My name is Madison Trapkin and in April I founded GRSLQUASH, a women’s food, culture, and art journal.
I started a food and art blog while I was still in college. This was my first real foray into food writing outside of an academic setting. I created an interdisciplinary food experience on this blog using a combination of writing, photography, music, recipes, and more. This was only the beginning. Last year I moved from my hometown of Atlanta, GA to Boston for grad school just in time for the season’s first snowstorm. A few weeks later, I walked into the first of many classes in the Gastronomy Program, Karen Metheny’s Anthropology of Food course. Still, this was the beginning.
I built up my portfolio (and my courage) during my first year in the grad school. I felt inspired by fellow classmates who were really kicking ass in their fields — everything from a CBD-based ice cream startup to pastry chefdom at a swanky Las Vegas hotel. I pitched my first story, a pseudo-restaurant review for the Boston Globe, while sitting in one of my classes last summer. And they actually liked it! I pretty much pitched at least one story a week from that point on, with varying success. To date I’ve had a few pieces published, but more importantly I’ve had LOTS of pieces turned down. This spring, in Laura Ziman’s Food in Art course, I was listening to an especially inspiring guest lecturer when I received yet another rejection email from a publication I’d pitched to. This was it. The lecturer, a local artist named Anna Stabler, encouraged us to build an army of talented people to surround us and to just….do it — sort of a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. So, I did.
I rushed home from class to jump and yell excitedly to my now-fiancé about the idea I’d had. I would start my own publication, one that focused on all the things I loved most: food, art, and culture. This was also the beginning. The beginning of GRLSQUASH.
The Gastronomy program has empowered me as a writer and reinforced the importance of intersectionality in everything. It also facilitated my relationships with the majority of the GRLSQUASH Board! Besides my co-founder, Jess Graham, all other Board members are current or past members of the Gastronomy Program: Laurel Greenfield, Sam Dolph, and Rachel DeSimone.
Since starting GRLSQUASH it has grown immensely. A journey that began as a way to publish and promote underrepresented voices in the food and art worlds has evolved into a community-building venture, complete with collaborations involving some really incredible like-minded Boston organizations and spaces (Practice Space, Hourglass, The Cauldron, Angry Asian Girls, + more!). I’m thrilled about our growth and excited for our future.
Our second issue, themed: SELF, is currently in the works with an open call for submissions from now til Octber 12th! We recently launched our collaborative Calendar where you can find upcoming GRLSQUASH events + exciting happenings from many organizations and spaces within the GRLSQUASH community. And if you haven’t already, you can still order ISSUE ONE: MOTHERS/FOREMOTHERS!
We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of them here.
Jared Kaufman grew up around Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has always had an interest in food — when he was 5, his career aspiration was to be a cake decorator; he once dressed up as Emeril Lagasse for Halloween; and in high school, he hosted a food-reviewing YouTube channel that’s now deeply embarrassing to him.
After earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 2018, he now works as a freelance food writer and writes a twice-weekly food newsletter called Nosh Box. He’s interested in how social factors and government policy intersect with — and sometimes clash with — our food culture, and what that crossroads can illuminate about which foods we choose to (or are able to) put on our tables. Jared hopes to bring together the knowledge he gains in the Gastronomy program with his journalism background for a career as a food policy, systems, and culture reporter. He also eats a bagel nearly every morning for breakfast, and should’ve stopped himself before telling you he has a bagel pillow on his bed and a bagel sticker on his water bottle.
Lauren Allen was born and raised in Austin, Texas. Though she spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, she ended up back in Austin at the age of eight. She graduated from the University of Texas with a major in Geography and Religious Studies, and a minor in Philosophy. Shortly after graduating, she took a kitchen position at a restaurant where she was hosting and now has seven years’ experience working as a line cook and chef. In 2013 she traveled in Ireland, volunteering on organic farms and working in kitchens. Inspired by this “farm to table” style cooking, she returned home and started her own pop up dinner series under the name Cloak & Dagger, with menus focusing on local and sustainable ingredients. Cloak & Dagger has been successfully running for the past five years in backyards, out of food trailers, and in various bars/restaurants across Austin. She has experience cooking with insects, but especially loves butchering and charcuterie. She has always had a passion for writing and traveling, and wishes to tie those in with her passion and excitement for food and gastronomy.
