With the Grateful Dead playing in the background, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tyler Harper led a dozen students through “Just Flour,” a step-by-step, hands-on exercise in bread making that included discussions about environmental justice and African American baking.

With assistance from Phoebe Stern ’24 of Nashville, Tenn., Harper encouraged the students — most of whom came dressed in T-shirts and sweatshirts ready to get dirty — to pound, knead, and cut the dough on the kitchen counter, which they did with boisterous zeal.

Theophil Syslo/Bates College

The four groups worked in a cozy kitchen on the ground floor of Roger Williams Hall, but the classroom buzzed as they joked, shared stories, and laughed together. 

Two years ago, Harper taught a Short-Term course that looked at how we think of food and how we imagine the future of food. The course, Harper said, looks at two ways to think about food: the futuristic kind of “dystopian sort of technological meals” and “a kind of return to sort of older and more ancestral food traditions.”

Given the fact Martin Luther King Jr. was such an advocate for labor rights and food rights, a bread-baking class seemed more than appropriate on the day that honors his legacy, Harper said.

“There’s something about cooking that I think empowers students to go out in the world and feel like they can feed themselves and carve time out of their day to attend to something that isn’t work or the television or TikTok,” Harper said. “I would love to see in higher education, in general, food and cooking, food being taken more seriously as both an art form and as something worthy of study.”