Course Spotlight: Readings in Food History

Dr. Megan Elias will teach Readings in Food History (MET ML 633) on Wednesday evenings during the fall 2017 semester, and has prepared this overview of the class.

Pie cutting for Elias class
Lee, R., photographer. (1940) Cutting the pies and cakes at the barbeque dinner, Pie Town, New Mexico Fair. New Mexico Pie Town, 1940. Oct. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Every meal is a historical text, carrying messages about such things as global migrations, customs and trade routes. Because food has been both a constant and a catalyst in human histories many of the most important decisions made in the past depended on the need for sustenance or desire for new flavors. Paying close attention to food in world history helps to explain motives and strategies that shaped our world.

Megan Elias
Dr. Megan Elias

Through reading a selection of foundational and recent works in food history students will be able to identify and synthesize some of the major themes and arguments in the field. While dedicated food histories are a relatively new genre, food has always appeared in historical texts and these texts tell stories of their own that are sometimes left out of dominant narratives. We will consider some primary sources alongside our secondary texts to make sense of how food historians use their sources to build arguments. This work will help prepare students for Researching Food History, to be taught in the following semester.

Books we will be reading include the classic, Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz as well as more recent titles such as Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan by Eric Rath, Wine, Sugar and the Making of Modern France, by Elizabeth Heath, and To Live and Dine in Dixie by Angela Jill Cooley.


MET ML 633, Readings in Food History, will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:45 pm, starting on September 6, 2017. Registration information can be found here.

For a local experience in the Boston Public Market, look outside of it.

Our summer blog series “Perspectives from Anthropology of Food” presents work written by the students in the summer Anthropology of Food class (ML 641) in which they reflect on current issues, discuss assignments they have worked on, or address topics of particular interest to them. Today’s post is from Gastronomy student Marina Starkey.

When the Boston Public Market (BPM) finally opened in the summer of 2015, locals rejoiced. Touting a roster of popular New England vendors like Union Square Donuts, Crescent Ridge Dairy, and Stillmans Farm, foodies everywhere anticipated new, easy access to highly sought-after products.

There’s no doubting that BPM is a marvel. I have spent a fair number of hours roaming the aisles admiring the colorful, brightly-lit, organized displays full of expertly-branded products and produce. I’ve wondered which vendor was more worthy of the small amount of money I had to spend on lunch or a sweet treat. It always came down to who treated me with the most kindness and where I felt most comfortable, or how badly I was craving the macaroni and cheese at Jasper Hill (an absolutely gooey must).

Despite how much I love the place, I still can barely afford anything within it. It’s nice to browse, but I often find myself gawking at the prices: $6 for a bunch of small asparagus, $4 for a doughnut, $12 for an 8 ounce bottle of designer vinegar. BPM is popular among tourists for this very reason; when you’re traveling you’re more likely to splurge and purchase specialty items, because it isn’t everyday you’re in Boston. While the weekend turns tourists and families out in droves, during the week you’re more likely to see a lunch crowd of locals looking for a quick bite. Despite these few midday hours, you would be hard pressed to find Boston regulars at BPM religiously, every Sunday, purchasing what they need to feed their families.

This is where I think BPM fails to meet its lofty goals of making local, sustainable food & products more accessible. While these types of vendors all value these initiatives, their accessibility rests within the wealthiest people in Boston, despite many locals being students, people just starting their careers, and young families. While it’s nice to have these local products around, I find BPM functions more as a symbol of the elite.

An authentically local experience actually exists right around the corner from the BPM at Haymarket. Nestled between tourist centers the North End and Faneuil Hall, Haymarket hosts dozens of produce and seafood vendors in an open-air setting. And the character is colorfully local.

Early morning at Haymarket


You’ll hear it first. If it’s not the Frank Sinatra blaring from the central fish vendor, it’s the almost constant yelling and bartering that goes on between the rows and rows of produce from all over the world. Here you’ll find demographics as diverse as the fruits and vegetables: vendors from Italian, Hispanic and Asian descent, and consumers from every part of Boston and beyond. While it’s a bit more difficult to find out exactly from where your apples and oranges traveled, they’re cheaper than you’ll find in any supermarket. That same bunch of asparagus that I saw in the BPM? $2 for a bunch.

While you won’t find brown butter doughnuts or homemade vinegars, the character of Haymarket is lively and everyone feels welcome. Well, that is if you can deal with a few vendors yelling at you to get out of the way and make room for people actually making purchases. The atmosphere isn’t conducive to browsing or admiration. People are here to purchase produce to feed their families for the week at the lowest price possible. Regulars exist almost exclusively, and it’s not any place that would be of particular appeal to any tourist runoff.

So if you’re looking for an authentic local experience, it might not exist in the places that are immediately obvious. Sometimes you have to look in between the cracks of the city to find its liveliest, most authentic character.

Food Taboos and Cultural Identity in America: Eating Bugs

Our summer blog series “Perspectives from Anthropology of Food” presents work written by the students in the summer Anthropology of Food class (ML 641) in which they reflect on current issues, discuss assignments they have worked on, or address topics of particular interest to them. Today’s post is from Gastronomy student Stacy Mirabello.

