Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Final Blog Post: Following the Food

For your final, I want you to write a blog post of 1,000 words describing what in your opinion are three most important characteristics of New Orleans that can be either be discerned entirely through a broad consideration of food or in which the dynamics of food can be understood as a metaphor for greater social, political, economic, or cultural factors that govern New Orleans. To wit, I am asking you how a thoughtful consideration of some aspect of food can lead us to broader conclusions about the city. For instance, you might consider the politics of hunger and its relationship to economics and social justice in New Orleans. You could consider the breadth and qualities of the restaurant scene across the city and also make an argument about economics or cultural preferences. You could take some aspect of the sort of (insert food purveyor here - restaurant, grocery, farmer's market) says about the city, its environment, its demographics, etc. You might explore food traditions and what they say about what New Orleanians want to preserve. You could consider a single important restaurant and what it means to a city. How does our food define our history and vice versa? Maybe an ingredient or set of ingredients can be a metaphor for life in the city? Think deeply about what we've seen this semester and consider the possibilities! Due on Monday (our Final Exam Day).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Teach a man to fish...

One of the hot areas of philanthropy in New Orleans today is in the field of culinary instruction. It seeks primarily to give otherwise at-risk individuals skills that enable them to compete for jobs that are comparatively plentiful in this city. Today we are going to look at some of the risks, opportunities, and challenges involved with this sort of philanthropy and analyze it in terms of Ignatian values broadly considered.

There are three different programs in our city that offer a similar, at least in concept, hands-on approach to offering basic culinary instruction to at-risk youth. The most established of these is Café Reconcile, which is an outreach program of the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church (or "Jesuits on Baronne"). Very similar in its approach and sharing some of the same talent is Liberty's Kitchen, which is right across the street from the New Orleans Criminal Court system and jail - also known infamously as "Tulane and Broad." Liberty's Kitchen is branching out in areas beyond culinary instruction that multiply its impact within the community, including the preparation of healthy school lunches for New Orleans College Prep Charter School. It is also a member of a program known as Catalyst Kitchens, which should help give you an idea of the nationwide scope of programs like this. Then there is Café Hope on the West Bank in Marerro. Run by Catholic Charities, it has a much larger overall mission although you would not recognize that based on its web site.

Taking a very different approach with high-school age students is the brand-new culinary arts program at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). 

Unanswered questions remain about all of these programs' long-term impact, and we'll talk about that some today. One thing worth noting is that attendance at a private culinary school like Johnson & Wales will set you back at least $26,000 a year in tuition alone. Much more affordable is the John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State in Thibodaux.

Our local chefs are also involved in many of these programs. Some of the more notable parties are Emeril Lagasse and his Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which sponsors many programs throughout the city including all of the ones named above. The John Besh Foundation also has a very different approach toward culinary instruction with its "Chefs Move!" program.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Time to make up some assignments.

Here is a video my students made about the Hare Krishna temple's Sunday Feasting. You may go to this on Sunday and blog about your visit to make up any one of your missing assignments. BUT, you must have a photograph of yourself at the temple in your blog to get credit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Blog Assignment 8 - Groceries

As mentioned in an email that I sent earlier today, we won't be meeting and class and are not, unfortunately, going to be able to go on our walking tour today.

The weekend assignment is to get out and visit one small "mom and pop" style grocery store an one larger chain-style grocery store. In addition to blogging about all of the individual observations that I encourage you to make on your own, I want you to pay attention to the following elements: Comparisons based on Price, Quality, and, above all, Variety - and consider how these three affect each other.

Be sure to pick a few different food items that fall under different categories. For instance, consider at least one produce item, one packaged good item (like mac n' cheese or a box of cereal or can of tomato paste), deli / seafood / and meat counter items, paper & plastic goods (trash bags, paper plates, etc) and pre-made ready-to-eat foods. Don't forget volume and quality when considering price comparisons! Be sure you are, quite literally, comparing "apples to apples" in that you are certain to compare a 15oz can of tomatoes to another 15oz can of identical style tomatoes. Take pictures or notes where you think it applicable.

Also make comparisons to the overall shopping experience. What sort of area seems to be the grocery's specialty, or does it have one at all? Consider service and overall atmosphere. Think about the sort of image that the store is trying to project. Consider images used in marketing, signs, even the uniforms of the employees, the bags that they put groceries into.

 Lastly, think about this assignment in comparison with your trip to the farmer's market. Remember, when you make your blog post, I want to see photos and hot links.

 Some "small" grocery stores worth investigating:
Langenstein's (Uptown) Terranova's Grocery (on Esplanade) Matassa's Grocery (French Quarter) Zara's Market (Prytania by Creole Creamery)
 Big grocery stores: Winn Dixie (Tchopitoulas) Rouse's (Any location) Whole Foods (and be sure to consider how this is different from most "chain" stores) Wal*Mart

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Friday walk

I decided that to do our blog entry post on a small grocery and a large grocery that we would take to our feet. We will follow the route shown below:

Stop 1: Langenstein's
Stop 2: Whole Foods
Stop 3: O'Delice Bakery (just for fun!)

