Every day, each of us dines according to our custom, habit, and opportunity.

Baked into every meal is a rich blend of ingredients that can tell the story of who we are. For the student of gastronomy, these root flavors reveal a concoction of human history—a continuum of agriculture, foodways, customs, rituals, perspectives, power dynamics, social issues, commerce, and cultural traditions. From this stew, the food scholar can detect the essence of raw humanity: where we come from, who we are now, and where we may be heading. To study gastronomy is to see beyond what’s on a plate to discover the prized secret ingredient that bonds all food—human culture.

“Food has meaning,” says Dr. Megan Elias, director of the Master of Arts in Gastronomy program at Boston University’s Metropolitan College (MET) and an associate professor of the practice. “It’s everywhere. It’s political. It’s personal. It’s serious, but it’s also funny.”

As Dr. Elias will tell you, the study of food is all about meaningful discovery—finding your own answers to the questions that animate your fascination. By examining how foodways evolve through human interaction, or how human behavior changes via food, a student of gastronomy can provide context to who we are and why we live as we do—how does sustenance and food production relate to empowerment, colonialism, inequity, disparity, family, art, literature, commerce, among other facets of life? “What do sociologists do with food? What do anthropologists do with food? What do geographers? What do historians?” Elias poses. “We don’t have just one methodology, you really can kind of mix and match.”

Boston University’s Gastronomy master’s is among the select few master’s degree programs of its kind in the country. Known for its rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum, BU’s MA in Gastronomy—available on campus and online—helps you build a comprehensive understanding of food and its role in society throughout history. Studying with the field’s brightest minds at a globally recognized university, you’ll find all the resources you need to hone your command of food scholarship, develop critical skills in communication, and prepare for a variety of compelling roles in the food industry. More than that, you will have the chance to tailor your studies to your taste.

A Gastronomy Master’s Developed by Culinary Legends

Boston University’s master’s in Gastronomy program was founded in 1989, when legendary chef Jacques Pépin (Hon.’11) and friend and collaborator Julia Child (Hon.’76) teamed up with the founding director of BU’s Programs in Food & Wine, Rebecca Alssid. Together, they established BU MET’s experiential Certificate Program in Culinary Arts. It was a crucial step on the road to establishing food studies as a serious academic pursuit in the United States. Two short years later, Pépin and Child once more joined forces to play instrumental roles in 1991’s launch of the nation’s first master’s-level academic program in food studies, the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy (now a Master of Arts).

Consistently rated among the world’s leading research institutions, Boston University enjoys a globally respected reputation, and students in the BU MET Gastronomy program benefit from access to a diverse range of distinguished scholars and academic departments from across BU. In addition, the program brings in visiting faculty renowned for their unique research, as well as food scholars, wine and spirits experts, and accomplished food industry professionals and thought leaders.

This expertise helps students in the program develop the practical and theoretical acumen required for the next step in their journey, whether that is focusing on doctoral studies, engaging in research, entrepreneurship, working in a food-related industry or nonprofit, or getting involved in food marketing, recipe development, food policy, academia, or media. Many graduates of BU MET’s master’s in Gastronomy program have also gone on to forge their own unique career paths—and even job titles—in food studies or culinary arts.

The BU Advantage: Boston’s Gastronomy Scene

Gastronomy students at BU MET benefit from breaking bread with some of the brightest minds in the field. As a culinary melting pot, Boston has long been home to global cuisines and innovative food and restaurant culture—a vital complement to the academic exploration of foodways.

Boston University is an active champion of Boston’s food community and has helped the city take a leadership position in this vital cultural space through its Programs in Food & Wine, which offer hands-on culinary instruction led by standout working chefs, industry professionals, and a master of wine from Boston, New England, and around the globe.

Thanks to BU MET’s Programs in Food & Wine, students in the MA in Gastronomy program can complement their academic curriculum with an experiential element, rolling up their sleeves to learn in BU’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Those already in the master’s program are eligible to earn credits towards degree requirements via select Food & Wine electives, including:

As Director Elias sees it, not all learning can take place in the mind, so the program’s connection to kitchens and their savory output is vital. “It’s really important to engage the senses in learning, especially learning about food, because it’s a sensory story,” she says.

