Food Studies

Dickinson College Food Studies Certificate Program

Author: Lizzie G. (page 1 of 3)

Cider Yeasts: An Exploration of Micro-environmental Terroir at Three Springs Fruit Farm

This Friday, students from Dickinson College’s Biology Department presented their semester research during a public poster symposium. As a part of my independent study for the Food Studies Certificate as well as my independent research with biology professor Dr. Dana J. Wohlbach, I designed and executed an analysis of naturally occurring yeast strains in Three Spring Fruit Farm‘s hard cider. At the conclusion of my study, I will provide the orchard with yeast population information in an effort to inform their cider production. My aim is to contribute to  Ben Wenk’s, owner and operator of Three Springs, aspiration to turn Adams County, PA into a cider destination and to perpetuate appreciation for local food and the concept of terroir or the taste of place.

Below is the poster I presented at Friday’s event. Please feel free to contact me with any inquiries or comments, my contact information is available in Dickinson College’s student directory. Additionally, I encourage you to read through the amazing research other students are conducting on campus and at partner institutions.

A Response to James McWilliams: Bringing Animal Welfare to 21st Century Agriculture

On October 1st, Dickinson College hosted Professor James McWilliams from Texas State University. Professor McWilliams critiqued conventional and alternative forms of livestock farming and offered his own solutions to the problems of animal welfare in contemporary agriculture. Below is a response written by one of the students in attendance, Keriann Pfleger ’17. Keriann is a Biology Major and student farmer, we hope you enjoy her commentary below…

By Keriann Pfleger

The most recent Clarke Forum in this years “Food” series was, “Bringing Animal Welfare to 21st Century Agriculture”. This was a talk led by James McWilliams, a professor of history at Texas State University. Being a student farmer and also an animal lover I was particularly excited for this talk. I had hoped it would discuss how to offer some of the best care possible for livestock but I was surprised at how different it was.

McWilliams began by discussing that he was, in fact, not vegan but constantly thinking and processing the morals, the deeper philosophical questions, behind meat. He mentioned that no matter how much we care for livestock we are still raising them for slaughter and how we give these animals some moral consideration but then kill them. At this point I felt I could relate to these statements, I recently became vegetarian and, though environmental reasons were a big part of my choice, these were things I considered. He touched briefly on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, passing it off as old news. Then he began his seven narratives of animal agriculture.

At this point, I realized there really would not be a discussion of animal welfare techniques or management but I was open to hear what he had to say. His narratives were: slaughter, grass fed beef, DIY slaughter, pastured chicken and eggs, free range pigs, welfare labels, and welfare organizations. For each one he discussed the good and the bad, what it did well for animal welfare and what it could potentially do wrong. I thought this was an interesting way to look at these issues. I’m all for learning new, credible, information and using that to help myself make better choices. However, most of McWilliams’s research in support of his arguments was vague and superficial.

Many of his arguments involved the words “could” and “potentially” which seemed like a way to put something that isn’t really accurate on paper. He pulled a lot of statements from websites where people discussed caring for chickens on their farms or in their backyards.  The quotes he used to demonstrate that raising your own chicken doesn’t mean you are killing it humanely were from people who were slaughtering birds for the first time. At first this was very thought provoking because it was paired with graphic quotes about botched butchering. But in the question and answer session, a student brought up to him that many of the quotes he pulled were from people slaughtering for the first time and he agreed it’s possible that people could do better with education.

McWilliams also made comments about chickens being subject to predation, a big issue in poultry production. Here he argued that chickens on farms without outdoor access would hypothetically be safer. I thought that was a strange statement to make. He then suggested that humans would not be able improve, learn from failed attempts to raise birds. For example, they would keep letting foxes predate their livestock and not think to make an adjustment to the pen or raisers would keep botching their chicken slaughters and fail to learn from their mistakes. I don’t agree with his argument, it puts very little faith in human’s intelligence.

As he wrapped up his talk, McWilliams spoke about the future of meat. He suggested turning to meat alternatives like, bugs, oyster farms, lab meat, roadkill. I was not satisfied with his conclusionI did enjoy hearing the various sides of narratives I often see as one sided, but the information shown to me seemed fitting for a Facebook argument, not a college lecture. I felt unsure of how to share the information I took away from the evening and even unsure if I should. I was happy I attended this event;it did get me thinking and made me more interested in doing my own research to better understand the consequences that what I eat has on animals and the environment alike.

