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Teaching with Microbes: Lessons from Fermentation during a Pandemic

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Abstract

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic introduced unique challenges to teaching at the university level, while also heightening awareness of existing social and health disparities as these shaped interactions and influenced learning outcomes in class settings. Based on ethnographic and autoethnographic data, this article reflects on teaching about human-microbial relations in the context of the course "Anthropology of Food" and specifically at the start of the pandemic. Data demonstrate how students shifted from demystifying microbes to distrusting microbes to reacquainting with microbes through a hands-on experiment with fermentation. The article introduces a microbiopolitical perspective in interpreting students' learning trajectories and ultimate course outcomes. IMPORTANCE As evidenced by classroom experiences in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, microbes are "good to teach with" not only within microbiology and related fields but across a variety of academic disciplines. Thinking with microbes is not a neutral process but one shaped by social, political, and economic processes. Imploring students to contemplate how power dynamics and patterns of inequality are detectable at the microbial level may offer a unique opportunity for transforming one's view of the world and our relatedness with both humans and nonhumans.
Teaching with Microbes: Lessons from Fermentation during a
Pandemic
Megan A. Carney
a
a
Anthropology, Center for Regional Food Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
ABSTRACT The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic introduced unique
challenges to teaching at the university level, while also heightening awareness of
existing social and health disparities as these shaped interactions and inuenced
learning outcomes in class settings. Based on ethnographic and autoethnographic
data, this article reects on teaching about human-microbial relations in the context
of the course Anthropology of Foodand specically at the start of the pandemic.
Data demonstrate how students shifted from demystifying microbes to distrusting
microbes to reacquainting with microbes through a hands-on experiment with fer-
mentation. The article introduces a microbiopolitical perspective in interpreting stu-
dents' learning trajectories and ultimate course outcomes.
IMPORTANCE As evidenced by classroom experiences in the midst of the COVID-19
pandemic, microbes are good to teach withnot only within microbiology and
related elds but across a variety of academic disciplines. Thinking with microbes is
not a neutral process but one shaped by social, political, and economic processes.
Imploring students to contemplate how power dynamics and patterns of inequality
are detectable at the microbial level may offer a unique opportunity for transforming
ones view of the world and our relatedness with both humans and nonhumans.
KEYWORDS anthropology of food, biopolitics, fermentation, human microbial
relations, microbiopolitics, pandemic, pedagogy, social equity
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has laid bare the social inequal-
ities that render differential vulnerability to illness and death, including within the
realm of higher education (13). In addition, the economic, political, and social effects
of the pandemic on universities have stimulated more critical attention to university
teaching and processes of knowledge production (47). Moreover, teaching during the
time of COVID-19 has underscored the ways that formal learning environments never
neatly adhere to a specic set of temporal and spatial conditions but are only as gener-
ative as they are exible to change.
In this article, in-person and digital ethnographic, as well as autoethnographic,
methods inform my reections on teaching Anthropology of Food: Culturing
Culturesat the start of the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring 2020 semester at
the University of Arizona. In its third iteration, this particular offering of the course
engaged with the anthropology of food through the lens of fermented foods and
human-microbial relations while integrating theory on settler colonialism, multispecies
ethnography, critical food studies, the anthropology of food, science and technology
studies, biopolitics, and intersectionality. Although I cannot claim myself an expert on
the fermentation process, I nonetheless chose to focus on the social, cultural, and polit-
ical aspects of fermentation, specically, its renewed popularity within the domestic
sphere (prior to the pandemic), evidenced by the growing number of people, particu-
larly in a North American context, engaged in some form of home brewing, baking,
canning, and preserving, as well as on the burgeoning research on the human
Citation Carney MA. 2021. Teaching with
microbes: lessons from fermentation during a
pandemic. mSystems 6:e00566-21. https://doi
.org/10.1128/mSystems.00566-21.
Editor Suzanne Lynn Ishaq, University of Maine
Copyright © 2021 Carney. This is an open-
access article distributed under the terms of
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International license.
Address correspondence to
mcarney@arizona.edu.
Received 6 May 2021
Accepted 3 June 2021
Published
July/August 2021 Volume 6 Issue 4 e00566-21 msystems.asm.org 1
RESEARCH ARTICLE
27 July 2021
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microbiome, the probiotic turn,and the mainstream interest in probiotics, prebiotics,
and other ostensibly curativefoods and beverages thought to play a role in contrib-
uting to gut health as well as overall physical and mental well-being (8, 9).
