Integrating Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities in the Food Systems Program at the University of Vermont

Today, we will hear from Dr. Amy Trubek, Associate Professor of Nutrition & Food Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences discussing University of Vermont’s Food Systems program. This post is part of SAFN’s Food Anthropology Program series, which features 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.

Ruth Dike: When/how did the Food Systems program at the University of Vermont (UVM) begin?

Amy Trubek: The impetus for developing food systems programs came from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). We started with an undergraduate minor in 2008 which is now established with an average of 50-65 minors every year.  We wanted to create a graduate program that looked at the intersection of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities and extend the way that we understand food and agriculture from a systems point of view. So we wrote a proposal for a food systems graduate program. The program enrolled its first students in 2012 and we have had three years of an MS program and next year will be the first official year where we enroll both MS and PhD students.. We currently have enrolled 17 Master’s students and we have 9 that have completed the MS degree.

During this period, a group of new faculty were hired in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who had background in looking at food and agriculture from a variety of different disciplinary perspectives, but especially new faculty with a social science background. Eventually the interest in food systems extended beyond CALS and became part of a university-wide initiative to promote transdisciplinary research.Vermont flowers

MRD: What is the focus of your program and its strengths?

AT: The focus of our program lies in asking students to think about the interdependency and the complexity of the contemporary food system.  Also, we say that in order to really fully be able to analytically capture what happens in a food system, you have to use a transdisciplinary approach in terms of your conceptual framework and research questions and then use mixed methods in  terms of the form, or the ways in which you do research. So, we’re very interested in imagining research in relation to food systems related problems and creating an engaged learning experience. We don’t tend to have students doing purely theoretically driven theses. We have students do work with philosophers, anthropologists, agro-ecologists and others and they might be doing a mix of theoretical analysis and empirical research. The underlying consistency is that we always want the research frame to be posing a question about what is happening in the food system and what might be able to make it a different food system in the future.

MRD: Great. I noticed you use transdisciplinary- is that different from interdisciplinary?

AT: So transdisciplinary research can be defined as when people work together and to come up with a sort of set of problems and research questions within those problems and in that process you’re not holding onto your disciplinary frame- you’re actually moving beyond discipline to work through an engaged process of inquiry. The inquiry is driven by the problem, rather than the disciplinary frame. There’s a theory that if you have an interdisciplinary research team, the anthropologist says, “Well I’m the anthropologist on the team and this is what I do.” Whereas if it’s a transdisciplinary research team, everyone is in the entire process together.

MRD: What roles does anthropology play in your program?

AT: We are actually sort of unusual here at the university having two anthropologists who focus on food, so there are two of us actively mentoring students.  I also teach one of the required seminars for the Master’s and PhD students and we’ve also required a qualitative methods course. Also, I would say that in our graduate seminars we rely on an emergent open-ended research inquiry approach very similar to the discipline of anthropology. We want to think about understanding food and agriculture not solely from an individualistic frame or a market commodity frame.

MRD:  Would you like to talk about why you decided to do both an undergraduate and graduate degree program?

AT: I think there’s a real consensus here at the University of Vermont that food systems is a very important framework for learning and doing for the future. There’s a commitment to do that idea of addressing the complexity by using systems thinking, of moving outside the box and arguing that it would help both the academy and people on the ground if we could become more sophisticated and complex thinkers around food from a systems point of view.vermont flower

MRD: Could you talk a little bit more about what the systems point of view is?

AT: Well, you don’t want to bracket your thinking, or as is often said “stay in your silo.”  So you don’t say, “I’m interested in consumption, and I’m just going to look at consumption and the meaning of rituals and food, from the point of view of what happens- consumption of food in a ritual. But instead, with systems think you are encouraged to say, “Wait a second, how does that food in that ritual somehow work in relation to other issues in the system such as the way that food is produced or the way that food is transformed?” “How might meaning be produced through the entire system?”  So it’s pushing students and faculty to say, “Wait, am I being too simplistic, do I need to understand and incorporate other elements of the system if I’m going to try to make sense of the structure and meaning of this ritual.”

