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We caught up with AMST/FOLK senior Fields Utz, who recently completed a senior honors thesis titled, “Beyond the Rainbow Cake: Queer Food as Care: An Ethnographic Exploration of The Intersections Between Queerness, Food, And Identity.” Read on to learn more about Fields’s project, favorite local spots, and “Why American Studies.”

Q: What is your name and what are your pronouns?

A: My name is Fields Utz. I use she and they pronouns. I’m from Asheville, North Carolina, and I am a senior at UNC Chapel Hill.

Q: What are your research interests or a current project that you’re working on?

A: I would say that overall, my research interests are all pretty food-related right now. I am currently working on a thesis about queer food–what it is and what it means and why it means that and what the history is. So that’s been super fun.

Q: Why American studies?

A: For me, “Why American studies?” also ties back to “Why folklore?” I remember really distinctly sitting in my AP Lang[uage] classroom senior year of high school, and a friend of mine had just decided she was going to go to St John’s, which is like liberal arts/Great Books college. Anyway, I thought she was really cool, and I had this freak out moment where I was like, “Wait, I want to go to art school. I don’t want to go to UNC. I need to go to a tiny liberal arts school where everyone smokes a million cigarettes and like, just thinks about art all the time and all we do is talk about philosophy.” Sometimes I do mourn that pathway in my life. But then I stumbled across the folklore program on UNC’s website. For me, it was more folklore than UNC. I grew up surrounded by a lot of storytellers, and stories have always been a really important part of my life. I remember finding out about Joseph Campbell when I was really young. When people latch on to a philosopher and think that they’ve solved the universe’s puzzles? I thought that Joseph Campbell had solved the universe’s puzzles and that the hero’s journey was everything I ever needed to know. There was just one human monolith, and stories are what make up humans, and stories are what preserve humans, and stories are everything. So, that drew me to folklore. And then I love how the American Studies Department is so broad. I have had very few classes within the department that I wasn’t excited to take, and even with those, it was like just a little bit less excited than other classes. I never found myself being bored. I was always learning about something interesting and something that in some way related to the land that I was on, which made it all seem very relevant. I moved into food studies after the pandemic and never looked back. Dr. Alexander has been my primary mentor through my food studies journey. She pushes her students to think critically about food, food systems, and our personal and societal relationship to nourishment. So, why American Studies… The professors!

Q: Would you say that is similar or different to what is the best part about being a UNC student?

A: I’m not a Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bread, Tar Heel dead person, but the best part of being a UNC student is—ok, a classic answer—discovering that I actually care about UNC basketball. When we got into the Final Four, it was really exciting.

The best part about being a UNC student is having access to all the amazing resources that we have on campus. Having the Love House right down the street and the Southern Oral History Program. I feel really grateful for all the faculty who—okay, maybe this just goes back to American Studies, but it’s small enough that everyone cares about you and people know you. Hearing that professors have talked about me is really cool, to know that I don’t just exist in my own student world. The teachers care about you. And the professors are all doing such amazing work that they want to share with you and that inspires me every day.

It’s a great location, UNC. It’s nice to be in the Triangle. There’s some good stuff going on in Durham. Lots of good dance community in the area, which I personally value a lot.

Q: What is something you are looking forward to this semester?

A: Two things. Presenting and defending my thesis and being done with it. Super excited for that. And then I think I’m going to try to get a reservation at Tesoro the same week, and so then if my parents come up and watch me and they can take me out to dinner. We’ll see about that one.
And then the other thing I’m excited for is—this is not school related—a friend and I are going to put on a metamorphosis-inspired, surreal musical dance performance that I think is going to be super weird. That’s going to happen towards the end of the semester. So that’s the other non-school but very passion-filled thing that’s keeping me going through this last semester.

Q: Last question, what is your favorite local spot and why?

A: My favorite local spot…I love Caffe Driade with the outdoor seating. It’s super wonderful. I feel like I’m always overhearing the craziest conversations there. The last time I was there, there were these two people on a date, and they covered every topic known to man. They ended with free will, and they were arguing about free will and the nature of free will. And then they were like, “Let’s go home.” And I was like, “Okay, now I can actually get some work done.” So I love Driade, and I love that it backs up to the walking trails. There are also really great trails going out in like Carolina North Forest by the elementary school. I love those. They’re so nice.

I also love the tiny amphitheater in the woods. Both the Forest Theater and the one by the elementary school. Two different theaters in the woods. I feel more creative when I am outside and both of these spaces are some of my favorite places to dance.

Q: Is there anything that we didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

A: I think my main takeaway of the American Studies Department and the Folklore Department is that the professors are really great, and the people are really great and interesting. I feel really lucky to have been a part of it and to be a part of it.