Emergence and Repetition: Teaching Food and Culture Using a Foods Lab

Amy Trubek, Cynthia Belliveau


For almost a decade, a small group of teachers and hundreds of students at the University of Vermont have been involved in building an innovative pedagogy that combines learning about food (and associated issues) with learning how to cook. ‘Innovative’ might sound presumptuous, given the history

of home economics courses in primary, secondary and post‐secondary American education since the early 20th century. However, our pedagogy, developed in a former home economics kitchen/classroom, integrates more recent theories as to the merits of experiential education, thus moving beyond the didactic instruction typical of home economics courses over the past fifty years. We have created a

learning environment in the kitchen/classroom that more easily fits into a continuum between service learning, study abroad, and the newer ‘maker spaces’ now popular in business and engineering programs.


The pedagogy for this Food and Culture course involves the clear, constant, and consistent integration of thematic concepts (most consistently from anthropology, environmental studies, and food science) with a set of skills that enables students to develop a ‘trained practice,’ or an embodied form of knowledge. This pedagogy allows for an enactment of a complete experience that is often difficult to sustain in the traditional organization of higher education. One important consequence of integrating the learning, cooking, and eating of food lies in the creation of a community through shared practices and commensality. Making and eating food together enhances learning, certainly by allowing a more complete engagement but also by creating or recreating familial spaces that are often missing in students’ everyday lives. After teaching Food and Culture for many years and instructing hundreds of students, the time has come to figure out just what is so unique and important about what happens in foods lab. Why is the transformation of a student into a cook so pedagogically powerful? Why do we, as teachers, have such a sense of satisfaction at the end of each course, with strong student engagement, excellent assessments and clear group cohesion? Finally, is there a larger potential for this approach, beyond The University of Vermont, involving courses other than Food and Culture? We explore these questions, individually and as a group, in this essay.


classroom and laboratory; experiential learning framework; content through action; transformation through commensality, cultivating student agency, social relationships and concept mastery; pedagogical tools

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