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Food for Thought: The Culture of Cuisine in Modern France

TuTh 12:30–1:45pm, Wilson 128, Prof. Jessica Tanner (

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, from Michelin’s stars to UNESCO’s 2010 recognition of “The gastronomic meal of the French,” 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 cultures of French cuisine and trace their evolution over the past three centuries, in response to historical, geopolitical, and demographic changes and in relation to other food cultures. We will also examine the myth(s) of French cuisine, within and outside France, and consider what how we eat (and how we talk about eating) can teach us about the ethics and politics of living together. Throughout the course, we will approach the study of food and cuisine as an interdisciplinary epistemology or “way of knowing.” Using methods drawn from critical food studies and cultural studies to guide our inquiry, we will explore themes including identity, borders, and immigration; capitalism and nationalism; colonialism and decolonization; the ethics and politics of production, consumption, and diet; tradition, innovation, and globalization; race, gender, and class; climate and waste; and the relationship between the individual and the community. Course materials will include films and television shows; selections from 19th-21st-century novelists, gastronomes, historians, critics, chefs, and philosophers; historical menus, recipes, and images; blogs and restaurant guides. Assignments will include original research, analytical writing, creative projects, collaborative cooking, and excursions to local French/Francophone food establishments. Course taught in English.

Target Audience: FREN 186 is open to all undergraduate students who want to learn more about historical and contemporary food cultures in France and the French-speaking world. Prerequisites: None.

IDEAs in Action Gen Ed Focus Capacities: Aesthetic and Interpretive Analysis (FC-AESTH).

Making Connections Gen Ed: Literary Arts (LA); North Atlantic World (NA).