Launching VT Food Studies

After working for the past few months to lay the foundation, we officially launched the Virginia Tech Food Studies Program this past week! It has been great to usher this into the community, and begin to share some of our projects.

We’ve built a new website:

The program was profiled in a recent VT article: Introducing the flavor of community and the humanities to food studies

We have organized a series of launch events for Spring 2021:

And we have created opportunities for people to become Program Associates, Join our Listserv, Propose Courses for the Food Studies Minor.

Finally, we have set up social media accounts @VTFoodStudies on Twitter and Facebook.

Looking forward to developing this program as we move forward.

New Beginnings

After six years in Oklahoma, with a great experience and wonderful colleagues at Oklahoma State, this is my first fall semester at a new institution, kicking off a new phase at Virginia Tech. We are excited to be here, among the Appalachians, the mythical Hokie Bird mascot, kind neighbors and new friends, and the lush green of the forests all around us.

Although it’s certainly a fraught time to be starting something new–in the thick of a poorly-managed global pandemic, a deep reckoning with the racial injustice that is at the foundation of our country, climate-change-strengthened fires and hurricanes and derechos ravaging the land, and an upcoming election on which hangs the future of our nation–I am trying to remain hopeful.

I’ll be building a Food Studies program at Virginia Tech, drawing especially on the strengths of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, but also making connections across campus and throughout the community. There is so much good work already being done here, and so many new collaborations to develop, as we center food as the thing that sustains us day in and day out, and that offers such a rich intersection of pressing topics: agriculture, culture, community, labor, gender, race, class, environment, business, consumerism, taste, trust, justice, and so much more.

Here’s to new beginnings!


50th Anniversary of Earth Day

Today’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and I’m thinking a lot about what this moment means, in the light of these twin crises we find ourselves in today: COVID-19 and the climate crisis. One may feel much more pressing, much more a problem of right-now. But the other—the continuing increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the ongoing onslaught to livelihoods and environments around the world, the disregard for action that we need NOW—is just as critical, and even more so. I’ve always found the story of the first Earth Day so inspiring—the millions of people in the streets, the demonstrations across all sectors of society, the use of classrooms to educate the community. And the bipartisan action that Earth Day helped support—with the creation of the EPA, the passage of the legislation for clean air, clean water, endangered species, occupational health, and more—boggles the mind, in today’s moment of such partisan divide. But it also reminds me what is possible.

Although the actions for today’s anniversary can’t take place in the communal swell of activism in the streets, there’s still so much we can do, from our homes, as individuals connected by a common cause. And there’s a way that our communal response to COVID has heartened me, given me hope about the fight for our lives in the climate emergency, even though I often lean toward pessimism in this case. There are so many common threads. We have begun recognizing that our actions directly affect others, even if in unseen ways. We have sacrificed so much of what we consider our normal daily livelihoods in order to protect the health of (some of) the vulnerable among us. We have seen that society can upend itself almost overnight when needed. We have done all this even without the federal leadership that is most desperately needed.

I’ve said to others in all this that there’s a way in which my climate anxiety has been slightly assuaged by COVID self-quarantine because finally, finally my internal anxieties that constantly shout “How can we all keep acting like things are normal when things are not normal!?” line up with our external behavior, which is now reflecting, if for other reasons, that we must change our ways. We can stop flying, drive less, consume less, demand that our leadership pass legislation to remake our economy, stop supporting the fossil fuel industries, band together to support our communities, and transform our daily practices in all kinds of ways to accommodate low-carbon lifestyles. I am maintaining hope, and remembering those who came before. We must continue the fight.

Other ways we can take action today:

Learn and Donate at

Donate and Volunteer to the Sunrise Movement:

Learn about the history of Earth Day:

Support environmental justice groups like Indigenous Environmental Network  and Climate Justice Alliance

And food justice:


Seeking diverse contributors for an anthology about the history of food and environment

We are editing an anthology about the origins of the modern food system, focused on the period between the 1870s and 1930s. The contributors already onboard all work at the intersection of food and environmental history. The book, tentatively titled “Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food,” is part of a larger writing project that emphasizes narrative, character, and storytelling, so we especially want historians who want to work as writers. Our roster of contributors has slightly shifted since the project began, leading us to seek a few more stories. We are especially eager to highlight traditionally underrepresented perspectives on food and environment during our period of study, including but not limited to race, gender, ethnicity, or the global south. If this sounds like a good fit for your existing, ongoing, or future research, please send us a note of interest with a short overview of the proposed essay’s topic and status (no formal abstract needed at this point). This doesn’t have to be brand-new material, as adapting from existing work may be just as suitable. Please reply by March 10 at the latest, writing to the three editors (cc’ing each) at the addresses below.