Homecoming Weekend and Clarke Forum

Last week was a busy one here on campus! Over the Halloween weekend, parents and alumni visited the Dickinson College Farm as part of Homecoming and Parents’ Weekend events. The following Tuesday, Dickinson’s Clarke Forum welcomed Professor McWilliams as he lead a discussion about animal welfare in modern agriculture.

Homecoming Weekend (PC: Wesley Lickus)

James McWilliams’ Lecture

Alumna Wins Christine Wilson Award

By Cindy Baur

In my senior honors Anthropology thesis I critically analyze the local food movement in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. My interest in the topic began during my sophomore year after taking a course called Nutritional Anthropology. My understanding of the local food movement developed further as I worked as a student farm worker at the Dickinson Farm during my sophomore year and continued while I participated in a food studies program in Perugia, Italy during my junior year.

I use my own ethnographic work, such as interviews with farmers, observations of Farmers on the Square board meetings, and participant observation at the farmers’ market, to understand the motivations of participating producers and consumers in Central Pennsylvania. I argue that the local food movement is a response to a global, industrialized neoliberal food system. Consumers seek out a more personal alternative to anonymous industrially produced food by responding to a call to “vote” with their dollars. However, they are unsuccessful because they are acting within their individual capitalist identities. In addition, not all consumers have an equal opportunity to “vote” and the rhetoric often ignores certain components of food production, such as labor, adding to the elitism of the movement.

After graduation I submitted a shortened version of my thesis to be considered for the Christine Wilson Award, offered by the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. My thesis won the undergraduate prize for outstanding undergraduate research on nutrition, food studies and anthropology. In November I will attend the American Anthropological Association annual conference in Minneapolis, MN to accept the award in person.

Below is the introduction to Cindy’s thesis paper. If you would like to read more or discuss Cindy’s research, please contact

Every Wednesday all summer long the cement square in front of the First Presbyterian Church, located at the center of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, transforms into a bustling marketplace called Farmers on the Square (FOTS). The square becomes full of tents, shoppers, children, and dogs. Each unique tent houses colorful vegetables, fruits, flowers, and coolers full of chilled chicken, sausages, and other meat. The air smells of roasting garlic and burning wood, thanks to the Dickinson Farm’s pizza oven. Children run around on the lawn in front of the church, while their parents, who are often treated much more like friends, ask questions about the recent bout of rain they know flooded their farmers’ fields. Families return home, overstuffed market totes in hand, anxiously awaiting the bounty of the next week’s market. As a loyal supporter of FOTS, I delved into the market trying to understand first-hand how the local food movement plays out in a familiar context.

In this paper I will engage with existing literature about the local food movement in order to analyze how this alternative food movement functions within the context of Central Pennsylvania. First, I will describe the history of FOTS and other farmers’ markets that have existed in the area to provide historical context to the local food movement. Then, I will discuss the agrarian ideals we hold in the US and how those ideals influence Central Pennsylvania. I then interrogate the many interpretations of “local” including anthropologists’ use of terroir within the local food movement. In a similar vein, I apply the concept of terroir to this specific geographic region. Next, I describe the global, industrial food system, the local food movement, and neoliberalism. I argue that the local food movement is a response to a neoliberal economic system in which consumers demand an alternative market that is socially embedded, environmentally sound, and socially just. However, I believe that the local food movement is not

successful at meeting these goals because it simultaneously recreates and works within the neoliberal structures to which it is reacting. Like neoliberal policies, alternative food movements rely on individual actors to create change through their capitalist identities, such as “voting” with their dollars. However, this exacerbates inequalities and perpetuates and aura of exclusivity since not all consumers have equal opportunities to “vote.” Finally, I conclude that while the local food movement may not be successful at provoking change on its own, it is still an important and valuable tool for making change.

Food Studies 201: Tour of Dickinson Dining Services

A class discussion of food labor brought the Food Studies 201 Seminar to the back kitchens of Dickinson Dining Hall. There, they learned from the Director of Dining Services, Errol Huffman, what exactly it takes to feed over 2,000 hungry Red Devils every day.

