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They say you are what you eat. Can you eat your way into a job you want? Applying my ethnographic attention to the academy, I’ve laid out below a scholarly meal plan. At a conference, in a meeting room, or in a class, most academics and graduate students are hailed to introduce themselves via their research. My go-to elevator pitch is: I am interested in food, meat, and human-animal relations in Egypt, a description with breadth and depth that varies by context. Sometimes I add an anecdote, and sometimes a disclaimer that I am neither vegan nor vegetarian. In all cases, however, the interest in food has allowed me to rethink my everyday culinary and eating decisions. More broadly, this interest has pushed me to seek, stalk, reflect, experiment, and play with becoming an anthropologist-graduate-student-wannabe-academic in North America through a series of culinary routines. 

Credit: Noha Fikry
Academic edibles.

As an exploration of how animals become meat, my research focuses on everyday routines, intimacies, rituals, and relations through which women farmers rear food animals such as chickens, ducks, geese, goats, and rabbits to later eat or sell in markets. These animals are usually kept on rooftops, in courtyards, or in shared open enclosures. Alongside modest amounts of animal feed, women predominantly rely on household leftovers and creatively develop recipes that boost immunity, fatten, or adjust an animal’s taste to their liking to compete with commercially produced meat. It is the varied diet of rice, stale bread, okra-stew leftovers, molasses, potato peels, beetroot, ginger, lettuce, onions, and garlic that gives home-reared animals their distinctive character (dare I say status?) and flavor. For example, they add a mix of garlic, onion, lemon, and vinegar as an immunity booster, molasses to give the birds a unique sugary taste, fava beans as a fattening ingredient, shallots for extra calcium, and sweet potatoes to keep the birds full for longer. Throughout my research, I have realized that my interlocutors shape and train nonhuman animal bodies to grow in a certain way (in this case, fine-tuning flavor and taste) through a series of food items.

As I’ve progressed through graduate school, I found myself pushing these insights to my very personal nexus. How do humans become academics through specific food habits, culinary decisions, and everyday routines? These questions stretch back to my early years as a graduate student, when I began mulling over my food decisions, dietary habits, and athletic (in)abilities. These musings gradually developed into a playful thought experiment about how certain foods might make me a (better) wannabe academic. After many long years of ruminating on how to eat my way into the academy, I present to you an inventory of some culinary decisions that I (have) thought will make me become the academic I hope to become, based on personal communications with some favorite academics. (This includes peeking into their lunchboxes, observing what they eat in brown-bag lectures, during office hours, or in Zoom meetings.)

Disclaimer: this is an experimental, playful parodic, sarcastic inventory—with some elements of truth.

An Experimental Culinary Inventory of a Wannabe-Academic:

  • Drink more coffee, perhaps 4 to 5 cups a day, for how else can you write, read, and claim to focus? Indeed, how else can you keep track of the day? At 5 cups, you can call it quits. 
  • Add your milk, mostly an alternative of some sort. Almond, oat, whatever you fancy.
  • Better, drink it black. As deep as your deepest intellectual curiosities.
  • You can’t survive just on coffee. You’re too old for reckless student life. Prepare proper food to eat throughout the day.
  • Overnight oats are your best friend. Pre-prepare them in a mason jar and add your toppings of choice.
  • Snack smart, snack often. Reading and writing need some culinary company. A friend of mine survived writing her dissertation through a consistent stock of Nutella, devoured in spoonfuls while writing. Just keep snacking.
  • Try dark chocolate, as dark as your darkest academia vibe.
  • Nuts are a good snackable option, especially for endless Zoom meetings. Popcorn is good for drama-saturated ones. 
  • Eat walnuts (or add them to your overnight oats). Walnuts look like brains. You need big brains.
  • When on your laptop, drink more water. Bored? Try sparkling water; it could add fizz to your otherwise monotonous, long, silent working hours.
  • Keep energy/protein bars near and dear. In case you run out of energy to read, write, or think, which you will. Energy/protein bars might be a good reason/motivation to work out. An athletic academic is (usually) saner.
  • Eat your apple every day. You need to keep all doctors away. You have deadlines to catch (or miss).
  • During weekdays, use a few no-bake, no-cook recipes. Lévi-Strauss will be proud. For baking, no-knead bread is your go-to option. No need to knead; often, no time for kneading as well.
  • At other times, when you need to procrastinate on all writing projects, elaborate meals are your best friend. In Egypt, where I’m from, stuffed vine leaves are ideal. You roll your life out as you roll them, stuff them, cook them, devour them.
  • For rejection blues and endless redrafts, keep all the calorie-dense, refined-sugar-full, what-your-dietitian-warned-you-of chocolates and candies in stock.
  • Upon switching jobs, after publishing a new piece, or with the beginning of a new research project, begin at the top of this list. Congratulations, you have now become an academic!

Ariana Gunderson is the section contributing editor for the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition.


Noha Fikry

Noha Fikry is a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology with a specialization in food studies at the University of Toronto. Noha’s PhD research explores home-rearing practices among women farmers in rural Egypt. Most recently, Noha published an article on her research in Anthropology Now. All her publications can be accessed at

Cite as

Fikry, Noha. 2024. “What I Eat in a Day: Academia Edition.” Anthropology News website, January 29, 2024.

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