Sociology of Food

Discipline: Sociology
Instructor: Camacho
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 0800
End: 0915
Field Work: Day 6 - Monday, 30 March | South Africa Download Syllabus

From a sociological perspective, food marks social difference. Food strengthens social bonds and signifies information about our identities, habits, taboos, and culinary heritage.  This class will cross-culturally examine the social, symbolic and political-economic roles of food, including production, distribution and consumption. We will examine the meanings of food, eating, and manners across cultures.  From a political-economic perspective, we will contrast inequalities in the localization and globalization of food, considering how small-scale, diversified systems of farming change.  We will theorize what sociologists call, “McDonaldization” processes of food production and distribution, and contrast these by examining cases in ports.  Finally, we will explore food trends, politics and social movements as they relate to social identities, including differences of class, gender, religion, race, and ethnicity.

Field Work

Country: South Africa
Day: 6 - Monday, 30 March

This field lab provides an overview on urban food insecurities as these relate to poverty and urbanization in Southern Africa.  We will learn about food vulnerability debates, food security, and managing urban food systems.  This field lab also provides insights about cultural identity, through the lens of food, specific to Xhosa people.  We will explore how meanings of identity and food are intertwined. We begin our day with a discussion led by a local professor. Next  we will travel to the Gugulethu Township. At Gugulethu Township, students will meet local ‘mamas’ who will teach us about their cuisine, show us the various ingredients important in Xhosa cuisine, and explain the cultural significance of certain foods.  For example, the staple food among Xhosa people is umngqusho, made from cracked maize and beans.  Students will have an opportunity to discuss the effects of colonialism on their food, as well as the importance of food as it relates to ethnic identity.  We will discuss dishes made with ingredients that they have grown, and contrast these with food prepared with imported ingredients.  We will also ask them about how global food markets affect their diets. Under their supervision, we will help in preparing the food and then consume these Xhosa dishes for lunch. Our day will conclude with a visit to Mzoli’s, also in Gugulethu Township.  In this open food market we will observe how food is distributed and served, and study social relations as they relate to service work, space, food consumption, and identities.   Students will have the opportunity to purchase a fresh beverage or snack, and sit and talk with market patrons. Academic Objectives:

  1. To enhance students’ awareness of urban food insecurities as these relate to poverty and urbanization in Southern Africa.
  2. To examine the case of Xhosa cuisine to understand how food relates to identity, class and gender
  3. To practice ethnographic skills and sociological research methods, such as participant-observation and informal interviewing, in an open market.