Colby College Professor Danila Cannamela demonstrates pasta making for her lab class last year. Cannamela’s class, “Pastoral Cookbook,” was one of the reasons Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities chose “Food for Thought” as its theme for this academic year. Photo by Ben Wheeler

WATERVILLE — In her class last fall – called “Pastoral Cookbook: Classic recipes and new cooking techniques”– Colby Professor Danila Cannamela encouraged her students to consider a different approach to the concept of “pastoral.”

“We approached the pastoral as a recipe made of four ingredients: root vegetables, milk, meat and honey,” Cannamela said of the lab class, which included hands-on cooking classes and visits to farms around central Maine, and produced a “cookbook” of their findings.

“We played with goats, listened to the buzz of thousands of bees, and snacked on fruit right off the vine,” the introduction to the class-culminating cookbook reads in part. “At the farms, we slowed down: we could not help but pay attention to and appreciate the intricate processes that bring us the food we eat every single day.”

Cannamela, assistant professor of Italian at Colby, called the class “one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a professor,” adding that the students also had the opportunities to learn about PFAS problems facing Maine farms and the supply-chain struggles bogging down the entire food production system, among other broad agricultural concerns.

“I think students realized how much complexity there is behind this facade of beauty and simplicity that we see in a rural landscape,” Cannamela said. “They got a greater awareness of what the state of farming is around us.”

Students rolled and cut homemade pasta for Prof. Danila Cannamela’s food-themed lab class last year. Photo by Ben Wheeler

Cannamela’s class was part of the reason faculty at Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities chose “Food for Thought” for its theme this year, bringing food-related investigations to 16 classes in fields from anthropology and Spanish to religious studies. Past themes, chosen in part to be broad enough that all the Center’s various disciplines can find a way into the discussion, have included “Freedom and Captivity” from last year, and “Boundaries and Margins” from the 2020-21 academic year.


Colleges and universities have found themselves increasingly interested by food studies over the past two decades. Popular programs have popped up at Boston University (Gastronomy and Food Studies), Oregon State University (Food in Culture and Social Justice) and Tufts University (Agriculture, Food & Environment), to name a few.

While the Colby theme doesn’t lead to a food studies degree, it does allow this year’s students to use the subject of food as a springboard for important discussions.

“As we were brainstorming last year,” said Chris Walker, assistant professor of English and associate director of the Center of Arts and Humanities, “one of the things that was on our minds was how important food is, both in terms of structuring our cultural experience, and allowing us to connect to each other, but also how it’s an increasingly important environmental issue. Food is really an issue that connects individual experience and global trends and problems.”

Prof. Cannamela, left, checks the fresh pasta as it cooks for her lab class. Photo by Ben Wheeler


“Food is such a rich theme,” agreed Center of Arts and Humanities Director Dean Allbritton. “It’s really about thinking about our relationships to food. The food we eat, whether we have access to food, Indigenous communities and their relationships to food.”

“Some courses offered this year address these issues and encourage students to go beyond simplistic definitions of food,” said Audrey Brunetaux, associate professor of French Studies.


Brunetaux gave as an example her class this fall, “Food for Thought: French Cuisine & Culinary Identities,” which she said “re-evaluates and critiques French cuisine and gastronomy through a decolonial lens to decenter the narrative on food and culinary traditions in France.”

Beyond coursework, the Center has organized a series of food-related lectures, panel discussions and film screenings to underscore this year’s theme, like a roundtable conversation, open to the public, on “Food Justice in Maine” at 7 p.m. Monday in the Kassman Auditorium. The roundtable will include the perspectives of four Maine nonprofits: The Evening Sandwich Program; Stone Soup Cafe; Healthy Northern Kennebec; and Presente! Maine.

Also free and open to the public: a screening of the film “What’s Cooking,” which explores Thanksgiving day through the lenses of four separate families – Vietnamese, Latino, Jewish and African-American – is set for Nov. 13 at the Maine Film Center, which regularly partners with Colby.


The Center has more events lined up later this month, and more food-themed curricular work and happenings set for next semester, including a campus visit in April from African American vegan chef, food-justice proponent and author Bryant Terry.

“Food means something different to each student,” Brunetaux said. “Some may think of food as an important way to form bonds within communities; some might see food as a political tool to address systemic injustices; others might approach food as a catalyst for creativity and social justice.”


Freshman Linh Tong said her class, “Survey of U.S. History to 1865” has used this year’s theme to show how food has helped shape the country and its people. “Food is not just a way to survive, food has a lot of cultural value as well,” she said.

The class honed in on particular foodstuffs here and there, like Native American fry bread, which Tong said has its roots in the European colonialization of North America.

“Fry bread takes on the role of survivor food, and they used it to survive in that period of time,” Tong added.

The Colby professors noted that this year’s food theme was also motivated in part by the insights many of us gained into food needs and issues during the pandemic.

“Food insecurities increased during the pandemic,” Walker said. “We were all missing gathering together and eating together.”

“We’re coming out of a time, in the pandemic and lockdown, when many of us were thinking about food,” Allbritton said. “I remember trying to learn how to bake bread during the early parts of the lockdown. I think a lot of us are thinking about how we get access to food and what happens when we don’t have the foods that we want or need.

“Right now, given the issue of inflation, a lot of us are thinking about the cost of food every time we go to the grocery store or out to eat.”

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