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SWMS-499 Food Culture and Politics

Explore the American West's abundant and diverse food cultures, from the heart of Los Angeles, to the Pacific Northwest.

Instructor: Professor Karen Tongson
Dates: May, 2015

How often have we heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” and actually given it some thought? For centuries, food has served as an expression of who we are, where we’re from, what we do, and what we believe. This Maymester course in Gender Studies invites you to explore U.S. food cultures in an effort to understand how the foods we cultivate and consume affect our political and intimate lives. We will focus in particular on how food practices and their political and social outcomes differ along the axes of gender, class, race and sexuality.  For example, women have long been associated with cooking and kitchens, yet Western “fine dining” cultures have been historically dominated by male chefs who have achieved the status of “artists” and craftsmen. Also, how women consume food and feed their families has been at the heart of both historical and contemporary debates about health, obesity and body-image.

Our interdisciplinary journey will begin with current cultural histories of food. We will then move through alternate histories of what scholars call our “foodways,” or “the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period,” focusing primarily (though not exclusively) on Los Angeles and the American West: a “Land of Plenty” that has been transformed by immigration and the subsequent proliferation of food cultures. We will spend a great deal of our time learning in the field—in farms, restaurants, in eateries long-established, or transient and mobile—in order to consider how our preconceived, aesthetic notions of “taste” are imbricated with the material practices of making, distributing, sharing and consuming specific kinds of food.  Beginning with several trips to the ethnically diverse eateries of Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, our travels will extend to other sites in California and the Pacific Northwest.


Program Costs:

Tuition: $6402 (can be included as part of Spring load)

Airfare: TBD

Accommodations and Miscellaneous:  TBD


For further information on this course, contact Jeanne Weiss in the Gender Studies department at  213-740-2792 or