Food Studies at SOAS

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

SOAS Food Studies Chair, Professor Harry West

Welcome to the inaugural post of SAFN’s new Food Anthropology Program series. We will feature an undergraduate or graduate food anthropology program in each post. If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate a food anthropology program for the series, please email the series coordinator, M. Ruth Dike.

Celia Plender
Doctoral Student, SOAS

The anthropology of food has been taught at SOAS, University of London since the mid-1980s. For many years, this took the form of an optional class available to BA and MA students, which was  taught by Professor Johan Pottier. The class reflected Pottier’s research interests in Central Africa, including the study of famine, armed conflict, refugee migration and the disruption of food markets.

When Professor Harry West joined the department in 2003 he was embarking on food-related research with a focus on artisanal cheese making, the notion of re-embedding food systems in locality and the emergence of ‘heritage’ foods. Concurrently Doctor Jakob Klein—who had recently finished his PhD at SOAS and was beginning to lecture in the Anthropology Department—continued to work on the transformation of regional cuisine in the People’s Republic of China. These three academics were interested in learning more about each other’s research, and over time decided to collaborate to develop a full-unit class in the anthropology of food, which combined their diverse interests. Originally the class was open to postgraduate and undergraduate students, but as demand grew availability was limited to MA students only. From 2007, this class became the core of a full master’s programme in the Anthropology of Food.

2007 also saw the inauguration of the SOAS Food Studies Centre, which has developed strong links with an international network of food researchers, and attracted academic speakers such as Sidney Mintz, James L. Watson and Melissa Caldwell, and food writers and chefs including Claudia Roden and Yotam Ottolenghi.

Restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi--known internationally for his books and television programs on Mediterranean food--gave a Distinguished Lecture in the SOAS Food Studies Centre in November 2014, to the delight of centre members and SOAS alumni.

Restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi gave a Distinguished Lecture in the SOAS Food Studies Centre in November 2014, to the delight of centre members and SOAS alumni.

As well as hosting lectures, workshops and conferences, the Centre holds a weekly Food Forum during term time. This research seminar is designed to complement the structure of the anthropology of food course, giving its students an opportunity to engage with people active in food-related scholarship, businesses and activism. West is currently Chair of the Food Studies Centre. Klein is Deputy Chair. The Centre currently has 47 members and an additional 803 associate members. The MA in the Anthropology of Food covers a broad range of topics and approaches food at many different scales, ranging from the body, to the household, the nation state and the global food system. Ethnographic examples are drawn from all parts of the world and discussed in a seminar format. Although grounded in anthropology, the syllabus explores different disciplinary perspectives including historical, scientific, nutritional, geographic and economic amongst others. While Johan Pottier has now retired, Harry West and Jakob Klein continue to co-ordinate and teach the core course.

The MA programme, directed by Harry West, currently has an annual intake of around 25 students. The programme attracts a diverse range of students of different ages, nationalities and professional/academic backgrounds. The programme can be pursued full-time over twelve months, or part-time over two or three years. Around a third of students take the part-time route. The MA is made up of four modules – the core course in the anthropology of food, a dissertation of 10,000 words and two other options (or as many as four half unit options). For those who have not studied anthropology before, one of these is filled by a compulsory course in theoretical approaches to social anthropology. Option courses are available in the Anthropology Department as well as others such as Politics, Economics, Development Studies, Law, Religion and Languages. Students also audit a course in ethnographic research methods in order to further prepare them for their dissertation.

Doctoral student Katharina Graf, who studies how cooking knowledge is passed down in Moroccan households, prepares couscous for an ethnographic dinner.

Doctoral student Katharina Graf, who studies how cooking knowledge is passed down in Moroccan households, prepares couscous for an ethnographic dinner.

In addition to the passion that West and Klein have for their subject matter, one of the many strengths of the programme is its location in London, which is home to a broad range of alternative food businesses, NGOs, food purveyors, media organisations and other food-related activities. This is reflected in a half unit option which is available to students on the MA – a directed practical study in the anthropology of food. Students taking this identify an institution, organization or enterprise in which to work as an intern. The combination of work experience, directed readings and reflective written assignments allows students to bridge the divide between theoretical and practical concerns, and in many cases helps students to reflect on their future career paths, while expanding their relevant networks. Alumni of the course have gone on to work in a broad range of food-based jobs, details of which can be found on the food studies alumni profile page.

