• Kathryn Stallard, head of Special Collections, introduces students in Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton's Eat, Read, Write class to research materials available in the library.

Senior communication studies major Evan Rodriguez has been working in the food industry for 13 years as a cook, but what he really hopes to do someday is write about food.

Rodriguez is one of 12 students who signed up for a new class offered this semester by Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, associate professor of English. The class, titled “Eat, Read, Write” is an interdisciplinary seminar that enables students to craft their own research projects around a food-related subject that interests them. Before launching into their research projects, the students read a variety of materials from different disciplines, including some of the readings for the 2012 Brown Symposium, which focuses on food.

The class fits into a relatively new academic area known as food studies. Although food studies is not her academic specialty, Piedmont-Marton has been interested in food since she worked at an upscale restaurant in Washington, D.C., before attending graduate school. Her husband, who also worked in a restaurant when he was younger, has a similar passion for food and the two enjoy cooking and dining out frequently.

Piedmont-Marton first ventured into teaching about food by offering a First-Year Seminar titled Salt Cod and Cool Whip: Adventures in American Gastronomica. The seminar addresses how the way Americans produce, procure, prepare and eat food can be used to understand our culture. It proved to be so popular that a lot of students asked Piedmont-Marton if she could teach a full-semester course on the topic.

In addition to communication studies and English majors, the new class has drawn students majoring in anthropology, business, environmental studies, history and sociology.

“My goal for this class is for the students to imagine themselves as researchers and engage with real primary materials,” Piedmont-Marton said. “I want them to move from an interest in food to a critical engagement within their discipline. Everyone thinks they know everything about food, but like everything else, you have to study it.”

For example, Piedmont-Marton said many people think eating locally grown food and food television are relatively new, but in fact they date back much farther, making them prime topics for research projects.

One of the students in the class has chosen food television as a research project, and others have chosen topics such as industrial agriculture and representations of food and gender. Rodriguez is researching craft beers made in Texas.

“Since I work in a small local-centric restaurant, I am already immersed in what is happening with local craft beers and I saw this as an opportunity to find out what has happened that has allowed this exponential explosion of producers over the past decade,” he said.

Early in the semester, Piedmont-Marton took the class to Special Collections in Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center, where Kathryn Stallard showed them original material the library has available on topics such as food in politics, food in literature, food in film and food in art.

Piedmont-Marton said some students in the class may decide to develop their research topic further for their capstone project. Others may decide to develop their topic into a journal article or conference presentation.

Piedmont-Marton said the class fits in well with Southwestern’s growing interdisciplinary approach to teaching. She said she hopes to continue to offer it, perhaps even team-teaching it with another professor.