Anna Zeide, Oklahoma State University,
Benjamin Cohen, Lafayette College,
Michael Kideckel, Hewitt School,

Ok, I get the idea, but now what do I eat?

This post is inspired by a question that a terrific student in my food history class recently asked me. She said, “Ok, so now that I’ve learned more about the American food system and have been recognizing how removed we are from where our food comes from, what should I do about what and how I eat? How do I make more informed consumer decisions, buy fewer processed products, eat more healthily, and have more direct engagement with producers? Where should I begin?” Here are some of my thoughts in response to that question: 

First, let me emphasize that it’s all a matter of degree. Don’t think about how to make your diet perfect tomorrow. Instead, adopt a growth mindset and think about how to head in the right direction. First learn to cook, even one or two simple plant-based, whole-food dishes at a time. A lot of my favorite meals are those you can do basically without a recipe, that work like a formula (meaning you can substitute in different vegetables/grains/sauces, depending on what you have on hand).

Image result for vegetarian salad

Some of my favorites are:

Here a few other ideas and resources to help get you started:

  • Some good blogs
  • Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap cookbook
    • Free online cookbook that shows you how to cook on $4/day, plus has lots of good tips and ideas for getting started in the kitchen
    • An NPR story on it
  • Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.
    • The whole book is worth reading, but here’s a quick version of the list.
    • Some of my favorites:
      • Cook
      • Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry, or more than 5 ingredients
      • If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
      • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves
      • Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food; and when you do eat meat, eat animals that have themselves eaten well
      • Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself
      • The banquet is in the first bite
      • Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods
      • Treat treats as treats
      • Plant a vegetable garden if you have space, a window box if you don’t
  • “10 Steps to Starting a Daily Cooking Habit” article with some decent advice
  • Take Extinction Off Your Plate Food Guide (thanks to @Maya4EJ)
    • I especially like the sandwich and smoothie guides, because even if you just do a smoothie from here every day for breakfast and a sandwich from here every day for lunch, then you’re making a big impact, and only need to think about dinner.

Some suggestions of where to find local food in Stillwater, OK:

  • Stillwater Farmers Market
    • Stillwater Center for the Arts, 1001 S. Duck St.  Saturdays only, 10 AM – 1 PM through March 31, and then 8 AM- 1 PM starting April 1. 
    • Additional Spring  & Summer  Location: Stillwater Medical Center (SMC), Located at 12th Street and Adams (1201 S Adams), from 5/1/18-9/24/18, Mondays 2:30 pm – 5 pm.
  • Bootstrap Farm CSA share
    • Sign up for a share of veggies in advance and get a delivery each week to downtown Stillwater
  • Four Points farm
    • Local ethical eggs and meat from a former OSU History major
  • 1907 Meat Co.
    • Locally-sourced meat

Let me know what other resources you all have to share!

Website Refresh

I’m hoping that, along with the publication of Canned, I might welcome some new visitors to this website. If you’re new here, welcome! I’d love to hear how you came across my work, and what you think of it.

Toward that end, I’ve been updating the material on this site to be useful for potential collaborators, friends and colleagues. Let me know if there’s something else you’d like to see here.

The book is here!

Box of books

The past several months have seen a lot of activity as I’ve worked to get my book ready for publication. And now it is here! Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidencin the American Food Industry was published on March 6, 2018.

Here’s a video of my 2.5-year-old helping me to open the package that contained my very first copy that I got to hold in my hands:

We are all pretty excited.

Stillwater Food Studies

Earlier, I wrote about how much place shapes food interests, and how I yearned for more food-related interest in Stillwater, OK, where I now live. One of the ways I’ve been trying to be the change I wish to see in the world is by organizing a new Food Studies Program here at Oklahoma State University. We’ve just launched our new website and we held our inaugural brown bag last week, with great success.

