Stories behind the recipes: A global look at community through food

savorbookThe following is an excerpt from “Savor: Stories of Community, Culture, & Food.” The book is the product of 2014 U graduates Kate Harrington and Mary McIntyre. The basis of the book is that “every good recipe is a story of sorts—a story of place and identity, culture and tradition, of home.” “Savor” is a collaboration that tells the story of the diverse foods in west Salt Lake; the fifteen recipes included originate from 12 different countries. To learn more about the book, visit savorbook.com.

From “Savor: Stories of Community, Culture, & Food”

It was a brisk November day in 2013 when Mary and I first entered the Glendale Community Learning Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mi Sun, originally from Thailand, stood at the front of the kitchen cooking rice noodles for a group of Spanish-speaking women. She moved her hands expertly, chopping long strands of fresh green beans, small bulbous eggplants, and thick stalks of lemongrass. The women watched intently as Mi Sun explained the process in a mix of broken English and Spanish—punctuated occasionally by her native Thai. We sat on the outskirts of the action—taking notes and snapping photos—slightly intimidated by the fact that we weren’t part of their close-knit group.

recipesThe path that led us to this first day in the kitchen, and the many that followed, to the unique relationships we formed with the people who make up the diverse Glendale community, and to the creation of this book, all started in a classroom at the University of Utah. Kate and I were taking a course titled Eating for Justice, Sustainability, and Health, which focused on how food directly impacts human and ecological well-being. We questioned why our food system has made processed and largely unhealthy food more affordable and readily available than fresh, healthy food—especially in marginalized and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. We wondered about the health implications of living in areas designated as food “deserts” or “swamps”—areas with limited availability of fresh food and/or a surfeit of highly processed food. We were encouraged to think about how eating has become both a personal and political act, and challenged to consider the idea that what we eat not only influences our own health, but also influences the food system as a whole, the people who sustain it, and the environment that supports it. And we were encouraged to take a systemic look at the global food system.

We came to Glendale knowing that Community Food Assessments nationwide document the correlation between both poor health and lower incomes, and between poor health and ethnic diversity. Our hope was to understand how these issues of food access impact communities like Glendale—communi­ties that contain some of the richest culinary practices in the nation.

Our plan was to collect a few recipes, in­terviews, and photos from different cultural backgrounds; although a cookbook of community recipes from the kitchen had been created the year before, we wanted to share the stories behind the recipes—and those of the people who cook them. After a couple of days in the kitchen, it was apparent that something even more significant was happening; a community of diverse individuals was using this space not only to cook, but to connect, and to relish the importance of sharing food despite living in a neighborhood with a broken food system. We spent six months researching, observing, and participating in the kitchen. We met dozens of people from all over the world. We laughed with them. We cooked with them. We learned about some of their fondest memories, their hopes and dreams, and their greatest challenges. And we were encouraged to think about what our experiences could offer the larger conversation about food justice.

Our curiosity about how food justice and cultural factors impact the perception and execution of eating healthfully is the core of this project; the result is a collection of fifteen recipes and contributor profiles from participants originating from 12 different countries. This book is a collaborative account of a group of men and women who use the community kitchen not only to create meals, but also relationships. Inside it you will read about the intersection between culture, community, health, and food justice. Through these stories we hope to portray how food can act as a cultural anchor, an important element of identity, and a platform from which to build community.

Check out our book at www.savorbook.com

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