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2013 Fall Issue 3 (October 11, 2013)

Firebellies' First Annual Foodgressive: Sharing Culture and Diversity Through Food

October 11, 2013
By Drew Higgins

For a college obsessed with diversity, it often feels like few campus events actually share and celebrate multiculturalism. Vayu Maini Rekdal ’15, the co-president and founder of the cooking club Firebellies, facilitated the club’s first annual Foodgressive last Friday with this in mind.

“I want the foodgressive to be an event where people make connections with new cultures, foods and people,” said Rekdal. “I wanted to give students the chance to taste food and experience other cultures while coming to understand Carleton’s diversity.”

Firebellies’ Foodgressive is like other progressives in that participants move from one stop to the next, but here is where the similarities end. It’s focal point is, obviously, food--delicious, well-prepared food--but it differs mainly in that it offers an entirely new atmosphere in which to consume that food.

At the beginning of the event, participants received itineraries explaining that the Foodgressive is “a celebration of diversity at Carleton” and that “your task is to taste food from all corners of the world. This is a great opportunity to spice up your life, make friends and taste delicious food.”

Six-stops, each representing a different group or house on campus, were scheduled, including Culinary House, LASO (Latin American Student Organization), MOSAIC (Mosaic of South Asian Interests at Carleton), Chinese Club, Scandinavian Club, and Farm Club & Food Truth.

Jackson Van Fleet ’15, a board member of Firebellies, commented that the Foodgressive is “one of the most civil progressives that still succeeds in causing people to go outside of their comfort zone and make connections with new people.”

The first way participants leave their comfort zones is, obviously, by trying new foods. Hosts prepared dishes of particular significance to the cultural group they represented, most of which were entirely unfamiliar to those accustomed to a traditional, western American diet.

At Dacie Moses, MOSAIC cooked aloo matar, because according to Raghav Chandra ’14, “it is one of the staple and most dishes across South Asia, it’s fun to prepare and follows the fried onion curry foundations that many dishes do.”  Van Fleet said that “LASO’s flan affirmed my love of flan” after he “had a very bad experience with flan in my childhood while I was traveling…that caused me to avoid flan for the next decade or so.”

Scandinavia club made Swedish cinnamon buns, or kanelbullar, which was fortuitous as it was National Cinnamon Roll Day in Sweden. Anna Persmark ’15, who helped prepared the dish, added that  “These are a personal favorite of ours, fairly easy to make, [and] very common in Sweden.”

Florence Wong, co-leader of Food Truth who helped with Food Club & Food Truth’s stop at Farm House, was excited to share vegan apple crisp with the group. She said that the crisp “disappeared by the end of the night,” proving that “vegan food and desserts can be just as (or even more) delicious than dishes with animal products in them.”

Beyond experiences with new flavors, participants were also pushed to engage differently with each other. At the first stop, Culinary House, Rekdal announced that before anyone could eat their roasted winter squash salad, they had to feed a stranger. At the second stop, CASA, hosted by LASO, he ordered participants to eat flan without their hands. These instruction were essential in creating, Rekdal said, “a catalyst for new interactions not only between people, but also between people and their food.”

Of course, with so many different clubs and people participating, the event wasn’t easy to plan, and Rekdal’s task was “to bring everything together and coordinating all the moving parts.” For one, it’s difficult to have food prepared and ready at specific times. “We misinterpreted the timing of preparation and were slightly rushed,” Chandra said. Persmark said that Scandinavia club “had to coordinate schedules to get everything ready, and take into account the time it would take for the dough to rise.”

But despite these challenges and complexities, hosts enjoyed the process. Chandra emphasized how “rewarding [it is] to work with friends towards the common goal of serving others,” and Wong echoed his sentiment, remarking that, “Cooking with the group was quite fun, and it’s always amusing to witness the delighted reactions of Foodgressive people.”

The resulting experience felt seamless to participants, who almost uniformly agreed that they would go on future Foodgressives. They even gave suggestions for the future, which included adding beverages and honoring hosts by bringing food samples from other stops.

Down the road, Rekdal hopes that the event will become one of our many traditions, an  “integral part of Carleton life.”

“There is huge cultural diversity at Carleton,” he said, “But sometimes the cultural clubs are perceived only to serve people from their community.  The cultural clubs are here to serve the wider community, and the Foodgressive is an excellent way of showing this. Experiencing new foods is a bridge to something broader, wider than the food itself. It is the chance to connect to different cultures and backgrounds.”

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