Considering Class & Potato Chips

You many not think about it as you crunch your way to the bottom of the bag, but potato chip packaging says a lot about social class.  In this post, I’ll tell you about how the Boston University Gastronomy Program got community members thinking about chips + class, and then share a how-to guide for doing this activity yourself.

At a recent BU Farmer’s Market, the Gastronomy Program invited passersby to consider class on four potato chip bags (all flavored with only salt, for consistency’s sake): LAY’S, Cape Cod Potato Chips, Kettle Brand Potato Chips, and Utz.

To center this activity in embodied learning (thank you, Food and the Senses!), we began with a potato chip taste test. (This was also a good way to attract people to our table.)

“Can you identify this potato chip?” we called to people passing through the market. “Test your potato chip knowledge!” we challenged them.

Those interested in participating were handed a blind sample of one of the chips in a Dixie cup, and invited to guess which bag it had come from. Most participants were able to eliminate two brands right away, ascribing LAY’S and Utz to one group, and Kettle and Cape Cod to another. The majority of tasters correctly identified at least one chip, and we rewarded them with BU Gastronomy-branded reusable straws.

Once we had gotten participants interested in our table and engaging with the potato chips, we encouraged them to take a closer look at the packaging in an activity adapted from Potter Palmer’s Food and Visual Culture class.

Could they identify markers of social- or socio-economic class on the potato chip packaging? Does the material or visual imagery of the bag itself convey an idea of a particular class or indicate a particular target customer?

The overwhelming response was: YES!  Here is a collection of responses we gathered from participants at the Farmer’s Market in Marsh Plaza on October 4th:

Utz Brand Potato Chips:

A lesser-known chip in this activity (it was a very regional brand until recently), Utz was nevertheless readily identified as a lower-class chip due to its heavy baseball imagery and large bag made of thin, shiny plastic.  This brand was also perceived as more patriotic as it was printed in red, white, and blue.


Participants were often stumped to find class markers on the Lay’s chip bag. Because the brand is so popular globally and was the most widely consumed chip in our participants’ daily lives, some tasters described it as ‘class-less.’

Others found a connection to the icon of the ‘typical’ American family.  When considering the LAY’S bag (as with Utz), participants expressed a belief that the ‘average American’ is lower class.  (It’s interesting and important to remember that this particular tasting took place at farmer’s market with many organic produce vendors on a University campus.)

Cape Cod Potato Chips

The Boston location of this tasting meant that many of our tasters had vivid ideas and associations for Cape Cod. A beach vacation destination populated by second homes of the Boston suburban elite, Cape Cod was considered unequivocally upper class by our tasters.  These upper-class associations with the nearby peninsula were reinforced by the “Non-GMO” labeling on the bag, which participants picked up on.

Kettle Brand Potato Chips

When invited to consider the packaging of the Kettle brand potato chips, tasters translated high-class markers like “non-GMO” labeling into adjacent values not literally printed on the bag, including where they would expect to buy the chips (Whole Foods) and a variety alternative food movement causes.

Now it’s your turn!

Want to host your own potato chips + class activity? Here’s a how-to guide, promotional poster, and response sheet to use or adapt for your own event. Be sure to let us know how it goes!

Ariana Gunderson is a Master’s student in the Gastronomy Program, studying food memory and writing on

Photo Credits: Barbara Rotger and Ariana Gunderson

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Spring 2019 Course Spotlights

Today we’d like to highlight some of the unique electives we’ll be offering in the upcoming spring semester. Read on to see what’s available!

The Science of Food and Cooking

MET ML 619 | Tuesdays 6-8:45 | Valerie Ryan

Image courtesy of Sparta Summer Arts Workshop

Cooking is chemistry, and it is the chemistry of food that determines the outcome of culinary undertakings. In this course, basic chemical properties of food are explored in the context of modern and traditional cooking techniques. The impact of molecular changes resulting from preparation, cooking, and storage is the focus of academic inquiry. Illustrative, culturally specific culinary techniques are explored through the lens of food science and the food processing industry. Examination of “chemistry-in- the-pan” and sensory analysis techniques will be the focus of hands-on in- class and assigned cooking labs.


