To
take a much-needed break from the missing (or hijacked) Malaysian flight,
Putin’s annexation of the Crimea from the Ukraine, the antics, antisemitism,
and anti-Americanism of President Barack Obama, and news of college professors advocating
the jailing
of global warming deniers
, I decided to indulge in some semi-humorous,
cathartic (or therapeutic) commentary in this column.
When
I saw the headline of Daniel Greenfield’s FrontPage article of March 15th,
Ice
Cream Social Justice: ‘Critical Food Studies’ Comes to College
,” I
initially read it as “Critical Foot
Studies,” and wondered what mischief the podiatrists and shoe
manufacturers were up to now. Had they taken a survey of collegiate footwear
and lobbied Congress to mandate environmentally friendly shoestring and leather
on campus? Or asked Congress to enact prohibitively high import tariffs on
Indonesian and Chinese products? Then I blinked once and saw it was
“Critical Food Studies.” Never
mind. “Critical Food Studies” was ludicrous enough. However, I’m sure
some tenure-hungry yob is massaging a proposal to introduce foot, ankle and
heel studies.
Greenfield,
in his characteristically droll style, opened his article with:
Higher education tuition costs
and student loan debt have increased proportionally with the sheer
worthlessness of a college education. Students were paradoxically far more
likely to learn something worthwhile when higher ed was for dilettantes, than
now when it’s a mandatory job prerequisite.
Greenfield’s
article about the proliferation of “food studies” in college and
university curricula is largely based on a March 12th article by
Mary Grabar, “Food
Fetish on Campus
,” on the John William Pope Center commentaries page.
(Again, I initially read it as Foot
Fetish, but, again, never mind.) Greenfield studiously annotates Grabar’s
article. Grabar reported:
                                        
These days, even in their
required classes, students are not likely to get exposure to philosophical
concepts like Epicureanism, or to classical authors such as Hawthorne. They’re
more apt to take courses that focus on food itself, that tell them essentially,
“You are what you eat.”  Food, in other words, carries moral meanings.
What you eat and how you eat define you as a moral person, with the new
standards of morality aligning with the other lessons of the contemporary
campus on race, class, sustainability, animal rights, and gender.  
The latest additions have little
to do with legitimate intellectual endeavors like agriculture or nutrition
science. Instead, food becomes another lens through which to examine
oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism.
Greenfield
remarked:
Political correctness, food and
pointless American Studies navel gazing…in one course. Somehow I’m entirely
confident that the discussion will be largely about white ‘othering’ of
African-American foods.
Grabar
further reports:
…[F]ood becomes another lens
through which to examine oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism.
 A surprising number of universities have gone in this direction.
The New
School
has an undergraduate program in food studies, while several offer
master’s level programs: Chatham University,
New York University, Boston University
(a graduate certificate); and New Mexico State
University
(a graduate-level minor). The Graduate Center of the City
University
of New York offers an interdisciplinary concentration, and Indiana
University
even a Ph.D. concentration in Anthropology of Food.
How
does one satirize or parody the inane? It can’t be done, except perhaps by the
Monty Python troupe or the Marx Brothers. I defer to Mary Grabar:
You can find the mania over food
studies in many states, including North Carolina. At UNC-Chapel Hill, students
in the Department of Geography can take “Critical Food Studies,” and
others can develop interdisciplinary programs that incorporate courses such as
“Food in American Culture” provided through the department of American Studies.
Food studies is also a focus of
graduate research in Chapel Hill’s English and Comparative Literature
Department. Rachel
Norman
describes her dissertation on Arab-American literature as “focusing
on representations of language and food as practices of oral identity.”  Inger S.B. Brodey,
associate professor, lists as among the courses she teaches Asian Food Rituals,
cross-listed with Asian Studies.  And Jessica Martel’s dissertation
is on “Modernist Form and Imperial Food Politics, 1890-1922.”
Food studies has made its way
even down to freshman composition.  Apparently responding to market
demand, the textbook publisher Bedford is offering Food
Matters
with a sample syllabus and recommended “resources” for an
entire semester devoted to food studies.  Among the resources are the
“documentaries” Forks
Over Knives
(which advocates a low-fat whole-food, plant-based diet)
and Super Size Me
(about the evils of the fast food industry), and the books, Fast
Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric
Schlosser, Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of her year eating locally, Animal,
Vegetable, Miracle
, and the 1971 bestseller about the environmental impact
of meat production, Diet for a
Small Planet
.  
Greenfield
notes:
Will there be any Denny’s place
mats to study? We could do a whole semester on the semiotics of menus, what
they state and what they leave out and how they ‘other.’
If any reader here anticipated
the time when university professors stooped to teaching hapless students how to
“deconstruct” a restaurant menu or a cookbook, please raise your
hand. Mary Grabar must have the last word in this part of the column:
And, finally, the Food Studies
Caucus of the American Studies Association will hold several panels at its
meeting, mostly on political topics, like “Food, Debt, and the
Anti-Capitalist Imagination” and “How the Other Half Eats: Race and
Food Reform from the Slaughterhouse to the White House.”
“Food studies” has
become an academic growth area, adding to the deterioration of the humanties,
and to the advancement of left ideologies. No doubt our universities will e
producing many more “scholars” investigating all aspects of food:
food and race, food and capitalism, food and gender, etc.  But we will have few graduates familiar with
literary and philosophical masterpieces. Fewer will be able to produce good
writing – or real food.
I went to one of
Grabar’s links to scan the ist of papers being presented at the Fourth International
Conference on Food Studies. Here are the titles of some of the hundred-plus
accepted “scholarly” papers for individual presentations, in
sessions, panels, and colloquia:
The
Food-water-energy Nexus in China

