What is Gastronomy?

“What do you study?” people would ask me at parties or in the café where I used to work.

Produce at the Brookline Farmers Market

“I study Gastronomy at Boston University,” I’d respond, cringing slightly inside.  Then I’d wait.  Which reaction would I get?  It is usually one of three:

  1. “Oh, that’s nice,” followed by silence by the person, and a smile from me.  The person would have no idea what I was talking about and either couldn’t or didn’t want to come up with a follow-up question for more details.  For all I knew, they regretted asking the question to begin with.
  2. Person: “So, stars?”
    Me: “No, that’s Astronomy.  I study GAStronomy.  Food and culture.”
    Person: “Oh, that’s nice.” See #1.
  3. Person: “You study intestines?”
    Me: “Kind of, but I’m not a gastroenterologist [yeah, snarky, I know].  I study food and culture.”
    Person: “Oh, that’s nice.” See #1.

Griesbrei, or cream of wheat, my morning breakfast

In the first couple years, I got so tired of this, and many of my friends in the program did too.  One even started telling people she studied English or Sociology, just to avoid the awkward silences (and she wasn’t really lying: we do study both those things in class – after all, it is a Master of Liberal Arts).

I’ve gotten a bit better, and more patient, at describing what I do.  I’d rather have the conversation on what Gastronomy is, than have those awkward pauses when people sip on their empty drinks and let their eyes drift – or worse, make people feel insecure or scoffed at.  For a while I stopped answering the question with “I study Gastronomy” at all, and just explained the topics I researched, but I didn’t like that either.  How would people learn the term if even I didn’t use it?  Instead, I’ll offer a general description right off the bat: “I study Gastronomy, the history and culture of food, mainly through the lens of cultural studies such as anthropology or sociology.”  This is still ambiguous, but it usually solicits more positive feedback from the inquisitor, and we often get into a good conversation.

This blog’s subtitle is “Gastronomy in Practice” but to see it in practice means we have to come to some kind of definition of what it is.  So I’m going to try to do this on the blog with a short series, delving into it a bit more than I could at a cocktail party.

Apfelstrudel, made in the Boston University Culinary Arts Program, Fall 2007

What is Gastronomy?

Folklorist Lucy Long at Bowling Green State University summed up the study of Gastronomy well in an email sent to the Association for the Study of Food and Society listserv a few weeks ago:

“We try to understand the significance and meanings of food and all the activities surrounding it. Not just gourmet food, but everyday and mundane food. And oftentimes, it’s the event surrounding the food rather than the food itself that gives it the emotional significance in our memories.”

Over the next few posts, I will present and compare some of the definitions that Long and others have offered – and there are many because Gastronomy means a lot of things to different people.  Gastronomy as a field is so relatively young that the name itself is debated among its scholars (and we’ll get to that too).  The idea is to set a foundation from which to build the content on this blog in the future and develop how to actually practice Gastronomy.  Feel free to join in the conversation and ask questions – what do you want to know about Gastronomy?

7 Comments to “What is Gastronomy?”

  1. This is so exciting! I am looking forward to reading your little series. :)

  2. Fabulous. I ALSO can’t wait to read more!

  3. Hi there, your blog is really interesting. Nice to know you. I’m Indonesian and still in Senior year for my bachelor degree in agroindustial technology major in food processed. I have a dream to continue my Master program at Gastronomy in BU. Is there a chance for overseas student to get scholarshhip or fellowship for this program? would you please tell me? you can email me at mutya.ananda14@yahoo.com for internal conversation. I hope you can understand my English because I’m still learning English so my grammar still messy. I hope you can give me a help. Thank you :).

    • Hi Aya-Ssi. I highly recommend you get in touch with the Gastronomy program to talk to them about your options. You can contact them directly at gastrmla@bu.edu. You can also research a lot of information for international student applicants, and the application in general, online at http://www.bu.edu/met/admissions/apply-now/graduate-degree-program/. Unfortunately I am not familiar with financial aid options for international students, but the program office can certainly help answer those questions for you.

      I’m glad to hear of your interest – it is a wonderful program. I wish you all the best in your endeavors!

  4. Thank you for the answer. I really appreciate it. And I really thankful for this website to share what wonderful gastronomy is. You know when I told my friend about my interest in gastronomy they just laughing at me and didn’t say anything, I’m so glad I found this website and having a short conversation with you and have some more information about gastronomy is..

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