College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Graduate Conference on Food in the Media

Pop Goes the Neighborhood

September 21, 2015 | By Lasherica Thornton
Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian

Catarina Passidomo, assistant professor of anthropology and Southern Studies

Catarina Passidomo, assistant professor of anthropology and Southern Studies

The old adage goes “you are what you eat.” According to a group of graduate students that the University hosted September 10, food can be a very telling aspect of culture.

The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), Center for the Study of Southern Culture, as well as the UM Graduate School and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology hosted a symposium focusing on the connection between food and popular culture in the Yerby Center last week.

The Pop Goes the Corn Graduate Student Conference included multiple panel discussions comprised of graduate students from universities across the nation exchanging their personal knowledge and experience. Students were selected from submissions of their research.

Organizers of the conference said they hoped to expose attendees to new ideas in the study of food in conjunction with varying academic disciplines.

“The conference offers an intimate setting for graduate students to present their work, answer thoughtful questions, engage with peers and colleagues from all over the country to discuss food ways of the region,” said Afton Thomas, project coordinator of SFA. “Past students have forged collaborative relationships and friendships from this experience. We offer the participants two closed professional sessions where they received tips for preparing for the job market in both academic and non-profit worlds.”

The discussions were moderated by faculty of the department of sociology and anthropology.

As part of the conference, Barnard Observatory opened its doors to keynote speaker professor and author Aaron Bobrow-Strain. Bobrow-Strain teaches about the global food system, environmental politics, immigration and the political economy in the politics department at Whitman College. As an author, he has previously written about violence in Mexico, most recently publishing “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf,” and is working on a book about immigration. Bobrow-Strain said he viewed the symposium as a productive moment for graduate students moving along in their careers.

During the keynote, Bobrow-Strain discussed the craft of writing about food and culture and where his inspiration for his obsession of food originated.

“I grew up in a kind of meat and potatoes family, real bland, kind of middle-American food,” Bobrow-Strain said. “When I was about 13, I traveled to Italy; at that moment, the food was incredibly exotic. There was this light bulb that went on in my head that food could be something other than what I grew up with.”

Brown University graduate student Emily Contois spoke in response to Bobrow-Strain’s speech.

“What’s important about Aaron’s work is the fact that the story is never about the food; the food is this way that we can look at all sorts of divisions within American culture,” Contois said.

Graham Hoppe, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina said the conference was a great opportunity to meet out-of-state peers. “It’s been great to sort of make connections with people who have similar interests and kind of form a cohort.

According to Catarina Passidomo, assistant professor of anthropology and Southern Studies, the event had the potential to greatly impact attendees.

“Because the conference was small, it was an excellent opportunity for participants to meet other burgeoning foodways’ scholars, and to benefit from the resources and fresh ideas offered by the SFA,” Passidomo said.