Sunday, 21 April 2013

FCC: The Final Four (Modules 21-24)

I can't believe the flyer I put up back in September has remained the entire academic year!
In the spirit of the recent conclusion of March Madness, or rather in actuality because of the madness that is April in academia, I present to you in this post brief recaps of the final four modules of the 2012-2013 Food and Culture Colloquium at Denison University. Of course, the ideal situation would be that I have tons of time (and energy) to write up much more in-depth recaps as I've done for the first 20 modules (search: FCC) and our six In the Kitchen practicums (search: ITKP). Having said this, and knowing full well these recaps won't do justice to these presentations, I hope these turn out to be enticing enough appetizers to tide you over until the recorded video sessions of all of our modules have been posted on-line.

Rounding out our regional food culture presentations, on the Wednesday right after my recent arrival from Boston (search: Boston, and you should pull up all five posts from the trip), Associate Professor of French Christine Armstrong presented our 21st module. After auditing her French gastronomy course last spring, I knew from the start of my preparations for the Colloquium that I wanted her to present on the notion of French food and terroir, a pairing that gets at the heart of the national/regional tension, particularly in trying to understand identity and belonging. In this past, I've referenced terroir a few times on this blog (search: terroir), and unintentionally, the idea of taste and place was alluded to during Module 18. Typically linked uniquely with wine, both Christine and I share a wider vision of terroir, extending the conversation to food and as Julia Abramson put it, "the historical and cultural practicesof the people involved, or the human element." In essence, food is indeed more than just food; food is cultural.

Christine used her home region of the Jura as a sort of case study. There, both wine and dairy products (including my favourite cheese of all time, Comté) are especially well-known. She broke down the soil composition of the landscape, of which both marl and limestone are key ingredients, and then moved onto explaining the "Biou" ceremony (celebrated every first Sunday of September since 1665 to mark the start of the harvest season); the vin jaune from Arbois (the first wine in France to receive the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée designation, and which is presented in a 620mL "clavelin" squat bottle, representing the amount of wine lost in its production; standard is 750); and a brief overview of making "the mountain cheese". In addition to morels which are also popular in the region, vin jaune and Comté compliment each other remarkably well, particularly emphasizing their nutty notes when eaten together. This shouldn't be a surprise, of course, given they share the same geographic heritage.

Ah, and of note, vin jaune is so important that it is given its own celebration in Arbois vis-à-vis La Percée du Vin Jaune.

To conclude her session, Christine shared with us a dish she prepared using the three aforementioned ingredients in the form of a traditional Jura dish, Poulet au Vin Jaune et aux Morilles (versions 1, 2).

The following week, AD and Sustainability Fellows program director Molly McGravey (who also presented Module 5) took to the stage to present on sustainable agriculture and social justice, as our general thematic focus in April was on applied food studies à la contemporary food issues and environmental sustainability. As of late, I've often been referring to Amanda Gunn's presentation on food communication (Module 20) in which she spoke of an unspoken dissonance that comes with being a foodie, or at least one who's privileged enough to discuss food in the manner we've set out with our Colloquium, a dissonance which forgets (or arguably neglects) to talk about the human experience with food. From food desserts to poverty, malnourishment to obesity, and pride in cities vs rural communities to taking for granted the sacrifices others make for our benefit, the social justice issues of our time are clearly social injustices. And with this reality check of sorts, Molly's focus on the neglected farmer was timely and relevant, particularly when we consider (or must come to terms with the fact that) our food system is in need of repair in a new age, a focus which brings us back to the people.

A particular theme I would like to highlight here is the juxtaposition between our (a collective "our") appreciation and understanding (or rather lack thereof) of the roles that farmers, the producers, play in our food system. Beginning with a brief history of farming within the context of the economic recession of the late 70's and early 80's, Molly shared the above commercial that was played during this year's Super Bowl. Though the advert certainly speaks to contemporary American values and the forgotten yet very real role of farmers, the text actually comes from Paul Harvey's 1979 broadcast of "So God Made a Farmer (1978)" a rather thought-provoking reminder of how far we've come away from these folks in the last 30 years at the hands of mega corporations and big business. [It should also be noted that since the advert was aired, quite a few folks have challenged its message, begging the question of the role media and communication play in the human experience: 1, 2]. 

