Food Studies

Dickinson College Food Studies Certificate Program

Category: Blog (page 1 of 3)

Humanizing Food Ethics

Blog Post by Alex Cohen, October 22, 2020

The Pandemic’s effects on Migrant Farmworkers 

During the course of Introduction to Food Studies, Professor Halpin has stressed the topic of
hardships experienced by migrant workers in the US. Although these workers experience
problems such as low pay, no health insurance, substandard housing, and lack of
transportation, they now have to overcome a new challenge: COVID-19. Many farms across
America have reported outbreaks among hundreds of workers, yet the government has not
attempted to create any enforceable rules to protect these farmworkers or help by instructing
them what to do when these workers get sick. Workers have explained the struggle of
protecting themselves due to the fact that most of them live within close quarters, sleeping in
bunk beds, and sharing bathrooms and kitchens. Also, the buses in which they travel in are very
crowded. On top of these issues, many migrants have explained the struggle of wearing masks
for several hours in the hot weather and how it is difficult to not only breath but produce food
in a timely manner. Additionally, many of these migrant workers emphasize how they are
scared of the virus because they often do not have health insurance or paid sick leave. Due to
the spread of COVID-19 amongst these farmworkers, the agricultural workforce may be
doomed with dramatic negative implications for the national food supply. As the virus
continuously affects several farms, many processors, distributors, retailers, and even
consumers are also at risk, as the food could possibly be contaminated by these agricultural
workers. In order to resolve these problems, lawmakers and congress must take action to
safeguard the farmworkers on the front lines of the pandemic. Also, the implementation of
testing and treatment of COVID-19 within these farms must be easily accessible, regardless of
the immigration status.


Protecting Farmworkers From Coronavirus and Securing the Food Supply

A Virtual Tour of Introduction to Food Studies During the Fall of 2020

Despite this semester’s remote learning, students enrolled in the Introduction to Food Studies course have been exploring food systems and foodways through interactive online classes and labs. Not only have they spent to fall semester learning from each other and special guests, they have also had opportunities to reflect on the expansive field of food scholarship. Some highlights from this semester’s class include Food System Snapshots that were created by students to help illustrate their regional or hyper-local food scene. Here is a selection of some of the submissions!

Dugan Road Creamery by Mary Ritter

Patch of Inspiration by Dee Findlay

Food System Snapshot by Eveny Mendoza

My Aunt Col’s Garden by James Marks


Food and Energy in Israel

Today, we had a jammed packed day! First thing, we took a tour of the date and experimental orchards run by Kibbutz Ketura. Our guide, Nadav, took us by Ketura’s algae plant. This business is a large source of income for the Kibbutz. Next, we crossed the street over into their date orchard. This is another significant source of income for the Kibbutz. Their tallest date palms are 35 years old and are able to withstand the desert climate and the salinated water they’re watered with. Each palm produces 140 kilos of dates per season. Multiply that by Ketura’s 10,000 individual palms and that equals 800 tons of dates harvested during a 2 month season! We also toured through their experimental orchards where they’re testing growing manula, neem, argon and balsam. 

After a nice lunch in the dining hall at Kibbutz Ketura, we hopped on the regional bus to the Arava Research and Development Center. There, we were given a tour of the research and work that they’ve been doing. This included growing a variety of different fruit and vegetable fields, as well as more date orchards. Our next stop was for ice cream in Yotvata from Israel’s largest dairy farm. It was so delicious! 

The final part of the day was taking the regional bus 45 minutes further south to the coastal city of Eilat. We enjoyed a tasty Israeli dinner at a place called Open Heart. Lots of pitas filled with falafel, Schwarma and Kebab were eaten. It was a very busy, but really fun day! 

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.
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