my mom up north earlier this month (or at the end of January, to be more correct), we made scrumptious butternut squash, goat cheese, and sage ravioli (whole wheat pasta).  In my previously successful ravioli-making endeavors, I served such ravioli with a garlicy tomato sauce; I found the flavors of the tomatoes to be an interesting complement to the flavor of the squash.  My mother doubted this combination, however, and suggested we find another sauce to use.

Flipping through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I came accross a recipe for a “rustic pine nut sauce.”  Pine nuts are mild in flavor, with a slight buttery texture.  I often toast them and put them with pasta or on top of pizza.  Nevertheless, I had yet to make a sauce out of them.

My variation on the sauce involved roughly chopping one cup of pine nuts, toasting them in olive oil and garlic with an equal portion of bread crumbs, adding spinach, a half a cup of dry white wine, and a touch of water. I then simmered all this until the liquid had been absorbed; finally, I sprinkled a very liberal amount of parmesan cheese over the top.

The sauce was delicious. It went nicely with the scrumptious ravioli, but in fact, we found that it was scrum-diddly-umptious all on its own.  I finished the leftovers.  I was lucky that the pine nut has such an impressive nutritional profile, through which I was able to glean an astounding number of vital nutrients, including Lucine.


Following the success of my rustic pine nut sauce adaptation, I propose to add pine nuts to every feasible dish.  By the term “feasible dish” I mean including, but not limited to: pasta, pizza, omelets, ice cream, granola, soup, bread, cupcakes, cookies, sandwhiches, chili, casseroles, rice and beans, enchiladas, Trader Joe’s Frozen Burritos*, sautéed vegetables, dried fruit, GORP, oatmeal, crackers and cheese, tuna, roast chicken, pancakes, and french toast.  In short, anything edible.

I predict that, with the addition of pine nuts, the flavor and nutritional value of each of these dishes will be vastly improved.  The exceptions to this prediction, that will prove the rule, are Trader Joe’s Frozen Burritos (whose perfection cannot be improved upon) and french toast (commonly held by all to be the Best Breakfast in the Universe).  These dishes, however, already far surpass any other food in deliciousness and nutritiousness; thus, I find them to be the rare cases in which adding pine nuts would serve no benefit.


I will chop, grind, smush, and smash pine nuts in order to incorporate them into my proposed dishes.  I will toast them occasionally, and sometimes I will throw them in whole and raw.  By utilizing a range of methods I will provide dishes with a variety of textures and aesthetic qualities.  It is further predicted that the method might influence the overall appeal of the final dish; thus, I may find it necessary to adjust my methods as time progresses, based on cumulating results.

When my supply of pine nuts is diminished or eliminated, I will refresh them with new supplies purchased at the grocery store.


In conclusion, this proposal seeks to incorporate pine nuts into every feasible dish.  Their deliciousness and nutritiousness will improve the flavor and health quality of any dish to which they are an addition.  The exceptions here are dishes whose perfection cannot be improved upon; thus, pine nuts will not be added.  It is based on my history of delicious pine nut dishes that I make such predictions, and it is this background that makes me most suitable to continue such an experiment.

The End.

Anthro Overload

I am in San Francisco for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings… holy crap there are a lot of anthropologists here.

San Francisco is pretty much an awesome city, too. I want to live here someday. Key word: some[as-yet-undefined]day.

Now I am waiting for my friend to show up so I can go get something for lunch.

Ooh! A text message! Lunchtime.

Lost Island of Cyclists

I just came across this series of entries on one of my favorite cycling blogs– anthropological descriptions of an island of futuristic cyclist-creatures! Awesome!! I wish I could do my fieldwork there…

Travel and Movement

I’ve been thinking lately about the various (physical) ways it is possible to move through the world, and the reasons for doing so.  Over the past month and a bit, I’ve used six main types of transport, each with their own markers of priviledge and stigma.

Bus- By far the most common form of transport in Guatemala.  It’s cheap, faster than walking, and allows you to carry a lot more than if you were on foot.  On the bus, you’re usually crammed 3 to a seat built for 2 school-aged kids.  Your view of the passing landscape is limited to a square of glass, often obscured by your fellow passengers’ heads, some sort of fogging material (plastic), or steam from the collective bodyheat of the bus’s contents (sometimes including, yes, chickens). The landscape passes you by the side, as if it were moving and you were sitting still (compared to moving through a landscape, as when you’re sitting in the front of a car or are traveling on foot). 

Travel by bus is more priviledged than travel by foot, since it costs money, but not as fancy as riding in a car. People riding the buses are usually considered “poor” or “uneducated.”

