When Darra Goldstein proposed writing a dissertation on food and Russian literature, her doctoral advisers were “aghast.” Food, they said, had no place in academia.
At a Pierson College Master’s Tea Tuesday, Goldstein, who is the founding editor and editor-in-chief of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, spoke to an audience of approximately 30 about her struggle to establish food as a legitimate academic pursuit.
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Goldstein, who teaches Russian poetry, culture and art at Williams College, said fellow academics saw food as a visceral pursuit, not an intellectual one. But Goldstein said she couldn’t stop thinking about food.
“If it meant giving up food to be an academic, there was something wrong,” Goldstein said. “There [had] to be a place for people like me.”
Throughout the 1980s, Goldstein said she tried to find ways to combine food and her other research. When her book on Georgian food and culture won the Julia Child Award for Best Cookbook of the Year in 1994, Goldstein said she was encouraged to make food even prominent in her research. But readers’ enthusiastic responses to her 1995 article about the relationship between early 19th-century French chef Marie Antonin Carême’s visit to St. Petersburg and his grandiose confectionary centerpieces inspired her to start Gastronomica.
“Why don’t I create this place for people to start talking?” Goldstein said. “Why don’t I start a journal?”
In 2001, Goldstein started Gastronomica as a quarterly journal. Over the past eight years, Goldstein said she has kept scholarly articles at the core of the journal. At least two articles per issues, she said, are heavily footnoted.
Resistance to seeing food as an academic discipline, Goldstein said, is mainly an American phenomenon. In countries such as France, where people allot at least an hour for lunch, food is a topic of discussion among academics.
Goldstein said Americans are always doing other things when they eat, preventing them from fully appreciating food.
The invention of Go-gurt and Campbell’s Soup at Hand Cups allow people to make sit-down meals even less of a priority, Goldstein said.
The audience included members of the Yale Epicurean and the Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well graduate students and professors. Becky Conekin, a MacMillan Research Fellow who has written for Gastronomica, said she was intrigued by the different perspectives audience members brought to the talk.
“There’s something curious about how food is energizing people in different ways,” Conekin said.
Lauren Adolfsen ART ’11 said how Goldstein combined Russian culture and food was similar to how she incorporated visual elements of food into her art.
“It was interesting to hear her talking about her experience in her professional career, to integrate her interest in food with the other studies she was doing,” Adolfsen said. “That’s something that I think about with my art.”
The Master’s Tea was co-hosted by Pierson College and the Yale Sustainable Food Project.