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Q&A with PhD Student Jesse Dart

Jesse is looking at how food is a significant part of workplace environment

Jesse Dart is currently working on his PhD in the anthropology of food at the University of Sydney. Specifically, the culture of free food in the workplace, commensality, cooking and corporate anthropology, is of interest to him. He has a master in food culture from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy as well as masters in anthropology from Macquarie University. As a writer and photographer, he contributes to various magazines and publications on topics related to food, dining, culture and travel.

We chat to Jesse about his research and his food interests. Plus you can see more of his writing and photography on his personal website.

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What stage are you at in your PhD?

I’m about to finish the first year of my PhD and recently gave my pre-fieldwork paper at my department seminar series in April. I’ll be headed to the field in July for about 12-14 months of research. Fieldwork, the linchpin of anthropology, is both the best and hardest part.

What interesting points have you found during your research already?

That there are companies who provide three, 100% organic meals a day to their employees – all for free!

What conclusion do you think you will get to?

That eating together is not only important in the home, but it is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. As more time is being spent at work food is starting to be a significant part of workplace culture and a way for companies to help reinforce their identity, mission statements and philosophy.

Your interests include the culture of free food in the workplace – what is meant by that?

I suppose it should read “free meals”, because that’s really what I’m talking about. It’s more than just snacks, tea and coffee – but breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not necessarily a new idea but one that has changed alot over the past ten years.

Tell us a bit about your background.

My parents think I’ve made it a point to stay out of the US, but instead I’ve just always been curious about what the world is like. I studied film in L.A., traveled to Mozambique for study abroad, taught English in Japan, moved to Italy to study food and married a Venetian girl along the way. I trained in gastronomy and food culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, a very experiential school where we spent a lot of time out of the classroom, in the field meeting producers, tasting products and learning about the food system holistically.

Besides research, what are your passions?

Writing, cooking, baking and wine all play a part in my life – as well as traveling and photography.

Where else have you lived besides Sydney?

Before moving to Sydney, my wife and I spent four years in London and before that, Italy.

Where can we find you on a weekend?

The beach, yoga and out for dinner.

Does studying the anthropology of food make you a good chef?

I think it makes me a discerning consumer. I have picked up a lot of kitchen skills from various people and places — living in Italy was good start, and I’m generally curious about recipes, techniques and the like. I’ve never trained as a chef, but food is a big part of my life at home. My wife and I devote a lot of time and energy to cooking, buying and learning. But in the end, yeah, I think I’m pretty good!

Anything else you want to add

Food is a powerful and very personal subject to study, and I am really grateful for the ability I have to use it as a tool for research. It’s not just an academic and professional interest, but a personal one as well. I keep eating, keep tasting, keep trying new foods wherever I go – always trying to expand my palate.