The Oyster Revival: Restoring Our Waters

A short documentary by Allison Keir

From the moment I decided to apply to the Gastronomy program with a focus in Communication, my decision to do it has only been more and more reinforced. Aside from the vast amount of knowledge gained from the program, the connections with other faculty and students have provided a place of common ground for me to find inspiration and gratification in. Furthermore, the encouragement and support of the Directors has allowed me to mold my own course track and fulfill some of the core skills sets I was aiming to get out of the program.

My background and passion has for a long time been in film but my passion and concern for the health of our environment has been a lifestyle. I don’t have many memories from my childhood that don’t include being outside, in the woods or on a beach. As an adult I’ve been working in film in some form or another, since 2005 but it wasn’t until I began to develop the documentary, “The Oyster Revival” that I realized I could mesh these two passions together and perhaps make a career out of it.

The journey up to that point was by no means a short or simple one. It started thirteen years ago working out of the Boston area freelancing with other local filmmakers taking on whatever role I could. Eventually, it led me to Manhattan where I spent the first year bartending and picking up any freelance film projects I could get. Weeks turned into months that I wouldn’t have a day off or even notice the ball of sun in the sky but I did not care. I was busy and I loved it. I was hungry to work and get as much experience possible in the film industry. Ironically, it was the bartending position that in the end paid off the most when a regular customer I had become close with introduced me to a film producer, who was looking for an Executive Assistant to help run his company. Long story short, I got the gig and worked with the company for three years, until I slowly started to feel a pull back to what I been referring to as my second home since the days of college, California.

I gave my notice, packed my bags and drove back out to Los Angeles with no work, no place to live and very minimal funds to contribute to my endeavor. Luckily, I had friends that took me in, until I found a full-time job working at a documentary company in the paradise land of Malibu. The job itself wasn’t the creative outlet I was hoping for but it was a shoe-in with a small company that I felt would expose and teach me a lot about an industry that I knew I had much more to learn about. The company focused on television documentaries that at the time were rapidly turning into some form of a “Reality TV.” My motivations slowly dissipated, not in the company but rather what we were chasing after. I couldn’t have been less interested in the Kardashians, the Housewives club, the Bachelorette or American Idol. No doubt they were very big hit shows that had a wealth of people watching each season but I simply had no desire for any of it. Exhausted by the unfulfilling work, I gave my notice after two years and set off to do something else. At this point the only certainty I had was that I was not going to continue to expel all of my energy into work that I felt no fervor for.

Unsure of where to go from there, I figured I’d go back to the basics and just try to connect with other young filmmakers. On a whim, I went to volunteer at the San Diego Arts and Media Center, where I met an instructor who thought I might be a good fit to help out with some of the Outreach Programs they had going on there – and man was she right, I absolutely loved it. I spent the next year working with students from 7-18 years old, making short journalistic style videos and it all brought me back to the reason I fell in love with film in the first place, the journey of exploration.

Within that same year, I slowly circled back to the Boston area with the incentive of being closer to my family. At the point, I knew I wanted to look into working in academia and maybe even go back to graduate school. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity for a position at Boston University’s College of Communication, where I eventually began to explore other graduate programs. But it wasn’t until my development with “The Oyster Revival” documentary that I became more certain about what I wanted to do with my passion for film.

I wanted to take part in helping to reconnect and educate the public more about the health of our environment. All of the news and media we are constantly bombarded by doesn’t always provide us with solutions. It all just seems unhopeful and overwhelming. I had enough hearing about the problems, I wanted to hear solutions. Then one day I came across an article about the Massachusetts Oyster Project and the oyster reef restoration projects that they were establishing around the Boston area. I reached out immediately wanting to get involved and as I continued to learn more about all the other oyster projects going on around the country’s shorelines, I found a story that I wanted to help bring to a forum.

