English and linguistics professor starts delicious discussion


The Sunflower

Mythili Menon, assistant professor of English and linguistics, has only been at Wichita State for six months, but already has a vision to collaborate with other departments about the study of food and language.

“People love to eat; we’re all foodies,” Menon said. “But nobody knows really where to begin with talking about food.”

To begin the conversation, Menon started a food and language lunch group that meets bi-weekly to discuss food names, the language of menus and the grammar of cuisine.

“It’s an informal kind of discussion group for anyone who is interested in the intersection between language and food,” Menon said.

The group consists of graduate students. Menon wants undergraduate students to feel welcome to join.

“It’s not a class,” Menon said. “We eat, we read the [articles], and then we talk about food.”

Menon has a class titled “The Language of Food” starting in fall 2017. She said part of the reason for beginning the lunch group was to generate interest for her introductory level class.

“The Language of Food started in Stanford around 2009,” Menon said. “It’s a very recent field.”

Menon said she designed the structured of the class from scratch and that it is in the course catalog. Lowerclassmen can take the class to fulfill part of the general education requirements at WSU.

“The course is designed to be very hands on,” Menon said. “Students will each maintain a food blog for the course and do a final project, which could range from making a video to starting to create a portfolio of their own cooking recipes.”

Rhiannon Scharnhorst, an English graduate student focused on the areas of food and literature, said cooking and food is meaningful to her.

“My stepmother taught me how to cook,” she said. “After her death in 2015, I have found cooking and talking about food to be both therapeutic and a way to connect with others.”

Scharnhorst is currently teaching an introductory literature course about food and culture. She said it is a great way to get students excited about literature by connecting it to their own lives.

Menon said one of her long-term goals for the lunch group is creating an opportunity to collaborate with the anthropology department and the department of modern and classical languages and literatures on her study of the indigenous Potawatomi tribe in Mayetta, Kansas.

Menon said much has been done to study the language of various indigenous groups in the United States, but little has been done to document their food habits or recipes.

Krystal Iseminger, an English literature graduate student, said good food and conversation were enough to get her interested in the lunch group.

“I also hope to make connections with other people who are passionate about language and food,” she said. “Thanks to the diverse backgrounds of our attendees, I am also starting a list of places I definitely want to travel to and eat at.

“It’s like food and travel networking.”

Menon said the lunch group is BYOL (bring your own lunch), but desserts will be offered.

The group meets at 12:30 p.m. every other Thursday in Lindquist Hall 500. The next meeting will be on Feb. 9.