Bringing Theory to Practice through Kitchen Technologies

“Even a pencil is technology,” declared my colleague Anthony Graesch during one of my first Technology Fellows Program meetings. This little statement pushed me to broaden my concept of technology in the classroom. What kinds of technology was I already using?

“Food and the Senses” (ANT 353) is the title of a course I am teaching this semester. My class reads and discusses theoretical approaches to food and sensory experience on Tuesdays. Then on Thursdays, we go into the ‘lab’ (either a kitchen or the classroom transformed in to a sensory laboratory) to engage in a hands-on activity related to the theoretical point we explored the previous class. One Tuesday at the start of the semester, we read and discussed Marcel Mauss’s “Techniques of the Body”  and the concept of embodied knowledge. I wanted my students to think about the ways in which knowledge and culture shape our embodied practices in the kitchen and at the table.

Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.
Food and the Senses (ANT353) students getting ready to mix bread in a kesariya.

Thursday, we baked bread as a way of exploring techniques of the body. Students were given basic instructions on how to bake bread. I broke the class up in to four groups. One of the groups was given a stand mixer, another was given a traditional Moroccan bread-making dish (kesariya) and the other two groups did all of the kneading on the counter top by hand. The students were left to literally feel their way through the recipe. I stopped them at key points and encouraged them to test the consistency of the dough and take notes. At the end of the lab when the dough was fully kneaded, the students were asked to reflect on their experiences through a lab sheet. I provided prompts to help students connect their bread-making experience with concepts of embodied knowledge.

Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.
Using a stand mixer to knead bread dough.

Reading back through my students’ reflections, I was pleased to see that they had considered the ways technologies such as the mixer and the Moroccan dish had mediated their sensory experiences. One labor-conscious student wrote, “I have a new appreciation for technology. Kneading the dough was such hard work. I never realized how much time and effort I could save by using something as simple as a dish or a mixer.” Another student noted that she had to adjust her senses to work with the mixer: “We had to stop the mixer to check the consistency of the dough. Was the gluten developing? Did it feel bouncy? We could not tell this just by looking at the dough in the mixer.” Technology became an extension of the body, just as Marcel Mauss had suggested. Through this lab, students learned about techniques of the body using rather low-tech tools.

The class was then asked to share their hands-on, low-tech learning through a class WordPress blog. This brought them full circle from theory to practice and from low to high-tech.

Reflecting back on my course design, my expanded definition of technology helped me to understand the ways in which I was already engaging with different types of technology in the classroom. In the future, I can imagine other mindful applications of technology used to explore, reflect upon, and share learning about food and culture.

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