You have probably heard that there are five accepted tastes: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. By combining ingredients that stimulate these tastes, you discover a cornucopia of unique flavors.

You could think of the Gastronomy Master of Arts degree program at Boston University’s Metropolitan College (BU MET) in a similar way: there are four distinct areas of focus you can pursue—History & Culture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Communication, and Food Policy—plus a fifth option to build your own direction from a combination of electives. This flexibility means that students in Boston University’s Gastronomy program are empowered to “flavor” the curriculum with their own personal or academic interests.

Gastronomy and food studies are fast-developing fields, rich with opportunities to tread new ground in both academic research and real-world applications. Whether by blazing trails in publishing, media, and the nonprofit world, or championing foodways that bring visibility to marginalized heritages and histories, gastronomy draws innovators and outside-the-box thinkers committed to exploring, and often challenging, the boundaries and dynamics of our world that are defined by our relationship with food.

“One of the things that looking at food can tell you is where power is in society,” says Dr. Megan Elias, associate professor of the practice and director of the BU MET Gastronomy master’s degree program. As Elias—whose research interests include the convergence of food studies, history, and gender—sees it, the program has a responsibility to reflect the passions and aims of its community. “We need to think intersectionally, and we have to be prepared to include whatever students want to look at.”

“You can transform the gastronomy degree into whatever you want it to be,” says Gastronomy alum Natalie Shmulik (MET’13), who runs The Hatchery, a Chicago-based nonprofit incubator for local food and beverage enterprises. “There are a lot of positions that don’t exist yet but are probably needed in this industry.”

Flexibility, nimbleness, and openness of mind are key tenets to the BU MET Gastronomy program, as is ongoing refinement, its director explains. “We have to keep thinking and doing serious work with food, which means talking about food policy, food in cities, urban agriculture, social justice, and race,” Elias explains. “We have to bring all that in together.”

Customizing Your Gastronomy Degree Program

Four courses comprise the core of the MA in Gastronomy—Introduction to Gastronomy: Theory and Methodology, History of Food, Anthropology of Food, and Food and the Senses. The six additional courses are electives, for each student to decide. That is where you can cultivate an in-depth focus area of your master’s degree studies and set the trajectory of your academic studies and post-graduation future.

Any area of interest can be viewed through the lens of gastronomy: cultural history, anthropology, the arts, sociology, economics, sustainability, civic engagement, publishing, culinary instruction, marketing and public relations, academia, agricultural entrepreneurship, or corporate leadership—the list goes on. The broad selection of Gastronomy program electives gives you the chance to set yourself apart.

Additionally, the MA in Gastronomy is available both online and on campus, ensuring that you can choose the delivery format and location that works best for your circumstances. BU MET offers one of the only online Gastronomy master’s degree programs in the world.

While each student can create their own area of specialization through electives, there are four curated focus areas you may choose to pursue—or even combine.

History & Culture: A Means of Digesting the World

With the History & Culture degree focus, you get the opportunity to develop skills in research, critical thinking, and analysis by reckoning with food’s place and position across global history, often as it relates to power. One class that you can take as part of this focus is Culture and Cuisine of the African Diaspora, which examines the manner in which the foodways of the people displaced from the African continent are interwoven throughout societies across the globe.

Through cookbooks, maps, songs, poems, and even folklore drawn from each of the continent’s five geographic regions, you’ll learn context to the history of the people of the African diaspora. Through both collective and independent study, you will trace the ingredients that enslaved people carried with them, and trace their integration into cuisines and cultures in everything from agriculture to pop culture. This will feed into real, and courageous, and respectful class conversations about race and power, and the ways those two elements are embedded into the food systems in North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Other courses within the History & Culture focus include Food and Art, History of Wine, Philosophy of Food, and Food and Literature. In each, you will learn crucial lessons about the humanistic value of food in our world, develop an appreciation for food as cultural knowledge, know-how, and tradition, and get a chance to dig deeper into consumption’s role in our world, near and far, over time and today.

Business & Entrepreneurship: Creating Opportunities in Food and Health

No matter where on the globe you find yourself, food and commerce are never too far apart from one another. The world has been rocked by a pandemic that’s affected all corners, and far and wide food enterprises will play a prominent role in regional economic and cultural recoveries.

With the Business & Entrepreneurship gastronomy degree focus, you’ll learn the finer points of hospitality, food, and trade by developing in-demand managerial, financial, and marketing skills through courses such as Food Marketing or Evaluating and Developing Markets for Cultural Tourism.