Payal Parikh, or Pie, as she tends to goes by is new to Boston. She grew up by the beach in South Jersey where she helped her parents in the kitchen cooking traditional Gujarati Indian foods as well as regionalized New Jersey favorites. Each summer she did what all the local teens did and worked jobs at the beach, Pie always gravitated to food-centric positions. Whether it was working at a restaurant on the marina, a bakery on the boardwalk or a water ice stand, they all played their part as to where she is today. When asked about her nickname (and clarifying the spelling) she is often asked what her favorite type is, she always answers the same – pizza, preferring the savory to sweet.
For her undergraduate studies she attended Villanova University, located outside of Philadelphia, where she earned her B.S. in Business Administration and majored in Management and minored in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. She then spent her next 13 years as an account manager in the telecom industry learning the ins and outs of Fortune 500 companies.
Living in the vibrant food scene of Philadelphia reinvigorated her passion for the culinary arts and food studies. She began researching as many new restaurants and bars in Philadelphia and through her extensive travels as possible when she realized so much could be replicated in her own home and that cooking is a form of traveling. She began hosting dinner parties for her friends and family in her apartment, which was the stepping stone she needed to realize she wanted a career she was passionate about which led her to set forth on applying for her MLA in Gastronomy at BU. She is looking to bridge her business background, love of travel, and passion for food through the program.
Currently, Pie is working at Harpoon Brewery baking delicious pretzels, customizing sauces from scratch and learning about the brewing industry. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, listening to live music and golf.
We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of them here.
Tanya Bouldin is Virginia native who has been in Boston for 4.5 years. In her 20’s she worked in the bar and restaurant business but moved into technology when the .com boom was happening. She had a very successful 18-year career in technology which led her to Boston via a job transfer.
Over the past 20 years Tanya’s love of cooking, food and travel have blossomed. She writes: “I have had many opportunities to experience the culture of food and people by living in numerous states (GA, LA, FL, MO, &CA) and traveling to the EU and Central America. My passion for food isn’t limited to a particular region or arena. I have a natural curiosity for all types of cuisine and am always in search of a perfect bite. I even went so far as to go to Noma in Copenhagen just to have dinner before they closed the flagship location…what an amazing experience. As much as I enjoy dining out and finding great spots, I feel the most pleasure in cooking with/for friends and family. I truly feel that we can make deep connections rooted in food and the cultures that surround it. In August of 2017 I completed my BS in Information Technology and Project Management but didn’t feel the level of engagement that I once had in that industry. After much introspection, I made the decision to leave that career and ‘jump’ back into the culinary world. It feels like a natural progression to the next phase of my life. My immediate goal is to learn traditional techniques and explore the various aspects of culinary and it’s ever growing importance in our global world. Entering the MLA Gastronomy program is going to be an exciting challenge and I can’t wait to begin!”
James Lysons hails from the PacificNorthwest but has worked as a chef in all corners of the country. James grew up in a family where food was a focal point. He has fond memories of standing on a step stool learning the art of cooking an omelet from his mother (who is also an accomplish cook). James began working in kitchens at the age of 16, starting after school as a dishwasher and eventually making his way to prep cook, cook and so on. He received his Bachelors from New England Culinary Institute and has been fortunate enough to work at some great restaurants like Gramercy Tavern in New York, Trio in Chicago and Auberge du Soleil in Napa.
With the changing climate in the food world, James has been inspired to take his experience and knowledge from the kitchen and dedicate himself to educating fellow chefs about the importance of sustainable cooking. James believes that through education, lobbying, and inspiration, the trend of wild ingredients disappearing can be reversed. James is excited to take part in the gastronomy program and believes it will elevate his abilities to advocate for preservation and restoration of the world’s amazing ingredients.
