Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Through My Eyes: Highlights of the Applied Food Studies Major

by CIA student blogger Katie Fenton

The best decision I have made as a student at the CIA was becoming an Applied Food Studies student. For those of you who have no idea what that is, it's okay--it's a hard thing to define because of the endless, ever-changing roads each student has the opportunity to take. To me, Applied Food Studies means studying how food affects the world in the past, the present, and ultimately, the future. Beyond this, Applied Food Studies students take this knowledge, and use it to their advantage inside and outside the kitchen. It's a forward-thinking major, with the background information to make a difference in our lives through food.

So as a send-off for completing my first semester as an AFS Major, I'm writing a bit about what was going on in the classes I took. I'll give you the "SparkNotes," the highlights, along with some basic Bachelor's tips...
First of all, you get to dress snazzy--no more neckerchiefs. Business casual is our dress code on an average day. But as Applied Food Studies majors, there are times when you will be back in your whites, experimenting with your food knowledge that you acquire throughout the degree.You're mainly in classrooms for your first semester to get your cores done. You'll be taking things like Macro/Micro Economics, a Math Course, a Language, Applied Food Studies, and English. My first semester was a bit different-- I didn't start AFS until my second semester, so classes I took first as an AFS major, such as Ecology of Food and Anthropology of Food, will be taken once you get some core classes under your belt (yes, belts are a thing now, not checks).
If you live on campus, the walk to Roth Hall is always nice because the earliest class is at 8:45 am. Once it warms up, there's nothing like that morning walk. Maybe I'm just a nerd/semi hippie, but also, it truly is something to take in. We're in the Hudson Valley and we're at the World's Premier Culinary College learning about how to make a difference through food. It's pretty amazing. Don't forget that...even during finals week. 

I strongly suggest you grab a biscuit with fresh apple butter in Apple Pie Bakery Cafe at some point... but not 5 minutes before your 10:30 class. The line during this time can be at an extraordinary length. Plus, it's nice to wake up a half hour earlier, sit down with a cup of coffee, a biscuit, and finally have the time to read our school newspaper, La Papillote.
The bachelor's computer lab is a great place to get your work done in between classes. Also, if you're struggling in any of your classes, even if you're not and you just want someone to review with, the tutoring center is a lovely place to go to. An awesome part of our school is that someone's been in your position. It's all good. 

So let's get into the the actual major. My Applied Food Studies course was taught by Professor Willa Zhen. It's a discussion-based class, with readings, papers, and a literature review/prospectus based on a food-related research question of your choice due as your final project. The course is based very much on readings, and how you interpret certain food-based issues. It requires critical thinking skills, which is exactly what we did when we went back into the kitchens one day. We studied some of the oldest recipes in written existence from ancient Rome and Mesopotamia (which were extremely vague). There were no temperatures, no time limits and almost no measurements. Everything was up for interpretation--was 1 quart to them what 1 quart is to us? Are there any ingredients not listed that were obvious to those civilizations? Was it cooked in single serving sizes? Did they season with salt and pepper?  We had to use our knowledge that we acquired from readings of the food in these ancient civilizations, and literally apply our food studies as we got our hands dirty again in the kitchens. Some of the recipes we made included must cakes (made from grape must) and mixed olive salad. It was by far one of the best units of the course.

All that rotten food is more beautiful than we think. One class, we took old, moldy produce (which would normally be lost if we were in associate or any other professional kitchen) and recreated portraits with food. This was a re-creation of the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo. At this point, our class was studying food and the humanities: literature, poetry, psychology, sociology, music, and here: art. This class revolves around thinking about food in a different way, digging below the surface of sustainability and finesse that we learn during the Associate Degree. It's to another level.

Our core classes go into food as well. As a Bachelor's student, you are required to take two History and Cultures courses (Europe, Asia, or The Americas). In our History and Cultures of Asia class (taught by an AFS Professor--Dr. Deirdre Murphy), we learned about Ancient China, and its spiritual and cultural connection to tea growing, making, and drinking. You really don't want to miss this class, I'm just saying. There's so much more to tea than you think. 

Ecology of Food: take it. You learn about how our world is changing, how it is (and has been) affected ecologically. From here, we focus specifically in on food's relationship with ecology. The readings are super interesting. The picture on the left is one student's re-purposing project. This assignment is pretty awesome to see on presentation day. We had to take things that we already had at home, and remake them into something that can assist with the growing, preparation, serving, eating, or cooking of food. We had hard-boiled egg cookers made from dishwashers. We had a rocket stove (the mini oven cooking my bacon above). I made a bow drill (which can be made out of a shoe or hoodie lace, a stick, and wood to create a fire)--so cool. 
 On the right, you're looking at a maple tree on our campus that Ecology of Food students tapped for sap. From this, a few students made maple syrup to contribute to our final assignment: making a home-grown, authentic meal. The syrup was actually entered into a local tasting contest, and placed third. The other students grew their own the winter.

I grew tatsoi sprouts: a common ingredient in Chinese stir fry dishes or salads tossed with vinaigrette. Many students used a plant light bulb to provide warmth and light to their plants throughout the semester. During this process, we were required to do some background research regarding our food's history and its use in dishes. We also did weekly journal entries to be submitted at the end of the course. For the last class, we harvested our food and made breakfast with it at 8:45, sharing each other's successes. We made eggs with an awesome herbal sour cream dipping sauce, mini pancakes, waffles and little platters of other herbs/greens grown. Our eggs, milk, and sour cream were all locally grown/produced. Everything else, we grew. We used the maple syrup on our pancakes and waffles--what a meal. Here's some more pictures that I took from our final meal today:

Waffles, pancakes, and our maple syrup...

                               The mixed greens/herbs I was talking about...

 Scrambled eggs with the students' herbs and greens, along with the sour cream dipping sauce.

I also took Anthropology of Food this semester as well as Italian 2--both amazing classes, but I regret to inform you that I didn't take any pictures inside them. Anthropology of Food (known as Anthro) is about studying different cultures, and how food connects to their way of life. We looked at how certain observations are emic (based on the views of another culture) and etic (based on the observer's culture). One class, the class broke off into groups, taking field notes of different parts of the CIA environment. We performed what's called participant observation, which is when you can participate or observe a culture as little or as much as you would like as an anthropologist. For our final project, we created a larger, more in-depth version of this: an ethnographic project. Each group focused on different research questions and interviewed members of a culture, and developing a final report to share with the class and Professor Zhen.

Your language classes are always looking beyond words. Yes, here, you look at food as well. Italian class was great to take prior to going my Global Cuisines and Cultures Trip to Italy, where for two weeks I will be participating and learning about Italian food, wine, and agriculture, regularly engaging with Italian-speaking people. It makes the adventure all the better knowing that I have a background on the culture and cuisine before I go.

Some other classes you can take as an AFS major are:

Sustainable Food Systems
Food Policy
Professional Food Writing
Project in Applied Food Studies

This is what I've gathered being a member of the first class to graduate with the Applied Food Studies Degree. I hope that helped give my readers a heads-up. There's always something happening in this degree, just as there is in the food world.

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