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Student symposium analyzes food cultures

Panelists analyze food in society

Photo: Symposium studies food cultures (Melissa Key)
Caitlin Nettleton, a UNC sophomore anthropology student, speaks about the Edible Women in Atwood and Flaubert at Friday's first annual food cultures student symposium. She was involved in the 9am Conversation about Women and Food.

Food fed more than just stomachs Friday.

Inside Hyde Hall at “Food Cultures: First Annual Student Food Symposium,” it nourished a desire to frame a range of complicated issues around a common theme.

“Food is a metaphor,” said sophomore panelist Caitlin Nettleton. “Food is in so many things that we do, so if we look through the lens of food, we can look at other cultural phenomena.”

In her presentation, Nettleton said it is important to understand food’s role throughout history.

“I think food culture is important because, especially in the U.S., we’ve become divorced from the production and source of food,” said Nettleton, who won best undergraduate presentation at the event.

One attendee, sophomore Jamie Berger, said she is in the process of proposing a food studies major at UNC.

“I love food,” she said. “I’m a complete foodie.”

Many panelists began their discussions using excerpts from various types of literature.

Jessica Martell, a Ph.D. student studying English, talked about a scene from “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” revolving around dairy products.

Martell used the scene, in which a dairy farmer wonders what strangers will drink her cow’s milk, to discuss locavorism, a movement to eat local food.

“What better way to start a symposium than to start with butter,” Martell said.

Martell teaches food-themed introductory writing courses at the University.

She said cooking is a good way to mature and become independent.

“I love teaching food-related courses because it’s a nice transition into the adult world,” she said, adding that some students are deterred by the lack of resources to cook their own meals.

Panelists covered a wide array of topics ranging from women and food to depictions of food in popular culture.

Freshman panelist Austin Cooper talked about the distinction between a cook and a chef, and how gender distinctions in cooking affect the way we see food.

“A cook is one whose occupation is the preparations of food for the table,” he said.

“A chef is the man who presides over the kitchen of a large household.”

Sophomore Nina Bryce, the event’s student coordinator, said holding an event like this allows for discussions on food culture to expand.

“The American experience of food is very compartmentalized,” Bryce said.

“There’s nutrition and weight loss and there are environmental issues and ethnic cultures. The areas don’t really communicate with each other.”

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Inger Brodey, a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, said she was inspired to hold the symposium after seeing her students’ research — and the burst of interest in food culture.

Brodey coordinated the symposium with American studies professor Marcie Cohen Ferris.

“Food culture is important in liberal arts,” Brodey said.

“It’s a basic human desire that everyone can relate to.”

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