As one component of the final project for my AMST 202 class at Honolulu Community College this semester, students were asked to create a food flag.
And as I’ve mentioned in this past blog post, I love food flags! A flag is a symbol of national identity – we salute flags, we sing to flags, we preserve flags, we as nations plant them in conquered territories and raise then when we’re wounded. They become a symbol that imagines us as a shared community. And yet we accept them as an arbitrary arrangement of symbols. Flags are bestowed upon us by nations and we accept them into our families.
But what if we created our own? What would it look like?
After demonstrating a family recipe and mapping where they eat, buy, and produce food on the island, students were asked to construct a flag out of ingredients familiar to them:
I want you to create a Food Flag using foods that you argue reflect Hawaiian/ American/hapa food culture. This needs to be based off of a particular flag: the Kanaka Maoli flag, the American flag, Hawaii’s state flag, or a fusion. A food flag is when you reproduce the colors and patterns of a flag using actual food as the building blocks. For this, put some thought into why you’ve chosen the ingredients you’ve chosen. How are you using these foods to support an argument about Hawaiian/American/hapa food culture? How have you visualized some sort of critical analysis? Get some insight into what the heck a food flag is here and here.
Their results were fantastic. Here’s a sampling of their creativity which reveal how they similarly and different position their ethnic and national identities:
My food flag was one I usually make every July 4th – I call it my July 4th cake. We inhaled it collectively before I could take a photo, but here’s the gist: 1) Take a box of white Duncan Hines cake mix, 2) Make some whipped cream from scratch for icing, 3) Decorate with red and blue fruits to make the stars and stripes. This could be its twin:
I shared how the cake represented America to me:
a box of white completely processed, super sweet, completely unhealthy, and taking no time to cook. There is something that has always intrigued me about its supernatural bleachy whiteness that seems to claim perfection in the most inauthentic way.
the fruits are from Mexico and Chile – foreign countries that the US colonizes through trade agreements to get us our berries for cheap all year around
the dairy in the whipped cream is the only ingredient from the US, yet represents something that’s completely unhealthy, the dairy industry being toxic to the environment and animal welfare, and yet framed as a staple of the American diet in advertisements
and finally sugar – one of the culinary roots of slavery and the colonization of Hawaii that is now killing poor Americans and poor Pacific islanders who are addicted to its immediate high and low cost. Sugar is in every processed food. Sugar is America. Sugar is death.
Layer them together and you have a deliciously unhealthy dessert that you eat chilled on a hot Independence Day (hypocrisy intended). It is about as far away from local food and a melting pot as you can possibly get.
What would your food flag look like? What do the foods you eat say about your ethnic and national identity?
This past week I toured Kahumana Organic Farm on O’ahu as part of my broader research on urban food studies as well as prep for a student tour for my American Studies class. As part of our tour and tasting, I was guided by my friend and farmer at Kahumana, Rachel LaDrig — a Michigan native who has worked at the farm for a year specializing in tours and volunteer coordinating.
Rachel gave us an overview of the farm’s social justice and business initiatives within Hawai’i’s current context before letting us graze on tasty greens and fruits as we strolled through one tiny part of the farm.
Here are my takeaways that I hope you take back to your community:
1. Farms are cities. Kahumana Organic Farm is way more than just a farm — it’s a movement to center farming in communities by connecting food, the environment, health, and society. Although I visited the tour center in Wai’anae, the farm includes other fields, markets, and learning centers across the island.
Each campus is part of a larger holistic approach to resolving issues of homelessness, disability, and poor health plaguing the island. The farm runs a transitional housing program in Wai’anae where one of the highest concentrations of native Hawai’ians left have some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Well more than half of Wai’anae’s population lives below poverty level. Additionally, Wai’anae is home to a large portion of Hawai’i’s disabled and differently-abled citizens that are lost in the education system as well as a quick and pretty tourist-driven society. Learning centers provide opportunities for people with learning disabilities to engage with food and farming and learn skills with the hope of gaining stable employment in the agricultural and food service industries on the island.