What I see in my own research collaborations is that systems thinking moves me beyond the way that I was trained in anthropology to become a broader and more flexible thinker. It’s been an interesting process for me to increasingly work on mixed methods projects and to really see the benefit of understanding what a larger scale quantitatively-based study might do for capturing some elements of the problem that I’m trying to look at. I’m doing a transdisciplinary project with a number of people from food science and nutrition and anthropology. We’re looking at a concept of food agency where we’re trying to capture how people become empowered to act in relation to meal preparation. I really see the benefits of embarking on both a fine-grained qualitative interview and observation approach but also working on developing a scale of food agency. I think there are things that we can do with the large scale that will both elaborate upon and extend anything that I could do if I just did it as a qualitative project. I think that’s the type of thing that really happens when you take a systems approach.vermont students

MRD: It’s more holistic- you get a broader point of view. Do most students attend the program full time or part time?

AT: For the Master’s program you can choose and we have about 20% part-time students but the PhD will be a full-time program. But we’re definitely moving the design of the program such that you could do it part time and where you wouldn’t always have to be resident here, sort of a hybrid. But it’s going to take a while to move it in that direction. That’ll probably happen over the next 5 years.

MRD: Are any courses being offered online right now?

AT: Yes, Food Systems & Public Health is offered online. We are also going to have an on-line graduate certificate in agro-ecology that students can pursue as part of the Master’s or PhD probably starting next year. It will be almost all online with maybe one or two intense small residency courses.

MRD: How would you describe the diversity of the students in your program?

AT: We definitely have disciplinary diversity with students coming from disciplines as far afield as anthropology, animal science, engineering, and music. We also have both traditional students and returning professional students. In terms of ethnic and racial diversity of the makeup of the student, we track Vermont, which is not typically diverse but we do have Latino students and one international student now.vermont cheese 1

MRD: What ties do you have to the local Vermont community?

AT: We have a number of different ways in which we have ties to the local community. At the undergraduate level, we have the food systems internship program. So you can get internships with different organizations in the area working in food, agriculture and/or food systems change. In the graduate program we have a required applications seminar for the Master’s program and it’s optional for the PhD. The seminar is a service-learning class and every year the students work through issues with a community partner on a project rooted in an issue of Vermont’s food system. In Vermont, we have a universal composting law that’s starting in about a year. So last year students worked with the Solid Waste Management District and the Natural Resources state-level department on social media campaigns and other issues regarding the most effective way to reach consumers. This year students will work on a project with the Vermont Land Trust on persistent multigenerational issues relating to land tenure in the state. One of the great benefits of living in a small rural state like Vermont is that there is a lot of interaction between the university and the community because it’s a small place and everybody knows each other.

MRD: Is the applications seminar the same as the immersion credit?

AT: So the travel immersion experience is a separate thing for Master’s students where students are to have some kind of immersion experience where they’re in an environment where they’re looking at or thinking about the food systems from the view of a particular environment. It can be a class and we’ve had a class that is called Milk to Maple, which is Vermont’s food system and that’s been a travel immersion class all around the state. We have something called the Break Through Leaders class which is a class where people from all over the United States and the world come together and it’s a credit and non-credit course where they have experiences exploring Vermont’s food system and developing leadership skills. This year we’re starting a travel immersion graduate class on food and migration in Mexico and in Vermont. They’re going to experience both what the food system is like in Mexico and examine the fluid dynamic migration system between Mexico and the United States, not just of people but also of foods. The requirement can also be fulfilled through an immersion internship experience.

MRD: How much is tuition for your program? Are there scholarship or fellowship opportunities?

AT: For the Master’s program it’s a 32-credit program and it will cost approximately $45,000 for out-of-state tuition and about $20-25,000 for in-state tuition. We have a limited number of fellowships for the Master’s program and we will have assistantships for the PhD program because we’re going to fund all of the students we accept into the PhD program. We believe in fully funding for four years, if you come in with a Master’s. If you don’t come in with a Master’s we will try to fund you for the full time, which will probably be around 5 years.

MRD: What’s the length of the PhD program?

AT: It’s going to be a 3 to 5 year PhD program depending if you come into the program with a Master’s and what you study. If you’re not going somewhere else to do research, it’s going to be a different experience.

MRD: That makes a lot of sense. How many fellowships are there available for the Master’s students?

AT: It’s variable but we do have a particular fellowship called the Food Systems Innovation Fellows Program. Two fellowships will be awarded per year and these Fellows will do work with UVM Dining to do a series of goals and indicators for creating a sustainable and local dining program at UVM. We use the Real Food Challenge but we’re also adding other indicators for saying what we think a dining program should be like at UVM. It’s a part time one-year fellowship, including a 10-hour a week stipend and approximately 9 credits.

