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CUNY Foodways Collaborative

Megan Elias, Queensborough Community College
Babette Audant, Kingsborough Community College

The need for food is not only humans’ primary biological drive, but food is a central and potent channel of communication that carries a rich web of intentions, meanings, and larger forces influencing the way we eat. Culture, religion, psychology, nutrition, agriculture, economics, marketing, history and politics converge around the dinner table to shape our foodways. Decisions in food procurement, preparation, and service are often powerfully negotiated in ways that address issues of gender, class, labor, and cultural identities. The study of food, once overlooked in favor of other aspects of life in the disciplines, is now gaining ground as its own field.

Food studies is necessarily interdisciplinary, inviting exploration from any number of perspectives. For those with scholarly interests in food, this inherent interdisciplinarity fosters collaboration and exchange. For students, food is a powerful means of engagement; it is an accessible tool through which we can introduce students to larger complex concepts. Food opens the way to discussions of identity, memory, history and migration; it reveals prejudices; it can be an entrée to policy, politics and beliefs. Most importantly, food is something that any student can claim knowledge of; it is culturally relevant to all.

The Foodways Faculty Development Seminar was founded three years ago, and continues to serve as an important resource for CUNY faculty in a variety of fields interested in the study of food, culture and society to share ideas, develop research projects, and present current work. The seminar also emphasizes the discussion and dissemination of classroom exercises, and other teaching tools.

Three years have yielded several book contracts, conference presentations, and a variety of publications, as well as an enthusiastic and dedicated core group of participants. The interest in food studies has been established, and a strong network of faculty enriches and encourages work done across CUNY. In recognition of past successes, and with the intention of capitalizing on all that has been accomplished, we propose a CUNY Foodways Collaborative consisting of:

I. CUNY Foodways Faculty Development Seminar
The CUNY Foodways Collaborative seeks to unite CUNY faculty with scholarly or personal interests in the cultural aspects of food in order to exchange ideas and cultivate scholarship, and to develop ways of introducing foodways principles and theories into the classroom across a variety of disciplines. Additionally, scholars find a rigorous but receptive outlet for presentation and publication among foodways organizations.

2005-2006 sessions will include:
Damian Mosley, Kingsborough Community College
Jennifer Schiff Berg, New York University
Krishnendu Ray, Culinary Institute of America
Jonathan Deutsch, Kingsborough Community College
Suzanne Wasserman, Gotham Center for New York City History

II. CUNY Foodways Online
The breadth of CUNY is often cited as a great advantage. For faculty who study food however, finding others who share their interests is difficult; there are food oases buried about CUNY across disciplines and levels. To illustrate, core members of the Foodways Faculty Development Group include Annie Hauck-Lawson (Nutrition, Brooklyn College), Fred Kauffman (English, College of Staten Island), Jonathan Deutsch (Tourism & Hospitality, Kingsborough Community College), and Barbara Katz-Rothman (Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center). We propose establishing a website/online resource to be housed on the CUNY/IVE server that would function as a central clearinghouse for foodways activities at CUNY. The website will include a directory of CUNY (and interested non-CUNY) faculty and students doing food-related research, their contact information, research interests, publications, courses taught. The website will also include links to relevant websites, news items, seminar calendar and abstracts, etc. The New York City Meals Map will be housed here as well.

III. CUNY Student Foodways
The Collaborative aims to engage students throughout CUNY in the study of food, provide students with resources informing them of food-related courses and events, direct them to faculty doing food-related research, and offer a forum for the exchange of ideas.

At the core of the student component is the New York City Meal Map, an ongoing, online, multi-media and multi-disciplinary project that documents the diversity of New York City’s foodways, and invites students to present original research in a creative manner.

The New York City Meal Map will be an online, interactive archive. The map’s “points of interest” will be individual student projects that document the story of a recipe, feast, or other food tradition. Students will be instructed to present a record of an interview with either a family or community member, at least one generation removed, using any variety of visual and audio media—slides, video, artifacts, photos, transcripts, essays, audio. Once completed, the individual projects will be converted to digital files, uploaded to the site, and become part of the growing archive of CUNY/NYC foodvoices (a potluck, if you will). Rather than being designed as a stand-alone course, the NYC Meal Map project is intended to be included in an existing course, in any number of disciplines. The project description will be available online, and will include guidelines for instructors, as well as an assessment rubric. The advantage is that students taking classes towards their major, or towards graduation requirements, would still have the opportunity to contribute to this project, without committing to an additional course, or extracurricular activity. Alternatively, students could opt to register for Independent Study at KCC (community college students) or Brooklyn College (senior college students) and complete the project as part of their course requirement.

The challenge is to secure commitments from instructors to include this project in their course syllabi. However, a sample of exercises submitted by Foodways Faculty over the past few years suggests that many instructors are already including exercises with similar goals, and might be encouraged to participate in a collaborative, on-going project that would reach a broader audience. We hope to partner with at least one outside organization; possibilities include the New York Food Museum, CityLore and the New York Historical Society. With subsequent semesters, the number of stories will grow, adding to the previous semester’s contributions. With time, the resource will serve as its own best incentive to participate.

The New York City Meal Map will achieve several objectives:

• Create an engaging, dynamic, student-generated archive of New York City’s diverse cultural heritage that can be accessed by researchers across the university and beyond. The diversity of CUNY’s student population, and the breadth of the project will yield a perspective not achieved by individual researchers.

• Provide students with an opportunity to develop qualitative research techniques including interviewing, observation, transcription, and artifact collection.

• Establish a visible project that can serve as the basis for funding, research, publications, presentations, and other projects (annual exhibits at CUNY campuses and other venues, cookbook/recipe collections, etc).

IV. Courses
The e-permit system allows students to take courses offered at any of CUNY’s campuses. Apart from classes in hospitality, culinary, and nutrition programs, food-related classes tend to be offered sporadically. Even those classes that emphasize hands-on skills and practical and/or scientific aspects of food preparation are only offered at particular campuses. The Foodways Directory will certainly help students to find courses offered throughout the CUNY system, but it is our hope to offer on-line and f2f courses intended for a CUNY-wide audience. A curriculum is currently being designed for an on-line Cultural Foods (TAH 73). (Brooklyn College for four-year students; Kingsborough for community college students).

V. Program Sustainability
The CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise has generously offered to fund the proposed CUNY Foodways Collaborative during its 2005-2006, and has extended the challenge that the Collaborative broaden its constituency to include CUNY students, and establish a public presence beyond the publications and presentations that emerged from the faculty development seminar.

The Collaborative network will enable University-wide activities and critical mass for funding including inter- and intra-college grant proposals and partnered instruction. Future plans include student and faculty conferences and an Association for the Study of Food and Society regional event.


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