food studies


True to Their Roots: The Evolving Landscape of Polish Cuisine


Presented by The New School’s Food Studies Program, this panel discussion is an invitation to get acquainted with Polish cuisine through the prism of history and society. It will take you on a journey across the centuries and flavors that have shaped the exceptional cuisine of a country co-created by many cultures. Polish cuisine is flourishing: chefs, producers, media specialists, and consumers are rediscovering traditional products and dishes, while often interpreting them through the prism of contemporary food trends. The result is an exciting and vibrant food scene which, however, is not well know outside of the borders of Poland. The event will feature traditional Polish bites. Four presenters will be moderated by New School Food Studies professor Fabio Parasecoli, who teaches food history, culture and the arts.

Professor Jarosław Dumanowski, the head of the Culinary Heritage Centre at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and a member of the research council of the European Institute of the History and Culture of Food (IEHCA) in Tours – is a specialist in early modern history and antique culinary texts who often collaborates with local producers, chefs, marketing specialists, and others. His presentation: A TASTE OF THE PAST. THE USE OF CULINARY HISTORY IN POLAND will focus on the historical roots of modern Polish cuisine and how it uses history as inspiration, documentation, and promotion. Prof. Dumanowski will also discuss the notion of “terroir” and “nature” as representing Mediterranean and Nordic approaches to cuisine, and the use of history for formal registration of traditional foods in the European Union. Monika Kucia, Curator, Food Writer & Designer based in Warsaw. Her presentation CULINARY PERFORMANCES AROUND THE TABLE will describe a variety of culinary events she’s been organizing. These events are labyrinths of tastes, smells and sensations. She invites people to go through an experience that involves eating, singing, smelling and touching. They bring people together in good spirit, hope and peace.

Dr. Annie Hauck, co-editor of Gastropolis: Food and New York City (Columbia University Press) and the author of My Little Town: A Brooklyn Girl’s Food Voice. Her doctoral dissertation emerged from an ethnographic study on the roles and meanings of food among members of Polish-American families in New York City. She educates on everyday urban green living with Brooklyn Mompost (www.brooklynmompost.com) and at Poly Prep Country Day School.’Transplanted; Still Firmly Rooted: 20th Century Polish Food Voices and Ways in Brooklyn, N.Y.’ Her presentation, TRANSPLANTED; STILL FIRMLY ROOTED: 20TH CENTURY POLISH FOOD VOICES AND WAYS IN BROOKLYN, N.Y explores foodways that Polish immigrants brought, adapted and practiced in urban Brooklyn in the 20th century.

Elizabeth Koszarski-Skrabonja is an artist, curator and art historian. Her connection to Polish spirits reaches back to her late father, Casimir J. Koszarski. As the first Manager of the Polish Liquor Department in 1936 for the International distributor, Austin Nichols, (located on Kent Street in Brooklyn), it was his responsibility and challenge to introduce an American public emerging from the constraints of prohibition to Polish vodkas. Her presentation THE VODKA CONTRACT discovers the hidden history of Williamsburg’s waterfront through a tale of entrepreneurship, romance, and war. Ms. Koszarski-Skrabonja shares the dramatic story of how her father’s passion for vodka changed his life—and how he brought a taste of home to New York’s Polish community in the form of three remarkable spirits:Zubrówka (bison grass vodka), Wisniówka (cherry vodka), and Wyborowa (pure rye vodka).