Reading and Writing the Food Memoir

MET ML 615 | Mondays 6-8:45 | Dr. Karen Pepper

Image courtesy of Simple Bites

Course involves critical reading and writing and examines the food memoir as a literary genre. Students gain familiarity with food memoir, both historical and current; learn how memoir differs from other writing about food and from autobiography; learn to attend to style and voice; consider the use writers make of memory; consider how the personal (story) evokes the larger culture.


Wild and Foraged Foods

MET ML 625 | Thursdays 6-8:45 | Netta Davis

Image courtesy of Civil Eats

Humans have been foraging for food since prehistoric times, but the recent interest in wild and foraged foods raises interesting issues about our connection to nature amid the panorama of industrially oriented food systems. From political economy to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), this course explores how we interact with, perceive, and know our world through the procurement of food. Students take part in foraging activities and hands-on culinary labs in order to engage the senses in thinking about the connections between humans, food, and the environment.


History of Wine

MET ML 632 | Online Course | Sandy Block

Image courtesy of

In this course we explore the long and complex role wine has played in the history of human civilization. We survey significant developments in the production, distribution, consumption and cultural uses of grape-based alcoholic beverages in the West. We study the economic impact of wine production and consumption from the ancient Near East through the Roman Empire, Europe in the Middle Ages and especially wine’s significance in the modern and contemporary world. Particular focus is on wine as a religious symbol, a symbol of status, an object of trade and a consumer beverage in the last few hundred years.


Culture and Cuisine of Italy

MET ML 636 | Blended Class | Mary Ann Esposito

Image courtesy of ICCBC

There is no such thing as Italian food. This statement is confirmed by the uniqueness and locality of the foods of Italy. This course will introduce students to regional Italian foods, taking into account geography, historical factors, social mores and language. There will be an emphasis on identifying key food ingredients of northern, central, and southern regions, and how they define these regions and are utilized in classic recipes. In addition, the goal will be to differentiate the various regional cooking styles like casalinga cooking versus alta cucina cooking.

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A Discussion of Edna Lewis with Dr. Sara Franklin

The food and words of Edna Lewis provoke “a church experience,” asserted Dr. Sara B. Franklin in last night’s Jacques Pépin Lecture on her new edited volume Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original.  This collection of essays, including a contribution from Gastronomy Program Director, Dr. Megan Elias, explores the life and impact of the great Southern chef.

Franklin opened her lecture by reading an excerpt of Lewis’ essay, “What is Southern?,” discovered and published posthumously in 2008.  She described her own near-sacred experience of encountering this essay in Gourmet magazine, becoming enamored with Lewis as a writer, and immediately cracking open her seminal cookbooks.

Others shared their knowledge of and experience with Edna Lewis as chef Barry Maiden’s tastes of Edna Lewis’ spoonbread, skillet scallions, and country ham made their way to lecture attendees.  One guest spoke with awe of having visited Lewis’ restaurant in Brooklyn, and having even met the chef when she came into the dining room.

Lewis’ essay “What is Southern?” was published the same year Chef Barry Maiden opened his James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Hungry Mother.  The essay served as inspiration to Maiden, a fellow Virginian, as did Lewis’ cookbooks; he described The Gift of Southern Cooking as a bible at Hungry Mother.

In her lecture, Franklin argued that Edna Lewis wrote cookbooks that were subtly and unmistakably political.  With recipes for Emancipation Day but not the 4th of July, Lewis insisted on an honest accounting of American history, and demanded the visibility of blackness in Southern cooking.

This volume on Lewis is likewise politically contextualized; after the shooting in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, Franklin chose to pursue this book as a political response. Franklin positioned this book as a disruption of the pattern of “overlooking food stories, women’s stories, and black stories.” A thoughtful and timely collection of essays on the life and work of a founding figure of Southern cuisine, this book appropriately asserts the importance of Edna Lewis to the history and present experience of American food.

