Gastronomy is a super-discourse. It crosses disciplines and breaks down silos.

Philippe Dubois

"According to a certain adage, you are what you eat," says Professor Philippe Dubois, French & Francophone studies. "I would argue that how you eat and with whom you eat is far more telling."

Dubois, who studies the complexities of gastronomic discourse, sees conviviality at the table as an excellent means of bringing diverse groups together. But, as he explains, it can also be a means of keeping people apart.

"In 2011 for instance, two days before Bastille Day in France, right-wing conservatives at the National Assembly sought to organize a pork-and-wine dinner," he says. "So who gets excluded from this type of banquet? Practicing Jewish and Muslim citizens. The French government and intellectuals are struggling with ways to best set a common gastronomic table."

According to Dubois, to study food is to study economics, politics, religion, aesthetics, symbolism and culture, as well as gender and class identities. "Gastronomy is a super-discourse," he says. "It crosses disciplines and breaks down silos."

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings in early 2015, roughly 2 million people, including 40 world leaders, protested in Paris. "The impressive gathering represented a chance to reflect on daily discriminatory practices, including those related to food," says Dubois. "If eating together can be construed as a step toward better living together, the table then functions as a privileged space where tensions around the sacrosanct notion of French secularism can be worked out, with pluralism as one of the ingredients of a national set of universal dishes."   

Dubois, who directs the French & Francophone studies program, teaches just one class in English instead of French — Global Cuisines, Local Contexts: Commensality and Conflict, in collaboration with Professor Clare Sammells, sociology & anthropology. It compares the history and culture of France to that of the Bolivian Andes with an emphasis on gastronomic traditions.

Students have the opportunity to receive a hands-on education in gastronomy through Bucknell en France, living and studying in Tours for a semester or a year. "It is a wonderful opportunity for students to live with French families, share meals and experience conviviality and culture firsthand," says Dubois, who taught the program in 2011-12. "They harvested grapes with wine makers, designed desserts with local chocolatiers, worked in a bakery and volunteered in a soup kitchen. The intensity of the experience profoundly transformed them."

Posted Sept. 23, 2015