About the author:

Celia Plender is an alumna of the MA Anthropology of Food and current doctoral student in the Department of Social Anthropology at SOAS studying consumer food co-ops in the UK under the supervision of Harry West.

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Food Heritage and Culinary Practices

sorbonne musee histoire naturelle palim

Call for papers

Food Heritage and Culinary Practices

International and interdisciplinary symposium

October 14 th -16th 2015

National Museum of Natural History

57 rue Cuvier, 75005 PARIS

We propose to bring together researchers from all fields around the core theme of cooking in order to collectively understand the construction process of food heritage. Specific combinations of ingredients and techniques, from daily, festive or professional cooking, allow achieving textures, flavors, aromas and aesthetics peculiar to a social or cultural group. We wish to combine different approaches to reach this global awareness. We will engage physicists, chemists and biologists, who work on ingredients, their origins, their properties, their processing, their impact on physiology and health, along with anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, historians, archaeologists who work on terroir, food processing techniques, old and modern recipe books, consumption patterns, representations, cultural expressions, identity and, of course, heritage.

Call for papers

We expect contributions, from all disciplines, that could enlighten our understanding of culinary practices and the construction of food heritage.

Papers may address topics such as (partial list):

PRODUCTS, TECHNIQUES AND IDENTITIES

– Evolution of practices and techniques (from prehistory to the present)

– Circulation, exchange and appropriation of products and associated knowledge

– Fermentations: implementations, diversity (meals, drinks)

– Sensory aspects

– Geographic distribution of taste and distaste

CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF FOOD HERITAGE

– Origins and history of food systems

– Food diversification: management, production and use of biodiversity

– Propagations, innovations, crossings

Terroirs and territories

– Heritage scenography

MARKETING AND FOOD MARKETS: QUALITY AND HEALTH ISSUES

– Economic advantages of heritagization

– Food trade channels: quality and sustainability

– The organic sector: economic and ecological issues

– Diet, lifestyle and metabolic diseases

– The development of food preferences: generational and cultural effects

The originality of the conference largely depends on its interdisciplinary nature, which constrains the content and form of presentations. In order to favor mutual understanding and to enhance discussions, speakers are asked to position their talk in a wide framework and avoid any technical jargon difficult to understand by people from other disciplines.

For any communication proposal, please send before July 10th, 2015 a title, abstract (< 400 words) in English or French, a brief CV (< 1 page) and contact information (phone / e-mail / postal address) both to Esther Katz (katz@mnhn.fr) and Christophe Lavelle (lavelle@mnhn.fr). Authors of selected proposals will be notified by end of July.

The conference will be held in French and English

Organizers (contact)

Esther Katz, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris – katz@mnhn.fr

Christophe Lavelle, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris – lavelle@mnhn.fr

Scientific committee

Guy Chemla, Université Paris 4

Renaud Debailly, Université Paris 4

Charles-Édouard de Suremain, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Dominique Fournier, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Jean-Pierre Grill, Université Paris 6

Esther Katz, IRD – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Christophe Lavelle, CNRS – Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Vincent Maréchal, Université Paris 6

Vincent Moriniaux, Université Paris 4

Emilien Schultz, Université Paris 4

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Farm To Table, New Orleans, August 8-10 2015

Symposium-Logo-Website-Header1

The 3rd Annual Farm to Table International Conference is scheduled for August 8-10, 2015, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. F2Ti features the brightest thought leaders and leading practitioners in the burgeoning farm-to-table movement. F2Ti explores the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of food and drink sourced locally to globally. It takes place in tandem with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Annual Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO, an event attracting food and beverage professionals from across the country.

This year’s theme, “A Feast for the Senses,” spotlights the sensual aspects of food and drink at every stage of the agricultural-culinary cycle. Topics will include, but are not limited to, best practices in urban farming, bringing products to market, sourcing locally, enhancing sustainability, and the latest trends and developments in the industry, including food science, security, and safety.

