The University Record, September 17, 1996

Theme semester on food features full course menu

The University's theme semester on food features public lectures, an international conference, food films, exhibits and catering by local ethnic restaurants.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services


The U-M is offering an intellectual feast this fall intended to stimulate fresh thinking about food and global history. The feast, which includes U-M courses, public lectures, an international conference, food films, exhibits and catering by local ethnic restaurants, comes packaged in this year's theme semester, "Food in Global History."

Raymond Grew, professor of history and editor of the international quarterly Comparative Studies in Society and History, notes that "as far as we know, the Food Semester is a unique scholarly event in terms of its scale and variety. No one has ever assembled so many food scholars from such a variety of disciplines for a project of this nature. We expect to discover and share some intriguing new insights on ways, through food, of studying interconnections among societies. We also expect to achieve some new insights into history seen globally."

U-M theme semesters, which are interdisciplinary, focus on a general problem that human beings have confronted throughout history and will face well into the future. The theme semesters integrate undergraduate classes, public lectures by renowned scholars, films and exhibits.

Prior theme semesters have included "The Comedy Semester," "The Theory and Practice of Evil," "Death, Extinction, and the Future of Humanity: Approaching the Millenium," and "The Americas: Beyond 1492."

Grew, who, with colleagues, organized the food theme semester, says that the study of food throughout global history is terribley complex and rich because it has social, psychological, cultural, economic, health and religious effects that evolve throughout time.

"There have been strict rules about who can and cannot eat what foods, and where and when," he explains, "and those rules define who we are, how we behave and how we survive, economically as well as physically."

Nations even demark their identities with food, according to Grew. "For instance, when India and Italy formed themselves into nations, writers developed cookbooks that drew from regional cuisines but found ways to define them as part of a single national cuisine.

"Similarly, the Japanese cannot imagine that rice from any other nation could be as good as theirs, because their rice is so fundamentally connected to their land, history and culture.

"We expect to have a great deal of fun with this topic," he adds, "while trying to stimulate some fresh thinking about global history."

The public is invited to a series of eight free lectures that will be followed by receptions catered by the Blue Nile, Zingerman's, Mr. Rib, the Ayse Restaurant and the Kana restaurant. All the lectures will be at 4 p.m. in the East Conference Room, Rackham Building, except the the first one by Jan Longone. The lecture schedule is:


Sept. 19: Food historian Jan Longone on "American Cookery: The Bicentennial, 1796-1996," at the Clements Library.


Sept. 24: Professor of Nutrition Adam Drewnowski on "Starving Among Plenty: Dieting and Body Image in Contemporary Society."


Oct. 1: Professor of History Paolo Squatriti on "Dark Age Gastronomics: The Barbarian at the Table."


Oct. 15: U-M Professor of English Rafia Zafar on "Cooking Up a Past: Two African-American Culinary Narratives."


Oct. 29: University of London Professor of History Rebecca Spang on "Cookery as Patrimony: Defining Frenchness."


Nov. 12: Professor of Anthropology Richard Ford on "Native American and Colonial European Food Exchange."


Nov. 19: Frances and Joseph Gies on "International Cuisine in the High Middle Ages."


Dec. 3: Professor of Chemistry Daniel Longone on "Men and Their Wines: Madeira Wine Traditions in Early America."

The Food Semester also will include 13 undergraduate courses on a variety of topics, including food in literature; food, culture and nationalism; therapeutic nutrition; eating disorders; nutrition and evolution; and edible and "drinkable" wild plants.

Additionally, an international conference, "Food in Global History," to be held Oct. 25-27 in the Rackham Building, will feature 30 scholars discussing the contemporary reshaping of the human diet, processes of change in food systems, cross-cultural aspects of food, food rituals and social barriers related to food.

Some conference highlights include Claude Fischler of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Paris, presenting "The `Mad Cow' Crisis: A Global Perspective"; Elisabet Helsing of World Health Organization-Europe discussing "Food and Nutrition Trends East and West"; Professor of Classics John D'Arms speaking on "Ancient Roman Spectacle and the Banquets of the Powerful"; and Raymond Sokolov of the Wall Street Journal discussing "The Human Foodstuff Database: What It Is; Why We Need One."

The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor also will screen free food-oriented films at 5 p.m. on Fridays. The films will be:


Oct. 11: "Tampopo"


Oct. 18: "Babette's Feast"


Oct. 25: "Like Water for Chocolate"


Nov. 1: "Eat Drink Man Woman"


Nov. 8: "Delicatessen"


Nov. 15: "Ermitai"


Dec. 13: "Frenzy"

The Graduate Library, the Clements Library, the Kelsey Museum and the Museum of Art also are also mounting exhibits of cookbooks, artworks and archeological artifacts featuring food.

For information, call Raymond Grew or James Schaefer, 764-6362, or send e-mail to