Who Cooked on the Slave Ships?

By Lizzie Grabowski

“Who cooked on the slave ships?”

Psyche Williams-Forson stared out into the crowd of faces that filled the pews of Allison Hall. The irony was obvious. Williams-Forson, a self-identified PK (Pastor’s Kid), stood behind the lectern in a church hall delivering a lecture on cultural importance. The crowd had been eager to participate in call and response, but now she met with silence.

Who cooked on the slave ships?”

The obvious answer was enslaved women. But the question wasn’t asked to prompt this quick answer. Instead, it was meant to evoke curiosity, self-reflection, and self-critique. Why haven’t we ever considered who cooked on the slave ships before? In school, we were taught the history of the slave trade, the establishment of plantations, the battle for justice that wages on long after the end of the Civil War. We learned slave spirituals in music class. We made our own Underground Railroad quilts. We learned about Harriet Tubman and Abraham Lincoln. But we never talked about food. Psyche Williams-Forson was at Dickinson to talk about food.

Food History is a new genre of study and Dr. Williams-Forson is a new genre of scholar. Food holds a unique place in culture as something that is among our most primal needs but evolved into a cultural mainstay. However, in our increasingly globalized and industrialized world, food heritage has become a target of critique. Particularly in the wake of the “Foodie” movement, traditional foods viewed as unhealthy or obesogenic are demonized. Disproportionately, these foods are part of African American culture.

Fried chicken. Macaroni and cheese. Chitterlings. “Comfort foods” culturally associated with black people, that “stick to your ribs” are policed by (predominantly-white) modern food reformers. Those who indulge in these foods are described as fat, lazy, and stupid for choosing to put themselves at risk for lifestyle diseases. However, what white critics fail to realize is that these foods carry much more importance than calories or fat content. They are culturally important, the result of recipes developed in different eras and under different circumstances but that have survived for generations. Preparing and eating these foods is a way for individuals to connect to their families and experience cultural independently as well as part of a larger group. Sure some meals may not be the picture of health, but other cultures have equivalents. Beer-battered fish and chips from across the pond surely can’t be classified as a diet food. Poutine would never make it onto a nutritionist’s meal plan. However, these foods don’t carry the same negative stigma as Southern-style pig tails. They aren’t touted as health foods but they aren’t marked as dirty, lazy, or stupid either.

Therefore, it is not surprising that African-Americans often experience public health efforts, blanket dietary guidelines, and federal and state programming as invasive. Plans that seek to police African-American diet also threaten African-American culture. Dr. Williams-Forson suggests, and I agree, that efforts to introduce healthier diets to historically African-American communities must recognize the strong place food holds in culture. Recipes and an appreciation for cooking were some of the only things slaves and later migrant workers were allowed to carry with them after being ripped from their homes. The only way that health programming can succeed is by modifying existing diets rather than completely replacing them. Communities can be shown how to or can decide to make healthier versions of traditional dishes or augment them with other nutritious meal components. Public health plans can be catered to specific communities in order to be more culturally-responsive and, eventually, more effective.

This is not to suggest that culture trumps our health or the health of our environment, or vice versa. Rather that people who are serious about food reform have to compromise to produce solutions that are socially, biologically, and culturally sustainable.

This Week in Food (10/23/16)

These past two weeks have flown by! But we are back, well-rested, and ready for a second half of the semester filled with food and fun. Here are some tid-bits from this week’s food news.

  1. We are still processing Psyche Williams-Forson’s public lecture, “Eating While Black.” In her discussion, Dr. Williams-Forson discusses slave food culture and the African American heritage to which it gave rise. Read here to learn more about some foods so entrenched in American culture that you would never know they are African transplants.
  2. Tomorrow is Food Day! In celebration, FRESHFARM Markets has put together a list of non-profits that are doing amazing work in the nation’s capital. If you are from the DC Metro area and are searching for ways to help out while you are home for the holiday season…look no further!
  3. The US Secretary of Agriculture addresses the Future Farmers of America at the 89th Annual FFA Convention and Expo. Watch his speech here.
  4.  Whirpool, Blue Apron, Zero Percent, and TriplePundit engaged in a Twitter Chat on food waste in America. Checkout the discussion highlights by searching #FoodWaste3p.

