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College of Health and Human Sciences

Eating it up: New class to explore the history of food in America

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Food has a history, and we have a history with food. A new Kansas State University class sheds light on where our nation’s food comes from, our own individual food heritage and why we choose to eat what we eat.

History of Food in America (HIST 533 or HMD 499) is offered this spring through K-State Evening College. Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, associate professor of history, and Jane Marshall, communications coordinator and instructor of hospitality management and dietetics, will teach all facets of food history—from environmental and policy issues like the Farm Bill, to food culture and cuisine.

“We’ll explore everything from the agricultural roots of our food to modern times,” said Marshall. “We’re going clear back to the soil and up to today’s influences like the Food Network, media and blogs.”

Lynn-Sherow says food is one of the only ways people of different cultures can have a common conversation, often playing a central role in shaping their identity and history.

“A lot of people who came to the United States from Europe adopted many Native American food ways.” Lynn-Sherow said. “What we consider a traditional Thanksgiving meal in America has actually been cobbled together from Native American foods and European tastes.”

Much of what is considered southern cooking today is actually from Africa, according to Marshall. Those who cooked in southern plantation homes in America often were slaves who used frying and other cooking methods already familiar to them.

As a hands-on introduction to regional cuisine, students will sample and even participate in bringing or preparing food representing their own individual food heritage. U.S. regional cuisine includes the northeast, southeast, southwest, central plains and Pacific Northwest.

“Regional food differences have become less clear and more muted over time,” Marshall said. “It used to be that everyone wanted their food to be the same, but then people started taking more pride in their regional cuisine and foodways.”

These foodways—referring to cultural, social, economic and other factors surrounding food production and consumption practices—impact much of how we live today.

“Architecture has changed based on food choices,” Lynn-Sherow said. “Houses built in the 1920s have tiny gallery kitchens because at the time it was not considered important to make big meals. Many houses have kitchens in the back, near an alley, because a lot of people had day labor to come to the house, make meals and clean up.”

The function of kitchens has also changed over the years. Lynn-Sherow says at one point kitchens ceased to be a place for cooking from scratch and making a mess, instead becoming more sterile with gleaming refrigerators, cabinets and floors. People wanted their food to be as orderly as they were.

“Our focus for the class is for students to be able to interpret their food and its history,” said Marshall. “I believe that if I understood someone’s foodways, and they understood my foodways, we’d understand each other a lot better.”

History of Food in America can fulfill K-State 8 requirements in historical perspectives or human diversity within the U.S. Learn more about the class by contacting the instructors or enroll through iSIS.

Prepared by the Division of Communications and Marketing at Kansas State University

This article was posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013, and is filed under College News, Hospitality Management.