These oyster restoration projects are living proof that we can symbiotically work with nature to help balance it again and that each of us can take part in it. Oyster shells are being recycled from local restaurants and donated to these various oyster projects that are helping to repopulate oysters and create sustainable reefs that function very similarly to coral reefs. Not only do oyster reefs support and help initiate more marine life, oysters are powerhouses when it comes to filtering water. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by a few million oysters, than you have millions of gallons of water getting filtered on a daily basis. Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, what we found was that these various projects were still lacking overall support from local regulators. Who did not want to put shellfish in unhealthy waters with the fear that local residents would eat the oysters. However there is already sea life living in those unhealthy waterways that people could also very easily eat from and so why not let the oysters thrive so they could assist in cleaning the water. Putting a “No Shellfishing or Fishing” sign up is also another idea but for some regulators that just wasn’t enough. Regardless, the incentives behind these oyster projects have continued to spread and gain more acceptance and support among local communities all across the country. But we can’t just stop with oysters.

A main motivating factor behind my developing “The Oyster Revival” and applying to the Gastronomy program was that I wanted to continue to inspire the thinking, “If oysters can do that, then what else can nature do and how can I be a part of it?”

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.

Thanksgiving with BU Gastronomy Students

We hope you had a great Turkey Day and spent lots of time reflecting on what you are grateful for!  BU is off for the holiday and we were curious about how Gastronomy students spend Thanksgiving.   Meet Michelle and Catherine who have shared their Thanksgiving traditions with us!

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

For Puerto Ricans, Thanksgiving, or the day of the turkey, is a very special holiday. It represents the start of our favorite time of the year, Christmas. All my life, on this special day, my family and I have gathered at my maternal grandparents house. My grandmother has always been responsible for preparing the turkey with a special filling of “mofongo” (mashed plantain) and ground beef, and to make rice with “gandules” (pigeon peas), which is our official symbol of festive food.

My aunt always brings boiled root vegetables and pieces of roasted pork (simply because a Puerto Rican party without pork is incomplete). While in my home we take care of the desserts, whether a good homemade carrot cake, a flan or a “tembleque”, which is custard made with coconut milk, cornstarch and cinnamon. In addition to that, at the table we will always find “pan criollo” (our traditional bread), potato salad with mayonnaise, “pasteles boricuas” (similar to Mexican tamales but based on plantains), “coquito” (a drink made whit coconut cream), and finally “ron caña” (a clandestine rum, illegal for not paying taxes and for not meeting the requirements of health and quality controls).

After chopping the turkey and serving all the plates, my grandparents, my uncles, my parents, my siblings and I stood around the outdoor dining table, and my grandfather lead a prayer of thanks. Once my grandfather finishes the prayer, we say to each other “buen provecho” (a typical phrase that is said before beginning to eat to desire a good digestion) and we run to enjoy the exquisite food that adorns the dishes. The evening is distinguished by the typical Christmas music of Puerto Rico, the loud jokes of my father and planning the parties for the rest of the Christmas.

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

This year is the first time I will celebrate Thanksgiving away from my warm home, but with my extended family.

My Puerto Ricans friends who live in Boston will come to my apartment and we will recreate the typical Puerto Rican Thanksgiving party that I described earlier. I’m sure the only difference will be the cold weather and the possibility of snow, but we will do our best to bring Puerto Rico to us and spend it as warm as if we were at home.

“¡Buen provecho y que empiece la fiesta!”

By Michelle Estades, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

It’s All About Pie

One of the key elements of any Thanksgiving meal, arguably the most important, is the dessert. Of course no Thanksgiving dessert spread could ever be complete without the perfect pumpkin pie, at least that is how my family feels. Beginning at a young age I began to help my father make the annual Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I began to help more and more until, around the age of eleven or twelve, I had completely taken over the pumpkin pie making duties. At that point the only thing I did not do was actually cutting the pumpkins in half. I don’t know many twelve year olds who have the upper body strength to chop a pumpkin in two, so my dad continued to make that contribution for several years.  

It is always vital that I make every bit of the pie from scratch, from the crust to the pumpkin puree for the filling. Absolutely no canned pumpkin in our house. What really turned the tables was the summer that our compost pile in the backyard began to sprout a mysterious vine. By the fall the vine was producing the most perfect pie pumpkins. Not only was our annual Thanksgiving pie made completely from scratch, it was also made from local, metro-Detroit pumpkins, grown in our very own backyard.  

