LS class turns cookbooks into learning opportunity

Tejas A. Sawant

If you’ve ever wondered who invented mac ‘n’ cheese or how New York became famous for cheesecake, you might want to take another look at your spring class schedule. These are the kind of questions Amy Wilkinson encourages her students to explore in “Writing-II: Food for Thought,” offered this spring in Liberal Studies.

The curriculum is focused on key issues surrounding food: production, distribution, preparation, consumption, ethics and class said Wilkinson.

“Students write essays with food at the center of them,” Wilkinson said. “An essay in which they add their voice to the food conversation; an essay in which they begin a question-driven research project with the close reading of a recipe.”

For this research component, students access the cookbook collection at the Fales Library & Special Collections, housed on the third floor in Bobst Library. They do so under the able guidance of librarian for printed books Charlotte Priddle.

With more than 60,000 individual books, Priddle said Fales is one of the largest collections on food and cookery in the country.

“Books cover everything from 16th century instructions on planting vineyards, to 21st century books by celebrity chefs,” Priddle said. “There is literally a cookbook for everyone in the collection.”

In her six years teaching the course, Wilkinson has continually been surprised by the creativity of her pupils.

“One student wrote about edible flowers, their uses in both food and medicine,” Wilkinson said. “The author of this article wrote a wonderful essay about Sacher-Torte, an Austrian chocolate cake and its complicated, contentious history.”

LS sophomore Elise LeMassena, who took the class last year, wrote an essay about apple pie and its relation to U.S. patriotism and gender roles. LeMassena appreciated the wide scope of the class.

“Food is such a broad topic with so much branching information,” she said. “Professor Wilkinson encourages students to create a relationship with food writing that is personal and connected to their own individual interests.”

While this class itself is open to first-year Liberal Studies Core students only, others should not despair. The Fales Library is accessible to all NYU students, faculty and staff as well as outside researchers, according to Priddle.

“If you are a student here, working on a project and need to use something in our collections, we are more than happy to give you access,” Priddle said.

Email Tejas A. Sawant at [email protected]

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