Friedman Explores Foodways

by Sarah Chang

From February 22-26, 2015 the Friedman Justice League (FJL) sponsored a week of storytelling, discussion, and reflection on issues of food justice in the world, country, and Friedman campus. FJL organized a weeklong interactive bulletin for Friedman students to contribute experiences and reflections on their experiences with food. It was named “Digging Deeper: Foodways” and prompted students each day with a new theme. The themes and reflections are recorded anonymously below.

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Digging Deeper: Foodways

Foodways – (def.) The cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food. Foodways often refers to the intersection of food in culture, traditions, and history. (Wikipedia)

Instructions: In a few brief sentences, share your experience or thoughts with regard to each prompt.

Monday: Bounty – Celebration Meals

Describe a celebratory meal that is important to your family, culture, and/or religious upbringing.

“Lunch after church on Saturday (yes, Saturday). We often would have a potluck in someone’s home and after the dinner we’d pick at leftovers and dessert. I’d sit under the table and listen to the adults talk, work on a drawing or read a book. My belly so full.”

“Cheerio Dinner. In my family we marked special days by not cooking. Instead we eat cereal – (always Cheerios) and sit on top of the counters letting our feet dangle and hanging out. It feels fun, informal, and special. We do this a lot on birthdays, holidays and on random, unexpected nights probably because my parents just didn’t feel like cooking because they were just feeling tired and/or lazy. Ha! As a kid it was awesome!”

“International Thanksgiving. My family hosts Thanksgiving each year and our tradition has been to host many of my parents’ international students/colleagues. It produced a huge bounty of people and food from different traditions.”

“Yom Kippur Breakfast is always monumental. After 25 hours of fasting on what is considered the holiest day of the Jewish year the piles of salads, bagels, schmear, pickled fish, babka, and cookies is truly overwhelming in the best way.”

“’Pasni’ for the infant. At 6 months of age, the child in the family is introduced to the rice eating ceremony called ‘Pasni.’ Here, there are various religious practices and many relatives join in to the occasion. ‘Pasni’ is a significant day for many families in Nepal.”

Tuesday: Hunger – The Reality of Scarcity

Describe an experience of food insecurity, hunger, or a time of want.

“After I was accepted to nutrition school, I learned that my grandma actually went to college for nutrition in the 1930s! In college, however, she spent all her savings on tuition and couldn’t afford to eat – she lost a lot of weight. In her junior year, she was told that she couldn’t become a nutrition major because she couldn’t care for herself. She was so ashamed by her situation that she never told her supervisor that she was going hungry – and she had to switch careers.”

“My first extended stay from home, I was shocked at how the loss of my dad’s cooking made me feel uneasy. I was in a foreign country, surrounded by their food customs, and couldn’t articulate my wants and needs for white rice, fish, and steamed vegetables. I didn’t want to be impolite but knew that I needed a reminder of home.”

“Hunger observed. I used to believe that if you were really hungry you should be willing to eat anything. Then I began working in a Midwestern food bank. Muslims and Hindus were hungry. Vegans and vegetarians were hungry. Hunger doesn’t distinguish from allergy or disease. Each of these people deserved the dignity of choice.”

Wednesday: Interactions with Inclusion and Otherness

Describe an experience when you were marked as an outsider or insider because of what you did (or didn’t) eat (for dietary, religious, economic, cultural, other reasons).

“Dog food. I have distinct memories of eating Chinese snacks at school and being made fun of or ostracized by other students. I remember one student asking me if I was eating dog food. ‘More for me,’ I’d think.”

“Vegetarian. Back in the 90s when I became a vegetarian it was a lot less popular and common. A very typical response to me was ‘do you really thing you’re making a difference?’ It was pretty irritating to justify my personal choice. Luckily, this no longer happens.”

“My family is Caribbean. I grew up in a part of the West Coast that had very few people of color. I was sometimes embarrassed that my family ate such flavorful and fragrant food that was foreign to my peers. But then I realized that it was part of my identity, and not just some other thing that made me different. I’ve learned to be proud.”

Thursday: Trying Something New

Appreciating and accepting a new experience with food.

“I have a couple friends from Mexico who I’ve spent many a night cooking with. Once they had a bag of crickets with chili spice shipped to them from Mexico. They were eating them like popcorn! I tried a couple with my eyes closed. They were actually quite tasty, but I couldn’t quite get over the idea of eating whole crickets! Chirp, chirp.”

“Wisconsin-themed party/food. Recently, I had a chance to experience Wisconsin-themed food (or food common to Wisconsin). There were a variety of cheese, sausages, sauerkraut, cookies, salad, and drinks. The food was very satisfying.”

“Tea leaves. I recently tried Burmese cuisine for the first time. I was totally open to the new flavors but was a tad reluctant at the thought of a fermented tealeaf salad. Fermented tealeaves? Maybe not for me. But when I tried it I found myself totally enamored with the flavors and textures. I love it!”

Friday: Reflections

What does Foodways mean to you?

“Foodways means recognizing and honoring traditions and experiences of food – one’s food roots. The smell of mom’s kitchen and the garden in grandpa’s yard and the restaurant where we celebrate our family.”

“Food roots, I like that! I think foodways can also be lens by which we can express ourselves, our cultures and traditions, our life experience and worldview. It can include ways in which perceptions of our food experience can weaken or strengthen our sense of self.”

Sarah Chang is a second-year MS/MPH student studying sustainable food policy and health equity. She enjoys crispy rice, slurpy noodles, and long runs on the beachfront path.

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