During Centre College’s CentreTerm, a three-week January term that gives students the opportunity to explore unique topics, a group of first-year students took a journey through the food system in Assistant Professor of History Sara Egge’s course “Farm to Table: A History of Food in America.”
The past two years, Egge has taught this course as an upper-level history class; however, this year, she designed the course for first-year students with a variety of interests and backgrounds.
“The course takes the student through the food system, from production to processing and distribution to consumption,” Egge said. “We think carefully about how the ways we grow food has changed over time. We consider how our diets have changed. We learn about topics like organic food, GMOs, the rise of agribusiness, the use of chemicals on farms and the implementation of machinery.
“We also discuss how cooking itself has changed, from wood stoves and hearths to microwaves,” she continued. “We also spend a lot of time talking about fast food and how it has influenced what we eat.”
Egge said that what she loves most about CentreTerm is that students engage in a one topic every day, and how she uses it to her benefit to plan field trips and excursions that gives the students a firsthand experience on the topic.
Throughout the course, Egge took her students to local farms, including Cambus-Kenneth Farm and Shaker Village, as well as Marksbury Farm, which is a meat processing facility. In addition, she took them to FoodChain, an aquaponics company and kitchen.
“With food, the experience includes the senses,” she added. “For example, they can go to a farmstead built in the 1790s. They can see how rough landscapes made it difficult for some of the earliest farmers to clear fields, get access to clean water and protect their livestock. They can walk from the house to the spring and consider how tiring it was to carry water multiple times a day.
“They can still smell the pungent aromas of the smokehouse and think about how important curing and smoking meat was when refrigeration was decades away,” she continued. “On farms like these, food was central to the tasks that made up a day’s work. As students experience this centuries-old farm, they can reconsider their own relationship with food.”
By the end of the course, Egge hopes her students see the complex connections and networks that comprise the food system, and that they will understand that the decisions they make about food have consequences for their health, the economy and the environment.
“I also want the students to understand how food informs the creation of an American identity,” Egge said. “What we eat and how we eat shapes the perceptions we have of ourselves as Americans, and it’s important to understand those connections.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
January 24, 2018