Ariana Gunderson is a Master’s student in the Gastronomy Program, studying food memory and writing on

Photo Credit: Jared Kaufman

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GRLSQUASH: A women’s food, culture, and art journal

My name is Madison Trapkin and in April I founded GRSLQUASH, a women’s food, culture, and art journal.

I started a food and art blog while I was still in college. This was my first real foray into food writing outside of an academic setting. I created an interdisciplinary food experience on this blog using a combination of writing, photography, music, recipes, and more. This was only the beginning. Last year I moved from my hometown of Atlanta, GA to Boston for grad school just in time for the season’s first snowstorm. A few weeks later, I walked into the first of many classes in the Gastronomy Program, Karen Metheny’s Anthropology of Food course. Still, this was the beginning.

I built up my portfolio (and my courage) during my first year in the grad school. I felt inspired by fellow classmates who were really kicking ass in their fields — everything from a CBD-based ice cream startup to pastry chefdom at a swanky Las Vegas hotel. I pitched my first story, a pseudo-restaurant review for the Boston Globe, while sitting in one of my classes last summer. And they actually liked it! I pretty much pitched at least one story a week from that point on, with varying success. To date I’ve had a few pieces published, but more importantly I’ve had LOTS of pieces turned down. This spring, in Laura Ziman’s Food in Art course, I was listening to an especially inspiring guest lecturer when I received yet another rejection email from a publication I’d pitched to. This was it. The lecturer, a local artist named Anna Stabler, encouraged us to build an army of talented people to surround us and to just….do it — sort of a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. So, I did.

I rushed home from class to jump and yell excitedly to my now-fiancé about the idea I’d had. I would start my own publication, one that focused on all the things I loved most: food, art, and culture. This was also the beginning. The beginning of GRLSQUASH.

The Gastronomy program has empowered me as a writer and reinforced the importance of intersectionality in everything. It also facilitated my relationships with the majority of the GRLSQUASH Board! Besides my co-founder, Jess Graham, all other Board members are current or past members of the Gastronomy Program: Laurel Greenfield, Sam Dolph, and Rachel DeSimone.

Since starting GRLSQUASH it has grown immensely. A journey that began as a way to publish and promote underrepresented voices in the food and art worlds has evolved into a community-building venture, complete with collaborations involving some really incredible like-minded Boston organizations and spaces (Practice Space, Hourglass, The Cauldron, Angry Asian Girls, + more!). I’m thrilled about our growth and excited for our future.

Our second issue, themed: SELF, is currently in the works with an open call for submissions from now til Octber 12th! We recently launched our collaborative Calendar where you can find upcoming GRLSQUASH events + exciting happenings from many organizations and spaces within the GRLSQUASH community. And if you haven’t already, you can still order ISSUE ONE: MOTHERS/FOREMOTHERS!



IG: @grlsquash



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New students for fall 2018, part 4

By brotgerSeptember 7th, 2018in Students

We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of  them here.

Jared Kaufman grew up around Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has always had an interest in food — when he was 5, his career aspiration was to be a cake decorator; he once dressed up as Emeril Lagasse for Halloween; and in high school, he hosted a food-reviewing YouTube channel that’s now deeply embarrassing to him.

After earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 2018, he now works as a freelance food writer and writes a twice-weekly food newsletter called Nosh Box. He’s interested in how social factors and government policy intersect with — and sometimes clash with — our food culture, and what that crossroads can illuminate about which foods we choose to (or are able to) put on our tables. Jared hopes to bring together the knowledge he gains in the Gastronomy program with his journalism background for a career as a food policy, systems, and culture reporter. He also eats a bagel nearly every morning for breakfast, and should’ve stopped himself before telling you he has a bagel pillow on his bed and a bagel sticker on his water bottle.