Program Features:

  • Panels on best practices in the following educational tracks:

•    Crop to Cup (Brewing, Distilling, Vinting, plus non-alcoholic beverages)
•    Farming and Production
•    Food and Beverage Journalism and Media
•    Farm to School
•    Food Innovation (Science, Technology, Trends, etc.)

  • Keynote speakers of national and international standing
  • Numerous opportunities for networking during the three-day conference program
  • Chef Demos and “Knowledge Center” presentations

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:

  • Chefs, mixologists, and restaurateurs
  • Researchers, academics, and policymakers
  • Farmers and agricultural professionals
  • Writers, publishers, and media
  • Slow food advocates
  • Brewers, distillers, vintners, and distributors
  • Farmers markets and urban farmers
  • Nutritionists and health professionals
  • Grocers and retailers
  • CSA/RSA
  • Foragers
  • Food incubators
  • Food hubs

Additional information can be found here. Registration is here.

F2T is produced by the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in partnership with the SoFAB Institute and the LSU AgCenter.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, conferences, farming, food activism, food policy, food politics, Food Studies, food systems

Dublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016: Food and Revolution

dublin gastronomyDublin Gastronomy Symposium 2016 (Theme: Food and Revolution)

Call for Papers

Save the dates 31st May – 1st June 2016 in your diaries for the third biennial Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. The theme for 2016 will be Food and Revolution which can be interpreted in the broadest sense. The study of gastronomy is uniquely multidisciplinary, and indeed transdisciplinary, encompassing the arts, humanities, and both the natural and social sciences. Of course, we will be celebrating the Easter 1916 Revolution here in Dublin but the symposium organisers invite papers about revolutionary events in the food world – including but not limited to the following topics:

–       Food and war, trench food, siege food, food as a weapon or war etc.;

–       Impact of the French Revolution on restaurants and hospitality;

–       American Revolution – Boston Tea Party! (Tea, coffee, chocolate as revolutionary beverages);

–       The Industrial Revolution and its effect on food and drink;

–       Health Food Revolutions – from Galen to the Paleo diet;

–       Influence of Service à la Russe;

–       Who were the revolutionary chefs, cooks and food producers of the past and who are the present revolutionaries?

–       Revolutionary food writers (Grimod de la Reyniere, Elizabeth David, Theodora Fitzgibbon, Julia Child …) not to mention food in literature, poetry and songs;

–       The Green Organic revolution;

–       The Micro-Brewery and Artisan Distillery revolution;

–       Revolutionary food and beverage pairings;

–       Revolution in Culinary Training – from apprenticeship to degrees and beyond;

–       The rise in Food Studies programmes – revolutionary topics and methodologies;

–       Can revolution unify citizens under a common cuisine – Italy and Garibaldi;

–       Revolutionary Food Science and Technology – Molecular Gastronomy to Locavore Nutrition;

–       Podcasts, Blogs and Instagram – food and the new media revolution.

The above is only a sample of possible areas for study. Feel free to interpret the theme as liberally as you wish. We look forward to reading many interesting revolutionary papers from you in 2016.

If you are interested in delivering a paper, please send a 250 word proposal to mairtin.macconiomaire@dit.ie by the 15th January 2016. Completed papers would be expected to be submitted by 1st May 2016. Length of papers should not exceed 5,000 words (excluding references). Author style sheet is available on http://arrow.dit.ie/dgs/information_for_authors.html .

Please forward this notice to any interested parties.

The DGS Organising Committee

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CFP: Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics

Call for proposals:  Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics, 2nd edition. Eds. Paul B. Thompson (Michigan State) and David M. Kaplan (University of North Texas)

The online and print edition of the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics (Springer) was published in October 2014.   Springer is so pleased by the sales and number of article downloads that they are seeking to publish a second, on-line edition.

The encyclopedia consists of entries that introduce topics and review controversies surrounding food production, distribution, and consumption.  The entries are not works of creative scholarship but rather part of a tertiary literature: they summarize the issues, arguments, and developments surrounding ethical issues related to food, agriculture, eating, and animals.

We welcome your suggestions for contributions.  Entries should be 1,500 words (min) to 4,000 words (max).  Advanced graduate students and recent PhDs are welcome to contribute.

