Rice, chicken, tea. Sounds like a meal, but in a summer class about international food, these staples are a jumping-off point for understanding rice's role in globalization, how rumors about chicken quality represent distrust of the global market and how a British obsession with Chinese tea led to slave raids in the Philippines.
"Food is a natural conduit to look at culture, politics, history, society, class, ethnicity, identity and religion," said Jonathan Friedlander, assistant director for UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies. Friedlander has been organizing summer teacher-training workshops in international studies at UCLA for 30 years.
"It's a Matter of Taste: Food in World History and Cultures," a 10-day workshop for K–12 teachers of history, geography and social studies, will cover these and other topics. The course, which begins July 25, is put on by the International Institute and its affiliated African Studies Center, Latin American Institute, Center for Near Eastern Studies, Asia Institute, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and Center for European and Eurasian Studies, as well as the UCLA History Geography Project.
Barbara Gaerlan, assistant director of UCLA's Center for Southeast Asian Studies, will explain how Britain, which became addicted to Chinese tea but had nothing desirable to offer in trade to the Manchurian emperor, made deals to buy birds' nests, shark fins and sea cucumbers — said to be aphrodisiacs when added to soup — from the sultanate of Sulu (part of the modern-day Philippines). As a result, the sultanate began brutal slave raiding throughout the region to create a work force to collect these exotic goods.
UCLA history professor Robin Derby will explore how reports of contaminated "gringo" chickens in the Dominican Republic are indicative of Dominicans' reluctance to fully embrace an economy driven by global market forces.
Geography doctoral student Jenny Goldstein will talk about how rice, millet, the kola nut and yams were first domesticated in Africa but traveled across the Atlantic during the slave trade in an early form of food globalization.
While the workshop offers actual material for teachers creating units for middle and high school courses, it is also an opportunity for teachers from all grade levels to think and learn about the multicultural environment of their particular schools.
The entire group of 60 teachers will meet together each morning to hear lectures and participate in discussions on topics from around the globe; participants will then fan out in the afternoon for separate tracks focusing on one of three regions: the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and Eurasia, or Latin America/Black Atlantic.
"The teachers have chosen which track based on courses they are teaching, a particular interest, or because of the ethnicity of their students," Friedlander said.
According to Mark Elinson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District social studies teacher and curriculum consultant for the program, UCLA's workshops draw some of the best and brightest teachers.
"The professional development program offered by the International Institute is one of the more serious and scholarly opportunities teachers have to get salary points. The teachers who come are interested in the topics and committed to learning. Many of them don't actually need the credits," he said.
By looking at food, the workshop will explore the growth of agricultural economies, how trade and commerce have evolved from antiquity to the present, the role of food as an expression of identity and the impact of politics on food and water, emphasized Sherry Vatter, a UCLA alum and history faculty at Cal State Long Beach, who organized the collective morning sessions and is leading the Middle East and North Africa track.
More specific topics will include: McDonald's in the Middle East, a global history of coffee, the tea ceremony and the production of national culture, appetite and identity in colonial Vietnam, food and gender identity in the Roman empire, hunger and politics, food advertising and branding, and many others. There will be an entire day devoted to tea.
Lectures will be given by scholars from UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Long Beach, San Diego State and the Otis College of Design. Non-university-affiliated lecturers include independent food historian and former food critic for the Los Angeles Times Charles Perry, director of the Culinary Historians of Northern California Erica J. Peters and education director of the Middle East Policy Council Barbara Petzen.
Some cooking will be infused into the workshop, as well as discussion of the use of cookbooks as a primary source for learning about cultural identity. The entire group will also take a field trip to the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, where they will view clips of food commercials from around the world to see how different countries promote their products.
Elinson and Friedlander say that feedback from past years' workshops has been excellent, and many teachers come back three or four years in a row.
"This is an opportunity for teachers to be in a professional, scholarly environment where they can be challenged to think out of the box," Friedlander said.