Lauren Allen was born and raised in Austin, Texas. Though she spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, she ended up back in Austin at the age of eight. She graduated from the University of Texas with a major in Geography and Religious Studies, and a minor in Philosophy. Shortly after graduating, she took a kitchen position at a restaurant where she was hosting and now has seven years’ experience working as a line cook and chef. In 2013 she traveled in Ireland, volunteering on organic farms and working in kitchens. Inspired by this “farm to table” style cooking, she returned home and started her own pop up dinner series under the name Cloak & Dagger, with menus focusing on local and sustainable ingredients. Cloak & Dagger has been successfully running for the past five years in backyards, out of food trailers, and in various bars/restaurants across Austin. She has experience cooking with insects, but especially loves butchering and charcuterie. She has always had a passion for writing and traveling, and wishes to tie those in with her passion and excitement for food and gastronomy.

Payal Parikh, or Pie, as she tends to goes by is new to Boston. She grew up by the beach in South Jersey where she helped her parents in the kitchen cooking traditional Gujarati Indian foods as well as regionalized New Jersey favorites. Each summer she did what all the local teens did and worked jobs at the beach, Pie always gravitated to food-centric positions. Whether it was working at a restaurant on the marina, a bakery on the boardwalk or a water ice stand, they all played their part as to where she is today. When asked about her nickname (and clarifying the spelling) she is often asked what her favorite type is, she always answers the same – pizza, preferring the savory to sweet.

For her undergraduate studies she attended Villanova University, located outside of Philadelphia, where she earned her B.S. in Business Administration and majored in Management and minored in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. She then spent her next 13 years as an account manager in the telecom industry learning the ins and outs of Fortune 500 companies.

Living in the vibrant food scene of Philadelphia reinvigorated her passion for the culinary arts and food studies. She began researching as many new restaurants and bars in Philadelphia and through her extensive travels as possible when she realized so much could be replicated in her own home and that cooking is a form of traveling. She began hosting dinner parties for her friends and family in her apartment, which was the stepping stone she needed to realize she wanted a career she was passionate about which led her to set forth on applying for her MLA in Gastronomy at BU. She is looking to bridge her business background, love of travel, and passion for food through the program.

Currently, Pie is working at Harpoon Brewery baking delicious pretzels, customizing sauces from scratch and learning about the brewing industry. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, listening to live music and golf.

New students for fall, part 3

By brotgerAugust 30th, 2018in Students

We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of  them here.

Tanya Bouldin is Virginia native who has been in Boston for 4.5 years.  In her 20’s she worked in the bar and restaurant business but moved into technology when the .com boom was happening.  She had a very successful 18-year career in technology which led her to Boston via a job transfer.

Over the past 20 years Tanya’s love of cooking, food and travel have blossomed.  She writes: “I have had many opportunities to experience the culture of food and people by living in numerous states (GA, LA, FL, MO, &CA) and traveling to the EU and Central America.  My passion for food isn’t limited to a particular region or arena.  I have a natural curiosity for all types of cuisine and am always in search of a perfect bite.  I even went so far as to go to Noma in Copenhagen just to have dinner before they closed the flagship location…what an amazing experience.  As much as I enjoy dining out and finding great spots, I feel the most pleasure in cooking with/for friends and family.  I truly feel that we can make deep connections rooted in food and the cultures that surround it.   In August of 2017 I completed my BS in Information Technology and Project Management but didn’t feel the level of engagement that I once had in that industry.  After much introspection, I made the decision to leave that career and ‘jump’ back into the culinary world. It feels like a natural progression to the next phase of my life.  My immediate goal is to learn traditional techniques and explore the various aspects of culinary and it’s ever growing importance in our global world.  Entering the MLA Gastronomy program is going to be an exciting challenge and I can’t wait to begin!”

James Lysons hails from the PacificNorthwest but has worked as a chef in all corners of the country. James grew up in a family where food was a focal point. He has fond memories of standing on a step stool learning the art of cooking an omelet from his mother (who is also an accomplish cook). James began working in kitchens at the age of 16, starting after school as a dishwasher and eventually making his way to prep cook, cook and so on. He received his Bachelors from New England Culinary Institute and has been fortunate enough to work at some great restaurants like Gramercy Tavern in New York, Trio in Chicago and Auberge du Soleil in Napa.