Contact David M. Kaplan (University of North Texas), David.Kaplan@unt.edu for a copy of the Table of Contents from the first edition.  For the new edition, please suggest a topic (and a title) that is not included in the list.

Deadline for proposals: August 1, 2015

 

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SAFN at the 2015 Association for the Study of Food and Society Conference

asfs-conference-2015

Once again SAFN is co-sponsoring the Association for the Study of Food and Society meeting, which will be held this year in Pittsburgh from June 24-28. More details about the conference are available here on the conference web site.

Many members of SAFN will be presenting their research at the conference. The following is list of SAFN member papers and panels:

Thursday, 1:30 – 2:45

C7. PANEL Contextualizing Farming and Food Security
Buhl Beckwith
Hayden Kantor, Cornell University
Growing Ambivalence: Shifting Cropping Strategies for Staple Crops in Bihar, India


Thursday, 1:30-2:45, Mellon Devore Room

C5 PANEL: Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Discussing Alternatives to the Academy for Scholars and Career Seekers in Food and Nutrition

Organizers: Leigh Bush, Indiana University; Maria Carabello, University of Vermont; Madeleine Chera, Indiana University; Elyzabeth Engle, Penn State University; Emily Stengel, University of Vermont
Participants: Elyzabeth Engle, Penn State University (Chair); Dara Bloom, North Carolina State; Jenifer Buckley, Organic Processing Institute; Greg Hall, Virtue Cider; Lucy Norris, Puget Sound Food Hub/Northwest Agriculture Business Center; Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, World Bank; Leslie Pillen, Penn State University; Dawn Plummer, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council

Abstract: Graduate school is an essential part of preparing for many careers in fields related to interdisciplinary agricultural and food studies. And while years are spent on building critical knowledge and skills to prepare students for employment post-graduation, how does one actually apply that learning to work, especially work that is outside of the academy or explicitly extends beyond it? How do we negotiate partner or employer demands for quantifiable outcomes, quick application, and more, in light of our commitments to ethical and thorough research and our experiences with different approaches and timelines? How do we translate our training into effective work that makes a “real world” impact but also reflects the scholarly rigor, values, and best practices of the academy?

As a follow-up to last year’s career-path panel for graduate students, this session aims to continue the conversation about jobs that utilize the engaged research skills graduate students in food and agriculture can offer to companies, non-profits, non-governmental agencies, and communities. This panel discussion aims to create a space in which graduate students can interact with a panel of early- and mid-career professionals, with the objective of profiling career trajectories and documenting important considerations for students with advanced degrees in agrifood-related studies who are interested in finding work beyond academia. The panel will reflect the interdisciplinary and diverse nature of agrifood careers, representing a variety of sectors, including businesses, research centers, non-profits, and governmental agencies. The panelists will discuss focus questions about balancing multiple interests and approaches in their work, and reflect on specific job experiences and the lessons gleaned from them. Then the audience will be encouraged to share questions and comments with participants.

This panel will be of great interest to graduate students or recent graduates, but also to other members at any stage of their careers, especially those advising undergraduate or graduate students, those considering new opportunities for themselves, or those struggling with the task of translating their training into their work.


Thursday, 2:45-4:00, JMK Library LCC2

D10 PANEL: Bridging Culture and Change

Madeline Chera, Indiana University
Between Meals and Meanings: Notes on Snack Culture in South India
Christine Knight, University of Edinburgh:
Changing cultural representations of the Scottish diet, c.1950-2014
Habiba Boumlik, LaGuardia Community College:
Traditional Cuisine-Modern Revisited Cuisine via Food Networks and social media. The case of Chumicha in Morocco


Friday, 10:15 – 11:30

F8 PANEL: Sensing Food: Taste, Place, Memory, Power

Carole Counihan, Millersville University:
Gustatory Activism in Sardinia: Taste and the Political Power of Food
Beth Forrest, Culinary Institute of America:
I Sensed this Tasted like Hell: The Role of Food, the Senses, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century
Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College:
My Dead Father’s Raspberry Patch, My Dead Mother’s Piecrust: Understanding Memory as Sense
Deirdre Murphy, Culinary Institute of America:
Sugar Bush: Maple syrup and the Solitude of labor in the Industrial Age


