Reflections on Julie Guthman’s New Food Activism

On October 12th, USC Professor Julie Guthman visited Boston to present a lecture on Social Justice and New Food Activism at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This is Gastronomy student Madison Trapkin’s take on the lecture.

“The new food activism.”

I stared at this phrase on the projector screen, accompanied by a picture of a basket of ripe strawberries. I felt out of place as a BU student sitting in a Harvard lecture hall, but those little berries put me at ease. Julie Guthman is a food person, I reminded myself. You’ll feel better once she starts talking. And I did feel better. But I also felt worse.   

Julie Guthman, courtesy of UCSC News

I’d arrived early to get the perfect seat and now I watched as students, professors, and members of the community filled the empty spaces surrounding me. As the lights dimmed, the usual hush fell over the audience, and Guthman took the stage. I was struck by her stature. A petite woman with short grey hair wearing black glasses and a basic black top stared at me from behind the lectern.

I forgot about her height as soon as she started speaking. Guthman began her lecture with Mark Bittman and the issues surrounding foodie culture, the group of epicures who enjoy watching cooking shows and participate in the sort of voting-with-your-fork activism that both Bittman and Guthman reject. The problem with this kind of activism, according to Guthman, is that it doesn’t do enough. Foodies focus on the pleasures of food, but Guthman urges us to consider what happens when we go beyond pleasure as she moves into the next part of her lecture.

We need to consider food producers. Bottom line. The often-undocumented laborers working tirelessly to give us tomatoes year-round, these are the people we need to look at. The farm crew working daily in an environment laden with harmful pesticides, we have to consider them too. What about the companies these people are working for? What has been done to underline the systems of oppression within the food systems that give us, a privileged group of scholars, our daily bread?

Guthman told us to question it all. And to get active.

After a brief history of the alternative food movement, Guthman moved into three cases studies that illustrated potential successes and failures of food activism. However, what struck me the most was her closing segment: what to do in the age of Trump.

The New Food Activism, edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julie Guthman

Guthman’s lecture was a call to arms and an acknowledgement of what we’re up against. Food systems in America are about to be hit hard under Trump’s reign. From school lunch programs to genetically modified crops, things are going to change. And as activists, we need to be ready. We need to look at the underlying policies that threaten our foodways; immigration policy, income and health inequality, insufficient health and safety regulation. We need to educate ourselves and empower each other. Guthman cited movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy as she pointed out the following: it IS possible for people of color to lead, to vote with more than your fork, and to affect the public conversation.

Her closing comment gave me chills. “We have to continue on in the vein of increasing awareness and activism,” Guthman stated, matter-of-factly. She meant business. And now, so do I.

I’m sure you could ask someone else who attended that lecture for his or her take and you’d get a different response, but that’s the beauty of the way Guthman speaks. She covered so much ground that it was almost impossible to narrow it down for the purposes of this blog post. The world of food activism is huge and filled with countless issues, platforms, and policies to get behind (or fight against), so we need to fight where we can.

Julie Guthman’s talk gave me hope for our country and for our foodways.

You can read more about Guthman’s lecture here.

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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/

Course Spotlights: Food & Art, Gender & Food

Read on for a sneak peek into some of the Gastronomy classes we will be offering this Spring. Registration information can be found here.

Food and Art

Laura Ziman will teach Food and Art during the Spring 2018 semester and has prepared this Course Spotlight.

Looking at the earliest images, tableware and sculpture of food from the Ancient World to the contemporary, we will see the historic changes in objects and artwork that refer to cuisine.  Discoveries will be made in the purposes and meaning of imagery and three-dimensional objects through time from a variety of cultures.

Artists’ lives will be explored through their work, the time they worked in and their country of origin leading to greater understanding of the art they created.

Posters, cookbooks, advertisements, films and models of food all contribute to the visual cornucopia we will explore.

This course includes trips to The Museum of Fine Arts, which contains food art from Mesopotamia to the 21st century. Ancient Greek oil pitchers, an American dining table from 19th Century Dorchester to 20th Century table settings will be visited.

We will visit a food market and view the artistry in food arrangement and packaging. Food artists will be visiting the class to share the inspiration and discussion of techniques used in making their art.

Gender and Food

Dr. Megan J. Elias will teach Gender and Food during the Spring 2018 semester and has prepared this Course Spotlight.

