Comparative Eurasian Foodways: Agriculture and Culture in the Early Mediterranean

Winter 2020
Spring 2020
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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  The study abroad components of this program have been cancelled. Please see the  Study Abroad webpage  for more information.  

Did Italy or China create pasta?  Why are Greek Islands known for their human longevity?  How did salt springs and marshes contribute to the development of parmesan cheese, prosciutto and dried plums ( hua mei )?

The goal of this program is to understand why we eat what we eat in relation to the major historical, cultural and geographic influences on Eurasian agriculture, diet, and cuisines. Using a case study approach to compare Chinese, Greek and Italian cuisines, we’ll explore how the environment and cultural histories inform what and how we eat today. 

In this spring continuation of Comparative Eurasian Foodways, we explore the co-evolution of agriculture and civilization in the eastern Mediterranean from the Neolithic and Bronze Age Aegean periods to the early Roman empire. The cultivation, distribution, and consumption of foods would become a central factor in the development of Greco-Roman cultural identity, in literature and arts; myth and religion; public ritual, and colonial aspiration. These in turn helped to define what it would mean to be "European" long before the formation of the European Union.

Special attention will be given to the palatial centers of Bronze Age Crete and southern Greece, the city of Classical Athens and its environs, and Roman Greece and Italy. These cultures, often appreciated for their architecture, sculpture, and poetry, also made major contributions to the Mediterranean diet as it exists today.  Olive oil, wine, whole grains, legumes, greens, and herbs distinguish the Greek and Italian art of living,  just as  Homer's epics and the Parthenon embody early Greek ideals or Pompeian frescoes illustrate urbanized Roman tastes. Beans and peas were so revered that Roman families took them for last names and certain ornamental plants such as Acanthus (called ‘Bear’s Breeches’ in the US) were imitated on the tops of Corinthian temple columns. 

Gardens in Olympia Washington have similar crops to those in the Mediterranean region, since they originated there and share a similar climate.  In labs we will focus on the botany of the following Mediterranean plant families: cabbage (Brassicaceae), garlic and onions (Alliaceae), artichoke and spring greens such as dandelion (Asteraceae), beans and peas (Fabaceae), barley and wheat (Poaceae) and perennials such as grapes, figs and olives.  Spring gardening tasks will be practiced in plots at on-campus Community Gardens or relevant in-program internships.  A field trip to WSU- Mt Vernon’s Bread Lab, a vintner and Jello Mold flower farm are contemplated.  Student work consists of weekly short seminar essays, a midterm and final exam covering images and secondary texts, and lab write-ups/exams related to the botany component.


Primary texts include Homer's Odyssey (Robert Fagel's translation; ISBN:978-0143039952), the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Euripides' Bacchae, and Plato's Symposium; secondary sources include W.R. Biers's The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction (Second edn), (ISBN:978-0801482809 ). Botany texts include Brian Capon. 2010.  Botany for Gardeners (Third Edn); Timber. ISBN: 978-1604690958 and Steve Solomon. 2015.  Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, 35th Anniversary Edition.  Sasquatch Books.  ISBN: 978-1570619724.  Advanced students may be interested in John Navazio, The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production. 2012 Chelsea Green.  ISBN: 978-1933392776.



Winter 2020 Registration

Some familiarity with agriculture, having taken a course in food studies

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20193
Spring 2020 Registration


Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 30056
So - Sr (1 - 16): 30379

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

Food and Agriculture, Cultural Studies, Literature and Classics, Education, Community Studies

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$200 for entrance fees in winter


In Person or Remote
Hybrid (W)
Remote (S)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 B1107 - Workshop
Study Abroad

An optional 3 weeks study abroad is offered in China at the end of Winter quarter.

Estimated Costs: 

SpecialExpenses: $1400   (Estimated expenses students will cover themselves including visa and airline ticket)

Required Student Fee: $2000 (Fee covers group expenses for services organized by college)

Administrative Fee:   $400  (Nonrefundable deposit to cover administrative costs of running study abroad)


Spring Quarter Greece and Italy Study Abroad: 

Estimated Costs: 

Special Expenses: $1600  (Estimated expenses students will cover themselves including airfare and some meals)

Required Student Fee: $5800   (Fee covers group expenses for services organized by college)

Administrative Fee:   $400  (Nonrefundable deposit to cover administrative costs of running study abroad)




Date Revision
2020-03-12 Signature requirement for spring removed due to study abroad trip cancellation
2019-03-04 study abroad information updated
2018-11-06 Study Abroad Fees updated