Friday, 1:00 – 2:15 – JMK Library 103

G1. PANEL Intoxicants: Pleasure, Nutrition, Aesthetics Organizer: Kima Cargill, University of Washington
Kima Cargill, University of Washington
Sugar is Toxic, But is It Intoxicating?
Janet Chrzan, University of Pennsylvania
Alcohol: Drug or Food?
Sierra Clark, New York University:
The Problem of Pleasure: Intoxication and the Evaluation of Alcohol


Friday, 1:00-2:15 – Coolidge Sanger

G6. PANEL: What makes “food work” sustainable – values, representations, and images in contemporary foodscapes
Organizer: Carole Biewener, Simmons College
Carole Biewener, Simmons College:
“Good Food” and “Good Jobs”? Does Boston’s local food movement address “sustainability” and “justice” for food system workers?
Tara Agrawal Pedulla, Carrie Freshour, Cornell University:
Serving Up the Public Plate: Food work and workers in the public sector
Kimberly E. Johnson, Syracuse University
Contemplating myths, invisibility, and the value of food work on multiple levels
Penny Van Esterik, York University:
Breastfeeding as Foodwork


Saturday, 10:15-11:30, Dilworth 100

K8. PANEL: The Cultural Economy of Food in Place
David Beriss, University of New Orleans:
Tacos, Kale, and Vietnamese Po’Boys: The Re-Creolization of Food in Postdiluvian New Orleans
Gianna Fazioli, Chatham University:
The Ecological and Culture Effect of Development on Isaan Thai Food
Liora Gvion, Hebrew University
“I would expect from a Palestinian cook to…..”: Master Chef Israel, National Narratives and the Politics Embedded in Cooking


Saturday, 1:00 – 2:15, Dilworth 006

Panel L 9, Countering Globalization: The Protection and Representation of an Indigenous Food Fare in East Asia
Chair: Stephanie Assman, Hokkaido University
Organizer: Jakob Klein, University of London
Presentations: Stephanie Assman (Hokkaido University), The Return to a Culinary Heritage: The Food Education Campaign in Japan
Greg de St. Maurice (University of Pittsburgh), Kyoto Cuisine Gone Global
Lanlan Kuang (University of Central Florida), “People’s Food” : The Aesthetic of Chinese Food in Chinese Media in the case of a Bite of China and The Taste of China

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“It’s Kind of Cool to be a Turnip Expert”: Dr. Clare Sammells on Experiential Learning through Field Trips and Food Experts

Lauren Moore
University of Kentucky

For the May installment of the Food Pedagogy Interview Series, we hear from Dr. Clare Sammells, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bucknell University. Her popular 200-level course “Food, Eating, and Culture” asks each student to become a “Food Expert” on one particular food over the course of the semester—a technique which brings topical depth to the theoretical breadth of the course.

If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate an excellent instructor for the interview series, please email LaurenRMoore@uky.edu.

Dr. Clare Sammells

Dr. Clare Sammells

Lauren Renée Moore: I’d like to get started by hearing a little bit about your research.

Clare A. Sammells: I conduct ethnographic research in highland Bolivia and with Bolivian migrants living in Madrid, Spain. My main research areas are the anthropology of tourism and the anthropology of food. I’m especially interested in how food is used to construct touristic experiences and ideas about heritage. So, I consider touristic restaurants and how the cuisine that’s served to foreign tourists in Bolivia is in conversation with the food people are eating in their homes and in other contexts. In Spain, I researched Bolivian restaurants that cater largely to Bolivian migrants, and investigated the challenges of producing Bolivian food in that context.

LRM: What kinds of student does the course attract?

CS: I have a lot of second semester seniors, some of whom are interested in food from the point of view of other disciplines, and some of whom have an open elective and think food sounds awesome. I agree! Most of my students are not anthropology majors, and many have never taken a course in anthropology before.

LRM: Could you tell me a little about your institutional context?

CS: Bucknell is one of the largest liberal arts colleges, located in Lewisburg, PA, which is a town of about 12,000 people surrounded by agricultural areas. We have a large Mennonite population in the area. Many who live here participate in Community Supported Agriculture programs, where they buy vegetables and fruits directly from farmers. Many people here garden, can, and engage with producing food very directly.

