AAA Conference Presentation: Disjunctures Between Pre-Race and Post-Race Foodways and Practices of Triathletes and Long-Distance Runners

AAA 2013 Conference Lecture "Disjunctures Between Pre-Race and Post-Race Foodways and Practice of Triathletes and Marathon Runners

AAA 2013 Conference Lecture

I will be presenting with several other anthropologists on the ethnographic research methods we used in our foodways research at this month’s AAA (American Anthropological Association) Annual Conference in Chicago. These methods should help other researchers when they encounter discrepancies between what people say they eat and what they actually eat.   I will be talking about the surveys I used for my research on the food rituals, beliefs and post-race binging of competitive triathletes and marathon runners. This being my first AAA conference and first AAA session presentation, fortunately for my nerves, it will be before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The session where we will be presenting our food research methods is called Foodways in Discourse and Practice:  A Discussion of Ethnographic Methods.  It will be held on Sunday, November 24, 2013, 12:15 PM to 2 PM in Conference Room 4L at the Chicago Hilton. For more information about this years AAA conference, please go to the “2013 Annual Meeting Central” section of the AAA website.

My presentation’s title is “Disjunctures Between Pre-Race and Post-Race Foodways and Practices of Triathletes and Long-Distance Runners.” Below is an abstract (250 words):

Triathlete at the 2007 Carpinteria Triathlon enjoying a post-race binge.

Triathlete winner of 2007 Carpinteria Sprint Triathlon enjoying a post-race binge.

In this research project I discovered the multiple disjunctures between the pre vs. post-race foodways beliefs and practices of triathletes and endurance runners in California.  I also discovered the ideal body types and food beliefs of these endurance athletes and how these ideals are influenced by scientific hegemony and an American fitness culture of embodied elitism, health and morality. Using the symbolic interpretive technique of Lévi-Strauss’ binary oppositions to tease out “good/bad” foods and body types I analyzed how these ideals are actually employed in day-to-day nutrition and eating practices using Bourdieu’s practice theory and concept of cultural capital. In regards, to race rituals (and rites of reversal which occur during a race event for some participants) I used Turner’s theory of how rituals serve to reproduce the values and practices of cultures and maintain group solidarity. I also analyzed through self-reported symptoms of physiological stress response on how these rituals, which included binging on carbohydrate-rich foods, may be reinforced as techniques of stress hormone reduction. Research methods I used include participant observation—doing the workouts with my triathlete and runner informants and participating in two races, in-person semi-structured interviews, and online surveys. I found my nearly 150 respondents through the membership of two local competitive triathlon and marathon training clubs, informal networks of friends and friends-of-friends of triathletes and competitive long-distance runners as well as informal networks of online followers of a twitter profile which I set-up for this project. The results of my research illustrate how useful some of these “old” classic theories of anthropology still can be in current research of both cultural ideals, identity and as well as the biological effects/functions of nutritional practices.

Here is a copy of the Spring 2009 research survey that I used for my research on discovering the possible reasons behind the disjunctures of what runners say they eat and what they actually put in their mouths during a post-race celebratory meal: “Runners Pre-Race/Post-Race Survey” [PDF].

Here is a copy of my research analysis (un-published paper) of which my presentation at the AAA was based: “Post-Race Food Cravings and Food Consumption of Endurance Runners” [PDF].

The other presenters during this food research methods session at this year’s AAA conference have some great perspectives and methods to share from their own research areas. They include the session’s organizer PhD Candidate Amber O’Connor from The University of Texas at Austin and her presentation “Obviously Imperceptible: Identity and the Tortilla in Quinta Roo.” O’Conner applies Bourdieu’s practice theory to the complexity of identity formation in her ethnographic research in a Maya village in Mexico. Graduate student Tylor Short of the University of Louisville will show how to discover the reasons behind a consumer’s performance of morality-based food choices with his revealing research on public versus private coffee consumption using dietary recall surveys and questionnaires. All three of these presentations illustrate the importance of participant observation as an invaluable research method for verifying survey data. It was the observations of each anthropologist that revealed the discrepancies between what people said they ate and documented in the surveys they completed and the foods that they actually consumed–the reason for the discrepancies. This research methods session should be of particular interest to anthropologists working in the private sector as consumer research professionals in the food industry or in the public sector in the arena of public health research as well as anthropology instructors and students.