MRD: Is the 32-credits for the Master’s program a 1-year program or a 2-year program?

AT: You can do our program in 12 months. Most people are going to do it in 18 months. Basically you can do it starting September 1st and be done by September 1st or you can do it September 1st and be done by December 15th. It’s really like a 12-16 month program depending on whether or not you decide to take classes during the summer.vermont cheese 2

MRD: What sets your program apart from other food studies or anthropology programs?

AT: I think it’s really the fact that we’re really trying to bridge between natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. We try to get students to become competent thinkers and doers around the food system, giving them the intellectual and practical skills that will allow them to successfully navigate. We also have tremendous engagement with the food system and food systems players in Vermont, so you can really learn a lot by being here.

MRD: What do your graduates go on to do after the program?

AT: We just started so we’ve only had a couple years of students but we have somebody working at the USDA as an agronomist, someone working at the Vermont Department of Agriculture, another working the Health Policy Institute that’s trying to integrate food systems work into health policy issues. We have somebody working at a newspaper, a couple of people working at non-profit organizations that are doing food and food-related work, and somebody is a sustainability manager for an institutional dining vendor. They have been able to access lots of different types of jobs.

MRD: That’s great. Do you mostly see your future PhD graduates as more applied anthropologists or scholars rather than just as pure academics?

AT: Yes, I think that our PhD will be robust and rigorous and you could get an academic job from it, but it will be a mix in terms of transdisciplinary approach and disciplinary specificity so it will look a certain way for a graduate.

MRD: Is there anything else you wanted to add?

AT: I think it’s a really exciting and emerging field, ripe with possibility. Although it is never easy to build new ways of thinking and doing about the world, the time seems right for bringing together the last century of disciplinary based inquiry and integrating the best ideas, methods and precepts in new ways for the 21st century, both in the academy but also beyond.

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What FoodAnthropology is Reading Now: November 22 Edition

November 22, 2015: There’s good news for FoodAnthropology readers this week: it was a great week for internet food reads. Here’s a round of up what captivated FoodAnthropology over the last seven days.

If you have a link you would like to contribute to future round-ups, please email

First, as apple-picking season draws to a close, there were two apple articles worth reading. The first, from The Atlantic: “What Do Professional Apple Farmers Think of People Who Pick Apples for Fun” (“you have to gently pull them away from the idea that the skilled employees we have … [are] not idiots off the street”). Then, NPR’s The Salt offered “Inside the Life of an Apple Picker

There was news from two of the biggest names in U.S. food journalism, Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Pollan has turned his bestseller In Defense of Food into a documentary, which premiered at the 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2015. And, in honor of Mark Bittman’s departure from the New York Times, the NYT Magazine featured Mark Bittman’s Top 10 Columns.

Another documentary that’s making the news is Just Eat it: A Food Waste Story, which documents two filmmakers’ efforts to subsist on food waste in order to bring attention to stunning levels of food waste built into the North American food system.

Scientific American featured an article about the links between food insecurity and HIV outcomes, and summarizes pilot research that seems to improve HIV outcomes through agricultural interventions: “In Kenya, Improving Food Security and HIV Outcomes through Farming

ReadThink published an article describing Switzerland’s cheese industry, and how the nation went from over 1000 cheeses under production to just three following World War I: “The Swiss Cheese Mafia

Gastropod, the podcast that “looks at food through the lens of science and history” released a 40-minute dive into the world of mushrooms: “The Mushroom Underground

On November 19th, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified, fast-growing salmon, would be the first transgenic animal approved for human consumption in the US: “Salmon is the First Transgenic Animal to Win US Approval for Food

Representatives from the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA) penned “Reflections on the FAO regional meeting of Agroecology for Africa” that offers insight into the goals and politics of agroecological work.

