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Melissa L. Caldwell

Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Melissa L. Caldwell is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the founder of the UCSC Design Anthropology Fab Lab, and past editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies. A fieldworking ethnographer, her research examines how and why people help one another and how ordinary acts of compassion turn into forms of social activism that respond to pressing social and political issues. She has been conducting ethnographic research in Russia and postsocialist Europe since the early 1990s, and has recently begun research in Hong Kong and the United States. She has researched and written on such topics as food poverty and charity; the role of faith-based social welfare and humanitarian programs in responding to poverty, racial discrimination and violence, and gender inequalities; the moralities of food cultures and food relief programs; and the social justice dimensions of hacking and disruptive creative technologies, especially among food hackers and DIYers. Her new research examines animal rescue, both in the United States and internationally, in order to understand how and why care for animals might differ from care for persons and what these differences might tell us about the ethics and politics of social welfare and civic engagement.

Her publications include Living Faithfully in an Unjust World: Compassionate Care in Russia (University of California Press, 2017), Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside (University of California Press, 2011), Not by Bread Alone: Social Support in the New Russia (University of California, 2004), and the edited volumes Why Food Matters: Critical Debates in Food Studies (Bloomsbury, 2021), Food & Everyday Life in the Postsocialist World (Indiana University Press, 2009), Ethical Eating in the Postsocialist and Socialist World (with Jakob Klein and Yuson Jung) (University of California Press, 2014), and Moral Foods: The Construction of Nutrition and Health in Modern Asia (with Angela Leung) (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019).


  • –present
    Professor of Anthropology , University of California, Santa Cruz