Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food History


Food History is one of the four required core classes for the Gastronomy program. It has traditionally been taught as an online or blended course, but this semester, the class was held in a traditional, classroom-based setting. The course was taught by Historian Kyri Claflin (who looks remarkably like an older version of Isla Fisher). I had imagined that the course would be organized chronologically, focusing in on the major turning points in the history of food, but instead, the course was organized by themes (nature & technology, movement, and culture & cuisine).

The main assignment for the course was our class blog, which we were required to contribute to five times throughout the semester. However, don’t let the term “blog post” fool you. These were 1,000 word research papers, which just happened to be submitted via WordPress. We were also required to actively comment (and reply to comments) on each other’s posts. In grad school, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to read your classmates writing, so this was actually a really cool advantage of incorporating a blog.

The frequency of our research papers (“blog posts”) seemed burdensome at first (every other week for ten weeks), but it was such a relief not to have a 20-page paper waiting for me at the end of April (as is the case in most other Gastronomy classes). Additionally, this format allowed me to research a variety of topics that interested me (from the history of food preservation to the history of vegetarianism), rather than being stuck with just one topic.

Most of my other graduate classes have been anchored by student-facilitated discussion, but (whether due to the transition from online to classroom based, or the teaching style of the instructor) discussion was not as strong in this course. Nonetheless, there were other opportunities to learn. The most popular class, hands-down, was when Nawal Nasrallah, a scholar and food writer came and prepared historic Iraqi recipes for us. The food was delicious, the speaker was delightful, and the topic was interesting. But after two years in the program, it should come as no surprise that the best way to learn about a cuisine is by eating it!

– Kelly



Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Writing for the Media

Being able to take a writing course with the food editor of the Boston Globe is surely one of the biggest draws of the Gastronomy program. Obviously, I wasn’t going to leave Boston University without getting to experience it for myself.

sheryl julianThe instructor, Sheryl Julian, is a classy, well-accomplished woman, with lots of experience in the food world. (Julia Child hand-picked her for her first Boston food editing gig, after all.) Her matter-of-fact teaching style and obvious success command respect, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated. Like most writers, she is a gifted storyteller, keeping our class on the edge of our seats each week. It also doesn’t hurt that she has the best voice. I could listen to her read the phone book!

We turned in all kinds of food writing over the course of the semester, each week with a new theme. Assignments included Q&A pieces, product comparisons, restaurant and cookbook reviews, memoirs, blogs, and more. Sheryl is an excellent editor and her insight made my writing stronger each week. But the best part of the class was that Sheryl connected us with other successful writers and food professionals, so that we could learn from them as well.

Debra Samuels, who writes the “Tasting Table” column for the Boston Globe, held a cream of tomato soup tasting with us to teach the class how to conduct a product comparison and write about it. Beatrice Peltre, the blogger and cookbook author behind La Tartine Gourmande, visited our class to speak about how to build a successful food blog, and what it’s like to write a cookbook. But my favorite class of all had to be when we visited Nina Gallant’s food photography studio, and did a hands-on food styling and food photography lesson.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetRequired reading for this course was also a treat. Rather than textbooks, our reading consisted of photocopied articles from newspapers and food magazines. Food Writing for the Media is taught exclusively in the spring semester, and Sheryl only accepts about 13 students into her class (a writing sample is required first). Many of Sheryl’s former students go on to do freelance work for her after they complete the course, which is all the more reason to do a good job throughout the semester.

– Kelly

image of Sheryl via Boston Globe

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Understanding Food (Theory and Methodology)


Understanding Food: Theory and Methodology is intended to be the introductory course to the Gastronomy program. The purpose of the course is to introduce Gastronomy students to the landmark works that have influenced food studies, as well as learn the different methods that scholars use to study food. I took it my second semester in the program, because it filled up too quickly during my first semester.

Despite the course being called “Theory and Methodology,” it was much more heavy on theory (particularly social theory) and kind of skimped out on the methods. The class has a reputation for being tedious due to the heavy emphasis on social theorists such as Karl Marx and Pierre Bourdeiu, dense reading list, and rather intense writing component. Despite the dense articles, the books assigned for class (pictured above) were rather enjoyable.

rachel blackRachel Black, the director of the Gastronomy program, taught the course. Rachel has a reputation as being a tough grader, but her stories from living in France and Italy during her twenties won over our travel minded and curious class. Rachel stressed the interdisciplinary aspect of gastronomy, and I liked that each class was based on a different branch of food studies (anthropology, nutrition, geography, etc). As an added bonus, our class went to a guest lecture by Janet Poppendieck just one week after reading her book for our class.

This class had the greatest number of assignments I have encountered in the program thus far. We were assigned two short essays, a spotlight presentation, a midterm, a literature review, an outline, a final research paper, and a couple of homework assignments. Despite the tedious reputation of the course, I was pleased with what I learned. The topics covered in this course set a good foundation for the rest of my learning experience, and the required reading was both challenging and enriching. The authors we were introduced to are referenced time and time again in the food world, so it was good to get a handle on the different theories that food scholars draw upon.

Image via Rachel E. Black

– Kelly