A Choice of Ingredients: Finding Your Calling in Gastronomy

The BU MET Master of Arts in Gastronomy provides you with the opportunity to cultivate a focus area of your degree studies via a wide range of electives. For adventurous thinkers, gastronomy presents as many careers and research paths as there are recipes, and these “flavors” give you the chance to set your own course. For those seeking a more prescribed area of focus, the program offers curated choices of electives in the following topics:

  • Business & Entrepreneurship will help you blend food and commerce, developing the managerial, financial, and marketing skills needed to work in food product development, corporate leadership, and specialized sales.
  • Communication as a focus hones your critical faculties in analyzing food and culture in print, film, photography, television, the visual arts, and digital media. Examining the portrayal of food in media, past and present, with an emphasis on writing and communications prepares you for editorial and communications leadership roles.
  • Food Policy combines the study of food history and culture with an activist’s dedication to changing the world and provides 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.
  • History & Culture explores the many facets of food across cultures over time. Through analysis and critical thinking, you will gain the research and writing skills necessary to synthesize information, providing valuable life and career skills.

By prioritizing their passions and convictions through carefully selected electives, BU MET Gastronomy students position themselves to make substantial impacts in their fields in real time. For example, in the summer of 2020, student Danielle Jacques penned an agricultural policy op-ed, “Food Justice and Prison Abolition,” that encouraged readers to join in calls for Boston University to cut ties with a prominent food vendor that services federal and state penitentiaries.

“There is no question that every link in the prison-industrial food chain is, by design, exploitative and inhumane,” Jacques wrote. “A business model that incentivizes starving people for profit cannot be reformed.”

By combining a rigorous academic foundation, customized areas of focus, and concrete opportunities to join peers and leaders in tackling meaningful issues, BU’s Gastronomy program provides a fulfilling educational experience—one that prepares you to take on challenges that matter to you.

“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,” Dr. Elias explains.

Flexibility Means Opportunity for BU Gastronomy Students

Boston University’s Metropolitan College has a proud tradition of supporting students who want to pursue an education in a way that works for them. As BU’s bridge to the community and the world, MET has offered flexible part-time and full-time evening programs for more than fifty years, and has been an innovative leader in online education for decades. Faculty and staff work closely with students to understand their needs and do their best to accommodate the many different learning styles and practical considerations of busy adults, professionals, and traditional graduate students.

At BU MET, you can pursue your food studies full-time or part-time, or entirely online. You can choose to enroll in courses offered during the fall, spring, and summer terms, based on what works best for you. The 40-credit MA in Gastronomy at Boston University can be completed in 12 months of full-time study, and as few as 24 months as a part-time student (time may vary for online study). For more information on logistics, see How Long Does an MA in Gastronomy Take to Complete—and What is the Cost?

Starter Courses: Pathways to a Gastronomy Degree

For those with busy schedules who might be unable to commit to a full degree program, Boston University offers a four-course Graduate Certificate in Food Studies—also available on campus and online—that is ideal for those who are seeking to explore a new field as well as professionals aiming to enhance their credentials and expertise.

Because the Food Studies certificate shares specific courses with BU’s Master of Arts in Gastronomy degree program, students who complete the graduate certificate can apply all 16 certificate credits to the degree program (upon admission and enrollment in the degree).

Meet the Faculty

For Dr. Elias, who assumed the role of Gastronomy program director in 2017, food opens doors to adventures. “I was so excited when I realized that there were food historians out there, and that I could be one,” she says. Today, Dr. Elias helps others similarly follow their food calling, and has authored several books that explore food through a variety of lenses, including food writing, markets, and home economics. Her publications include Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), Lunch: The History of a Meal (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), Barbecue: A Global History (Reaktion Press, April 2014), Food in the United States, 1890–1945 (ABC-CLIO/Greenwood, 2009)—selected by the American Library Association as an Outstanding Academic Text—and Stir It Up: Home Economics in American Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

The BU MET Gastronomy program brings together all manner of learned lecturers, giving students unique opportunities to benefit from their particular expertise.

