March 08, 2013
by Laura Pochodylo ‘14
Knox College students taking an anthropology-sociology class had some Caribbean food for thought during a recent visit from Cynthia Nelson, a food writer from Barbados.
The class, Culture and Identity of the Caribbean, is taught by William Hope, assistant professor of anthropology-sociology. Students in the class have been exploring the different ways culture is expressed, with food being one of them.
"Around the world, food connects people," Hope said. "The act of sharing food has reinforced social relationships."
Nelson, a food writer, blogger, and home cook, agreed with Hope.
"It is always a pleasure to share food with people, because I am passionate about sharing food," Nelson said. "Food, for me, fills more than a physiological need. It fills my soul as a human being."
Nelson was raised in Guyana and currently lives in Barbados, and she likes to explore the cuisines of both places in her cooking.
Her presentation at Knox, "Diasporic Flavours," highlighted the origins of many popular Caribbean foods that reflect the ethnic diversity of the Caribbean Islands. Caribbean cuisine is a representation of food that has travelled and adapted, and many of the foods that Nelson prepares have Cantonese, South Indian, West African, European, and indigenous roots.
"You just can't take one thing and say it's quintessential of Caribbean cuisine," Nelson said.
In addition to writing a popular food blog, Tastes Like Home, Nelson also publishes weekly columns in two newspapers and contributes regularly to other publications in places like Trinidad & Tobago and Canada. She has published a cookbook, also titled Tastes Like Home.
Still, she says, cooking is merely a hobby. She teaches broadcast journalism at a community college in Barbados when she is not exploring Caribbean cuisine.
"I am not a professional chef," Nelson said. "I always make it clear that I am a home cook."
Knox students, like junior Sophia Mwaura, ate roti, a type of flat bread, rice with a pepper paste, and ginger beer -- a soft drink akin to root beer -- at the presentation. (Photo at right: Knox students and Assistant Professor of Anthropology-Sociology William Hope -- in the background -- prepare food for Cynthia Nelson's presentation to Knox students.)
"In class, we've been looking at the cultural identity within the Caribbean and identifying a sense of self and culture between the islands," Mwaura said. "Food is a big part of culture, and this is getting to explore that."
Mwaura, who is from Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an integrated international studies major with a focus on the Caribbean and Latin America. Her interest in the Caribbean is personal: She used to live on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands when she was younger.
Dushawn Darling, a Knox sophomore from Chicago, Illinois, who is in Hope's class, also has roots in the Caribbean that drew him toward learning more about the culture. Darling, who is majoring in anthropology and sociology, was surprised by the presentation.
"I didn't know how much I could relate to it," Darling said. "I'm Jamaican, so it is surprising to see how much I knew and recognized in the presentation even though I left the country as a child."
Ramona Lin, a sophomore from Shanghai, China, enjoyed Nelson's attitude about the challenges of cooking traditional food.
"I think Cynthia gets the idea of food and culture going hand-in-hand," Lin said. "She really talks about how food shapes self and identity, and through that she shares her cultural pride of being from the Caribbean."
"She also came all the way here just for our class, which I think is really cool," said Lin.
A delicious learning experience was shared as students enjoyed their roti and rice while asking Nelson questions about her family's cooking traditions.
"She's so passionate, which makes me really excited," Mwaura said.