Airplane– The most isolated and expensive mode of travel, yet simultaneously (with walking) highly priveledged and possibly reflecting some sort of poverty. 

Isolated because you have your own seat and you very rarely talk to the stranger sitting next to you.  They even offer headphones so you can listen to the television rather than carrying on a conversation.  It also produces the biggest carbon footprint (uses the most resources), and signals that you have capital (the bucks to buy a ticket). 

It also has a certain cosmopolitan air to it (er, no pun intended)– generally, airplanes are used to cover large distances and to go to exotic places.  In these cases, ground/ water transport can take days or weeks, so people that use airplanes are too important to spend that kind of time. Then again, you don’t have time to spare, which is certainly a luxury item. 

Airplanes are also used by (migrant) Guatemalans returning to Guate after working in the States. Returning from the States, you have money and status. Unless, of course, you’re being deported. In that case, you’re probably in handcuffs and under the supervision of a US Marshall, and thus highly stigmatized.

Private Car: Carries the most obvious index of priviledge in Guatemala (and in many other places too).  Relatively few people can afford the freakin’ high gas prices ($5/ liter!!), let alone the price of an actual car (average for a new car in Guate is lower than in the states, but still very high when compared to household income). 

I’ve ridden in three private cars in Guate: Last year the foundation I worked for had a pickup truck, and fellow teachers and I drove it to and from Barillas (the city itself held a special air of priveledge for my students).  When my mom came to visit we rented a car, and I even got to drive it (very scary)!  Finally, a friend of a friend picked me up in Xela and gave me a ride to Pana, thus sparing me the need to take either a chicken bus or a tourist shuttle.

The view from a private car is so different than the view from a bus! Sitting in the front seat, you have this panorama of landscape ahead of you, unfolding in a way that lets you take it in, at least superficially, more than the blur passing you sideways through the square of glass on the bus.

Do I really need to go in to the wide, comfy seat you have all to yourself, or the complete control over where you go, when you go there, when you stop, how often you stop? How about the temperature and sound (music) control? Quite de lujo.

Back of a pickup truck: A classic gringo-in-Latin America experience.  Flagging down a pickup (ahem, pikop) is a very common form of transport in the highlands, especially where there aren’t regular buses.  It’s pretty easy: you see a pickup passing, you stick out your arm, it stops and you hop on. You usually pay the driver the same amount you’d pay a bus for whatever distance they take you.

The back of a pickup truck is novel to gringos because it stopped being a common form of transport (except in some rural areas) when my generation was very young– saftey regulations, doncha know?

Similar priviledge and stigma as buses: stigma because you don’t have your own car, but hey! You do have the money to pay the car’s owner.

Tourist Shuttle: Gawd I hate tourist shuttles. But sometimes, they are nice. For instance, getting to and from the airport and Antigua.  A tourist shuttle costs about $10, it’s direct (they’ll even drop you at your hotel) and it’s pretty secure.  A bus, on the other hand, costs 7Q (about $1), but you have to haul your own bags, face possible robbery at the bus station, and have to additionally get to and from the bus stop.  Minus? Well, you’re chilling with a bunch of tourbus bunnies in the meantime.  You get to exchange disturbingly similar “travel stories” with people (“Dude, we got soooo wasted that night!” ” -X- place has the best beaches / cheapest booze / craziest parties” “I’m studying Spanish for a week, and then ‘seeing the sites'”). Amusing for a short while, and then it gets old. Especially when you end up translating “Cuánto cuesta” for someone who doesn’t have traveler’s Spanish, but has been in Central America for months. No, I’m not bitter.

Walking: This is the form of transport I really wanted to talk about.  I’ve been asked numerous times “why do gringos like to walk so much?!”

People I have met in Guatemala have been largely baffled by why gringos would choose to walk, when they can clearly afford to take buses (or even private tourist shuttles). Yes, gringos like to walk places. But only when they’re traveling, you see. Gringos walk for amusement.

While I was hiking from Nebaj to Todos Santos, several kind people pointed out that “A bus goes right by here, and it only costs 2Q.”  Walking in the highlands is something you only do if you can’t afford to take a bus, whereas with gringos it’s something you only do if you can afford the time.

I could say something about how it’s because “we’re” so disconnected from nature that we feel the need to get back in touch with it through superficial recreational activities… but I’m not so sure that’s the case.  Yeah, sure, we’ve distanced ourselves from Mother Earth, and hiking makes us feel warm and fuzzy and “balanced.” But it can’t be that simple.  Is it some pattern of “development” and “progress” rhetoric that says driving = progress, and only once you start to drive for transportation can you walk for recreation? I don’t know…

I’d spend more time talking about this, but I have to go study for my quiz tomorrow (and I’m already over 1000 words on this post).