American University
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Standardizing the taste of tradition: Maryland crab cakes from Thailand

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:40 authored by Kelly Feltault

Blue crabs are the main ingredient in Maryland crab cakes, a regional food symbolizing the Chesapeake and Maryland's state identity. As the taste of Maryland, crab cakes invoke authenticity through the Bay's maritime culture and rural coastal communities. However, since 1997 almost eighty percent of the crabmeat consumed in the US has been imported from countries like Thailand, and Maryland crab cakes have become a standardized, mass produced menu item served in restaurants across the US. By 2008, blue crab stocks in the Chesapeake and Thailand faced collapse. Policy makers and much of the literature on fisheries would call this a tragedy of the commons while agro-food commodity chains literature has ignored seafood and bifurcated the food system into global and local foods. My dissertation recognizes blue crabs as simultaneously a politically and culturally meaningful food and a natural resource, and examines how Maryland crab cakes became an authenticity niche---a once regional food that continues to symbolize the place and food culture of its origins but is industrially produced for the mass market through our global food system. I argue that transforming the Maryland crab cake into an authenticity niche was a form of accumulation by dispossession integral to neoliberal economic growth strategies in Maryland and Thailand. For Maryland crab cakes quality is defined through the perceived "traditional" production practices of crabmeat companies, as well as the physical attributes of crabmeat. Seafood safety means the global governance system HACCP---a science-based, risk assessment approach for preventing and controlling hazards throughout the production-consumption network. My research reveals how seafood corporations and states are creating value and accumulating capital closer to the point of consumption through two new commodities---seafood quality and safety---and how these reshaped the meaning of Maryland crab cakes. In this way, I highlight how states and firms collaborated to enclose, marketized, and commodify culture and nature, but also how such processes in two different locations became interconnected to create a global industry and new forms of power by remaking nature, people, and culture for the global market.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2009.


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