The Origins of Yucky and Yummy

The Anthropology of Food and Eating

Dr. Barbara Butler

Fueling our bodies is but a small part of what people seek when we choose our food.  Not only do we not eat all that provides nutrition, but enthusiastically eat things that are not nutritious.  We also imbue what we eat with meanings that go way beyond providing fuel for our bodies.  Complex conversations about status, ethnic affiliation, family values, gender and transcendent truths are carried on when we choose, cook and eat food.  Why don’t Hindus eat beef or Jews eat lobster or Americans eat horse? How did caviar come to signify prestige?

This course will explore the interactions between the biological dimensions of human food and the cultural elaborations and constraints on what and how we eat.  Our reading will include a collection of articles, some of which engage controversial topics, which should ensure lively discussions in class.  A highlight of the course is our snack time, when we share our culinary cultural backgrounds with each other.

Thursdays, April 5 through May 24,  11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Norman Williams Library (First floor)

Dr. Barbara Butler grew up in Durham, New Hampshire and now lives in Woodstock.  She retired in 2007 as a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.   Her main research focused on indigenous Andean peoples.  In 2006, thirty years of involvement in an Ecuadorian indigenous community resulted in the publication of Holy Intoxication to Drunken Dissipation, an examination of change through the lens of drinking rituals.  A food lover herself, Barbara finds the study of food and eating endlessly fascinating.  This course has been very popular when taught for OSHER at Dartmouth.