Boston University’s Gastronomy program has the distinction of being the first academic food studies program in the United States. The program launched in 1991 with “Culture and Cuisine: Their Rapport in Civilization,” a course taught by Jacques Pépin in collaboration with his friend and colleague, Julia Child. After years of trying to establish a food-focused graduate program through various academic institutions, the two world-renowned chefs were finally able to realize their dream of establishing gastronomy as a field of serious inquiry at BU’s Metropolitan College. When The New York Times asked, “Can a marriage between food and traditional academic scholarship really work?” Child offered a resounding answer, declaring, “There’s a lot more to the field than cooks piddling in the kitchen. It’s high time that it’s recognized as a serious discipline.”
Both Pépin and Child had been instrumental in establishing BU’s Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts several years earlier, and BU’s School of Hospitality Administration already had a tradition of offering classes in cooking and food history. By 1993, the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy had been established as a separate degree program. Courses such as the Anthropology of Food, Food History, Nutrition and Diet, Culture and Cuisine of France, and Food Writing were among the early entries to the catalog. By 1997, the first students to fulfill the requisite requirements graduated the program and were awarded an MLA in Gastronomy.
The program grew steadily over the next decade, reflecting a surge in academic interest surrounding food studies. After a panel of leading academics conducted a review of the program in 2009, a more structured curriculum was implemented to ensure BU’s Gastronomy graduates would be prepared for satisfying careers in organizations such as policy think-tanks, national publications, educational institutions, food production and distribution, and the hospitality and tourism industry. This updated curriculum included required coursework in the form of four core classes (Introduction to Gastronomy, History of Food, Anthropology of Food, and Food and the Senses), and four focus areas (History and Culture, Communications, Food Policy, and Business and Entrepreneurship).
The program continues to offer a vast and interesting array of electives that reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the program, including topics such as Food Activism, Launching Your Food Business, A History of Wine, Reading and Writing the Food Memoir, Food and Gender, and The Science of Food and Cooking.