Dining in Divinity, A Gastronomy Master’s Thesis

By Sonia Dovedy

During my last few semesters within the Gastronomy program at Boston University, I had the incredible opportunity to research, write, and defend my thesis, Dining in Divinity: Experiencing Joy During the Indian Tradition of Prasadam.

I originally embarked upon this study because I wanted to explore the way expressions of benevolent intentions, such as gratitude, humility, and love, while cooking and consuming food could impact taste, health, and overall wellbeing. Could food prepared with love and care make one feel joyous? Alternatively, could food cooked in negative circumstances exude poor taste and unfavorable qualities? When I realized that offering and consuming prasadam, a tradition from my childhood, followed a similar trajectory of behavior, it served as a catalyst for launching my research. Using mixed method approach, which included oral interviews, observation and ethnographic analysis, and a sensory approach known as “cooking as inquiry,” I embarked upon my study, exploring how different aspects surrounding the Indian tradition of cooking and offering prasadam could influence individual perception of taste and ultimately produce joy.

What is prasadam, you must be wondering?

Within Indian traditions, prasadam is an offering to the Divine. It is believed that during puja, or prayer, the deity first enjoys these gifts of food and water, and then returns the offering to the worshippers after consecrating it. In consuming the blessed item, worshippers receive darshan, or a glimpse of the Divine. While Hindu scriptures dictate a specific list of offerable materials, ultimately prasadam can be anything that is given selflessly, graciously, and in good faith—from a flower or a simple grain of sugar, to a full meal or elaborately prepared sweet.

Prasadam offerings to God are prepared in a very careful way. The chef must prepare the food with intentions of gratitude, love, and reverence; essentially, it is as if they are preparing the foods for a very special guest coming to dinner. Because of its sacred nature, this food is treated with respect; nothing is wasted, nothing is refused, and usually, these items are eaten mindfully, in gratitude, and with enjoyment.  One informant explains, “You always use the sweet…butter! You know…nuts, raisins, almonds…And probably, the only thing that I can think of, is that it leaves a very good feeling, a positive feeling. And it probably raises your feeling of happiness, right? It must be to do with the way you feel after you eat a combination of butter and sweet is the best, delicious things, you know?” (Sangeeta, August 14, 2017).

While conducting oral interviews, visiting temples, and cooking prasadam recipes at home, many curiosities arose…Why does this simple item eaten in the palm of my hands taste so much better than a lavish meal? What elements within this tradition are responsible for the production of joy when receiving and consuming this food? What would happen if I refused this special prasadam food?

 

What I discovered…

Consuming this blessed food is highly rewarding to a spiritually devout individual; these blessed foods produce happiness because they invigorate spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, I also recognized that beyond religious belief, many other factors, such as memory, emotion, and sensorial aspects of taste, were impacting this tradition.

For example, emotional connections between the chef and the consumer, devotee and Divine, food and a fond memory, produced feelings of comfort, happiness, and joy. Devout individuals experienced immense bliss when consuming prasadam because they felt connected to the Divine. Similarly, children enjoyed eating prasadam because their mother had carefully prepared it especially for them. Others enjoyed prasadam because it reminded them of their Indian roots or late grandfather.

In addition, my findings revealed ways in which prasadam items reinforced cultural roots and encouraged familial bonding. When food is received as a gift and eaten in commensality, it evokes moods of celebration, sharing, and happiness. Furthermore, I also found that the appetizing sensory elements of prasadam foods, sweet and rich in nature, promoted a benevolent state of mind and attracted individuals toward spirituality.

Thus, while prasadam clearly serves as an important spiritual activity, my research shows that the sensorial qualities of the offerings, as well as food sharing, memory and emotion, and the details in preparation, are also significant in the experience of prasadam and to the creation of joy. Perhaps if every meal was consumed as prasadam, the world would be filled with happy, healthy, and of course, spiritually elevated people.

Read more from Sonia at www.bakewithsonia.com and www.cookwithsonia.wordpress.com.