The farm’s message of organic and holistic approaches to food also attract more well-off agri-tourists who dine in the restaurant, sleep in the retreats, and take yoga classes alongside the farmers and others from the Wai’anae community. The farm would not grow without everyone working together, producing together, consuming together, and supporting the integrated mission of community sustainability. Yet the farm cannot resolve these demands on its own.
2. Farmers are everyone. Quite often in American society and history, we envision the farmer as an older white male. This image stems from the idea of the yeoman farmer – what Thomas Jefferson idealized as the self-sufficient man farming to suffice his family’s needs. Jefferson argued that the future of the republic depended upon supporting the yeoman farmer as the backbone of America.
This image of the white heterosexual older male family man farmer was reinforced through the arts during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression that mourned for their loss, yet the image persists today.
Yet Rachel at Kahumana reminds us that everyone is necessary to farming because farming is everything. Farmers pick crops, plant seeds, and water gardens, yes, but they also deliver crops, cook and sell food, plan routes, give tours, and teach about farming. Kahumana excels because it dismantles the single farmer by revealing a kaleidoscope of farm work that necessitates an entire community of support and, in doing so, supports the entire community. Farmers are every gender, every sexuality, every race and ethnicity, every status of citizenship, every income level, every level of education, and a range of abilities.
3. Farming happens every day. Being raised in South Georgia, I was reminded constantly of how life revolves around the harvest. Our school schedules break for the summer to allow kids to lend helping hands in the fields, our bus routes drive along the fields to pick up farmworkers’ kids… Yet we live in a world of immediate gratification. Our diets and culinary interests are no longer dependent upon the seasons or climates. Grocery stores have enabled us to buy whatever vegetable we want at any time. In a place like Hawai’i where the growing season is year round, farming happens every day.
Because Kahumana produces green mixes for more than a dozen restaurants on the island, every single day seeds are planted to grow that mixture, every single day farmers weed and water and clear bugs, and every single day farmers plan to sell their products to restart the cycle all over again.
Federally-supported big agriculture over the past century that has pushed monocrops, GMOs, and technology-driven production have made food cheaper by using immigrant and domestic low-paying farm labor, mass production technology and machinery, yet they’ve also alienated us from the process of food production as central to community sustainability. Making farming an everyday practice that requires everyone’s participation equals resilience.
Kahumana Farms is one of several organic farms in Hawai’i and part of a growing movement of food-centered community building to support the health, well-being, and stability of Hawai’i’s kama’aina. And when you eat local, you’re able to taste how the local climate makes foods taste radically different from one zone to another.
Pro tip for those going on the Kahumana Farm tour, get Rachel to let you sample the different greens straight from the field – you’ll experience a spectrum of tastes from spicy like wasabi to mustardy and refreshing.
Find an organic farm in your community: https://www.localharvest.org/organic-farms/ and explore others when you travel: http://wwoofinternational.org/ And share your ideas for making organic farms the center of sustainable communities, families, bodies, and environments!
This semester I taught an online graduate level course on American culture to a mixed nationality group – two students from the University of Hawaii studying abroad in Tongji, China, and four students from Tongji who are about to study abroad in Hawaii at UH next year. Food became a way for us to talk about the similarities and differences in histories of colonialism and contemporary experiences with families, relationships, celebratory customs, and dining out within the US and between the US and China. The discussion was also a way of celebrating the friendships that the students had made, and to share in their excitement of venturing to Hawaii next year.
After discussing the importance of food and rituals for Thanksgiving, I assigned a small food studies project. First the Chinese students read an essay by Rachel Laudan on food in Hawaii that focuses on the archipelago’s food culture as a mix of agricultural, colonial, and multi-ethnic influences. Next, students wrote a response putting Hawaiian food into conversation with their own assumptions about American food (since none of the Tongji students had been to America and neither of the Hawaiian students had really been to mainland America). You can read more of Laudan’s work on Hawaiian food in her book The Food of Paradise. Additionally the two US students wrote a longer critical analysis of their family’s food culture, focusing on how race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors influence what their family eats, where they shop, where and how they dine, and how students’ own food preferences might differ from their parents’.
