Ecocritical Food Studies
ENGL 8090: Seminar in Special Subjects
You can’t throw a locally grown, organic, heirloom tomato these days without hitting someone talking about sustainable food. Yet both that tomato and that discourse have histories, and what’s unspoken about each is often as important as what’s said. In this seminar, we will bring together two critical approaches—ecocriticism and food studies—to explore the many dimensions of sustainable food as they appear in a range of literary and cultural texts. Note that this is not just a course about “food in literature” any more than it is a course on “sustainable food systems.” Rather, it is an examination of how all three of these subjects intersect: how a focus on sustainable food can help us understand the relationship between literature, culture, and the environment; how close attention to literary and cultural texts can illuminate current concerns about agriculture, food, and the environment; and how sustainability science can inform the fields of both food studies and literary and cultural studies. To accomplish this, we will read widely in both primary texts and secondary literature, concentrating mainly on food politics in nonfiction prose since World War II, but also examining the historical roots of such concepts as the pastoral, the domestic, and gastronomic pleasure. While our attention will focus mostly on food discourse in Europe and North America, we will also explore the global reach of the industrial food system and the various counter-movements that have emerged in response to it, particularly those that link food justice in the United States to food sovereignty in the Global South. Along the way, we will reference allied concepts—such as postcolonialism, ecomodernism, materiality, animality, and embodiment—as needed. Primary texts will likely include writing and media appearances by Wendell Berry, Carlo Petrini, Julia Child, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Will Allen, Raj Patel, and many others, with secondary reading drawn from across the fields of sustainability studies, ecocriticism, and food studies. Requirements include: attendance and participation, weekly reading responses, leading discussion, a literature review, and a final project on ecocritical food theory and/or practice.