Food Studies: biting off more than he can chew?
Food Studies features the voices of 11 volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. You can explore the full series here.
I am a lucky guy. It’s an exciting time to be studying food — public interest in food issues is burgeoning, farmers’ markets are proliferating like never before (or, at least, since the introduction of the supermarket), and more people are engaging in conversations about why good food matters. And here at school, where my main job is to study, I not only get to engage with these ideas and issues every day, I am required to. It’s a tough life.
I’ve been interested in food issues since high school, but my passion has really blossomed since coming to college. As an intern with the Yale Sustainable Food Project for the past two years, I have learned a great deal about sustainable agriculture, planned and hosted all sorts of community events, and cooked, eaten, and shared a lot of good food (life still won’t give me a break!). I’ve learned about food history, culture, politics, and science in the classroom, whether through analysing the oldest cookbook in the world or assessing the newest research on the psychology of obesity. Over the summer, I got to work with Edible Schoolyard NYC, reconnecting kids and their families with where their food comes from and why it matters; learn about specialty food products and their stories by volunteering in the classroom at Murray’s Cheese Shop; and cook up some creative vegetable cuisine at a great little restaurant called Dirt Candy.
Now I am back at school, starting my final year, and the question prodding at me and my peers is ‘What will I write about for my Senior Essay?’ The Senior Essay is a chance for us to explore in detail a specific topic relevant to our course of study, and as a Humanities major, I realise my prospects, being interdisciplinarily rich, need rigour and focus to be viable. I have been toying with various different ideas over the past year or so, and they’ve all had to do with food in some way, from the psychological and aesthetic significance of modernist cuisine to the role of urban public space in fostering healthy community foodways. But I think I’ve finally settled on something that has captivated my interest for the last year and never let go. I’m fascinated by the narrative and cultural significance of food products with Protected Designations of Origin — the history of how such institutions arose, the social and economic problems they sought to solve, and in particular, the unintended and complex implications these instutitions are having now in a largely free market economy and a rapidly globalising world. I am planning to use food as a case study for the crisis of the local product in global context, and explore how it relates to similar products such as the book, through questions of reproduction, mythologization and ‘authenticity,’ the connection between physical and mental transportation, and the paradox of consumption — by which I mean the idea that for certain products (like food, books, and perhaps a very few others), consumption is what maintains their life cycle in a culture, as oppose to ending it.
Maybe I’ve set myself too large an agenda; only time — and more reading — will tell. But for now, I’m off to a meeting wth my advisor, and I can’t wait to crack open the books!