LRM: What do you want students to get out of this course?

CS: One of the things I do want them to get out of this is a basic understanding of the subdiscipline of the anthropology of food…. so the things that we anthropologists take for granted like, how is food a symbolic part of human existence? What do food taboos mean? How can we think about commodity chain relationships? What are the economic structures that influence what foods we have access to? Those kinds of questions.

But given that so many of my students are not anthropologists, I have a more general goal, too: I want them to think critically about where their food comes from, who’s growing it, and how one can be an ethical consumer. I would hope that after this class, they wouldn’t just go to the supermarket and pick up strawberries and buy them, but might actually think about who is growing them, what kind of chemicals are going into their production, and whether people are getting a fair wage. And I hope that my students would have some idea of how to go about finding answers to those questions.

I want them to have a better understanding of anthropology, but I also want them to be ethical eaters.

LRM: Do you feel like students leave the class as more ethical eaters?

CS: Oh, absolutely. Many students take the class because they’re already concerned about this issue. I have a lot of vegetarians in my class, for example. All the students bring in a dish once during the semester, and they socialize each other into being explicit about whether the dishes have meat in them, or dairy, or gluten, etc.

One of the things that a lot of students begin to realize in this class is how little they actually know about their food. When I point out that they don’t know where the cucumbers that became the pickles on their hamburgers were grown, or where that cow was raised, then they can see that they really don’t know that much about their food. My goal isn’t necessarily to change their food habits, but rather to encourage them to ask more questions about what they are eating.

LRM: Let’s get into your syllabus. I noticed that you incorporate a field trip. Can you tell me about it?

CS: [I take students to] Owens Farm, about 40 minutes from here in Sunbury, PA. It’s an interesting farm because they are engaging in sustainable meat production of sheep and pigs. The Owens also do a lot of pedagogical events, including a Sheep Camp, where kids stay overnight at the farm during lambing season. When the sheep go into labor, they wake the kids up to help the sheep give birth. They do a lot of programs to get people engaged in agricultural work.

It’s always interesting for me to take my students there. I’ve had students who had never seen a horse in person, who didn’t know that sheep made noise. I lived on a farm in Bolivia, so all that seemed really obvious, but it’s not necessarily part of all college students’ experience to interact with animals in that way.

LRM: There’s an assignment attached to that field trip. What do you have students do in that assignment?

CS: At the time we do this field trip, we’re also reading Warren Belasco’s Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food. It’s a wonderful book, and he talks about how people have historically thought about the future of food. So I ask my students to think about Owens Farm as a very direct response to some of the industrial agricultural practices we see in our world. What is the alternative this farm presents for the future, in terms of how we could think about meat production? So I have them write a reflection paper on that experience.

LRM: You don’t allow computers in your classroom. Could you talk a little about that?

CS: I don’t allow computers in any of my classes. If I had my computer on in the classroom, I know I’d be on Facebook. So, I think it’s unfair for me to expect my students to not be on Facebook. It’s my personal quirk. I feel that for 55 minutes they can pay attention to me and to each other. I don’t spend most of my time in class lecturing, so I’m not expecting them to transcribe what I’m saying… instead, I have them sort through problems or analyze readings with each other.

I know people feel differently about electronics in the classroom, and I do make some exceptions. For example, I have them take a modified version of the Food Stamp Challenge. For that class, they bring in computers and work with one computer per group to go online shopping with a budget. But I find for the most part prohibiting electronics works pretty well. I find that if that policy is in the syllabus and I am consistent and clear about it, students accept it. It makes an enormous difference in terms of making sure students are engaged with the class. They’re paying attention, and they’re not distracting each other. I think it’s working pretty well.

LRM: Can you tell me about the “food experts” component of this course?

CS: That’s actually one of my favorite parts of this class. I think it may be part of why so many students might take it… they have snacks in class everyday!

