Friday, 26 October 2012

FCC: Food, Nationality and Citizenship

Well, this past Wednesday was certainly a packed day, and perhaps even that's an understatement. In addition to celebrating the 10th anniversary of Campus Sustainability Day, our campus celebrated quite complimentary celebrations of the United Nation's 67th year of existence via United Nations Day and the second annual National Food Day. And as is the case with most any day, it's particularly exciting to celebrate each of these with food!

Quite fittingly the day began (and this blog post shall begin) with food, specifically a limited meat lunch which highlighted vegetarian-friendly options. Onto my plate, I tasted and thoroughly enjoyed the veggie lover's pizza (I just happen to really love the dining hall's dough) which included, steamed broccoli and carrots, and angel hair pasta with white sauce and crushed tomato sauce.

But what I especially enjoyed was the grilled cheese sandwich, made extremely better with a savoury apple chutney.

And for dessert, we were offered a variety, three cakes of which I tried: vegan chocolate cake (slightly dry), apple cake with nuts and dried cranberries (quite filling on its own), and pumpkin cake (great frosting).

Starting around 3.30pm, faculty, staff and students gathered at the flagpole in front of our student center to check out the Sustainability Fair which highlighted several groups on campus and in the community (including, but certainly not limited to, Jeremy of Denison's Office of Sustainability, Molly and the Sustainability Fellows, People Endorsing Agricultural Sustainability and the Green Team) that focus on a variety of sustainability-related programs, practices and events. In addition, those present were invited to sign Denison's Campus Sustainability Pledge which affirms the following goals: 1) I will drink water from a reusable container rather than drinking bottled water; 2) I will reduce my paper usage by using electronic documents or printing double sided; 3) I will recycle plastic, paper, glass and aluminum to help Denison increase its recycling rate by 10% this year; and 4) I will read the Campus Sustainability Plan. (If you've got a Denison e-mail address and haven't yet signed the pledge, you can still sign here.)

After signing the pledge, I headed up to Slayter Auditorium to prepare for our eighth Food and Culture Colloquium session facilitated by Marilyn Andrew of International Student Services. Before we began the session, we invited those in attendance to sample a special flavour of frozen custard created by Whit's, in celebration of award-winning author Edwidge Danticat who would be giving a lecture the following evening as part of this year's "Courage and Creativity" theme; as was also the case with our fifth presentation, this FCC session was also held in conjunction with the theme. The flavour, "Heavenly Haiti" is a banana frozen custard with coconut and dark chocolate flakes, the sales of which went to Healing Art Missions and rehabilitation efforts in Haiti.

To set the context for this presentation, Marilyn challenged the audience with the following: "Imagine, for a moment, the courage it takes to leave behind everything you know--your family, friends, food, water - yes, water!, your home, village, town, city, country, your cultural traditions and holidays, the laws that govern your daily life, the mastery of your native language, the familiar confines of your culture’s social norms, academic expectations and health care...  your identity...  to travel to a country you have never seen to study in a language and culture that is markedly different from your own." In an age of mobility (and the lack thereof), the manner of which food may or may not be acquired adds to the challenges that our international student population on campus must face in their transition to not only life in America, but life in college, as well. Food within our own cultural context is at the core of familiarity and comfort, family and community. What is the experience then of those for whom food is lost at the crossroads? Thankfully, Marilyn had five great students who agreed to serve on a panel to begin to answer some of these questions (which I will quickly summarise within this post); our format was such that each student was asked a specific question and then everyone responded to the two audience questions that were asked within our very limited timeframe.

We first began with Raghav, a sophomore from Kolkata, India, whose food identity has been influenced by his visits throughout Asia, England and the U.S. Raghav spoke about daily meals and hygiene, as well as the regional differences within India depending on geography and social class. Apparently, it's said that food tastes better when eaten with your hands. (This post seems to agree.)

Next up was December '12 soon-to-be-graduate Bernardo from Recife, Brazil, who talked about the challenges of recreating the tastes of home. In many respects, it's a matter of being open not only to adaptation (in terms of the ingredients that are available, e.g., potatoes instead of manioc root or palm oil instead coconut oil) but also to getting over the cultural expectations and nationalism inherent in . His food identity is further influenced by Mexico, most of Europe, Chile, Argentina and India.

Janet, a first-year student born in Chengdu, China, and introduced to more western cooking through living in Singapore (and further influenced by her time Sichuan), talked about the psychological impact and homesickness associated with first needing to go through the process of searching for true, authentic cooking and then realising the loss of access to home cooking. As time goes by, Janet said, you get used to the homesickness and seek out the opportunities to create "real" food.

Our fourth panelist, Emma, who was born in Indiana but grew up in Japan (and whose family now lives in Vietnam) talked about two culture shocks-- from the U.S. to Japan, and then back to the States. Elaborating on the mini-adventures she used to have exploring the food in Japan, Emma has noticed a generalised lack of creativity when it comes to plating food, emphasizing her experience in Japan of tasting "small amounts of intense flavour". Emma is also additionally influenced by France, Thailand and Korea.

Rounding off the panel was Bruno, a first-year from the Netherlands who has traveled throughout Europe and the U.S., and has also experienced a Chinese homestay. Bruno particularly focused his comments on the difficulties of creating food versus family cooking, as well as the amount of eating that goes on in the U.S., and especially in the dining halls. On some days, Bruno noted, he eats three dinners evey day, and he expects when he goes back to Holland it will be a bit difficult transitioning to smaller portion sizes.

The discussion then concluded with the panelists' responses to questions regarding the social dimensions of eating on campus (with a refreshing emphasis on the process of cooking a meal together as important in bringing people together, as well as the reality check of such restrictions as finances and time) and explaining the variety of foods each panelist fears eating.

Following the panel, we transitioned over to Curtis Dining Hall for a local-themed dinner. On the menu were grassfed cheeseburgers and meatloaf (beef from Granville-based Finlayson Farms), baked potato bar and mashed potatoes (potatoes from Huston Farms, Dresden, OH), swiss chard (Pine Vista Gardens), eggplant (Mott Family Farm, Salesville, OH, and home to a wide variety of eggplant), apple cider (Fruit Growers Farm, Newcomerstown, OH) and whole apples. And for dessert, I had to get a little fancy with marble cake and a quennelle of peanut butter ice cream.

And that, dear Reader, was how we celebrated a trio of events on Wednesday. Before I sign off, though, I do want to turn your attention to the above video which I found via the U.N.'s sustainability programme, "Greening the Blue," another link to Campus Sustainability Day, as well as the Millennium Development Goals (with specific attention to MDG#1 and MDG#7) which allowed us to propose prompts relating to food and social justice issues in light of National Food Day.

Suggested reading for this session:
"Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger" (United Nations, n.d.)
 "More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World" (Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, 2011)
"A Taste of the Unfamiliar: Understanding the Meanings Attached to Food by International Postgraduate Students in England" (Lorraine Brown, John Edwards and Heather Hartwell, 2010)

For more information regarding the 2012-2013 Food and Culture Colloquium at Denison University, click here. To check out the album of photos from this day of celebration, click here.

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