What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with cultural meaning. This three-part assignment involves an exploration of how food shapes a people and their culture. Beyond merely nourishing the body, what we eat and with whom we eat can inspire and strengthen the bonds between individuals, communities, and cultures.
1. Ask students to respond to the question: What role does food play in people’s lives? (Prompts: providing nourishment; giving an opportunity to socialize with family, friends and the community; transmitting culture; defining gender or family roles; representing symbols; giving a national or cultural identity; part of some superstitions).
2. After discussing their responses, explain to students that there are many types of foods associated with different cultural and ethnic groups, traditions and celebrations that feature foods, and different rules about how and when people eat. Foods and rituals help us learn about cultures and groups.
3. Show students a series of photographs, video clips, cookbooks and so forth that depict the food of the host culture. Connect the images to understanding the host culture.
4. As a large group, in small groups or pairs, ask students to describe their family celebrations and daily meals, what food is served, how it is eaten and with whom, how similar and different this is from what you perceive as mainstream America and how this reflects the specific identity of their family and/or culture. What can be learned about the U.S. by analyzing its cultural patterns regarding food?
5. Hand out the assignment and explain the overall goals and structure of the three-part assignment. Review expectations and method of evaluation.
6. Optional. If time allows upon return, consider hosting A Taste of Culture, a dinner in which students prepare dishes from the host culture and display their food journals, photos and other cultural artifacts. This would allow students the opportunity to share their learning with others and thus, broaden the reach of the course. This may also be an effective strategy for the future promotion of the course. Maybe accompany the evening with a film feature the host culture.
This assignment can be worth up to 25% of the overall course grade: 5% for the pre-departure essay, 15% for the food journal, and 5% for the post-study abroad reflective essay. Students’ responses should be assessed on their ability to demonstrate insight into the many roles that food plays in people’s lives.
One class session (pre-departure)