Welcome to Col(LAB) 1.0: A Prototype

Food Matters: Risk and Privilege

May 2-4, 2018

This spring the Program in American Studies launched an experimental three-day mini-module to prototype the concept of the Col(LAB).

“Col(LAB) 1.0 – Food Matters: Risk and Privilege,” the Col(LAB)’s inaugural module, orchestrated a cross-campus collaboration among the Program in American Studies, CST StudioLab and the Campus Dining Food and Agricultural Initiative.

ColLab 1.0

Today, food in America — how we find it, grow it, buy, prepare, and eat it — has galvanized concern in communities across the U.S. and around the world.

From cultural studies scholars, environmental policy and science researchers to artists, chefs, activists, and media makers, food generates pressing conversations about culture, class, identity, industrialization, globalization, and the environment. It demands that conversations broaden across the humanities and the sciences.

Through intellectual inquiry and hands-on experience in the community and in the kitchen, Col(LAB) 1.0 explores the tension and interdependence between risk and privilege in our food systems and food culture at the multiple and intersecting levels of production, consumption, sustainability, and human choice/constraint.

Principal Investigators

  • Allison Carruth
    • Associate Professor of English and Society and Genetics, UCLA
    • Director, Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS)
  • Angela Creager
    • Thomas M. Siebel Professor in the History of Science, Princeton University
  • Chris Lentz
    • Food and Agriculture Initiative, Princeton University Campus Dining

Issues of Exploration

Col(LAB) 1.0 presents students, scholars, and local practitioners from the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences, and the community an opportunity to explore the entangled issues of health, class, culture, innovation, and ecology.

Some suggested lines of inquiry:

  • issues of industrial food and imagined alternatives;
  • food sovereignty and food justice;
  • the movement of farm to table;
  • the tension between foraging and curating;
  • surplus hunger and food insecurity;
  • the edible and the inedible;
  • consumer desire and choices.

Most importantly, we ask how our everyday habits around food consumption impact and are impacted by these larger issues. Col(LAB) 1.0 incorporates critical thinking, hands-on investigation, and experiential inquiry to help us discover and devise ways to understand these complex cultural, economic, and environmental issues. 


  • Wednesday, May 2: Shopping, setting the menu

    • Session 1: Shopping • Noon to 1:20 pm
      Collaborators will meet at noon in 42 McCosh and then proceed to the Farmers Market on Firestone Plaza. Participants will be given a limited amount of cash and conditions for shopping. (Princeton Dining will store perishables for collaborators.)
    • Session 2: CST StudioLab in Fine Hall • 4:30 to 6:00 pm
      Collaborators will reconvene at 4:30pm in CST StudioLab for discussions. We will establish common grounds and a set of key terms, based on presentations and discussions of participants’ artifacts and of the three short preassigned essays and video. Participants are asked to bring an artifact/object (a photograph, a tool/utensil, a type of food, etc., and the brief written paragraph from their applications about how this artifact speaks to or represents their relationship with risk and privilege when it comes to food matters).
  • Thursday, May 3: Food pantry visit

    • 12:30 to 2 p.m.
      Meet at the Food Pantry at Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street.
  • Friday, May 4: Cooking, making, tasting

    • Noon to 2:00 pm
      We reconvene in the Graduate College kitchen with Campus Dining chefs to cook the food purchased and to taste and explore the choices and constraints, the risks and privileges of consumption.

Reflections and Writing Assignments

You will be asked to provide a “journal” throughout this experiment.  The assignment encourages you to: (a) offer a window into your lived experiences with food; and (b) provide an object of reflection as you engage with critical readings, interact with other participants, visit a farmer’s market and food pantry, and cook.

  1. We are interested in your personal experiences with food and invite you to bring an artifact (e.g. photograph, a vignette, a tool, a food, etc.) that speaks to or represents your relationship with food, on a personal, cultural, or family level. Even though we will explore the intersection of health, class, culture, scientific advancement and the environment, we ask you to select an object that is meaningful to you and provides a medium for you to share your personal narrative about food.
  2. Your selection will serve as an “object of reflection.” As you progress through the Col(LAB) experience, we will ask you to continuously reflect on your object and produce a set of writings that document your journey through our readings and conversations about food risk and privilege. With your permission, your set of writings will be collated, edited, and published on three University department websites (AMS, CST, Campus Dining). You will submit four short pieces of writing:
    1. With your registration or application form, describe your object in a short paragraph of approximately 250 words. Some questions to address: What is the artifact?  Why did you select it? How does it represent your relationship with food? What else would you like us to know about the artifact and your lived experiences with food?
    2. After you’ve read the selected texts and before our first session, add to your original submission. To what extent have the readings changed your perception of the object?
    3. After your visit to the Farmers Market and Food Pantry, revise you last submission. To what extent have the visits changed your perception of the object?   
    4. Within one week of completing the Col(LAB), submit a final description of your artifact with the following guiding questions in mind:
      • To what extent did the readings, conversations with colleagues, field trips, and cooking experiment shift your view of your object or your understanding of food risk and privilege?
      • Anything else you’d like to share about this experience, including feedback for continuing engagement around this topic and ideas for future Col(LAB)s.

Assigned Reading and Viewing

  • Nick Donnoll, “Saving food, one ounce at a time,” Princeton.edu, Jan. 25, 2018.
  • Arm in Arm with Sustainable Princeton.” YouTube, uploaded by Carolyn Biondi, 17 Nov. 2017.
  • Allison Carruth, “Slow Food, Low Tech: Environmental Narratives of Agribusiness and Its Alternatives,” in Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, eds. Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christensen and Michelle Niemann, London: Routledge, 2017. (17 pages)
  • Angela N. H. Creager and Jean-Paul Gaudillière, “Risk on the Table: Food, Health, and Environmental Exposure,” unpublished book proposal (11 pages).
  • Anna Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species,” Environmental Humanities, (2012): 141–154. (14 pages)

Sponsored by Program in American Studies, the CST Studio Lab, and the Princeton Agricultural Food Initiative, with support from the Princeton University Humanities Council.