Saturday, February 5, 2011

GreenHouse Global Food for Thought Meals

One of the new happenings in my life that I hope to write more about in this space is a new small job I've taken on as a Food Programming Liaison for the University of Wisconsin's GreenHouse, an environmental living community on campus. The GreenHouse is located on one floor of a campus dorm, and has around 50 students (mostly freshmen), who are all interested in environmental issues, and who engage with these issues on a daily basis in their living space.  There's a faculty sponsor (an awesome professor in Community and Environmental Sociology who embodies what it means to be an academic with one foot solidly outside the ivory tower), and several other interns and staff members who have experience in food justice, agriculture, and activism. I'm really excited about being part of this. (So excited!)


One of the main responsibilities of this job is running this Global Food for Thought Meal Series, which is basically a one-credit seminar that involves cooking and eating and discussing related readings (you might say the goal of the seminar is "dining and opining"!).  Each session, I'll help to bring in a chef from a Madison restaurant that specializes in international fare of some sort, and that chef will work with Dining Services folks to prepare a meal based on a particular ethnic cuisine.  Then, after dinner, we'll have a post-prandial* discussion, based on some readings that give social/cultural/political context to the food situation in the particular place from which that cuisine emerged. Cool, eh?

This past Wednesday was actually the first Global Food for Thought Meal, but I was sadly at home, because the 13+ inches of snow that Madison got in this last blizzard kept the buses from running and me from venturing out. The meal, based on this Bittman piece, was to be:
  • Apple cider
  • Selection of breads from Bakehouse Bakery
  • Chopped cabbage salad with apples and walnuts in a red wine vinaigrette
  • Chicken (and for vegetarians, chicken-less) mushroom stir fry in a dry marsala sauce served over local RP’s pasta
  • Cajun style red beans and rice
  • Baked apple crisp with fresh whipped cream
...all recipes modeled after stock recipes that Bittman suggests have sustained scores of generations in scores of societies worldwide.  The other reading for the class was to be one of my favorites: Wendell Berry's 1990 piece "The Pleasures of Eating."  Eating is most certainly an agricultural act.

The other part of the job in addition to the Global Meals series, as I understand it, is just to engage the students in various food-related activities: impromptu cooking sessions, trips to local farms, jaunts to the winter farmer's market (a delightful Madison space, about which more soon), and so on. Any suggestions from folks out there on exciting ways to bring college students into the world of food?! I'd love to hear 'em...

* I just learned the term "post-prandial" from this awesome GreenHouse faculty sponsor, who also spontaneously sends the students poems from the New Yorker about Topsy the Elephant.

4 comments:

  1. I really liked that Mark Bittman article and thought the attention it received was well deserved. I especially liked how he emphasized that the meals he describes are cheap (or can be made cheaply), relatively quick, and flexible in terms of their contents. I feel like that's something that often self-described foodie types (I really dislike that word) either ignore or don't realize. I like eating and cooking good food from fresh ingredients, but I don't have a lot of money and I get sick of the time commitment involved in cooking even semi-involved meals.

    So, with an eye to that, I think it would be interesting if you could get the students you're working with to actively educate other students about how to cook simple, nutritious meals like Bittman discusses...especially if the other students in question were outside of the normal orbit of farmers' market frequenting, Wendell Berry-reading types. Free food gets attention on a campus. What if you sponsored an open dinner at which you (or your students) taught others how to cook the lentil and rice dish you served, then sent home a small portion of dried lentils and rice?

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  2. I've been wanting to hear more about the food situation where you live in NO--what the grocery options are like, how your neighbors eat, and so on. I imagine you actually get to be around those outside the "normal orbit of farmers' market frequenting, Wendell Berry-reading types," eh? I'm in a bit of a bubble, and could definitely use this GreenHouse experience as an opportunity to get out of that bubble, if only to jump into the other bubble of undergraduate life. But at least that latter bubble can easily be penetrated with events like free food and cooking lessons. It's a fine idea, and I'm adding it to my list! Thanks once again, samtron77e.

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  3. Not fair. I want your tutelage, too :-(

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  4. And now, via blog, you can have it! (as I have yours!)

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