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Finding Out Why Food Matters

UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center Focuses on the Culture of Food


Reflecting the mounting crises concerning food in the world, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) at UC Santa Barbara is hosting a 2008-2009 series called “Food Matters,” which will focus on examining the current ideas and issues involving food in regional, national, and international contexts. Working together with several departments on campus (anthropology, art history, and Chicano studies, for example), the IHC hopes the series will provide the public with a broadened view on food and its place in society from several varying perspectives.

Arranging the series is Emily Zinn, a lecturer in the English department, and the head programmer for IHC events. “Food touches so many different fields,” explained Zinn about why food is an extremely significant topic of discussion for the IHC. “It makes links between humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and art, just to name a few.”

Not only is food a critical connector between groups, both academically and culturally, but it is also at the forefront of world hazard. Globally, the food crisis has reached an alarming peak. With prices of wheat, rice, and soy rising so drastically, it is little wonder why the IHC would want to bring food to the foreground of public awareness and discussion.

Brian Fagan
Click to enlarge photo

Leslie Newhart

Brian Fagan

And it’s important on the micro-level too, stressed Zinn. “We are hooking up with regional farmers,” she explained, “to take notice of food sustainability on a local level.” The IHC is also taking a closer look at campus eating, and the diet and nutrition of students will play a role in the series as well. Perhaps the IHC will survey the students on how many Freebirds’ burritos are consumed per week in Isla Vista.

Kicking off the series is emeritus professor Brian Fagan‘s lecture “In Cod We Trust,” which happens on Wednesday, October 29, at 4 p.m. in the McCune Conference Room. Fagan will be discussing many topics that can also be found in his latest best-selling book Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World.

Other events include an October 30, 5:30 p.m. screening of the film Food for the Ancestors, based on the celebration of Day of the Dead in Chicano culture, and a roundtable discussion on November 13, 4 p.m., about the global food crisis featuring John Schnittker, the former undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

For a full schedule, see the IHC’s “Food Matters” Web site. Zinn urges the public to attend as many Food Matters events as possible. All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted on the Web site.

Chanti Burnette is an Independent intern.

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