There were reports this week from a study showing that (American?) men overeat in the presence of women, and draws conclusions about the evolutionary basis of this behavior: “Men Overeat to Impress Women;” the original article can be found here: “Eating Heavily: Men Eat More in the Company of Women

A report from on the U.S. Farm Bill from UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society “finds that corporate control and structural racialization within the US food system leaves marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the agricultural policies and outcomes generated by the Farm Bill”: “Farm Bill Report

There were reports this week that present-day obesity in humans may be linked to a genetic mutation in an extinct species of ape: “Obesity in Humans Linked to Fat Gene in Prehistoric Apes

Though this was published in August, it’s still worth reading in November: writer Ruth Tam’s reflection on “How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food-then make it trendy

Scientific American wrote about efforts to save heirloom varieties of date palm in Egypt: “Save the Date: Preventing Heirloom Date Palm Extinction in Egypt’s Siwa Oasis

Finally, The Atlantic reported on research from the Weizmann Institute of Science that uses an algorithm to “accurately predict how a person’s blood-sugar levels will spike after eating any given meal,” and can be used to develop personalized plans for blood sugar management: “The Algorithm that Creates Diets That Work for You

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Anthropologies #22 Call for Submissions: The anthropology of food


Burgers, Plate 4. Photograph by Thomas Hawk, 2009.

Everyone eats, and there are cultural and social meanings embedded in the food that we consume. This issue of anthropologies will look at the anthropological understanding of food and the values, beliefs, technologies, ideologies, and imaginaries that we construct around its production and consumption.

What is food? How do we decide what food is desirable and undesirable? Where does our food come from? How is it produced? What effect do our food habits have on others both human and non-human? What, ultimately, does food mean? We are looking for submissions from every corner of anthropology – linguistic, biological, cultural, and archaeology – and from a variety of perspectives within the discipline. So tell us what food means to you, or the role that it plays in the lives of people you work with.

Deadline for submissions: January 10, 2016

Publication Date: March 2016.

Email submissions to: anthropologiesproject AT gmail dot com

Jeremy Trombley and Lauren Renée Moore will be the co-editors for this issue. We already have a few contributors lined up, but we have room for more! See below for more information.


One of the main goals of the anthropologies project is to encourage participation from a wide range of people. This means we seek ideas and submissions from people who are connected with anthropology (and social science) at various levels and in a variety of ways. While the editors do solicit submissions for each issue, we also highly encourage unsolicited contributions. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to Please provide a brief synopsis of the idea you have in mind for your contribution. Contributions are accepted based on relevance to topic and writing quality. We reserve the right to deny submissions based on quality of writing and fit with theme/other contributions. All upcoming themes will be announced on Savage Minds. If you have suggestions, thoughts, or other ideas that you would like to share with us, don’t be shy, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Submission guidelines

We welcome submissions between 1000-2000 words. Essays can be written in a formal academic style, as personal essays, or as opinion pieces. Please send all photos as separate attachments in JPEG format. Lastly, we use a modified version of the AAA style guide for all references. The only change is with the formatting of the author and date. Here’s an example:

Mintz, Sidney. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking Penguin.

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Harvest Festivals and Hot Dog Picnics: Dr. Maureen Costura Discusses Active Learning and Archaeology at the Culinary Institute of America

This month, we hear from Dr. Maureen Costura, Associate Professor at The Culinary Institute of America. She discusses teaching anthropology at an applied institution, how she incorporates her archaeology background, and community engagement with her classes.

If you would like to participate, or would like to nominate an excellent instructor for the interview series, please email


Lauren Renée Moore: Will you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?

Maureen Costura: I have a PhD in anthropology from Cornell University, where I focused on archaeology. I’ve done most of my research on 18th century societies in the Caribbean, and French-derived communities in North America. I did a three-year excavation at French Azilum, a town in northern central PA that was founded by refugees from the French and Haitian revolutions. We uncovered a roadway, what we think was an outbuilding, and verified the remains of a couple of other structures. One was a slave cabin, one was a plantation house. It was really interesting…these were people who were used to Versailles, and they were living nine days by flatboat upriver from Wilkes-Barre, the nearest big town.

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French Azilum and Wilkes-Barre, PA

LRM: You were the 2010 runner-up for SAFN’s Christine Wilson award for that project. Can you tell me how it connected to food? 

MC: One of the most interesting things that I found when I was excavating is that the diaries and the journals of the people who were living there complain about food. Practically every single journal contains entries about how there is no food, and they can’t keep the cattle alive, and the land is so poor, and there is nothing to eat. But when I was digging, what I found was a large quantity of pig bones, chicken bones, cattle bones, oyster shells and other shellfish, wine, and specialty ceramics for sugar that had been imported. Remember, it was 9 days by flatboat upriver. So these were people who had significant resources to expend on really high-end goods. And yet, to their minds, they’re starving to death.


