Archives for category: People
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Look at those hard lines and rice filler – the Spam musubi was made to be turned into a flag. Challenge accepted.

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:

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Ed made the Hawaii state flag out of a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese ingredients to represent the different ethnic heritages of he and his wife. Here you see rice, Okinawan purple sweet potato, and sliced Portuguese sausage.

 

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Jacques spent his youth in the Philippines where he mostly ate meat and rice. For his US food flag he chose turkey bacon and rice because she said that when he was losing weight as a young adult in Hawaii, that was just about all he ate. The blue jello and Cheeries reflect his American processed food fusion.

 

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James had a killer idea to take photos of foods he eats and make them into a Hawaiian state flag. Here you’ll see an assortment of big mainland brands popular here, like Budlight, along with rice, ramen, cookies, eggs, and more.

 

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Because Tisha’s family is largely Japanese, this Japanese flag is made out of rice and ahi tuna which are staples in Japanese/Hawaiian fusion cuisine here on the island.

 

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Elisse made the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) flag out of egg, Spam, and ti leaves (pronounced like the drink “tea”) which are used in Native Hawaiian recipes like lau lau.

 

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Last but not least Alan uses the Hawaiian state flag to showcase an assortment of staple food items here that are essential to every local Hawaiian dinner serving plate lunch. From the bottom you’ll see red Redondo wieners (it seems like the more dye, the better here), macaroni salad (mainlanders watch out – it. is. the. best.), some pastele stew, rice, poi made from ground taro, poke (pronounced “pokay”), and the top stripe is haupia. For the green on the seal you have lau lau. These foods are not cheap! Alan said he spent about $40 to orders of all of these dishes that he shared with his family.

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:

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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.

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Rachel showing off the farm’s aquaponics system where a giant happy toad is swimming underwater.

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.

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A photo I took of the farm’s backdrop, Lualualei Valley, while on a tour at Kahumana. No filter needed – pure beauty. For more info on the politicization of this important agricultural valley in Hawai’i’s politics, click on this photo.

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.

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An example of one of many events, volunteer days, celebrations, and workshops held at Kahumana Organic Farms.

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.

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These nuts are clearly having no fun.

 

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.

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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.

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Doubt me? Do a quick search for “farmer” and “America” and you’ll find mostly white male farmers despite the significant rise in young farmers and urban gardeners of color in the US.

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.

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A photo from a recent work day at Kahumana celebrating parents who brought their keiki to the farm to help work.

 

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.

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See more cool photos of Kahumana Farms from their Facebook site by clicking on this photo

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.

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A seemingly boring board that is the brain stem of the farm. What you don’t see is a huge grid matching the farm’s products with the multitude of restaurants the farm serves. On the left you can see just a smidgen of today’s prep lists of the foods being collected for restaurants on O’ahu like Juicy Brew and Fete. Go eat Juicy Brew. Right now.

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.

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The secret world beneath the leaves. Papayas are some of the hardiest plants Hawai’i has that offer a full year growing season. Due to Hawai’i’s long history of agricultural colonialism that began with sugarcane and pineapple plantation labor in the 1800s, getting access to local, small-scale, organic fruits is a huge political issue on the island. To learn more about Hawai’i’s Center for Food Safety, click this photo.

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.

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Rachel harvesting a sampling of different greens for us so we can try what goes in to their famous best-selling greens mix they sell to restaurants on the island.

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!

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Click on this image to learn more about the work of Hawai’i’s Center for Food Safety.

 

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’.

