University Students Can Now Take Taco 101

What can you learn from a taco? A lot, if a class on “taco literacy” at the University of Kentucky is any indication.
overhead view of two authentic street tacos

overhead view of two authentic street tacos

What can you learn from a taco? A lot, if a class on “taco literacy” currently on offer at the University of Kentucky is any indication.

Yes, undergraduates can now dig into the meaty academic and cultural nuances of the Mexican dish in a course called “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the U.S. South,” taught by Steven Alvarez, an assistant professor in the department of writing, rhetoric and digital studies.

According to a “welcome” message on the course’s website, students enrolled in the course will learn to write “from sensory experiences, critiquing preferences and tastes with regards to Mexican food as part of American and global cuisines,” produce oral history projects that include words and photos, and explore “emotion, language, and narrative foodways in the South and transnationally.” And actually, the research doesn’t have to be about tacos, so presumably if you’re more into, like, burritos or chimichangas, that’s cool too.

Alvarez was moved to create the class — which has, not surprisingly, proven to be popular with students hungry to learn — after attending a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium and realizing that “food is important,” he told the Vice site Munchies, and that the social connections food helps facilitate are more important still.

“It is really interesting to see how Mexican food has evolved socially” in the South, where every town has a Mexican restaurant, Alvarez told the site. “This class allows our students to explore the issues of immigration, inequality, workers, intercultural communication, and literacy through the prism of food.”

In addition to studying the history of Mexican immigration and food in Kentucky and elsewhere in the South, students explore recipes and read restaurant reviews and books like Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food by Jeffrey M. Pilcher; Tacopedia by Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena; Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano; and Tortillas: A Cultural History by Paula E. Morton — “because I try to break down to my students that a really good taco will always depend on the tortilla,” Alvarez explained. (Check out the full syllabus.)

There’s a big social-media component to the course, as Alvarez insists students document their Mexican-food explorations and experiences on Instagram and other social media sites — see #tacoliteracy. Their efforts are already capturing attention.

“At the very end of the course, my students will be generators of knowledge, have a portfolio full of multimedia food journalism, and they will be over the fajita stage of Mexican food,” Alvarez told Vice.

A totally taco-rific idea.

Photo courtesy of iStock
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