Food Studies: why I love in-flight meals
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.
Most people regard in-flight meals as a necessary evil. I spent my summer interning at LSG Sky Chefs, the world’s largest provider of airline catering. In fact, in 2009, I completed my masters’ dissertation in the anthropology of food at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on how national flag carriers construct and reinforce the image of their nation of origin through their in-flight meal service.
It’s not that I have no taste buds — I was living back at home, in Seoul, South Korea, during my internship, and ate so many of my favorite seafood dishes that I think I’ll have no problem surviving the coming year in landlocked Bloomington, Indiana. It’s just that my real passion in food lies in exploring how national identities are expressed, reinforced, and created through food.
This fall, I’m beginning my second year as a PhD student in the anthropology of food program at Indiana University. I’m enrolled in a reading course on food and nationalism, classes on heritage tourism in East Asia and issues and approaches in global studies, and a reading group on food and psychology. I am also an associate instructor for Introduction to International Studies, responsible for 90 students.
I chose this specific program partly because it is the only anthropology of food PhD program in the U.S., and partly because I wanted to study with Professor Richard Wilk. I first came across him through his book, Home Cooking in the Global Village — his work on tracing the invention of a Belizean national cuisine was a inspiration to me to pursue to my interest in Korean gastro-diplomacy and the globalization of Korean food.
Some of the topics that I hope to explore this term are issues surrounding authenticity in presenting one’s culture, how and why people develop food neophobia (the reluctance to try, or avoidance of, new foods), and how to effectively teach undergraduates to think critically about food in an international context.
Meanwhile, my fellow classmates are researching food waste, urban gardening, small farmers’ values, food experience design, and the role of food in overseas Chinese communities in California. The variety of ideas and perspectives represented among the food studies graduate students always leads to vibrant debates and exchanges, which led us to launch the first edition of the Indiana Food Review online last year. We are working on the second issue to be released at the end of this year.
Like so many of my peers, I arrived at food from somewhere else altogether. It was Professor John Finn, a political scientist with a JD and culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute, who put me on this track to become a food academic. At the time, I had been working for the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, a think tank for the United Nations in New York City, where I’d become increasingly engaged with food security issues, mainly in Guinea Bissau.
I started studying food because I wanted to learn more about sustainable development and food aid and how they affect individual lives, but along the way, I’ve found that studying food allows me to connect with my origins, as well as with people from all over the world. Throughout my life, I have lived in Seoul, Los Angeles, Toronto, Connecticut, New York, and London, never staying long enough to feel at home. Food, for me, has become a powerful tool to think about belonging, place, and identity.