Wednesday, May 15

Director's Cut: The Future of Food Scholarship

The field of food studies has come a long way in the 21st century. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943, courtesy of the Library of Congress
"Director's Cut" is a weekly post from SFA director John T. Edge.  

Last week, the Food Studies program at Indiana University hosted an interdisciplinary workshop, “The Future of Food Studies,” underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 20-odd scholars from around the country gathered in Bloomington for two and a half days of discussions.

In attendance were Krishnendu Ray, chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University; Analiese Richard, faculty chair of the School of International Studies at the University of the Pacific; Richard Wilk, director of food studies at Indiana University; and more than a dozen other energetic and engaged thinkers.

I met scholars who approached food studies from a variety of disciplines: A literature professor who explores food imagery and recipes in immigrant memoirs. An anthropologist who does ethnographic work with farmers in the West African nation of Mali. A historian who studies the American school lunch program.

Open, curious, and without posturing, the group worked to define the field and plot its trajectory.

Together, we talked through strategies for undergraduate education. We debated the efficacy of interdisciplinary studies. And we settled on a canon of texts and then dismissed said canon.

No matter the seriousness of their scholarship, many seemed to grapple with what Krishnendu Ray called the “triviality barrier.” They recognized that, in this American moment when food sovereignty and food justice are pop memes, those of us who study foodways and food studies claim a space that is both at the center of the current American cultural conversation and, for now, on the fringe of academic legitimacy.