Thursday, 22 September 2011

Visit to Bloomington

One week ago today, I headed over to Bloomington, Indiana. Granted I'm a fan of the Midwest but I had a very specific reason for making the journey to this foodie-friendly city: Bloomington is where I foresee this potential food anthropologist's physical training ground for the intersection of food, research, and travel.

My endpoint, more specifically, was the campus of Indiana University Bloomington. A little over a year ago, I learned about IU's anthropology of food program and needless to say I was hooked. And so, with an opening in my work schedule, I made the drive Thursday evening. My hosts for my stay were Adrianne, a graduate student in the anthro of food program, and her two roommates (one of whom, Claire, is a graduate student in the anthro (archaeology) program). Shortly upon my arrival, we joined up with some of their friends and made our way to The Rail, a new bar lounge that had just opened that night. Alongside their drink menu (all cocktails are $8, and the John Jameson was the crowd favorite of both our waitress and the table) were an array of eclectic small plates definitely worth trying. Among the dishes we tried were a great flatbread dish and the above lettuce wrap. With an ambiance to match the drink style and food presentation, I was told The Rail is the kind of restaurant scene that had been missing in Bloomington for quite some time. Most certainly, this is one of those places where I'm pleasantly surprised to see something that fits more so in New York or some other metropolis but instead exists (and works) in the Midwest. Check out The Rail and its expanding menu (the Facebook account mentions something about homemade ice cream) if ever you find yourself in Bloomington [T-F, 5pm-3am; Sat/Sun, 7pm-3am].

The next morning, we started off the day at the Scholar's Inn Bakehouse. As I've proclaimed numerous times I'm sure, I will go for anything with bacon. Add deliciously warm brie and a baguette (and I suppose some tomato won't hurt) and I'm sold. And then I saw the Orangina. Simplicity in breakfast form was enjoyed that morning I can assure you. Following breakfast, we paid a visit to a local farmer where we picked up fresh cow's milk. Seriously, this is a Midwest foodie kind of town!

From there, we made our way to IU's campus and this would be where I cue quite a few culture shock moments. In short, I have deduced three key points that I shall remember until the next time I ever return. First, IU is a huge school (with approximately 40,000 undergrads and 2,000 graduate students). How anything gets done--and granted I come from the small, liberal arts tradition--is beyond my comprehension (or at least it was prior to my visit). Second, IU's campus is beautiful, and it wasn't even the fall season yet. Perhaps one of the most striking features was it's intentional forested space; I can only imagine how great the leaves will look in a few weeks. In addition, it quite surprised me how quickly I became accustomed to the campus layout, which leads me to my third point. At any one time, you can only see a small part of campus, i.e., it's not overwhelming and in fact has a comfortable Midwestern balance between large school education and resource opportunities and small school relationships and connections.

Following a tour of the immediate area of campus, I went to a series of meetings I had previously set up with some of the sociocultural anthropologists I could potentially work with. In particular, I was seeking two things: 1) a sense as to whether or not my understanding of the anthropology of food is on the right track in its relation to how this field is played out in actuality; and 2) which components of my graduate school application I should pay particular attention to. I sincerely walked away from my meetings with clarity--both in terms of the program and in my desire to want to be there--and a genuine sense of collegiality. Halfway through the day, I made my way out of the Student Building (not to be confused with the Student Union), through Sample Gates (pictured above the previous paragraph) and onto Kirkwood Ave and the slew of student-friendly eating options. One of these stops was Campus Candy which features 500 varieties of candy, as well as frozen yogurt and healthy fare. At the conclusion of my on-site campus meetings, I ended the campus portion of my visit at the Office for Diversity Education to especially learn how diversity work can (and does) get done on a campus as large as IU.

After the long day, I needed to start carving out a cleaner road map, as the possibilities were swirling in my head quicker than a whisk intending to whip up fresh cream; my solution, naturally, was to lie down, put in my earphones, and play "Le Festin" on repeat. In all seriousness, it worked! I then had an enjoyable phone conversation with a fourth IU sociocultural anthropologist whose research area is situated in France, the conversation of which ended in a greater sense of clarity in terms of what I want to research at the graduate level and the path I plan to take in getting there. While I was on the phone for my last meeting, Adrianne and Claire made some homemade pizza dough (note: do not use the blade of a food processor to mix the ingredients together; go by hand). Later on in the evening, Adrianne and I ended up making the pizzas, one of which ended with a beautiful layer of (unintended) charred cheese pictured on the left of the photo above.

On Saturday morning, I headed over to the one place I had been previously notified about, and encouraged to go to by nearly every person I met during my visit: the Bloomington Farmers' Market. And especially given the size of Bloomington, it was (and most certainly still is) worth it. If ever one needed an example of practical, applied anthropology of food, the farmers' market is one of the clearest examples. Featuring local vendors, I was amazed with how much the market seemed to grow as I moved about the market. Alongside the farmers were also performance artists and prepared food stands (the lead photo to this post was taken nearby the vendors), as well as community service and activist organizations. What's more, it was clear that students from IU were there for various reasons, including to take notes for class, and it was even clearer that there was a Midwestern feel for community building throughout, weaving up and down the rows of folks as they spoke to each other (social engagement), traded (economic exchange), Q&A'ed about the produce and items between the seller and buyer (cultural growth), and even sharing that there were specific go-to vendors, regardless of pricing (personal history and trust). Indeed, the farmers' market in itself is a great immediate training ground for anthropological work.

And with that, I bid adieu to Adrianne and a temporary ciao to Bloomington, leaving with the added sense that this would not be last time there. On my way over, I had taken a bit of a northwestern approach to get to Bloomington, but on my way back went for a southeastern approach so that I could stop by Cincinnati to visit a fellow foodie and Albion grad, Kristi. (By the way, you can check out her and her sister's blog here.) I had been to Cincinnati once (I think) and this time around saw it from her medical school student's perspective. It was definitely game day and the tail gates were in full force amidst a sea of red and black. For lunch, and after a drawn out decision making process (or perhaps lack thereof?) we went to Chicago Gyro where I of course had to get a gyro (along with a tall glass of pink lemonade and lemon-lime soda).

Following lunch, but before heading back to Granville and the rest of the academic year, we ended my visit off-campus with one of the best prepared desserts: regular Reese's peanut butter cups... eaten the right way (i.e., center eating first so that you can better appreciate the ring of chocolatey goodness). For the complete photo album from this journey, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Love. I'm so glad that IU has that program. If I wasn't in medical school, I might be applying too! Thanks for the shout-out to the blog!