An Interview with Professor Blake on her Spring ’20 Course, Reading Voraciously: Food and Literature in the 20th Century

Olivia Simonds's interview with Professor Blake on her upcoming spring course, Reading Voraciously: Food and Literature in the 20th Century.

I got the chance to ask Professor Blake some guiding questions about her upcoming spring course, Reading Voraciously: Food and Literature in the 20th Century, where she discusses the ways in which students can think critically about food, foodways, and culinary exploration.

O.S: Can you talk briefly about yourself? (Personal projects/passions, academic history, etc.) What led you to this work?

E.B: The book that led me to food studies is actually one we’ll read in this course; it’s Alice Toklas’s eponymous cookbook, and I first picked it up almost by accident, after years of studying her partner, Gertrude Stein. Toklas’s cookbook is an amazing document, and it got me thinking about the neglected texts of the modernist era—especially those that challenge our ideas of what counts as literature—and how often women’s writing fits into that category. I’m also an enthusiastic cook and eater, so turning my academic attention to food was a pleasure unto itself.

O.S: What inspired you to create this course?

E.B: The course is a natural extension of my own research in the field, and teaching these food-filled texts is always really exciting for me. Food is such an important part of our daily lives, and it’s a conceptually rich topic that opens out in many different directions. It’s also a chance to give students a global perspective on food culture and on twentieth century literature, juxtaposing a set of writers who wouldn’t normally be taught together and thinking broadly about how food practices shape the experience of everyday life.

O.S: What can students expect from this course? What should they think about before joining?

E.B: This class should be a lot of fun, but it’s also a very serious class; in addition to talking about many delicious things, we’ll talk about deprivation and hunger, and we’ll also think carefully about how food practices are related to identity categories such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class. It will probably change the way you eat, too. My hope is that it will help students become more thoughtful readers and eaters.

O.S: Should students have previous exposure to 20th century literature before taking this course?

E.B: That’s definitely not required—previous experience with or coursework in 20th century literature might add richness to students’ experience of the class, but the only requirement is that you have previous experience with food. One thing I love about teaching courses in food studies is having students with a range of different disciplinary perspectives, all thinking together.

O.S: How have you chosen to structure this course?

E.B: Each of the literary texts is paired with a theoretical reading that opens up a set of questions relevant to that text; we’ll accumulate critical and theoretical approaches as we move through the century, reading in chronological order as a way to foreground both literary history and historical shifts in food practices. We close with two texts that revisit earlier moments in the syllabus, thinking about how twenty-first century authors are in conversation with their literary forebears.

O.S: In what ways could this course contribute to life outside of Clark?

E.B: My aim is to encourage culinary exploration and experimentation, in addition to critical thinking about food and foodways. It will definitely lead to a lot of snacking while reading.