The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Berkeley, University of California Press) 2013


Tasty, convenient, and cheap, instant noodles are one of the most remarkable industrial foods ever. Consumed around the world by millions, they appeal to young and old, affluent and impoverished alike. The authors examine the history, manufacturing, marketing, and consumption of instant noodles. By focusing on three specific markets, they reveal various ways in which these noodles enable diverse populations to manage their lives. The first market is in Japan, where instant noodles have facilitated a major transformation of post-war society, while undergoing a seemingly endless tweaking in flavors, toppings, and packaging in order to entice consumers. The second is in the United States, where instant noodles have become important to many groups including college students, their nostalgic parents, and prison inmates. The authors also take note of “heavy users,” a category of the chronically hard-pressed targeted by U.S. purveyors. The third is in Papua New Guinea, where instant noodles arrived only recently and are providing cheap food options to the urban poor, all the while transforming them into aspiring consumers. Finally, this study examines the global “Big Food” industry. As one of the food system’s singular achievements, the phenomenon of instant noodles provides insight into the pros and cons of global capitalist provisioning.

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Cheap Meat: Flap Food Nations in the Pacific Islands

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Berkeley, University of California Press) 2010

From Robert Foster (author of Coca-Globalization:  Following Soft Drinks from New York to New Guinea:  “Gewertz and Errington unpack the aspirations and anxieties, calculations and controversies that inhabit an inexpensive cut of fatty mean.  Following the trail of sheep bellies from slaughterhouses in Australia and New Zealand to the plates of Pacific Islanders, they evenhandedly map the divergent perspectives of commercial traders, government officials, and ordinary consumers. Cheap Meat provides a startling view of how global food markets fashion the bodies and identities of people everywhere.”

From Emily Yates-Doerr in Material World:  “In this easily readable, but nonetheless ambitious book, Gewertz and Errington apply their longstanding interest in change in Papua New Guinea to the controversies surrounding the sale and purchase of lamb and mutton fat among, what they call, “Flap Food Nations.” They suggest that flaps embody numerous ambiguities about post-colonial relations between the Pacific Islands (specifically Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Tonga) and Australia and New Zealand. Although they are a tasty and important source of nutrition for many Pacific Islanders, they are also widely seen as “by-products”, “dumped” upon the poor by wealthier nations. Furthermore, given an escalating incidence of obesity in the Pacific Islands, flaps – themselves more than 50% fat – have come to represent the high prevalence of dietary related illnesses: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc. Gewertz and Errington suggest that because of their complicated symbolism, flaps function akin to totems, marking group membership— in this case third world eaters and first world refusers. This totemic quality of flaps additionally references inextricable relations of dependency, indexing those who live in a second-rate modernity in which they reply upon a second-rate source of food.”

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Yali’s Question: Sugar, Culture, and History

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Chicago, University of Chicago Press) 2004


From “Yali’s Question is the story of a remarkable physical and social creation—Ramu Sugar Limited (RSL), a sugar plantation created in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. As an embodiment of imported industrial production, RSL’s smoke-belching, steam-shrieking factory and vast fields of carefully tended sugar cane contrast sharply with the surrounding grassland. RSL not only dominates the landscape, but also shapes those culturally diverse thousands who left their homes to work there.

To understand the creation of such a startling place, Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz explore the perspectives of the diverse participants that had a hand in its creation. In examining these views, they also consider those of Yali, a local Papua New Guinean political leader. Significantly, Yali features not only in the story of RSL, but also in Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning world history Guns, Germs, and Steel—a history probed through its contrast with RSL’s. The authors’ disagreement with Diamond stems, not from the generality of his focus and the specificity of theirs, but from a difference in view about how history is made—and from an insistence that those with power be held accountable for affecting history.”

From Ping-Ann Addo in Transforming Anthropology: “Yali’s Question is an exemplary ethnographic investigation of how Papua New Guineans attempted to augment their local prestige overseas by using Western apparatuses of power and tropes of identity. The authors might have written their book, of course, without frequent references to Yali’s question and Diamond’s response to it. Yet doing so would have made Yali’s Question less effective as an alternative to Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize–winning and hugely popular book—as well as to the Eurocentric historical determinism that it might cement in the minds of uncritical readers. Errington and Gewertz have done a great service for the anthropologies of landscapes and of organizations. Their responsible, contextualized history reinforces the idea that relativistic localized narratives contribute more to our understanding of chosen cultural paths than mere claims about what is feasible, desirable, and advisable.”