Insect-farming3When presented with the idea of swapping out potato chips for a snack of crispy crickets, the typical American response generally includes slight twitches of the body, cringing, wrinkled noses, and expressions of disgust. American culture has developed strong aversions and visceral responses towards the thought of consuming insects on a regular basis, both in general and as a reliable food source. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is deeply rooted in the evolution of humans, and how we perceive food, according to anthropologists, is a reflection of our ecology. Insects have played an important part in the history of human nutrition in a majority of the world’s population, but not in North America. This suggests our ideas about what is good to eat are also cultural.

Eating is something that all humans share but is also something that we use to differentiate ourselves on a regular basis. As Americans, what we eat, how and when we eat, and whom we eat with have symbolic significance. The eating behaviors into which we are encultured from birth shape our cultural identity, using food as a foundation by which we create beliefs of what is suitable to eat and what to avoid. With that said, in a society that is born to worship juicy burgers and crispy bacon, the task of changing the American mind about integrating bugs into our diets is somewhat daunting. Most information that the public hears pertaining to bugs generally recognizes insects as a food source that is consumed in famine stricken deprived countries, thereby associating bugs with a survival technique. American TV shows such as Fear Factor and Survivor negatively depict entomophagy.  Although both of these shows push people to their limits in a more or less controlled environment, the camera always highlights a person about to eat a giant live beetle or a roasted tarantula with intense climatic background music before zooming in so we can hear the crunch.

With hopes of calling attention to our national bee crisis, the recent removal of Buzz the Bee from the boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios is an attempt to view insects as, basically, good for the environment. It is rare that people are encouraged to view insects as vital participants in the ecology that sustains humans. Many people around the world eat insects out of choice, simply because of they taste good, but most positive environmental impacts and nutritional health benefits that insects deliver are largely unknown to the American population.

In recent attempts to promote bugs as a food source, cricket flour protein bars became an item to hit elite grocery store shelves. Although this a

stacey mirabello
Stacy Mirabello

step in the right direction, it is still not enough to replace the American meals. The challenge of changing the American culture to accept bugs as a food source is going to take time. Look how long it took for people to catch on to sushi!  In conclusion, these territorial critters seemingly represent a threat to the cultural identity ingrained within American society. But a change in our cultural eating habits may be the way to help a growing concern of the global food system one bug at a time.


Course Spotlight: Science of Food and Cooking

The MLA in Gastronomy Program’s course, the Science of Food and Cooking will be back by popular demand for the fall 2017 semester.

Baking science Cookie variations VRyanphoto IMG_4665
Students alter a cookie recipe’s ingredients resulting in differences in color and texture during a baking science experiment

Through a combination of academic lectures and hands-on cooking experiments in BU’s professional kitchen, students will take a comprehensive look at the molecular changes that occur as food is prepared and cooked. We will examine the science behind the transformation of milk into cheese and ice cream, what makes baked goods tender and dense versus light and airy, how the color of naturally occurring pigments in fruits and vegetables changes depending on conditions, and much more. Flavor science, sensory analysis, molecular gastronomy, and nutritional impact are encompassed in this exploration of the science of food. Students will also consider food science in broader social and cultural contexts. 

Join us for an engaging exploration of the science of food!

Instructor Valerie Ryan is a food scientist and food studies scholar. She has worked for both government and industry in the areas of food science and nutrition research, sensory analysis, and product innovation. Ryan has focused her food studies research on the impact of taste preference on human evolution. As a food  correspondent for the Boston Globe, she authored the column, “A Side of Science,” and numerous other articles and recipes.

Candy science and Crystallization Frank Carrieri VRyanphoto IMG_4613
Student Frank Carrieri makes candy for an experiment on crystallization

The Science of food and Cooking, MET ML 619, is designed for graduate students in food studies and other non-natural science majors and does not require prerequisites. Classes will meet on Monday evenings, from 6 to 8:45 pm, beginning September 11.  Registration information can be found at

Gastronomy Summer Courses

Registration for summer term classes begins on Thursday, February 23. Take a look at the offerings from the Gastronomy department.

Summer Term 1 Gastronomy Classes

MET ML 641 Anthropology of Food – with Dr. Karen Metheny

Summer 1 (May 24-June 28), Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:30 to 9 PM

What can food tell us about human culture and social orfood-historyganization? Food offers us many opportunities to explore the ways in which humans go about their daily lives from breaking bread at the family table to haggling over the price of meat at the market to worrying about having enough to eat. Food can also tell us about larger social organizations and global interconnections through products like Spam that are traded around the globe and the ways in which a fruit like the tomato transformed the culinary culture of European nations. In this course we consider how the anthropology of food has developed as a subfield of cultural anthropology. We also look at the various methodologies and theoretical frameworks used by anthropologists

MET ML 673 Food and Film – with Dr. Potter Palmerh_julia_child_creative_commons_t670