Screenshot 2017-08-28 14.38.31

The project initially began with a colleague of mine, Bailey Norwood, an agricultural economist here at OSU, who had the idea of bringing people together from the College of Agriculture, the College of Arts & Sciences, and other colleges on campus, to connect over a shared interest in food. He often felt siloed within the Ag College and an agricultural focus on food that was sometimes devoid of social or cultural engagement. So, he invited me to help him organize a party at Good Little Eater (about which I hope to write a separate post soon). We invited people from across campus, and from across the community. And when all of these people got together, we discovered a pulsing, vibrant energy that felt very exciting and hopeful. From there, we decided to formalize that energy into a Food Studies program. For now, we are holding monthly events, but are brainstorming to see where we can take it from here–a Food Studies minor or certificate? An annual food festival? Working with OSU to source more local meat and other products? So many possibilities.

When I shared an announcement about this initiative on facebook, a friend re-posted it with the caption, “See, Stillwater does care about food!” That’s one of the less tangible things I’m hoping to get out of this–a mental transformation in the way this community thinks about and approaches food. The existence of institutions like this, however small they might be, begins to plant seeds of interest, begins to indicate a community’s values, and begins to reshape awareness of what is and what might be.

How much place shapes food interests

As an environmental historian and a food historian, perhaps it should come as no surprise that where one lives shapes what one eats. And yet, the real transformation in my engagement with food over the past three years–since moving from Madison, Wisconsin to Stillwater, Oklahoma–has been remarkable. I realized, of course, that my involvement with so many food-related organizations and activities in Madison (Community GroundWorks, GreenHouse Learning Community, Wisconsin School Garden Network, the Center for Culture History and Environment, Community and Regional Food Systems, Slow Food UW, Madison Children’s Museum, in addition to all the potlucks and farmers markets and home canning and craft brewing) had to do with the fact they were so visible in that culture, so deeply permeated my graduate school world and the world of Madison more broadly.

Image result for dane county farmers market
Dane County Farmers Market in Madison–Bustling, grandiose, and full of people

But it has still been a shock to move to Stillwater, Oklahoma, a town of 50,000 people with not a single restaurant advertising “local food”,* with a small farmers market that seems to be an afterthought, where students have never heard of “the food movement,” where a facebook thread on the City of Stillwater page asking residents what restaurants they’d like to see in town yields almost unanimous calls for chain and fast food restaurants.

Image result for stillwater oklahoma farmers market
One of only a handful of stands at the sparsely-attended Stillwater Farmers Market.

It’s not just that it’s harder to become interested in food systems here, but that maintaining interest is also quite difficult. In the face of teaching students who are starting from scratch with these concepts, of grocery stores that do not carry organic/ethical products, of local farms that do not have community supported agriculture programs, it becomes much harder to keep up one’s own commitments.

Peer pressure is real, and the intuitive desire to follow the lead of those around us is ever-present. When questions about how we should eat hum in the air we breathe, it’s impossible not to try to answer them. But when those questions lay silent, even a finely-tuned ear cannot hear them.

In future posts, I’ll try to lay out how I’ve been working to make these questions speak a little louder here in Stillwater, and how I’ve been working with students and colleagues to answer them.

*Though 1907 Meat Co. is on the verge of making me retract this claim.

On returns

In January 2011, I began a blog I decided to call Dining and Opining. It was partly motivated by Mark Bittman’s announcement that he was shifting from the New York Times Dining section to the Op-Ed section. He was still going to be writing about food, but rather than just sharing recipes, he wanted to engage with food as a political issue because of his “growing conviction that the meat-heavy American diet and our increasing dependence on prepared and processed foods is detrimental not only to our personal health but to that of the planet.”

I also then held (as I do now) that conviction, and wanted to bring the sensory pleasures of food together with the moral obligations. To dine (eat) and opine (offer opinions and analyses) in one space.

I maintained that blog for a full year, posting each and every week day, and then posted sporadically after that for several years. Then, a move to a new city and the arrival of two small children into my life put that blog on hold, for more than two years.

I’m now hoping to pick up where I left off, and take blogging in a new direction here at my personal website, continuing to think about food and its place in our lives and in our world, but also to bring in my other interests and commitments, to build online community and document what I’m thinking about and doing, in the academic and social world of food and everything it touches (which, it turns out, is . . . everything).

I’ll hopefully also be writing about my forthcoming book, to be published with the University of California Press in early 2018: Canned America: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry. I’m exciting to finally be in the very last stages of producing this book that has been in the works in one form or another for many years now!