Food Topic of Shasha Seminar

Posted 03/17/08
“Food: Power and Identity” is the topic of the Wesleyan’s 2008 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. The event will take place April 4-6 on campus.

Endowed by James Shasha ’50, the annual Shasha Seminar supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. This year, seminar speakers will discuss how food shapes our identity, public and private discourse, politics and daily lives.

“Food: Power and Identity” will tackle issues on food production, such as industrial agriculture, organic agriculture, genetic manipulation, local vs. global, sustainability; food and politics, for example unequal distribution of food, food policies such as farm subsidies and corporate lobbies, famine, food security; food and science topics, such as nutrition, eating disorders, food safety, genetic manipulation; food and culture, such as food rituals and taboos, identity through food, food and art/film/writing, tourism; and ways food is produced in the economy.

“Few topics call forth more interest, concern, passion, joy, and outrage than the food we eat,” explains Shasha Seminar Coordinating Committee member John Finn, professor of government and graduate of the French Culinary Institute. “Food is an inspiration for artists, a delight for the connoisseur, a weapon in war-torn areas, and an immense worldwide business. The critical need for a safe food supply has spawned controversial science and political furor. Above all, food reflects our deepest cultural and personal identity.”

Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is the keynote speaker. Her research focuses on the analysis of scientific, social, cultural, and economic factors that influence dietary recommendations and practices. She is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (2002), Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (2003), and What to Eat (2006). She will speak at 8 p.m. April 4 in Memorial Chapel.

Additional speakers include:

– Eric Asimov ’79, chief wine critic of The New York Times and author of $25 and Under: A Guide to the Best Inexpensive Restaurants in New York.

– Ruth Reichl P’11, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and former New York Times restaurant critic.

– Faith Middleton, a radio, television, and print journalist and honorary co-chair of Celebration of Connecticut Farms, which supports Connecticut Farmland Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving Connecticut farms and supporting farm families;

– Jimmy Daukas coordinator of policy research and design, alliance building, legislation, and communications for American Farmland Trust’s campaign to transform U.S. agriculture policy.

– Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Hon. ’07, chairwoman of the Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, where she has worked to provide funding for a safe food supply, for a healthy agricultural economy, and for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate thousands of products used everyday.

– David Fischhoff P’08, vice president for technology strategy and development, and chief of staff for the technology division at Monsanto Company. He invented insect resistant transgenic crop plants that are among the leading products of plant biotechnology.

– Darra Goldstein, the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Russian at Williams College, founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, and International Association of Culinary board member.

– Barbara Haber P’85, culinary historian and former curator of books at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University, where she developed a major collection of more than 16,000 volumes on cooking and food.

– Krishnendu Ray, assistant professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University.

– Karen Anderson, associate dean of continuing studies and director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan, where she also has taught courses on Hinduism, creation mythology, anthropology, and history of religions.

– Gina Ulysse, assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies, poet and performer.

A series of informational sessions will begin April 5. Individual sessions are titled “Subversive Food,” “The Science of Seed and Crop Improvement for Food Production,” “Home Cooking Far From Home: Food and Identity,” “The Food Schmooze,” “Foodways: Cultural Histories and Anthropologies of Food and Social Life,” and “The Politics of Food and Agriculture.”

The Shasha Seminar Coordinating Committee members are Finn, Karen Anderson, associate dean of Continuing Studies and Director of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program; Gail Briggs, associate director of alumni programs; William Holder ’75, director of publications; Peter Patton, vice president and secretary of the university, and Linda Secord, director of alumni programs and university lectures. Finn will facilitate all sessions.

The Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns is open to the Wesleyan community and the general public. The fee is $250 per person, which includes the keynote speaker, a reception, a wine tasting, all meals and conference materials. To register, go to For additional information call 860-685-2737.

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By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor