Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

Eating in Public: Taste, Place, and Identity

Taste and Food in American Life

Photo of Greggor Mattson
Greggor Mattson
photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97
Photo of Carmen Merport Quiñones
Carmen Merport Quiñones
photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97


Eating in Public:  Taste, Place, and Identity

offered spring 2023

Objects that seem so familiar and personal: a favorite dish, a cup of coffee–are made strange. This learning community defamiliarizes the deeply familiar through detailing the histories of the things we consume and their implications for globalization and colonialism. At the same time, through a humanistic lens, Eating in Public helps students reflect on and develop a vocabulary for matters of taste and the pleasures associated with food. Students will learn skills that are fundamental to sociology (in depth interviewing, comparative historical analysis, ethnography) and the humanities (close reading, visual analysis, and philosophical reasoning). Taking advantage of the culinary resources in the greater Cleveland area, the course will offer experiential learning to complement the theoretical and intellectual pursuits of the courses. Students will gain essential leadership and collaboration skills through a shared multimedia magazine project. 


Course Instructors for this learning community are Professor of Sociology Greggor Mattson, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies Carmen Merport Quiñones.

Greggor Mattson, Instructor

SOCI 387OC: Serving the Public Labor & Place in Cafes, Bars & Restaurants

Meets: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:00 - 4:15 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. Field trip(s) required.

Students who take this course as part of the StudiOC learning community Eating in Public: Taste, Place, and Identity must also enroll in CAST 416OC.

Carmen Merport Quiñones, Instructor 

CAST 416OC: Taste the Nation: Culture, Consumption, and American Identities

Meets: Tuesday, 1:00 - 2:50 PM

Do your tastes in food, art, and popular culture say something about who you are? In this class, we will draw on philosophy and critical theory in order to discuss the politics of consumption in several different contexts. Along the way, we will analyze works of art, literature, and pop culture that make connections between taste and particular constructions of nationality, sexuality, gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Figures we will encounter in this class include Padma Lakshmi, Pierre Bourdieu, Laura Esquivel, Susan Sontag, and Kerry James Marshall.

Recommended Preparation: previous coursework in comparative American studies.

Students who take this course as part of the StudiOC learning community Eating in Public: Taste, Place, and Identity must also enroll in SOCI 387OC.