Would you maintain a regular diet containing either bee larvae, fried tarantula or tripe? What about pickled pig feet or chitlins? Or how about Twinkies?

The answer depends partially on personal preference, access and habit, but also socially and culturally defined normative beliefs about food.

That's a crucial point. Food does not always serve as mere sustenance or a jolt for the taste buds, but also represents a socially and culturally relevant staple shaped by regionalism, mood and ideology, among a list of other things, said Mary Good, a doctoral student in the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology.

Defining what is food

"All humans everywhere must consume food in order to live, but how 'food' is defined, produced, procured, thought about, and interacted with is subject to almost endless variation around the world," she said.

"Some people like to eat bugs and monkey brains, and we are trying to understand why that relationship exists and also why other people find it gross," Good added.

This semester, she is teaching a Web-based course, "Anthropology of Food," which considers past and contemporary cultural ties to eating, nutrition, agriculture, the domestication of animals and global movements and the global food market.

In doing so, the class is meant to examine ways food is defined and how it aids in social identity development and ways it is utilized for organizing societies.

"I focus more on ways that people make social connections with each other through food and ways in which food is expressive," Good said.

Dawn Gonzales, an Honors College student studying anthropology, took the course during the Spring 2010 online.

"It isn't about nutrition, but we did study the effects of the western diet as it has been introduced around the world," said Gonzales, a UA South senior.

"The class is about food as ritual, food as politics and food as culture," she said, adding that she enjoys "crunchy and colorful foods."

And being that she is a UA student in Sierra Vista, Gonzales said it was especially beneficial to take a course she was interested in without having to commute.