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Announcing the Spring 2018 Gastronomy Colloquium

We are delighted to share with you the schedule for our Spring Gastronomy Colloquium.  We are featuring exciting Food Studies works in progress  by scholars from diverse disciplines. The colloquium is intended to be a forum for food studies scholars in the Greater Boston Area to meet each other and as such is open to all who are interested. In other words, come and bring a friend!

Spring 2018 ColloquiumSpring 2018 Gastronomy Colloquium

 

All presentations are on Thursday afternoons at 4 PM, and will be held in Fuller 123, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA.

 

No Crying Over Raw Milk: Analysis of the United States’ Raw Dairy Controversy

Written by Jessi VanStaalduinen

Raw Milk from natural.news

In my Ethical Eating and Food Movements class, I was to explore a food movement and determine my own opinion on the subject. I went into this assignment with pure curiosity and little bias. My research alarmed me and I have been unable to drink pasteurized milk since. I buy raw milk from a local farm in Fremont, NH.

The population of the United States consumes government regulated, pasteurized dairy products sold at almost every grocery store, the rise of interest in its counterpart, raw dairy, has sparked controversy; this paper will illuminate evidence, contradictory to publicized claims, that raw dairy is safe and citizens should have the right to choose what they consume.

Introduction:

The phrase ‘raw milk’ is not familiar to the average American. Despite what many believe, the milk on supermarket shelves is not considered raw due to the mostly mandatory processing and pasteurization it endures. So, what exactly is raw milk? “Milk that comes from pastured cows, that contains all the fat and has not been processed in any way,” is a definition from one of the largest raw milk supporting foundations in the US (A campaign for Real Milk, 2016). Millions of Americans are unaware of the status of their milk, and those that do know have been led to believe pasteurizing milk is necessary for safe consumption. Government organizations and the dairy industry mislead and lie to consumers about the safety of raw dairy and have made significant efforts to make the distribution and production difficult for dairies and consumption difficult for consumers. These false claims are scare tactics to ensure monopolized market share and to protect factory farms.

I argue, that despite what anyone says, consumers in a free nation have the right to choose what kind of milk they want to buy. Both pasteurized and raw milk, and cheeses, have their pros and cons. Consumers should have readily-available, accurate information on which to base their decisions so that a trip to the grocery store does not require extensive research in order for the health and safety of their families.

This paper will explore the raw dairy industry, the benefits of consuming raw milk, the constraints placed on these dairies, and the truth about pasteurization. Thorough explanations of the arguments for and against raw milk will be presented, although I am sure my bias is obvious. I framed my research through the theoretical framework perspective and I hope it will enhance my point of view.

Theoretical Framework:

Food studies is an up and coming field. Not many institutions have programs that focus solely on it. Thus, the raw dairy industry has been at the mercy of government organizations, lack of public knowledge, and monopolizing agriculture corporations. The discussions about raw dairy are limited and mostly one-sided. Scare tactics are used by both industry and government to convince the public that pasteurization is the only way to safely drink milk, while the small percentage of the population (a difficult statistic to form) that produces and consumes raw milk is a victim of slander and not able to equally defend themselves.

My research included scientific studies of pathogenic bacteria found in raw and pasteurized milk, small dairy testimonials, extensive books on raw food by homeopathic doctors and journalists, and government websites. I believe that all of these sources are applicable to this kind of research because industry cannot be summarized by one model alone. Consumers and producers have valuable opinions, laboratories have extensive studies, and doctors have years of hands on experience; these all help the understanding of the issues surrounding the raw dairy movement.

My paper is an analysis of many sources that uncovers the truth after understanding both sides of the argument. The contribution to the field this paper makes is different because when I began my research I thought of both raw and pasteurized milk equally. After comparing conflicting resources, it became clear to me that this was not the case. My paper is unique and important to the field because I was unbiased prior to my research, strongly considered both sides, and by shedding further light can help people understand raw milk.

To read more, check out Jessi’s blog at https://gastroshield.wordpress.com/.

