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Summer SAVY, Session 2 Day 3, Culinary Anthropology (5th – 6th)

Posted by on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in blog, SAVY.

Dear Parents, 

Another great day in Culinary Anthropology is in the books! 

We began the day by referring back to General Tso’s chicken to complete our discussion of cultural exchange and fusion cuisine. Students each came up with their own fusion cuisine: from seaweed soda, fish ice cream, and gnocchi curry to an entire tropical fruit Italian restaurant! 

We then embarked on an exploration of the importance of labor in the production, processing, and distribution of our food. We first discussed Sidney Mintz’s (“the father of food anthropology”) classic book, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, to provide us with a foundational understanding of the issues of labor within food production. 

To bring these historical themes into a contemporary context, we watched the beginning of the documentary Food Chains (2014). This powerful film highlights the current labor issues in the agricultural sector, focusing on the struggles and advocacy of the migrant farmworkers who are essential to our food supply. 

Inspired by these discussions, students embarked on group projects to research food chains. They chose different foods, from caviar to chocolate to dragon fruit, and traced the journey from production to consumption, making a timeline and map to uncover the complex networks of labor involved in bringing food to our tables. Students then wrote a letter to the newspaper editor to advocate for changing any unfair labor practices or harmful environmental consequences of producing their chosen food. 

After delving into the themes of sweetness and power, we ended our day with a delicious activity: making beet cupcakes! This culinary adventure allowed students to experiment with an unconventional ingredient, combining sweetness with some nutritional benefits. The students negotiated with me to get an extra half cupcake each, and many of them very sweetly saved the extra ½ in their lunchbox to share with a sibling later. 

How You Can Support Your Student: 

  • Discuss Today’s Activities: Ask your child about their takeaways from Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power, the Food Chains documentary, or their group food chain research project. Encourage them to share what they learned about the history and current issues in food labor. 
  • Share Cultural Traditions: A key point in Sweetness and Power is how sugar transformed from a rare food that only the most elite could afford to a staple in most diets. Do you have any stories from your student’s grandparents or great-grandparents about how food (un)availability impacts your family’s culinary traditions? 
  • ‘Travel’ like an Anthropologist: Documentaries that explore issues of justice and labor in food production include The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), A Place at the Table (2012), and Dolores (2017). 
  • Experiment in the Kitchen: Recreate the beet cupcakes at home or try baking with other unconventional ingredients. Discuss the importance of understanding where our food comes from and the people involved in its production. 

I can’t believe tomorrow is our last day together! We will be walking to the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden on campus, so make sure your student has comfortable shoes, their water bottle, and sun protection as you see necessary (sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, etc)! Thank you for your support and for nurturing a passion for learning in your young scholars. 

Warm regards, 

Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Omaya