Hunger and Excess: Histories, Politics, and Cultures of Food

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Beliefs about food, foodmaking, and food consumption are practices that have historically indexed, identified, and mapped the contours of self, community, and nation. This course analyzes food issues through the lenses of culture and history. Histories of particular foods, including sugar, potatoes, coffee, and chocolate, are examined in order to reveal their crucial roles in social change, identity, class formation and conflict, nationalism, and the promotion of slavery. How were potatoes, famine, and the enforcement of free-trade ideology linked in 19th-century Anglo-Irish relations? How have episodic food riots, greeting perceived shortages and injustices in distribution, led to the constitution of new forms of sociability? What accounts for the birth of restaurants? How has the coming of the recipe book affected gender roles and domesticity? And how has the arrival of abundance brought changes to the human body, ideas, and ideals of normality? The course explores relationships between ideas of “nature” and the “natural” and ideas of natural diets, “locavorisms,” the “wild,” the raw, and the cooked. Through the lens of cultural studies and cultural anthropology, food production and consumption are revealed as a symbolic medium whose “travels” across continents, as well as into individual digestive systems, illuminate and map topographies of class, tastes, the forbidden, and the erotic. Food as a symbolic substance moves through fashion, contemporary art, and nutrition. How, for example, is the natural body imagined and modeled in the 21st century? Is it taboo to eat chocolate after yoga? What do the rules of kosher do? And how do food taboos in the natural-food movement resonate with the rules of kosher in the Old Testament?