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Anthropology of Life in the United States

Full Name

Audrey C. Cooper

Course Name

Anthropology of Life in the U.S.: Food and Justice (UCL)

Course Number

ANTH 150-080UC

Describe your course. What will the students be studying and learning?

In this course we look at how race, gender, class, ethnicity, age, and region affect experiences of interwoven historical, economic, political, scientific, religious, and cultural processes of people living in the United States. This is guided by a focus on food, particularly diverse individual and group experiences of food production and consumption, and forces promoting or limiting access to food. Concentrating on the ways power, social inequality, and creativity shape people’s uses of food, we will consider questions such as: Where does the food that we eat come from? By whom, how, and where is it produced? What socio-cultural arrangements connect the growing, preparing, marketing, selling, sharing, eating, and displaying of food? How do food “identities” shape our experience? What can we learn by looking at community responses to such things as: Agro-Business and genetically modified food, contamination of waterways, local family farming and urban gardens, food movements, food-centered activism, food “deserts” and “silos,” and changes to community food options as a result of gentrification?

Why would a first-year student want to take this course? Discuss its uniqueness as part of the University College, your teaching style, and any special opportunities the students may have.

Whether you identify as a “foodie,” a food activist, or see food as the way to satisfy a biological necessity, you are engaged in a rich interplay of interpersonal, cultural, economic and political relationships. Taking food as the jumping off point for anthropological exploration of the relationships between food and justice, as a first-year student you will have the opportunity to: 1) reflect on the basis of your own food-related values, knowledge and experience and put these into critical context of others’ diverse experiences; and, 2) get first-hand experience applying anthropological methods with an organization in Washington, D.C. that works on food access and nutrition issues. The class is structured in seminar style to encourage dialogue and interaction, and also involves participation in experiential activities and films. Lab sections include: exploring the cookbook and garden collections at Library of Congress’s Science, Technology and Business Section; visiting a local bee apiary; seeing several museum exhibits; visiting new food spaces, such as the Union Market in Northeast D.C.; visiting a local organic farm; examining food availability in Adams-Morgan; and participating in a hunger workshop given by the Capital Area Food Bank. Designed to be both fun and critically engaging, this course provides activities for you to develop an understanding of anthropological foundations and approaches, get to know the greater metropolitan D.C. area, and deepen your appreciation for the power of food.

What do you like best about teaching first-year students?

I particularly enjoy seeing the diversity of individual backgrounds and perspectives coming together for the first time--and the ways first year students use experiences "back home" to reflect on new experiences at American University and in Washington, D.C. Working with first-year students has deepened my appreciation for the usefulness of anthropology in understanding human experience.

Meet the Professor