Food Studies in Trump’s United States



The morning after Election Day, I found myself in a very small college town in rural Pennsylvania where people were celebrating the victory of their candidate. That forced me to accept the fact that, more or less, 50% of those who cast their vote have not only supported Trump as next president of the United States, but also changed the political balance in Congress, with all the consequences this entails. What this new landscape reveals has deep repercussions, as aggressive expressions of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and sexism have been normalized and made acceptable for large segments of Americans. This is the reality that many of us will have to deal with on a daily basis in the most common interactions, from going to school to shopping and even just existing as a visibly different person.
I felt combative, more than confrontational. I had been invited to participate in a student workshop and give talks, finding myself reflecting on how the election would shape my role and duty as an educator, a researcher, a public intellectual, a writer, and as a practitioner. Of course, I do not have clear answers and my considerations are personal. I have no intention to tell anybody how and when to work through their own fears, grief, and anger, or how to navigate the future. For me, a core question is: how will I make use of and invest my privilege as a white male of European descent (although an immigrant), whose job is to teach and do research in food studies? What can I contribute as a professional?
That day, I participated in a workshop where students were discussing possible -and easily feasible – innovations to shift the way their peers eat in the cafeteria towards more sustainable and healthier models. While we were evaluating different practical interventions, I also moved the conversation toward the gender, class, and race identity issues underlying food-related behaviors, as well as their social and economic consequences in terms of accessibility, affordability, labor relations, and the environment. Later that afternoon, I gave a talk on food, film, and memory, where I tried to show how an apparently innocuous and fun form of popular culture such as food films can actually reflect, support, and reinforce values and practices that are predicated on the framing of whole categories of people as inferior and exploitable.
My work focuses on food, which may come across as apolitical but is actually profoundly entangled with power dynamics, social structures, and environmental issues that assume immediate, tangible meanings. As food did not emerge as a priority in the presidential debates and the discussions that surrounded them, it is not easy to gauge the direction of the new administration. However, the promise of greater deregulation, less EPA control, and the overall skeptical attitude towards climate change will move environmental issues connected to agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry front and center.
The new administration’s favorable attitude towards the carbon-based energy industry could also slow down the efforts to increase the use of renewable resources in the food system and to shift towards more sustainable models. These issues will become crucial in the negotiations around the upcoming farm bill, where not only will Congress determine the future of US food production, but also the availability of funds to support the most vulnerable sections of the population through school food, SNAP, WIC and other programs.
In this context, it is important to emphasize not only structural and economic features, but also the cultural and social aspects that can generate dynamics of oppression and injustice. I believe my first call is to help students and the community at large outside of universities and intellectual circles recognize the relevance of these matters. In food studies, we now have sufficient students, programs, institutions, and relative media visibility to have some impact.
Above all, I am afraid I can’t enjoy the luxury of separating theory and applied practice any longer. It becomes crucial to pair the insights and the analysis that are central to food studies with hands-on projects and initiatives for change and social innovation. I will be moving my research and activities towards collaborations with designers, agronomists, scientists, engineers, information experts, and media operators, so that my teaching, writing, and doing become expression of a more profound engagement with the new reality.
A friend of mine in Brazil reminded me of the Italian politician and theorist Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts on organic intellectuals, who share their knowledge and competence to usher change rather than concentrating uniquely on their professional world. It is urgent to devise creative strategies and form inclusive alliances around widely shared concerns in the food system, while questioning the priorities of the elites (which include myself) as well as the interests of the rich and the powerful. This election has brought home that what I make of the emerging political reality is also my responsibility. At least for me, the answer is rolling up my sleeves to get down to work.

Image Source: Gastronomy at BU

Gluten, Organics, Psychedelics and More: Our 15-Minute Chat with Michael Pollan

via Modern Farmer
via Modern Farmer

From Netflix specials, to books, there is a lot of buzz around Michel Pollen these days. This short interview with him from Modern Farmer is a good sound bite to take in. He answers some tough questions in just a few sentences-and this way, you can save your Netflix watching for other important people…like Liz Lemon or Captain Picard.

Michael Pollan is a busy guy. But between preparing lectures for his UC Berkeley course Edible Education, making the rounds on the food and farming lecture circuit, and attending promo events for the two recent documentaries he helped produce, he still found time to give Modern Farmer a call this week to update us on his latest endeavors.

Pollan gave us the backstory on Cooked, the just-released Netflix docu-series based on his latest book of the same name, and discussed his distaste for the term “foodie.” He also gave us the lowdown on his next book—which has nothing to do with food or farming.

Read the interview at Modern Farmer.

The Liberal Artisan: Food Studies and Higher Education

by Fabio Parasecoli

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Whether a college education in the liberal arts is worth effort, time and, above all, financial investment, has become a pressing question with wide social repercussions. The recent comments by President Obama underlined the urgency of the issue. In an economic environment where student debt is on the rise and the job market seems stuck in low gear, these are legitimate concerns. They also extend, of course, to those engaged in food studies. Why should young people decide to dedicate their time and money to study food and what are their professional perspectives once they graduate?

A recent — and apparently unrelated — article in the New York Times offers opportunities to reflect on the topic. In the article, economists David H. Autor and David Dorn discuss the impact of technology on middle-class workers while hypothesizing on the cause behind the increasing disparity in income between high-paying occupations and low-wage jobs.

Autor and Dorn argue that the growing mechanization in many productive sectors increases the demand for workers who can count on “problem solving, intuition, persuasion and creativity,” as well as “high levels of education and analytical capability.” At the other end of the spectrum, there is a great need for “so-called manual tasks,” which require “situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interaction,” basic skills that most humans can perform in “low-wage, in-person service occupations.” Autor and Dorn suggest that middle-class careers will expand in sectors that require manual skills and the capacity of interacting with other humans, together with more abstract aspects of problem solving. They join Harvard economist Lawrence F. Katz in predicting growing numbers of “new artisans,” “those who combine the foundational skills of a high school education with specific vocational skills.”

I believe that food studies programs in the liberal arts — rather than in vocational training institutions — complicate this approach, which assumes that the “new artisans such as medical paraprofessionals, plumbers, automotive technicians, and customer service representatives do not require a college education.” A growing number of careers that have the potential to employ food studies graduates challenge the neat separation between intellectual and manual expertise. Some students already have a background as chefs, cheese makers, food stylists, and PR communicators. Others are interested in sectors ranging from policy making and nonprofit to international institutions and NGOs focusing on food system change, rural development, or social justice.

