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What Is Food Studies?

In my editor’s note in the fifth issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, which launched online today, I considered how to define food studies, inspired by definitions put forth by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik in Food and Culture: A Reader and by Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch in Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods. What follows is a selection from that piece. You can read the entire essay here, and we hope you’ll enjoy the complete issue, here.

When tasked this semester to define food studies for my students, I proposed the following:

Food studies is a burgeoning, interdisciplinary, inherently politicized field of scholarship, practice, and art that examines the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience, including culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts.

I explained that our discipline is young, pointing to the emergence in the 1980s of texts now considered nearly canonical, such as Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power and Warren Belasco’s Appetite for Change, as well as the pioneering work of Mary Douglas and Carole Counihan. I declared food studies an interdisciplinary pursuit, one that is thrilling and innovative, if sometimes nebulous. I further clarified food studies’ scope as an academic field of research, writing, and teaching, but just as importantly, a field dedicated to building bridges between scholarship, practice, and art. Food studies is a field built on the connections between researchers and communities, addressing resources, assets, dilemmas, and solutions. I attempted to summarize the vast inclusiveness of our object of study, pointing to dynamics between culture and biology, individuals and society, global and local processes.

And I felt called to emphasize that our field is inherently politicized. Food studies scholars often assert that food—food culture, food access, and food sovereignty—is a human right. Food studies examines how food constructs identities. And food studies analyzes how governments shape and control food through food systems regulation, food labor policies, food and feeding programs, and support (or lack thereof) for food-related research and artistic expression.

As a result, food studies matters, now more than ever. I hope that this issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies incites critical thought, inclusiveness, and hope as we define and enact food studies in our current political climate.

Top Image Credit: Emily Contois, 2017

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