BACKGROUND: The purpose of this assignment is to give you hands-on experience in conducting participant-observation in a cultural context. Additionally, this assignment will allow you to gather and interpret your own data on food and culture in the same way that a cultural anthropologist would do. You will select a public space that focuses on food (e.g. grocery store, restaurant, farmers' market) in which you can conduct observations and participate as much as is appropriate and possible. You will document your observations and experiences. After the participant-observation is complete, you will expand, reflect on, and analyze your initial notes. Ideally, you should choose a place that you have not been before as well as place that is of a different cultural context than your own (e.g. an ethnic restaurant different from your own ethnicity) as you will be better able to take notes on things that are new to you than something you see every day.
Possible places to conduct your observations include: an ethnic food market, a public religious meal, a farmers' market, an ethnic restaurant, or the food section of a street fair or carnival. You need to pick a place that will allow you to make observations and record notes of people eating, drinking, cooking, shopping for, or preparing food. If none of these places/events are available to you, suggest something comparable to your TA and get approval.
ATTENTION: You may need to ask permission (from a manager, etc.) to hang out for a while and take notes in certain environments, like food stores. Explain your presence there is for a class assignment at ASU. (It will help if you wear an ASU shirt and possibly if you show your ASU ID.) Be sensitive to the fact that managers may not want students interfering with their business and clients may be wary or even afraid of strangers who seem to be conducting surveillance. You should adjust your behavior to culturally appropriate norms. For example, do not take photographs during a religious service, or of the contents of people's shopping carts. On a positive note, if you take a notepad into a restaurant and order a meal, they may think that you are a restaurant critic and take extra care when preparing your food!
Before you begin, be sure to watch the assignment introductory video above and review three important documents: “Food Ethnography Guidelines and FAQs”, the Murchison "Participant Observation" chapter, and the Assignment 2 Rubric.
Choose the place you will visit according to the directions above.
Go to the place you selected and conduct participant observation for 1.5 hours. You may also "participate" if you think it is appropriate and you are comfortable. For example, at an ethnic food market, buy one or two small ready-to-eat products. As appropriate, eat what you purchased. Find a place to hang out and conduct your observations. If you are at an ethnic restaurant, order and eat a meal -- but be sure to be watching everything that is happening around you!
Take copious notes; these are typically called “jottings” and done by hand. You should focus on documenting PEOPLE and ENVIRONMENT. You should consult the "Guidelines" handout (above) for instructions on what to document.
For example, if you visit a food store you should try to document: the products for sale, the layout of the store, who comes and goes, any interactions you see or participate in, languages used, and (if possible to do respectfully & at a distance) what people buy. Record your own reactions to the food you tasted, the site, and the people you see there.
Once you get home you must expand on your field notes and begin to form them into a narrative. Download the Assignment 2 Template and follow the instructions. This step should take 2.5 hours.
Transform your "jottings" into a written narrative that includes your expanded thoughts on your observations. Minimum length is 2 single-spaced pages of text.
Perform a preliminary analysis by reading through your narrative and identifying 4 observations that you can explain as being related to themes of food and culture that have been covered in class thus far. Discuss each observation in a paragraph (on the assignment sheet).
Write a paragraph reflecting on your experience.
Write 2 questions you would follow up on in further research at your location.
Length: 5 pages (2200 Words)
It is a warm Sunday afternoon in a tropical region of Central America. I decide to make a visit to a popular food store in the city. Through participant observation, I decided to collect data about the food and culture at this major global food store. My focus is on the people and the environment. My topic of observation is on the appearance of the people, socialization, physical behavior, communication and personal preferences. I want to know more about the type of people flocking this food store location, their ethnicity, age, social status, cultural affiliations, language spoken, and their individual preferences. I notice the brilliant colors at the food store, the appetizing smell coming from the food court and the vibrant modes of advertising ushering in the holiday seasons. It’s just before December, a time when families around the world get together for Christmas celebrations. This is an international religious festival which unites Christians and non Christians across the globe. The event has its historical origin, but most people attach it to a moment of family, fun, shopping and celebrations.
At the food store center, the global environment filled with people from all kinds of races is welcoming. At this shopping mall, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, American and Asian cuisine rule. I guess these are the popular cultures of the world hence most people feel connected to them. I notice that people going into these specific restaurants are not necessarily of the particular culture sold in the food unit. I saw a good number of races visiting the American fast food restaurant. They seemed like professionals in high levels because the food prices in the restaurants were not for the middle class. I entered into the Spanish restaurant because its location allowed me to take note of people entering into the Asian and Italian restaurants across.
I realize that this is a global meeting place where cultural affiliations unite rather than divide.
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