Whereas the global-industrial food system promotes homogenization, pasteuriza-
tion, mass production, processing, and distribution, the revitalization of fermented
foods poses a direct challenge to this system (10). The global-industrial food system
comprises part of the antibiotic era,deemed by some as a dening biopolitical logic
of the Anthropocene (9). Moreover, the global-industrial food system threatens biodi-
versity in its quest to eradicate any and all potential risks,specically, pathogens and
bacteria; paradoxically, these efforts make the system as a whole structurally insecure
and more vulnerable to disease (11). However, fermented foods have also come to
index technologies of the self; i.e., they comprise part of a self-care regimen in the con-
text of neoliberal governmentality that has increasingly transferred responsibility for
health and well-being from the realm of the collective to the individual (9, 12, 13).
In responding to recent calls that anthropologists in particular capture transform-
ing intimacies and changing discourses of human-microbial life during and after
COVID-19 both in the home and in other environments(14), I hypothesize that
microbes are good to teach withfor their potential to underscore the interrelated-
ness of all life and, concomitantly, because of the need for cultivating greater intra-
and interspecies awareness (15). More than a decade of ethnographic eldwork in the
western United States and in the Mediterranean had led me to contemplate the struc-
tural dimensions of uneven microbial exposure and distribution, theorizing microbio-
politics, and engaging with fermentation, especially in my teaching, for its political
potential as a site of transformation (12, 16).
Drawing on my training as an anthropologist and ethnographer, my objects of anal-
ysis in the pages that follow are the power dynamics in which the above-mentioned
course took place, how these dynamics were underscored in our course materials, and
the ways that these dynamics mapped onto studentsexperiences with the course and
the pandemic. In particular, this article discusses biopolitics (1719) and microbiopo-
litics (10, 20) as they intersected over the span of the semester at three scales: (i) as a
theoretical framework for the course materials, specically, through differential access
to fermented foods and exposure to microbes (21, 22); (ii) in the context of the differ-
ential effects of the pandemic and how these were refracted in differing interpretations
of the course materials; and (iii) within our class and along lines of social differences
that translated into differential engagement and participation in the class and, in some
cases, forced withdrawal.
RESULTS
The rst 8 weeks (prepandemic): making friends of microbes. Mid-January 2020,
the course began with readings and other materials that introduced students to the
concept of fermentation, i.e., the transformation of one substance by microorganisms,
such as bacteria, yeasts, or mold, into another substance that is more digestible, nutri-
tious, and delicious(23), as well as to the concept of biodiversity and the accelerated
decline of biodiversity in our natural environment, foods, and guts (24). We read
Katherine Harmon Courages book Cultured and articles in medical anthropology out-
lining the connection of food to human health. We also watched the 2017 lm
Fermented to explore the ubiquity of fermented foods and beverages across human
cultures, the connection of these foods to livelihoods, and the rich, centuries-old repo-
sitories of knowledge that sustain the production and sharing of these foods (25; see
also Fermented). We discussed how digestion itself is a highly evolved process and how
humans have coevolved with microorganisms to use sensory cues, such as taste and
smell, to discern what is edible from what is potentially noxious. Course materials
emphasized the ways that human labor is both necessary and passive in the process of
fermentation, i.e., involving a vibrant entanglement of the human providing ideal con-
ditions for the microorganisms to thrive(26). We delved into recent research on the
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human microbiome to examine more closely the ways that fermented foods may serve
therapeutic purposes and counteract the effects of the war on germs,i.e., globalized
practices of prescribing antibiotics, sanitizing environments, and obsessive application
of antibacterial substances that have paralleled the rising global incidence of meta-
bolic illness, inammatory diseases, respiratory illness, and psychiatric disorders (9, 25,
27). Alongside examinations of how cultures around the world integrate food as the
frontline of healing(28), we also critiqued prot-making motives of the agrifood
industry to commodify and mass distribute probiotics as an ostensible cure-all for
unhealthy guts and called for greater attention to how foods affect human micro-
biomes and overall health in local contexts (i.e., how foods are grown, prepared, and
consumed, as well as local biology, ecology, and microbial populations) (29). Students
reected on the food- and herb-based remedies utilized within their households, fami-
lies, and broader social networks and developed a greater appreciation for understand-
ing that there is no singular rightway to eat (3032).
With these themes as an entry point to the course, we engaged Benezra et al.,
Anthropology of Microbes,as well as Swanson et al., Domestication Gone Wild: Politics
and Practices of Multispecies Relations, to situate contemporary debates on the interre-
latedness of diet, microbes, and human and environmental health and to analyze fer-
mentation as both a cultural product and a site of human-microbial relations (33, 34).
