Dr. Micah M. Trapp

Dr. Micah M. Trapp

Associate Professor

304 McCord Hall
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About Dr. Trapp

Dr. Micah Trapp received her Ph.D. in anthropology from American University in 2011.

My international and local research explores the boundaries and limits of capitalism through the study of food systems and ultimately takes up the question: What are the possibilities for social and economic equity? My scholarship contributes to research, theory, and application in the areas of 1) humanitarian aid; 2) the anthropology of food and taste; 3) economic anthropology and household food economies; and 4) food policy. Explored across multiple field sites, my research centers on how the social dimensions of taste intersect with the economic processes of distributing food assistance. Conceptual questions central to my research agenda focus on the value, meaning, distribution, and exchange of resources in the capitalist industrialized food system. As an ethnographer, my work is driven by the sensory dimensions of food and theoretical engagements with taste and attends to how the sensuality of food expands our perception of social relationships and power.

I conducted my dissertation fieldwork at the Buduburam Liberian refugee camp in Ghana and addressed the complex processes associated with the shifts from formal to informal aid in a long-term camp and the eventual UNHCR cessation clause of refugee status for Liberians. In this work I explored how the collective production and taste of "refugee food" rejected the logic of what Didier Fassin has called "humanitarian reason," or the moral logic that governs and determines who will receive aid. In the United States, I have extended my interest in unseen and unknown food economies and distribution through fieldwork with grocery auctions, focusing on how taste and the value-making processes that turn the spoils and waste of the capitalist industrialized food system into valued food..

As a practicing anthropologist, I have worked for two refugee resettlement agencies in the US and have also worked on a USAID evaluation team.

Expertise and Interests:

Food Systems; Taste; Food Entitlements and Humanitarian Aid; Economic Anthropology; Refugees and Migration; Ethnographic Methods; West Africa and US

Research Projects:

My most recent research has focused on food aid and entitlements in the United States. For the past four years, I have carried out fieldwork on federal school food entitlements and the National School Lunch Program. This multi-dimensional ethnographic project has spanned two school districts and two school food vendors to explore the social and economic processes of producing and distributing school meals. Conceptually my work explores how various actors participate in the production and distribution of school food entitlements, with a focus on the value-making processes that generate good food. I explore how the social dimensions of taste intersect with the moral and economic processes of food entitlements and have conducted research with students, parents, school faculty and staff, food service workers through all local stages of school food production and distribution, from warehouse to kitchen and cafeteria. This research expands my theoretical work on how taste and food assistance intersect in the contemporary capitalist economy. I have also conducted community-engaged research in collaboration with GrowMemphis, students in Ethnographic Methods, and Rhodes College, on how food assistance programs (Double Greens) influence access to fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer's markets.

Selected Publications:

Trapp, Micah M. 2018. "The Right to Taste: conceptualizing the nourishing potential of school food." Food and Foodways 26(1): 1-22..

Trapp, Micah M. 2018. "Grocery Auction Games: Distribution and Value in the Industrialized Food System." Gastronomica. 18(1): 1-14.

Trapp, Micah M. 2018. "Never Had the Hand: Distribution and the Limits of Food Security Assessment in a Liberian Refugee Camp." Economic Anthropology. 5(1): 96-109.

Trapp, Micah M. and Dvera I. Saxton. 2017. "Teaching and Eating to Transgress: Food as a Pedagogical Agent in the Anthropology Classroom." Radical Pedagogy. 14(2): 110-141.

Trapp, Micah M. 2016. "You-Will-Kill-Me-Beans: Taste and the Politics of Necessity in Humanitarian Aid." Cultural Anthropology 31(3): 412–437; https://culanth.org/articles/824-you-will-kill-me-beans-taste-and-the-politics-of.

Trapp, Micah. 2015. "Already in America: Transnational Homemaking among Liberian Refugees." Refuge. 31(1).

Trapp, Micah. 2013. "Remittances as Informal Aid: livelihoods and migration in a Liberian refugee camp." United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Policy and Evaluation Unit, New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper Series.

Trapp, Micah. 2010. "What's on the Table: Nutrition Programming for Refugees in the United States." North American Association for the Practice of Anthropology Bulletin, Special Theme Issue: Anthropological Perspectives on Migration and Health, Vol. 34.

Selected Awards:

2017-2018 Professional Development Award. University of Memphis, College of Arts and Sciences.

2017-2018 Faculty Research Grant. "School Lunch: Assessing the Nourishing Impact of Food Entitlement Programs." University of Memphis, College of Arts and Sciences.

2015 Engaged Learning Fellowship (University of Memphis)

2014 Learn and Serve Award (University of Memphis)

2009 National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant


Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 1200)
Anthropology and Human Rights (ANTH 4415/6415)
Food, Culture, and Power (ANTH 4417/6417)
Ethnographic Methods (ANTH 4010)
Capitalism, Consumption, and Culture (ANTH 4431/6431)
Anthropological Theory (ANTH 4065)
Methods in Anthropology (ANTH 7075)