Admission to the course is by application.
Food is a biological essential for humans, but one that has been elaborated and transformed in many ways through history, and given a variety of cultural signatures. This course will consider food from a variety of perspectives. In doing so, it will emphasize how food can only be understood when examined from the point of view of different disciplines. It will also serve as a medium for promoting critical thinking and quantitative skills, particularly through exercises in data collection, basic statistics and interpretation of results. Topics considered will include: the measurement, origin and development of human food preferences; the history of food production (particularly agriculture and domestication) in humans; basic human nutrition; taste, smell and flavor; the cultural history of specific foods, including meat, milk, chocolate, chili pepper, tomatoes, potatoes and corn; the function of food in daily life in a range of cultures including hunter-gatherers, and contemporary India, France and the USA; famine and the modern food distribution system; the cultural evolution of cuisine; food marketing; the epidemiological revolution and its effect on the diet-health link and the way people think about food and health; basic statistics and the evaluation of clinical trials and other forms of evidence for a link between diet and health; food fads; the challenge of nutrition and food choice in American inner cities; developed world concerns about long term effects of diet; attitudes to natural foods and genetic engineering; the regulation of food intake; body image, obesity and eating disorders; aspects of the politics and economics of food; evaluation of how food functions as a symbol; ambivalence to food;, the emotion of disgust; and vegetarianism. Some readings will be from secondary sources, and some will be original empirical articles from the diet-health, historical, psychological, and anthropological literature. We will also do some readings from best-selling books.
Each year there is a class research project. This year, the subject will be the gluten “fad”. As a class, we will explore the nutritional basis for avoiding gluten, psychology and marketing aspects of a food choice option that has become a major feature of the contemporary food market, and the history of this recent development in the food world. We will place the current interest in avoiding gluten in the context of food fads and avoidances in the past. The particular value of studying gluten is that the great interest in gluten is present now, so it is not merely an historical matter. This means through interviews, observations, and surveys, we can tap into a food fad as it is happening. As a background for this work, we will, as a class, study the great interest in oat bran as a preventative for heart disease (basically 1980-1990), reading some of the scientific papers, part of a best-seller, and some of the reports about oat bran in the popular media.
One of our past projects, resistance to eating insects, resulted in a published paper with one of the class students, who followed up the project in the year following the course.
The class will enjoy some relatively unfamiliar cuisines and modern cuisine via eating-out and in-class experiences. In particular, we will eat out at a Vietnamese and a Burmese restaurant. We will explore a Vietnamese food market and the Italian street market. We will try to have a meal at one of Philadelphia’s best modern restaurants, followed by a meeting with the chef. We will also experience a demonstration of molecular gastronomy for a few hours in Swarthmore.
The class will also be actively involved in a Penn related program to teach about food, cooking, cuisine, health and nutrition to middle school children in West Philadelphia. This will be under the guidance of Jarrett Stein, who directs the Penn-Philadelphia School linkage in nutrition. This involvement will include observations of school dining practices, and carrying out an exploratory project on some aspect of the project to improve nutrition and attitudes to food in West Philadelphia.
In addition to the class project, which will lead to design of a study, collection of data, analyzing it, and writing it up, the class will be engaged in about eight other projects, each of which involves handing in some writing or making a presentation to the class at a designated date. Students will also hand in occasional one paragraph commentaries of the readings for the week. Course evaluations depend on doing all of the projects with dedication and intelligence, and handing in the commentary paragraphs. The load is intentionally rather light in the last few weeks of the course, when exams in other courses tend to have highest priority.
Paul Rozin (Professor)
Matthew Ruby (post-doctoral fellow in cultural psychology)
Naomi Arbit (graduate student in nutrition and psychology)
Permits will be issued for students who are accepted into the course.
In case of any questions about the application process, please email Matthew Ruby (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please fill out this Google form if you wish to apply for a slot in Psychology 070: