August 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm

New Course: Journey Across Seven ‘Worlds’ of Food

By Lori Bauer
College of Arts & Science

A new team-taught course this fall will carry students on a journey across seven disciplinary “worlds” in search of the social, political, cultural and economic implications of what’s on our plates.

Food studiesCAS 1400 Food Matters: Explorations in Food Across the Liberal Arts is the foundational course in the Food Studies curricular theme. The study of foodways and food systems is highly interdisciplinary and ideal for students from many majors and interests.

The course has seven modules, and students will “change worlds” every two weeks.

The teaching team is: Dr. Timothy Anderson, Associate Professor of Geography; Dr. David Bell, Associate Professor of Linguistics; Dr. Claudia Gonzalez–Vallejo, Associate Professor of Psychology; Dr. Brad Jokisch, Associate Professor of Geography; Dr. Eric LeMay, Assistant Professor of English and author of Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese; Karen Mammone, Biological Sciences Lecturer; Dr. Jaclyn Maxwell, Associate Professor of History and Classics & World Religions; Dr. Theresa Moran, Assistant Professor of English and Food Studies theme faculty leader; Stephanie Miller, Visiting Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences; and Dr. Paul Patton, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology.

“Voyaging across all these worlds of different academic departments does require the student traveler to understand that we are all going where no one at OU has gone before,” says Moran.

What Can We Learn from Cézanne about a Peach?

“The course will be an intellectual adventure in what’s right under our noses and on our plates.,” says LeMay. “How do we approach something as everyday and apparently unremarkable as eating and see it as a way to understand our world and ourselves? My part of the course will take up this question as it’s been asked by the humanities and the arts. What can we learn from Cézanne about a peach, from Kafka about hunger? How does what we eat, as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once asked, tell us who we are?”

Food Matters encourages students to recognize that whatever is on their plate has social, political, cultural and economic consequences and that these consequences have local, domestic and global implications. Food Studies is a relatively new academic field in which scholars from all disciplines have undertaken to explore food and the human experience.

Maxwell’s section of CAS 1400, for example, will examine the role of food in various religious ceremonies and celebrations, as well as food prohibitions. “Food offerings, communal meals and/or fasting are central to religious life in many cultures. So, in addition to studying the economic and environmental aspects of this topic, students will also be introduced to some of the theological implications,” she says.

Food is at the heart of debates about globalization, science, technology, and social progress. From public health concerns to cultural identity to personal relationships to environmental consequences, the study of food is a growing area of scholarship that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Today, the production, consumption and meaning of food represent a critical challenge to politicians, policy makers, scholars and the general public.

Some Sweet Field Trips

Today. Yesterday. A long time ago.

As students study the module on how prehistoric human decision-making impacted the composition of the modern human diet, they will take a Saturday field trip to Hocking Hills. Patton will lead the study of Ash Cave, where a huge pile of ashes and remnants help shape the story of how Native Americans lived.

Back on campus the next week, Mammone will bring the students into her biology lab. It’s BROH (bring  your own honey). Or experiment with honey that Mammone provides and study the role of pollinators and the current dilemma of Colony Collapse Disease in honeybees.

“My module will study pollinators and how important they are for our food system and how they are being affected by human behaviors,” says Mammone. “Part of this module will include a lab exercise to study the composition of honey.”

Students interested in Food Matters can enroll online. Contact Theresa Moran  at for more information.

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