The popular “Cook the Books” course combines literary studies and gastronomy


This might be the only English class where you put down a pen and grab a fork.

cook the booksis a popular first-year English course at the University of Toronto that combines literary analysis with cooking lessons and food-focused field trips, allowing students to examine their relationship with food and its link with culture, environment and economy.

“When I first saw the course description, I felt like I was dreaming,” says Ariana AghaeiniaFreshman in Life Sciences and Fellow of Trinity College.

“Cooking and eating have been my greatest passions in life, so this class was a no-brainer. I also wanted to explore another type of learning since the majority of my classes were seated in class style. »

Andrea Most lectures to her students before enjoying snacks from the Trinity Bellwoods Farmer’s Market (photo by Sean McNeely)

The course is delivered by Andrea Mostprofessor in the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, alongside professional chef and author Joshna Maharaj.

“Although it’s hosted by the English department, it has a much broader scope,” says Most, who taught the course for 11 years. “We bring many different issues around food systems, food insecurity, environmental issues, culinary issues, as well as literary stories. We talk about how what we eat changes the way we think about the text, which I think is crucial.

And then it’s time to eat.

“You can’t teach food without food,” Maharaj says. “It amplifies the lesson for students if they are able to taste, touch and experience the food we are talking about.”

The course is divided into three sections – farm stories, kitchen stories and table stories.

With farm stories, students explore how food is grown, produced and arrives at your table. To bring these lessons to life, the class visited Sundance Harvest Farm, a year-round farm in North York that aims to grow both food and new farmers.

“It was inspiring to hear Sundance Harvest’s origin story and incredibly interesting to see what a local farm looked like and how it operated,” says Elaiza Palaypaysecond-year English student and Fellow of Woodsworth College.

“I now have a better understanding of our food system and gained a new appreciation for food in terms of where it comes from, how it is produced and who makes it.”

The class also read Leah Penniman’s Agriculture in blacka book that examines how people of African descent have contributed to sustainable agriculture throughout history and also serves as a practical guide for aspiring growers.

For the kitchen stories section, the class discusses texts about the places where food is prepared, including homes, restaurants, cafeterias, and public institutions. Among the titles of the program is Maharaj’s bookTake back the boardwhich offers insight into how to strengthen institutional feeding in a sustainable way that supports local economies.

The class also examines Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the chocolate factory.

“Students don’t usually think of this as a food story,” Most says. “And they don’t see this as a story of processed foods, factory farming and fair labor. But I find this book great for all the ways it exposes the problems of the industrial food system. It is remarkable for what it allows us to decompress.

Sundance Harvest is a year-round farm located on a 1.5 acre site in Downsview Park. During the main season, they have a team of four (photo courtesy of Sundance Harvest).

The course concludes with table stories, focusing on what it means to cook and eat together, breaking down the importance and meaning of cooking and family meals.

“We also have sessions on celebrations and feasting, where students really think about rituals and the function of food in bringing the community together,” Most explains.

Students also visited Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market in Toronto to learn about a community’s ties to local producers.

“It’s one thing to talk about the importance of local food, but to be truly immersed in the community is something you can’t put into words,” says freshman Aghaeinia.

Back on campus, the cooking portion of the course takes place in a Trinity College dining hall and kitchen where Maharaj creates “cooking experiences that bring classwork to life on a plate.”

“Seeing students make food connections that help them make deeper personal connections and better understand themselves and their world is magical to me,” Maharaj says.

“I want them to feel the joy and pleasure of good food that is sustainably sourced, sustainably grown, delicious and nutritious,” says Most. “I want them to feel the incredible joy and pleasure of it.”

The course ends with a “global food potluck” where students each bring their own dish, sharing its origins, history and why it is important to them.

Most say it will be an international holiday.

“We have international students, new Canadian students and students who have been here for generations. We will have up to 15 different countries represented,” says Most of the 24 students in the class.

“And even beyond all of that is community building. In this class, students create community almost instantly because they sit and eat together, so they form friendships very quickly.

Andrea Most has been teaching Cook the Books for 11 years (photo courtesy of Andrea Most)

Palaypay accepts.

“I wanted to take a course that emphasizes experiential learning and encourages close bonds between students and instructors. »


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