LRM: What sense did you make of that?

MC: I came to the conclusion, from reading a lot of 18th century French gastronomy texts, that these people were not satisfied with what they had available to eat. The food would have all seemed low status. It would have seemed like food for the poor. These people were the aristocrats. They were living in hope that they would be able to reclaim their estates, and reclaim that status. I think part of the reason they emphasized how hungry they were, and how substandard the food was, was partially to reassure the people they were writing to that they were still intending to go back to the way things were. They weren’t settling in, they weren’t accepting it. They were continuing to resist these changes in circumstance.


LRM: How did you end up at the Culinary Institute of America?

MC: They were looking for someone who could teach anthropology of food, and also teach a class in French food and culture. I also really liked the idea of teaching students who are going to be using this material in a way that other students would not. These are students who have made a decision that their future is in the food industry. They have a goal, they have a destination. They know what they want to do. When they take this material about anthropology and culture, they are going to be incorporating it in a way that reaches out to a broader public than most academics get to touch—and I really like that idea.


LRM: Do you have specific goals for how you want them to apply this knowledge?

MC: Absolutely. They get very, very good at working with food, and knowing its physical properties. But the cultural aspects of food are not as widely addressed or understood. There is an assumption that the way they eat is in some way normal. And the way they’re taught to cook is in some way natural. I really want them to question that. I also want to see them use some of the stuff in an applied way. I’m really interesting in taking my students out into the doing things like a “Paleolithic day.” We do flint knapping, and grind acorns. We do this partly to show them that there are other ways of doing these things, and also to show them that people in the past were every bit as intelligent, and have as much to offer, as people today. Because that tends to get lost. And if they can take that and translate it into restaurant experiences or future business plans—that’s even better.


LRM: What classes do you teach?

MC: I’ve been here for four years, and I teach “Introduction to Gastronomy,” a mixed social sciences and humanities introduction; “Anthropology of Food”; “Ancient Foods in the Modern World,” where we look at Latin American foods, the cultures that they came from, contemporary controversies, and their introduction to the mainstream; “Food and Cultures of France,” which looks at global issues in food through the lens of French society, culture, and foodways; and the capstone project.



Image from flint knapping demonstration at CIA. Photo from

LRM: You mentioned grinding acorns and participating in a dig. What course do those fall into?

MC: Those are currently part of the Project in Applied Food Studies, but I’ve also done things like that in the Anthropology of Food. I’ve also done a campus-wide event in which we had a forager who came to give foraging walks, flint-knapping, and atlatl throwing, mead brewing, and things like that.


LRM: Can you tell me more about those activities, and how they fit into the course?

MC: The theme for this semester’s class is “Harvest.” The students are going to do a harvesting and gleaning map of the campus and surrounding areas. They will look for abandoned or ignored foodstuffs, gather them, process them in the kitchens, and then try to find a place that they can donate them. The lack of ability to donate—or the ability to donate—will relate to the food policy part of the course. They’re also going to look at harvest festivals, and research harvest festivals around the world. Then, they are going to put together a harvest festival. A component of that will be flint knapping, ancient grain or acorn processing, and sharing of various gathered foods. Hopefully, they will weave in some of their research on different cultures’ harvest festivals throughout the world and throughout history.


LRM: You mentioned that you have your students grind acorn. Acorns have to have special processing to be edible. Do you have your students go through that process, as well?

MC: I do. It’s very small quantities, and it’s more of an experiment to show them the type of work and skills that were needed. It’s a leaching process, because acorns are so bitter that they are inedible in their natural form, so you grind them down to flour. Then you wash the flour, and spread it out to dry, and you wash it again, and spread it out and let it dry. Depending on the acorn, and the season, and how ripe it was at harvesting, it can take several washes to leach all that bitterness out. And even then, they’re not very tasty. This semester, we didn’t have time to do this, since we had to deal with a set of demands around our new teaching garden. We ended up doing a lot of hands-on garden construction instead.


grinding acorns


LRM: How do students respond to that activity?

MC: Students here are very open. That’s one of the neat things about foodie students. They’ll try anything you throw at them. I had a student yesterday, for a class project, go out and forage and make tea out of pine needles and thyme. She brought it in and gave it to her classmates, and they all sat there eating her coulis of dogwood fruit and drinking this pine needle-thyme tea. It was great.