Wiley McCarthy grew up in New Orleans and Georgia before migrating to Massachusetts for high school, college, marriage, and raising children. After graduating from Harvard in 1983 with a degree in History with Economics, she worked as a textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin, then turned to freelance work with the birth of her first child. After a long absence from work and school but with a long history of baking and food interests, she began volunteering for organizations targeting food as medicine, food rescue, and charitable food distribution. With additional interests in food policy, nutrition, and eating disorders (not to mention just plain eating), the Gastronomy program seemed a natural path to pursuing some of those interests on a professional level.
We look forward to welcoming new students in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this fall. Get to know a few of them here.
Ashley Belmer is a native Bostonian who grew up in the lovely town of Roslindale. For her undergraduate degree, she decided to relocate to Atlanta, GA where she earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature and African Studies in 2013. As a child, she would always nag her dad to help him prepare his epic Sunday dinner that could literally feed an army. Over time, her passion for food began to grow from helping to prepare dinner, school lunches, baking masterpieces, starting a food blog, and now enrolling in BU’s Gastronomy program.
Currently Ashley works as a Digital Marketer in higher education. This allows her creativity to flow and explore the ever evolving digital space. Through this gastronomy program, she hopes to began her journey in becoming a food authority.
Lauren Kirincic was born and raised on Long Island, New York. In May 2017, Lauren received a BA in Sociology from Gettysburg College. After graduation, she headed home and began her job search. She worked in a few different industries but could not find anything that she was passionate about. In February 2018, she started working at Further Food, a supplement company, as their social media associate. This job made her realize that it was food that she LOVED! Upon this realization, she wanted to learn more about the food world! She has a passion for food, travel and writing. She has always loved travel and after studying abroad in Florence she was even more eager to eat her way across the globe! With a Master’s in Gastronomy, she hopes to be able to create a career that can turn her dream into a reality!
Sarah Hartwig is a transplant to Boston from Kansas City, where she was born and raised. Before joining the Gastronomy program, she was an Americorps VISTA at the Wyandotte County Health Department for almost two years, where she worked on food access and other food system issues. She worked on all kinds of projects from coordinating activities for a summer meal program food truck, to working with the Board of Commissioners and Planning Department to update a mobile vending ordinance, to organizing a locally grown dinner for local policymakers and community stakeholders.
From a young age, Sarah has known the importance of food for both person and culture. She is a granddaughter of farmers on one side and of doctors on the other. She spent many summers in Central Kansas surrounded by fields full of corn, soybeans, and wheat only to come home to Kansas City to see hungry people who didn’t know what a tomato looked like.
She graduated Gonzaga University in 2015 with BAs in Sociology and Classical Civilizations as well as a passion for social justice. She is interested in both food justice and sovereignty work, and is excited to learn more about many of the issues currently affecting the food system.
Carole Sioufi was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. After receiving a BA in Economics from the American University of Beirut, she completed a master’s degree in Management & Strategy at the London School of Economics. Carole then joined the family business – a group of commercial and industrial companies that operate in the chemical industry of the Middle East – and successfully expanded its activities to North Africa and the Gulf countries. While working on her last project in Dubai, she realized that it was time to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a food entrepreneur. Her first stepping stone is the MLA in Gastronomy through which she aims to learn the theory of food, hone her culinary skills, and grasp the role that food plays in our daily lives.
Carole is a passionate cook. Her love for cooking began at the age of thirteen when she was struggling with obesity. Eager to transform her body, she taught herself to cook satiating and delectable meals with a Middle Eastern twist. Not only did she lose a third of her weight, but she also discovered an aspiration to help others eat healthily. Her goal is to find a viable and scalable way to reduce obesity, namely childhood obesity.
Jennifer Nadeau grew up in Central Massachusetts before moving to the western part of the state for college. She earned a BA in Anthropology with a focus on biological anthropology and food from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2014. As a child, Jennifer frequently spent time with people from the community that had unique food habits and paths and in turn- taught her to love and crave as many novel foods as she could possibly consume.
