Distraction Free Reading

2013 Diana Forsythe Prize Winner: Heather Paxson for The Life of Cheese

From Marcia Inhorn, Chair, 2013 Forsythe Prize Committee

The Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC), a committee of the General Anthropology Division (GAD), announce Heather Paxson as the winner of the 2013 Diana Forsythe Prize for her book, The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (University of California Press, 2012)

Paxson’s book is a true exemplar of an award made “in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science and/or technology, including biomedicine.” The Life of Cheese is a stunning ethnographic foray into the emergence of the artisanal cheese-making movement in America, based on in-depth ethnography in three states (Vermont, Wisconsin, and California). It shows clearly how craft cheese-making has always been a part of Swiss and German immigrant food histories in the US, but how the 1960s emergence of an artisanal cheese culture is very much tied to the feminist movement, women’s changing marital and family constellations, and the desire for many baby boomers to get “back to the land,” including women who raise their own animals and make raw-milk cheese products.

The science (and medicine) of cheese-making is vividly detailed in the ethnography, including the debates about the necessity of pasteurization, the safety of raw milk, the “life” of yeasts and other microorganisms necessary to cheese production, and issues of food-borne illness. The ethnography is also conceptually rich, providing a new theoretical lexicon for understanding ecologies of production, craft practice, the post-pastoral ethos in America, and American attempts to cultivate terroir, or tastes tied to specific territories of production. Beautifully written, the book is accessible to those who know little about the science, gendered labor, and political economy of cheese-making. This topic is also utterly unique within American anthropology, and will be used widely in classes on the anthropology of work, science and technology studies, food studies, gender studies, and American studies, particularly the anthropology of rural America.

The 2013 Diana Forsythe Prize will be awarded at the annual American Anthropological Association meetings, prior to the GAD Distinguished Lecture on Friday, November 22, 12:15-1:30 pm.

The Diana Forsythe Prize was created in 1998 to celebrate the best book or series of published articles in the spirit of Diana Forsythe’s feminist anthropological research on work, science, and technology, including biomedicine. Each year the committee, composed of members of CASTAC and SAW, chooses the book that best exemplifies Diana Forsythe’s creative work on the cultural production and consumption of science and technology. This year’s Forsythe Prize Committee—Marcia Inhorn (Chair), João Biehl, and Susanne Cohen—selected Paxson’s work from a remarkable set of nominated volumes. Nominations for the 2014 prize can be sent to João Biehl at jbiehl@princeton.edu. Self-nominations are welcomed. To be eligible, books must have been published in the last five years (copyright 2009 or later).

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