With the changing climate in the food world, James has been inspired to take his experience and knowledge from the kitchen and dedicate himself to educating fellow chefs about the importance of sustainable cooking. James believes that through education, lobbying, and inspiration, the trend of wild ingredients disappearing can be reversed. James is excited to take part in the gastronomy program and believes it will elevate his abilities to advocate for preservation and restoration of the world’s amazing ingredients.

Wiley McCarthy grew up in New Orleans and Georgia before migrating to Massachusetts for high school, college, marriage, and raising children.  After graduating from Harvard in 1983 with a degree in History with Economics, she worked as a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, then turned to freelance work with the birth of her first child.  After a long absence from work and school but with a long history of baking and food interests, she began volunteering for organizations targeting food as medicine, food rescue, and charitable food distribution.  With additional interests in food policy, nutrition, and eating disorders (not to mention just plain eating), the Gastronomy program seemed a natural path to pursuing some of those interests on a professional level.


New Students fall 2018, part 2

By brotgerAugust 16th, 2018

We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of  them here.

Ashley Belmer is a native Bostonian who grew up in the lovely town of Roslindale. For her undergraduate degree, she decided to relocate to Atlanta, GA where she earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature and African Studies in 2013. As a child, she would always nag her dad to help him prepare his epic Sunday dinner that could literally feed an army. Over time, her passion for food began to grow from helping to prepare dinner, school lunches, baking masterpieces, starting a food blog, and now enrolling in BU’s Gastronomy program.

Currently Ashley works as a Digital Marketer in higher education. This allows her creativity to flow and explore the ever evolving digital space. Through this gastronomy program, she hopes to began her journey in becoming a food authority.

Lauren Kirincic was born and raised on Long Island, New York. In May 2017, Lauren received a BA in Sociology from Gettysburg College. After graduation, she headed home and began her job search. She worked in a few different industries but could not find anything that she was passionate about. In February 2018, she started working at Further Food, a supplement company, as their social media associate. This job made her realize that it was food that she LOVED!  Upon this realization, she wanted to learn more about the food world!  She has a passion for food, travel and writing. She has always loved travel and after studying abroad in Florence she was even more eager to eat her way across the globe! With a Master’s in Gastronomy, she hopes to be able to create a career that can turn her dream into a reality!

Sarah Hartwig is a transplant to Boston from Kansas City, where she was born and raised. Before joining the Gastronomy program, she was an Americorps VISTA at the Wyandotte County Health Department for almost two years, where she worked on food access and other food system issues. She worked on all kinds of projects from coordinating activities for a summer meal program food truck, to working with the Board of Commissioners and Planning Department to update a mobile vending ordinance, to organizing a locally grown dinner for local policymakers and community stakeholders.

From a young age, Sarah has known the importance of food for both person and culture. She is a granddaughter of farmers on one side and of doctors on the other. She spent many summers in Central Kansas surrounded by fields full of corn, soybeans, and wheat only to come home to Kansas City to see hungry people who didn’t know what a tomato looked like.     

She graduated Gonzaga University in 2015 with BAs in Sociology and Classical Civilizations as well as a passion for social justice. She is interested in both food justice and sovereignty work, and is excited to learn more about many of the issues currently affecting the food system.

Carole Sioufi was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. After receiving a BA in Economics from the American University of Beirut, she completed a master’s degree in Management & Strategy at the London School of Economics. Carole then joined the family business – a group of commercial and industrial companies that operate in the chemical industry of the Middle East – and successfully expanded its activities to North Africa and the Gulf countries. While working on her last project in Dubai, she realized that it was time to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a food entrepreneur. Her first stepping stone is the MLA in Gastronomy through which she aims to learn the theory of food, hone her culinary skills, and grasp the role that food plays in our daily lives.

