Sem Cultural Studies (Ethnography of Food) (CSAP/LSE)

Food, Object, Relationship: Ethnography and Food Studies

Foodways, culinary history, personal, social and cultural
identity examined through the lens of ethnographic research are the objects of
inquiry in this graduate course.  Using
perspectives drawn from folklore, anthropology, sociology, literary theory and
popular culture, this course treats foods as both direct and emblematic foci
for identity, national development, globalization and social change. Foodways
may illuminate questions of political and social change, gender and class
distinctions and ethnic diversity, provoking questions about traditions and
authenticity.  Specific attention will be
given to the cultural, culinary variety and identity of Hawai`i’s food

This course is a practical guide to ethnography as a method
of field research and understanding food culture. We will review ethical
conduct in relationship to ethnographic research as well as the historical,
quantitative and observational methods that drive the field of
ethnography.  Ethnographies are highly
descriptive. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz introduced “thick description” to
allow the reader to understand the intentions, meanings, circumstances and to
get a true sense of place. These days, self reflection is also a component of
the ethnographic narrative.  Through
research, discussion and interviews, we will create a picture of a place in
time that will aid in our understanding of the world within our community. A
sense of curiosity and enthusiasm for understanding our foodways and talking to
people are essential for the successful ethnographer.

The stories and material culture surrounding food are assorted
and multidimensional.  Food studies focus
on people’s relationships with food—the research in this particular field
exposes a range of topics, disciplines, theoretical orientations and research
methodology.  Political, ethnic and
religious identities are closely bound to food—images of power/disempowerment
are explicit/implicit.  Who is allowed to
fish?  To hunt?  To farm? 
What vessels and utensils are utilized at a meal?  What time of day are meals eaten?  Why? 
What order is food served in?  Who
serves it and why?  How close does an
important guest sit to the salt?  Another
gender?  Or different race or class?  How was limu cultivated in 19th
century Hawai`i compared to limu cultivated in the 21st
century?  What have been the long-term
affects of human development on indigenous foods?  Who makes the best tako poke?  If you can, collect the recipe.  How does the globalization of food influence
this specific poke?  What is a favorite
potluck food of people living in Hawai`i? Most of our food is packaged, canned
or bottled—how are these recycled? What about hunger in Hawai`i?  What kind of food is served at homeless
shelters in our community?  Where are our
food deserts?  How do corporate food
chains affect our food culture?  As you
can see, the possibilities for ethnographic research in relationship to food
studies are vast.

General Student Outcomes

  • An
    understanding of ethnographic methods and writing in a self-reflexive mode
  • Understanding
    of the political role of food and culture in the context of community and
  • Oral
    and written abilities to present and publish scholarly work within the
    context of a larger academic audience


  • Fifteen
    minute collaborative presentation on a key concept of our readings
  • On-line
    postings to readings
  • Research
  • Transcription
    of Interview
  • Review
    of Literature
  • Methodology
  • A ten
    page final report on the results (with self reflexive discussion) as well
    as presentation on this material – the report will include a transcription
    of an interview (or interviews) as an appendix.


Texts will be available for purchase at Revolution Books and
on Laulima.  We still start the course
with Food Studies: An Introduction to
Research Methods
by Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch, Best Food Writing 2012 by Holly Hughes, Food: Ethnographic Encounters edited by Leo Coleman.  As secondary sources will also study the work
of Avakian, Barthes, Belasco, Carson, Counihan, Douglas, Flammang, Geertz,
Glassie, Goody, Grover, Kingsolver, Knappett, Levi-Strauss, Long, Neustadt,
O’Connor, Pink, Pollan, Radner, Refsgaard, Scholosser, Simoons, Spradley,
Steinberg, van Maanen, Wood and Young. Please look at Gastronomica: A Journal of Food and Culture and Digest: A Journal of Foodways and Culture
before class begins in January 2013.

Note: Texts are

Pick up texts at
Revolution Books, 2625 South King Street. 


An audio recorder with transcription capabilities.  I have a small Marantz recorder with a
microphone and pedal for transcription that I use for research.