 

Giselle Kennedy Lord Named James Beard Foundation National Scholar

Gastronomy at BU is proud to announce that student Giselle Kennedy Lord was recently selected as the James Beard Foundation National Scholar Northwest.

The JBF National Scholars Program “provides ten high-impact scholarships of $20,000 each to food-focused candidates of exceptional talent.” Winners are chosen based on academic standing, personal recommendations, and professional recommendations.

A recent dinner hosted by Giselle Kennedy Lord.

“My application for the scholarship was centered around my focus in the BU gastronomy program, which is how people express home and identity through food and cooking. My thesis research, which I will do in the Spring of 2018, will be a deep dive into that theme as it relates to the Lebanese diaspora in Argentina and the Americas,” says Lord.

Giselle lives in the Columbia Gorge area of Oregon, where she launched her small business, Quincho, in 2015. In the years before launching Quincho and becoming a Gastronomy student at BU, she worked as a freelance video producer specializing in food and agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.

Giselle now hosts pop-up, food-culture-focused events with Quincho and she is currently working on launching an online shop of cookware and kitchenware connected to distinct food cultures and artistic traditions. According to Lord, “Quincho is about culture, community, and cookery. It’s a celebration of foodways and culinary tradition the world round. It’s a call to gather with like-minded people to learn something new, be inspired to explore, and empowered to create.”

Giselle will travel to Argentina in January to conduct ethnographic research for her thesis. In between interviews and kitchen sessions, she will be on the lookout for unique cookware and working to forge connections with local artisans. She also plans to eat a lot of empanadas, peruse every street fair, and hunt for vintage cookbooks.

You can follow her journey on the Quincho blog: http://quincho.co/blog/

Announcing the Fall 2017 Pépin Lecture Series in Food Studies and Gastronomy

Boston University’s Programs in Food and Wine and MLA in Gastronomy Program are pleased to announce the following lectures scheduled for the Fall 2017 semester. Lectures in the Pépin Series are free and open to the public, but registration with Boston University’s Programs in Food and Wine is required.


The Cooking Gene, with Michael Twitty

Tuesday, October 24 at 6pm
College of Arts and Sciences, 725 Commonwealth Ave, Room 224

Renowned culinary historian, Michael W. Twitty, offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, using the popular but complicated lens of Southern cuisine and food culture. To do so he traced his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom. Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race.  His mission, to re-create the culinary genius of Black colonial and antebellum chefs sits side by side with revealing truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

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“The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael W. Twitty. HarperCollins

Food on the Page, with Megan Elias

Wednesday, November 8 at 6pm
College of Arts and Sciences Building, 725 Commonwealth Ave, Room 224

What’s in a cookbook? More than repositories of recipes, cookbooks play a role in the creation of taste on both a personal and national level. From Fannie Farmer to the Chez Panisse Cookbook to food blogs, American cookbooks have commented on national cuisine while also establishing distinct taste cultures. In Food on the Page, Megan Elias explores what it means to take cookbooks seriously as a genre of writing that is as aspirational as it is prescriptive.

Food on the Page Elias
“Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture” by Megan Elias, University of Pennsylvania Press

Remembering German-Jewish Culture through its Culinary Traditions, with Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman and Sonya Gropman

Wednesday, November 29 at 6pm
College of Arts and Sciences, 725 Commonwealth Ave, Room 224

What happens to a food tradition when its culture starts to vanish? The advent of the Nazi era brought about the demise of 1000 years of Jewish life in Germany and its cuisine, which differs greatly from the Eastern European one that is generally the accepted definition of Jewish food. This food tradition lives on in the kitchens of some German Jews and in the memories of many others around the world. This talk, by a mother-daughter author team with a German-Jewish background, will address issues of food and memory, food as cultural identity, and preserving and documenting traditional recipes.

German Jewish Cookbook
“The German-Jewish Cookbook: Recipes and a History of a Cuisine” by Gabrielle Rossmer Gropman and Sonya Gropman, Brandies University Press