Tag Archives: food

Bowdoin’s MacEachern on Link Between Colonialism and Famine on NPR


Scott MacEachern

Professor of Anthropology Scott MacEachern said the colonization of what is now Ghana by Britain in the nineteenth century was likely a contributing factor to the famine which regularly affects part of the region. Quoted on NPR’s food blog “The Salt,” MacEachern was responding to a study recently published by Northwestern University archaeologist Amanda Logan.

Logan said her archaelogical research suggests there was no food insecuritiy in the Banda district of west-central Ghana before the mid-nineteenth century, despite severe droughts. So what changed? Well, for one thing, she says, local industry was all but wiped out as Banda was incoroporated into Britain’s Gold Coat colony, and this had a negative effect on the district’s ability to cope with food shortages.

by Tom Porter

Collaborative Initiative Studies How to Aid Recovery of Maine’s Coastal Fisheries


Fishing vessel with scallop drag, Eastport

Several Bowdoin professors are involved in a collaborative project aimed at highlighting the challenges of restoring Maine’s coastal fisheries, particularly the groundfish industry. Key to meeting that challenge, says John Lichter, is helping the state’s sea run fish species, such as alewives, blueback herring and shad, also to recover. “These types of fish are an important food source for groundfish like cod,” said Lichter, who is professor of biology and environmental studies at Bowdoin, and one of the researchers involved in trying to stimulate ecological recovery.

John Lichter

John Lichter

Collaborating in the project are Bates College, the University of Southern Maine, and the Penobscot East Resource Center. Apart from Lichter, the other Bowdoin faculty members involved are Phil Camill from the Department of Earth and Oceanographic Science, Environmental Studies Lecturer and Program Manager Eileen Johnson, Associate Professor of Economics Guillermo Herrera, and Coastal Studies Scholar Ted Ames of the Penobscot East Resource Center. The project was funded by a National Science Foundation grant that is part of the Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a statewide initiative organized by the University of Maine at Orono to encourage collaborative research between institutions aimed at meeting “human needs while preserving the planet’s life support systems.”

The result is a colorful and informative 24-page publication titled “Recovery of Maine’s Coastal Fisheries.” Lichter described it as an “outreach booklet” and he was keen to point out that this is not an official peer-reviewed study. “It’s meant to be part of an ongoing effort to inform the public about what’s possible in terms of the ecological recovery of fisheries. We’ve also produced a short video to go with the booklet.”  Click here to watch the video.

Over-reliance on lobster

The concern that underscores this project, said Lichter, is the current over-reliance of Maine’s marine economy on one species-lobster. “Commercial fishing in the Gulf of Maine was very different sixty years ago,” he said. “Apart from shellfish, a variety of organisms were harvested: probably six to eight species, including groundfish like cod, pollock, and haddock.” It would be economically prudent, he added, for Maine’s fishing industry to shift from its narrow focus on lobster to a diverse set of target species like those commonly harvested sixty years ago. Although the lobster population remains healthy in the Gulf of Maine at the moment, the booklet warns there is a “significant probability that high lobster densities coupled with warming waters will result in a catastrophic decline in lobster numbers sometime in the future.” As an example it points to the collapse of the lobster fishery in Long Island about fifteen years ago, affected by warming waters and disease.

Ted in boat

Ted Ames

So how did Maine become so reliant on one species? And, by extension, what caused groundfish to effectively disappear from the state’s coastal waters over the last few decades? Human activity plays a big part, said Lichter, “but it’s not just overfishing. We also undermined the marine food web by building dams on rivers, something which impacted the sea run fish that groundfish fed on by preventing them from getting upriver to spawn. The loss of habitat, such as eelgrass, may also be a key factor,” he said, “as it provides an important haven for a number of marine species.”