The very first class I bring in food. I try to bring in something that the students won’t immediately be able to identify. I tell them, “If you have an allergy, you can tell me, and I will assure you that this will not kill you. But, other than that, I’m not going to tell you what this is.” Then, I have them write a description of it. I tell them that one of the challenges of writing about food is trying to describe foods to people who have never tried them. Talking about food is always audience-dependent. This time I brought in chuño (Andean freeze-dried potatoes). It was interesting to see which ones of them liked it and which ones were not as enamored.

During the first week I bring in a box with paper slips naming 50 foods. They’re all basic ingredients: chicken, spices like cardamom or cinnamon, grains like wheat or rice, tubers like potatoes or manioc, fruits and vegetables. I have them pull one name out of a hat, and then I give them a week to trade with each other or with the “leftovers” at my office. There’s a little bit of choice, but they all end up with a unique food. That’s the food they follow through for the rest of the semester.

I want them to think of it as a field-to-fork kind of assignment where they are becoming the class expert on something. They address the theoretical themes that we are talking about in class through short papers that are focused on their own food. Once during the semester, they bring in a dish that highlights their food to share with their class. Then they write a paper about the experience of working with that food, and how people responded to it.

They don’t generally cook a lot, and some students have told me, “This is my first time cooking something on campus.” It’s really interesting to see them engaged with the food in an experiential kind of way. That’s really different from just writing about something.

LRM: Can you tell me a little more about the short essays related to the theoretical components of the course?

CS: Each of the paper prompts deals with the themes for the week. Early in the class we deal with things like domestication: what’s the relationship between humans and their food? The first prompt is “Discuss the agricultural and/or environmental context of the production your food, and how that has changed over time.”

Another paper asks them to compare two dishes with the same ingredient that are eaten in different cultural contexts, and to talk about the difference in symbolism between those two dishes. So, they think about how the same food can be invoked in different meaningful ways. Another paper is to think about how their food is affected by globalization, and how it moves through global networks of people and economic systems. They follow one food all the way through.

At the end, I had one student say to me, “I never thought I’d know this much about turnips!” But that’s kind of cool, to be a turnip expert.

LRM: How do you select the foods that make that 50 foods list?

CS: I pick foods that appear in multiple cultural contexts, so they can be compared cross-culturally, and that are part of a global commodity chain of some kind. I also pick foods that I think they’ll be able to find, work with, and cook. For example, I don’t include lobster, because that’s expensive. I also don’t include foods, like llama meat or guinea pig, that would be extremely difficult to find in central Pennsylvania.

LRM: I wanted to jump to a different aspect of the course. I see that you have listed a teach-in day for Martin Luther King, Jr. day. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about that?

CS: That was a campus-wide event at Bucknell University in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day. The challenge to all of us as faculty was to discuss questions of structural racism and structural inequality in the context of whatever classes we were teaching at the time.

I broke from the regular syllabus a bit to talk about food deserts, and to look at Monica White’s work with African American urban farmers in Detroit, and how they’re dealing with food deserts by farming their own food. The D-Town Farmers have an agreement with the city of Detroit to farm in one of the public parks. I showed the students a video interview with one of their leaders, Malik Yakini, and we looked at maps of food deserts in urban areas such as Baltimore.

I started off the class by asking them a series of questions, and asking them to stand up when they agreed. I began with, “Everyone has the right to eat,” and they all stood up. But then we got to questions like, “People should pay for food,” and “Grocery stores should have the right to open up where they think they can make the most money,” this is where we start to see the contradictions. If food is a right, how do we make sure everyone has access to it?

I don’t have the answers to that question, but I wanted them to understand that access to food parallels other kinds of structural inequalities like racism and class.

LRM: One of the challenges instructors face is getting students to pay attention to the syllabus. I notice that your syllabus has a statement about emailing you with a particular word by a particular date for extra credit. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

CS: Oh, yeah! That’s my Easter egg, and I’ve actually started doing that in a lot of my syllabi. The first assignment for all of my classes is to read the syllabus, and I’ve found that a lot of them were not doing that. So I started adding these things. The word changes every time, and I also change where it is in the syllabus. About 1/3 of the class emails me with the word, and I give them extra credit. Even though it’s not a huge thing, I think it gives them the feeling that they’re starting off on the right foot. And it ensures me that they actually have looked at the syllabus. Of course, we all want our students to know what they’re getting into, and to feel like they are agreeing to engage in the same project that we are as professors.