Jennifer’s interests have taken her through Dixie and Gulf states as she studied how country music, delta blues, and Southern foodways were and still are entwined. She is particularly interested in specific regional variations of foods such as tamales, pizza, and barbeque – and she maximizes her exposure by going broke traveling around the country and using most of her paychecks on food experiments in her home. Her next mission is to examine the shift in policy as recreational marijuana is legalized and monetized. Navigating the underground edible marijuana sessions in the western part of the state, Jennifer is hoping to shed insight on the policy, growth, improvement, and innovation surrounding the types of foods that producers infuse with marijuana.
Carol Waldo came to Boston by way of Chicago, Kansas City, and California. She obtained a BA in Chemistry at North Central College. Her post college career began in the microbiology and analytical chemistry labs in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Currently, she is responsible for communications with regulatory health authorities and supporting development programs with the aim of bringing new drugs to patients. Throughout her professional career, she has spent her personal time exploring food, wine, and travel. She has taken numerous cooking classes at the Institute for Culinary Education and boot camps at the Culinary Institute of America. She spent a week in a private home near Tlaxcala, Mexico, immersed in Mexican cuisine and culture. She has traveled extensively and likes to incorporate regional cultural and cooking experiences with hiking and biking. She has taken wine studies classes at BU and has visited wine regions around the world.
For Carol, the process of curiosity leading to discovery and learning is exhilarating. The cultural context of the ingredients is as important to her as the technique involved in making the dishes. Purposefully combining ingredients for a balanced, flavorful meal paired with wine is deeply satisfying. Traveling and cooking regional dishes with local chefs, purchasing ingredients in local markets is insightful, humbling, and energizing. She hopes to deepen these insights with additional study and travel.
Carol has realized what it feels like to follow her curiosity and passion. She believes that experiences and knowledge gained through the Gastronomy program will help shape her path forward.
Hannah Spiegelman grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in a very food-centric household, where cooking was a fun and exciting activity. While in high school, Hannah started baking as a way to release creative energy. She loved experimenting with out-there flavor combinations. But told by her Grandfather that studying food wasn’t a real education, Hannah followed his path and majored in history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. Still, she always made sure incorporated either food or art into her class projects.
After working as a research associate at Goucher’s Archives and getting a second job at an ice cream shop, Hannah realized that she could combine both of her passions. Born in February 2107, A Sweet History is an historical-ice cream concept that creates flavors inspired by figures, events, art, and places in history in order to get people excited about things they may never had dared to care about it. Over the last year and a half, A Sweet History has done pop-up events, workshops at museums, and commissioned pints. Hannah is very much looking forward to delving back into school, learning about all aspects in the food world, especially the history and culture of food, and continuing to cultivate her passions.
Gastronomy student Mollie Braen recently traveled to Cuba and contributed this post.
We were strolling down the busy, narrow streets of Havana, nine days into our Cuban adventure, and in all honesty, we were tired. We had experienced record-breaking rain, with cars floating down the streets of Trindad. We saw locals standing in knee deep water in their homes, cows and horses stranded on the side of the road. We had locked ourselves out of our bathroom in the hotel in Remedios because two giant cockroaches had made a home in our bathtub and we had experienced what a ration store was like for local Cubans, with a mystery meat sitting out on the hot counter and a little kitten sick with some kind of infections trying to stay cool among the coffee bean sacks. As we realized that not only were we very lost in a city we did not know, we were hungry and hot beyond anything we had ever felt before.
Cuba is an interesting place. This is how I start every conversation when someone asks, “So, how was Cuba?” I say it was everything and nothing like I imagined. It is beautiful, hot, exhausting, exciting, heart-breaking but most of all, heart-filling. The people are kind and friendly. They welcomed us into their homes and art studios, showing us their pride for their country but also their humanity, as they are people just like us.
The food, in all honesty, was not very diverse or flavorful. This is mostly due to how tourism and the restaurant businesses work in Cuba today. We mostly ate at government run hotels or restaurants and when we ate at a local Paladar, a type of restaurant in a person’s home, it was always a similar meal. It started with a salad of cabbage, canned green beans and beets, the main dishes were often pork or chicken, sometimes shrimp, with rice and black beans, and a choice between Bucanero or Cristal, the two local government produced beers for a drink. Dessert is usually served and it is either flan or some kind of pudding, and occasionally ice cream (which is reserved for tourists, as most of Cuba’s dairy is imported from other countries). The drinks are always plentiful: Cuba Libre, which is coke and rum, Mojitos with Cuban rum, or sometimes just rum. These are delicious, especially after a heat and humidity so intense, I would have sworn my bones were sweating.
