This semester, I’ve taken on teaching a new elective course called FOOD.
We met for the first time today.
Over the course of the semester, we’ll be meeting twice per week to look a the literary, social and scientific intersections of the foods we eat and our relationships to them.
Class today started with my description of one of my top comfort foods – mashed potatoes, with excessive butter, mixed with corn.
Then, I asked students to share their comfort foods.
It’s the opening to the first class assignment. A mentor professor of mine at Illinois State, Dr. Justice, is teaching a similar class for undergrad, grad and doctoral students this spring as well.
She designed the assignment.
From the comfort food discussion, we read Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River Part I.”
“River” is one of Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories wherein Nick returns to Michigan’s upper peninsula on a camping trip after a tour in Italy during World War I.
After making camp, Nick fixes a supper of pork and beans with spaghetti and tomato ketchup.
All along, we’re told his pack has been too heavy, that he’s carry too much around.
Dr. Justice (a leading Hemingway scholar) explained to me Nick is making a camp version of minestra di pasta e fagiole in an effort to hold on to his time in Italy.
Food as memory.
For next class, the students (and I) will be writing personal essays about our comfort foods and how they burrowed into our food identities. Part of the assignment asks them to explain how they would alter the assignment in the same way Nick does to fit the restrictions of hiking and camping.
For many more than I expected, the adaptation won’t be difficult. Several of them proffered comfort foods bought in boxes or bags. I’ll be curious to tally the final real-to-processed ratio of responses. Even more, I’m looking forward to the discussion of what cultural significance that ratio might imply.
I’m thinking of asking the students to research the inspirations for the processed comfort foods and compare the healthiness of the two versions.
Either way, I’m pretty jazzed about where this course is heading.