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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.

 

Food Flag

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.

 

Tisha_Japanese Flag

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.

 

Elisse_Kanaka maoli flag

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?

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.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 1

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.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 2

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.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 3

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!