Basket of fresh picked cherry tomatoes
Program Overview

Food Studies

Explore a growing field.

A harvest from Vel’s Purple Oasis, an Oberlin community partner and grassroots urban farm located in Cleveland’s University Circle.
Photo credit: Jaycie Tayerle

Critical Examination of Food and Agricultural Practices

Food studies invites students to critically examine food and agriculture from a range of perspectives: as embedded within social and cultural practices; as shaped by histories, politics, and economic policies; as a determining factor for human and environmental health. Our curriculum foregrounds ethics, justice, reparations, decolonization, and sustainability through close engagement with Black agrarianism, Indigenous food sovereignty, immigrant workers, incarcerated citizens, and environmental justice.

Partner with Growers and Activists in the Great Lakes Region 

All Oberlin integrative concentrations connect coursework with experiential learning. Opportunities in food studies build on Oberlin’s collaborations with local organizations including Oberlin Community Services (OCS), Lorain County Community College (LCCC), the City of Elyria, and urban farms in Lorain County and Cleveland. Our location and its history are central to our approach. Oberlin is located on the territories of Wyandot, Seneca-Cayuga, and Erie nations, and close to thriving Anishinabee communities in the Great Lakes watershed. Lorain County and Cleveland are also home to Black communities whose knowledge and practices form the basis of the contemporary urban farming movement that thrives throughout the rust belt.

Oberlin students can attain close to 1,000 hours of community service experience in a semester
Learn more about Oberlin Community Services
The Mellon Foundation awarded Oberlin a $1 million grant to support food justice initiatives

Food Justice

The Bonner Center is Oberlin’s hub for connecting students and faculty to community-engaged internships, research projects, and work study.  Oberlin’s existing community partners in food justice include Oberlin Community Services (OCS), the Food Shed, Cleveland Roots, Stone Soup CLE, and the Immigrant Worker Project.

Students participating in food distribution

Featured Courses

ENGL 101

Intro to Food Studies

This course provides the basic concepts and interdisciplinary frameworks for understanding the field of food studies. Students analyze food systems, including agricultural markets and production, farm policy, consumption, meaning, and identity. Guest speakers from throughout the college and the surrounding community help offer a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Taught by
Danielle Skeehan
ENVS 302

American Agricultures

This course examines agrarian thinking and food justice movements in the United States through literature, essays, film, and field trips. We learn about the political philosophy of democratic agrarianism and the contributions of Indigenous, enslaved, and immigrant peoples to American agricultural practices and foodways. Throughout the course we pay close attention to the Rust Belt as a location of contemporary work for food justice.

Taught by
Jay Fiskio
SOCI 387

Restaurants, Cafes, Bars

What does it mean for public life to flourish in privately owned spaces? This course explores the history, impacts, and transformations of small businesses credited with sustaining community and launching revolutions. Students explore the everyday reality this acclaim often ignores, including labor conditions, especially for women and immigrants, and the connections between the commodities sold and histories of colonialism and globalization.

Taught by
Greggor Mattson
CAST 416

Taste of the Nation

Do your tastes in food, art, and popular culture say something about who you are? This class draws on philosophy and critical theory in order to explore the politics of consumption. Along the way, students analyze works of art, literature, and pop culture that make connections between taste and particular constructions of nationality, sexuality, gender, race, class, and ethnicity.

Taught by
Carmen Merport Quiñones

Food Studies Stories

A Passion for Community Organizing

Vera Grace Menafee ’24 discovered a passion for community organizing, gardening, and environmental and racial justice through their ongoing work with Vel’s Purple Oasis, a community-based urban farm in Cleveland.

Photo of Vera Grace Menafee

Working with Community Partners

With the help of a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, Oberlin begins a wide-ranging collaboration with Lorain County Community College to address food justice across the Great Lakes region.

Students working at George Jones Farm

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Two students harvest tomatoes in a greenhouse
Photo credit: Jaycie Tayerle