The Complexity of Food

June 17, 2022

Food is more than just calories. In The Anthropology of Food (ANT 295), you’ll learn about the larger implications of food in our world.

“Food is powerful, important, delicious, and hard work, embedded in webs of inequality, racism, and gendered norms,” says Emily de Wet, assistant professor in the department of anthropology. De Wet draws on her experience conducting research with women who worked in a South African market; she hopes to honor them through her teaching of this class.

The Anthropology of Food covers a wide range of topics related to food and anthropology. As a student in this course, you’ll learn about the many ways that food matters in your life, as well as what better food systems could look like. The course engages with food across a wide spectrum of contexts and examines how food matters in daily life, from the cultural and social implications to agricultural and trade policies.

“I hope students start to look at their dinner plates and think about who produced and prepared that food, and how such roles carry gender and racial inequalities,” de Wet says. She hopes students will begin to question what counts as ‘meat’ in different contexts. She wants students to look at an avocado in a U.S. supermarket and think about all the policy that made it possible, and the implications of that policy on Mexican farmers, their families, their health, and their ways of life that changed and were harmed because of that policy.

Beginning with an introduction into approaches to food, you’ll engage with anthropological theories to help ground abstract concepts in something tangible. The curriculum incorporates “mini ethnographic projects” in which you will apply concepts studied in class to understand the world of food, providing you with experience in social science methods. This exposure to social science research will prepare you for future work in anthropology classes and graduate school, and potentially for other future work environments where such skills would be an asset.

The class also transitions from personal, cultural, and identity-focused approaches to understanding food and zooms out to larger structural and systemic issues.

“I learned this material outside of classrooms, in my own research and scholarship, and I hope to instill the complexity and urgency of studying food from an anthropological lens,” de Wet says. “The origins of my work began when conducting research with women who worked in the informal meat market in South Africa. I hope to honor the lessons they taught me through my teaching of this class.”

Learn more about studying anthropology at Grinnell.

Learn more about the global development studies concentration.

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