Steam rises above a blueberry bagel caked with jam and sesame seeds.

A young scholar eyes the delectable meal from the back of the café line.

She swipes her credit card with haste. The cashier hands her the bagel, now wrapped in thick, waxy paper. Ten minutes from now, the student will finish one last bite of blueberry goodness on her trek across campus.

The bagel’s journey from a ball of yeast dough to fuel for a college student may not sound like a thrill ride.

But what if you zoomed out?

Imagine the engineering and logistics behind the production of that bagel and millions like it every day. Think of the technology and the humans who use it to deliver the circle of bread.

The origin story of the bagel is perhaps even more fascinating.

Bagels emerged as a staple in Jewish communities of Poland in the 1500s. Immigrants to the United States introduced the cuisine in New York in the late 19th century. Within decades, automation, fast food, and frozen meal sections in grocery stores helped spark bagelmania across the country.

In the Virginia Tech Food Studies Program, exploring food through the lens of the humanities can lead to extraordinary discoveries.

“The humanities offer particular insights about human values and culture that allow us to think critically and creatively about food — past, present, and future,” said Anna Zeide, the program’s director.

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently recognized the importance of food studies at Virginia Tech by awarding the program with a major grant.

Virginia Tech recently became one of only 26 grant recipients of the Humanities Connections program, which awarded a total of $1.4 million in an effort to expand the role of the humanities in undergraduate curricula across the country.

The Virginia Tech funding will support the continued growth of the Food Studies Program and fuel the creation of a food studies minor.

“This minor will complement any major on campus, offering a versatile, fascinating, and widely applicable set of courses with great instructors,” said Zeide. “Yes, you’ll learn about the global food system on which we all rely for sustenance. But you’ll also learn how to connect the dots across disciplines, seeing how the humanities, sciences, and social sciences interrelate and support one another. You’ll become a better writer, thinker, citizen, and advocate.”

The grant empowers the Food Studies Program to compensate directors of other food studies curricula around the nation to share their expertise.

“Building our program through the experiences of other leading programs will make our curriculum far more sustainable,” said Zeide, who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of History.

As part of the application review process for the Humanities Connection grant, a panel evaluates each submission and offers feedback.

“The move to create a humanities-centered food studies minor at an institution like Virginia Tech, which has historically led in efforts to solve problems through engineering and technology, is exactly what is needed in higher ed and for the future of society,” wrote one panelist.

Zeide said the grant offers symbolic support in addition to practical.

“The symbolic dimensions come from the general affirmation and ‘stamp of approval’ that having the leading humanities organization in the United States deem our project valuable provides,” said Zeide.

Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the Food Studies Program launched last fall in an effort to forge community around food studies from a humanities and social science perspective in service to faculty, staff, students, and the public.

Zeide said the program’s Steering Committee members hope to begin offering the new minor in the fall of 2022, with feedback sessions with undergraduates set for next spring.

Steering Committee members include Mark Barrow, a professor of history; Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown, an assistant professor in the Department of SociologyDanille Christensen, an assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture; and Saul Halfon, an associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society.

Ultimately, the Food Studies Program seeks to build relationships with the broader New River Valley community and connect with local organizers. The minor may lead to additional curricula to support a graduate certificate and perhaps an integrative undergraduate major in food studies that interfaces with other programs, like those offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Students interested in providing input about the minor in advance can contact Zeide at Any students, faculty, or staff who would like to learn more about the minor or the broader Food Studies Program can visit the Food Studies websitejoin the listserv, or follow @VTFoodStudies on Twitter or Facebook.

Written by Andrew Adkins