From Martin Evans, former Head of New Projects, Booker-Tate, Ltd. (Nov. 15, 2004): “I have read the book from cover to cover, including every single footnote. I think you…have done an absolutely superb job.  It is the first truthful and comprehensive account of a specific time-space segment of the phenomenon we call ‘development’ that I have seen. It should be required reading for every student.” | University of Chicago Press | Barnes & Noble


Emerging Class in Papua New Guinea: The Telling of Difference

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) 1999

Emerging Class in Papua New Guinea - Book Cover

From the entry: “Class has become a feature of life in Papua New Guinea, evident in both ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ settings. This book examines the emergence of class differences and its social and cultural ramifications in Wewak, capital of the East Sepik Province. It movingly conveys the injuries of class inequalities, and reveals how class has worked in similar and different ways, and how it has become possible and plausible for relatively affluent ‘nationals,’ even those living in modest urban centers, to present themselves as fundamentally superior to other Papua New Guineans.” | Barnes & Noble | Cambridge University Press


Articulating Change in the “Last Unknown” (Studies in the Ethnographic Imagination)

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press), 1995

Articulating Change in the %22Last Unknown%22 - Book Cover

From, “An exploration of the questions of identity and value posed by people living on or near the small Pacific island of Karavar in Papua New Guinea. The book focuses on how the Karavarans’ long-term preoccupation with identity and worth has played out in various social contexts.”

From Bruce M. Knauft, “This book is a path-breaking contribution at the interface of Melanesian ethnography, history, and postcolonial anthropology, and a model seventh volume in the “Ethnographic Imagination” series edited by Comafroff, Bloch, and Bourdieu. Errington and Gewertz eschew easy answers and theoretical a prioris to engage concrete ethnographic examples and show how change entails the contested construction of both the present and the past.” | Barnes & Noble


Twisted Histories, Altered Contexts: Representing the Chambri in a World System

Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington; (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) 1991

From the publisher’s summary: “In this, [Errington & Gewertz’s] second joint study of the Chambri, they consider the way those in a small-scale society, peripheral to the major centres of influence, struggle to sustain some degree of autonomy. They describe the Chambri caught up in world processes of social and cultural change, and attempt to create a ‘collective biography’ which conveys the intelligibility and significance of the twentieth-century experience of these Papua New Guineans whom they have come to know well. This biography consists of interlocking stories, twisted histories, commentaries and contexts about Chambri who are negotiating their objectives while entangled in systemic change and confronting Western representations of modernization and development.”

This book received Honorable Mention for the 1991 Victor Turner Prize in ethnographic writing awarded by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

Cambridge University Press | | Barnes & Noble | Google Books


Cultural Alternatives and a Feminist Anthropology: An Analysis of Culturally Constructed Gender Interests in Papua New Guinea

Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz; (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press) 1987, paperback edition, 1989

From the publisher’s summary: “The Chambri of Papua New Guinea are well known as being the ‘Tchambuli’ of Margaret Mead’s influential work, Sex and Temperament, in which she described them as a people among whom, in contrast to Western society, women dominated over men. In this book, however, Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz re-analyze Mead’s data, and present original material of their own, to reveal that Mead misinterpreted the Chambri situation, and that in fact Chambri women neither dominate Chambri men, nor vice versa. They use this reformulated interpretation to discuss the relevance of the Chambri case for the understanding of gender relations in Western society today, showing that male dominance is not inevitable. At the same time, they also use their knowledge of cultural alternatives to clarify Western feminist objectives.”

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Myths of Matriarchy Reconsidered

Deborah Gewertz, ed; (Sydney, Oceania Monographs) 1985


History and Ethnohistory in New Guinea

Deborah Gewertz and Edward Schieffelin, eds; (Sydney, Oceania Monographs) 1985

From the entry on the National Library of Australia website: “Papers originally presented as part of a symposium on the history and ethnohistory of Papua New Guinea at the meetings of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO) in Hilton Head, Georgia, USA in March 1982.”

Includes bibliographies.


Manners and Meaning in West Sumatra: The Social Context of Consciousness

Frederick Errington; (New Haven, Yale University Press), 1984

21z2bfookpdlFrom the book’s jacket:  “The Minangkabau of West Sumatra have long been prominent in the political, economic, and intellectual life of Indonesia, and they have been studied for their strong Islamic faith and their matrilineality.  Until now, however, no one has examined the fact that they are also avid explainers and interpreters of their own customs and etiquette… Beautifully written and richly illustrated, this analysis of how the Minangkabau conduct and interpret their lives is an important contribution to Indonesian studies, general ethnography, and symbolic anthropology.”



Sepik River Societies: A Historical Ethnography of the Chambri and their Neighbors

Deborah Gewertz; (New Haven, Yale University Press) 1983

From Mervyn Meggitt:  “Deborah Gewertz makes an elegant and penetrating analysis of the political economy of a congeries of Sepik River societies, while at the same time she sensitively explores the complex history of their changing interactions.  Her book is an illuminating, indeed essential contribution to our understanding of a region that has long attracted the interest of ethnologists of Melanesia.”

Amazon | Open Library


Karavar: Masks and Power in a Melanesian Ritual

Frederick Errington; (Ithaca, Cornell University Press) 1974

From the book’s cover:  “Arguing that traditional anthropological approaches are not applicable to Karavaran reality, Mr. Errington demonstrates that the best way to understand the logic of Karavaran society is to understand its members beliefs about the nature of man and the nature of order.  Focusing on the society’s preoccupation with achieving stability, he first describes the principal relationships between men and women. He then turns to ritual activities where the Karavarans find answers to the fundamental questions about power and social order that arise in their nonritual life… Rich in ethnographic detail, this work makes a significant contribution to the understanding of Melanesian culture and to the study of social organization.”