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New Gastronomy Course Explores the Political, Historical Ingredients in Latinx Food in the US

“LatinX Experiences of Farming, Cooking and Eating in the United States” spotlights the people who are often overlooked in American food and dining

What do you get when you mix “a cup of political science, an ounce-and-a-half of sociology,” and a dash of chemistry? For José López Ganem, it’s the perfect recipe for a new course in Boston University’s Gastronomy Program: LatinX Experiences of Farming, Cooking and Eating in the United States.

The class, introduced by López Ganem this fall (it will be offered again next fall), examines the “fundamental force” that “Latin American or Spanish-speaking people” bring to the food culture of the United States, he says.

From farmers who grow and pick the produce that ends up on grocery store shelves to the chefs who create mouth-watering cuisine, the servers who deliver those meals to a restaurant table, and the bussers who clear away the empty plates, people who are part of the Latin American diaspora are often the overlooked engine of the US food system.

“I was very interested in creating something with the stories of the people that I was hearing about in Latin America and in my own country here,” says López Ganem (MET’22), himself a graduate of BU’s Gastronomy Program, and now co–executive director for the nonprofit Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute. His course brings these stories front and center to consider why these individuals are often relegated to our cultural back-of-house, and how they have shaped (and continue to shape) food in the United States, despite that.

The online course is split into three sections, covering farming, cooking, and eating—a way to explore the full spectrum of Latin American influence in the US food culture. Each section features guest speakers with experience in the field, and case studies that range from Central American laborers working on Vermont dairy farms to churro stand operators in the New York City subway to digital nomads in trendy neighborhoods of Mexico City. The course culminates in a final project that offers students a chance to highlight what they’ve learned, through their own experience.

Zachary Fuller (MET’25) used the final project as an opportunity to dig deep into indigenous Mexican beverages, leveraging his own background as a distiller and brewer. He recreated four ancient beverages (pozol, tascalate, chicha morada, and tepache)—and designed one of his own (which he calls “manyaba”) using indigenous ingredients and techniques.

In the process of making the beverages, Fuller says, he gained a deeper appreciation for indigenous ingredients such as purple corn flour and raw cacao. “The great thing is that anyone can do this,” he says, “and you learn so much by doing it.”

For Amanda Leavitt (MET’24), who graduates in January, the course was a natural conclusion to her research inquiry during the master’s program.

“My research throughout this entire program has driven me to study Latinx food experiences just by chance,” she says. “I started writing about Puerto Rican bodegas in New York two years ago, and this class stood out to me as a way to bookend my experience. I’m Latina—my parents are Puerto Rican and Salvadorean—so to really dive deep into different cultures and have a professor who’s really knowledgeable about it was so gratifying.”

López Ganem sees the course as fitting into a larger canon of study within the food ecosystem in the United States, and within BU’s Gastronomy Program, alongside classes such as Culture and Cuisine of the African Diaspora and Indigenous Food Cultures and Communities.

“These are areas of possibility where we can use food as an entryway into the complex history, politics, social experience of different cultures in America,” he says. “We can see how foods and food spaces, such as restaurants and kitchens, can actually become, inadvertently, their own points of political community, and social community.”

Source : BU