by Johnathon Goodenow
Do you like food? Are you open to trying new things? Is learning about different cultures something that interests you? Cuisine and Culture just might be the class for you. Each Interterm, a group of students gets the chance to visit authentic restaurants from various cultural backgrounds. Led by Coach Doug Faulkner and Professor Deloy Cole, these students travel to restaurants in St. Louis and New Orleans to encounter both recipes and people they wouldn’t normally find at their local McDonald’s.
Despite the fact that the course involves a lot of unique elements, it is also very practical, as it provides both cross-cultural and HPR credit. “The cross-cultural part is studying and discussing the cultures with food in mind,” Cole explained. “We ask questions like, ‘Why do they eat this kind of food?’ ‘How do they prepare the food?’ ‘What does food mean in their cultures or their families?’” The students take the time to discuss these questions with people from different cultures, whether they be lecturers on campus or chefs at the restaurants they visit. Cole continued, “We also try to eat family-style or in the style of the culture. When we ate Ethiopian food, we didn’t use forks and knives. People from that culture use little pieces of bread that they roll up and grab food with.” Last Interterm, the students had 15 meals in total, but the class tried to use those meals to cover the widest range of cultures possible. French, Cajun, Creole, and Dominican foods are just a few examples of the meals that the students experienced. For the HPR credit, every student wore a fitbit and was required to either put in 10,000 steps a day or walk for 45 minutes. The exercise helped to counteract some of the less healthy foods that students ate for the class.
When asked if there were any places or foods that stuck out to him from the trip, Cole said, “We’re always getting asked that, and it’s really hard to decide because we have so many unique experiences. I think for me, it was Ethiopian. I was pleasantly surprised, and you know it’s going to be a good place when you can’t understand them on the phone.”
When senior John Freeman took Cuisine and Culture last Interterm, he remembered enjoying several great meals. However, the food was not the aspect he enjoyed most about the trip. The things he ended up loving most were the people and experiences in new places. He recounted stories of listening to a jazz band play in the French Quartet of New Orleans, a quirky Italian tour guide who was very knowledgeable about soap, and conversations that the class had with several restaurant managers. The manager for a German restaurant in St. Louis told them the history of the city and of motorcycle racing. A man in New Orleans spoke about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on people in that area. The experience that stood out to Freeman most, however, was the class’s visit to Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans.
“I had never heard of Leah Chase before, but when I walked into her restaurant I could tell that there was something special about her,” said Freeman. “Along the walls there were pictures of her standing with important black figures like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Obama. I felt like a peasant who had walked into a castle and had no idea what kingdom he was in. I asked other people who she was and learned about the amazing things that she had done as an advocate for civil rights. When she came out and saw me, she sought me out to compliment my looks and kissed me on the hand like I was royalty. I commented about this to a wise friend of mine, Jessie Amaro, who helped me understand why. ‘You’re a black youth in college who has his hair shaven and pressed up. You’re the absolute prime of everything her generation strived to achieve.’ The whole experience was really humbling and made me think about what my existence means to people who don’t even know me.”
The stories that people from different cultural backgrounds tell can offer important insights on history and can help influence our worldviews. There is something to be learned both from underrepresented cultures that have existed in the United States for a long time, and from recent immigrants with extremely different worldviews. In either case, students’ exposure to new ideas is very important. Cuisine and Culture effectively fills this purpose and gives students the opportunity to interact with kinds of people that they might otherwise never meet.