Food, Faith, and More

This review originally appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier

Partnering with Inkberry Books for these monthly reviews is always a pleasure because I’m exposed to authors and topics I wouldn’t usually choose for myself. This was certainly the case with Francesca Howell’s book, Food, Festival and Religion (FFR)–an academic book, this tome is certainly intended for a specific audience, yet it may have some tidbits that will also intrigue the lay reader.

(Plus! Here’s a link to my vlog)

While not very long, the page count comes in at just under 190 pages, this is certainly a dense read. As an academic, I thoroughly enjoyed the introductory literature review and context to the research as well as the analysis at the end of the book. However, it definitely takes time to read and really understand what Howell is explaining with regard to her findings. So, for casual readers, I definitely recommend sticking more to chapters three through five.

These chapters discuss in detail some of the numerous festivals which Howell attended and researched. I loved the anecdotal quotes from various participants and found that it was in these particular chapters where Howell’s voice shifted from academic to a slightly more casual “enthusiast” vibe. Not that her academic voice was off-putting, I quite enjoyed it, but when describing festivals like Celtic New Years or the Badalisc (a truth-spitting horned creature), it felt more like a conversation with someone rather than a lecture.

In sum, these chapters are more colorful and less philosophical/theoretical compared to the introduction and concluding chapters. That said, if you enjoy theory (and/or academic reading in general) I do think you’ll really enjoy the conclusion in particular. Analysis of the so-called soft sciences is different from the natural sciences because they often seem more subjective. You’re not going to see something like “based off these numerical values, this thing is a definite fact,” instead, it’s up to researchers to analyze all the data–Howell had 100s of ethnographic interviews to sift through, in addition to her observations she recorded–and find a way to distill that information into easily understandable ways.

I found it fascinating to learn about Howell’s “Scale of Engagement,” where she analyzed six festivals based on criteria related to everything from festival organization to reported feelings of “sense of place.” Furthermore, I really enjoyed how she broke down each festival, giving an explanation of how she assessed these Scale of Engagement scores. Any time that we as readers are able to gain insight into a writer’s process–research or otherwise–is a unique opportunity, and one that I was especially curious to see with FFR.

Something else I enjoyed, and this is something I think both lay and academic readers alike may share, is that because this is an ethnographic study of culture, it’s very relatable. It was exciting to me, as a reader, to make connections from Howell’s research to my own life, or to other classes I’ve taken. In a sense, while somewhat daunting upon first glance, reading academic work like this one is a powerful opportunity to open one’s perspective. Howell even made a comment that one of the reasons she moved to, and enjoys, Niwot is that there’s a tremendous sense of place here. She enjoys how the town embodies place with the various forms of community involvement, and how exciting it is to see parallels between her research and daily life.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Look out for next week’s posts on Jessica Olson‘s upcoming novel A Forgery of Roses.

Happy Reading!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s