Good to Think With: The Culture of Food


Drawing on perspectives from the historical past and the present day, this course will focus on the social and cultural aspects of how we grow and consume food. We will explore issues such as how food production and presentation have changed over time and how different consumption patterns have affected identity and sociability. An example of this would be the rivalry between wheat and corn that dogged world civilization for centuries, influencing such issues as how bread was made, what constituted the best diet for convicts, and of what material communion wafers should be made. We will look at how authors shape narratives about food, social change, conflict, and accommodation. Subjects of study will include the early modern trade in coffee, tea, and spices; the voyages to the New World and the attendant disruptions of various populations; the effects of the French Revolution; the Irish potato famine; and Hitler’s and Stalin’s policies of imposing famine on conquered peoples. We will examine the role of science and modernity in creating the agricultural systems that provide us with our food. This will include a look at agribusiness, its friends and enemies, and various possible alternatives to it. The problem posed by the overabundance of food and food wastage will be addressed.