Veronica Nehasil '21 works on her dish of vegan green tea cupcakes for the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover.Veronica Nehasil '21 works on her dish of vegan green tea cupcakes for the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21

Led by COA Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Dr. Kourtney Collum, the event heaps layers of meaning onto the award-winning TAB cuisine, as students from the class cook and share diverse dishes of personal and cultural significance. With the aim of having TAB patrons view the food they consume in a new light, students in the Anthropology of Food course collaborate with TAB work-study students and dining services directors to bring historical, political, and social context to mealtimes.

Julia Clemens ’19 serves up Hog Maw for the Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. The recipe for the dish, traditionally made with pig stomach and potatoes, has been passed down to her through her family.Julia Clemens ’19 serves up Hog Maw for the Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. The recipe for the dish, traditionally made with pig stomach and potatoes, has been passed down to her through her family. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21“Food is far more than just a form of nourishment or a matter of taste; food is consciously and unconsciously imbued with meaning and significance,” Collum says. “Through this assignment we hope to help the broader COA community think about the social and political histories of the foods we eat; how things like war and globalization and colonialism have shaped our diets. The assignment isn’t meant to provide any answers; the goal is to prompt endless questions. It’s literal food for thought.”

There is a strong tradition of student engagement with TAB, and many of the recipes that the kitchen crew uses have been passed down to the community through students who have done their work-study in the kitchen. The TAB Takeover is another opportunity to diversify this mix, says dining services co-director Ken Sebelin.

Veronica Nehasil's vegan green tea cupcakes are a big hit for patrons of the COA Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover.Veronica Nehasil's vegan green tea cupcakes are a big hit for patrons of the COA Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21“I learned all kinds of interesting things, and everyone brought something different to the table. My role was a facilitator; we really let the students be the boss for the night so that we were the ones learning,” Sebelin says. “Now these dishes can become TAB regulars. We’ve kept all the recipes and you can definitely say we will try them again.”

Accompanying their dishes, each Anthropology of Food student is ready to share stories and discuss why their dish is important to them, and to give insight into the larger historical or cultural significance of the food. Julia Clemens ’19, chose Hog Mow for her dish, using a recipe that had been passed down through generations in her family. The dish, a pig stomach traditionally stuffed with potatoes or other meats, reflects her family’s connection the Pennsylvania Dutch, a group of settlers in Pennsylvania whose original ancestors came from Germany, she says.

Students line up for breakfast for dinner by Audra McTague ’19 during the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. Students line up for breakfast for dinner by Audra McTague ’19 during the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover.  Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21“I feel like a lot of people associate hamburgers and french fries with North America, but I don’t think these foods necessarily define us,” Clemens says. “I have realized that I eat a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch food. Maybe we don’t have a lot of overarching national cuisines, but I, for one, am from a place where there is a special local cuisine.”

Through sharing a dish that is not “normal” to many Northern American diets, Clemens is able to challenge the notion that food in this country is homogeneous and devoid of culture, when in fact it is the opposite - a rich mix of diverse traditions stemming from around the world, she says.

Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) is presented by Aimée Miranda ’21 for the TAB Takeover. Miranda is a student in Dr. Kourtney Collum's Anthropology of Food course, which takes over the dining hall every year to bring social and historical perspectives to daily meals.Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) is presented by Aimée Miranda ’21 for the TAB Takeover. Miranda is a student in Dr. Kourtney Collum's Anthropology of Food course, which takes over the dining hall every year to bring social and historical perspectives to daily meals. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21“I wanted to pick something that I think will be semi-odd but still tasty,” she says. “In the average North American cuisine we don’t eat a lot of organs, so I feel like pig stomach was something that people might be afraid to try, despite that it’s not that much different from sausage casing.”

The diversity of cuisines is a topic that merits critical thinking, according to Collum. The assimilation of certain dishes into US national cuisine is reflective of a turbulent past of colonization, slavery, immigration and an increasingly globalized economy, her students learn.

In this regard, the idea of sharing a food of cultural importance has been a challenge for Clemens, as the notion of what may be considered authentic cuisine in the US is not an easy topic to grapple with.

“I have been thinking a lot about what is authentic. Even dishes authentic to a specific culture, can they be authentic to a country? Can they be considered authentic if they incorporate an ingredient that did not originate from the soil of that country? Or a tradition taken from somewhere else?” she asks.

It is themes like this that Collum wants students to ponder throughout the process of cooking and sharing their personal dish: a simple childhood memory could develop from a delicious food to a complex social commentary. Fundamentally, the TAB takeover serves as a gateway into the larger themes of cultural identity that students will continue to discuss throughout the duration of the course, she says.

Lemon goat cheese cheesecake made by Téa Speek '20 for the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover.Lemon goat cheese cheesecake made by Téa Speek '20 for the annual Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21“With the current popularity of alternative food movements a lot of people are thinking about where their food comes from. But beyond questioning who our farmer is and how far food has traveled to get to us, as a society I think we’re still remarkably unreflective about food,” Collum says.

While the TAB Takeover recognizes the rich and complex history of food, for participants, it provides a window into the simple beauty of people from different cultures coming together to share something as personal as their favorite foods. For many of the students involved in the TAB takeover, the opportunity to do so was momentous.

“Eating Hog Mow is one of my favorite childhood memories. Just a chance to cook in TAB was special, but I think being able to share something of value with all of our peers was even more important,” Clemens says. “Food is something that connects everyone, it is a necessity that we place value on through traditions and cultures. So to be able share those values with everyone at COA was an amazing opportunity.”

Indigo Woods ’21, right, and <a href="/live/profiles/1217-lise-desrochers">Lise Desrockers</a>, left, co-director of food services, work on a dish of Mexican home fries and guacamole for the yearly COA Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover.Indigo Woods ’21, right, and Lise Desrockers, left, co-director of food services, work on a dish of Mexican home fries and guacamole for the yearly COA Anthropology of Food TAB Takeover. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21

Food services co-director Lise Desrochers says that she is happy to play a part in the Takeover, and that the collaboration with kitchen staff and course students is often quite successful.

“I always like to say we do these in the spirit of the dish, because something that your mother made for three people is not going to taste exactly the same when made for 300 people. So, we make a few adjustments,” Desrochers says. “My role, and the kitchen’s role, is to help bring that dish of theirs to fruition, to bring it to life.”