Carole is a passionate cook. Her love for cooking began at the age of thirteen when she was struggling with obesity. Eager to transform her body, she taught herself to cook satiating and delectable meals with a Middle Eastern twist. Not only did she lose a third of her weight, but she also discovered an aspiration to help others eat healthily. Her goal is to find a viable and scalable way to reduce obesity, namely childhood obesity.

Welcome new students for fall 2018

Image: Boston Public Library

We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of  them here.

Jennifer Nadeau grew up in Central Massachusetts before moving to the western part of the state for college. She earned a BA in Anthropology with a focus on biological anthropology and food from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2014.  As a child, Jennifer frequently spent time with people from the community that had unique food habits and paths and in turn- taught her to love and crave as many novel foods as she could possibly consume.

Jennifer’s interests have taken her through Dixie and Gulf states as she studied how country music, delta blues, and Southern foodways were and still are entwined. She is particularly interested in specific regional variations of foods such as tamales, pizza, and barbeque – and she maximizes her exposure by going broke traveling around the country and using most of her paychecks on food experiments in her home. Her next mission is to examine the shift in policy as recreational marijuana is legalized and monetized. Navigating the underground edible marijuana sessions in the western part of the state, Jennifer is hoping to shed insight on the policy, growth, improvement, and innovation surrounding the types of foods that producers infuse with marijuana.

Carol Waldo came to Boston by way of Chicago, Kansas City, and California. She obtained a BA in Chemistry at North Central College.  Her post college career began in the microbiology and analytical chemistry labs in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Currently, she is responsible for communications with regulatory health authorities and supporting development programs with the aim of bringing new drugs to patients. Throughout her professional career, she has spent her personal time exploring food, wine, and travel.  She has taken numerous cooking classes at the Institute for Culinary Education and boot camps at the Culinary Institute of America.  She spent a week in a private home near Tlaxcala, Mexico, immersed in Mexican cuisine and culture.  She has traveled extensively and likes to incorporate regional cultural and cooking experiences with hiking and biking.  She has taken wine studies classes at BU and has visited wine regions around the world.

For Carol, the process of curiosity leading to discovery and learning is exhilarating. The cultural context of the ingredients is as important to her as the technique involved in making the dishes.  Purposefully combining ingredients for a balanced, flavorful meal paired with wine is deeply satisfying. Traveling and cooking regional dishes with local chefs, purchasing ingredients in local markets is insightful, humbling, and energizing.  She hopes to deepen these insights with additional study and travel.

Carol has realized what it feels like to follow her curiosity and passion.  She believes that experiences and knowledge gained through the Gastronomy program will help shape her path forward.

Hannah Spiegelman grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in a very food-centric household, where cooking was a fun and exciting activity. While in high school, Hannah started baking as a way to release creative energy. She loved experimenting with out-there flavor combinations.  But told by her Grandfather that studying food wasn’t a real education, Hannah followed his path and majored in history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. Still, she always made sure incorporated either food or art into her class projects.

After working as a research associate at Goucher’s Archives and getting a second job at an ice cream shop, Hannah realized that she could combine both of her passions. Born in February 2107, A Sweet History is an historical-ice cream concept that creates flavors inspired by figures, events, art, and places in history in order to get people excited about things they may never had dared to care about it. Over the last year and a half, A Sweet History has done pop-up events, workshops at museums, and commissioned pints. Hannah is very much looking forward to delving back into school, learning about all aspects in the food world, especially the history and culture of food, and continuing to cultivate her passions.

There Are Mangos Everywhere: a brief Cuban travel story of cockroaches, coconuts and Cuba Libres

By brotgerAugust 2nd, 2018

Gastronomy student Mollie Braen recently traveled to Cuba and contributed this post.

