The Anthropology of Food: Something Strange, Something Familial

Dr. Ellen Rovner will teach MET ML 641, The Anthropology of Food, during the fall 2017 semester and has prepared this Course Spotlight.


By Pietro Lorenzetti – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Anthropologists like to say that the study of anthropology makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange.   Whether the “strange” is a Japanese Sumo wrestler’s eating habits, a medieval German nun’s fasts, or the person next door’s  “exotic” cooking, anthropologists believe and practice that only through knowing the “other,” do we know ourselves.  What does this mean for those of us who will be together for The Anthropology of Food this fall semester?  First and foremost, we will be looking at the study of food cross-culturally as central to the understanding of humankind and society. The famous anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss said that food is not just good to eat; food is also good to think with.  In other words, what do people’s everyday food practices, rituals, traditions, beliefs, and preferences cross-culturally and at home say to us about whom we are and the worlds we inhabit?

Using our food-focused lens to examine critical social issues related to class, race, human migrations, globalization, ethnicity, alternative food systems, and gender, this semester students will immerse themselves in anthropology’s signature methodology, participant observation, and conduct ethnographic research. Choosing a food-related topic that personally resonates for the student, each member of the class will participate in a semester long qualitative study in the Boston area to familiarize themselves with field methods and to hone critical thinking. In past semesters, students’ projects have covered a fascinating range of topics such as how global food systems contribute to re-creating “home” for non-American residents, class meanings of “farm to table” in restaurants, and eating at the movies.

Anthropology of Food is structured as a seminar; students are encouraged to lead as well as participate in discussions. Along the way, our learning is enhanced with live on-line sessions, movies, guest speakers, field trips to local food sites related to our readings, and most importantly, with snack breaks that highlight our own food rituals, traditions, and preferences.  Familiarizing the strange and making the strange the familiar, Anthropology of Food presents food as both good to eat and good to think with!  Please join us!

MET ML 641 C1, Anthropology of Food will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, beginning on September 6. Registration information can be found here.


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