by Stacey Donohue, Humanities Department
One of the many food blogs I read posts recipes, and one of the best is the recipe for delicious pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Another blogger I follow (an academic who shall remain anonymous, but let’s call her Sybil) noted in her recent re-posting of the pumpkin cookie recipe that she should just start a food blog, and the cheers of support in the comments section poured in. That idea (a food blog, for those who cook, for those who eat, or for those who like to read about food) got me reflecting on the food fiction course I taught in fall 2008 for the first time.
Last spring I read an article in College English (70.4) titled “Books That Cook: Teaching Food and Food Literature in the English Classroom” by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite (the entire March 2008 issue is on food). Since I was teaching a generically titled Eng 260: Introduction to Women Writers course, I decided to try out some of their ideas by focusing on “food fiction” by women writers. I ended up (after much anguish—I struggle with this choice whenever I teach a literature course) with the following reading list:
Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate
Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Diana Abu Jaber’s Crescent
Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast
Other books I considered but couldn’t fit into our quarter system included the following (note that for all of these texts below, the books are significantly better than the film versions):
As it turns out, the novels worked well together, sharing many of the same themes (including elements of magical realism; fairy tale allusions; and, naturally, all used food as a central metaphor). And because we focused on contemporary women’s fiction–fiction that is not “canonical”–there were engaging discussions of some issues I’ve explored when analyzing Oprah’s Book Club (high vs. “middlebrow” literature and reader response criticism, for example).
I decided to focus on fiction, but I know there are many, many food memoirs out there, too. And, of course, I limited the selection to women writers, but someday I can see a separate food memoir course where I could include my favorites such as Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
Please share any other titles you have for fiction, non-fiction or memoir: my Food Fiction course was a joy to prepare and teach, and I’m looking forward to teaching it again next year.
This spring, Amy Harper is offering Anthropology 299: Food and Culture, an elective course that has over 30 students enrolled. As COCC looks forward to an expanded Culinary program, I imagine other faculty members will respond with food-related courses within their discipline, and who knows: is there a Food Studies program next?