You Are What You Eat


One of my favorite things about being an English professor in a department of four is that I get to teach a variety of classes.  Although I was officially hired as the resident Shakespearean and early British literature specialist, I regularly teach contemporary World and South Asian Literature and explore my interests in theory and other interdisciplinary courses.  A few years ago, I decided to focus my first year writing seminar on food – I’ve become increasingly passionate about cooking and my kitchen gadgets and love cooking for friends, so I thought it would give me a chance to read things I could relate to.  I also had just seen the documentary Food, Inc. and wanted to talk about it with twenty other people (the secret reason why we college professors assign books – our own personal book club).

The result has been a fun distraction from reading dense epic poems and grading research papers.  I get to read newly-published memoirs and newspaper articles and watch documentaries, all in the name of “school work.”  Here are my recommendations for you other foodies out there who bake to relieve stress, spend summers in the garden, or enjoy trying out random marinades on the grill.

To Read:

  • Anything by Michael Pollan.  Really – anything.  He gives good advice about eating healthily and consciously, but isn’t as preachy as some other documentaries (Forks Over Knives comes to mind).  Start with The Omnivore’s Dilemma for fun anecdotes.  Pollan’s latest, Cooked, is more of an anthropology of food history and food culture.  It makes you want to grill some food and make some bread.
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.  Eat your tasty fast food french fries before you start.
  • Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.  Ditto on the eating your yummy processed foods like Lunchables before you start this one….
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran FoerI love teaching this book mostly because I don’t always agree with it.  Safran Foer is an intensely opinionated vegan, and I’ve learned that everyone has an opinion about meat.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I teach this one last in my food class.  It’s more gentle and relaxed – and you get to live vicariously through the adventures of novelist Kingsolver and her family as they attempt to eat locally for an entire year.

And to Watch (in between reading):

  • Food, Inc  –your general overview and primer for all kinds of food controversies and issues
  • Dive! – a short but effective look at dumpster diving and food waste

In the years since I started exploring food trends and food studies, I’ve learned a lot (some might say too much — given that I haven’t eaten chicken since 2010).  More importantly, I’ve realized the value of exploring random interests and sharing them with others.  Yes, I do take credit for my students trying Meatless Mondays, shopping at farmers’ markets, and feeling guilty when they throw away food…