ANSS Program At ALA Is Food For Thought

I’m pleased to share another post from our guest ALA Conference blogger, Kim Leeder. Kim is the Special Assistant to the Dean at the University of Arizona Libraries. She also maintains her own blog, Park Ranger for the Intellectual Commons:

Among all the interesting sessions offered at ALA Annual this year, ACRL’s Anthropology and Sociology Section’s “Drug Foods, Fast Foods, and Feasts: A Social Science of Eating” had me hooked from the moment I spotted it in the program. I was intrigued not only because the subject is inherently personal and omnipresent for all of us, but because the description of the panel suggested that it would be a wide-ranging academic discussion on the subject of food tied only loosely to libraries. And so it was.

The session opened with a talk by Wendy Woloson of The Library Company, who provided an analysis of the cultural history of sugar in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Next up was Gerald Patout of The Historic New Orleans Collection, who shared experiences and discoveries from the development of a bibliography of New Orleans cookbooks and related texts. Third was Susan Tucker from Tulane University’s Center for Research on Women, who played video clips from the Louisiana Culinary Oral History. Finally, Jason Block, an internal medicine resident in Boston who earned his MD at Tulane, spoke about the effects of environmental factors (and particularly fast food establishments) on obesity.

When I described this session to a friend, she immediately asked what it had to do with libraries. “But that’s the beauty of it,” I responded. “It started from libraries and went out into the world from there.” Each panel was distinctly different in topic and perspective, and the cumulative effect was powerful. What it boiled down to was a message about the importance of food in our lives for survival, health, and pleasure, and how that importance has changed in the past several hundred years. The culture of eating has shifted from scarcity to abundance, a circumstance that brings both benefits and dangers. From worries about pesticides and fat to grocery shelves filled with endless ingredients, our experience of food will never be the same.

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