A coffee break with...

Bee Farrell is a culinary anthropologist with an MSc in anthropology of food. Food consultant, writer, researcher and academic, she has worked with the Sustainable Food Trust, Harper Collins and the University of East Anglia. As a food anthropologist, she specialises in the social themes of food and eating, and its evolving role in everyday life. During Covid, Farrell was awarded a PhD to research healthy and sustainable food choices using digital ethnography.

What does your job typically entail?
As a food anthropologist, I have to be curious and ask questions that help to uncover the cultural stories behind our everyday food choices and habits. It’s hard to say what this typically entails as it has such so much variety. But one thing that’s always the same is my effort to make information and robust research engaging.

How did you get into the industry?
I was brought up living above, and working in, my mum’s restaurant, and I became fascinated by the way food brings us together. After working for many years with community health and heritage food projects, I studied for an MA in the anthropology of food and then began researching and writing. This led to me receiving doctorate funding to investigate eating together and the reactions of the hospitality industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What’s your favourite part of your working day?
Early mornings are the best for me, as I love the quiet and can make the most of not being distracted. It’s the time when I do the bulk of my writing work that can last up to about three hours. All of this is done with a big mug of tea and a few digestive biscuits!

And your least favourite? 
Mid-afternoon is sometimes my least favourite. It is often when there is a lot of admin to do. It’s great to hear from colleagues and clients, and to think through new projects and presentations, but it’s the time I also tend to catch up with digi-filing and forms that can be onerous. 

What’s your favourite food and beverage?
Overall, my favourite cuisine is Persian, I just love the mix of gentle spices, fruit and floral ingredients like rosewater. For a food and beverage combination, my go-to is always a cardamon bun and a flat white with oat milk. 

And your least favourite? 
It has to be marmite on toast and grapefruit juice – though not necessarily together! Marmite is a fascinating ingredient as it clearly divides taste: you either love it or you don’t. I don’t.

What is the biggest factor currently affecting the industry?
There are many factors negatively affecting the industry that are wrapped up in politics, economics and skill shortages. These all put hospitality, an already vulnerable industry, under greater pressure.

One positive aspect for hospitality that my PhD research investigated is the vitalness of eating together out of the home. The pandemic’s physical distancing measures meant that hospitality shut down, or was severely limited, and so extra-domesticity – eating out of home – stopped. My research found that social and mental health suffered because of this distancing, and the reaction post-pandemic is that all kinds of people in health industries now recognise the healing and supportive aspects of social eating outside the home.

What one piece of advice would you offer someone working in the industry? 
One thing in my ‘industry’ of anthropological research is to always be open to new ideas, cultures and dilemmas. Plus, you need to make time for reading every day, preferably from books. 

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