Documentation

Included below are some thoughts on the process. We also created a private Facebook page (thanks to Stephanie!) which provided a useful working tool for the group, a valuable gathering of information, and a frequently hilarious documentation of our journey together.

(due to technical difficulties, Jimi and Melinda are unfortunately not yet listed among the authors of this blog, even though their contributions are many and vital)

NAS 415 pdf

Ben:

It was an evolutionary process creating the Feast for Change. Simple ideas developed or failed depending upon many unique factors. Originally, I believed that to feed a large group, you simply need a large amount of food; not so. There were many challenges to getting 30 people moving in the same direction, but it is impressive what groups such as this can accomplish when it happens. To delve into each consideration we made would make this narrative into an extremely dry novel. To avoid this, I categorized considerations into bullet points and discuss further those that were of the highest importance.

>Planning
What, where, how do we feed X amount of people? How many people to invite? Who to invite? Are there any dietary considerations? How do we compensate those who help us achieve our goal? When to hold the event? When to have our group collaborations? How do we invite participants?

> Legalities and Risk
Do we need to contact the health department? Are we breaking any laws? Do we care? Are there ways to avoid any legal issues?

>Food
How do we feed X amount of people? What is the food budget? What are the ingredients? How is it prepared? How will it be served? Who eats first? Will we have paper plates?

>Educating the public
Can we get singers? How can we engage the public?

>Unforeseen difficulties
Wiring at the Cristus Collegium, finding a cooking surface that was seasoned, serving the pancakes in an efficient manner

The planning of the event was a difficult endeavor. It’s surprising how hard it is to align 30 people’s schedules even months in advance. There was much discussion about when it would be most convenient to hold such an event. There were lengthy debates over dates and times and it was difficult to get a solid group consensus. Eventually, we all figured that October 28 would be the most beneficial date.

When we did finally nail down the date, there were many more planning aspects that needed to be addressed: such as where to hold the event, how many people to invite, how to invite them, dietary considerations, etc. Originally, we hoped that an open invitation would suffice; however there were legal ramifications to be addressed. Our public health liaison brought much needed knowledge to assuage these fears. In response to his wisdom, it was decided that, to avoid possible legal trouble, each person in the class was to invite two to three people. This not only overcame the possibility of a lawsuit, should someone get sick, but it also kept the number of feasters at a known and manageable level.

With this in mind, we were able to avoid any and all issues relating to public health, provided we all kept our areas and meals clean and free of contaminants.

Another aspect of finalizing a date was that it allowed us to begin considering the location. After much debate, the Cristus Collegium was determined to be the place. There were many reasons for this decision; chief among them were price and accommodations. Not only was this locale the most modestly priced, it also had a large kitchen, tables and chairs, and was large enough that each group could have their own space to work with. On top of all of that, it was a centrally located venue that wouldn’t be difficult to find.

When the general planning considerations were taken care of, we were left to figure out the menus. The Southeastern Corn Group, as we came to call ourselves, chose to focus on corn as the staple in our menu. We came to this conclusion following the knowledge that it was among the most important additions to the foods of the southeastern native cultures. Our menu really came into focus after Jimi contacted the Mvskoke Nation and came up with a list of food ideas. I chose to make the Sour Corn Pancakes, which turned out to be a fun and complicated process, which will be expanded on following the conclusion of the bullet points.

Budgetary concerns were paramount in our menu planning. Due to the fact that we’re all college student, we had limited funds to put towards our ingredients, but we wished to provide nutritious and delicious fare nonetheless. This was accomplished with the help of group members calling around and soliciting businesses to aid in our attempt. This culminated in a $50 gift certificate from the Co-op which we were able to utilize to acquire most of our ingredients. The rest of the ingredients were purchased by our group members.

The bulk of our menu items were able to be prepared ahead of time, which made for easy presentation at the venue. The only exception to this was my sour corn pancakes which I chose to make fresh at the event. This caused some unforeseen problems however, which will be expanded upon following the bullet points.

Entertainment and public engagement were the final decisions to be made previous to the event. Luckily, there were many people with unique associations that they were able to convince to come and help us in this respect. Aside from speakers and singers, each group made handouts and other informative packets to give to feasters in order to educate them about where the foods came from, why they were important, and brief descriptions about the cultures from which they originated. All of this combined to make for an informative, relevant, and powerful experience. Also, each group made baskets filled with items related to the culture and place that they were to represent.

The end result of all of this collaboration was a beautifully wrought exposition highlighting native cultures and their contributions to our modern diet. Through the hard work and dedication of all group members, we were able to make this information come alive. For my part, I had a lot of fun engaging in such an event and wish that something like this would be required in my future classes related to food systems. The act of feeding people really brings the knowledge gained in such a class to a more pertinent form.

The act of creating my own recipe was exciting. When Jimi came up with the menu, I tried to find a recipe for sour corn pancakes all over the internet: from native food websites to those of more contemporary cooking. When I was unable to find any such recipes, I began to look into some of my old cookbooks in the hope of finding something that would suffice. I eventually found a recipe for a wheat flour sourdough starter. After a few failed attempts, I figured out how to make it work. The most important part of the starter was the fact that it must be prepared about a week in advance. This I accomplished by making several different prototypes, and picking the best among them. All of the different starters were set in the only room in my apartment that would keep a stable heat and I stirred them two to three times per day to ensure proper fermentation.

When I found which one worked best, then I had to figure out a recipe for pancakes. This too was difficult as corn flour is somewhat heavier and lacks the gluten which holds wheat flour products together. Through much trial and error, I was able to come up with a batter that was thin enough to allow fermentation, but thick enough to hold together while it cooked. I had to try about ten different methods of mixing ingredients, different ratios of ingredients, and many variations of thicknesses of batter and pancakes before I was able to become comfortable with the result.