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One of my most favorite Hawaiian foods has been Spam musubi. You’ll find these in plastic wrap often near the counter of a 7-11 for about $2. The Spam is sometimes cooked in sweet Hawaiian teriyaki sauce that contrasts the overpowering saltiness of the canned meat, is balanced by the ever so slightly savory rice, and is held together by the seaweed wrapper. These make excellent beach food snacks if you’re on the go, are cheap and easy to make at home, and can be adapted! I’ve had excellent versions with egg inside or fried shells outside, in fancy food trucks and at the gas station. In this Texas-style adaptation, the musubi includes pickled cactus and Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce: http://www.star-telegram.com/living/food-drink/article79844007.html

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:

  • jiaozi, pork and cabbage dumplings
  • Mahi Mahi green bean casserole
  • zongzi rice dumplings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waaJ_prlZNk
  • pecan pie
  • braised prawns
  • and cold oven pound cake
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Zongzi – some amazingly fantastic street food in China

Additionally another student from China shared a list of foods typically served in his family at a spring festival:

Appetizer

Braised Plate (Beef/Oxtongue/Gizzards/Chicken Wing Tips/Chicken Claw)

Salad Dried Bean Curd with Coriander

Steamed Chicken with Chili Sauce

Main Course

Glutinous Rice Meatballs

Stewed Meatballs with Brown Sauce

Steamed Weeverfish

Boiled Chinese cabbage

Braised Pork With Preserved Vegetable

Stewed Duck in Beer

Steamed Pork with Rice Flour

Braised Pork Feet

Hot Pot with Pig Blood and Tofu

Soup

Steamed Fish Cake Soup with Cuttlefish, Chicken and Tendons

Stable Food

Dumplings

Rice

Dessert

Milk Bun

Spring Roll

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.

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Cold oven pound cakes have a crunch top layer on top, and can be identified from other traditionally moist pound cakes from their intentionally busted crackly tops.

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.

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Traditional Southern-style cornbread dressing is soggy, made from baked corn bread that is crumbled into silt and covered with cooked veggies, cooked eggs, and broth. Don’t forget the poultry seasoning – the distinct flavor of this dressing.

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.

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Recipe for cold oven pound cake taken from Paula Deen (who is from my hometown, is a world-renowned Southern cook, and is known in American popular culture for making super fatty food and being racist to African Americans. For more on her and how racism is perceived as “accidental” and therefore tolerated in the South, read this essay by author Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/the-guileless-accidental-racism-of-paula-deen/277153/.)

For the original link to the recipe, go here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/southwest-georgia-pound-cake-recipe.html.

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.

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No one on the internet is putting apple slices into the cake hole after it is baked. This is a missed opportunity….

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.

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Eat ya peas and greens!  Gotta make all that coin this year!

 

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.

Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes

Rosa Parks Pancakes

Click the image to see a larger version of this recipe at the Library of Congress.

 

Amelia Earhart’s Sour Cream Waffles

Amelisa Earhart Waffles

Click the image to see a larger version of this recipe at the Purdue University Archives.

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@RiseandRender’s photo of their thumbprint cookies – a little flatter and crispier than mine but probably equally as delicious.  Check out their photos of making Ina Garten’s recipe.  World, expect cookie Xmas gifts.

 

This Thanksgiving was probably unlike yours – calm and quiet with almost zero hustle and bustle in the kitchen.  I spent the day making Thumbprint cookies with raspberry/cloudberry jam centers for men at The Sleeping Room (the local men’s shelter in Muncie, IN), before serving them dinner.  The menu: from-the-box stuffing, from-the-can green beans, 2 cans cranberry sauce, a dismantled homemade turkey, Sara Lee pumpkin pie, and cookies (my only genuine contribution).  When we arrived Betty, the mom in a mother-daughter 2-person team of shelter managers, was sorting through the day’s food donations from Feed My Sheep.  What seemed like a bounty to Betty left us confused.  Opening the bags we found the offal of pantry discards: 4 jello snack packs.  A can of black beans.  A package of expired cheesy rice.  A can of kidney beans.  A can of tuna.  A jar of toffee-flavored coffee sweetener.  How do you make breakfast and dinner for 10 men every day with these pantry remnants?  “We are so blessed,” said Betty.  Thankfully the holiday cheer drives a flood of donations, while the rest of the year the shelves dry up.

