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Syllabus: Food for Thought

ANTH 365: Social Ecology of Food 


Broccoli sticks out of a red backpack

A dash of academic expertise and a pinch of personal experience led to the perfect one-course recipe for CAS professor C. Anne Claus. “I like to eat and I’m an environmental anthropologist researching the social and political dimensions of food,” she says. Both are baked into a class encouraging students to ponder what’s on their plate—and what makes food “good.” “What are the social and environmental impacts of this food’s production and consumption?” Claus asks. “How do those impacts differ across the food’s lifecycle?” A smorgasbord of topics—heritage, taste influences, wasted food, and environmental justice—serve up an intellectually filling semester. 

Claus’s syllabus provides plenty of food for thought. Here, she chews on a few selections:

  • "You are what you eat. RadioLab’s 'Guts' episode (2012), delivers narratives reflecting that. But in its discussion of gut composition and how we eat, it’s culturally coded, examining these ideas through an American lens."
  • "Chi-Hoon Kim’s 'From Kimchi to Infinity' (Hyphen magazine, 2012) asks us think about fermentation as both an ecological process and a means of preserving rich cultural tradition. As we standardize fermented food—be it cheese, miso, or kimchi—the question of authenticity, and for whom it matters, becomes important."
  • "Most of what I ask students to do as an anthropologist is think about questions on a global scale, but Stephanie Castellano’s 'A Community Market Grows in a DC Neighborhood Abandoned by Food Retailer' (Civil Eats, 2016) is a chance for them to think about things that we talk about elsewhere right here. A market like the one described in this article is interesting because it tries to address a real problem in DC—access to food—in a way that is also reflective of the community. But the article also critically points out how important it is to listen to the people around you. It’s one thing for people to drop into an area and say, 'These people need better access to healthier food.' It’s another thing to be embedded in that place and ask, 'What do you actually need here?' We see this a lot in anthropology: Assumptions can be wrong."
  • "Because most of my work focuses on the sea, the 'Swimming with Tuna' chapter of Elspeth Probyn’s Eating the Ocean (2016) is a favorite. Probyn details ad campaigns that encourage people to think differently about endangered bluefin tuna—the World Wildlife Fund put panda faces onto tuna bodies, while Sea Shepherd depicted panda bodies hanging from fish hooks—but describes her experience swimming with bluefin tuna as consequential to her deciding to stop eating it. She raises an interesting question: Must we encounter species we’re supposed to stop eating for us to conserve them?"