Food for Thought: The Culture of Cuisine in Modern France

“The destiny of nations depends on how they feed themselves,” according to noted 19th-century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin, and indeed, France’s place in the popular imaginary has long been a function of its food culture. From the invention of the restaurant to the development of gastronomy as an art form and a cultural institution, from Michelin’s consecration of celebrity chefs to UNESCO’s 2010 inscription of “The gastronomic meal of the French” on the list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” France’s is a culture that not only gathers around the table but where, to quote Gertrude Stein, “they talk about talking about eating.”

In this course, we will explore the history and development of French food culture both within and outside of France, taking food as a “total social phenomenon” (Mauss) and a lens through which to explore several interrelated themes: national identity, immigration, power, the politics of food production and consumption, terroir and cultural specificity, tradition and innovation, sociability and civility, gender and gastronomy, the market, and excess and lack. The course has two major axes of analysis: first, we will examine the culture of food by tracing the development of French cuisine and of gastronomy as a discourse, and second, we will explore the “food of culture,” or what writers and filmmakers do with food (deploying it as a metaphor for social concerns, for example). On the literary side, we will read fiction by Rouff, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, Daudet, and Nothomb; we will also watch films (by Bird, Vincent, Kechiche, Varda, and Axel), and read selections from 19th-21st-century gastronomes, food chroniclers, historians, restaurant critics, chefs, and philosophers. The course is conducted in English; readings will be available in both French (where available) and English.

Gen Ed: LA, NA.

Previously Offered:

Spring 2020