How Food Connects Us
Food is all around us — and it’s not just a means for survival, but a way of learning about culture, a mode of sharing celebrations and entertainment, a category of media consumption.
In Fall 2021, the Kent State course “Media, Food & Foodways” will explore the way food connects us. Offered through the School of Communication Studies, students will learn about the relationship between food, communication and culture and examine how these relationships affect how we understand our identity, culture and environment. It is open to students of all majors.
The course is something Assistant Professor Teddy Workneh has thought about for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the topic all the more enticing.
“The pandemic has changed the way we understand food and our experience with food,” he says, noting that in the absence of international travel, many have taken to experimenting with food in new ways at home. “I keep hearing from people about the craving they have to travel and do the things we took for granted. All of a sudden, we’re conscious of appreciating these opportunities. The confinement caused by the pandemic has not only brought cravings and nostalgia of our favorite tastes but also an increased understanding of food as a cornerstone of our social fabric.”
For the main course assignment, if pandemic conditions allow, students will engage in and reflect upon a food experience. They may visit a farmers’ market or food festival, dine in an immigrant neighborhood, explore intercultural cuisine or any engagement of their choosing. They will then reflect in a way that makes sense for their major; a photography student may create a photo essay; a journalism student may write a piece to be pitched to a food website or magazine; the possibilities are endless.
Workneh also plans to spend class time discussing the many television shows and movies that center on food: The Great British Baking Show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Top Chef, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Disney’s Ratatouille and Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation, among others.
“There is an explosion of food and food cultures not only in American TV, but all over the world,” Workneh says. “The key premise that I want to capture is the idea that food is not something we consume just to survive; it is also a marker of culture, identity and who we are.”
Workneh’s research specialties include intercultural and global communication. He has published scholarly articles about food and television related to Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.
He hopes the exploration of food and its role in culture and society will be especially welcome and interesting to students after a year of isolation and staying at home.
“When you gather with family members, food is the time you get together and you talk,” Workneh says. “There is a deep relationship between food and communication.”
Course registration begins April 23. Media, Food and Foodways is scheduled to be delivered in a traditional format, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:15-3:30 p.m., in Fall 2021.