Students dig into course on food

What and how we eat are analyzed in class at McDaniel College

November 27, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

They may never look at dinner the same way again.

Fifteen students in Psyche Williams-Forson's class at McDaniel College have taken an activity as routine as eating and dissected the cultural connections to food.

Over the semester, Williams-Forson, an assistant professor of English, has challenged her students to think about food not just as something to nourish the body but also as a product wrought with meaning.

Simply put, Williams-Forson said, "Food is about more than just eating."

In the course "Food, Film and Literature as Text," the students have examined all types of meals - from family dinners to holiday gatherings to dining out - as "food events" in which food and culture collide.

The dynamics and rituals of eating speak volumes about one's culture, Williams-Forson says.

"Depending on where we are situated in our lives at a particular point in time, food has a number of meanings," she said.

Williams-Forson has taught variations of the course at McDaniel for the past couple years.

She uses novels and films with plots that revolve around food to illustrate the relationship between food and culture.

Take Thanksgiving. At a class last week, Williams-Forson asked her students to write down all the food commonly associated with the holiday.

After she listed the items on the blackboard, they read like a typical Thanksgiving menu: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn and pumpkin pie.

The students then watched clips from the movie What's Cooking? that showed four multiethnic families preparing Thanksgiving meals. Their menus varied from turkey to shrimp egg rolls to burritos to macaroni and cheese.

"Based on your culture, what do you eat?" Williams-Forson asked her students.

Hot pineapple casserole, one student said. Collard greens, another replied.

The relationship between food and culture is of particular interest to Williams-Forson, who wrote her doctoral dissertation examining the relationship between chicken and African-American women.

Williams-Forson looked at stereotypes associated with the black community and its food consumption, and explored how some African-American women have defined themselves through their relationship with chicken.

In the same light, Williams-Forson has asked her students to critically look at the relationship between eating and their own experiences and culture.

"What is the relationship between the cooker and eater?" Williams-Forson asked her students in a recent class.

"In some families, men and boys eat first, while the food preparers, the women, eat later," she said.

One student, Kelsea McDermott, 17, of Sykesville, said the course helped her understand the implications of food.

"I used to just eat my meal and not think about it," she said. "But now, I think about what I eat."

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