Second, students were asked to share a picture and recipe for an essential dish served at an important family celebration. Taken together, that class meal included the following items:
Steamed Fish Cake Soup with Cuttlefish, Chicken and Tendons
Fried Corn Cake
With my southern background, I mostly geared our conversations toward the kaleidoscope of American culture – prodding students to identify and analyze why common assumptions about American culture (like frontier films or fast food) are both grounded in fact and not representative of the whole country. I sought to prove to the Tongji students how, due to gender, class, race, and region of origin, how my experiences in the South differed from those of my Hawaiian-born students, revealing many different sides of American culture. And now that we have a collective epic family meal, we have something to plan for next fall when the students are feeling homesick for China and excited for touring the US.
Today I want to share my contribution to the collective class meal – the South Georgia cold oven pound cake.
Food in the South is either and all together, sweet, salty, and fatty (fat is a whole food group down here). An example of salty would be dark leafy collard greens boiled in broth with salty ham bits. An example of sweet would be sweet potato casserole, which is boiled sweet potatoes mixed with sweetened condensed milk and brown sugar, topped with toasted marshmallows. And example of fatty would be biscuits made of lard and covered with butter after baking. An example of sweet and salty and fatty would be our barbecue which often includes salty smoked pork or fatty ribs covered in like a brown sugary sauce.
You can tell we have high, high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, but it doesn’t really sway us. My grandmother is nearly blind and can barely walk due to health problems. She takes insulin for her diabetes – and yet she still eats half a slice of pie after taking insulin. This doesn’t mean that everyone eats this way in the South, as my parents reacted to this by raising my siblings and me to eat low fat or sugar free foods that were often processed – perhaps just as unhealthy as the full fatty Southern versions.
Frequently at a Thanksgiving my family would serve turkey, cornbread stuffing (like a slightly soggy savory bread casserole dish), gravy and cranberry sauce (not actually a sauce but more like a cranberry-flavored gelatin that is super sweet and slightly sour and what you’re supposed to dip the stuffing and turkey in), sweet potato casserole, collard greens, and maybe some other additions like homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, a light broccoli salad, and/or a green bean casserole.
We’d always have at least one type of bread – usually a sweet store-bought roll. And for dessert we’d serve pumpkin pie, maybe pecan pie, and pound cake, although there might be other additions. Generally you eat dinner at about 4:30/5 and then eat a second plate at about 7:30ish whenever your food has settled enough to eat more. And then a 9:30ish dessert sampling. By the end of the night, you should be walking funny or grunting from the discomfort of eating so much. It’s a masochistic ritual.
These are all very normal southern foods but a family favorite connected with my hometown is my grandma’s special cold oven pound cake which is the recipe I’d like to share for this course. To be frank, it’s called a pound cake because historically it included a pound of sugar, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of eggs… And it tastes pretty much like a cake version of a shortbread cookie which is made of those ingredients. Normally pound cakes are pretty moist and dense, but the cold oven technique popular in Southwest Georgia where I’m from requires you don’t preheat the oven but put it straight into a cold oven when you go to bake it, creates an effect in which the outside of the cake is crunchy. Some people think it makes it too dry. I think they’re crazy and can’t stand pound cakes that are too soggy. This is clearly a preference thing, and because I grew up with only one type of pound cake, I favor the Southern style.
Also, you’re supposed to bake this cake in a Bundt pan that creates a whole in the middle. My grandmother ALWAYS chops up an apple and stuffs the slices in the whole or just throws them into the container covering the cake. This makes the cake smell like apples and also adds moisture to the air which the cold oven pound cake needs since cakes normally progressively dry out. Because this cake will last a few days, you’ll need to add more apple slices or replace them as they dry out every day or so.
Side note: I grew up with a family tradition to eat certain foods on New Years Day for luck. I haven’t many people that follow this tradition so I wanted to share. For this meal each food is supposed to represent a source of good fortune in the upcoming year. The meal includes black eyed peas which are supposed to represent coins for money, collard greens to represent good health, and ham to represent strength, although no one can ever seem to remember what anything means except for the black eyed peas. I remember this being the one day that my mom would pressure my siblings to eat their whole plate otherwise they would have bad luck.
