Food, Politics and French Lit
Who would have thought that what we eat could reveal so much about our philosophies and the social issues affecting our country today? Students in the class Eating Ideologies in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century France, a combination of a French literature seminar and senior capstone class for French majors, learned just that last fall.
Alumna Sylvia Grove taught the class while serving as a visiting assistant professor during Associate Professor of French Lynn Palermo’s sabbatical leave. Grove, who graduated from Susquehanna in 2007 with a double major in French and creative writing and holds a master’s degree in French literature, used food scenes in 21st-century French literature to have students analyze the ways in which power, racism and national unity are formed-in part, by how people eat and how people write about what they eat.
As part of the class, students read three novels written by authors of the French-speaking countries of Morocco, Algeria and Cameroon who now live in France. Their political, social and racial divides are much like those in the United States today, Grove says.
In light of this, Grove had her students do an “off-syllabus” assignment. She asked her class to write op-eds in English (the class is typically taught and spoken in French) about the political relationship between Thanksgiving and the 2016 presidential election. A handful of the students went on to have their op-eds published on The New Food Economy blog on Election Day.
Natalie Ciabattoni ’17, a French and philosophy major whose article In Praise of the Symbolic Plate was one of the op-eds published on the blog site, says she “never considered food and eating ideologies as a form of social and political critique. Being able to not only conceptualize these ideas but to communicate them in French has been a very rewarding experience.”
For a portion of their final exam, the students had a potluck dinner with dishes from different regions of the French-speaking world. During the meal, students described the dishes they brought to the table and how they were made, and their significance to the French literature they read in class.