One of the reasons I chose DIS for study abroad was because of the variety of subjects in their offered courses that are unlike anything offered at my small university back in the States. I chose to take Food and Identity for my first session class because I have come into adulthood without much understanding about why I eat or what factors have influenced my day-to-day diet. Like a lot of people in my generation, global cuisine and strategies of cooking were introduced to me through media consumption. The prominence of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey or platforms like Bon Appétit on social media led to an increased awareness of how food can be heightened from the matter of sustenance to an elevated, purposeful creation. Food television shows like Chopped or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives have become integral for their part in making conversations of food more approachable for a wider audience in the United States. As an International Studies and Cinema double major, I have a really strong interest in how food is explored through media and I thought that my academic background would help with certain aspects of this class. I wanted to take Food and Identity to gain a better understanding of Danish cuisine and their identity as a global seat for culture and gastronomy.
My course is taught by Lisa Abend, a journalist who writes extensively about food, politics, and a collection of other social and cultural aspects. I think having someone who actively writes about culture is the perfect person to help dissect the topic of food identity in a class like this. I appreciate how the class is mostly discussion based, allowing us to ask our instructor about the readings or her thoughts on specific facets of Danish culture and cuisine.
Our class syllabus is on par with a lot of other DIS classes. We typically have two or three shorter readings to do in between classes and then we meet Monday through Friday for a few hours for a lecture and discussion. We are given small assignments throughout the weeks. I had to visit a spot called Torvehallerne for one of my assignments. I walked with a small group from my class to visit this open-space glass market near the center of Copenhagen. It is gorgeous and, like most places in Copenhagen, a little bit expensive – otherwise I would report on the food they offer there. But it is a pretty nice tourist spot and a common recommendation for those who are visiting the city and want to see a selection of pastries, smørrebrød, pork, gelato, or any other examples of foods related to Danish identity that you would want to see while visiting Copenhagen.
In a similar vein, in our class we do something called Snack Attack! One or two students are instructed to bring in a drink or snack that they feel is an important dish in Denmark’s food canon and then we have to do a small presentation on its significance or its history before we pass out the treat for everyone to try. For my Snack Attack!, I brought in jordbærkage, a strawberry and cream cake from a franchise bakery called Lagkagehuset. I was really lucky and brought in my dessert on a sunny day after there had been a few days of spotted rain storms in Copenhagen. Strawberries grow in Denmark during a short season starting in mid-to-late May and are indicative of the upcoming summer months so I think it was a good choice.
We have had two film screenings outside of class (Babette’s Feast made me cry so I recommend that movie to anyone out there reading this) and so far we have had one field study. Field studies are for practical applications of what you’re learning in the classroom. Experiential learning in or outside of Copenhagen are typical for DIS classes. But I think Food and Identity stands out because of the endless possibilities for experiential learning on a subject like food in Denmark because of how highly regarded New Nordic Cuisine is in the global sphere of cooking.
My class went foraging on our field study which was absolutely incredible. Professor Abend brought in her friend Thomas Laursen to help us forage in a remote area south of Copenhagen. Thomas is a professional forager and has hunted through Denmark’s natural world for world-renowned restaurants in Copenhagen such as Noma or Geranium. He is also an author and works under the brand Wildfooding where he’s been able to make a career out of teaching, cooking, and gathering. He’s a very cool person and very accomplished but I was mostly astounded by how absolutely welcoming and excited he was to talk to my class. About Denmark’s relationship with foraging but also just about his work experience and his background in collecting expertise on food. I said this in my last blog post but Danes are SO extremely friendly. Much more akin to the manners of the Midwest than the impressions you might get as a foreigner looking at their steely dispositions.
Thomas very graciously extended a lot of knowledge and that has been by far been my favorite day of class. I just think being able to learn from somebody who seems truly humble about his work with nature was the best way I could have learned about the vegetation we were hunting. He also convinced me to eat a jet ant and I don’t think I would have let anyone else convince me to do that (the ant tasted like orange – and was very delicious). On our foraging day, he brought in dough and pesto he had made but we topped the bread with a collection of flowers, berries, and leaves we had collected as we walked across the white-sanded beach and the small wooded paths near the Southern coast. I cannot emphasize how absolutely delicious this was. I will not try to describe (injustices would be made) but it is absolutely in the top three best things I have ever tasted.
To kind of wrap this up, this class has been such a great way to start my time in Europe. Just the opportunities I have been given in Food and Identity to go beyond the classroom and to learn from established members of Denmark’s food and media industry – it has been absolutely incredible that DIS offers what they do to provide a study abroad experience like this for their students. I am using this Food and Identity course as a resource to work on my own travelogue film that I am shooting in Copenhagen and Stockholm as I study with DIS. I was selected as a Summer 2022 recipient for the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship, an award given to low-income students from the United States who are interested in cultural diplomacy and studying abroad. I am creating the film as my scholarship service project to document my time in Scandinavia and show the merits of education in a foreign country. Inspired by travel shows like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown or comedic offerings in the genre like Somebody Feed Phil and Travel Man (hosted by Phil Rosenthal and Richard Ayoade respectively), my medium fits well to document the cuisine and landscape of Scandinavia.
Food and Identity is a wonderful class to take on its own but I knew that it would be a fantastic class to help me understand Scandinavian food before I started filming. I am glad I am taking it because it has been helping me to shape my own opinions on food and how to talk about it. It has been so beneficial for me to learn about this passion of mine in an academic setting where I can develop more of a vocabulary on how to approach conversations of food and attitudes on how/why we eat what we do. This course is an interesting class that can raise a lot of dynamic questions on media, identity, and food so I totally recommend!