Summer 1 (May 23-June 29), Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30 to 9 PM

We can all take pleasure in eating good food, but what about watching other people eat or cook food? This course surveys the history of food in film. It pays particular attention to how food and foodways are depicted as expressions of culture, politics, and group or personal identity. We will watch a significant number of films, both fiction and non-fiction, classic and modern. A good portion of class time will also be given to discussing the readings in combination with hands-on, in-depth analysis of the films themselves. 4 cr. Tuition: $3320

MET ML 650 – The Foundation of Beer and Spirits – with Sandy Block

Summer 1 (May 25-June 29), Thursdays, 5:30 to 9 PM

Explores tRediscovery #: 00887
Job A1 08-131 Transparencies-1he great variety of beer styles and spirit categories currently available and the role each plays in our culture. Surveys significant developments in the historical evolution, production, distribution, consumption, and cultural usage of these alcohol

beverages in the United States. Includes tastings of beer and spirits to demonstrate examples of the most important categories and classifications. 2 cr. Tuition: $1660; lab fee: $200; total charge: $1860

MET ML 651 Fundamentals of Wine – with William Nesto

Summer 1 (Ten week course: June 5-August 7), Mondays, 6 to 9 PM

Suitable for students without previous knowledge of wine, this introductory survey explores the world of wine through lectures, tastings, and assigned readings. By the end of the course, students will be able to exhibit fundamental knowledge of the principal categories of wine, including major grape varieties, wine styles, and regions; correctly taste and classify wine attributes; understand general principles of food and wine pairing; and comprehend the process of grape growing and winemaking. 2 cr. Tuition: $1660; lab fee: $200; total charge: $1860 

MET ML 699 Laboratory in the Culinary Arts: Baking – with Janine Sciarappa

Summer 1 (May 23 – June 28), Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 5:30 to 9:30 PM

Exposes students to a craft-based understanding of the culinary arts from which to better understand how food and cuisine fit into the liberal arts and other disciplines and cultures. Integrates personal experience and theory through discipline by training students in classic and modern techniques and theories of food production, through pastry and baking methods and working efficiently, effectively, and safely. Also introduces students to baking techniques from various cultures and cuisines from around the world. 4 cr. Tuition: $3320; lab fee: $1500; total charge: $4820


Summer Term 2 Gastronomy Classes

MET ML 698 Laboratory in the Culinary Arts: Cooking – with Christine Merlo

Summer 2 (July 5 – August 9), Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 5:30 to 9:30 PM

Exposes students to a craft-based understanding of the culinary arts from which to better understand how food and cuisine fit into the liberal arts and other disciplines and cultures. Integrates personal experience and theory through discipline by training students in classic and modern techniques and theories of food production, through cooking and working efficiently, effectively, and safely. Also introduces students to foods of various cultures and cuisines from around the world. Students are expected to provide their own chef’s coat and knives. 4 cr. Tuition: $3320; lab fee: $1500; total charge: $4820


MET ML 704 Special Topic: Survey of Italian Wine – With Bill Nesto

Summer 2 (July 6 – August 10), Thursdays, 5:30 to 9 PM


Topic for summer 2017: Survey of Italian Wine. Provides students with a thorough knowledge of Italian wine. By the end of the course, students will know the history, cultural context, and styles of wine made throughout Italy and will understand issues within the Italian wine industry and the market performance of Italian wines in Italy and in other countries. Regular class tastings illustrate examples of wine types. 2 cr. Tuition: $1660; lab fee: $200; total charge: $1860

MET ML 719 Food Values: Local to Global Food Policy, Practice, and Performance – with Ellen Messer

Summer 2 (July 3-August 9), Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:30 – 9 pm

Reviews various competing and sometimes conflicting frameworks for assessing what are “good” foods. Examines what global, national, state, and local food policies can do to promote the production and consumption of these foods. Teaches how to conceptualize, measure, and assess varying ecological, economic, nutritional, health, cultural, political, and justice claims. Analyzes pathways connecting production and consumption of particular foodstuffs in the U.S. and the world. Emphasizes comparative food systems and food value chains, and the respective institutional roles of science and technology, policy, and advocacy in shaping food supply and demand. 4 cr. Tuition: $3320


MET ML UA 510 Special Topics in Urban Affairs – with Walter Carroll

Summer 2 (July 6 – August 10), Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 to 9:30 pm

Topic for summer 2017: Feeding the City: Urban Food. Examines historical and contemporary issues involved in providing food to cities and metropolitan areas. Tracing the routes that food takes into the city and the major sources of food, the course looks closely at the accessibility of food, especially in poorer urban neighborhoods. Among topics covered are obesogenic neighborhoods, food deserts, gentrification and foodie culture, public school food and nutrition, attempts to minimize food waste, and immigrants and ethnic foods in the city. The course also considers recent attempts at food production in cities, including urban agriculture, vertical farming, and craft production of food products. After closely looking at the history and current status of food programs, the course concludes with a consideration of urban food policies. 4 cr. Tuition: $2640