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November 21, 2019

A New Interdisciplinary Class Offers Food for Thought

by Kurt Gottschalk

In her essay “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf wrote that “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” The essay concerns, in part, successful college life, and at Adelphi, the study of dining is becoming a part of the academic pursuit.

A new class—under the recently designated 360, interdisciplinary course number—is giving students a chance to consider the food they eat, and the foods eaten around the world, from a wide variety of perspectives. Students get to prepare and sample food, but they also learn from lectures by instructors in the departments of anthropology, philosophy, political science, languages, environmental studies and science, as well as Swirbul Library and Levermore Global Scholars.

“The point of the class is to provide students with a variety of perspectives about food,” according to Kathryn Krasinski, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology and creator of the new food studies minor. Dr. Krasinski—whose own research focuses on the hunter-gatherer diet in Africa and North America—is teaching the Food for Thought 360 course this semester. Cross-cultural food studies and the opportunity for interdisciplinary work is what attracted Dr. Krasinski to Adelphi.

“Something that really excites me about Adelphi is how many faculty are working in food studies across many different programs,” said Dr. Krasinski, who devised the syllabus and invited 10 guest lecturers from other schools in the University to team teach the food course with her. Twenty-seven students are enrolled in the class this fall, learning important concepts and skills applicable to a wide range of professions, including business, healthcare, hospitality, public service and environmental science, she said.

One of these visiting instructors, Sokthan Yeng, PhD, associate professor of philosophy, brought clementines in for all the students and asked them to engage in silent, mindful meditation while they ate. Other classes have considered the ways foods are incorporated into holiday observances. “We’ll certainly integrate the history of Thanksgiving and Native American food. We can also consider how these influence our observations of holidays today,” Dr. Krasinski said.

Another session considered the ways in which food procurement can be seen from an anti-authoritarian perspective in what Margaret Gray, PhD, associate professor in political science and an instructor in the course, referred to as a “punk perspective.”

“We did a dive into punk cuisine to examine cultural resistance,” Dr. Gray said. “Cultural resistance is a very political act where a group is trying to use values and symbols to challenge a dominant system to critique it and ideally to change it.”

Dr. Gray—who co-authored a guest editorial on organizing efforts among New York farmworkers in the online magazine Jacobin this week and wrote the award-winning book Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic (University of California Press)—led the students in a discussion of corporate control of food distribution, gender roles in food preparation and Marxist perspectives of value instilled in food by the labor involved in producing, packaging and delivering it. The class also made (and ate) Vietnamese spring rolls in order to consider the means of production.

“Anything you can do to get a student more engaged in [coursework], they’re going to be more involved in it and they’re probably going to retain it longer,” she said.

Read Dr. Gray’s editorial in Jacobin.


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