Student Perspectives

After seven weeks of thorough discussion on a variety of food-related topics, the Food Studies Introductory Seminar is well on its way! Following each course meeting, students are encouraged to debrief with  journal entries designed to extend the pupil’s interaction with course material. In celebration of an amazing two months gone and a highly anticipated two to come, we would like to share one such journal entry with you…

Journal Entry Provided by Janna Safran

The first part of this journal is me realizing that all of my previous knowledge and perspectives of farming are false conception of what farming really is. The second part of this journal is a reflection of what I learned and how that ties into one of the readings.

I know that some of my original perceptions of farming are shallow and arrogant, but please just bear with me.

I didn’t understand what farming really was; to me, it was a business, a means of production of food and a way of income. I didn’t understand why someone would chose to be a farmer- why they would waste their life to stare at rows of cabbages. I didn’t understand the journey that even something as simple as an apple took to get onto my hand.

But what I failed to understand was that farming is much more than just wearing overalls and staring at cabbages. A successful farmer must understand the anatomy of a plant, insect biology, the chemistry of pest chemicals and nature, and so much more. One simply doesn’t wait around for their produce to be ripe, they must religiously scout for pests, maintain a threshold that will be healthy for their produce, and work with the land to produce the best produce.

Another thing I failed to grasp was the multiple ways that a farmer can control his/her land. I use to think that farming was rather a game of chance- you planted it and it was up to the weather to either be nice or mean to you this year. However, there are so many more variables within that equation, some that you can control- like pests. There are cultural, physical, biological things that one can do to help deal with pests before bringing in the chemicals to kills them. I didn’t know that there was a strategy to farming- like putting grass in between crops to ensure a healthy environment or putting plants nearby crops to enhance pollen transfers.

I was blown away by the anatomy of the plant- I didn’t know that plants could be male or female or both. I didn’t know that some plants could pollinate on their own and be self sufficient.

To me, farming was a business, but to others, like Natasha Bowens, farming is much more than that. Her article, Why I Farm, brought a new perspective to farming and really opened my mind to looking at farming beyond a capitalistic view.

I want to highlight these few sentences that really stood out to me:

“The land beneath our feet carries our history and our freedom. It is healing and empowering and can be a commons that binds us together. My history traces back to the moment my ancestor’s shackled feet hit this soil, when the African farmer became the American slave…reclaim the connection with the land that was long before the oppression.”

Bowers brings up an interesting point- farming, for her, is about getting back to her roots, connecting with nature, but also healing from the oppression that exists in the past but also today.

This is slightly off topic, but in my Biological Anthropology class, we are currently talking about the extreme pressures that we, as humans, are exerting on the environment and in a way are messing with natural selection. By doing so, we are messing with nature, treating it like it’s a game piece in chess. Our species is so caught up in this capitalistic world that everything turns into a competition and a business. We forget our roots, we forget where things come from, and we forget the journey that someone or something traveled to get where they are today.

Today, we are fighting against nature; I think that makes us the bad guys. But Bowen is using farming to work with nature and be connecting with nature just like her and many other ancestors today.

After this week, I have a much more open mind to understand why people chose to become farmers but also the importance of farming beyond a business. I hope that this new knowledge will help me understand the process of food and help me take into account what farmers and other food workers go through on a daily basis.

Food Studies 201: Spiral Path Farm

On 10/10/16, the Food Studies 201 seminar visited Spiral Path Farm. Owned and operated by the Brownback farmily, Spiral Path is an organic operation in Perry County that sells their produce wholesale to such companies as Wegman’s as well as through a 1400+ member CSA.

This Week in Food 10/9/16

It’s our last edition before Fall Pause! Halfway there, its hard to believe! Until then, the following articles are a snapshot of this week in food…

  1. This multifaceted, interactive article is worth your time. The New York Times examines Big Food. Read it.
  2.  A new urban food program is underway in Baltimore, Maryland. Check out the details here.
  3. Can we back pedal climate change by planting our own veg? See how you can help…
  4. A foodie’s take on soil health. Combining taste and tilth. It’s worth a read.

Enjoy! One more week!

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