We sampled fresh coconut sold by a man with a machete and cart near a square in Camaguey, and while it was somewhat bitter and gummy it felt like a much-needed hydration snack. We watched as a man showed us how Cuban cigars are made, rolling it by hand and telling the infamous story of how the Cuban sandwich came to be, using a cigar press in Miami many years ago. We ate fresh mangos everywhere we went. The country is filled with trees and an abundance so large, they barely sell them anymore, as they lay upon the ground, juicy, drippy and delicious for anyone to pick up and bite right into (make sure to spit out the skin).
So, at that moment, on the busy Havana street, where we were lost and tired, and honestly, a bit homesick, a man on a bicycle walked it by. Hanging from the handlebar of his bike was a very large pig leg. As he walked by, the leg slightly grazed the ground and I could not help but just laugh at the sheer unordinary happenstance that we had just witnessed in front of us. This story is the best one I tell of our trip because it encompasses the resourcefulness of Cuba, the tough, the ingenious, the exciting, the different, and the difficult. Cuba was a place like nowhere else I have ever been and though the food was not what I expected, it was not always about what we ate but I will always remember what we saw and what we experienced within the food culture and foodways of this incredibly interesting country we were so lucky to visit.
Are you still looking to add a fall 2018 class to your schedule? Connor Fitzmaurice will be teaching our Special Topics course, The Sociology of Taste (MET ML 610 D1) on Thursday evenings.
Taste has an undeniable personal immediacy: producing visceral feelings ranging from delight to disgust. As a result, in our everyday lives we tend to think about taste as purely a matter of individual preference. However, for sociologists, our tastes are not only socially meaningful, they are also socially determined, organized, and constructed. This course will introduce students to the variety of questions sociologists have asked about taste. What is a need? Where do preferences come from? What social functions might our tastes serve? Major theoretical perspectives for answering these questions will be considered, examining the influence of societal institutions, status seeking behaviors, internalized dispositions, and systems of meaning on not only what we enjoy–but what we find most revolting.
MET ML 610 D1, Special Topics in Gastronomy: Sociology of Taste, will meet on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, beginning on September 6. Registration information can be found here.
Dr. Karen Metheny, Senior Lecturer in Gastronomy, will teach Anthropology of Food (ML 641 C1) on Wednesdays during the Fall 2018 semester, and has prepared this course spotlight.
Been to Haymarket recently? It is Boston’s oldest food market and provides a wonderfully rich food experience. But Haymarket also lets us explore other topics. Why are certain foods thought to be good to eat and others are not? How are the preparation, display, and consumption of food invested with meaning? What can food tell us about human culture and social organization? Food offers us many opportunities to explore the ways in which humans go about their daily lives, from breaking bread at the family table to haggling over the price of meat at the market to worrying about having enough to eat. Food can also tell us about larger social organizations and global interconnections through products like Spam that are traded around the globe and the ways in which a fruit like the tomato transformed the culinary culture of European nations.
ML 641 serves as an introduction to the anthropological study of food, and to the study of food as a cultural system. We look at how food anthropology has developed as a subfield of cultural anthropology, including methodologies and theoretical frameworks. We also consider the work of ethnography—from the role the ethnographer plays in documenting the food practices of cultural groups, and the significance of those practices, but also the challenges ethnographers may encounter as they engage with foods and cultures that are unfamiliar to them. Finally, in this cross-cultural exploration of food and foodways, students explore the communicative and symbolic roles of food and drink in ritual, reciprocity and exchange, social display, and the construction of identity. We also look at the transformative role of food in the context of culture contact, diaspora, and (im)migration; the relationship between food and ideas of bodily health and body image; food and memory; and the globalization of food as it relates to politics, power, and identity.
This course offers students opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning, including exercises in ethnographic observation at Haymarket and Boston Public Market, food mapping exercises, and a final project in which students research and recreate a food dish as a lens through which to view a particular culture or foodway. Join us!