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A snapshot of The Sleeping Room – 10 beds in a studio apartment.  The small kitchen and dining room is just behind the camera on the other side of these beds, while the bathroom with shower is down a small hallway.  Upon entering you relinquish all pocket contents and bags in exchange for a clean set of pajamas to be worn after your shower and dinner.

 

The hour spent there was quick but meaningful.  We returned to spend the evening enjoying the warm weather by our backyard campfire deep in thought over the experiences of our country’s homeless.  What is it like to survive on the streets?  How does involuntary urban camping change your daily habits: when/where to go to the bathroom, what counts as entertainment or dead weight, and what types of behaviors (like sitting on a curb or carrying a book bag) while completely normal for many attract unwanted suspicion and attention?  How long can you survive being homeless?

Most of all, it made us think how completely insufficient this tiny studio apartment-turned shelter for 10 men was to quell the needs of the local homeless.  Elizabeth, a Chicago-area women who recently Airbnb-ed our spare room for a night, told us about her work advocating for Chicago’s homeless population of 140,000.  An estimated 14,000-15,000 men, women, and children each day sleep on the streets of Chicago, yet the city provides only 140 beds for the homeless.  With the high price of real estate in the city, and more and more middle- and upper-middle class professionals paying high rents to gentrify previously poor neighborhoods, there’s no economic incentive to convert Chicago property into shelters.

Homelessness should not be balanced on the backs of people like Betty and Elizabeth alone.  How is homeless everyone’s problem?  And how can the solution be the result of everyone’s work?  So grab a cookie and let’s discuss.

Thumbprint Cookies

 

This is a snapshot of Martha Stewart’s recipe for Thumbprint Cookies, (although I used salted butter and added salt to balance out the sweetness from the raspberry/cloudberry jam).  Eat no less than 3 per day.

 

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Skip to the bottom for 6 global food recipes from 1950s housewives in Walla Walla.

Meatballs.  I grew up eating small, thumb-sized beef meatballs microwaved from their frozen plastic bag and then dumped into a pot of 2 cans of 99 cent Hunts spaghetti sauce.  After swirling my fork around a lump of store-brand boxed noodles, I stabbed each juicy meat pocket before adding a final dollop of sauce for a perfect bite.  Because a whole bag of frozen meatballs was allotted for a family of five, I had a shot of getting 5-6 meatballs to start me off before grabbing a few more for seconds after the first round. If you were really lucky, there were some leftover store-brand hot dog buns on which we lather Country Crock margarine with our butter knives before sprinkling yellow-dyed garlic salt.  It was heaven.

It's like you're photographing my memories! Hot dog bun garlic bread, straight from my margarine covered fingers.

It’s like you’re photographing my memories! Hot dog bun garlic bread, straight from my margarine covered fingers.  Check out Near to Nothing’s recipe here.

Frozen meatballs!?  Spaghetti sauce from a can!?  Store-brand noodles from a box!?  No actual garlic!?  I hear your criticisms through space and time.  No, I did not cut open real garlic until college.  Although I didn’t really know it then (and didn’t really know what I was missing since my siblings and I mostly just befriended each other), it was the best my mom could do.  Teaching fourth graders from 7-4 PM or later, with three kids plus one adult male child for a husband who worked all day, it was all she could do to make sure we were fed quickly and cheaply so she could get some sleep.  And I don’t regret it.  This version of preserved, hydrogenated, frozen Italian American food has always been my most favorite meal.  Spaghetti and meatballs is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, carb, vegetable, and protein, main course and dessert.  It’s good cold or hot.  It’s quick and wholesome — comfort food fast.

Sam's Club meatballs! With a family of five, you gotta buy them in bulk. Check out this recipe for Swedish Meatballs from Laura's Latest here.

Sam’s Club meatballs! With a family of five, you gotta buy them in bulk. Check out this recipe for Swedish Meatballs from Laura’s Latest here.

