Eating Right for Morality and Gender: Class Assignment

Cover image, “Moral Mountain,” by the very generous Gastronaut Jasmin Drake.

In March, my Master’s thesis advisor invited me to return to the warm embrace of my former academic home in the Gastronomy program at Boston University, and to lead as a guest instructor one evening of my favorite course, Food and Gender. Dr. Megan Elias, Director of the Gastronomy program, invited me to assign readings and an assignment and facilitate class discussion. I was honored to be invited, delighted to walk down memory lane, and eager for experience in selecting texts and guiding discussion in graduate Food Studies education.

I chose to assign a chapter each from two books that very much impressed me when I read them in early 2020:

  • Feminist Food Studies: Intersectional Perspectives
    Edited by Barbara Parker, Jennifer Brady, Elaine Power, and Susan Belyea
  • Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health
    by Charlotte Biltekoff

Typically, Professor Elias asks students to write a review essay of the week’s readings, but she graciously let me step outside of tradition and allowed me to assign the creation of an artwork instead. 

The students in the class blew me away with their work, creating art in a huge range of media, from drawing to poetry to making soup stock. I was honored they had taken the assignment so seriously and excited to hear that this type of engagement had been so intellectually engaging for them.

One of the artistic responses is the cover photo of this post, Moral Mountain, created by Jasmin Drake. All of the students’ responses blew me away with their creativity, thoughtfulness, and earnest engagement with the readings.

Here is the assignment I shared with the class:

Eating Right for Morality and Gender

Food and Gender Guest Instructor: Ariana Gunderson

  1. Read Eating Right in America Chapters 1 and 4
  2. Read “Low Income Mothers and the Alternative Food Movement: An Intersectional Approach” from Feminist Food Studies
  3. Make a piece of art

I am assigning chapters from two books for you to read about gender and the Alternative Food Movement, attached to this email. You will need to have read these chapters to be able to complete the assignments and participate in class.

Please make a piece of art about your experience of the intersection(s) between gender and the alternative food movement. This can be about your personal experience at this intersection, or what you have witnessed of another person(s) at this intersection, or what you have read about this intersection, or what you dream this intersection could be, etc.

Your artwork can be any medium. (Really! Any! Medium!). If the work is ephemeral, it must take place / exist / happen during class, or you should bring documentation of it to share. Performance pieces should last no more than 5 minutes. Each student will have 5-10 minutes to share their work with the class. Please call or email me to discuss if you have questions, ideas, special circumstances, or accessibility requests.

You do not need to demonstrate technical skill in this work. You do need to have spent time thinking about how the artwork expresses something (a feeling, a memory, a scene, a political stance) and the form you have chosen should effectively do that work of expression. I’m not concerned with definitions of “what is art?”. If you can make the argument that what you bring to the class is art, it counts as art. Call or email me with questions or doubts. You are an artist! We all are!

You should have something to say about this work! Be prepared to present your work to the class, explaining your choices in making the work and sharing what you hope it will convey, or what you were thinking about while making the art. We will discuss each other’s work in a way that uses the art as sparks for discussion, and support one another in creative expression as scholarly production. This will not be a space for art criticism.  

Here are some ways you might come up with ideas for your artwork:

  • Journal about specific memories, times when you encountered or engaged with the AFM. Look over these journal entries – where do you see gender roles, performance, disruption?
  • Call up a friend or class mate and discuss your views on the various parts of the AFM. Where do these views come from? How do you feel in your body while having this conversation?
  • Right after completing one of the readings, turn to a medium you are comfortable with, and spend some time freely creating in that medium while mulling over the reading, without a completed project in mind. See what happens! This might give you an idea for your work.
  • Talk to a family member (or several!) about the role/presence/absence of the AFM in your childhood. Listen to their views and descriptions of how they made decisions. Consider gender positioning within families. Consider what you think about the AFM now, your gender experience, and how your upbringing brought you to this place.

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