Anthropology of Food (ML 641 C1) will meet on Wednesdays, 6-8:45 pm, beginning on September 5. Registration information can be found here.
By Giselle Kennedy Lord
It took me nearly 40 hours and a brand-new laptop to get to Buenos Aires to start my field research. As is my technological luck, my 6-year-old laptop decided to adopt toddler-like tendencies in starting up and shutting down two days before my departure. Sometimes it started up and sometimes it didn’t – no logical explanation for either. It stopped starting up at all while I was on the first leg of my journey to Argentina, which is not a place where you can buy or repair technology in any sort of economical or reasonable way. But I had to get on that plane, and in the end, I boarded that plane carrying a brand-new laptop still wrapped and in its box from the Apple store in Manhattan where I purchased it on a credit card during my 15-hour layover.
Before beginning this research, my advisor recommended that I formulate a very solid plan and then expect the unexpected, to let the research become what it was going to be and learn to essentially roll with the punches if things didn’t happen as planned. This proved to be very useful advice at many turns along the way. My mantra during my six weeks in Argentina is a phrase I learned the first time I went there twelve years ago: con la fuerza. (The literal translation of this is “with the force,” but it has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars and its meaning lies as much in how you say it as in what is being said.)
I arrived in Buenos Aires after two nights of sleeping on planes. I spent most of my time there based in Palermo – a vibrant, progressive neighborhood and arguably the gastronomic center of the city. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time in hip cafes drinking tiny coffees and eating tiny croissants while reading research on the Lebanese diaspora in Latin America, particularly research related to food culture. But I had already been reading this research for a few months and was eager to make some real-life connections now that I was in Argentina. I was also pretty nervous about whether or not I would be successful making those connections. In terms of field research, this was definitely my first rodeo.
My thesis research centers around food in diaspora, specifically the food culture of Lebanese people and families living in Latin America. My goal is to examine and better understand the way in which these families and individuals use food as a way to connect to their roots and establish identity, or if they even do at all. There are huge populations of Middle Eastern people living in Latin America, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. It is my belief that the landscape and eating habits of these two far-flung regions of the world are quite complimentary if not also somewhat similar in certain places. But it’s people who perpetuate, leave behind, reinvent, and recontextualize food practices, traditions, and products, and it is my goal to discover how that pans out in Argentina and Latin America in the kitchens of the Lebanese. The grand majority of Lebanese immigrants in Argentina arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s but, while research on these migrant populations is (thankfully) growing, there is a relative lack of research in the frame of food. But I have qualitative evidence that Lebanese food is a most tenacious tradition, even across continents and generations.
Since I arrived in Buenos Aires not knowing any Lebanese people there, I didn’t have ample time to pull off the 15-20 interviews at-home I had proposed. (I think I could get that and more now that I’ve cultivated those connections and relationships, an integral part of ethnographic research that must be done without a formula or rulebook). I did, however, return home about a month ago with five deep, dynamic interviews and case studies from the Lebanese people I got to know and spent time with in Buenos Aires. I have six weeks of notes and observations on Middle Eastern and Lebanese food in the capital city of the country occupied by the third largest population of Lebanese people outside of Lebanon. I have thirty surveys filled out by Lebanese people in different countries throughout Latin America. I have a stack of menus from Middle Eastern restaurants, many gigabytes of photos, and a whole new perspective on my own identity as the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant (raised on kibbi, much like all my participants). In the end, the research began to take shape and I learned to bend and expand my own approach and perspective along the way. I spent more time with the five people I did come to know and used much of my other time gathering data and making observations that I knew I’d only be able to glean while I was on the ground there.
