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New series on natural history of food showcases University faculty

by David Colberg - January 26, 2009


A new series of lectures, programs, and workshops on the natural history of food is being launched this semester by the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The series will explore how physical and biological processes affect the way people eat, and how people’s relationship to food shapes population distribution, technologies, politics, social interaction, and aesthetic expression.

“This series is an exciting opportunity to bring together many talented experts from the University of Connecticut and beyond,” says Jeremy Teitelbaum, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“From the biological to the cultural, the multidisciplinary approach of the Natural History of Food series will showcase the University’s scholarship and research.”

Margaret Bruchac, assistant professor of anthropology and coordinator of the Native American Studies Program at the Avery Point campus, will talk about the wide-ranging impact the foods of the Americas have had since the first interactions between European explorers and Native American communities. Her program, Algonkian Indian Influences on Yankee Foodways, will be offered on Sunday, Feb. 1, at 3 p.m.

Alexia Smith, assistant professor of anthropology and a specialist in ecological anthropology, climate, and land use history, and the development of agriculture in the Near East, will discuss the beginnings of agriculture in the Middle East.

Her lecture, Seeds, Glorious Seeds! Examining Food Use in Antiquity, will take place on Sunday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m.

The University’s ecology and evolutionary biology greenhouses have one of the most diverse teaching plant collections in the United States, including many connected to the food and medical industries.

For the Natural History of Food series, a special guided greenhouse tour will provide the uncommon opportunity to see many foods, spices, and medicines in their pre-harvested and unprocessed forms as plants. The tour, Sugar and Spice and Chocolate, will be led by greenhouse staff on Saturday, Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Cameron Faustman, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will share and answer many of the meat-related questions his students have asked over the years including: What is head cheese? Why is it possible to buy summer sausage in the winter? and What makes American bacon so different from Canadian bacon? His presentation will provide insights into the world of meat and meat products. His lecture, Why is There a Bag in My Turkey? – Meat 101, will take place on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m.

Rebecca Canfield, an assistant manager with the Department of Dining Services, coordinates the University’s Local Routes program, which promotes the use of locally produced food. Canfield will speak about the effects our food purchases have on the economy, the environment, and the people and animals involved in food production. She will also discuss the Local Routes program and the importance of supporting local food producers, as well as sustainable methods of production. Her talk, What You Eat Can Make a Difference, will take place on Sunday, March 1, from 1 to 3 p.m.

UConn’s Forestry and Wildlife Club, based in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, operates its own sugarhouse on the Storrs campus, and will offer a hands-on visit to the sugarhouse as part of the Natural History of Food series. The program, Maple Sugaring, will be led by Forestry Club members on Saturday, March 14, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Kevin McBride, associate professor of anthropology at UConn and director of research for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, will discuss how Native Americans from the New England area changed from gathering and hunting food to sophisticated agriculture practices. His lecture, The Maize Agricultural Revolution: Myth or Reality? will be offered on Sunday, March 15, at 3 p.m.

Meg Harper, director of the Public Archaeology Survey Team Inc., will discuss the seasonal acquisition, preparation, rituals, and consumption of food by Native Americans. Her workshop, Life Without a Supermarket – Native American Foodways, will take place on Sunday, March 29, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Russell Schimmer, a Ph.D. candidate in natural resources management and engineering, and a student at the UConn Law School, is using remote sensing techniques and satellite imagery to study the impact of human behaviors, such as war and genocide, on the environment and the availability of resources such as food. He will present some of his findings in his lecture, Genocide, Environment, and Agricultural Sustainability, on Sunday, April 5, at 3 p.m.

Cheryl Rautio, coordinator of the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program, part of UConn’s Cooperative Extension System, and antique canning jar expert Cameron Boum will explore the cultural and environmental impact of canning: past, present, and future. Their program, Preserving Our Harvests, will be offered on Saturday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to noon.

For more information, check the Museum’s events calendar at http://www.cac.uconn.edu/mnhcurrentcalendar.html or call 860.486.4460.

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