We examined the linkages among domestication, fermentation, and the origins of civi-
lization, for instance the domestication and cultivation of grains for the purposes of
making beer (35, 36). We extended our thinking to account for the ways that domesti-
cation has contributed to biodiversity loss and the proliferation of plagues, processes
that were particularly pronounced in, and instrumental to, settler colonialism. We dis-
cussed how European settlers introduced nonnative domesticated animals to the
Americas along with pathogens that were fatal for native populations, both human
and nonhuman, utilizing multimedia representations of these events, such as Mark
DionsConquistadors (1961), depicting European domesticated animals as the original
conquistadoresthat wiped out many species of animals native to the Americas.
Students began to connect the dots between these historical conditions and the struc-
ture of todays global-industrial food system, characterized by industrial monocultures,
homogenization of foodstuffs (declining biodiversity of plants and animals), and wide-
spread availability of calorie-dense and nutrient-poor processed foods with uneven
consequences for human health and livelihoods.
Our conversations turned more explicitly to concerns about social equity as we wel-
comed renowned food justice activist Karen Washington as a guest speaker; her visit
was scheduled as part of the Just Nourishmentprogramming organized by the UA
Center for Regional Food Studies and the Tucson-based Dunbar Pavilion, an African
American culture and arts center. Washington recounted for us how she had been
inspired to convert empty lots in her native Bronx neighborhood into an urban agricul-
tural oasis, while observing the toll of a heroin epidemic and growing rates of asthma
on her community. She explained that Food justice doesnt exist...unless you are
actively working on injustices,such as reparations for those who were enslaved and
displaced by centuries of settler colonialism and, more recently, through gentrication
(3739). She argued for food apartheidas a conceptual framing superior to food
desertsfor talking about the struggles of people of color, demonstrating how dis-
course around food deserts reinforced feelings of alienation among socially and eco-
nomically marginalized people. She also told us about starting the Black Farmers Fund
as a means of building wealth in Black communities and combatting the anti-
Blackness of capitalist systems, which had excluded people like her from a seat at the
table; instead, these systems had objectied and ingested them or, as she stated, put
us on the menu.
Meanwhile, students reported back on current events that related to course
themes, often highlighting trends in fermented products, i.e., craft beer, kombucha,
and yogurt, and analyzing how these foods were marketed to a particular privileged
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class of consumers, or they featured nutrition and dietary interventions designed to
address health disparities, noting how interventions often overlooked important fac-
tors, such as race, class, and other markers of social difference, as well as structural con-
straints that narrowed ones dietary options.
As we approached spring break in late February and even into early March, the like-
lihood of a full-edged pandemic seemed like a rather distant possibility. While we had
briey discussed media coverage of the situation in China and warnings by ofcials in
the United States about possible disruptions to life here, many of my students were
still gearing up for travel over the upcoming university closure. On Thursday, 5 March
2020, we bid our farewells, completely naive to the fact that this would be our last in-
person meeting.
The pandemic breaks spring break: an unwelcome return to microbes as par-
asitic foe.
I want to write and reassure everyone that this course will proceed (mostly) as
planned but with the bulk of our activities occurring online. We are all dealing
with extraordinary circumstances, but we will be okay....
My correspondence to students on 15 March 2020, 8:12 a.m. MST
We went into spring break, and everything seemed calm; little did we know that
we would not be going back to campus again.
Excerpt from a student response paper, April 2020
The World Health Organization declared a pandemic only a few days after students
departed campus for spring break. Not only were they informed by university adminis-
tration that all courses would transition to online, but they were also expected to im-
mediately vacate campus housing. As students responded to myriad disruptions to
their everyday lives, they struggled to focus on their studies, as well as acclimate to an
entirely new modality of learning. Meanwhile, I was facing struggles of my own at
home with regard to balancing work with childcare after my daughtersschool closed
its doors. Despite my sincere efforts to convey a sense of calm to students in my post-
spring break correspondence, none of us were actually okay.For these reasons, I sig-
nicantly altered evaluation criteria for the course and, when possible, extended
opportunities to students to reect on what was happening around them.