Let's meet on the Horseshoe at 2:30.

View Walking directions to Loyola University New Orleans, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA in a larger map

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Assignment 7

I am not assigning Assignment #7. This will give you a chance to catch up on all of your incomplete assignments, which I want to see done by Monday, March 11.


A "roux" is a key component in one of the 5 "mother sauces" of French cooking: the Sauce Béchamel:

Paul Prudhomme on how to make a Roux:

Bechamel Sauce uses milk as its base liquid to make a white sauce. But what happens if you use shrimp, chicken, beef, or vegetable stock? You quickly end up with a tasty gravy!

The principles of these sauces combine a fat, a thickener, and a stock. You can change up any of these to make a wide combination of flavors. How might a switch in any or all of these ingredients represent cultural, economic, historical, or ecological forces?

What is the "trinity?" and what can we learn from it?
Here John Besh makes a gumbo that starts with a "trinity" - even if he is using a Zatarain's mix!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sheepshead and Croakers

Some terms that you should be able to identify out of today's reading:
Calas, filé, Isleños, bycatch, diversion, MRGO

Here is a great article about fishing for Sheepshead. They are fearsome looking fish on the line! Here is an article about Atlantic Croaker.

The sheepshead (from WikiMedia)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Assignment 6: Farmer's Markets

We are now starting to shift our gaze in this class a little bit more toward the issues of food production and social justice as it relates to food.  This week you will be reading an excerpt from a recent book called Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs. The author of this book broke down a menu that Mark Twain assembled in the nineteenth century and tried to reconstruct it with foods that are available in modern day America. He found that it was a lot more difficult to replicate the foods that Twain knew 130 years ago than he first thought. The chapter that you will read comes from his investigation into some foods that Twain knew from New Orleans and Beahrs's efforts to locate them today. He makes a trip to the Crescent City Farmer's Market where he spoke to Clara Gerica about seafood. You can see a film made about Pete and Clara Gerica (as well as Ben Burkett) by one of my past freshman seminar classes below.

Your job will be to visit one of the city's numerous farmer's markets and to interview either a vendor or a customer to the market. You will combine your interview material with your own observations and compose a blog entry that engage the questions of why these markets are important and what role they play in sustaining traditional culture through food. Your blog entry must contain at least two quality photographs and directly quote at least one interview subject.

Some of the markets that you might visit include:
Crescent City Farmers' Market (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)
Hollygrove Market and Farm (Saturday)
The Freret Market (more of a monthly festival than farmer's market) Saturday, March 3. 
Sankofa Farmer's Market (Saturdays)
Our School at Blair Grocery (Weekends in the Lower 9)
There are other markets in Gretna and way out in St. Charles Parish at the German Coast Farmer's Market

One of my groups also did a film about Our School at Blair Grocery - See below:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Assignment 5: The Food of Mardi Gras Photo Essay

This assignment will encourage you to think visually. You will produce a photo essay using from five to seven images that conveys a message about the role of food and drink in the celebration of Mardi Gras. I encourage you to take many pictures and to use a real camera if at all possible. Ideally, you will take at least a hundred pictures and pick the very best ones for this essay.

Be creative: Mardi Gras food and drink traditions often take place away from the parade route, so keep your camera with you and keep your eyes open.

Post all of your images before we meet on the Monday after Mardi Gras Break. Each image should have a caption.

If you are not here for Mardi Gras, do an alternate essay based on the role of food in your break week.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tips on Hot Links

One thing that a lot of you need to take a closer look at in your blogs is the power of hot linking. Think of the relationship between your blog and links as that between a tree's trunk and its branches. The purpose of hot links is to enrich and inform the reading experience by leveraging the power of the internet. Therefore, link the names of people, places, and things that you come across. If you are writing about corned beef or satsumas, then you should link them. If a food reminds you of a Guy on a Buffalo or Lady Gaga or John Besh, then link it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Weekend Assignment: Discovering Memories through Interviews

Your assignment this week will involve interviewing someone about some deeper relationship involving food and memory. What sort of topic might you consider interviewing someone about? Maybe you would consider interviewing a parent or grandparent about their memories of something that their grandmother used to make. Perhaps you might ask a fellow Loyola student to describe a special holiday tradition celebrated by their family that involves food. The topic does not need to be about New Orleans, but it must involve you asking an interview subject to tell you about a memory they keep that involves food.

Assignment specifics: Record using some sort of recording device (iPhone, digital recorder, etc.) a 10 to 15-minute interview. Transcribe the interview by typing up an exact copy of what your interview subject says. (It takes about an hour to transcribe a ten minute interview.) If you do not have a phone that is capable of recording audio, you can check out an audio recorder from Media Services.