Can a woman eat a Manwich? Can Dad produce Mom’s home cooking? And how is the movement away from gender binaries reflected in foodways? In Food and Gender we will explore ways in which language and behaviors around food both reinforce and challenge gender hierarchies and restrictive norms.  Using frameworks developed in gender studies we will interrogate our contemporary foodscape through close readings of many media, including food blogs, magazines, TV shows and advertisements. We will also include our own cooking histories and habits in our research and discussion, taking note of when and how cultural assumptions about gender restrict our choices in the kitchen.

The course will include reading, research, field work, discussion, and cooking to help us understand why and how food has been gendered and how the process differs across place, time, and culture.

Students will be responsible for developing a group project together as well as working on individual investigations of gender and food.

Lessons Learned Writing “A Taste of Broadway”

Gastronomy student Jennifer Packard spent the last two years writing a book on food and musicals. Here is her reflection on the experience, as well as tips for those who may be interested in getting published.

Gastronomy student Jen Packard

Even when I say it aloud, I still can’t believe it. In January 2018, my first book, A Taste of Broadway: Food in Musical Theater, will be published. In the book, I explore how food is used in musicals as a plot device, a communication cue, or as a detail that reveals the food history or creative methods used by the show’s developers. Consider, for example, the importance of meat pies in Sweeney Todd, codfish chowder in Carousel, chow mein in Gypsy, and gruel in Oliver!.

In total, my book project took about two years. It required a huge time commitment, but it was a labor of love. Given that I’ve never published anything before, it was also a major learning experience. Because I know that many others in the Gastronomy program are interested in writing, I wanted to share some of these lessons.

Choose a Topic That Excites You

For any project that requires such a significant commitment, the most important thing is to choose a topic that excites you. Even with a topic that you feel passionate about, there will be times when the project feels overwhelming and tiresome. If you’re not excited about the topic, you will struggle to get through it. You must also be disciplined in committing your time to writing regularly. There were some days I just couldn’t get my mind in the right place to write, so I’d change up my tasks between writing, research, recipe testing, and tracking down permissions.

Understand How to Write a Proposal

A Taste of Broadway by Jen Packard

Before even beginning the writing, however, the first step was to submit a book proposal to the publisher. The proposal includes a summary of what the book is about and who it’s for, a list of similar or competing books, and logistical information such as expected word count and timing. Essentially, the proposal is meant to convince the publisher that there will be a market for the book, so it should be a little bit salesy.

In my zeal, I originally estimated the book would be 100,000 words, but 70,000 was more in line with what the publisher expected. I gave myself eighteen months to get my manuscript to the publisher. The publisher warned me that I needed to figure in time for the content editor to review my work, which happens before the manuscript is officially submitted. In truth, I could have worked on this book forever. Every time I looked at it, I found something I wanted to change. I still do. The due date was helpful as a goal to keep me moving as well as providing a final cut-off date when I had to stop editing.

Obtain Permissions

Throughout the process, I slowly learned about how to get permissions. Permissions are required when including images or photographs not taken by the author. They are also required for quoting someone else’s creative work. Given the topic of my book, there were many places where I wanted to quote song lyrics or librettos. This involved finding out who owned the rights, finding a way to get in touch with that person or organization, and then getting a written document describing how I could use the quote. Finding and contacting the rights holder took a huge amount of time and research. There are professionals that can be hired to do this, but they charge an hourly rate that I was unwilling to pay. Additionally, the rights holder usually requires a fee which can be quite steep. And sometimes the rights holder will not give permission at all. This meant that my use of lyrics and quotes were limited to those I was able to obtain and that I felt were particularly important. If I write another book, it will have a topic that does not require gathering a large number of permissions.

Believe In Yourself

Finally, if you want to write a book, believe that you can do it. My confidence wavered at every stage. Even with a signed contract in hand, I worried that the editors would hate the final manuscript and change their minds. It wasn’t until I saw the cover of the book that I let myself acknowledge that it was really happening. Though I’ve yet to hold an actual printed copy of my book in my hands, I’ve allowed myself to feel proud of my accomplishment. Regardless of anyone else’s response to it, I am content knowing that I’ve achieved an incredible effort in bringing my passion project to life.

You can preorder Jennifer’s book here. Check out her blog here.

A Bread Baking Adventure

By Sydney Manning

Like Oprah, I love bread. I would eat it all day, every day if the end result wouldn’t be me documented on an episode of My 600-lb Life. Bread and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. As much as I love it, I have never been able to bake it without a hitch. Sometimes it’s over-proofed. Sometimes it’s under-proofed. And sometimes it’s shoved into a screaming-hot oven at 3:00 a.m. because I’ve had enough, and also can’t believe that I’ve been bested once again by a giant blob of dough that I’ve tried (and failed) to style into an intricate design. But I always keep trying. For New Year’s this year, I stayed in, struggling through a chocolate challah recipe that I got out of an old issue of Bon Appetit. Since I was totally snowed in this weekend, I decided to make not one, not two, but three loaves of bread because I like to push myself, and (apparently) I like getting no sleep.