With the written assignment that followed our transition to online, students were
invited to reect either on recent course materials or about how the pandemic had
affected their lives. Most students chose the latter theme, relating experiences of being
displaced from university housing and severed from the broader campus community
(e.g., It has been a little difcult to wrap my head around the fact that I was not able
to appreciate the little things one more time before I left Tucson), moving back
homeand dealing with tense familial interactions, losing jobs and having to apply for
unemployment (most of them for the rst time) and other nancial struggles (e.g., My
father owns a small seafood restaurant, and our income is down about 50%. [He is]
stressed about losing the business and thousands of dollars. Hes put in a request with
the governments PPP [Payroll Protection Plan] to access a loan so that our business is
able to stay aoat but unfortunately there are thousands of other businesses [doing
the same]), struggling to manage coursework amid Internet connectivity issues or a
lack of necessary technology (e.g., It has been a struggle to gather any remaining
motivation to continue to work and even nish my classes), being estranged from
family (especially for international students) and/or being close to older and at-risk rel-
atives, and completely halting social interactions with friends.
They also lamented the cancellation of major life events, such as graduations (e.g.,
Although I am glad to be nishing my college career, I am disappointed I will not be
able to nish with the entirety of the college experience; this is even more so being a
rst-generation student) and study abroad plans; one students spring break study
abroad trip to Paris ended abruptly, and her grandmother died of organ failure upon
her return to the United States. They revealed fears about graduating and entering the
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workforce during a recession (e.g., Many companies and organizations have altered
their hiring status and many decisions have been postponed causing a lot of stress for
me) and plans to apply to graduate, law, or medical school being derailed due to can-
cellations or postponements of upcoming standardized test dates. Some of them
shared their experiences as essential workers(e.g., On a daily basis, customers are
rude at my job, they yell at us, demand extra services for free, forgetting to realize that
WE are there every day risking our lives for THEM) and the shock of coming back to a
ghost town after spring break (e.g., It was almost eerie being back; the life seemed to
have vanished from the once-bustling city). Yet they also alluded to taking better care
of themselves and those around them, such as older relatives and neighbors (e.g.,
Self-care is often overlooked during the hectic hustle and bustle of our former every-
day lives;Cooking at home has been a major change in my and my familys life since
quarantining). With consent, students had an opportunity to read and respond to
their peersreections, an exercise that proved mildly cathartic for some.
These life- and course-related disruptions also overlapped with our transition to the
second half of the semester, in which we were to learn directly from Tucson-based fer-
mented food entrepreneurs, including brewers, bakers, coffee roasters, a chocolatier,
and a cheese-monger. Unfortunately, most of these individuals were facing signicant
business challenges of their own in adapting to the conditions of the pandemic, and
only two were able to arrange for virtual guest visits with the class.
During this time, studentscurrent event presentations shifted to topics around the
effects of COVID-19 on food insecurity and the food system. Examples of story titles
selected by students included How to Safely Feed Food-Insecure Seniors During a
Pandemic(40), SNAP Could Feed an Economic Recovery During and After the
Pandemic(41), Farmworkers Are in the Coronavirus Crosshairs(42), Food
Shortages? Nope, Too Much Food in the Wrong Places(43), Critical Food and Farm
Rules Have Been Rolled Back Amid Pandemic(44), Community Supported Agriculture
Is Surging Amid the Pandemic(45), and Can Restaurants Survive the Pandemic by
Feeding Those in Need?(46).
In a cruel twist of fate, students expressed ambivalence about their recently
acquired open-mindedness toward and knowledge about microbes, including the cen-
tral role that these play in human health. They resumed fearful intimaciesin the
realm of human-microbial relations (14), despite the coronavirus being a virus and not
a microbe; that viruses exist at the scale of microbial communities and can profoundly
alter the behavior of living organisms made it difcult to decipher the two. They
observed and assiduously adhered to necessarily draconian practices of self-quaran-
tine, sanitation, and the wearing of personal protective equipment required for atten-
ing the curve and controlling the transmission of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the social and
economic disparities that had factored centrally in our critical analysis of course materi-
als in the earlier half of the semester were now shaping differential vulnerability to the
virus as well as reinforcing patterns of advantage and disadvantage among students,
notable for instance in terms of those who were able to continue with their participa-
tion in the class versus those whose access was inhibited or compromised in one way
or another. There were several students from whom I did not hear after spring break;
some of them eventually requested to formally withdraw from the course. Others I
heard from toward the end of the semester apologizing for their absence and explain-
ing their lack of access to the appropriate technologies (i.e., laptops or desktop com-
puters, reliable Internet) required for remote learning.