Trying to finish a syllabus is nearly impossible. To put the pen down means to admit that your course can never be comprehensive – never conclusive. And when it comes to teaching the history of food (even in the U.S.), it feels impossible to press print. But here’s to beginning complex discussions about food somewhere!
Here is a syllabus for an undergraduate American Studies course exploring transnational American food studies I designed to teach as a distance learning option at Purdue University in the spring of 2017. Having taught a distance learning course and wrestled with how to make meaningful connections with students via the Internet, I’ve tried to use technology and interactive exercises to still make food a medium for engaging with American history and culture critically.
While the course is organized around weekly readings regarding 11 key ingredients, I’ve incorporated assignments that will enable students to complete independent projects using both digital technology and oral history tools. One additional extra credit option allows students to “choose their own adventure” by documenting and analyzing an independent field trip to a site of food production and consumption wherever they are located.
Weeks have been organized around 11 key ingredients, with the ultimate goal of showing how there is no one American diet. Food ingredients have been arranged in a way to capture key national discussions chronologically, from rice and sugar in connection with colonialism and enslavement to coffee and wheat in regards to modern processes of fast food production and globalization.
See the reading and assignments schedule here at my Academia.edu page, where you can find the complete PDF version of the syllabus.
It was a painstakingly difficult process to narrow this course to 11 ingredients. What ingredients would you include in your course on American food histories? Any must-have readings on food history that I should include for my next course? Share them with me!
Happy Women’s History Month! Today we’re hitting the archives. Imagine a tip jar: Amelia Earhart’s Sour Cream Waffles versus Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes. Who’s the winner!? I feel a taste-test coming.
Happy Women’s History Month! Today we’re hitting the archives. Imagine a tip jar: Amelia Earhart’s Sour Cream Waffles versus Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes. Who’s the winner!? I feel a taste-test coming.
Today I decided to finally (after about 7 months of waiting) boil a bag of raw peanuts I bought while visiting family in Southern Georgia last summer. I currently live in Muncie, Indiana and nothing really comes close to quenching my thirst for these little tasty morsels. These ever so slightly salty hot pockets, when popped with your thumbs and forefingers at the seam, reveal two or three (four if you’re lucky) perfectly aligned and tightly nestled burgundy beans.
Today I decided to finally (after about 7 months of waiting) boil a bag of raw peanuts I bought while visiting family in Southern Georgia last summer. I currently live in Muncie, Indiana and nothing really comes close to quenching my thirst for these little tasty morsels. These ever so slightly salty hot pockets, when popped with your thumbs and forefingers at the seam, reveal two or three (four if you’re lucky) perfectly aligned and tightly nestled burgundy beans. Non-Southerners halt! You do not dive in to pluck them with your fingers from their soggy shells. Rather, lift up the bean-filled half-shell to your mouth and bite them out. If you have a straggler, use your empty shell half to scoop it out into your mouth. Most often you’ll find these on the side of the road or at a baseball game, so toss your empty shells into the gaps of the metal bleachers below or out your window. My tactic is to toss my empty shells back into the group so that finding an uneaten one increasingly becomes more like a scavenger hunt. Lick your fingers and reach back again into the warm damp brown bag for another.
Midwesterners and New Englanders who currently surround me do not know what they are missing. I once found these on a menu at a hipster pizza joint in Louisville and ordered for the table – me, a Cape Codder, and two Californians.
“What does it taste like?”
Me: “A boiled peanut. Kind of like Southern edamame.”
“Ah, I love edamame.”
They all tried them and politely never finished excavating their sample, forcing me to intake about 100 salty peanuts by myself. I mean, when it comes to boiled peanuts, there is a “me” in team. I actually think that boiled peanuts are even tastier (and way unhealthier) than edamame. They’re the Pringles of earthen snacks.
And, since it’s Black History Month, boiled peanuts are a way to learn more about the transnational backstories of America’s food culture. As summed up here at the National Peanut Board, boiled peanuts first came to America via enslaved Africans who also brought the practice to South America and the Caribbean. Wikipedia offers some quick insight into their continued popularity throughout Asia – especially Taiwan – as street snacks.
