“I started my study of anthropology at home,” says Stephen Wooten, the youngest of nine children in an Irish Catholic family in Weymouth, Massachusetts. “My dad was on the police force. He was a beat cop, on his feet, building relationships with people.” Wooten continued his study at UMass Amherst and got his masters and Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Illinois. He’s been a professor at the UO since 2001.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place,” he says. “I was a big Grateful Dead fan, saw hundreds of shows. All that camping and hanging out with people, the human interactions, were fuel for my career.” Before he entered grad school, Wooten served in the Peace Corps in the West African country of Mali. “I felt a deep connection to those rural farming people,” he says. “Their lives are simple materially, but complex and rich socially and culturally.” He has since been back to Mali more than a dozen times, including an eight month stay in 2011-12 along with his wife Tracy Lomax and their kids August and Wren.
Wooten’s book, The Art of Livelihood (2009), examines the dynamism between food production and aesthetic expression in West Africa. “Food is so much more than nutrition,” says Wooten, who has developed an interdisciplinary food studies curriculum at the UO, offering a graduate specialization and an undergrad minor. “Food is about family, culture and meaning; about environment, soil and farming.” Check the UO Food Studies Facebook page to learn about local food, agriculture, gardening events and opportunities.