LRM: Since this course has rotating themes, what kinds of activities did previous classes do?

MC: The last class we worked with the Franklin Delano Roosevelt house site. They’re putting the Edwardian home garden back in. Our students did the research for them on what was grown. They got to see the archaeologists from the state start to do their work. They did a whole lot of experiential things, and then they put on Eleanor Roosevelt’s hotdog picnic as a fundraiser for the garden.


LRM: You mentioned Ancient Foods in the Modern World, and particularly the Latin America emphasis. What foods do you focus on in that class?

MC: We talk about ancient growing techniques. For example, the “terra preta de indio,” the Amazonian black earth that is very highly fertile, and could have an impact on climate change issues today. We talk about terracing in the Andes. We talk about some of the Andean crops that are no longer widely available, but are being reintroduced—things like quinoa and amaranth, which had an impact on ancient South and Central American civilizations, and are now very trendy food items. We look at the historical reasons for that, and the impact on current societies.


Image of terra preta de indio from the Pedra Chata archaeological site in Brazil


LRM: Much of what these students do is contemporary. How do they tend to respond to these historical projects?

MC: They really like them. Because they are taught to do things one way—very French, and grounded in the restaurant industry—they don’t have a lot of exposure to the idea that there are people who do things differently. What they think of as natural is based in one particular place and time. A lot of the time, something that would be covered in an introductory class somewhere else is mind blowing to them.


LRM: Do you have an example of something that’s been mind blowing?

MC: That’s a phrase one of my students used last semester. We were talking about the idea of being embedded in a place and a time, and having you own perspective be very grounded in your experience. They had never considered that! Another time, I took them on a walk to show them an archaeological site that’s here on campus, and I was talking about the politics of museums and collecting, and how museums are seeking to tell a story. There are people who pick the things that go in museums, and choose what to share about those artifacts. That idea had never crossed some of their minds. Things that, to us, can feel very basic are not for many students.


LRM: Can you tell me a little bit more specifically what it means to be teaching food, and to be an archaeologist?

MC: I find that, as an archaeologist, I have many points of similarity with my students who are chefs. They’re both studies that require a certain amount of hands-on knowledge. How do you know when a chicken is done? Well, by seeing when the chicken is done. How do you know how to lay out and dig a unit, or how to identify a feature? Well, by seeing units and features being done and learning it. That type of hands-on learning gives me an avenue to connect with them. I don’t have a lot of scope for doing excavation at this point. I’m hoping that will change in the future, but that’s one drawback—the trimester schedule here does not allow for a long field season. But there are other ways I bring that training to bear on the ways that I teach and the ways that I put classes together. Luckily, we do have this archaeological site on campus. I’m working to bring it into the classes, and hoping to start an excavation class at some point in the future.


LRM: The site on campus–is it related to food?

MC: It might be. Part of the site is a late 18th/early 19th century farm site. Another part is connected to the agricultural production of the seminary. So we can talk about food production and the agricultural history of the Hudson valley as a support center for New York City, shipping along the Hudson River, and things like that. With archaeology, you don’t really know for sure until you open up the ground and dig.


LRM: You came from Cornell to CIA. When you were teaching at Cornell, were you able to use any of the hands-on approaches you now use at CIA?

MC: I did. Cornell has this great program, the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. It encourages graduate students to put together first year writing class that are also disciplinary. They want us to be very creative. I taught one that was based in anthropology, called “The Sense of Place” and it was focused on this idea of embeddedness and experiential learning. Some of my current activities are taken from that. I did the atlatl demonstrations and flint knapping in another class called “So You Want to Be a Cave Man?” It was about taking experiential learning and getting students to reflect on their own experiences through that lens.


LRM: How would you compare doing those activities at Cornell to the Culinary Institute?

MC: The students at CIA tend to have a wider range of past experiences to draw on. Many of them have spent time in the hospitality industry. I would have fewer qualms about telling a student here, “Ok, we’re going to put together a fund raiser, and we’re going to be cooking the food for it, and we’re going to find out how to get permits.” There is another level of maturity. Many of the students at Cornell were much more used to grappling with the in-depth academic articles and scholarly journals, for which students here need a bit more coaching.


LRM: Can you tell me a little bit about the readings you assign? Do you use a textbook?