(I’m sure Michelle Obama and her hefty entourage will be looking into this
problem during her upcoming taxpayer-financed trip to China, and return with
even more declarations of how Americans should eat.)
Butchers, Cooks, and
Restaurateurs: Gendered Food Cultures in the US and the UK
Mafia and Italian
Food Supply Chain: How Criminal Power Affects Our Food
Eating in Bed:
Food, Love and Marriage in Dakar, Senegal
The Latino Way Food
Guide
Feminist Ethics and
Food Policy
Not Just the Individual,
Not Just Supermarkets: Understanding the Ecology of Urban Foodscapes
“Good”
Food as Family Medicine: Problems with Dualist and Absolutist Approaches to
“Healthy” Family Foodways
Eating Habits and
Food Strategies among Airline Cabin Attendants in Scandinavia
A Body Political
Approach to Eating
I did not make up
these titles. See the link under “Immanuel
Kant, Cuisine, Fine Art
” in Grabar’s article. The last paper has a gem
of a revealing description:
This paper establishes a
conceptual understanding of changing eating cultures in the context of food
abundance. It draws on Foucauldian biopolitics as well as concepts of body
politics originating in feminist research and integrates these with a
phenomenological perspective of food and eating as embodiment. Drawing on the
scant literature that explicitely [sic] focuses on the nexus of food and body,
the proposed theory-driven paper suggests a micro-macro framework for the
analysis of eating disorders and food anxieties in the context of growing
global food abundance and the booming beauty industry.
Yes,
Virginia, there really are college courses on the oppressive beauty industry.
In
Dr. Strangelove, the versatile
Sterling Hayden plays Brigadier General Jack Ripper, an Air Force base
commander who launches a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union because he
imagines his sexual impotency is caused by a Soviet conspiracy to fluoridate
America’s drinking water. He had nothing over the creators of these food study
courses and “scholarly” papers. Imagine the state of civilization
today had Plato and Aristotle abandoned the problem of universals and the
nature of reality and the character of a perfect man for attaching
philosophical, political, and social significance to whether one preferred
wheat or barley bread with one’s sausage or fish, and how sitting or reclining
while eating changed the course of history.
Anyway,
I let my imagination have free rein to invent the titles of these course
proposals in today’s academies. Chances are that a Food Studies curricula
committee wouldn’t grasp that I was – shall I say? – funnin’ them.
“The Role of Food Vendors in
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.”
“Sushi Skills under the Sun
King.”
“The Role of Consumables in A Tale of Two Cities.”
“Chop! Chop! The Benihana
Phenomenon in American Cuisine.”
“Privileged Palates: Eating
the Rich in Exclusive Clubs. How White Privilege Discriminates Against the
Tasteless in American Culture.”
“Custer and Sitting Bull:
How Their Lunches Determined the Outcome of Little Big Horn.”  
“Alice Walker: Culinary
Subtexts in The Color Purple.”
“Toni Morrison: The White
Whipped Cream Beneath Black Patronage.”
An extra credit paper on Bill
Ayers’s seminal essay, “Langston Hughes: A Kommie in the Kitchen, Resistin’
White Folks’ Ways of Cookin’.”
Master’s thesis for allied Cultural
Comics Studies: “Interspecies Racism: Discuss how Disney was able to
reconcile the tautological problem of Goofy, a black, clothed talking, bipod dog,
having a blonde, non-talking, quadruped dog, Pluto, as an exploited pet, and
the differences in their eating preferences.”
Master’s thesis for allied Cultural
Comics Studies: “How Popeye’s spinach is a subliminal allegory for
capitalist money, which gives Popeye distorted super powers to oppress Bluto,
who represents minorities and latent but negatively portrayed homosexual
tendencies. Integrate a discussion of the anorexia of Olive Oyl, postulate
Popeye’s libidinous attraction to her, and examine her diet- and gender-driven
fear of and hostility to Bluto.”
“The Symbiotic and the
Idiotic in American Eating Habits.”
“Hannibal Lecter and The Silence of the Lambs: The Apex of
Capitalist Epicureanism.”
“George Orwell’s Fable, Animal Farm: A Study in Vegan Political
Action.”
“Taco Bell, Chipotle,
and Cultural Imperialism: The Americanization of Mexican Cuisine.”
“Child’s Play: Eggs Julia
and Elitist White Culinary Imaging in Mass Media.”
“Smörgåsbords,
Open Buffets, and Head Shots: The Popular Opiate of Zombie Cinema, from The
Walking Dead
to 28 Days Later. Explicate the Pioneering Social
Justice Vision of George Romero and the common subtextual conflicts present in
this genre.”
“The
Yoke is on You: Corporate Agribusiness’s War on Free-Range Fowls.”

I
ask you: Are any of my proposals any less ludicrous than the ones accepted by the
Fourth International Conference on Food Studies, or what can be found in many
university course catalogues? The only difference between the real things and
the satirical ones is that mine aren’t funded with government grants.
Bon
Appétit!