Take a photograph of the person you interview, and post it to the top of your entry. 

Then, using this transcript, you will assemble a blog post using ONLY what your interview subject says to tell a story of this memory.

This is a challenging assignment!

Think about the sorts of questions that you ask so that you ask them in a manner that encourages your interview subject to supply detailed answers. 

Ask questions that invite detailed description. For instance: "describe the scene at the dinner table." If someone mentions a person, ask "Tell me about the time that you two became friends."

IN addition to your blog post, I want you to hand in a copy of your interview's transcript.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Learning to Ask Good Questions

Today in class we will begin to explore how to ask good questions. You will all at some point need to interview someone about food culture, and I will increasingly expect you to incorporate such technique into your blog posts.

Good questions are the ones that invite your subject to share important details about what matters to them. A few things to think about when asking questions:

Avoid "yes/no" questions that elicit a one word response. Consider the difference in the following:

"Tell me about the first time you ever made gumbo." instead of "When did you first make gumbo?"

As questions that encourage your subject to be a storyteller.

At the same time, be a good listener. Ask follow-up questions. Encourage your subject to enrich their tale with descriptions of the people, places, and times that they relate.

Consider the following documentary. How much do we hear the interviewer?

"Gus" by Joe York.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Instructions for Weekend Assignment 3

You will need to use your powers of analysis in this assignment!

Your task is to read the yelp.com, urbanspoon.com,

Ideally, I would like for you to pick a restaurant in which you have eaten at some point in the past. Make sure that this restaurant has many online reviews - in a perfect world, reviews that are more than a brief sentence or two. What I want you to do is read through these online reviews to discern what it is about these places that people like and dislike. I am less interested in the actual comments about the food ("the sauce was greasy", etc.) than what you can discern as the deeper cultural meaning of this particular restaurant as described by reviewers.

What you are doing in this assignment is a form of what historians call "source criticism." In this case, the source is an online review of a restaurant. You will make what we call a "close reading" of the review to analyze it for its deeper meaning.

Consider a few different "institution" style restaurants:

Some restaurants do not offer you much opportunity for deep analysis. For instance, there are 236 reviews for the Parkway Bakery & Tavern on yelp.com. This normally constitutes a significant amount of available source material for your assignment. When you read through the reviews, you notice that there are a number of reviews like this one. In it, the reviewer comments on the friendly service at Parkway - something noted by many reviewers. Another thing that emerges is that Parkway is a known tourist magnet yet it also attracts a local clientele. Many people mention the crowds. Some the decor. After you read through dozens of these, a few will stick out that offer more than just some rhapsodizing about the roast beef. Consider this review which ends with "Photos on the wall show the water to the ceiling during Katrina." Or this one that observes "Parkway Bakery is in a sketch part of town but well worth the trip." And yet another quote, "One of the charming nuances of this place is that when it's a busy day (or really whenever the person behind the counter is in the mood), it is customary to leave a "fun fake name" so that when your order is ready, the entire place gets a chuckle." While these are giving you a fuller picture of Parkway, they comprise a fairly lighthearted sampling of diner expectations and conceptions of the restaurant's place in the city's culture.

Taking things a step further, you will see that yelp.com features 178 reviews of Galatoire's, one of the fancier restaurants in town. With the stakes higher, you will find a greater diversity of stronger opinions about the place of Galatoire's and how it does or does not create community.  Here we find people who absolutely hated the place (and who clearly can't spell, either ...does that say anything?) Yet there are people who have very different expectations and wouldn't have it any other way. Consider this reviewer's statement: "I loved that the busboy in the white shirts say "excuse me ma'am" every time he reaches in front of you. Or the waitress who makes suggestions not based on prices but based on what actually tastes good." You should begin to quickly realize that there is a lot more fodder for analysis when dealing with an upper-end "institution" like Galatoire's.

Some places you might look into would be Jacques-Imo's, Dick and Jenny's, Patois, Vincent's, Mandina's ... but there are many. Just start keying in restaurants and see what sort of things people say about them. Don't just land on your first restaurant and complete the assignment.

After digging through these reviews, you should have some idea of the sorts of things the more observant reviewer will write. Now it is time for you to engage in true analysis! Read the reviews and evaluate them for how they speak to some of the core themes in this class. In particular, you should discuss the extent to which this establishment forms "community." What is community? There are many different kinds. Can a community be exclusionary? Yes. Can it be inclusive? Yes. Be aware that food can forge a cultural bond that does not, for whatever reason, include you. After reading the comments, can you paint a mental image of the typical person who belongs to this community, including the sorts of cultural elements that they value?

