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YOU‐WILL‐KILL‐ME BEANS: Taste and the Politics of Necessity in Humanitarian Aid

Cultural Anthropology

Published online on


Despite their nuanced palates and cooking skills, as guests at the humanitarian table, Liberians living at the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana were expected and assumed to adapt to the “tastes of necessity.” In the refugee camp, the sensory experiences and pleasures of the taste of liberty—or “luxury”—existed, if at all, as an indicator that one was no longer in need of aid. In this article, I consider how innovations in cooking and taste shape humanitarian politics and argue that Liberian refugees subverted the biopolitics of necessity through biographies of taste. Through their sensuous encounters and critical responses to the taste of necessity, humanitarian subjects are able to produce biographies of food aid and a public accounting of the historic and contemporary conditions of humanitarianism. By prioritizing the taste of refugee food, camp residents have challenged the reason of humanitarian reason by expanding the sensibility of food aid and repositioning recipients as essential figures in humanitarian aid.