“I didn’t realize how much I missed this food line!”
Charlette Gregorian, Pedagogical Fellow 2019
Following two days of facilitating the Teaching Assistant Professional Development Program (TAPDP), a required training for incoming TAs at UC Irvine, this year’s cohort of Pedagogical Fellows streamed into the kitchen adjacent to the classroom where we have met weekly since the beginning of 2019. While this meeting was a special party to commemorate our months of work developing TAPDP, gathering around food, and queuing in this particular classroom kitchen, has also been a central component of our classroom climate.
DTEI’s Snack-Sharing Model
After experiencing three quarters of pedagogy courses facilitated through UCI’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) in which sharing food has been a consistent element of the classroom experience, I believe that food can be a powerful way to build a classroom community. In DTEI’s quarter-length pedagogy classes, students are asked to sign up for snack rotations (students bring a snack to share once or twice per quarter). At the beginning of each class, instructors Dr. Daniel Mann and Dr. Matthew Mahavongtrakul set aside 10-15 minutes (it helps that these are long seminars so there is time) for students to get their snacks. This practice also allows students to get situated, run a few minutes late without embarrassment, and get to know their classmates.
Food & Community Building
Food scholars and journalists have established the power of food in building community, yet I believe this power is underutilized in the classroom. While there is little pedagogical research about using food in higher education pedagogy, there are studies looking at the role of food in building community among colleagues and families. A 2010 New York Times article explains that food fosters conversation in community organizations, and what is a seminar if not a structured conversation? A 2015 article published in the journal Human Performance addresses the idea that “behavior that might seem superfluous or wasteful to outside observers ultimately carries significant importance for organizational performance.” In their case, improving overall job performance through teamwork. Finally, political scientist Janet Flammang’s research indicates that communal dining promotes civil engagement.
Campus Food Insecurity
Initially I feared that asking students to bring food to class, on top of all of their other responsibilities, would be a further burden met with resentment. I worried especially for low-income or food-insecure students who may not be able to expend additional money on food for class. While I don’t know if this was an issue behind closed doors, one way I believe this dynamic is lessened is through the non-judgmental culture of the snack responsibilities. Some students bring in home-made creations or treats from artisanal foodie spots, while others bring in chips or candy from the campus convenience store. All snacks are met with enthusiasm. Additionally, for food-insecure students, I believe that this model offers reassurance that they will be able to make it through class without being hungry. While providing snacks during their weeks presents a possible financial burden, it also ensures that they will have access to food every single week. With the rising awareness and data on food insecurity on college campuses, classroom food rotations offer a practical approach that instructors can use to, in some small way, address this issue, particularly if their campus is unable to offer formal resources like a food pantry. UC Irvine is fortunate to house a student food pantry on campus (FRESH Basic Needs Hub). However, with some data suggesting that 48% of UCI students are food insecure, any assistance could be a lifeline.
While establishing snack rotations along the DTEI model may not be practical for all class sizes and formats, incorporating food sharing into pedagogy has proven benefits. PhD candidate in history, Rachael De La Cruz, has built food into her lesson plans to build morale during (potentially) stressful moments like midterm and final exam reviews. She also brought muffins and clementines the day after the 2016 election as a way to create a supportive environment in which to talk through the election results. In food studies classes I have led the students in a food meditation to combine a wellness break and snack time, and illustrate food supply chains. Students responded very favorably to the exercise in the course evaluations, not just for the snack but also for the way food contributed to their understanding of course materials. Setting aside a few minutes to share snacks before or during class time improves student relationships, promotes conversation, builds engagement with course materials, and alleviates hunger associated with food insecurity.
Back in the classroom, the Pedagogical Fellows reflected on their long days with LaCroix, pizza, and vegan donuts, and the conversation carried on.
“Food Meditation”. Northwest Earth Institute. Accessed October 9th, 2019.
Kevin M. Kniffin, Brian Wansink, Carol M. Devine & Jeffery Sobal. “Eating Together at the Firehouse: How Workplace Commensality Relates to the Performance of Firefighters”. Human Performance 28:4, 281-306 (2015).
“Raisin Meditation”. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on October 9th, 2019.