What Can Food Tell Us About a Place?

Cuisine, agricultural practices, markets, and mealtime traditions can reveal a great deal about people and place. As they experience life in another country, Peace Corps Volunteers' daily experiences with food can provide important insights to the culture and history of the communities in which they live and serve.

In the slide show, A Taste of Tongren, Peace Corps Volunteer Amy Throndsen shares some of the culinary and cultural lessons she learned during her service in China. After viewing the slide show, explore ways to extend students' learning using the teaching suggestions provided.

Objectives

Students will

  • describe several examples of Chinese dishes and mealtime traditions
  • discuss food and mealtime traditions as an element of culture
  • describe regional variations in the U.S. that contribute to our culture as a whole, and recognize that similar regional variations contribute to Chinese culture
  • generate questions based on new information about Chinese culture 

Procedures

  1. Discuss in a small group or as a class:
    • How would you describe "American cuisine"?
    • How does American cuisine vary regionally (e.g., Southern, New England, Southwestern cuisine)? Why do you think we have these regional differences?
    • What might an outsider infer about American culture by looking at:
      • What we eat?
      • Where our food comes from?
      • Our mealtime norms (e.g., where and when meals take place, who gathers for meals, how long we spend at meals)?
  2. Discuss students' prior knowledge of Chinese cuisine. Explain that Chinese food we know in America may be very different from what people in China actually eat. Like American cuisine, Chinese cuisine varies greatly by region.
  3. Look at a map of China and locate the Guizhou province. Introduce Amy Throndsen as a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in this area.
  4. View Amy's slide show, A Taste of Tongren, which discusses the cuisine and culture of the region.
  5. Reflect on the slide show by discussing:
  6. What surprised you most about the food in Tongren? Why?
  7. What did you learn about culture in China by learning more about food in China? 

Frameworks and standards

Enduring understandings

  • Where we live influences how we live.
  • The culture of a place often includes a mosaic of regional and individual variations.

Essential questions

  • How is my culture similar to and different from other cultures?
  • What can food, agriculture, and mealtime practices reveal about a place and its people?

Standards

  • Social Studies
    • Thematic Strand I: Culture
    • Thematic Strand VII : Production, Distribution, and Consumption
  • Language Arts
    • Standard 4: Communication through Spoken, Written, and Visual Language
    • Standard 9: Diversity in Language and Culture
  • Geography
    • Essential Element II: Places and Regions 

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