We were strolling down the busy, narrow streets of Havana, nine days into our Cuban adventure, and in all honesty, we were tired. We had experienced record-breaking rain, with cars floating down the streets of Trindad. We saw locals standing in knee deep water in their homes, cows and horses stranded on the side of the road. We had locked ourselves out of our bathroom in the hotel in Remedios because two giant cockroaches had made a home in our bathtub and we had experienced what a ration store was like for local Cubans, with a mystery meat sitting out on the hot counter and a little kitten sick with some kind of infections trying to stay cool among the coffee bean sacks. As we realized that not only were we very lost in a city we did not know, we were hungry and hot beyond anything we had ever felt before.

Cuba is an interesting place. This is how I start every conversation when someone asks, “So, how was Cuba?” I say it was everything and nothing like I imagined. It is beautiful, hot, exhausting, exciting, heart-breaking but most of all, heart-filling. The people are kind and friendly. They welcomed us into their homes and art studios, showing us their pride for their country but also their humanity, as they are people just like us.

The food, in all honesty, was not very diverse or flavorful. This is mostly due to how tourism and the restaurant businesses work in Cuba today. We mostly ate at government run hotels or restaurants and when we ate at a local Paladar, a type of restaurant in a person’s home, it was always a similar meal. It started with a salad of cabbage, canned green beans and beets, the main dishes were often pork or chicken, sometimes shrimp, with rice and black beans, and a choice between Bucanero or Cristal, the two local government produced beers for a drink.  Dessert is usually served and it is either flan or some kind of pudding, and occasionally ice cream (which is reserved for tourists, as most of Cuba’s dairy is imported from other countries). The drinks are always plentiful: Cuba Libre, which is coke and rum, Mojitos with Cuban rum, or sometimes just rum. These are delicious, especially after a heat and humidity so intense, I would have sworn my bones were sweating.

We sampled fresh coconut sold by a man with a machete and cart near a square in Camaguey, and while it was somewhat bitter and gummy it felt like a much-needed hydration snack. We watched as a man showed us how Cuban cigars are made, rolling it by hand and telling the infamous story of how the Cuban sandwich came to be, using a cigar press in Miami many years ago. We ate fresh mangos everywhere we went. The country is filled with trees and an abundance so large, they barely sell them anymore, as they lay upon the ground, juicy, drippy and delicious for anyone to pick up and bite right into (make sure to spit out the skin).

So, at that moment, on the busy Havana street, where we were lost and tired, and honestly, a bit homesick, a man on a bicycle walked it by. Hanging from the handlebar of his bike was a very large pig leg. As he walked by, the leg slightly grazed the ground and I could not help but just laugh at the sheer unordinary happenstance that we had just witnessed in front of us. This story is the best one I tell of our trip because it encompasses the resourcefulness of Cuba, the tough, the ingenious, the exciting, the different, and the difficult. Cuba was a place like nowhere else I have ever been and though the food was not what I expected, it was not always about what we ate but I will always remember what we saw and what we experienced within the food culture and foodways of this incredibly interesting country we were so lucky to visit.

Course Spotlight: Sociology of Taste

By brotgerAugust 1st, 2018

Are you still looking to add a fall 2018 class to your schedule?  Connor Fitzmaurice  will be teaching our Special Topics course, The Sociology of Taste (MET ML 610 D1) on Thursday evenings.

Sourdough pancake with elderflower, citrus, and caviar, from Restaurant Barr, Copenhagen. Accessed from

Taste has an undeniable personal immediacy: producing visceral feelings ranging from delight to disgust. As a result, in our everyday lives we tend to think about taste as purely a matter of individual preference. However, for sociologists, our tastes are not only socially meaningful, they are also socially determined, organized, and constructed. This course will introduce students to the variety of questions sociologists have asked about taste. What is a need? Where do preferences come from? What social functions might our tastes serve? Major theoretical perspectives for answering these questions will be considered, examining the influence of societal institutions, status seeking behaviors, internalized dispositions, and systems of meaning on not only what we enjoy–but what we find most revolting.

MET ML 610 D1, Special Topics in Gastronomy: Sociology of Taste, will meet on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, beginning on September 6. Registration information can be found here.