Successful restoration efforts

On the plus side, the battle for recovery has already begun and a number of restoration efforts are underway. The booklet points to the success of dam removal and fish passage initiatives on a number of Maine rivers, which when combined with the environmental cleanup that’s been going over the last few decades, has resulted in a notable rebound in numbers. For example, in the Kennebec river system, alewife and blueback herring populations are up around 4,000 percent in the last eight years, “with as many as two to three million adult fish returning to spawn annually.”

Guillermo Herrera

Guillermo Herrera

But are these restoration efforts helping groundfish to recover? It’s too soon to tell, said economics professor Guillermo Herrera: “The recovery of coastal groundfish as a result of this improvement has not happened yet, and there’s no guarantee that it will happen because we don’t know exactly why the groundfish have gone away.” Herrera worked on the project as a bio-economic modeler, trying to figure out the “downstream” impact of a change in the abundance of forage fish on the population of their predators, and ultimately how that may benefit humans.

This modeling is hard to do, said Herrera, because of all the unknowns out there. But, he added, even without a groundfish resurgence, the restoration of the sea-run fish themselves yields economic and ecological benefits. “Forage fish have value as a harvested stock, primarily as lobster bait.” They also help restore coastal areas to their natural ecology and attract avian predators, he explained. All of which brings an indirect economic impact to the area in terms of tourism dollars and property prices, although the precise value is hard to quantify.

Using historic data

To understand the importance to groundfish of sea-run fish like alewives, the project builds upon the decades of work done by long-time commercial fisherman and fisheries ecologist Ted Ames. As well as being a former visiting coastal studies scholar at Bowdoin, Ames is also co-founder of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, and the winner of a MacArthur fellowship in 2005. To reconstruct a history of the Gulf of Maine fisheries, Ames interviewed a lot of fishermen. “The MacArthur publication,” he said, “not only tracked the demise of marine and sea-run fisheries, but identified a process for restoration.”

Eileen Johnson

Eileen Johnson

Working with Ames, Eileen Johnson did a lot of historical research, “going back and looking at what systems were like in the early 1900s.” She worked with Andy Bell ’11, Catherine Johnston ’12, Corey Elowe ’11, Elsie Thompson ’11, Min Lee ’14, and Nora Hefner ‘16 to map out historical alewife runs in order to analyze their correlation with cod landings. It’s something which Johnson said helps stakeholders understand the impact that the construction of hydro-electric dams had in Maine in the mid-twentieth-century.

The path forward

This booklet, and the ongoing work being done as part of the Sustainability Solutions Initiative, recognize that there is still some way to go to re-establish a diverse and well-populated ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine. Although the researchers will be publishing their results in academic journals, what sets this publication apart is that it was written specifically to make research findings more accessible to stakeholders. A large component of the overall research project was engaging stakeholders throughout the process and understanding ways that scientific findings could be communicated in ways to better inform policy-making. For example, said Johnson: “As part of our research, we interviewed stakeholders to learn more about how they access and use scientific findings in decision making. Having the data out there,” she said, “helps people think about how we could be moving forward.” The collaboration was also important, she added, in getting people to think about individual river systems as part of a much larger picture.

benton featured

The fish lift at Benton Falls dam


“These are exciting times to be involved in initiatives likes this in Maine,” said Herrera, “because a lot of dams are being re-evaluated as they come up for re-licensing by federal authorities, and I think there’s an increasing awareness of the benefits of having a river restored to its natural state, versus the economic arguments of keeping the dam in place.” Although this work does not readily provide concrete numerical answers, he said, “it does give an important sense of what those trade-offs are, and will hopefully lead to more informed policy decisions.”

fish cover

Click image to access the booklet


by Tom Porter

Going Locavore: Bowdoin Highlights Local Food Suppliers With Special Dinner

locavore4On a typical day, Bowdoin Dining Services aims to make sure that at least 35 percent of everything on offer comes from local suppliers. But on the evening of April 20, that number was closer to 100 percent. The occasion was the Spring Locavore Dinner, held as part of Earth Day Week celebrations. Students lined up for their evening dinners at Thorne Dining Hall and Moulton Union, faced as usual with an abundance of choice, from hot dishes like pizza, mac and cheese and beef chilli, to a variety of cold dishes, salads, and desserts. Almost all of the bounty was provided by nearly 30 Maine-based suppliers: from farms, to beaneries, to seafood growers, to cheese-makers, and more, the length and breadth of the state.

