Food surrounds us. In the well-off western world, we are never more than a few steps or minutes away from calories we can consume. The USA spends $1.24 trillion per year on food: we have so much that we waste 40% of what we produce, yet millions still suffer from hunger. Food fills our minds and culture as well as our bellies—real and virtual, it appears in all our media. It occupies our researchers in biology, chemistry, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology, and is central to political and economic debates. Concern with food provides rich ground for the study of history and ethics. It lies at the heart of the traditional practices of many world religions, and is often reflected in art and music.
This Themester aims to provoke debate and discussion concerning the vast networks of peoples, technologies, and environmental systems that make even the simplest meal possible. Common contemporary issues that demand our attention include: What are the implications of state regulation of diet and nutrition for a society founded on a commitment to individual liberty? How much responsibility should fall to the diner or the chef for the way the food they choose is harvested or processed? How can we feed 10 billion people without causing irreparable ecological damage? Should we care about how equitably that food is distributed? These and other questions explore the ways in which our representations and consumption of food connect us to our social, cultural, and biological worlds.