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Have you heard about Uri Scheft’s cookbook, Breaking Breads? It came out in October and I absolutely love it. It’s incredibly detailed, beautifully photographed, and packed with tons of recipes for breads and for dishes like Algerian salad and Babaghanouj. I decided to try Uri’s version of challah to see how it would compare to other challah loaves I’ve made in the past. I started out by whisking two packets of active dry yeast into 1 2/3 cups of cool, room-temperature water in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Next, I added seven cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of fine salt, and five tablespoons of canola oil. I set the mixer to medium speed for one minute, scraping down the sides or pushing the dough down when it occasionally climbed up the hook. After about three minutes, I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pushed and tore it, folding it onto itself, then giving it a quick quarter turn before repeating the motion. I did this for two minutes, then rolled the dough around and around until it had become a smooth ball that was easily the size of a human head. I put the dough ball into a large, floured bowl, covered it in cling film, and set it aside in a warm place to rise for what I prayed would be 40 minutes, but knew in my heart of hearts would be longer.

Sure enough, nearly two hours (and two episodes of Chopped) later, I came into the kitchen to find that my dough had risen so much that it was very close to spilling out of the top. Had I left it to proof for too long? Probably, but there was no turning back. Carefully, I peeled it out of the bowl, making sure not to release any of the vital gasses that I had spent two hours of my life waiting to puff up the dough. I flattened the ball into a rectangle using my palms, then using a sharp bench knife, cut the dough into three pieces. I cut those three pieces into three more pieces each, totaling nine equal-ish sized pieces (perhaps it would’ve been wise to use my ruler, but who had time to find one?). I took a piece, flattened it into a rectangle, then folded the top towards me, and flattened it again. I did this three more times until I ended up with a cylinder. I repeated the process with the remaining eight pieces. Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the

Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the middle I placed an oval ramekin so that the loaf would maintain its shape while baking. The ramekin would also make a great holder for the dipping honey later on. Next I put one large egg, a tablespoon of water, and a pinch of fine salt into a bowl and began whisking. This was my egg wash. Very lightly, I painted the wash onto the loaf, making sure that every inch had a sheen. On one half of the loaf I sprinkled a generous amount of poppy seeds, spreading them out with my finger when I noticed clumps. On the other half, I sprinkled white sesame seeds. I placed clean kitchen towels over the two traditional loaves, then left all three to rise for 60 minutes.

When my loaves had sufficiently risen (or I just grew impatient, I can’t be sure), I placed racks on the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheated it to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I brushed the remaining loaves with the egg wash, and baked each loaf for 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the 15-minute mark. Finally, nearly seven long hours later, I had three unevenly-sized but no less beautiful (to me) loaves of challah cooling on the counter. As warm and wonderful-smelling as each loaf was, I have a very strict “no eating after midnight” policy, and it was well past that cut-off. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that I was finally able to taste the breads. The loaves sat uncovered overnight, so the first order of business was to wrap my two traditional loaves in two layers of cling film, then a layer of aluminum foil for good measure. They were on their way to the freezer for safe-keeping. It was the circle loaf that I was after.

Bread is best eaten slightly warm, so I placed the circle loaf in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, just to give it a little jolt of life. Once it was out, I placed the whole thing, sheet pan and all, on the table and grabbed the honey (I’d made a point to get the “good” honey at the market.) I cut off a generous piece for myself, really sunk it into the honey (I had to get my money’s worth), and took a bite. Good, I thought, but not great. Perhaps I would try again, but this time without the honey. Again, good, but not great. There was something different about this challah. For starters, it wasn’t as sweet as challahs that I had made in the past. And it lacked that signature pillowy-ness. Where had I gone wrong? Should I have left the dough to rise for a shorter amount of time? Maybe I should’ve left the ropes a little looser when I braided them. The bread just seemed a little…dull. But, all was not lost. I still had two other loaves in the freezer just begging to become french toast one day. The cure for dull bread is frying it in butter and drenching it in Vermont maple syrup.

Thinking back, would I make Uri’s version of challah again? Yes. Next time, I’ll shorten the proofing time. I’ll add a little bit more sugar. Perhaps I will even give it a filling like Nutella, or cinnamon and brown sugar. No matter what happens, bread never disappoints when there’s filling in the middle.