Currently browsing posts about: Food-studies

Mar 20 2014

Is Food Studies the end of civilization? Really?

Before my talk at the University of North Carolina Charlotte this week, I was introduced by its Chancellor who read from an article written by Mary Grabar who works for a local conservative think tank, the Pope Center.

“Food studies” has become an academic growth area, adding to the deterioration of the humanities, and to the advancement of leftist ideologies. No doubt our universities will be producing many more “scholars” investigating all aspects of food: food and race, food and capitalism, food and gender, etc.  But we will have fewer graduates familiar with literary and philosophical masterpieces.  Fewer will be able to produce good writing—or real food.

The audience was amused, as was I, and I think my talk was a sufficient rebuttal on its own.

But I do want to comment on her remarks directly.

Food Studies, she argues, has “little to do with legitimate intellectual endeavors like agriculture or nutrition science. Instead, food becomes another lens through which to examine oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism.”

It most certainly does all of that, and is perfect for those purposes.

What could be possibly be more democratic than food?

Everyone eats.

Food studies, which tends to promote local, organic, seasonal, sustainable and healthful food, inherently questions the industrial food system.  It also promotes food equity, food justice, and food sovereignty.  No wonder it worries conservatives.

I, for example, teach courses in food policy, politics, and advocacy, in which I teach students how to analyze food systems and advocate for those that promote the health of people and the planet.

When my academic department at NYU inaugurated our undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in food studies in 1996—18  years ago!—we could hardly have predicted how quickly the field would spread to other universities or how brilliant and exciting so much of its scholarship would turn out to be.

I’m proud of my own contributions to the field and thrilled that Food Studies has gotten to the point where conservative critics worry that it might be effective.

In one sense, Ms. Grabar’s article helps the field.  It contains links to websites for several Food Studies programs, ours among them.

For other such links and additional resources, go to the website of the Association for the Study of Food and Society.

This is a wonderful field of study.  Come join us!

Sep 6 2013

It’s back-to-school time: food studies

Want to teach a course in food studies?  Start by joining the Association for the Study of Food and Society or talking to people in food studies programs.  Members have access to posted syllabus materials for a wide range of food studies courses.

In the meantime, here’s a place to start:

Amy Guptill, Denise A. Copelton, and Betsy Lucal.  Food & Society: Principles and Paradoxes.  Polity Press, 2013.

This is an introductory book aimed at undergraduates.  It begins with: Welcome to the study of food!

I blurbed it.

Far ranging in scope and hitting on the essential issues most likely to interest students, this book gives readers plenty to think about.  It’s well written, clear, has a point of view (sociology matters!), and thoroughly integrates social science concepts with the meaning of food in people’s lives.  An excellent introduction to courses in foods studies, food and society, and food and culture.

Apr 14 2012

Annals of fashion: Salad Days

Those of us who work in Food Studies like to say that this field is a lens through which to investigate the most important issues facing society today.

And now, according to this weekend’s New York Times Style Magazine, fashion is among them.

It’s the weekend.  Enjoy!

Nov 6 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss dies at 100

In his thoughtful (and lengthy) obituary of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edward Rothstein describes the French anthropologist as a profoundly influential and powerful thinker, an intellectual giant of the 20th century, and a scientist whose analyses of the cultural significance of myths “challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.”  Lévi-Strauss did all this, and more.

But I think of Lévi-Strauss as the inventor of Food Studies before the field existed.  If present-day food academics do not always acknowledge his groundbreaking use of food and foodways to explore how “primitive” societies make sense of their worlds – or require students to read his books in their courses – it is surely because “challenge” falls so far short of conveying the stunning impenetrability of his writing.

Here, for example, is one of the more lucid passages from the chapter on culinary anthropology in The Origin of Table Manners (1968).  This is from the University of Chicago 1990 edition, page 487 (translated by John and Doreen Weightman):

Within the basic triangle formed by the categories of the raw, the cooked and the rotten, we have, then, inserted two terms, the roast and the boiled, which, in most cases, can be placed, one in the vicinity of the raw and the other in the vicinity of the rotten.  Still missing, however, is a third term, illustrating the concrete modalities of the form of cooking which most resembles the abstract category of the cooked.  This modality, I suggest, is smoking, which, like roasting, implies a non-mediated operation (involving neither a receptacle nor water), but which, unlike roasting but in the manner of boiling, is a slow form of cooking, and so both thorough and steady.

Even so, Food Studies students and scholars are much in his debt.

May 10 2009

Weekend fun: eat fast, grow the economy!

According to the latest charts in the New York Times, countries in which people eat more quickly have faster growing economies than countries in which people linger over meals.  The Gross National Product in such countries also suffered less severe declines last year.  On the other hand, they exhibit higher rates of obesity.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but here’s another example of why food is such a powerful tool for examining major societal questions.

Mar 19 2009

Food lobbying and its consequences

My NYU Department developed programs in Food Studies based on the premise that food is so central to the human condition that studying it is a great way to get into much larger social questions.   I’ve just found a terrific example in the April 9 New York Review of Books in which Michael Tomasky reviews So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Goverment, by Robert G. Kaiser. I immediately ordered a copy.

According to the review, the book chronicles events in the history of a Washington, DC lobbying firm, Schlossberg – Cassidy, run by former staff members of  Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by George McGovern (Dem-SD).  The firm parlayed its thorough knowledge of food assistance programs into a consulting practice devoted to helping corporations deal with pesky regulations and policies that affect agriculture, food, nutrition, and health.  To give just one example: the firm’s first academic client was Jean Mayer, the nutritionist president of Tufts University.  He recruited the firm to get Congress to appropriate $27 million for a national nutrition center at Tufts.  The result is the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

But this first earmark set a precedent that led to today’s deeply corrupt system of rampant congressional earmarks,  election campaign contributions, dependence on polls and focus groups, and climate of political partisanship.

A book about food lobbying and its larger political and social consequences!  I can’t wait to read it.

Nov 17 2008

In defense of food writing

Thanks to Colman Andrews, food writer par excellence and now writing for Gourmet.com, for his impassioned defense of food writing as a means of analyzing and making sense of important issues in society.  I’m constantly having to defend my academic interest in food against charges that it is too quotidian to matter. Food matters.  That’s why my column in the San Francisco Chronicle is called Food Matters.