Culinary & Cultural Education via Local Resources & Events

Nutritional Anthropology and Culinary Education

Every culture has its own set of values, rituals, and traditions surrounding food. The staple ingredients, indulgences, and forbidden fruits of a given culture are influenced by agricultural systems, habitat, ethical concepts, and religious beliefs. Holidays and celebrations around the world are associated with traditional and ritual foods. Have you ever wondered why birthday cakes are round? Or why latkes are fried during Hanukkah and Buche de Noel’s are baked at Christmas? Food traditions from fish on Friday to turkey on Thanksgiving are rich in history and a delicious lens for learning about culture.

In western Massachusetts, community meals and culinary workshops offer opportunities for learning about culture through food. The Italian Cultural Center of Western Massachusetts, for example, periodically offers culinary classes, teaching participants to make traditional Italian foods such as gnocchi and tortellini. You can also learn about nutritional anthropology through other culinary art traditions by attending cultural events like the Greek Glendi in Springfield, dining on authentic Tibetan cooking at Lhasa Cafe in Northampton, or shopping at Tran’s World Food Market in Hadley can also expose you to new cultures via food.

Pair your interest in culture via food with a documentary on Israeli cuisine on Sunday, June 5 at 2pm at the Yiddish Book Center. This documentary will teach viewers about the culture of Israli cuisine at a community film screening. The 2016 documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine poses the question: What is Israeli cuisine? Israel is made up more than 100 different cultures. This film profiles chefs, home cooks, farmers, wine makers, and cheese makers of Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, and Druze faiths. Watching this film can help you connect with your heritage or learn about a new culture through food. 413-256-4900. 1021 West Street. Amherst, MA.


Related archived posts:

Yiddish Language & Culture Celebrated at the Yiddish Book Center

Family Passover Celebration Connects Community to Jewish Culture & Heritage through Yiddish!

Learning about Jewish culture and history often leads parents and children to conversations about their own family’s history, culture, and traditions. In celebration of Passover, families can connect to Jewish culture or personal Jewish heritage by speaking Yiddish!

How do you think? Do your thoughts take the form of words, images, a combination of the two, or something else? In all likelihood, much of your thought processing takes the form of words. Even when you are not thinking in sentences, the syntax of your native language may influence the way you perceive the world around you. The idea that native language structure affects thought is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

In English, for example, our sentence structure and patterns of speaking often ascribes an agent for a given action or event. If an object accidentally breaks, we may say something like, “She broke the plate.” In Spanish or Japanese, however, a native speaker may say something more akin to, “The plate broke itself.” (This Wall Street Journal article provides many more examples of linguistic differences and their affects.)

There is a chicken-and-egg problem with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Does language really affect the way we think, or does the way we think influence our language?  Read the rest of this entry »

Intergenerational Drawing Events Support Creative Free Play & Community Connections

Community Drawing Events Inspire Creative Free Play and Self Expression

Creative free play and artistic expression are the focus of two very unique upcoming community events. Using drawing as a central element, these events illuminate the versatility and expressive potential of the art form. Accessible to self-identified artists, reluctant creators, and everyone in between, spring’s artistic opportunities offer rich community-based learning opportunities relating to creativity and self-expression.  Read the rest of this entry »

Local History Through the Lens of Food: Nutritional Anthropology in the Pioneer Valley

Exhibit Chronicles Northampton History Through Food

Interested in the history of food? Take a peak at the new exhibit in Northampton. Come see how people produced and sold food and how people cooked and ate it, through the years. The exhibition is curated by Barbara B. Blumenthal, a member of Historic Northampton’s Board of Trustees. Barbara was a museum guide and hearth cook at Historic Northampton in the 1980s and early 1990s. Her passion for local history and food history led her to poke around in our collections looking for tasty tidbits to share with the public.

Historic Northampton offers a food-centric take on the city’s history through Table Talk: Food, Cooking, and Eating in Northampton Then and Now, an exhibit chronicling the production, purchase, and preparation of the foods enjoyed throughout two and a half centuries of Northampton’s history. With its focus lying on the city’s food-filled downtown, the exhibit offers a new take on the history of local food : rather than sharing the history of farming in Northampton, the exhibit emphasizes the role that local businesses – especially restaurants – have played in the local food chain.