Dr. Karen Metheny, an archaeologist and anthropologist specializing in food studies, has been teaching in the program since 2003, and her scholarship regarding the cultural significance of maize in colonial New England earned her Metropolitan College’s 2015–16 Chadwick Fellowship. She brings her wealth of expertise to courses like Archaeology of Food in Ancient Times, where students excavate humanity’s many changes in diet and nutrition through time.

As an authority on utopian and alternative foodways, New England food history, and sensorial experience, lecturer Netta Davis (GRS’13) offers her students rare insights. In her course, Wild and Foraged Foods, students examine the way gathering food sheds light on their relationship to the surrounding world. “We look into the recent appeal of wild and foraged foods, and how the resurgence of something humans have been doing since prehistoric times reflects our connection to nature within an industrialized food environment,” Davis says.

Boston University Connects You to a Rich Gastronomy Network

Venture into the working world of food, and you’ll find graduates of the BU MET Gastronomy program everywhere from America’s Test Kitchen to Oxfam, doing everything from telling the stories of food to bringing plates and traditions to life.

At BU, many students in the Gastronomy program stay connected and inspire one another via the BU MET Gastronomy Blog. There, you will find the stories that brought many incoming students to their academic pursuit of food.

Barbara Rotger (MET’11), who recently retired from her role as assistant director of the Gastronomy program, notes that “connections between students and alumni … help advance careers and foster a sense of community within our programs.”

Rotger possesses a unique perspective on the program. As a student, the avid collector of recipes, scrapbooks, and manuscripts turned her curiosity into a master’s thesis, “How to Read a Recipe Box: A Scholar’s Guide to Working with Personal Recipe Collections,” which proposed a methodology for analyzing such collections as historical, cultural, and gendered artifacts. As an administrator, Rotger found satisfaction in helping students find mentors and build camaraderie. The informed guidance of faculty and alumni is integral to the program, suggests Rotger, “Whether you’re wondering, ‘Who from our alumni network works in magazine publishing?’ or ‘Can anyone help me with my research project about Bulgaria?’ or ‘Are there firms in the Chicago area that have hired gastronomy students?’”

Boston University’s Gastronomy students are provided with active opportunities to not only learn but share and publish their work while developing their skills and profiles. The students in Dr. Metheny’s course, Cookbooks and History, research and recreate historical recipes to share with the class. In fall 2020, Adrian Bresler dug deep, unearthing a century-old recipe for Dutch Chocolate Cake from The Neighborhood Cookbook, a community cookbook compiled and issued by The Council of Jewish Women of Portland Oregon in 1914. Bresler was pleased with the cake but found deeper inspiration from the book’s authors. “Their cookbook helped fund the organization’s mission,” she wrote, “Which was to help new immigrants, promote women’s suffrage, provide vocational classes, and support other social issues.”

In Chicago, Natalie Shmulik (MET’13) runs The Hatchery, a nonprofit incubator for local food and beverage enterprises. The organization has built an environment that encourages collaboration between restaurateurs, food businesses, farmers, and even artists and musicians, encouraging the community to join together in the name of nutrition. Running a multidimensional business requires a great many skills, but Shmulik gave herself a versatile set through her interdisciplinary study of gastronomy at BU MET.

“We got a better understanding of the industry as a whole,” she says. “And now I’m able to use that to understand how consumers interact with their food when I’m advising entrepreneurs on what their packaging and product will mean to a consumer.”

Shmulik notes that there are real advantages to getting that background knowledge and theory, which are essential to bringing your passion to fruition. Like many BU Gastronomy graduates, Shmulik pioneered a unique job title: “food business incubation specialist.”

“You can transform the gastronomy degree into whatever you want it to be,” asserts Shmulik. “Students have a chance to learn what they like and what they don’t like about the industry—and how to make a change.”

Find out more about career options in gastronomy.