BASS Social Anthropology and Philosophy / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Food and Eating: The Cultural Body

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN30882
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


You are what you eat and there is nothing at once more natural and more cultural than a meal. What’s in a meal? What’s edible? And who does it include and exclude? These are questions that take us from cannibalism to devotional eating, and to taste and class. Looking at what and how people cook and eat is a great window into human creativity and how it is shaped by economic systems (food is a resource, it’s material) and values (cooking and eating are shaped by religious, ethical, and political practices). Like many human endeavours, cooking is at once a survival mechanism and a craft – even a fine art. It takes us into skill, memory, sensory experience, and gender. Cooking is also political. It creates connections between food, nation and authenticity. Social movements often galvanise around food, whether through terroir (eating and drinking place), the slow food movement, food banks or community foraging.  

The course will take us from the Jewish diaspora to the Amazon rainforest, to India, Mexico, Palestine, Italy, the UK and beyond.  



Students will gain a systematic understanding and a critical awareness of current problems and recent insights in relation to different theoretical approaches to cookery and eating as cultural processes that are materially embedded and embodied. This contributes to the overall programme aim of challenging assumptions about what makes humans similar and different across borders. The course also fosters values of social responsibility and inclusion by exploring how diverse groups of people approach food in their cultural settings.  

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will consist of ten two-hour lecture classes.  There will also be ten one-hour seminars with student-led discussions.  Online resources will include digitised copies of key texts on Blackboard. 

Students will work with online tools and platforms such as VoiceThread and Hypothesis in their weekly readings and tasks. 

This course will involve experiencing, and writing about, restaurant dining as well as cooking and sharing meals. It will involve assessed oral as well as written work.  

Knowledge and understanding

  • Gain both understanding and critical awareness of different theoretical approaches to a major aspect of human life: food, cookery, eating and the cultural and economic contestations and movements that occur through the medium of food.  
  • Critically and creatively use this knowledge to assess: 
  • contemporary cultural movements surrounding food (for example forms of food activism, terroir, cookery programmes, slow food) in relation to anthropological theory.  
  • theories of gender, embodiment, and sensory experience in relation to eating and preparing food.  
  • competing theories of meaning and ritual in relation to meals and feasting.  
  • media and text in relation to cultural theory e.g. advertisements, cook books, packaging.  

Intellectual skills

  • collate ethnographic data with popular culture and diverse media 
  • appreciate the ambiguity and limits of knowledge 
  • use the body and personal experience as a source of knowledge 
  • deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • synthesize multiple and diverse sources of data 
  • communicate clearly in group contexts 
  • work independently in ways suited to continuing professional development 
  • understand multiculturalism and social justice issues in relation to food 

Assessment methods

1.Formative group assessment  

Students will have 3-4 options for this practical element of the course, including, but not limited to a write up OR food exhibition OR verbal presentation, based on the experience of: 

  •  eating a meal 
  • cooking a meal with others 
  •  feast they have participated in, either in the past or a feast they have created. 
  • a report on a food-oriented social movement 

2. Coursework essay, 4000 words 

Recommended reading

Adelman, H. Tzvi et al. 2022 Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period. Ed. Lawrence Fine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 

Nahum-Claudel, Chloe. 2016. “Feasting”. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by Felix Stein. Online:

Conklin, Beth A. Consuming Grief : Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. 1st ed. Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press, 2001. Print. 

Counihan, C. and P. Van Esterik (eds.). 2013. Food and Culture: A Reader (third edition). New York and London, Routledge 

Douglas, M. 1972. Deciphering a meal. Daedalus 101, 62-82. 

Goody, J. 1982. Cooking, Cuisine and class: A Study in Comparative Sociology. Cambridge: University Press. 

Jones, M. 2008. Feast: why humans share food. Oxford: University Press. 

Korsmeyer. C (ed.). 2005. The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink. Oxford & New York: Berg.  

J. Kuper (ed.). 1997. The Anthropologists' Cookbook (ed.), London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 

Manning, P. 2012. The semiotics of drink and drinking. London: Continuum. 

Mintz, Sidney. 1996. Tasting Food: Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press. 




Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Chloe Nahum-Claudel Unit coordinator
Michelle Obeid Unit coordinator

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