Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

Eat! Drink! Savor! Labor!

Develop a taste for Food Studies

Grace An.

Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Grace An

Greggor Mattson.

Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Greggor Mattson

Offered Spring 2023

Drawing from the emerging field of “food studies,” this learning community traces the social life of food, from its agricultural production and processing to its preparation, distribution, and consumption. Students will learn about food as a cultural expression and commodity, and restaurants and cafes as sites of human connection as well as injustice. The learning community takes objects that seem familiar–a loaf of bread, a cup of coffee–and makes them strange, detailing their complex histories, uncovering their roles in globalization and colonialism. The learning community also places serious emphasis on the enjoyment of food and the study of new small business models built on principles of social justice and solidarity. 

In weekly lab sessions, students will watch films that explore the cultural and sociological dimensions of food, as well as learn from local entrepreneurs and community organizers who use food and drink to broaden access to cuisine, to create community events and spaces, and who leverage their work for social justice. The learning community will also include field trips that take advantage of the cultural and culinary resources of the greater Cleveland area. 

Both FREN 387OC and SOCI 387OC are required for this learning community.

Course instructors for this learning community are Associate Professor of French Grace An and Associate Professor of Sociology Greggor Mattson

 Grace An, Instructor 

FREN 387OC: Bread, Wine, and Cheese: The French Art of Savoring
Meets: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:00 - 4:15 PM

Students will study the production and consumption of food and drink in France and the Francophone world from historical, social, economic, cultural, and culinary perspectives. This includes how artists and taste-makers of diverse media developed languages and frameworks for representing the making and partaking in experiences of nourishment, pleasure and belonging (regional, national, post-colonial) and how food and drink shape identities, lives and worlds.

Theories of taste, consumption, and distinction will enhance discussions of the uneven impact of global markets and the transnational food trade on populations and communities. Taught in English; French materials presented in original and translated versions.

 Greggor Mattson, Instructor

SOCI 387OC: Serving the Public: Restaurants, Cafés, Bars
Meets: Tuesday and Thursday, 1:30 - 2:45 PM

What does it mean for public life to flourish in privately owned spaces? This course explores the history, impacts, and transformations of restaurants, cafés, and bars. These have been credited with sustaining community and launching revolutions, acclaim that often ignores the everyday reality of these small businesses. We explore their labor conditions, especially for women and immigrants, and the connections between the commodities they sell and histories of colonialism and globalization. The pleasures of being served in public are profound and enrich cities and lives, but they are unequally distributed and their full costs are not always on the bill.