I then prepared individual starters for the baskets by simply feeding them equal parts of corn flour and water with a bit of sugar to help the yeast along. This mixture was stirred several times per day but, due to the age and ravenous nature of the yeast, they were ready overnight. These were given away at the event to anyone with a wish to acquire a sour corn starter.

The day of the event, I chose to make the pancakes at the southeastern group’s table, as it would make the serving easier and cleaner, and would allow for a more engaging experience. This, however, was complicated by antiquated wiring at the venue. Each time I tried to plug the electric griddle into the wall, it shorted out the connection. I tried several times to change sockets or locations, but the circuits kept overloading. Eventually, I sucked it up and chose to use the kitchen to cook. While this took me out of the main area, and made for a bunch of pancakes that would sit lifeless in a crockpot, I felt that they would, at least, be eaten. Also, in the panic and interim between mixing the baking soda mixture into the batter and finally cooking the pancakes, the batter got heavy and the pancakes did as well.

The feast, as a whole was a wonderful success. While I had my difficulties, my group really pulled together to help and we, as a whole, created a very impressive menu. Never have I had such a competent group to work with and it seemed as if, anytime one of us had troubles, the rest pulled the extra weight. I feel blessed that I was able to meet such a group and look forward (for the first time in my college career) to the next time I get to have such an event.


Evan:

Native Food System/Feast For Change Notes

Legal Issues and Irrelevancy

As expected, legal matters quickly arose as a central issue to work our feast around. Our objective is to have a feast that is open to the community, since this is a project for community involvement. Open to community implies a “public” event, and that means subjected to food regulations, which, in my opinion, any indigenous practices should be left alone by the government. Nevertheless, the campus, which I had already known, is extremely regulated and not conducive to community meals, much less indigenous ones featuring wild game, or anything outside of the industrial food system. We discussed this in class, with some students claiming that this must be public, and must follow regulations. Some even proceeded to pursue details for certifications and met with campus food officials. Fortunately this move was overturned in class as we became overwhelmed with technicalities, and a feeling that it as all irrelevant to a native food system. And so it was decided that the feast would not be “public” but invitation only, but selectively inviting the as many elders, and children, especially Native Americans.

Numbers

There continued to be more discussion of who to invite, and more importantly, how many, to invite.  But since we did not have a location selected, we could say nothing about capacity. And so a commission was formed to decide on a location, acquire, and manage the finances of renting whatever space we needed. It was a very good thing that we formed a commission, because facebook debates about location continued for a long time without any resolution.

Food

Our next big topic moved into our small group: what food to cook? For some time, we had some difficulty finding information on Southeastern Native diets, but Jimi came across a Muskogee organization that forwarded recipes and other info. With that we seleceted maize as the basis of our food, with a pork hominy and a sofkee drink as the major items. Later Ben added sour corn cakes and Ryan added a pumpkin mash to our menu. I worked on finding hominy at the co-op, but I couldn’t find any. Later Stephanie somehow found some. Another debate arose as we tried to decide on the source of pork for the hominy stew. Lynn objected to using anything from an inhumane feed lot or slaughterhouse, and suggested buying pork from the co-op. Later, we found that their pork prices were unreasonable, and Stephanie suggested that we would have to go with a cheaper option from an average grocery store. We all reluctantly agreed. We all had varying living situations. Two of our members live in Livingston, and I have a bachelor version of a kitchen, without any capacity to cook large amounts of food. So I, and the two Livingston residents, Melinda and Lynn were not involved in cooking and decided to be involved in other ways.

Recipe Book

We decided that we should have a recipe book of Southeastern Native foods. For educational purposes, as well as to have another useful thing to put in our gift baskets. Since I was not involved in cooking, I volunteered to handle this project. I am artistically inclined so I suggested that I make a nice cover for the book, and while I’m at it, gather recipes to put in it. I personally enjoy food much more, if there is some form of art present. I wanted the artwork to be based on real artwork from Southeastern tribes, and so I spent a good amount of time looking at museum websites that had Cherokee baskets and ceramics. Once I was familiar enough with the style and the patterns they favored, I designed with pencil and pen, and drafting tools, a cover for the recipe book. After working on it through out the week, I scanned it into my computer and printed copies. I then started to gather recipes from my group members and websites. The rest was all tedious work: cutting paper, printing, scanning, stapling. I came up with ten recipe books.

The Feast

At the feast I help the other members bring in their cooking supplies. I had before-hand prepared lists of ingredients to tape on the table, so people could be aware in case they had allergy or dietary restrictions. I also did this for educational purposes. During the feast there was not much to be done, but sit back and enjoy the speeches and live music. Afterwards though, I helped break things down, tidy up, and I eventually found myself in the kitchen helping with washing dishes.

Website

Since I was not involved in the cooking I volunteered to get the website going. I suggested using wordpress because they are supposedly easy to use and have blog functions built in. I selected a clean, professional looking wordpress theme and began adding content such as introductory information about the purpose of the website, the purpose of our group, and basic background info on Native Americans.

I started to run into trouble with the website. I kept on adding more content, but it wasn’t showing up anymore. Melinda and Lynn started playing with it and they had problems adding content as well. The theme I chose, although attractive, must have had some glitches.

After a few days of concentrating on other projects, I returned to this project and found that Lynn, who apparently being experienced with wordpress, had made a new website, with a different theme, and transferred my content over to the new website and made many more additions of her own. We came to a consensus on facebook, that since the site I had built was acting up, that we would just use the new one that Lynn set up. And with that I began collecting photos, recipes, and other content and putting them in the website.

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