On view from now until May 1, 2016, Table Talk: Food, Cooking, and Eating in Northampton Then and Now has much to offer. Made up of a collection of photographs, food-related objects and tools, and historical information and anecdotes, the exhibit speaks to more than just food history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chinese New Year Brings Opportunities for Cultural Studies

History, Culture & Community Can All Be Found at Western MA Agricultural Fairs

Agricultural Fairs Celebrate and Preserve Local Culture

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Agricultural fairs, primarily established by agricultural societies for the purpose of agriculture promotion, science and education, celebrate New England history and local culture in communities all over western Massachusetts throughout late summer and early fall.  These generations-old traditions of agriculture, self-sufficiency, and resiliency in rural communities afford families opportunities to participate in intergenerational community-based traditions while offering a myriad of entertainment and learning experiences through the lens of culture and food.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

Abuela
by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating May Day: Events & Activities

Celebrating May Day in Western MA

May Day has a rich history. Today, a fully celebrated May Day likely includes May baskets filled with flowers, beautifully dressed Morris dancers, and the wrapping of a May pole.

Following Easter, spring’s next basket-centric, color-filled holiday is May Day! Much evolved from its earlier historical and cultural roots, a modern May Day includes baskets full of bright flowers, outdoor folk dancing, and other celebrations of spring. While there is no one event or celebration to which we can trace modern May Day’s roots, there are a handful of possibilities. In Roman times, May Day celebrations praised Chloris, the goddess of the earth and these earliest celebrations inspired similar May Day traditions in cultures for centuries to come. The ancient Celtic festival of Beltane was held on May 1, and celebrated the coming of summer with bonfires and dancing. Germany’s Walpurgisnacht similarly celebrates springtime in a Pagan way, with bonfires and wrapping a may pole.

Today, a fully celebrated May Day likely includes May baskets filled with flowers, beautifully dressed Morris dancers, and the wrapping of a May pole. This year, families have multiple opportunities to experience a true May Day celebration in Western Massachusetts. On Thursday, May 1st at 11am, the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School invites community members to join with students in celebrating with a May pole, Morris dancers, and a picnic! BYO lunch to enjoy on the lawn after dancing and pole-decorating have ended. Also on May 1st is the second ever Florence Night Out, the spring installment of which features a May pole, the Marlboro Morris Men, and the Guided Star Clog Morris Troupe on the Trinity Row Triangle Green at 5pm.

Families with small children can join the Cushman Scott Children’s Center for a May Day celebration from 9-11am on Saturday, May 3rd. Families can enjoy a pancake breakfast, crafts, Morris Dancers, and more – all at the early education center, located at 71 Henry Street. Read the rest of this entry »

Women and Food Photographic Exhibition in Easthampton

Women and Food Photographic Exhibition
September 3rd – September 30th
Easthampton City Arts+ Gallery

Springfield Attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, her daughter, Mahmooda, and son, Dawud.

Easthampton City Arts+ Gallery will display local artist and writer Sarah Platanitis’ photographic project, “Women and Food,” this September.  Platanitis edits and writes for the blog Sarah in the Kitchen, and developed The Women and Food Project while working on articles for the blog, for which she visited women from many walks of life in their kitchens and food-related spaces.

“During interviews, I would hear such great side stories that I sadly couldn’t include in the pieces. Still, I wrote them down anyway, hoping that one day I could go back and spend time again with these women,” says Platanitis. “I wanted to learn more about why they do what they do when it comes to food.”

When asked how she thought this exhibit would appeal to a younger audience, Platanitis explains, “I think a younger audience would benefit from seeing the exhibit because the women in the Project are great role models.  They are successful at their work, they give back to their communities and they love what they do…”

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Trekking: The Russian Guitar

Discovering The Balalaika

If you’re watching someone “rock out” in the USA, chances are they are playing a guitar. It might be a bass guitar, an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar or maybe even a 12 string guitar, but it probably is some kind of guitar. Along with the banjo and the fiddle, it’s one of our country’s “stringed instruments of choice.” Now if you were to travel almost halfway around the world to countries like Russia or the Ukraine, you’d also see some pretty amazing musicians and musical groups. But instead of the familiar guitar, they might be making their own musical magic with a triangular-shaped instrument called a balalaika.

Unlike the guitar, the balalaika is actually a family of instruments with a variety of sizes from the smaller, mandolin-sized prima balalaika to a huge contrabass balalaika which is so large that it needs wooden legs to support it as it stands on the floor. And the contra bass is so large that it is played with a pick made from a large piece of leather or even a boot heel – wow!

