The University of Kentucky is now offering a “taco literacy” course that allows students the opportunity to explore social and racial issues concerning Mexican food.
According to Steven Alvarez, an assistant professor from the school’s writing, rhetoric, and digital studies department who is teaching the undergraduate course, the class is meant to build social connections through food and teach students about Mexican foodways in Kentucky and the southern US.
“This class allows our students to explore the issues of immigration, inequality, workers, intercultural communication, and literacy through the prism of food,” said Alvarez.
The course, “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the US South,” takes a closer look at the social evolution of Mexican food in the southern United States. According to the course syllabus, students will also have the opportunity to visit a restaurant and document the experience they have there, writes Hilary Hanson for The Huffington Post.
Students will study the cultural significance of Mexican food, write restaurant reviews, and eat tacos. Readings will also pertain to tacos, including OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano’s “Taco USA,” as well as a book based on tortillas. The course will culminate with a compilation of research pertaining to their experiences.
For those interested in taking the course in Kentucky, a state that has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, tuition at the school is $24,278 for in-state and $37,610 for out-of-state students.
Alvarez said the inspiration behind creating the course came from his involvement with the Southern Foodways Alliance, which showed him the importance of food, telling Javier Cabral for Munchies that hearing the oral histories of food made him realize it was a medium that fostered social connections.
He went on to say that the class was quite popular, with more students signing up for it than was needed, and even more students adding the course after it began. Alvarez said what was truly interesting was seeing how those students who said they did not enjoy writing become fans when it came to writing about food.
The first writing assignment for the course asked students to name their favorite Mexican dish and then analyze the ingredients. Students were then asked to see if they could make the dish at home.
Tacos have become a controversial topic lately, with a number of examples showing schools and their students handling the issue poorly.
Northwestern University’s Hispanic/Latino Alliance wrote a letter in 2013 to students at the school saying they should not eat tacos on Cinco de Mayo because doing so could make some students feel “unsafe.” In 2014, California State University – Fullerton’s chapter of Alpha Delta Pi sorority hosted a Taco Tuesday and asking participating students to wear sombreros. As a result, the sorority faced “serious sanctions” from the school who said the sombreros were “culturally insensitive attire,” reports Katherine Timpf for The National Review.
Food is increasingly a topic of study on college campuses. Paul Smith’s College in Upstate New York introduced a craft-brewing minor in 2014, and just last December, Pizza Hut announced a partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom to offer a degree in pizza making.