“With the exception of things like olive oil and one or two other small ingredients, the menu is purely local,” said Bowdoin’s Director of Dining Services Mary Kennedy. “One of the suppliers is our own organic garden here on campus. The maple syrup for example was tapped from our own trees, while the chocolate zucchini cakes also used Bowdoin-grown vegetables.” Kennedy said the menu depends entirely on what’s available and what vendors can offer.

Anita York works on the salad bar: “Everything you see here has been prepared today,” she said. “We had no idea in advance what would be available for salads, it depends on the conditions and what the farmers are able to grow. Most of the stuff has either come from indoor farms like Springworks in Lisbon, or it has been wintered over, which is why we have a lot of root vegetables.” York says her favorite is either the roasted potato salad, or the root slaw with apples and a honey vinaigrette.

locavore1Sitting down to dinner, Sam Sloate ’18 says her biggest challenge is trying not to overload the plate. “All the salads look really good so I’m having a little of every one,” she said. “I love a locavore dinner, it’s one of my favorite nights that Bowdoin has.”

Brian Nguyen ’16 has already tried the baked macaroni with Maine cheeses, courtesy of Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. Now he’s sampling the Maine beef chilli with a green salad on the side. “It’s good,” he said, “and it’s less wasteful right? Because it comes from somewhere so close.”


by Tom Porter

Polar Chef Competition 2016


Every year at the Polar Chef competition in Thorne Dining Hall, two teams–typically comprising students who work in the dining halls–compete for best dish.  This year, students competed to make the best salsa.  Julian Huertas ’16 has put together a video on this beloved tradition.

by Michelle Gaillard

Bowdoin’s Organic Garden Yields Maple Syrup Harvest

You may have seen them dotted around campus. About 25 maple trees with taps attached to the trunk, leading to a plastic bucket to collect the sap. Over Spring break Jeremy Tardif, the Bowdoin Organic Garden manager, is in the process of boiling down all that sap in the College kitchen to make maple syrup. He said is takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. The delicious, golden treat—all produced right here on campus—will be available for students to sample in tasting booths when they return to classes on March 28.

by Tom Porter

To Catch a Goat: An Interesting Approach to Invasive Species Eradication


Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Photo by Emily Wanderer

About 15 years ago, scientists in Mexico decided it was time to get rid of the goats on Isla Guadalupe, the country’s westernmost Island about 150 miles beyond the Baja peninsula. It’s a remote, volcanic, sparsely populated but sizeable island that was once lushly vegetated in parts. Then, in the mid-19th century, goats were introduced to the island by American and Russian sailors, fishing for whales and seals.

“The goats were seen as a way of establishing a reliable source of meat on an island that was regarded as otherwise fairly barren,” says Emily Wanderer, visiting assistant professor of anthropology. “The whalers thought, ‘we’ll leave some goats here, let them breed, then when we return, they’ll be a ready food supply.’ “


Emily Wanderer

The problem with this, she says, is that goats are not native to the island and are voracious herbivores: “They’ll eat everything, so trees and forests started to disappear as the goats munched their way through all the vegetation, slowly turning island into a desert. Also this de-vegetation creates a lot of erosion.” Eventually, in a bid to restore the island’s ecology to its natural state, an NGO called Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (with the support of the Mexican government), embarked on a successful campaign to wipe out Guadalupe’s goat population.

Wanderer spent time doing fieldwork and conducting research on the island when the eradication program was underway a few years ago, and it’s a subject she tackled in the recent faculty seminar “Slaughterhouse, Fieldsite, Laboratory: The Place of Science in Invasive Species Eradication in Mexico.”

