New Horizons: Spring undergraduate course “Food and Power” at KAIST STP

While the idea for this blog is quite old, the blog itself never really got off the ground. However, this Spring I’m pleased to say that I’ll be teaching an undergraduate course at KAIST Science & Technology Policy (STP) on “Food and Power”, and I’m using that as an excuse to reboot the blog around the topics of the class.

I’m here at KAIST STP on a two-year postdoc, which started last September, and it has been a wonderful environment to take my training in Science and Technology Studies and apply it to policy issues of concern in East Asia. The idea behind how I’ve organized this “Food and Power” class is to take many of the most salient political issues in food and agriculture today (e.g. GM foods, food security, nutritionism, industrial versus natural foods, vegetarianism, locavorism), and examine them using a variety of social science and humanities analytic tools, to consider the intersection of science and technology with human values. (That was a mouthful!)

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Couldn’t resist including this book. For Westerners, nothing’s more Asian than noodles. But for food studies, it makes for an interesting case study on global, industrial food.

Teaching a food course in a foreign country is always fun, since food is an easy topic with which to get students to talk about their own culture and what makes it like or unlike other cultures. Everybody eats, so everybody has something to say. Plus, you get a lot of great recipes, and food and dining recommendations! One of my principal challenges was how to adapt the syllabus to a Korean context. Some decisions were easy – include readings on instant noodles and globalization, or the mad cow debate, which prompted a historic 2008 public protest in Korea. Some reflect my own provocations – a reading on eating insects by an American, since I’m curious what my students will think about Westerners’ views of how Asians eat insects, like silk worms as street food (“Beondegi”) in Korea. And some choices would surprise outsiders, but not Koreans – like an entire week on coffee culture, because coffee is BIG right now in Korea.

The real experiment and innovation in my class, however, aren’t the readings, but rather the assignments. I decided I’m a little bored with the standard humanities requirement of a term paper. Instead, I’ve developed a series of projects intended to push students to see the ways that food and food politics surface in everyday life. Here are the assignment ideas that are “works in progress” for this Spring course:

  • Keep a food diary for one week (take pictures of the food you eat with your mobile phone; note time of day) —> calculate total daily calorie intake. We’ll hold a class discussion, reviewing people’s most representative (normal) food/meal versus most special (unusual) food experience? After class discussion: fill out a follow-up survey and write up your experience in this experiment.
  • Interview a food prep person (i.e. cafeteria, parent, restaurant) about their daily challenges in preparing a menu, including consideration of routine versus special meal occasions, as well as balancing cost versus taste and healthiness.
  • GM food profile: Research a specific genetically modified food. Write a short statement of what the public should know about your particular GM food. Bring it to class with some notes on your specific example: how it was made, and the pros & cons of its use.
  •  Final project, one of the following:
    1) Evocative food/eating/agriculture/cooking object essay: Inspired by Sherry Turkle’s book, Evocative Objects: “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.” Pick a food-related object and write a 5-page essay about it considering both its emotional, subjective significance and the political, cultural contexts that shape it.
    2) A food blog: maintain a food blog during the course, discussing issues raised in the class or in the news, linking them to your own opinions or experiences.
    [I plan to run my blog during the course, as a model for the students.]
    3) A documentary short: a 5-10 minute edited video that describes some food-related issue using visual materials and (if needed) interviews.

I’ll report back to you about how the class projects work out. And I welcome your thoughts on interactive teaching projects you’ve developed for food or STS classes, to move beyond the standard research paper. Share your experiences here!

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One thought on “New Horizons: Spring undergraduate course “Food and Power” at KAIST STP

  1. Pingback: Food and Power, an online course | Comedo Ergo Sum

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