10 October 2014

Food Thoughtz Emergency

I am currently enrolled in a Master of Information program at the University of Toronto. I am studying to become an archivist. A requirement of the programme is to complete two "workshops," which I had initially assumed would be somehow relevant and practical in nature. I thought that we would work in groups to develop and execute an appraisal plan, or something along those lines. But, never failing to disappoint, the iSchool has upset my assumptions once again. These workshops are largely impractical and could focus on any number of topics--few of which have any direct connection to my area of study.

One such workshop, offered this winter, is entitled "Communicating Identities at the Table." Here is the course description:

This interdisciplinary workshop explores a very popular social and cultural practice, the dinner party, in order to engage students with contemporary discourses about cooking, eating and performing identities through food in both domestic and public spaces. In the past few decades, communication and information about food and culinary cultures intensified in everyday contexts, exposing contemporary communities, globally, to the poetics and politics of food production and consumption. For information students, this workshop will provide a new approach to thinking about the diverse ways in which we communicate and share information about food, foodways and food technologies.
This workshop zooms in on the dinner party, a practice with a rich cultural history, in order to highlight the different forms of communication which make up the current foodscapes. The course introduces students to the social and cultural history of the dinner party, highlighting some significant examples, such as Tupperware parties, underground supper clubs, dinner reenactments and Mad Men-inspired evenings. The focus of the workshop is on how such events are communicated through various media, from magazines and television to apps and blogs. Some examples analyzed in the class are popular television shows–“Dinner party wars” and “Come dine with me, Canada”, movies–“Babette’s feast” (1987), “Big Night” (1996) “Julie & Julia” (2009) and “The hundred-foot journey” (2014) and magazines–Food & Drink, Bon Appétit, Food Network Magazine, etc.

Please note that students will require no specialist knowledge of either food studies or media studies in order to take this workshop, although some background in communication/media theory and/or cultural studies will be helpful. Students will be expected to consume food media relevant to the content of the course and should be aware before enrolling that some food tastings will take place during class time.
[my emphasis]

I repeat: this is a real thing. This is a course I could actually take and get credit for in the coming semester.

What I need to know from you, dear readers, is what course of action I should take in response to this ludicrous class. Should I submit a strongly worded letter about how the iSchool is excluding a small subset of society that may or may not suffer from an undiagnosed and unrecognized--but still conceivably possible and real--eating disorder ("selective eating disorder")? Should I challenge myself and enrol in the course? Should I forget that I ever read this course description? Please advise.


  1. Sounds like a bird course. And you get a chance to taste some food...ENROLL!

    1. Do you mean "bird" as in "poultry"? If so, I hope it will not be a bird course.

  2. With apologies for contributing to the discussion after the fact:
    First, thanks for your excellent post. I'm curious to know how this turned out! It sounds like a really interesting food-studies course (which has been an established field for quite awhile now), but there are SO many problematic aspects to the sentence you highlighted. It's good that the instructor has advised that food tastings will be taking place during class (forewarning!), but I wonder how someone who has apparently thought so extensively about food studies could feel they can mandate tastings as part of the class. The issue of eating disorders is an important one, and so is the issue of allergies and other dietary restrictions (health-wise, cultural, religious, etc.). My partner, for example, has a severe anaphylactic allergy to peanuts and cannot eat anything that has not been prepared in a controlled, peanut-free environment to prevent cross-contamination. She loves food and cooking though! But there is no way she could participate safely in these "tastings" or even be in the room if peanut products were being consumed.

    It seems like the instructor has a lot more thinking to do here, since (as you note) the course has the potential to marginalize or exclude a pretty significant number of people whose daily lived experience is informed by ongoing food-related issues.