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Archive for August, 2010

Bread is Life

August 14, 2010 Leave a comment

By Agnes Brandt, An ERI Partner in Berlin

“Du  bist, was du ißt.” – “You are what you eat.”

This meaningful insight into the sociocultural importance of eating is not just recognized by health food and diet gurus worldwide. Looking at the place of food in a society conveys a deeper meaning about the way a society functions. The importance people attach to eating and food tells us something about their values, beliefs and life-choices.

Being a good ethnographer is about getting access to people’s emic perspectives, to the meanings the people themselves attach to certain behaviours and beliefs. In order to do so, we immerse ourselves in the everyday life-worlds of those we are studying. A part of this is to get to know the specific customs around the preparation, sharing and eating of food.

I especially love this aspect of research. I just love food and I always try to go with local delicacies. Okay, okay, I do admit to being limited to non-meat and non-fish products, but I really do try everything vegetarian that I can get my hands on…

Anyway…I easily adapt to local eating-culture by indulging in whatever foods are popular and available, and I usually do not miss my ‘own’ food (partly because I am German and German food is – let’s face it – not the most exciting food you can find on this planet).

However, there is just one food that I am excited about and that I do miss whenever I stay some where for more than just a couple of months – and this I share with most of my fellow countrymen and women. The food that I am talking about is bread.

Bread. What about it? The pinnacle of German food culture? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure: German bread is the most sorely missed food by Germans worldwide, and we are very proud of our baking culture. In fact, we go to great lengths to find it whenever we leave our home country. German bakeries scattered all over the world are proof of this desire for ‘proper bread’, which is usually dark and heavy, nourishing and substantial. Hmmmmmm.

Yummy! I once read somewhere that we have the greatest variety of Brot worldwide! My favourite bread at the moment is spelt bread, but I also like the classical rye and the particularly solid black bread (Schwarzbrot). If I cannot find any ‘proper’ bread at all, I resort to Pumpernickel, a German black bread specialty available in shops even in far-to-reach places such as Samoa!

Here is something that I found difficult to wrap my mind around: I found out that some cultures consider bread ‘bad’ or even ‘unhealthy’. Now, here is a challenge for the bread-loving German anthropologist!

PS: We have the notion of “liquid bread”–Flüssigbrot. It refers to: beer (what a surprise).

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Animals in Ludhiana

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

by John Kille

After a mix up with flights and luggage, I got to ride through rural northern India, in the state of Punjab, at dusk and into the night. It was dark and the streets were lit only by moonlight and oncoming cars. The traffic at night, from what I could see, was an ensemble of movement. I saw the donkey carts, bicyclists, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, cars, and large trucks. This was my introduction to Ludhiana, where I would be the next week.

There are more animals in the streets here than Mumbai. And I have had several encounters since arriving. During context mapping today, I saw an elephant walking down the street, led by a man with a rope. He didn’t appear bothered by the traffic wooshing by. I told my 6-year-old daughter about this later on skype and she seemed amazed.

Donkey carts are very prominent here, and while on our way to dinner in an autorickshaw, packed with 4 other people, we weaved through traffic and stopped next to a donkey cart—my head about 2 feet from his. The donkey looked over at me and seemed to say, “Hey, how’s it going?”

On the way back from dinner, the auto rickshaw driver dropped me and Sahil, my local ethnographer, off about a half a mile away from the hotel because other people in his vehicle wanted to go left, and he wanted to save gas. We paid him 10 rupees and began walking. The streets were very dark, since electric power is scarcer here, and street lamps are sometimes non-existent or not working.

Near the hotel, there was a large dark blob shifting about in the darkness directly off the road. The curious ethnographer I am, I wanted a closer look. Sahil grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Be careful, he could run at any time.” I looked again and saw a large bull eating grass, his focus seemed on the food, but that could change.

Berlin

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I just arrived in Berlin to spend a week following up on the first half of fieldwork Melinda accomplished.  Here’s a few tidbits from my arrival:

– Customs was easy breezy! Just a couple of kiosks outside the arrival gate. In, out and oh so fast.

– I can eat deli meat every morning for breakfast if I want to.

– Coffee. Strong, delicious coffee.

– Berlin does not feel overwhelming or chaotic. I am grateful for that.

– I kind of like Berliner fashion. It looks comfortable, a little bit urban chic and has nice walkable shoes.

More later…fieldwork for me starts tomorrow.

Categories: International, Travel