Eating is Learning: Oysters

From my first class at Boston University’s program in Gastronomy, one of my core research principles has been that eating is learning.

There are many ways to conduct food studies field work, and I respect researchers who retain dietary preferences of any kind in the field.  But in my field work, I choose to incorporate eating and tasting as an active part of the research process.  I believe this approach honors embodied knowledge and facilitates intimacy between researcher and research topic.

Though I have been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember, I have promised myself that I will eat anything for research.  As I am spending my summer researching oyster farming on Cape Cod, I knew it was time to live into my values and eat oysters for the first time.

This weekend, I picked up 2 dozen oysters from Cotuit Oyster Company and grilled them (as I do not currently have confidence in my oyster shucking skills).

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Holding, cleaning, cooking, and eating the oysters was transformative. Not for my research paper’s thesis, but for myself as a researcher.  I understand how this particular food is eaten and enjoyed, what people get when they pay upwards of $3 per oyster at a restaurant, and what the end product is for the aquaculturalists I’m interviewing.  I believe having eaten the oysters I’m writing about will result in a fundamentally different paper, because I am a different researcher for having eaten the oysters.

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I enjoy hearing from other researchers about their food choices.  Two that have stuck with me are from Heather Paxson and David Sutton.  Whereas David Sutton describes his choice to remain a vegetarian (pescatarian) during fieldwork on Kalymnos (excepting Easter lamb), Heather Paxson lists tasting and eating cheese as one of the methodologies vital to researching her book, The Life of Cheese.

Paxson, Heather. 2013. The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sutton, David E. “The Vegetarian Anthropologist.” Anthropology Today 13, no. 1 (1997): 5-8. doi:10.2307/2783250.
What role does eating play in your food studies research?

 

Image Credits: Ariana Gunderson, Robin Gunderson, and Alex Rogala

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