The often unspoken ridiculousness of today's system--devoid of the personal touch--has led to social injustices not only of the food and the exploitation of farmers (as evidenced by this recent parody on the above clip which focuses on the factory farm and holes in American agribusiness), but of the validity of being able to be a truly "informed" consumer and of where our individual, consumption rights (if we ever had any to begin with) have gone. The exploitative nature to which I'd categorise our system has extended not only to the people of the land, but of the very land itself, as manure, cow burps, deforestation, synthetic fertilizers and water pollution, among other issues I'm sure, have resulted from our (unfortunately by association and participation collective) stewardship.

But this is not to say that we cannot fight for what we're putting into the earth. This is not to say that we cannot play a more active role in combating our unjust system. In addition to learning more about and putting into practice concerted efforts around the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability, it's important to support and celebrate our generation of local farmers/producers and consumers (e.g., Granville's current campaign, the initiatives coming from Newark's Sparta Restaurant and Coffee Shop, the work of Licking County's 30 Mile Meal and the convivial efforts of Slow Food Columbus).

As we continued the following week to think and talk about the relationship between food and the environment, Sustainability Coordinator Jeremy King focused on what happens after the ingredients have been harvested on a local scale. And by local, he began with what's being done already at Denison, and the learning and challenges that have resulted because of current efforts. Over the last few years, for example, signage helping folks discern whether or not something should go into the recycling or compost bins versus the trash bins have evolved. Head over to this site to find out more, including an overview and statistics of Denison's recycling program, and/or to this one if you're interested in our composting program.

After learning about what to put into the compost bin, Jeremy talked about Denison's composting site and the composting process itself. As Amanda in the above video also indicates, it's important to literally feed bacteria food, air and moisture in order to let them break down whatever's thrown onto the pile. 

The final product, of which Jeremy brought a sample from Denison's site, is a natural fertilizer that has the potential to be profitable if not at the very least beneficial to community and personal gardens. By the way, to create a balanced fertilizer, it's important to find an equilibrium between the nitrogen-rich ("green," e.g., fresh) and carbon-rich ("brown," e.g., not-so-fresh) ingredients. In addition, it's important that the bacteria have a regular flow of oxygen; otherwise, your compost will get the unwanted smell that often prevents folks from starting a pile in the first place (i.e., your compost pile shouldn't smell link anything other than dirt). Of final note here, you may on occasion note some steam as you turn your piles. This steam is the heated by-product and proof that the bacteria are doing their job.

To conclude his presentation and our penultimate module, Jeremy shared the successes and challenges of Denison's community garden, and gardens in general, emphasizing the sociocultural benefits of their inclusion and integration within a residential and educational campus. Of course, such work is beneficial not only to those at the collegiate and university level but to younger generations of scholars, as well. And to help out in this process, Jeremy raffled off two kinds of compost bins while giving us all a lot of practical information and encouragement to help us in our stewardship.

And so where do we go from here? After 24 modules and 6 practicums, led by 50 presenters and panelists across nearly 40 departments, offices and organization, covering 45 different intersecting presentations on food, what else is there to learn and do? The reality is that there's still a lot unsaid and even more that's still developing. In response to the recent growth of interest in food, and built on my vested interest in this field, this year's Colloquium and indeed all of our food and culture programming have offered academic and co-curricular models for allowing all participants the ability to critique and adapt to the shifts in how [the collective] we view culture and identity, community and belonging, change and progress. Following a recap of the inspiration and overview of what we were able to accomplish throughout the Colloquium, the not-so-simple question of "where do we go from here" was the focus of our final module, a module which set out to celebrate our collective work. All told, we have only begun to scratch the surface and by the end of my presentation, I offered to the group three charges: 1) continue to reflect, analyze and take note of your "food identity"; 2) continue to interrogate and challenge our current food system, contribute to alternative systems and support local businesses and producers; and 3) continue to learn through food.

Thanks to the generosity of the Dean of Students office and in the spirit of community development, we concluded the our celebration of this academic year's exploration of the intersections between food and culture with an eclectic mix of catered hors hors d'oeuvres. On this final menu: Chipotle beef on tortillas with avocado crème (new to Sodexo's spring menu); sundried tomato and gorgonzolla bruschetta; black currant and brie crostini; fried vegetarian egg rolls; Swedish meatballs; and chipotle maple bacon wrapped chicken.

With immense gratitude to all of our presenters, panelists, participants and supporters, I sign off inspired and encouraged by the sharing and learning that took place through the Colloquium. For the above photos, as well as the other photos taken throughout the last four modules, please click here.

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