So last night I finally decided to boil up a batch of peanuts. Having never done this myself, I consulted Alton Brown’s recipe. About an hour and a half into their 4-hour boil, I smelled home: It was the scent of convincing my parents to give me $4 so I could pass the time while watching my sister strike out the batters in another slow-pitch softball game. Delish.
Alton Brown’s recipe is really easy and adaptable:
Rinse and soak the peanut shells in water for 30 minutes (they float so try and weigh them down so you can get the most amount of dirt off them)
Rinse again after soaking and toss into a pot
Generously cover with water (think 1 part peanuts, 1.5 parts water? Or enough water that you’ll be able to boil them for 4 hours and they won’t burn to the bottom)
Add salt (I’d begin with at least 1/3 cup of salt and about 2-3 hours in, pop one open and taste to see if you need more salt. Feel free to keep tasting every 45 minutes to determine your preferred texture.)
Boil for 1-5 hours depending on their freshness. Don’t run out of water and burn your nuts.
This food is very forgiving. I can’t honestly recall having had peanuts boiled too long, or peanuts that were too salty. [The worst boiled peanuts I can recall tasted as if they had been cooked the day prior and reboiled. And I probably still ate those. I wouldn’t suggest buying them at the store in cans or from the frozen aisle.]
You can add other flavors to the pot too, like bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, Maggie’s, spice it up Sichuan style, or keep it simple with sea salt. On a low-salt diet? Try it without – the salt doesn’t impact the texture.
I love coffee. I drink it everyday – all day. I like to dip my doughnuts in it. I like to sip it in small glasses from hipster coffee shops. I like it from Italian highway rest areas. I like coffee.
It is sometimes difficult to communicate to other people what type of coffee you would like. For example, I like to order a doppio with a splash of hot milk. This is not a latte. This is not a macchiato (in America). This is a cortado in a to-go cup. But if espresso isn’t an option, how much milk do I ask for? Well how strong is your coffee?
Wired has suggested that I “taste coffee like a pro” by using this detailed flavor wheel produced by Specialty Coffee Association of America.
However, I can honestly say I’ve never tasted the sour tobacco cereal undertones of my morning cup of joe. I’m not sure if my taste buds are ready for that jump.
While I’ll definitely look to the flavor wheel when deciding my dinner options, my idea of a good cup of coffee is much simpler and almost never strays from country to country. My perfect cup is Muhammad Ali holding a mug of hot lava. It is the perfect complement to a doughnut, jammed biscuit, morning writing assignment, or a good book on the front porch. (Clearly my Keurig is dysfunctional.)
Where’s your perfect cup on my “Coffee Simplified” map?
Hannah Gregg at Buzzfeed has created a beautiful map and list of state-themed cocktails for when you’re doing some cross-country driving or listening to the vote count on election night.
Keep in mind, these drinks are not the go-to for locals. For example, no one in Indiana is drinking “The Refined Janet Guthrie (Sweet Tea Vodka, Refined Mixers margarita mix)” which, in honor of the Indy 500, was created to commemorate the first woman that qualified and drove in the race. Get the recipe here. In fact, although the Indy 500 is celebrated as a national holiday along with July 4th, no one here is celebrating the women’s history behind the Indy 500. It would be magical, but it ain’t happen’. Also, that cocktail’s delightful combination of Margarita mix and sweet tea vodka sounds disgusting.
Grub Street also mapped out historic prohibition-era-style cocktails for all 50 states and came up with the “North Shore Flower” for Indiana:
The key here is tracking down the specific gin, which is made in Illinois, about an hour north of Chicago: In a shaker, combine 2 ounces North Shore Gin Number 6, 1 1/4 ounce Chase elderflower liqueur, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce gum syrup (the bar uses Wilks & Wilson). Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
The cocktail sounds delicious but the gin is from Illinois. Although Indiana’s northern border does make up the south shore of Lake Michigan, this geography does not represent the whole state. And, let’s be honest, I live in Indiana and it is like pulling teeth to find a good cocktail outside of Indianapolis. The poison of choice? Beer. More specifically, $3 pitchers of PBR or a proper Indiana-made beer.