Yet meatballs haven’t always been joyous spaghetti speckles of opulence.  At Global Food: Local Perspectives on October 22 at Purdue University, Dr. Simone Cinotto gave an interesting lecture about the myths and realities of Italian American food culture which can be reduced to the transformation of the lowly meatball. Presenting material from his book The Italian American Table, Simone argued that Italian food culture has been mis-remembered as always being rich and plentiful, but that it was instead a post-immigration shift for the majority of Italy’s working-class citizens.  Italians who ventured to the US did so out of economic necessity, often shaking out bread crumbs and clinging pots and pans to create a symphony of cooking for neighbors for meals that never existed.  Working-class Italian families in the US were able to finally afford rich meats, breads, and cheeses in ways they never could in Italy – ultimately producing a dense and diverse Italian American food culture in New York City and beyond.

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Check out these gorgeous photos by Vicky Wasik who breaks down a recipe from Serious Eats for the juiciest, tastiest meatballs.

Although spaghetti and meatballs is considered a classic Italian dish (perhaps made most pop culturally famous with Lady and the Tramp), large baseball-sized meatballs of pork, veal, beef, and spices haven’t always been a sign of opulence.  Meatballs were a working-class tool for spreading meat out farther, stretching the cheapest cuts of ground mystery meat by mixing in nearly equal amounts of bread crumbs to make golf-ball sized polpettes.

Oh dear, have I eaten some Ikea meatballs in my lifetime.

Oh dear, have I eaten some Ikea meatballs in my lifetime.

According to John Surico at Serious Eats:

While more wealthy northern Italians tended to move out to central and western states, southern Italians made landfall in downtown Manhattan within proximity of Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany—an enclave of German transplants settled in the Lower East Side, who ran many butcher shops that sold beef and pork. In Italy, those meats were hard to come by in the south, and usually were accompanied by high prices, so a ready supply of more affordable red meat became a gold mine for the growing Italian population…The meatball-as-convenience-food concept grew steadily through the turn of the century, as more and more of New York and the country settled into a standardized eight-hour workday. With a greater percentage of the workforce—male and female—conforming to a 9 to 5 schedule, pre-made dishes like meatballs functioned as a kind of fast food, especially when loaded into a crusty hero loaf. Reliable, recognizable, and reasonably priced, they made for an easy meal with few strings attached. And along the way they solidified the American understanding of what “Italian food” meant.

So, in practice of Global Foods: Local Perspectives, in celebration of the World Series, and in remembrance of all my delicious microwaved food of my youth, here are TWO recipes for meatballs from Walla Walla, Washington in 1950, along with several other delicious globally-inspired fusion recipes from Cold War-era housewives.  Dig in and read Lisa Banu’s coverage of Global Food: Local Perspectives here!  More reflections to come.

World Recipes from pg 17, Walla Walla Union Bulletin October 1, 1950

World Recipes from pg 17, Walla Walla Union Bulletin October 1, 1950

Part of my grant included my meeting and networking with Dr. Simone Cinotto, Associate Professor of Modern History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (a food studies university run by the farm-to-table organization Slow Food International).

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Dr. Cinotto arguing with a woman (who argued back) about the most recent year one could buy a pet at the market.  I stood by attentively…. 

Fortunately (!), Dr. Cinotto suggested we meet in Turin at Porta Palazzo – the largest open-air market in Europe.  Needless to say, I jumped into my rented Fiat and sped through crimson poppy-lined toll roads to make it there!  His instructions were simple:

Dear Kera can we meet at the corner of via Milano and Porta Palazzo (Piazza della Repubblica) at 11:00 am Friday? I trust you can find the intersection I am talking about on Google Maps. If you think it’s confusing let me know and we’ll choose another location.

I am 52, 6 feet, big, white hair, and black-frame looking glasses.

I responded:

Perfetto! I am 5 feet, very pale, am blind but wear contacts, and speak terrible Italia-ish, but I have seen your photo enough on various websites that I should be able to hunt you down.

See you soon e grazie!

And did I get lost?  No sirr-YES.  Yes, I got lost.  But luckily not too lost before I found him waiting patiently at one of the market’s busy entrances.  But I did spot his sterling gray locks from about 300 feet away (be impressed).

