Gastronomy Course Spotlight: US Food Policy and Culture


US Food Policy and Culture has been my absolute favorite course in the Gastronomy program, and I’m a little afraid that it can’t be topped. Topics that we covered in class included the Farm Bill, the National School Lunch Program, organics, GMOs, obesity, hunger, local foods, and so much more, all with a focus on U.S. Food Policy. I have always had an interest in these topics, but it was very valuable to learn the intricacies of how various branches of the government regulate them, as well as the role that private intuitions or non profit organizations play. As a Dietitian with a strong interest in US Food Policy, I was also extremely pleased that this course introduced me to a multitude of organizations working to make good food available to all.

Ellen MesserEllen Messer taught the course, and is the same instructor that I took Food Policy and Food Systems with last semester. It was structured similarly to her previous course, with biweekly short assignments, a commodity paper midterm, and a final. Dr. Messer’s passion for eliminating hunger came across in this course as well, but it hit much closer to home as we focused on the US rather than looking at food issues internationally.

I am a huge Marion Nestle fan, so I was excited that her Food Politics book was a major contributor to the course, in addition to a chapter from What to Eat. Another great resource was Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, a great introduction to the Farm Bill. For those of you that would like to learn more about US Food Policy, I highly recommend starting with Marion Nestle’s book. But all of the books I read for the course were excellent, and you should read them all if you get the chance. Not pictured is The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, a book that was also recommended in Ellen Messer’s international course last semester.

Image via Tufts

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Anthropology

BU Gastronomy

I came to the Gastronomy program to understand people’s relationship with food from a new perspective, and, little did I know at the time, Food Anthropology was the perfect place for me to start. Food Anthropology is one of the 4 required core classes for the Gastronomy program, along with Introduction to Food: Theory and Methodology, History of Food, and Food and the Senses.

Coming from a rigid science background, I was suspicious that Food Anthropology was just fluff. Sure, anthropology involves data collection and analysis. But studying the culture of how people eat… is that really academic?

caroleI was in for a treat. My class was led by Professor Carole Counihan, an entertaining and well established anthropologist with an extensive background in Italian food culture, among other things. Our main assignment was to complete an ethnographic research project of a food place using participant observation, interviewing, and a literature review. The project was shaped through class discussions over various landmark food studies literature, where ideas, theories, and processes could be taken back to our own research.

My favorite part of the class was the readings. The various ethnographies of restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, and other food spaces provided valuable insight on why people choose to eat what they do. I learned about the various emotions, traditions, and functions associated with food for people across a variety of cultures and time periods, and I am a better Dietitian because of it. If any of you are interested in Food Anthropology, Counihan’s Food and Culture Reader just came out with a 3rd edition.

Image via Amazon

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Policy and Food Systems

BU Gastronomy

I marched into the Gastronomy program with my eyes on the Food Policy concentration, so I was eager to begin the Food Policy and Food Systems class my very first semester (Fall 2012). Being an avid reader of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and even Barbara Kingsolver, I am very interested in how basic principles of human nutrition can be applied when addressing the current challenges of the food industry.

Ellen MesserThe class was intimidating at first. Ellen Messer is a quirky and cheerful anthropologist with a wealth of knowledge on international food policy and human rights. She speaks quickly in a matter-of-fact manner, and sometimes passed out class outlines which were several pages long, single spaced, and in size 10 font. But that’s just the world of policy. Several pages long, single spaced, and size 10 font.

The topics covered in our course included the pro’s and con’s of biotechnology, the issue of world hunger, the external costs of meat consumption, monoculture vs. biodiversity, organics and integrated pest management, the role of NGO’s, eating patterns from around the world, obesity and nutrition, and the role of biofuels. Forget what you think you may know about GMO’s, world hunger, or organics. Our class looked at each issue from every angle imaginable. While I may not have a solution for world hunger, I am definitely a more educated consumer.

The focus was much more international than I had originally expected, and that was one of the main challenges. However, because globalization binds us so closely with other nations, it was interesting to see the consequences of our consumption patterns. The main project for this class was to research food policy issues of a foreign nation, including a staple crop and an export crop, as well as research how these factors influence the food security of the nation. We then presented our findings to our classmates in a panel.

Ultimately, I want to help make nutritious foods more accessible, and I believe that learning to navigate the agricultural and industrial concerns of the food industry is a great place to start. There are many complex issues regarding American agriculture and the subsidization of various foods, and it is my goal to further study these relationships (such as in Ellen Messer’s US Food Policy class, next semester) in order to brainstorm ways to help make food systems more conducive to healthy eating.

If you are at all interested in these issues, I highly recommend reading The End of Food, by Paul Roberts.

Image via Tufts


Girl Meets Gastronomy

This fall I began the MLA in Gastronomy program at Boston University.

No, I did not mean to type astronomy.

No, I am not getting an advanced degree in stomachs (at least, not exactly…)

So what is Gastronomy? In Slow Food Nation, Carlo Petrini defines Gastronomy as “the reasoned knowledge of everything that concerns man as he eats.” Throughout the book, Petrini goes on to discuss the importance of an education in food culture and foodways, and how gastronomy is an important tool when looking for ways to reform the current food system.

And that’s exactly what I hope to get out of this program. My concentration for the program is in Food Policy, and my classes this semester are The Anthropology of Food (which focuses on looking at food from an Anthropologist’s perspective) and Food Systems and Food Policy (which focuses on the different approaches to world hunger and other food systems related issues).

I hope to use this greater understanding of food and American foodways to build on my nutrition background. My goal is to make nutritious foods both more accessible and more appealing, and hopefully improve the health of Americans in the process. The ambitions of my classmates include everything from cookbook editing and food trend spotting to teaching college and reforming school lunches. We’re a lively and diverse bunch!

I plan to use this blog to:

  • Chronicle my adventures in the Gastronomy Program
  • Share my experiences exploring the New England food world
  • Share my nutrition expertise and opinions
  • Post the occasional recipe

For those of you that would like to learn more:

  • This NY Times article nicely sums up the rising interest in food studies and how an in depth perspective on the food system can be beneficial when trying to improve the overall nutrition of the population.
  • The BU Gastronomy Student Blog showcases what is happening in the program.
  • The BU website also has information on the MLA in Gastronomy Program.