Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | The Scarcity Slot: Excavating Histories of Food Security in Ghana (Amanda L. Logan)

When: Friday, May 28, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Cindy Pingry  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


The Global Lunchbox is a weekly conversation convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies that features current research and work-in-progress by Northwestern scholars in the social sciences and humanities working on a range of global issues. This week we will host Amanda L. Logan of the Department of Anthropology for a conversation about her new book, The Scarcity Slot: Excavating Histories of Food Security in Ghana.

About the book

The Scarcity Slot is the first book to critically examine food security in Africa’s deep past. Amanda L. Logan argues that African foodways have been viewed through the lens of ‘the scarcity slot,’ a kind of Othering based on presumed differences in resources. Weaving together archaeological, historical, and environmental data with food ethnography, she advances a new approach to building long-term histories of food security on the continent in order to combat these stereotypes. Focusing on a case study in Banda, Ghana that spans the past six centuries, The Scarcity Slot reveals that people thrived during a severe, centuries-long drought just as Europeans arrived on the coast, with a major decline in food security emerging only recently. This narrative radically challenges how we think about African foodways in the past with major implications for the future.

About the speaker

Amanda L. Logan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern. She is affiliated with the Program of African Studies, the Program in Environmental Policy and Culture, and the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs.

Her overarching goal is to connect the past to the present through reframing the kinds of questions we ask and empirically bridging the modern/premodern divide. Her current focus is building an archaeology of food security that traces how, where, and when chronic hunger emerged across the African continent. Drawing insight from political ecology and critical development studies, she utilizes archaeology to highlight the political and economic shifts that paved the way for food insecurity, rather than attributing it to environmental change alone. By using empirical data to construct alternative narratives of underdevelopment and agricultural achievement, she questions the common misconception that African food insecurity is a “natural” outcome of environmental catastrophes and “antiquated” agricultural strategies.

Her recent publications examine continuity and change in food practices as Banda, Ghana was absorbed into global networks over the last millennium. Using archaeobotanical, environmental, and ethnoarchaeological data, she shows how Africans were able to weather a severe, centuries-long drought just as Europeans arrived on the coast; and that a major decline in food security occurred only recently, in association with increasingly globalized economies and colonial rule.

A broader umbrella project, “Environmental Archaeologies of Food Sovereignty in Africa,” will continue to challenge narratives of African food insecurity through analysis of environmental data from sites around the African continent. This comparative project focuses the social and agricultural strategies that Africans used to weather major geopolitical and environmental shifts of the last millennium, a timeframe that spans the trans-Saharan and Atlantic trades as well as colonial rule. Critical to these efforts is expanding the database of African plant use in the past through macrobotanical, phytolith, and starch grain analyses, the major focus of the NU Paleoethnobotany Laboratory. In particular, we seek to understand the introduction and spread of American crops like maize and cassava as well as the critical roles played by African crops.

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