You’ll learn what it takes to get started in the industry through courses like Planning a Food Business, which provides direct support and guidance in developing and realizing your business idea. Launching a business in and around food comes with countless questions—the kinds best answered by those who have been there. This course provides the benefit of experience, as guest speakers from all kinds of food businesses share their real-world knowledge and the insights they’ve picked up throughout their careers. You’ll even culminate your semester by producing a real business plan, bringing your ambitions that much closer to realization.

This focus track also permits you to sample courses from MET’s Business & Management programs, which can be counted towards requirements. Courses like Ecommerce and The Innovation Process: Developing New Products and Services can help you strengthen the abilities you’ll need to build and support modern food businesses and be prepared for the challenges of the ever-evolving world.

Communication: Translating the Savory to the Page

A rosé by any other name would taste as crisp. But to fully appreciate it requires the words.

The Communication focus offers a selection of electives that help you hone your critical faculties in analyzing food and culture through print, film, photography, television, visual arts, or digital media—preparing you for roles in editorial, writing, and communications, or providing a foundation for critical scholarship.

Here, you can take Reading and Writing the Food Memoir, and learn the intricacies of the food memoir as a literary genre, both historic and contemporary. You’ll come to understand and appreciate how food memoirs differ from other kinds of food writing and autobiography. You’ll also get support in attending to style and voice, the value of memory in a writer’s toolkit, and receive guidance on the ways personal stories can evoke collective cultural experiences beyond.

Then there’s Food Writing for the Media, where you’ll improve your food-writing skills through a curriculum that encompasses journalistic ethics, advertising, technical writing, recipe writing, food criticism, anthropological and historical writing about food, and even food in fiction. It’s all part of a mixed-media approach you can take to your Master of Arts degree in Gastronomy.

Food Policy: Informed Advising and Advocacy

The Food Policy focus combines the study of food history and culture with an activist’s dedication to changing the world. Electives in this area provide the social-scientific background to influence and direct public food policy, particularly in the areas of nutrition, food security and food justice issues, community development, and environmental sustainability.

If you want to become a Food Policy expert, a good place to start is US Food Policy and Culture. Here, you’ll come to understand the many forces shaping 21st-century US domestic food policies, cultural politics, diet, and nutrition situations. Beginning with a foundation in the history of US food policy, you’ll go on to grapple with the impacts of globalization, new agricultural and food technologies, developing nutrition knowledge, immigration, and “sustainable-food” ideology as drivers of American dietary and food-regulatory change.

Policy work requires complex understanding of vast systems, from food systems to food chains, bringing food from farm to table, with both national government and non-government institutions playing roles. By learning the rules and regulations that govern foodways, you can make an impact in Food Policy.

A Culinary Focus

Before co-founding Boston University’s unique and historic master’s program in Gastronomy, world-renowned chefs Jacques Pépin and Julia Child also introduced the Certificate Program in Culinary Arts at BU. Taught by experienced, working chefs and experts in the food industry, this intensive, semester-long program is designed to expose students to classic French techniques and international cuisines.

As part of BU’s Programs in Food & Wine, the Culinary Arts certificate, along with the Cheese Studies Certificate Program and the Wine Studies Program, can be counted as credit for students enrolled in the BU Gastronomy program. This experiential focus allows you to balance scholarship about food with actual kitchen practice under the instruction of working chefs, wine experts, and food professionals. It’s a key ingredient—one of many that sets BU apart.

“Students can move back and forth from the kitchen to the library,” Dr. Elias says. “They can do both simultaneously, or in sequence. There aren’t really any other food studies programs that have that.”

By taking advantage of BU’s distinct blend of educational offerings in food studies and culinary arts, you can flavor the MA in Gastronomy program to meet your specific tastes—meanwhile discovering, exploring, and revealing nuances about food and its role in culture.

Faster Food Studies: Graduate Certification

While the MA in Gastronomy provides the most comprehensive opportunity in food scholarship available at BU MET, there is a four-course certificate option for those who may not be ready to commit to a full degree program. Available on campus and online, the Food Studies Graduate Certificate program draws from the same courses as the Gastronomy master’s and can be completed in as few as four months, full-time, or up to 16 months of part-time study. In a few short months, you’ll develop a foundation in food studies, food systems, and the social theories that shape the field, while refining your research and analytical acumen. And should you go on to pursue deeper study in the field, the credits you earn in the certificate program can be transferred into the Gastronomy master’s, upon acceptance to the degree program.