Write a 350 to 400-word blog post describing reviewers' reactions to the restaurant that you choose and what it says about the expectations of those diners. As Brett Anderson told us in class yesterday, we eat at restaurants because what they say about ourselves. But then what if that image does not live up to the expectation. Use this as an exercise in thinking analytically about why people embrace the cultural choices that they make.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Since you are interested in food...

I saw the following post from the Sunday Cooks on Facebook. As many of you are interested in food, this might be a good group to become associated with:

The Sunday Cooks need your help! We're looking for new Loyola students to help keep the organization alive. If you are passionate about food and would like some professional experience, please email sundaycooks.loyola@gmail.com or call
612 619 5576

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Makes a Restaurant an Institution?

Our next weekend assignment requires you to seek out a "New Orleans institution" type restaurant and write about the role that it plays and hopes to play in shaping local culture.

The first thing we need to do in this assignment is to define what we mean by "an institution."If we turn to an online dictionary definition such as this one, we draw nearer to a full picture of your goal for this assignment. By aggregating all of the relevant meanings of the word and applying them to New Orleans restaurants, you begin to understand that you are looking for an establishment that has been around for a while. An "institution" cannot be new, even if it is a fine dining restaurant like the excellent Patois or equally good Lilette. Yet at the same time, places like Antoine's, Galatoire's, and Commander's Palace are institutions. What are some of the similarities and differences that you see between these restaurants and the other two that I list above?

Yet an institution does not have to be fancy or even expensive. Your reading for Wednesday included "A Lunchtime Institution Overstuffs its Last Poboy," which was about the now-gone Uglesich's. Re-read that article and consider the factors that made it an institution.

Can a chain restaurant be an institution? For instance, to what extent are Bud's Broiler and Café Du Monde institutions, and to what degree do they fail to live up to the standard? What about Ted's Frostop on Carrollton Avenue? Maybe read what some people say about it on Urban Spoon to help formulate your range of ideas. How does Frostop compare with Bud's? Can they be so different and yet both be institutions?

We'll spend a little time discussing the difference between anachronism and tradition and the intersections between the two. 

* Your assignment is going to require you to visit and experience a New Orleans institution - ideally by enjoying some sort of food or drink served there. It should be clear by now that you do not need to spend a lot of money to complete this assignment.

* You can pick a place from a list of suggestions below, or you can choose a destination of your own. If you choose a destination of your own, you will need to make a compelling argument why you believe it qualifies as "an institution," and I hope that you will marshal some evidence for your argument in your blog post.

* Before you go, do a little bit of background research about your destination on the internet, and make note of the sites you visit. You may want to cite and create back links to these sites when you write your own observations about the institution.

* As you arrive at your destination, kick your powers of observation into high gear. Consider all of the sorts of aspects that define institutions. What cultural contributions does the place make? What position does the restaurant occupy within the community's collective consciousness? In what ways do you see these attributes manifest in your observations? Or, perhaps, does this "institution" somehow fail to live up to its promise - not necessarily in a culinary way, but in its execution.

* Your blog post should be 350 words - about a full typewritten page. It should include photos and at least three (3) hot links that help fill out your post. 

Some institutions in different parts of town. This barely scratches the surface as there are so many:

FQ: Napoleon House, Verti Mart (take-out only), Port-O-Call, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, fancy restaurants like Antoine's, Broussard's, Tujague's, Arnaud's, Galitoire's, oyster houses like Felix and Acme, etc. There are many, many places that claim to be institutions in the FQ.

Chains like Tastee Donuts

Mid City: Brocato's, Mandina's, Parkway Tavern, Liuzza's, Liuzza's by the track (More BSJ area) Can Mona's on Banks be an institution???

Other poboy places uptown like Domilese's, Frankie & Johnny's, Guy's (why wouldn't Mahoney's or Stein's Deli fit into this category?) And then there is the whole Parasol's vs. Tracy's debate.... will the real institution stand up?

Even the River Bend has its icons. Can anyone say Camellia Grill?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thinking about the origins of our food

Today We are going to spend some time thinking about the origins of our food. This is not limited to a discussion of grocery stores or even agriculture, but the historical, economic, and cultural forces that have caused the food that we eat to appear on our tables.

Sign from Johnny's Boudin and Cracklin's in St. Martinville, La (photo by Justin Nystrom)
Last semester, one of my teams in the First Year Seminar headed out to Cajun Country to consider the production of crawfish. Here is their film:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Here is the video of our class. Check it out. The password is that savory thing that I mentioned in class!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Welcome to Class!

This is the course blog for Foodways, Ethnicity, and Community in New Orleans, a Freshman Seminar being taught at Loyola University New Orleans by Dr. Justin A. Nystrom.

This blog will serve as the source of detailed information about our course including specific times and dates for field trips, release forms, detailed assignment instructions, and emergency information. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to it using an RSS feed reader.