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Week of September 9, 2013

Faculty Spotlight

Lecturer’s passion for food informs classroom discussion

How does one go from wanting to be a professional wine expert to teaching at a world-class academic institution?

That, in essence, is the story of Margot Finn, a lecturer in university courses, although even she admits she got there in a “roundabout sort of way.”

Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.

Finn was a Ph.D. student at Michigan who originally came here because she liked the programs in communications, American culture and Arabic studies. Her first goal was to study media in the Middle East, but she had a change of heart midway through her program.

Finn told Paul Anderson, one of her teachers and advisers, of her passion for food and wine, and how she wanted to be a sommelier (wine expert). Anderson encouraged her to keep working toward her doctorate, but to change things up a bit.

“He said, ‘Why not write a dissertation on wine?’” Finn said. She ultimately chose food as the subject for her dissertation “Aspirational Eating: Class Anxiety and the Rise of Food in Popular Culture.” “It’s about the growing interest in eating ‘better’ in the U.S. since the 1980s,” she says.

Finn earned her Ph.D. in American culture in May 2011 and was recruited to teach a new Sophomore Initiative seminar called “User’s Guide to the Liberal Arts.” It explains to students the history of higher education and answers questions and misconceptions about liberal arts versus vocational degree paths.

Finn also was offered the chance to teach another class in the Sophomore Initiative that was right up her alley, called Much Depends on Dinner. It explores how food impacts culture. “Food is profoundly interdisciplinary. There’s so much great scholarly writing about food,” she says, adding there has been an increase in food research.

In addition to teaching about food, Finn also loves to cook. Her specialties are bread and soup, but she adds, “I really like everything. I like to experiment, and see what happens.” Finn also manages a food blog, Sour Salty Bitter Sweet, which originally started as a companion to her dissertation but has since evolved into a much broader collection of thoughts, questions and recipes.

Being able to stay involved with her passion has been a blessing.

“This is a pretty great situation for me,” Finn said. “I get to teach classes I really love and stay in Ann Arbor.”

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at


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