‘Four Friends’ connect over food, feminism

Mabel Frank, Lynn Barbera, Brynne Diggins, and Maya Kassahun are one of two groups this year to receive the Four Friends Fellowship.

Tanya Bush Apr. 25, 2017

‘Four Friends’ Connect Over Food and Feminism

The Four Friends Fellowship was established in 2012 by John Youngblood '81, Peter Ross '80, Danal Abrams '80, and Jeff Appelquist '80—collectively, “Four Friends”—in appreciation for all the experiences they had upon meeting at Carleton in the late ‘70s. The Fellowship is awarded annually to a group of two or more Carleton students who propose the most compelling “shared experience to deepen friendship.”

One group of this year’s winners is Mabel Frank ’19 (Evanston, Ill.), Maya Kassahun '19 (Corona, Calif.), Lynn Barbera ’19 (Scottsdale Ariz.), and Brynne Diggins ’19 (Chanhassen, Minn.). We chatted with Frank about the foursome’s upcoming project and how the close friends found their unique bond at the dinner table.

How did you hear about the Four Friends Fellowship?

We heard some people talking about it and thought it was too good to be true. The four of us formed naturally as a group, and we just started brainstorming ridiculous ideas, talking about everything we could possibly do. From there, we knew we had to take advantage of such an incredible opportunity.

How did you come up with your idea and decide to apply together?

I've always been obsessed with Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives (a show on Food Network), so I proposed a food road trip of sorts. If you've ever spoken to any of the four of us, you'll know that it evolved into a conversation critiquing the food and chef celebrity industry for its depiction of women. Men like Guy Fieri of DDD and Adam Richman from Man Vs. Food get on TV and eat without critique, while women are only given space to cook. Have you ever seen Barefoot Contessa? Ina Garten literally just cooks food for her husband to eat. These are the messages of food and gender that we see on television; women prepare the food, and men eat it. When men approach food, they aren’t socialized to consider its origin, calorie content, or size. Somewhere along the way, maleness became equated with unabashedly loving food, and this is an idea we want to challenge.

How did food and feminism come together for you at Carleton?

Food and feminism have been integral in creating valuable relationships between the four of us. Through feminist spaces on campus, such as infemous (Carleton’s feminist zine), and taking common courses that involve feminist discussions, we found each other. These friendships have been kindled and grown over the meals we eat in Carleton’s dining halls—sharing a 6 p.m. dinner at Burton is one of our favorite activities. The conversations we have, laughter we share, and questions we raise are all part of our Carleton experience, our experience as women, and our experience as eaters. This Fellowship will only strengthen and deepen our understandings of ourselves and each other as we explore food and our identities, traveling and learning together. We want to bring these discussions to the forefront at Carleton and encourage others to think about the intersections that feminism and food have in every part of their identities and daily lives.

What will you be doing with the Fellowship?

Our goal is to explore the intersection between food and feminism by interviewing women who own restaurants. We want to hear their stories: What drew them into the food business? What is their relationship with food as both restaurant owners and women? Having these conversations will challenge the notion that women are supposed to make you a sandwich, not eat it.

Over winter break 2017, we’ll spend three weeks traversing Minneapolis and Chicago, eating meals at different women-owned restaurants. We will have the opportunity to not only explore different cuisines, but also learn about intersecting identities through conversations with these chefs, business owners, and food lovers. We are especially interested to visit and support restaurants owned by women of color.

Will you be documenting your visits?

Along the way, we’ll create a blog capturing our experiences and create a documentary film—our response to the male-dominated Food Network shows. The blog will focus on our evolving understandings of our relationships to food and spotlight the women we meet. Back at Carleton, we will host a screening of our documentary and facilitate discussion over a potluck meal. We hope to foster conversations in our community about what food means to individuals and how we can promote healthier relationships with food, regardless of gender identity, body type, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

What are you most excited for?

I'm beyond excited to eat delicious food and meet some incredible women, all while hanging out with my best friends!

What makes this opportunity unique?

The fellowship is just so Carleton. It offers the opportunity to be creative and funny with your best friends. Also, in appropriate Carleton fashion, it's going to be a lot to plan and organize, so it is not without hard work. We're literally being given money to strengthen our friendships with one another, and we're so excited and honored by the opportunity.