College was one of the highlights of my life! Out of all of the memorable years as an undergraduate, one of my most memorable experiences was taking a “Food and Literature” course during my final quarter at Cal State L.A. Learning about the way that literature and food are intertwined was an eye-opening and enjoyable experience that left a lasting impression on me.
“Food and Literature” was a very popular course, and I considered it a blessing that I acquired a spot on registration day. Dr. Sonnenschein was one of the funniest and nicest professors on the Cal State L.A. campus, and he was simply a joy when it comes to learning. Studying for that class did not even feel like work because it was so much fun.
It was a unique learning experience, and my professor used creative and enticing methods to teach us about various aspects of food and how it relates to literature. For example, the class watched a documentary on General Tso’s Chicken. We then discussed the theme of family traditions, which is a common element in literature, and how meals are an integral part of bringing people together and creating customs that are passed down for generations.
“Food and Literature” examined some interesting facets of the role food plays in society. Beyond the basic idea of our fundamental need for food as a means of sustenance, food can actually be a mechanism for creativity. In many ways, food can be a form of creative expression where true culinary artists prepare it in a way that evokes awe and admiration. That is actually part of the reason why culinary schools exist, to look at food presentation. This kind of creative expression, in the form of edible art, was not something that I truly appreciated until I took this class. Food is not only essential to our survival, but it can be appreciated and explored in new ways through our visual and gustatory perception.
Even with his care-free demeanor, Dr. Sonnenschein did not always treat the class in a “light-hearted” manner. One of the topics that he discussed was metaphors, and he taught us about how many sayings in the English language revolve around food. For example, there is the idiomatic expression “piece of cake” to describe something that might be easy, or the adjective “bittersweet” to describe something both pleasant and distressing. I was fascinated by his lectures and the ability the examine aspects of food and language that I never really thought about before. I learned so much about how food is a major aspect of human existence because people truly need food – both literally and metaphorically – in order to live in the real world.
There was still a fair amount of required classwork to complete; however, even though there was quite a bit of work to do, I found it to be both enriching and enjoyable. In fact, I had the opportunity to write my final paper on The Book of Salt by Monique Truong, and that was one of the greatest novels that I’ve ever read. I still remember how engrossed I was for the two hours it took me to read that text before Thanksgiving dinner in 2015.
The writing was eloquent and flowed like a culinary masterpiece being served in a five-star restaurant. There was a sense of opulence that emanated from the text through its beautiful descriptions of the food that the main protagonist, Bình, cooks. I truly savored the opportunity to analyze the novel and the correlation between the food and its homosexual themes, including Bình’s relationship with the lesbian couple Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. This was definitely one of the most rewarding assignments that I had to complete during my college career.
The time I spent in my “Food and Literature” course might have only lasted for ten weeks, but it remains one of the most delightful experiences in my entire life. I’ll never forget the engaging discussions, new literature I was introduced to, or the fun ways that Dr. Sonnenschein taught the class. We even celebrated the end of the quarter with a potluck that included baked goods from Porto’s bakery! I never thought I could learn so much about food and literature in such an entertaining way.
It has been nearly two years since I took that class, but it will always be one of my most memorable courses from college. I am grateful for the opportunity to view literature in a new way that few people will ever get to experience. “Food and Literature” was so much more than just a quirky type of literature class, it taught me how important food is to us and its impact on society, and I will always express gratitude for having a chance to take that course in college.
Previously Published on MindFray