If you’d like to see a balalaika, check out this video in Yiddish and English called Tum Balalaika:

This folksong from Eastern Europe is actually a riddle song. In the original Yiddish, a boy is seeking a lovely girl who is as pretty as she is smart. So he stays up all night and devises a series of riddles that are questions for her. The chorus of the song: “tum bala, tum bala, tum, balalaika” imitates the strum of the balalaika. If you’d like to see some of the riddles he poses, there’s an English translation below.

Because I often sing for audiences that speak mainly English, I sing the original verse in Yiddish and then add new verses in English that tell the story. The girl is as clever (or more clever) then the boy. She answers all his questions then asks him to be her beau. It’s a perfect ending since the young lady also wanted a boyfriend as clever as he might be handsome!

If you’d like to see and hear an actual balalaika, check out this balalaika orchestra:

You’ll see a group of boys and men of various ages playing the Beatles Song “Yesterday” on their balalaikas. Notice the different sizes and shapes working together to create the beautiful melody.

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Trekking: The Chinese New Year

Happy New Year and Happy Chinese New Year!

Along with the January 1st ringing in of the new year, there are several other types of new year celebrations that are marked by different cultures, countries and other religions. For instance, on January 23rd, Chinese New Year celebrates the arrival of a new year – the year of the Dragon!

What’s a Chinese New Year celebration like? Great fun and lots of festivities. I’ve chosen this video from Sydney, Australia’s Chinese New Year celebration because they’ve boiled a huge amount of the city’s activities into a short video. Take a look and you’ll see awesome parades, music, martial arts, dragon boat races, and much more — plus they’ve even added some of their own Australian Aboriginal music. In this video, you can see a short segment of people playing the didgeridoo and the bilma (Australian clapsticks) making it a truly multicultural celebration:

What is Chinese music like when a big celebration is not in full swing? Check out this video of a popular group of traditional musicians from China called the 12 Girls Band (女子十二乐坊). In this video you can see them playing some really unique instruments such as a Chinese fiddle called an erhu, a pear shaped lute called a pipa, a hammered dulcimer as well as several types of flutes and zithers. Although this group was formed to play Chinese folk music, they also do some amazing versions of folksongs from other cultures such as “El Condor Pasa” and even versions of songs written by modern artists such as Coldplay and Enya. I chose this video because it allows you to get a close look at the 12 girls in the band and the instruments that they play:

Until next month … Happy New Year(s) to you!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has created 7 cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her “world music for kids” website, www.dariamusic.com, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.  She has also created a multicultural kids video site as well as My Favorite Multicultural Books.

A free copy of this month’s song can be downloaded on Daria’s Monthly Song Page.

If you’d like to check out more about instruments from this region of the world, Daria will be sharing Chinese New Year customs, the Tibetan Singing Bowl and a “Make-Your-Own” Chinese Gong craft this month at Making Multicultural.

Music Trekking: Games and Music for Hanukkah

Watch a Little Dreydl Spin!

December is such an exciting time of year as folks prepare for holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. For those who are celebrating Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, there are goodies to prepare, a menorah to light with it’s eight special candles, relatives to greet and a wonderful little game to play based on a top that spins, called the dreydl (or dreidel).

So why is it called a dreydyl? The word “dreyen” in Yiddish means “to spin” so the name makes perfect sense. The dreydyl song talks about a toy made out of clay and it is certain that the first dreydls were made this way. If you have one today – it is probably made from either wood or plastic. And it will have four Hebrew letters on it. What does each letter mean? Well, it tells the tale behind Hanukkah, how a very small bit of oil that should have lasted only a short time was miraculously able to burn in the Temple for 8 days! It spoke volumes to the Jewish people about how God was able to provide for those who were faithful. If you watch the video, the letters will appear and you can see their meaning as well as how they relate to playing the game.

If you’d like to play the dreydl game at home, you’ll need a pile of goodies. You can use walnuts, candies, pennies or special chocolate coins called Hanukkah gelt (literally, Hanukkah money). Everyone takes a turn spinning the top and they either pass their turn, add a treat to the pot, take half of the pot or take it all. What fun!

Is this a custom your family does around the holidays? If so, why not share it with some friends and teach them about the things you do. If not, what are the special customs that mean the most to your loved ones? Can you share them with your neighbors or friends so they can enjoy them as well.

Whatever holidays you celebrate – may they be bright, beautiful and full of love!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has created 7 cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her “world music for kids” website, www.dariamusic.com, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.  She has also created a multicultural kids video site as well as My Favorite Multicultural Books.

A free copy of this month’s song can be downloaded on Daria’s Monthly Song Page.

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