I propose that these young professionals, who often generate new employment opportunities as they develop their own research, projects and startups, fall in a different category — the “liberal artisan.” I thank philosopher Lisa Heldke (also past editor with Ken Albala of Food, Culture, and Society, the journal of the Association for the Study of Food and Society) for this definition inspired by John Dewey, one of the founders of The New School, where I coordinate a Food Studies undergraduate program. Dewey wrote, “The present function of the liberal arts college is to use the resources put at our disposal alike by human literature, by science, by subjects that have a vocational bearing, so as to secure ability to appraise the needs and the issues of the world in which we live” (LW 15,280).

In the seminal book Cooking, Eating, Thinking, which she edited with Deane W. Curtin, Hedlke considers food making as a “thoughtful practice,” a “mentally manual activity” or a “theoretically practical activity” that bridges the separation between “inquirer and inquired,” between “timeless truths about unchanging reality” and “the transitory, the perishable, the changeable.” I would extend the argument to many occupations dealing with food, which challenge the distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge and introduce innovative ways to relate to the world and to society.

In our program, we are going beyond the distinctions that Heldke identifies — for instance, creating the structure for chefs to come back to school and get their bachelor degrees. They can hone the analytical abilities that Autor and Dorn identify as essential for high-paying jobs without discounting the manual and practical skills they already have. We network with institutions and organizations that offer internships straddling the theory/practice opposition, from communication to activism, from urban agriculture to marketing. The goal of our public events is to create opportunities for practitioners and scholars to come together and exchange ideas and experiences as peers. As John Dewey did, we are confident that a new generation of “liberal artisans” will be able not only to find satisfactory careers, but also to have a positive and creative impact on the environments in which they find themselves operating.

from Huffington Post

Marion Nestle on the Future of Food Politics

Marion Nestle, along with food consultant Clark Wolf, jump-started the Food Studies program at New York University in 1996. At the time, cookbook author Paula Wolfert told the New York Times, “I don’t think a course at NYU is going to make any difference” in raising the public awareness of food’s complex contributions to culture, society, and personal nutrition. How wrong she was.

Click here to read more by Eve Turow on The Village Voice Blogs.

Food Studies, Cooking and Kitchen Chats

by Fabio Parasecoli

from Huffington Post

“So, do you cook?” Until a few years ago I often found myself trying to respond constructively to this question, which was the usual segue from my admission to teaching Food Studies. Other assorted reactions included: “So, does chocolate really affect a woman’s mood?”; “So, do you always shop at Whole Foods?”; and my favorite “So, what is the best Italian restaurant in New York?” — as if researching food was an obvious extension of my Italian ethnic background, a perfect fit thanks to genes selected by centuries of Mediterranean diet. The “so” that often preceded these questions seemed to point to some sort of fundamental connection, an inevitable link between Food Studies and the realm of the enjoyable and the inconsequential.

I realized that most people had an easier time making sense of food writing as a respectable and enviable occupation than wrapping their mind around food as an object of serious scholarly pursuit. Recipes, restaurant reviews, and tips to pick the best ingredients have become a noticeable part of our media landscape, as common as classified ads and film listings. Yet judging from others’ reactions, studying food from a scholarly point of view hailed from a completely different territory. Some identified the field with nutrition, others with food sciences. Until a few years ago few were open to appreciate the relevance of a comprehensive examination of the daily experience of shopping for food, storing it, preparing it, consuming it, and discarding the leftovers. Now things are changing, and quickly. More and more scholars, students, practitioners, and activists are trying to make sense of food, which frequently finds itself at the center of cultural discourse and public debates. Its ties with personal health, social well-being, the environment, social customs, political choices, and administrative measures are becoming obvious to increasing numbers of concerned citizens.

As more students take courses in the Food Studies and new programs are sprouting all over the country, research about food is intensifying in depth and expanding in scope. A clear indication is the growth of the annual joint conference of three of the main academic associations dealing with food: the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS), the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS), and Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN). This year’s meeting, which will take place in New York City between June 20 and 24 at The New School and New York University, has witnessed an unprecedented number of submissions from all over the world. More than 120 panels will examine issues ranging from sustainability to alternative food networks, from politics to gender, from the social aspects of nutrition to the cultural elements of consumption. The diversity of the panels is a testament to the dialogue among disciplines that has marked Food Studies since its beginnings (the first ASFS meeting took place in 1987) and to the crucial importance of maintaining a vigorous dialogue among academia, civil society, the nonprofit sector, public servants, and activists.

From time to time I still get the dreaded cooking question. And truth to be told, I have no shame in admitting that I love eating and cooking. Nor do I have a problem sharing my preferences when it comes to restaurants. However, I have noticed that more and more people actually get what I do and understand the significance of Food Studies. If arguing about the alleged “authenticity” of a recipe or discussing a variety of heirloom beans is what it takes to initiate more far-reaching conversations, so be it. I have no qualms about it. After all, kitchens are still great places to chat. And if you want to join the conversation, join us in New York this June for the Food Studies Conference.