By: Amanda Parmer

In 2016 the artist and educator Kerry Downey sent out an invitation for a roundtable on Queer Abstraction at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens, that concluded with a line “we’ll have snacks and solidarity.”[1] Their practices “explore the many ways we inhabit our bodies and experience forms of transformation,” a lodestar here for thinking of snacks as a pedagogical tool of collective experiencing that orients us towards solidarity, toward “being perfectly united or at one in some respect.”[2][3] What better way to experience this than through the confoundingly atomizing and unifying intimacy of food?

One reason would be the diminutive and readily dismissed status of snacks, particularly in academic contexts. For example, consider Alexis Gumbs’ warning from Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (2016): “May we be more than a snack… May we each be pebble chokestone gag reflex to digestive destiny regurgitate the rules and start again.”[4] Maybe, by thinking with Gumbs, and in learning from Katherine McKittrick’s use of footnotes in Dear Science (2020) to resituate them as critical to (rather than marginal to) the conversation, we can work with snacks to be more than “snacks” in our Academic Repair Manual.[5]

Popcorn, purportedly the world’s oldest snack, via Wikimedia, public domain

In its early use, the word “snack” was understood as a “share, portion or part,” a meaning that flags the pedagogy embedded in the idea of the snack object itself: that of sharing. But by the mid- 1800’s snacks were understood as “a bit or morsel to eat hastily,” a shift that coincided with the Industrial Revolution, a period that Harry Braverman analyzed in Labor and Monopoly Capital as a deskilling of workers and routinization of work that allowed for workers’ further exploitation—atomizing their skills, bodies, attention and energy in the service of industrial machines.[6] A snack is what one wolfs down between shifts. In the contemporary neoliberalization of higher education, and the workforce overall we can see the booming snack industry of the United States as both symptomatic and instructive: too many classes, too many jobs, not enough time.

Before the covid-19 pandemic, it was frequently the case that folks would arrive at class with a snack (food or drink) for themselves, a symptomatic individuating mechanism that more or less distances (or unites by common snack) the experience of one snacking student from other (snacking or not snacking) students. What if, instead, the otherwise marginalized snack could be centered in the class’s attention to allow it to recognize and establish relations between its members and the materiality of the snack? Perhaps the materiality of the snack can bring forward more than empirical, of-the-moment observations.

The ten companies that own a vast majority of the food supply chain internationally: Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez (Oxfam) fair use

Attending to the snack for its pedagogical promise can also be a catalyst for situating our experience in relation to the industrialization of the food chain and the ten companies that control nearly every food and beverage brand worldwide. We can look at the preponderance of products supplied by Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez — and use this as a space to direct our attention to commoning projects that are working for food justice—607 CSA, the Agrarian Commons for Otsego, Schoharie, and Delaware Counties, or the NYC Green Box initiative could be some starting points. We can ask where it comes from, who brought it to the “table,” who and what is it good for, who can eat it, what it means, who wants more, how much we share, what stories it evokes, how the “we” of the classroom is experiencing the object not only as nourishment but also through analytical and synesthetic means.[7]

Explanation of how a land trust works, from the Agrarian Trust, (c) 2022 Agrarian Land Trust. Illustrator:, Katie Shelly,

Snacks can function as a mechanism for showing, discussing, and sharing cultural heritage and corporeal sameness and difference: what do you love to eat? What can you not eat? What would you rather not eat? Where does it come from? What does it feel like in your body? What does it feel like in my body? Is there a pedagogical tool that elicits greater intimacy and connectivity beyond this shared experience of food? Snacks as a pedagogical form have the capacity to unite a community of strangers and weave shared experience into the classroom discussion or public program. They ease the atmosphere by establishing a common point in our engagement—and by literally balancing our blood sugar.

They also enact the “epistemic egalitarianism” Danielle Allen has articulated, a recognition that learning together exceeds our capacities to learn alone.[8] By foregrounding snacks we stand to flip the script on an otherwise individuating object and experience and, instead, think about how we might learn from one another by sharing snacks and, together, unpacking the pedagogy carried with them.

Let’s spend five minutes at the outset of a class or public discussion talking about the snack itself—where it comes from, why the person who brought it decided to bring it, what its nutritional value is, if someone traveled to pick it up or if it was the easiest thing to find at the corner store.  Such questions open a broader understanding of where folks are coming from and how they’re relating. 

That said, there are caveats. The covid and masking  protocols, for one, sadly deter communal eating. Is it possible to begin class outside with a group snack that stays with the conversation as we move back indoors? Can a synesthetic relationship to snacks be meaningfully evoked in a classroom context? For example, consier—the well charted somatic effects on the body (salivating) that one experiences in thinking of lemon juice, or thinking together about the images and sounds for snack commercials—not only the rhythm of consumption, but also the desire instilled by the amplified crunchiness, bursting flavor, and the cultural connotations embedded in snacks.[9] There is also the question raised by thinkers such as Lauren Berlant about the microfascisms of contemporary learning environments.[10] Is this inquisitiveness into our bodily experience of consumption too much? Is this violating the boundary of our most intimate private space at a moment when the boundaries of privacy have been removed through online classes (being able to see into one another’s homes) and covid protocols (widespread sharing of one’s personal health status)? Or is this a way of questioning our relationship to these boundaries and their fabrication—for example, for whom and how are they functioning?

1. Downey, Kerry. “Round Table on Queer Abstraction.” Press release, November 13, 2016.

2. “Bio.” Kerry Downey. Accessed February 8, 2022.

3. “solidarity, n.”. OED Online. December 2021. Oxford University Press. (accessed February 08, 2022).

4. Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity. Durham North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2016.

5. McKittrick, Katherine. Dear Science and Other Stories. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.

6. Braverman, Harry. 1974. Labor and monopoly capital: the degradation of work in the twentieth century.

7. Mattern, Shannon. “Redesigning the Academy” (syllabus, The New School, New York, NY 2022).

8. Wellmon, Chad. “For Moral Clarity Don’t Look to Universities.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 4, 2017,

9. “Science & Nature – Human Body and Mind – Lemon Juice Experiment.” BBC. BBC. Accessed February 15, 2022.

10. Jennifer Doyle and Nick Mitchell, with Lauren Berlant and Zachary Samalin, “Critical University Studies: Academic Labor in Crisis Times,” Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (May 20, 2021) [video: 1:43:09].