It’s that time of year when food takes center stage, but the holiday traditions of turkey, pumpkin pie and Santa-shaped sugar cookies are more than just dinner and dessert to Longwood University professor Dr. Ryan Stouffer.
“Food is obviously something we deal with every day. There’s so much communication when it comes to food but we often don’t think about what our food choices communicate,” he said.
Family food traditions around the holidays hold special significance, even if the food itself isn’t always a favorite.
Food is obviously something we deal with every day. There’s so much communication when it comes to food but we often don’t think about what our food choices communicate.Dr. Ryan Stouffer, associate professor of communications studies Tweet This
Case in point: One dad recounts what happened when he suggested to his three young children that they have spaghetti for Thanksgiving instead a traditional dinner. They didn’t even have to think about it before answering: “No, no and no.” Shaking his head, the dad said, “But you won’t even eat the turkey.”
The Food We Eat has a unit on holiday and other American food as well as cuisine from other countries, vegan vs. vegetarian, and even hunger strikes.
“Food is an amazing gateway into other cultures,” said Stouffer, who describes himself as a “huge foodie. I grow a lot of my own food, I do a lot of my own cooking, and my dad had a restaurant. I have a lot of love for and experience with food.
“To truly be a citizen leader, we have to understand the people we’re trying to lead. There’s no better way to understand people than to understand the food they eat and where it comes from,” he said, giving the following example. “The Gullah people in South Carolina were brought to this country as slaves. They’ve had a huge influence on the cuisine of the whole country. We think of barbecue as American, but it really came with the Gullah.
“Leaders need to be students of the world and understand the diversity of the world,” he said.
The Food We Eat: Communication Through Food is one of the courses under the umbrella of Citizen 110, taken by all freshmen as part of Longwood’s Civitae Core Curriculum. Taught from a variety of the perspectives and a diverse range of disciplines, Citizen 110 encourages students to focus on the relationship between individual rights and responsibility to the common good while at the same time building skills in ethical reasoning, critical thinking and public speaking.