MC: I don’t use a textbook. I tend to assign book sections. For a lot of these students, this is the only anthropology or archaeology class they will ever take. I want to give them a good cross section. In my upcoming Anthropology of Food class, I’m going to start talking a little bit about food in human evolution—give them a little bit of Richard Wrangham, and then give them some of the sources that contradict Wrangham and provide differing evidence, and make them argue about that. I’m also going to use portions of Richard Wilk’s Home Cooking in the Global Village. I’ll be using some of Jane Fajans’ work on Brazilian food, race, and identity. I really am a huge fan of Barbara Voss’ Archaeology of Ethnogenesis, and we’ll talk a little bit about that. Then, I use some articles from the Food and Culture Reader, as well.


LRM: Can you tell me a little bit about using the Archaeology of Ethnogenesis?

51-lpcb91jl-_sy344_bo1204203200_MC: It’s dense, but I pick selections for them. It’s a way to see, through Voss’ research, a culture in the midst of change, of self-defining; an ethnicity in the midst of creating itself. I think one of the issues that a lot of researchers tend to come up against is the problem of essentializing the culture you research. You’re saying, “this is what it is,” and that misses the “this is how it changes, this is what it was, this is what it’s becoming, this is how it might have evolved if it hadn’t met this moment.” I really like that.


LRM: And how about Jane Fajans’ work? That’s another we haven’t heard about in the interview series.

MC: She wrote a recent book about food, race, and identity in Brazil. She looked at things like the idea of purity in recipes. What is taken out if you’re calling a recipe more “pure”? And what is left in, and what can that tell you about the different attitudes toward racial ingredients?


LRM: Several months ago, I read an interview with you about the CIA’s new Applied Food Studies program. It sounded like the program has an environmental focus. Can you tell me a little more about that?

MC: It has a sustainability focus. One of the things the food industry is grappling with, and that many of our students are very interested in, is this role of the chef as a social commentator or activist. People are increasingly looking at chefs to talk to them about food. And given how much food is implicated in issues of climate change—the food industry, the agricultural industry, the question of GMOs and herbicides and pesticides—all of these are things that chefs have very strong opinions about. One of the goals of the program is to discuss all the ways food is impacting our society and our culture, globally and here on campus.


LRM: Do you bring these sustainability issues into the courses you teach?

MC: To some extent. I talk about terra preta de indio, the anthropogenic soil that ancient peoples in the Amazon made. It hasn’t ever been fully replicated. But it has implications, because it can prevent things like fertilizer use. It actually sequesters carbon at ten times higher the normal rate (of soil). So, I’m talking about archaeology, and I’m also talking about, “how can we use this today?”


LRM: That’s a very forward-looking approach. 

MC: If we can’t make an impact on the future while studying the present and past, it’s a pretty dry profession.


LRM: Can you speak to working and teaching at a less-traditional institution?

MC: There are challenges here, just like there are at a research institute. I don’t have the constant publication pressures. On the other hand, that’s because there isn’t a whole lot of time in the schedule to pursue research. We finish a class and we start another one the next day. We have a new group of students coming in to the bachelor’s program every 15 weeks, and to the associate’s program every 3 weeks. That 3-month summer break where you can pursue fieldwork and research and publication just isn’t there. On the one hand, there are great opportunities here. There are fantastic opportunities for teaching. You can be involved in developing programs and developing coursework in a way that you may not get to at other places. But if you want to pursue independent research, it’s something you really have to have the passion and time for, because it’s not going to be supported the same way. And you have to make your peace with that.


LRM: Thank you for taking the time to contribute to the SAFN Food Pedagogy Series! Your hands-on approach and ability to incorporate archaeological approaches is inspiring. Now I want to teach a course called “So you want to be a cave man?”




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Research Colloquium: Climate Change, Food and Human Sustainability

The following notice was received here at FoodAnthropology and may be of interest to our readers with interests in theological matters:

The 2016 CrossCurrents / Auburn Research Colloquium will be held in July in New York City. Research fellows work on a research or writing project related to the theme of “Climate Change, Food, and Human Sustainability,” with access to libraries and research facilities at Columbia University, Union, Auburn, and Jewish Theological Seminaries.