Before they can exterminate Guadalupe’s 10,000 to 15,000 goats, the scientists have to locate them: a difficult task on this rugged island, which measures about 22 miles by six with very few humans on it. “To find the goats,” Wanderer explains, “they decided to recruit some members of the island goat population.” These animals, known as Judas goats for reasons that will become apparent, were captured, sterilized, tagged, then released back into the island’s wilderness.

“Goats are social animals with a strong herding instinct,” she says, “and they’re really good at finding one another.” So, in an unwitting act treachery, these goats led the animal control teams to where other goats could be found, and then killed. Once one herd is eliminated, she explains, the Judas goats are then released into the wild again to find and ‘betray’ more of their cloven-hoofed ‘friends.’


Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Photo by Emily Wanderer

Wanderer describes the goat program as an incredible success: “About 10,000 goats have been eradicated and the island has made an incredible comeback in the last few years. Trees have grown back and plant species thought to be extinct have started to return more quickly than expected.”

Conservationists are using similar techniques to try to eradicate Guadaulpe’s mouse population, which was also introduced to the island by visiting ships, albeit unwittingly, unlike the goats. Wanderer says the mice are “problematic because they eat plant seeds and also bird eggs, which is bad news for the sea birds that nest there.” The mouse program, she says, is still ongoing.

Isla Guadalupe is home to a small fishing community, and Wanderer says there was some initial opposition from them to the goat eradication program because they liked to eat goat meat. “But later they accepted it and were excited by the rejuvenation of the island,” she says, adding that the island is now regarded as a better place to live. “For one thing,” she adds, “there are better water resources because there’s no run off anymore thanks to the increased plant growth.”

As an anthropologist, Wanderer says she’s interested in this kind of “multi-species ethnography” as it’s called. “Anthropology is the study of human lives,” she says, “but we also need to think about how the lives of humans are shaped by the animal and plant life around them.” Furthermore, she adds, “it’s important to note how increasing awareness of concepts like bio-diversity enable people to interact with the land in new ways: not just asking question like ‘can it yield productive meat for us?’ But accepting that a place can be simply valuable in itself, for what it is.”



Emily Wanderer (right) tagging a mouse on Isla Guadalupe. Photo by Emily Wanderer


by Tom Porter

Bowdoin Library Offers Feast of Old Cookery Books in New Exhibit (Portland Press Herald/ Bangor Daily News)

19thcenturycookerybooks25082015_08252015-11Writer Meredith Goad for the Portland Press Herald finds much to be excited about in Bowdoin’s new collection of antique cookery books that were printed between 1772 and the 1960s. The 700 books in the Esta Kramer Collection of American Cookery, donated to the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives in the fall, offer up not just “odd recipes,” Goad writes, but also history, quirky words and phrases, and even helpful tips still applicable today.

The exhibit also caught the eye of Bangor Daily News journalist Kathleen Pierce, in her article “History of American Cookery Comes to Life at Bowdoin Exhibit.” She quotes antiquarian bookseller Don Lindgren. who catalogued the collection: ““Cookbooks are like auto repair manuals,” he says. “Both get under the hood and show how things really work.”

The collection features in an exhibit that opened last week at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. It will run through June 5, 2016.

On January 27, to mark the opening of the exhibit, Don Lindgren gave a talk titled  click here to view/listen.

by Tom Porter

Summer Harvest: Bowdoin Garden Crew Brings New Plot to Life

The new garden on Harpswell Road is producing a bounty of vegetables and flowers this year under the direction of Bowdoin Organic Garden manager Sara Cawthon and her crew. Earlier in the summer, the radishes were the size of plums, and were so abundant that the dining hall chefs had to be inventive in how they used them.

In this video, garden interns Elina Zhang ’16 and Tara Palnitkar ’16 give a brief tour of the plot, showing off the basil, lettuce, watermelon and other crops that the carefully amended and tended soil is producing. The 1/3-acre garden joins the Bowdoin gardens out on Pleasant Street and South Street, for a total of 1.5 acres.

by Rebecca Goldfine