bread 101

IMG_7058IMG_6695Am I souring on traditional discipline-focused college curricula?  No, but this spring I *am* teaching a tremendously fun course through COLT on literature, food and society (as discussed here), and I’m also part of an innovative team-taught course that partners the Natural Sciences with the Humanities, all in the name of a loaf of bread.

Yes, University of Oregon HC441: “Bread 101” investigates the science and culture of bread!

We’re all souring together as we create experiments with sourdough starters and bake bread based on historic recipes.  These “lab” activities will be contextualized in lectures and readings on topics like genetics, energetics, microbiology, history, ethics, and cultural studies.  We’ll be hosting University of Washington wheat geneticist and anti-GMO activist, Dr. Steve Jones, as a visiting speaker; visiting Camas Country Mill and Noisette bakery for a sourdough taste-off; learning about Willamette Valley wheat production with local food activist Dan Armstrong; and studying primary sources on bread baking and propaganda in an upcoming exhibit on historic cookbooks, “Recipe: The Kitchen and Laboratory: 1400-2000,” opening April 22 in Knight Library Special Collections. (I’m co-curating this with HC Prof. and Historian of Science Vera Keller — more info soon.)

IMG_7013 IMG_6023IMG_6897The course is unusual not only because it’s deeply local and geared to increase burgeoning interest in a Food Studies program at UO, but also because of its innovative curriculum that uses Humanities-based lines of inquiry and writing assignments to augment science literacy. Many Food Studies classes are taught from a Social Science or Nutrition perspective by a single instructor, so we felt the course could model new approaches for systemic collaboration across the Sci/Hum divide and offer value to this emerging discipline.

The course is being taught by Judith Eisen (Biology, Institute of Neuroscience, and Director of the Science Literacy Program), Elly Vandegrift (Biology and Associate Director of the SLP), Karen Guillemin (Biology and Director of the Microbial Ecology and Theory of Animals Center for Systems Biology), Miriam Deutsch (Physics and Oregon Center for Optics), and yours truly, Jennifer Burns Bright (Comparative Literature and English).

Course Description
HC441H: Bread 101
Bright, Eisen, Deutsch, Guillemin, Vandegrift

Bread is a complex medium, looking nothing like the original seed of grain from which it originates. Yet when we mix a few simple ingredients we are able to induce a transformation that results in an edible, highly nourishing, staple food product crucial for sustenance in many cultures. In “Bread 101”, students will explore with a team of faculty from the sciences and humanities the energy requirements, biomedical and biochemical aspects, and local and sociopolitical context of bread production. Students will read and discuss a variety of primary and secondary literature related to wheat production, the microbiological, chemical, and physical processes that transform wheat into bread, the energy cost of this transformation, and cultural implications of bread production. There will be several field trips and guest speakers. Course work will include active discussions, short essays, problem sets, and a presentation.

Module 1 Introduction to Growth, Domestication, Energetics
Module 2 Local Politics of Wheat and Bread
Module 3 Biomedical and Biochemical Implications
Module 4 Social and Cultural History of Wheat and Bread
Module 5 Global Energy Production Related to Wheat and Bread

Photos: My sourdough starter in progress, local grain display at Camas Country Mill, white board exercises on energetics and photosynthesis (with guest Nick Routledge), and a 1937 advertisement for Fleischmann’s yeast cakes (eat two a day for optimal health!).

spring course: food, lit, society

VictoryGardens2It’s Spring, and you know it, another term!  I’m teaching a larger version of my Food Studies introduction at University of Oregon, and could use your help spreading the news.  If you know any current UO student who’s enchanted by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wants to know How to Cook a Wolf, and can negotiate The Jungle with no fear, we’ll be reading all that and more, studying the fiction beside articles on contemporary issues in the best food and culture reader on the market.   It’s a Gen Ed/IC offering, so consider your requirement needs pwnd.  Standard tuition fees apply, must be enrolled at UO.  Course is about half full, so sign up soon!

Course introduction video is here, produced by Jennifer Simon for the COLT Department.

COLT 231
Literature and Society: “Literature, Food, Society”
Jennifer Burns Bright

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” wrote French essayist Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who penned the first modern treatise on gastronomy. In this introduction to Food Studies course, we’ll explore savages and mothers, farmers and fat activists, socialists and colonialists, all seeking to express their communal identity through food. Examining the food practices in a range of texts that capture issues facing urban and rural societies in flux, we will seek to understand how and why diet, nutrition, and agriculture are all political battlegrounds that deeply impact history. Course goals include understanding multiple ways in which scholars analyze food and international foodways, drawing methodologies from a range of disciplines, including sociology, philosophy, art history, and literary and environmental studies.  (Lecture CRN 38595 plus discussion section; Satisfies Gen Ed, IC.)

happy start of school!