We invite applications from scholars and writers, artists and activists, as well as those involved in the not-for-profit sector, interested in faith-rooted efforts to shape a more just and peaceful world. While our theme is sufficiently broad to include a wide variety of topics, we are particularly interested in projects that connect with what Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Laudato Si: On Care of our Common Home, called “integral ecology.” This begins with the recognition that humanity now faces an existential crisis on multiple fronts: extreme economic disparity, increased competition for resources including land and water, a severely degraded natural world, failing nation states, and a climate on the verge of spinning out of control. Such circumstances require bold and imaginative responses. Successful applicants will outline projects that illuminate the nature of the crisis or suggest innovative solutions, or both.

Individual (or team) research projects are the focus of the fellowship, with late afternoon seminars, followed by shared dinners that allow ample time for conversation and collaboration.

For further information including application see:

The deadline for applying is February 2, 2016. Please visit the web site for answers to your questions or contact information.

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What FoodAnthropology is Reading Now: Nov 15th Edition

November 15: The internet this week was full of great food reads. If you’d like to contribute a link for future round-ups, please email them to Submissions of food reads focused outside the U.S. are particularly encouraged. 

When thinking about the many meanings of “hunger,” food scholars may be interested in research showing that hunger can increase all forms of wanting, including for non-food items like binder clips: Hunger Makes You Crave More Than Food

Nautilus published a story whose concerned tone about the “Western Diet” will be familiar to many—but this time, the story focuses on Westerners’ microbiomes, which are found to be lacking in comparison to rural, non-Western populations: How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution

Genetic evidence calls into question claims that wheat was present in the British Isles 8000 years ago. Evidence of wheat had been interpreted as evidence of wheat trade far earlier than previously believed. Contesting the presence of wheat in the British Isles 8,000 years ago by assessing ancient DNA authenticity from low-coverage data.

Other archaeological research dates the widespread exploitation of honeybees to the early Neolithic. One of the researchers, interviewed for Science Daily, said, “Our study is the first to provide unequivocal evidence, based solely on a chemical ‘fingerprint’, for the palaeoecological distribution of an economically and culturally important animal. It shows widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early farmers and pushes back the chronology of human-honeybee association to substantially earlier dates.” Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers

While this exchange is now a few months old, it just came to my attention and I found it worth sharing: NPR summarized research suggesting that chimpanzees, given the opportunity, would cook their food just like humans: Chimps Are No Chumps: Give Them An Oven, They’ll Learn To Cook. Anthropologist Rosemary Joyce responded, writing Chez Chimp: Why our primate cousins don’t cook.

Louise O’Fresco, former Assistant Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, denounced small-scale agriculture and the “romantic myth” of local and organic agriculture, calling instead for “smart technology and scaling up” in Aeon Magazine this week: Splat Goes the Theory

Those interested in Soviet cuisine may want to take a look at the new CCCP cookbook, A Cookbook to Rehabilitate Soviet Cuisine.

Part apple-centered adventure, part history lesson, Boston Magazine published a long read on The Hunt for the Tinmouth Apple, the apple that “has the power to transform New England into the Napa Valley of hard cider…if only we can find it.”

NPR reports that the FDA, considering ways to define “natural” in food labeling, is seeking Americans’ input: What’s ‘Natural’ Food? The Government Isn’t Sure And Wants Your Input

Oxford American’s Spring 2015 issue featured a fantastic reflection on what Americans mean by “trash food,” and how language, class, cuisine, and bigotry are interwoven in the ways we think and talk about “trash food:” Trash Food

Though I could not verify this announcement through any other source, Compassion in World Farming announced this week that the USDA would suspend its verification of Perdue chicken as “humanely raised:” USDA No Longer Verifying Factory Farm Chicken as Humane

Finally, in case any SAFN readers are looking for a property in France, why not buy Julia Child’s house? The House That Julia Built

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SAFN Panels and Events at the 2015 AAA Meeting in Denver

This is a listing of food-related panels, papers, posters, & events at the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, 2015 (Denver, CO)

Current & Future SAFN Members are Invited to Attend the


Saturday, 21 November 2015, 7:45-10:30pm

Hyatt Regency, Centennial B

Distinguished Lecture by John Brett, University of Colorado Denver

“Driven By Justice: Food Work in Denver”

John Brett

light fare will be served + cash bar available

SAFN-Sponsored Panels, Posters & Events





Additional Events, Panels & Papers / Posters (Click on titles to see scheduling information)






Want to be included on our listing next year? Send Paper Info to Joan Gross, SAFN Programs Co-Chair at
jgross (at) oregonstate (dot)edu

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