Sweet (and sour) surrender: the fermentation project. The nal weeks of class were
dedicated to studentsfermentation projects. Originally planned as an activity for small
groups, the pandemic had rendered impossible or unfavorable in-person gatherings
among students. As described in the syllabus, this assignment called for students to
gather in groups of three to four people according to a fermented food of
interest; collectively research recipes for the fermented food; collectively seek
ingredients for the recipe; prepare and consume the fermented food as a group;
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and prepare a presentation...in which you reect on your collective fermenting
experience.
I encouraged students to document their experiences with photos and to take notes
on sensory observations, i.e., relating to sight, smell, taste, touch, throughout the process.
Although groups had formed prior to leaving for spring break, i.e., prior to the pandemic,
I sought input from students about how we could still proceed with the assignment amid
the unanticipated challenges that we were then all encountering. Students elected to
continue with the fermented food that they had chosen and coordinated with other
members of their group to prepare the food together, apart(a phrase inspired by The
New York Times podcast Together. Apartthat launched in April 2020, described as part
guide, part reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit to still creatively meaningfully
gather, even while we have to be apart). Groups formed to make a range of fermented
foods, including dosa (rice pancake made from fermented batter), sourdough bread, cul-
tured butter, tepache (a fermented beverage made from the peel and rind of pineapple),
fermented soda, tempeh,andmageu (a fermented beverage made from maize meal).
As highlighted in their nal group presentations on the last days of class, students
appreciated the fermentation project for providing a means to stay connected with
their peers during the pandemic. At a time of immense physical and social isolation,
students connected with their group members, often across vast distances, by sharing
updates on their progress with the project through images and written observations.
For instance, the group that prepared sourdough bread compared photos of the bub-
bling surface on their sourdough starters from day 1, 2, etc., and sensory experiences,
describing aromas that were warm, sweet, and tangy.As one member of this group
emphasized, Its fascinating to see the comparison of the different sourdough recipes
especially because were all in different places; two of us are in Arizona, Im in Canada,
and [name of student] is in Tennessee.Students from the dosa group planned an
imaginary meal together consisting of dosa, traditional potato lling, and chutney and
divided up preparation of its parts.
Students described challenges in obtaining ingredients and having to adapt recipes
amid disruptions to supply chains and hoarding of essential ingredients by panicked con-
sumers. They often resorted to nding creative substitutions, such as using sauerkraut or
Greek yogurt as a base when local stores were sold out of starters or yeast. In some cases,
they relied on the generosity of neighbors who had supplies to share, e.g., One of my
neighborsjusthappenedtogivemesomeyeast,whichIwasverythankfulfor.
For many students, the slow and evolving process of fermentation seemed to cata-
lyze a shift in their relationship to food in which they were not the primary agent of
change, e.g.,
I kept thinking about my [fermented food] and just wanted to check on [the
microbes], and like, make sure they were all good. So, I felt I was able to relate to
that and have a relationship with food in this process.... I feel like Ill probably
make my own from now on.
They elaborated on surrendering to the microbes, e.g., you really just need
patience to allow the bacteria to do what its supposed to do,and on the exhilaration
of witnessing microbial transformations.
It was exciting to see how the bubbles started to come up, signaling that it was
alive and the microorganisms were there doing their work...and how natural the
fermentation process is; youre taking a couple of ingredients and youre letting
the ingredients just do their own thing and just letting it sit there.
They also found solace as well as reward and fulllment in the fermentation pro-
cess, e.g., Its really comforting when youre making something that you think is com-
plicated, and everything is actually going according to plan. So, it was nice to do some-
thing like that.
The project also indexed for many students how they were experiencing temporal
and relational shifts as a result of the pandemic. They described a slowing down in
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everyday routines. Students who made tempeh for instance had dehulled their soy-
beans by hand, yet they were unbothered by the amount of time required for such te-
dious work. One student surmised, Through this pandemic, we have been making
bread just because we have more time, I guess.For some, the foods that they were
preparing strengthened their appreciation for family and relatives both living and
deceased with whom they shared a connection through food. They enlisted their rela-
tives with whom they were quarantining in the fermentation project and rejoiced in
learning how to make foods that were part of their cultural heritage: Its something
that brings me back to my ancestors....this fermentation process [for tepache]is
something that they have been doing for generations.