Contrary to what seems like a universal dependence on e-mail for making a connection, knocking on a door in Argentina will get you much farther if you’re looking to shake a hand and talk about hummus. I met Mari and Rosanna at La Iglesia de San Marón just in time to spend a day with them preparing food for a 200-person celebration in honor of the more-than-a-century-old church’s patron saint that coming Sunday. I gained invaluable perspective on how and why non-Lebanese Argentines learned to cook Lebanese food, the symbolism of group consumption, and notions of collective identity. That Sunday, while munching on the mini mana’eesh I’d spread za’atar on the day before, I met Aida, a spritely 86-year-old woman who would invite me to her home to eat lunch, prepare kibbi, and tell me her story. In Aida’s kitchen, I took careful note of the way her story tied to her food traditions and how her Lebanese and Argentine heritage come together at her table. I greeted Sergio Jalil, who I had met a few days earlier (by simply showing up at his office) and who is the founder and executive director of CELIBAL, a non-political organization whose mission it is to expose and represent an inclusive identity for Lebanese people in Latin America and to provide their community with a forum to talk about their unique identity. Sergio and his wife, Marianela, invited me to their home for a Lebanese dinner and a conversation about their families, their history together, and their favorite dishes. In their home, I came upon that tenacity of the tradition I mentioned earlier, confronted the results of class differences within the community, and caught a glimpse of the social manifestations of Lebanese identity-building in Argentina.
Though I hadn’t intended to look much at restaurants, at that point I could not deny the importance of exploring and understanding the restaurant culture of Lebanese and Middle Eastern food in Buenos Aires, if only to relate it to food practices at home. What I found was surprising to say the least – a plethora of restaurants identified as comida arabe with strikingly similar menus and only three restaurants that specifically identify as Lebanese. Analyzing the menus of these restaurants brings to light what foods have been deemed acceptable and appealing in the particular gastronomic and cultural landscape of Buenos Aires, the difference between what is cooked at home and what is cooked for public consumption, and the way specific foods and dishes have been recontextualized, hybridized, and changed. I spent plenty of time taking (sometimes edible) notes on other popular restaurants and cuisines in Buenos Aires, to build a framework for understanding Lebanese food from the broader perspective of international food in the metropolitan city. Not surprisingly, my observations of the restaurant scene there resulted in meaningful research and memorable meals. It also led me to Diego and Mariana.
I went to the historic Mercado de San Telmo for a meal at a Lebanese restaurant/fancy food stall called Chelvie. Diego and his brother, Alejandro, opened Chelvie just last Fall and it fits perfectly in the market, which was once a place for antique and grocery shopping and, though the antique stalls and a few of the food vendors are holding strong, has become a veritable international food market, with food stalls and restaurants offering Swiss, French, Spanish, Mexican, Vietnamese, and, of course, Argentine fare. The Chelvie menu is unlike any other Middle Eastern menu I came across in Buenos Aires. Diego told me it was inspired by the typical dishes of an assortment of different members of his family. Diego kept returning to the idea that they’d opened the restaurant ‘for his family,’ something that came up often in talking to my participants about their food. Homage was emerging as a common theme and was a motivation for business and sentiment that Mariana also described while we ate hummus in her backyard.
Mariana’s grandfather is Lebanese and she grew up well steeped in Lebanese food culture – their own unique brand of culinary knowledge and practice passed down from his mother to his wife and eventually to Mariana. Mariana, called Berta by close friends, is the youngest of my participants and recently started a business of making, selling, and delivering her well-tested and totally delicious hummus to people in and around Buenos Aires. Hummus delivery. I know, I want that in my town too. When I asked Mariana why, her rather poetic answer was all about family, just like Diego. (She had also been inspired by the popular, overly varied, oddly flavored, packaged hummus she’d discovered during a trip to New York. But she mostly holds true to her fantastic recipe for classic hummus of which her grandfather would be proud.) In Diego and Mariana, I found the crossroads between home and entrepreneurship, heart and duty, memory and making a living. I also came to realize that gender concepts were not shaking out the way I’d expected but the emotions and memories my participants attached to food were pretty darn consistent.
Sergio helped me get an online survey out to the CELIBAL community and I’ve got about thirty completed surveys that I can’t wait to analyze. I can’t wait to discover the nuances, differences, commonalities, and surprises that I’m sure lie within. I’d love to continue getting responses to that survey, I’d love to keep interviewing and cooking with people, but alas I am switching into writing mode. My first conclusion is that I am only scratching the surface on this topic.
