The University of Mississippi’s Southern Studies program is impacting how food is incorporated into education.
Catarina Passidomo, a Southern Foodways Alliance associate professor of Southern studies and associate professor of anthropology, hopes that her classes teach students to think critically about food’s impact on society.
“Most of my classes involve teaching about food in some way,” Passidomo said. “In Southern studies, I teach a 100-level class about the South and food which is being offered this spring. I also teach a 500-level class called Southern Food Studies. In both classes we’re talking about how food and agriculture have shaped the South and thinking about how we can understand Southern history, identity and culture through food and through the way people talk, write and think about food.”
Passidomo is teaching a winter intersession class called “From Field to Fork: The Connections Between Food and Place” in which students will travel to New Orleans. These classes help expand the students’ minds to all aspects of food.
“A lot of ideas people have around food are just about consuming it, so we try to think about food systemically as a complicated chain of events that all involve people,” Passidomo said.
Food has an impact much further than its taste, Passidomo said, but our society and communities are heavily impacted by the profit being made off of it
“The primary thing we teach in that class is that the primary function of contemporary global food systems is not to feed people but to make a profit. That’s why even though we produce enough in the world for everyone to eat sufficiently and healthily, more than a million people are hungry or malnourished or both. This is because the system was designed to generate profit for corporations and not to feed people,” Passidomo said.
Students in Passidomo’s “Food, Place and Power” class are producing an oral history project with the community market. They are interviewing vendors, primarily farmers, some of whom are also bakers to learn about an alternative food system.
The Southern Studies program at the university drives to challenge the idea of the South and remove preconceived notions about the region.
“We are interested in complicating narratives about the South and how the South is not a region set apart from the country but is reflective of the rest of the country and the most American place for better and for worse,” Passidomo said.
The future is bright for programs like Southern studies and anthropology and their food focuses here at the university. Southern Foodways Alliance raised money to support hiring instructors to teach food studies and has made a positive impact on the university.
“Our degree has grown a lot because we’re now a part of the academic common market so students from a few other states can get in-state tuition if they major in Southern studies. So that means we have a lot of new majors. The amount of people who are interested in studying food seems to be growing,” Passidomo said.
While the future is bright for programs like Southern studies that focus on food closely in their classes, there is also hope for more diverse programs to begin incorporating this study as well.
“There are a lot of possibilities for food and other educational programs. We have a food policy class within public policy leadership, and food studies minor housed in nutrition and dietetics. There are also ways to think about food from a historical perspective. People are even studying food through social media and other virtual spaces,” Passidomo said.