In summary, when so many aspects of studentslives seemed unpredictable and
out of control, the fermentation project represented something tangible that they
could complete at home. Indeed, the pandemic renewed popularity for breadmaking
and other do-it-yourself domesticity (26). Although students had to navigate obstacles,
such as working together remotely and experimenting with substitutes for unobtain-
able ingredients, they seemed to derive considerable pleasure from engaging with
their peers and others in their lives in an exercise of surrendering to the microbes. The
material aspects of sociality that had been so prominent in their prepandemic lives
resurfaced to some degree in the context of fermentation, through their interactions
both with the microbes and with each other. While giving their nal presentations, stu-
dents acknowledged the ways that the fermentation project afforded them space to
process the pandemic and its many material and immaterial implications.
DISCUSSION
Microbiopolitical pedagogies. In developing this course a few years ago and in
rening the curriculum over time, building from the intellectual contributions of
Michel Foucault, Thomas Lemke, Michelle Murphy, Nikolas Rose, Heather Paxson, and
others, while using fermentation as an operational framework, I have subscribed to the
notion that a microbiopolitical perspective, i.e., examining biopolitics at the microbial
level, holds political potential for redressing inequities in society (20). In other words,
imploring students to contemplate how power dynamics and patterns of inequality
are detectable at the microbial level may offer a unique opportunity for transforming
ones view of the world and our relatedness with both humans and nonhumans. In
short, I hypothesized that microbes are good to teach with,a hypothesis that has
since been overwhelmingly supported with evidence not only from the classroom but
also in the midst of a pandemic.
Our class served as a microcosm of the broader debates, anxieties, and forms of re-
sistance animating the contemporary moment as one of a global pandemic or as the
collision site of biopolitical logics and biosecurity concerns (21). The intellectual
engagements with which we concerned ourselves over the rst 8 weeks of the semes-
ter became real in practice through the pandemic, requiring that I as the instructor
and my students as participants in the course attenuate to our collective needs as they
surfaced in the moment. This teaching experience provided further evidence that for-
mal learning environments must adapt to shifting circumstances of the moment.
Formal learning environments are also relational. Despite our best efforts to control
what happens over the span of a semester and prescribe a path of study through a
prexed recipe, i.e., a syllabus, rapidly changing social, political, and environmental
conditions require us to cultivate response techniques. Similarly, fermentation does
not take place along a linear trajectory set forth by the human instigator; it does not
progress from origin to destination solely because of human intervention. Rather, it is
emergent and context-dependent because it is dialogic(15). As such, our pedagogical
logics might benet by taking cues from fermentation logics. How might fermentation
both literally and metaphorically shift possibilities for politics and relationality (speci-
cally our ethical obligations and affective entanglements) with both the human and
nonhuman?
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As posited by Ishaq et al. and further examined by the others in this special issue,
social inequality, which impedes access to macrobiodiversity, also impedes access to
microbiodiversity and the health benets therein(47). Risk of infectious disease mani-
fests differentially and in accordance with (micro)biopolitical logics that allow certain
lives, including microbial lives, to ourish and others to perish. These inequities in mi-
crobial distribution and exposure cannot be remedied through modications to indi-
vidual behavior but rather demand swift and comprehensive structural changes.
Regrettably, but also unsurprisingly, healthcontinues to be approached as a mat-
ter of individual responsibility in the context of COVID-19. Institutions of higher educa-
tion have been among the leading culprits; as college campuses gradually reopen, for
instance, administrators have tried to absolve themselves of responsibility while over-
looking how risk maps onto extant forms of social inequality. As I was putting nal
touches on this paper in the fall of 2020, college campuses had become the newest
hot spots for COVID-19 outbreaks. These experiences, no doubt, will shape theories of
(micro)biopolitics for years to come and likely inspire more attention to the biopolitics
of higher education.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Autoethnographic and ethnographic data presented for analysis in this article were gathered post
hoc from my written and virtual records of the class, including our syllabus, classroom observations, stu-
dent essays (anonymized and excerpted with the authorspermission), and notes from presentations.
While I did not collect demographic information, most of the 41 students enrolled were in their early
20s, more than half had declared majors in either anthropology or food studies, and many were in-state,
rst-generation college students, reecting the broader demographics of the student population at the
University of Arizona.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Many thanks go to Sue Ishaq and Michael Friedman for organizing this collection
and to the anonymous reviewers. Additional thanks go to my students from the course
Anthropology of Food,who inspired this article and whose contributions to class
continue to challenge my thinking and shape my pedagogy, as well as to members of
Nutrire CoLab.
REFERENCES
1. AAPF. 2020. Under the blacklight: the intersectional vulnerabilities that
COVID lays bare. African American Policy Forum, New York, NY. https://
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