The University is serving a smorgasbord of food-related events in this fall's Food Semester-an intellectual feast intended to stimulate fresh thinking about food and global history.
Raymond Grew, professor of history and editor of the international quarterly Comparative Studies in Society and History notes that "As far as we know, the Food Semester is a unique scholarly event in terms of its scale and variety. No one has ever assembled so many food scholars from such a variety of disciplines for a project of this nature."
The feast, which includes courses, public lectures, an international conference, food films, exhibits and catering by local ethnic restaurants, comes packaged in this year's theme semester, "Food in Global History." U-M theme semesters are interdisciplinary, and focus on a general problem that human beings have confronted throughout history and will face well into the future. Prior theme semesters have included "The Comedy Semester," "The Theory and Practice of Evil," "Death, Extinction and the Future of Humanity: Approaching the Millennium," and "The Americas: Beyond 1492."
Grew, who organized the food theme semester with several colleagues, said that they picked food as the theme for several reasons: "It invites interdisciplinary analysis in an unusual way, and as a deep and intrinsic part of all cultures, it's present everywhere. Religious rules proscribe or require certain food practices which may in turn become an important part of the definition of a cultural community, raising questions that interest anthropologists, cultural historians, art historians and literary historians. And what happens when food crosses cultures, when, for example, cultures that were based on certain cropssay wheat or ricebegan to trade surpluses with neighbors? This led to trade routes and to improvements in the technology of raising and transporting foods. Or, from another angle, how do cuisines emerge and become characteristic of a culture, so much so that food becomes a symbolic instrument of nationalism?"
Food also provides to historians and other scholars a frame through with which they can explore the theoretical question of what constitutes a global approach to food or any other subject. "We often hear that the contemporary world makes us think globally," Grew says. "But is this the first time people have thought globally? In ancient times, too, global networks were at work. Although perhaps things happened along them more slowly, they were nevertheless there. Historians are obsessed by periodization, so I ask, Did the modern situation exist before, and if so, since when? Since World War II? Since the First World War? Since colonialism? Since the Middle Ages? Since ancient times? Some say that the technological changes in the last 50 years have brought an entirely new quality of
globalization. Others, and I'm among them, question this assertion."
The semester, which is part of LSA's Undergraduate Initiatives, includes eight free public lectures by U-M faculty followed by receptions catered by various Ann Arbor restaurants and 13 undergraduate courses. The courses address such topics as food in literature; food, culture and nationalism; therapeutic nutrition; eating disorders; nutrition and evolution; and edible and "drinkable" wild plants.
Additionally, an international conference, "Food in Global History," to be held Oct. 25-27, will feature 30 scholars discussing the contemporary reshaping of the human diet, processes of change in food systems, cross-cultural aspects of food, food rituals and social barriers related to food.
Other semester events include a free film series at the Michigan Theater on Fridays at 5 p.m. The films include Tampopo, Babette's
Feast, Delicatessen and others. And the U-M Graduate
Library, the Clements and Kelsey museums, and the Museum of Art have mounted exhibits of cookbooks, artworks and archaeological artifacts featuring food during the Food Semester.
For more information, contact Raymond Grew or James Schaefer at (313)764-6362 or
e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org