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New class has students cooking up literature

October 19, 2011

TORONTO, ON — Fourth-year Eng­lish stu­dents are tak­ing their appetite for lit­er­a­ture to a whole new lev­el with a course called Cook the Books. They are study­ing lit­er­a­ture that observes and cel­e­brates food and then cook­ing dish­es inspired by their read­ings in the Hart House kitchen.

Pro­fes­sor Andrea Most paired up with Josh­na Maharaj, a local chef, to design the cur­ricu­lum for the year. Most will run the Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture side, while Maharaj will take charge in the kitchen. The goal is to exam­ine food in lit­er­a­ture in three ways: aes­thet­ic (it tastes good, beau­ti­ful), ethics (is eth­i­cal­ly okay) and health (is good or bad for you). The read­ings will reflect those themes, ask­ing ques­tions about body image, what con­sti­tutes health or taste, how food has changed through lit­er­a­ture over time and more.

As for time in the kitchen, each week a group will come up with a dish that tastes good, con­sid­er the sourc­ing of the ingre­di­ents and whether it’s a health or eth­i­cal con­cern. “We need the expe­ri­ence to real­ly come to life for the stu­dents and not just be the book says this or you’re going to cook this or you’re going to eat this. There’s going to be a lot of thought about the con­text in which peo­ple are eat­ing,” says Maharaj.

One week focused on hunger, so the group exper­i­ment­ed with cook­ing know­ing ingre­di­ents were in scarce sup­ply. An upcom­ing week will fea­ture Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry, dur­ing which the class will learn about fac­to­ry-made food and relat­ed eth­i­cal con­cerns, as well as the con­cepts of luck and access.

Natal­ie Gar­ri­ga was part of a group to cook a dish based on Babet­te’s Feast in ear­ly Octo­ber. “I love the course. I was excit­ed when I found out they offered it here because it’s not a course that’s usu­al­ly offered at uni­ver­si­ty. The cook­ing is real­ly fun. I’’s hands-on and inter­ac­tive, and I feel like you can get to know the pro­fes­sor and stu­dents a lot bet­ter,” she said as she was in the kitchen prepar­ing a feast of bread, soup, pan­cakes and stew.

Most and Maharaj also hope that the stu­dents will come away from the class with basic skills such as prepar­ing and serv­ing food, as well as learn­ing the inti­ma­cy of shared food by sit­ting around tables togeth­er. “They’re often eat­ing in class, but they’re not sup­posed to be!” laughs Most. “Now they’ll be fac­ing each oth­er and talk­ing to each oth­er. This is going to be dif­fer­ent.”

“I can’t wait to see what unfolds,” says Maharaj. “I think that learn­ing how to cook is much more inspir­ing and excit­ing when you get some of the big ideas about food with it. The lit­er­a­ture does such a beau­ti­ful job of posi­tion­ing food and food ideas in a con­text that lets you get real­ly caught up if you open your­self up to it. I hope at some point in the semes­ter, some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pens for every one of those stu­dents.”


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Andrea Most
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Josh­na Maharaj

Jes­si­ca Lewis
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to