Backyard grown pumpkins are not the only element that I use to create our traditional pumpkin pie. The classic pumpkin spice, the correct balance of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, isn’t even the most important part of the filling. It is all about the secret ingredient, dark rum. The rich, molasses-like flavor of the dark rum brings the whole pie together in a way that no other ingredient can. Over the years other members of the family have tried to make other things for dessert, like pumpkin cheesecake, or pecan pie, and it is never quite the same. It simply would not be a Santrock family Thanksgiving without a rum flavored pumpkin pie. We usually like to be a little adventurous with our Thanksgiving menu, this year we are replacing the turkey with lamb, some years we don’t even have mashed potatoes! As far as I’m concerned, we could have our entire meal be pumpkin pie and we would still be keeping to tradition.

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Photo: Catherine Santrock
By Catherine Santrock, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

 

Fall Lecture Series Recap: Sensing Microbial Diversity of the World’s Artisan Cheeses

Throughout the year, the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post is brought to you by Gastronomy student Lauren Kouffman with photographs provided by fellow Gastronomy student Chris Maggiolo.


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Boston University’s Gastronomy Program presented a lecture on Thursday September 26th, entitled, “Fall Lecture Series: Sensing Microbial Diversity of the World’s Artisan Cheeses,” in conjunction with MET ML701 (Food and The Senses), a core Gastronomy course which focuses on the physical and sensory aspects of experiencing foodways. Benjamin Wolfe, a Postdoctoral Researcher from Harvard University, presented his research to a mix of Gastronomy-matriculating students and members of the public, and later invited everyone to partake in the sensory experience themselves, with tastes of three very distinct cheeses.

via Benjamin Wolfe

Dr. Wolfe specializes in studying microbes: tiny organic particles that grow, and eventually group together into what is known as a colony, in the process of breaking down food matter. Essentially, Dr. Wolfe described, microbes are the force behind rot- but this is not always a bad thing. His current research has led him to an in-depth exploration of the microbial factors that influence the expression of various texture, smell, and taste traits of some of the most well-known artisanal cheeses, each one developed through years of precise microbial manipulation and traditional methodology.

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via Chris Maggiolo

Interestingly, Wolfe and his Harvard research team have recently been at the helm of a new movement to identify and propagate uniquely North American microcultures in artisanal cheesemaking, rather than relying on imported European-native cultures or American-manufactured reproductions of the more traditional strains. The project itself might even be compared to larger national initiatives to re-popularize certain Heritage breeds of crops and livestock, based on an altruistic approach that simultaneously is concerned with preserving unique regional flavors (that is, the basis of terroir itself), and restoring diversity to the American culinary landscape. A new laboratory at Jasper Hill Farms, a Vermont dairy farm and artisanal cheese producer, has even been subsidized by the United States government for the continuation of Dr. Wolfe’s research. Evidently, the identification and taxonomy of uniquely-American microbial terroir is worth the trouble.

via Benjamin Wolfe

While identifying the individual cultures that already exist on any one style of cheese is a logical, if time-consuming, macro-approach, Dr. Wolfe explained he often takes a reverse-engineering approach to his work, attempting instead to isolate and identify each specific culture by tinkering with the conditions (quantities and varieties of salt, for example, or even the type of grass that is fed to the animals producing the milk) that might cause any particular strain to thrive.

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via Chris Maggiolo

At the end of his intriguing talk, Dr. Wolfe opened the floor for questions. While he touched upon the subject briefly I was particularly interested in learning more about the influence of the DuPont-owned industrial reproduction of European-native cultures, and whether or not Dr. Wolfe’s team anticipates being at odds with the economic or political motivations of a huge corporation like DuPont. Is there the potential for a Monsanto-esque backlash in the future? Dr. Wolfe explained that since he is not actually modifying genetic material, and there’s no possible way to copyright the microbes he is studying since they appear naturally in the world, there is little threat of resistance from DuPont at this time. Still, the idea that a larger corporation might take umbrage at independent and public research isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and I am certainly interested to see how long the government will continue to subsidize this project, worthy as it may be.

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via Chris Maggiolo

Dr. Wolfe’s work is equally fascinating for members of the science community, food-activists, or the average cheese-lover, and his engaging talk certainly left me hungry for more. For more information on Dr. Wolfe’s work with Jasper Hill Farms, along with his other incredible research projects, visit his website at http://www.benjaminewolfe.com/.

Benjamin Wolfe will be teaching a class in the Microbiology of Food during the Spring 2014 Semester. This class will meet on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 PM.


Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!