As we approach Mother’s Day this weekend, I’m thinking of one thing: food. The most immediate reason is a practical one. I invited my mom over for brunch on Sunday, and I haven’t yet decided what to make. (If anyone out there has a recipe for a killer brunch item, please share.) But I’ve also been ruminating about the place of food in women’s history generally and in our family’s history in particular.
Food is a commodity that interests everybody on one level or another, but a chance encounter last week inspired me to look at it from a less personal and more global viewpoint. The encounter was with Professor Maria Trumpler, who teaches a course titled “Women, Food, and Culture” at Yale. The course is an interdisciplinary exploration of food production, preparation, and consumption, covering everything from the history of dieting in the United States, to home economics as a feminist pursuit, to the evolution of kitchen design. It’s just one sign that the field of food studies is booming as our current eating habits and food supply are subject to new scrutiny and concern. Food studies is a subject you can really sink your teeth into, pun regrettably intended. In the last year alone, academic books have been published on the development of the grocery store in the 20th century, African-American women who served as cooks in the South from 1865 to 1960, and how women today are helping to shape the sustainable food industry, among other topics. Later this year, Berg Publishers, which already publishes the journal, Food, Culture & Society, will come out with A Cultural History of Food, a six-volume compendium.
Our memories of food are at the core of who we are. Familiar tastes and smells can be powerful reminders of a distant place or a time gone by and help us remember people who are no longer with us. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to bring my enthusiasm for the topic to the printed page. In the meantime, Happy Mother's Day to my mom and all the other moms out there. Bon appétit!