Have a great term!  And if you are the lucky possessor of a UO food services meal card, check out the new Global Scholars Hall dining room.  We had our Honors College orientation in the new dorm last week, and ate lunch with all the incoming freshmen.  I was pretty impressed — it’s the only place on campus where you can get bahn mi, arancini, freshly made sushi, and Cuban sandwiches, not to mention “think fruit,” which I hope makes one think about the rhetoric of desire deployed in the signage, or who gets to eat what food, where, and why.

Aaaaaand, I’m thrilled that we’ll be interviewing UO Central Kitchen head chef Doug Lang on this Sunday’s Food for Thought.  He’ll be joining food historian Dr. Kyri Claflin, of Boston University’s Gastronomy Program, who will be discussing her new edited collection of essays on writing food history with a global approach, as our special guests on the Back to School edition of the show.  Listen to Food for Thought on KLCC on Sunday at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations in Oregon, or live on the web.

land use and the urban farm

A fundamental part of my pedagogy at the Clark Honors College at University of Oregon is fostering networks for students:  between themselves, the greater university community, our Eugene community at large, and with worlds of possibilities.   For the lower-division Humanities sequence food and literature class, now in its third year, I try to include an interactive component that stresses some of our community networks.  As you might imagine, this is difficult given the short quarters and my mandate to teach food from the literary perspective, but we do manage to pull off something.

This year, we visited the Urban Farm on the outskirts of the university.  OK, just across the street. But in many ways, it’s a homesteading plot in the wilds of the Millrace, clustered with the arts facilities.  The wild, wild northwest.

This is my favorite picture from the day.  It’s my students listening to Urban Farm Director Harper Keeler of the Landscape Architecture Department.  He’s an active part of my food studies group and he’s been involved with the Urban Farm for a great deal of its ~30-year history.  Yes, we’ve been doing the farm-to-school schtick for about 30 years!

Harper teaches classes that incorporate sustainability readings and hands-on stewardship and food growing training.  He also regularly gives tours of the farm, and was kind enough to show us around. Here he’s pointing out the location of the old farmhouse that was on the property, which was once an orchard of fruit and nut trees (cherries, apples, pears, almonds, filberts, and at least one big English walnut).

What is the orchard now?  Behind Harper and the compost bins made of old pallets, there’s a giant parking lot available for student athletes only while using the Jacqua Center for their tutoring appointments.  A couple prized trees were saved after some negotiations, apparently.

To be fair, the entire lot wasn’t an orchard; part of it became a Coca Cola bottling plant, then the lot was used for storage and deliveries to the farm.  But now it’s just an empty parking lot.  A colleague who works nearby keeps a tally — once 13 cars were parked there!  Usually it has one or two cars in it (two there during my day at the farm).

Land use, and the evolution (degeneration, I suppose) of a plot of soil from an orchard to an unused parking lot is fascinating for the literature scholar, because a walk becomes a story.  Folks like Harper and his staff and students learn how to read the land like we read books.  With fluency in parking lots and greenhouses, we can raise our own consciousnesses and those of others.  I am proud to be part of the team that is making these connections start to happen.

OK, before I get off my soapbox, I just have to brag about my students.

See the woman in the blue coat?  She is holding a Victorian blancmange made in our very own Clark Honors College kitchen, formerly the location of the Home Economics Department at UO.  Yes, my students bring blancmanges to share with the class.  Can you beat that?

The lit, high-tech greenhouse is not on the farm, alas.  It’s the adjacent property, managed by one of the science programs, and allegedly the greenhouse is doing experiments with GMO crops.  The Urban Farm’s greenhouse, which helps grow food for low-income programs and the 80 students a term who learn on it, is the jerryrigged, salvaged and foraged plastic one in front (which was vandalized by some moron who slashed the side with a knife).  Anyone have a rich uncle?  Car wash to raise funds?  All we need is an empty lot…

The little contraption in the second photo above, around the back of the Urban Farm greenhouse, is a low-cost, low-fuel model developed by a student for use in developing countries.  I understand he’s off in Central America testing out field models right now.

Another greenhouse, and winter crops in the front part of the 1.5 acre farm.  We’re able to grow brassicas and various lettuces throughout the winter in the Willamette Valley, and the Urban Farm manages quite well, even with night-visiting nutria from the river tributary next to the farm.

The cabbages improve with frost, and I’ve found arugula almost completely loses its bitterness with all the rainfall.

A lesson I am trying to take to heart.