My field research in Argentina was an invigorating, challenging, surprising, and fulfilling experience. I learned so much about research, about people, about myself, and about empandas arabes. Overall, I’d say I did what I went there to do. I got some very juicy material and enough of it to write a great paper, if I play my cards right (i.e. staying in this seat and typing on beautiful summer days). But now the new ‘real work’ begins. I’ve got to get all this data on the same wavelength, establish my themes, provide my evidence, make some qualitative conclusions, and tell these stories. There are moments when it seems impossible that all these notes in all these notebooks and word documents and margins of research papers will come together to form a righteous examination of this topic that I’ve spent so much time thinking about. And there are moments, as I begin to work through and transcribe and translate and analyze all those notes, that it becomes very clear that it would be impossible not to see the feast of a story all these little pieces will make when they’re put together. Con la fuerza.
Démaé to Delivery: The History of Take-out Food in Japan, with Elizabeth Andoh
Tuesday, September 25, at 6 PM, Location TBA*
Whether it’s a simple bowl of soba noodles, or an elaborate full-course banquet, food delivery has been booming business in Japan for centuries. Come explore the history of démaé, Japan’s take-out catering, with cookbook author, culinary arts instructor and longtime Japan resident, Elizabeth Andoh. A graduate of the Yanagihara School of Classical Japanese Cuisine, Andoh has written three books on Japanese cooking: An American Taste of Japan, At Home with Japanese Cooking, and the IACP-award winning An Ocean of Flavor. She has been a James Beard Award Nominee for International Cooking.
Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, with Sara B. Franklin
Tuesday, October 2 at 6 PM, location TBA*
Edna Lewis (1916-2006) wrote some of America’s most resonant, lyrical, and significant cookbooks, including the now classic The Taste of Country Cooking. Lewis cooked and wrote as a means to explore her memories of childhood on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, a community first founded by black families freed from slavery. Her reputation as a trailblazer in the revival of regional cooking and as a progenitor of the farm-to-table movement continues to grow. In this first-ever critical appreciation of Lewis’s work, food-world stars gather to reveal their own encounters with Edna Lewis. Sara Franklin, the book’s editor, discusses Lewis’s impact and how she brought together so many different perspectives on Lewis’ life and work.
Sara B. Franklin is a writer and food studies scholar teaching at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has a PhD in Food Studies from NYU.
Chefs, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession, with author Andrew Friedman, and Chef Jim Dodge
Thursday, October 25 at 6 PM, Fuller Building, room 117, 808 Commonwealth Avenue
Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll transports readers back in time to witness the remarkable evolution of the American restaurant chef in the 1970s and ’80s. Author Andrew Friedman has chronicled the life and work of some of our best American chefs. He is the author of Knives at Dawn: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Bocuse d’Or, the World’s Most Prestigious Cooking Competition and coeditor of the internationally popular anthology Don’t Try This at Home. Among the chefs profiled in this work is Jim Dodge, director of specialty culinary programs for Bon Appétit Management Company, the jury chair for the first-ever Julia Child Award, and member of the advisory council of the Julia Child Foundation.
Ten Restaurants that Changed America, with Paul Freedman
Thursday, November 29 at 6 PM, location TBA*
In Ten Restaurants that Changed America Paul Freedman revisits the most important dining places of the American past to explore what impact their menus and style have had on American food. From Howard Johnson’s to the Four Seasons, Freedman reminds us that when we dine out we participate in a broad national culture of expectations and behaviors. The book revives our memories of long ago dinners and gives us a new way to think about past meals. Writing in the New York Times, Tejal Rao noted that “Mr. Freedman marshals deep research to map the changes each restaurant made to American culture.” Ten Restaurants that Changed America has recently been released in paperback.
Paul Freedman is the Chester D. Tripp Professor of History at Yale University. Professor Freedman a specialist in medieval social history, the history of Catalonia, comparative studies of the peasantry, trade in luxury products, and the history of cuisine.
*Please refer to the Boston University Programs in Food and Wine website for updated locations in early September.
The Pépin Lecture Series in Food Studies & Gastronomy are free and open to the public, but registration is requested.