LRM: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the book selections in the course? I know you use Meals to Come, and it looks like you also rely fairly heavily on Noodle Narratives. Could you talk a little bit about that?

CS: They read the The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century,

picture of ramen

which I like because it takes a food that my students are probably more familiar with than they would like to admit (instant noodles) and puts it in cultural contexts that they would not necessarily consider. Instant noodles were developed in Japan, and are consumed in Papua New Guinea, on college campuses, and by many prisoners in the United States. Here in Lewisburg we’re very close to four major prisons, and it’s a major employer in the town, so this is part of our local economy. Noodle Narratives allows us to address [a wide range of] questions.

LRM: Are there other readings that are particularly successful?

CS: I really like the first chapter of Paul Stoller’s The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology. I open with that. He and his wife are living with the Songhay, and the chapter describes an intentionally disgusting meal and what that’s meant to communicate.

My students really like this piece. It’s beautifully written and it’s a compelling story. I think the idea of being a teenager who has to communicate in non-verbal ways resonates with them to some extent. The main character who’s preparing this meal is a teenager, and she feels powerless; this is how she’s able to express herself. It gets students thinking about food in a different way. This cook’s goal isn’t to make something tasty and delicious, although she can cook. She chooses not to cook well for a specific reason, and her purpose is correctly interpreted by everyone. That’s a piece I really like to start with because it captures first what it’s like to be an anthropologist, and second, the communicative aspect of food that is so powerful.

Another piece that they found really interesting was Michael Owen Jones’ piece “Dining on Death Row: Last Meals and the Crutch of Ritual.” I showed them a short video about the procedures followed on an execution day, and we talk about that as a ritual. Then we discuss what rituals do, and why are so many people interested in what the condemned eat for their last meal. We were able to use that to talk about things like the structural inequality that exists in our incarceration system, who is put on death row, and why people would be interested in what they’re eating. [The students] had a lot of interesting things to say about that.

LRM: One of the things I’m really interested in is how you have interwoven global topics with things that are going on in North America–like freeganism–that students might relate to.

CS: I think one of the challenges for our discipline is how can we talk about big global processes and yet still think about the daily, lived experience of people who are eating meals with others particular contexts.

The freegans are particularly interesting. We spend a week talking about dystopias and how people envision the collapse of food systems. I show them clips from Soylent Green, for example. We move from that to freegans, who are commenting on waste in our society. I show them Dive: Living Off America’s Waste, a documentary about dumpster divers in Los Angeles. dive_poster-87cbd2d9

There’s a really interesting scene in this documentary in which some of these dumpster divers are confronted by the police. These dumpster divers are all clearly middle class, white, young people with nice cars, and they’re in dumpsters getting food. One of them just walks up to the police officer and shakes the officer’s hand while they film him. The police officer’s really polite to them. I challenge my students to think about whether would everyone in this situation feel comfortable doing that. That’s an incredible position of privilege to feel like you can walk up to a police officer and explain to him that, yeah, you’re breaking the law, technically, but see, you have this political project. And the police officer will be like, “Ok, can you just clean up when you’re done?” Especially in our current context, with the national discussion we’re having about the relationship between the police and African-American men, this moment in the film was really striking.

We talk about the difference between dumpster diving with your four-figure video camera and private car, versus someone who actually needs that food. My students talk about how, on the one hand, they want to reduce food waste. But on the other hand, they’re also part of the society we’re in, and their ability to do that is structured in certain ways.

LRM: Do you have any final thoughts?

CS: I think one thing that has really worked for this class is getting students to cook and to eat. I think often, especially those of us who work with college students who live in dorms who might not have their own kitchens, we can be hesitant to insist that they cook because of those structural constraints. At the same time, I have found that they are excited to do that. They come to class and talk about trying out recipes on their roommates, borrowing tools, putting out grease fires. One of the great things about food is that we can engage all the senses. It’s one of the reasons I like to have food in class, because just talking about food makes you hungry!

LRM: This sounds like an engaging and exciting class. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

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Filed under anthropology of food, culture, Food Studies, teaching