The rain-soaked streets of Turin

The rain-soaked streets of Turin – did I mention it rained that day?  What a great city to get some rain.

I apologized profusely for our delay, and he did what any Italian professor does best – he graciously extended, “Piacere” (nice to meet you), and dove right into a delightfully interactive lecture on the history of the market while we meandered through the vibrant tightly-wound alleyways of market stalls.  No time to stop and smell the roses though, since the pace moves rapid-fire, requiring you to “throw up ‘bows” to make it out of there with your wallet.

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Colorful fresh fruit at discount prices – all at your fingertips.

The market is HUGE, with more than 50,000 square meters, which works out to about a bajillion feet.  You can find more pictures and a brief history at The Wandering Epicures (this blog particularly emphasizes the fine meat selection available there).  Most importantly, what I learned was that the history of immigrants is essential to the food history of Italy.  You should actually check out Rebecca Black’s book Porta Palazzo: The Anthropology of an Italian Market, which Dr. Cinotto highly suggested I read to fully capture the rich cultural diversity of one of Europe’s main commercial spaces.

See those tiny squares? Those are food stalls that spread far and wide, inside of buildings and outside. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything 😦  There were too many choices and not enough time (since the market closes by about 1 PM).  You should definitely go!

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Simone and I walking through the fish market inside Porta Palazzo 

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The view of a vineyard and the epic Basilica Superga in Torino from PanPerdu B&B

One of my first stops (after regaining consciousness after a debilitating 2 days of jet lag) was Sciolze – a small, beautiful city outside of Torino/Turin where I would meet my faculty advisor, Dr. Simone Cinotto.  I stayed with a family of three – a French-speaking mother who restores 16th century paintings, an Italian-speaking father who runs an enoteca (wine store) in Torino, and a teenage daughter who is learning Spanish in school.  Completely exhausted from traveling in Milan’s heavy traffic and toll roads, I asked Antonieta if she could recommend a wine store nearby or had some wine I could purchase in order to stay in for the evening.  Her husband, Bartolome,  returned to give me a lesson on wine, explaining in such beautiful Ital-ish how his wines were locally sourced.

One startling difference between living in Muncie and venturing in Italy is everything is local.  Your wine is all local, your cured meats are all local, your fine cheeses are all local (no need for fancy Brie) – and most likely, if you ask the server, slicer, or any plain ol’ Italian about its background, they’ll probably give you some delightful details on its origin.

Antonieta and Bartolome - my wonderful hosts at PanPerdu Bed and Breakfast

Antonieta and Bartolome – my wonderful hosts at PanPerdu Bed and Breakfast in Sciolze, Italy.  In the words of their website, “The ‘panperdu’ is the name given to an ancient recipe of Piedmont where the old bread, to be thrown away, becomes a delicious, nutritious and healthy breakfast: precisely that feeling for tradition and the old, together with the creativity that characterizes our life. ” Check out their B&B here: http://www.panperdu.com/

That night, I not only received a small lecture on local wine culture, but enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine, a sampling of meats and cheeses sliced fresh by Antonieta, AND my first bowl of homemade pasta that they shared straight from their kitchen.  It was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I had in Italy because it enabled me to see how kind, giving, and selfless Italians are when it comes to food.  Having a drink of wine?  You must have some food on your plate.  Not very hungry?  How about just a snack of an entire plate of food?  Interested in a bottle of wine?  How about we give you a bottle of our own delicious homemade wine as a gift in addition to a locally-sourced bottle of wine you can drink tonight?  Hungry for breakfast?  We normally just drink a cappuccino for breakfast, but how about a homemade tart, warm just-baked croissants, delicious amber jam, and sugar cookies along with your cappuccini?  I’ll take it!  Ultimately, my stay at Antonieta’s and Bartolome’s taught me that food culture more than just consumption – it’s the people, their homes, their gardens, their families, their communities, their cultures, their histories, and so much more.