New early-career research group “Off the Menu”

The Elite Network of Bavaria is funding a new international early-career research group at the University of Augsburg. From May 2023, it will focus on illuminating culturally shaped eating habits as key sites of environmental transformation and through a culinary lens rethink the environment. The project will be led by cultural historian L. Sasha Gora.

How food is produced and consumed is closely linked to the environment and climate crisis. The new early-career research group “Off the Menu” at the University of Augsburg combines food studies and the environmental humanities to form a kind of “culinary environmental science.” The research group will begin in May 2023 under the direction of cultural historian L. Sasha Gora (who is currently still at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen). It aims to illuminate culturally shaped eating habits as central sites of environmental transformation and thus to rethink the environment through a culinary lens.

„Du bist, was du isst“, heißt ein Sprichwort. Die neue Nachwuchsforschungsgruppe „Off the Menu“ an der Universität Augsburg beleuchtet kulturell geprägte Essgewohnheiten als zentrale Orte der Umwelttransformation.

Food is one of the most direct ways in which humans interact with their environment, literally by digesting it. Through food, we also experience climate change and are confronted with the question of how to feed a growing population on a planet with limited resources. Cuisine thus serves as a starting point for contextualising the sixth mass extinction event and the future of planetary health. Food connects the local to the global and studying it bridges law and politics, economics, geography and the environmental sciences, sociology, and history, among others.

Three case studies on aquaculture

The “Off the Menu” research group will adopt an interdisciplinary environmental science approach in order to contextualise the planetary emergency. Focusing on the intersection of culture and the environment with a focus on seafood, it plans to examine the special features of aquaculture. Three case studies will address how human appetites create and destroy marine ecosystems:

  • a) the Newfoundland cod fishery and its collapse,
  • b) the ethics of endangered foods and culinary extinction, and
  • c) the question of how cuisines embrace or reject invasive species.

The emergence of more climate-aware eating habits will also be explored. Cuisine reflects how cultures categorise and mediate their relationship with plants and animals. Studying it helps to better understand how people change the world around them. The research group therefore seeks to historicise the close relationship between cuisine and environmental change, as well as contributing to sustainable culinary practice.

The early-career research group is affiliated with the International Doctoral Programme “Rethinking Environment: The Environmental Humanities and the Ecological Transformation of Society”, which is also funded by the Elite Network of Bavaria.

  • Staff: 1 Postdoc (early-career researcher group leader), 2 Doctoral candidates
  • Project start date: 01 Mai 2023 (duration: 6 years until 30.04.2029)