Inspired by Bon Appetit’s recent Donald Trump-looking drink – The Combover – I tasked myself with creating an Indiana micro-cultural cocktail that would try to best represent the Muncie, Indiana quilt: histories of Native American land dispossession and white cultural appropriation of Indian heritage, rampant post-industrialism in the Rust Belt, corn and big ag, churches, gun culture and hunting, racism and the KKK, the nation’s hometown of meth production, Middletown and Muncie’s history as the typical American suburban city, and white people with largely German ethnic roots. What a fun challenge.
I call it, the Funcie Munsee
2 oz of Indiana (corn) Vodka from Heartland Distillers
2 oz of any cheap beer on tap
1 fizzed egg white (delicious and makes your drink white – think of it as a country farm-to-table style additive)
1/2 oz simple syrup (make your own or try one from local Wilks & Wilson)
stir with 1 blue rock candy swizzle stick
drink over ice from a Ball jar (old money from the Ball brothers that started Ball State with money from glass and glass jar manufacturing – jobs are all gone)
I haven’t tried this so if it tastes bad, shoot and chase with more cheap beer.
Stir, sip, and repeat unless it’s on a Sunday and then you should be in church.
I’m in the process of creating a syllabus for a 200-level undergraduate course on unpacking the transnational roots of core American food ingredients, and in looking for a good image for the syllabus have discovered a beautiful array of US flags made of food.
Now, for the Fourth of July, I’ve always loved to make a patriotically-themed white sheet cake, taking my precious time to carefully slice the strawberries and arrange them with raspberries and blueberries in different constellations nestled in the homemade whipped cream. I do not own an American flag, nor wear patriotic clothing, nor say the Pledge of Allegiance, yet I revel in consuming an edible American icon one day of the year. And interestingly, I’ve never strayed from this recipe until now, having just found a smorgasbord of different flag-themed foods, from delicious sweets to savory main dishes, all arranged in crimson and ivory stripes. As silly as these images might seem, they scratch at the surface of America’s diverse food culture and plethora of eater identities (the health nut, the fast food junkie, the sweet-tooth, and so on). Yet a trip to the local big-brand grocery store might make you think how few red, white, and blue ingredients you have on your palette. How quick we forget about blanched northern beans, an eggplant’s thin indigo shell, and the glistening skeleton of a buttered lobster that add color to America’s dinner table.
Check out these cool dishes below and suggest any unique variations that your family shares (or other ridiculous ones that you might find!).
My heart is going to explode with happiness. Food52 just released an infographic (by Jordan Sondler), map, and list with some of the world’s best cookie recipes. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about cookie recipes in preparation for holiday gifts, and now I’m overwhelmed with the urge to retire early and spend the rest of my life baking these iconic desserts. Who needs a PhD? But cookies – oh cookies.
Even better, you can pin your own recipes to a Google Maps archive they’ve started here.
As an American Studies digital humanities/food studies scholar I love this project. The project and subsequent digital discussion speak to the ways that national identity is wrapped up in food. By baking and eating these cookies you can play food tourist at home and consume other national identities.
And all too often many Americans forget how typically American food traditions are not the norm elsewhere. Sascha, a graduate student in Purdue’s American Studies program from Germany, was astounded when attending the first professional development workshop on campus where he tasted a gooey, buttery, M&M-speckled grocery store cookie. “THEY’RE SO SOFT. HAVE YOU TRIED THESE COOKIES? COOKIES DO NOT TASTE LIKE THIS IN GERMANY.” Is it the vegetable shortening Americans add? Or the rainbow of chocolately morsels that makes their taste and texture so delicious? I have no idea. Needless to say, he’s requested cookies or candy at almost every event since.
Here’s a list of 46 recipes Food 52 posted on their site. Where am I going to begin my baking??? Maybe #9 – because who doesn’t want to bake with Tequila!?
Here’s to celebrating a little differently this year.