A Conservation Tourism Assessment in Nicaragua: GPS Trail Mapping and Howler Monkey Census

Brick house just before the Papaya Grove and across the street from a rain forest patch

House across the road from a rainforest patch (and home to a group of wild mantled howler monkeys) in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua Photo: AR Kirwin

This post is about an assessment of the local conservation tourism opportunities in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua that I did in the summer of 2013.  Playa Gigante is a small fishing village and, recently an international surf destination, on the Pacific Coast of southern Nicaragua a couple of hours north of the Costa Rican border. This report includes a summary of the social and economic changes that are creating both hardships and opportunities in the town, and the various ecological data on the local howler monkey groups and their food trees and scenic trails that I was able to collect during the assessment.  My complete field report about this project is posted on the blog for the Kirwin International Relief Foundation (KIRFaidblog.org)– a non-profit disaster relief and education organization that I co-founded with my husband in 2005. Our non-profit has been supporting the humanitarian and environmental conservation efforts of two other non-profit organizations who are making a big difference in the town: Project Waves of Optimism and Sweet Water Fund. This was my second visit to Playa Gigante after helping out the local women’s softball team Las Estrellas through Sweet Water Fund and vising the construction of the new Gigante Community Health Center, made possible by local community volunteers and fund raising effort lead by the inspiring group of young surfers at Project Waves of Optimism. Continue reading

Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory: Contributions & Shortcomings

Darwin's  1837 "Tree of Life" sketch from his notebooks (Stanford University)

Darwin’s 1837 “Tree of Life” sketch from his notebooks (Stanford University)

Biological evolution occurs when a population evolves physical changes that allow it to better survive and reproduce in its environment. It’s discovery was first published by Charles Darwin’s in 1859 in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 (later re-published as The Origin of Species). Darwin’s called his theory “descent with modification” through the process of “natural selection.”  He believed that environmental pressures–nature–selected for the most advantageous traits in living things much in the same way as domestic animals were selectively bred for desirable traits using “artificial selection.” Continue reading

Keeping it together: Why some societies & cultures cohere & some persist

Why do some social groups or societies persist for generations and others disappear in only a few generations? How is the integration and coherence of a society developed and maintained? Benedict, Gluckman, Barth, and Wilson all believed in specific mechanisms that sustained traditional values and societies over time. In this paper I will compare and contrast the various explanations for cultural coherence and longevity put forth by Ruth Benedict, Max Gluckman, Fredrik Barth and David Sloan Wilson. Continue reading

Genetic, geographic & cultural factors that cause sickle-cell anemia

It is important to note that even genetic diseases are caused by multiple social, environmental and biological factors. This is particularly true in the case of sickle-cell anemia, a genetically inherited blood disorder usually found in people with West African ancestry (PBS 2001).  The following paper will summarize the genetic, geographic and cultural factors that contribute to the incidence of sickle-cell anemia and why this disease is called a “balanced polymorphism”. Continue reading

The Scientific Method and Biological Anthropology

This paper discusses the relationship between the scientific method and physical anthropology. The scientific method is a research process whereby a question or problem is posed, a provisional explanation called an hypothesis is made that is then tested through the gathering of data (e.g. evidence) from observation or experimentation. Data is scientific information from which conclusions can be drawn. The word “data” is plural for “datum”. Since physical anthropology is a scientific discipline, it focuses on gathering quantitative data (e.g. data that can be expressed numerically) and empirical data (e.g. data that can be experienced) through observation or experimentation.  Thus the scientific method is an empirical approach to gaining knowledge from experience through observation or experimentation. The word “empirical” is from the Latin empiricus, meaning “experienced” (Jurmain 2010:16). If a phenomenon cannot be experienced with one’s five senses (sight, touch, taste, hearing and sensation) then it is not empirical.  Science itself is provisional knowledge that is gained and is constantly being refined through the scientific method of observation or experimentation of empirical data. The word “science” is from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge” (Jurmain 2010:16). Continue reading

Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium Theory

The Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium Theory is a simple mathematical model for the modern definition of evolution  that can be used to track the changes in allele frequencies within a population from one generation to the next. It is based on the idea of that no evolution– genetic equilibrium–is statistically unlikely. However, the hypothetical instance of no evolution can serve as a baseline in order to estimate and predict instances of allele frequency changes (evolutionary change) in descendent populations solely based on the proportion of phenotypic variances within a population (Jurmain 2010:438). Continue reading