February 22, 2002
Cooking class serves cultureAs a liberal arts college, Susquehanna is mandated by tradition to offer courses in disciplines such as mathematics, philosophy and science. While well-grounded in tradition, the school's professors also attempt to be on the forefront of education. Conceived and pioneered by two Susquehanna professors, the class history and culture of Jewish cuisine, represents just such an effort.
Taught by two professors, Laurence Roth, assistant professor of ethnic literature and Jewish studies and Shari Jacobson, assistant professor of anthropology, history and culture of Jewish cuisine examines the Jewish culture in a rather unique fashion.
Instead of studying the culture and history of the Jewish people strictly through texts, the class uses the study of food in combination with these more traditional methods.
The course aims to answer questions such as, "What makes something taste Jewish?" and "What is Jewish cuisine and how does it differ from other cuisines?"
The class takes two trips throughout the duration of the course.
Their first trip is to the Empire Kosher plant in Mifflinburg. The class will tour the kosher slaughterhouse and packaging plant to witness first hand the difference between kosher slaughterhouses and secular ones they studies in the classroom.
The second trip is to New York City. Featured by New York's Jewish Week, this "taste tour" will take students from the city's lower east side, home of the orthodox Jewry, to the Jewish museum in northern Manhattan. The day will end at a kosher restaurant of the students' choice.
According to Roth, while the course focuses specifically on Jewish cuisine and culture, the lessons learned are far broader.
"Students learn to relate food to culture," Roth said.
While students participating in the course learn about traditional Jewish foods, their final project is not necessarily oriented toward Jewish culture or Jewish cuisine. As a culmination of their studies, the class's final assignment is to compile a cookbook and examine the recipes in the same way they examined the various Jewish dishes throughout the course. These recipes need not be Jewish and, in fact, students are pushed to choose dishes from their own cultural background.
Freshman David Finney said, "To me this course represents a brilliant new initiative on the part of Susquehanna's professors and administration."
Freshman Tom Bishop said, "I think it's an attractive course, definitely sounds more diverting than chemistry."
On the uniqueness of history and culture of Jewish cuisine, Roth said, "We step out of the college and into the real world to look at America."
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