Food & the Humanities
The humanities are uniquely positioned to situate the contemporary society’s relationship to food in the broader context of a human experience. One can read a culture through its food, can read history through food, can untangle the reason for human and social behavior by looking at food and how societies talk about food. This is because the humanities understands and explores human life as the subject of meaning rather than of empirical observation and description. The humanistic understanding of food makes it possible to connect changes in food production and consumption to the realization of human meaning and value.
This program’s intellectual focus centers on a critical discourse about food. The discussion lends itself to addressing issues that contribute to the understanding of the relationships between humans and the natural world; deepen public understanding of the meaning of democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century in relationship to our founding principles and values, political history, and current circumstances; assists the country in addressing the challenges and opportunities created by the changing demographics in many American communities; and addresses the various forms of cultural and political polarization that have become so prevalent in contemporary American life and thereby contributes to the building of new forms of community and understanding.
Change in the way we eat is a constant in American history. From Sylvester Graham in the early 19th century to Progressive era Settlement House programs that used food instruction to Americanize recent immigrants to the contemporary food revolution. The conversation that has built the foundation for the modern food movement has largely been shaped by the works of Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Mark Bittman, Joel Salatin, Rodale, Inc. and a few other influential food writers and organizations. While the impact of these people has been significant in raising critical awareness of the food we eat, they have also received criticism for their potentially polarizing and inaccessible solutions that perhaps cater to those in a higher social class and affluent community. Regardless of how accurate this criticism is, one thing has been made quite clear: the conversation that connects with people and inspires action is based on human experience and therefore must be grounded in the humanities. By utilizing the humanities to focus on the human relationship with food, the programming will create spaces for members of the public to think critically about their personal role and the role of their community in the food system