March 02, 2012
by Rana Tahir '13
The night started with Knox College faculty member Nicolaas Mink at the stove cooking three kinds of salmon -- Alaskan sockeye, coho, and king -- and a side dish of roasted turnips and fennel. Seven students came in, chatting and taking seats around the wooden dining table.
This is the usual routine for Food Over Food, a regular gathering of members of the Knox community that Mink refers to as a literary and culinary society. Every week or so, Food Over Food members get together to discuss a book and share a meal.
"In keeping with the tradition of literary societies here at Knox, it's a group of students who are deeply engaged with wanting to understand -- and, at the same time, reform -- the food system locally, nationally, and globally," said Mink, Knox visiting assistant professor of environmental studies.
"To me, there are few questions that are more important than ones surrounding how we get food to our plates," added Mink, who teaches about sustainable food systems, food policy, and food history.
Members of Food Over Food read books about food production, food policy, and other food issues. Recent reads have focused on topics such as food sustainability, food justice, and the treatment of workers in the Florida tomato industry.
"In some ways, the topics and issues that our books address are as diverse and complex as the food system itself," Mink said.
"This is the ultimate embodiment of what I think we're trying to do here at Knox, in creating an appreciation for learning and the wonders of the acquisition of knowledge. To do that by building community and by fostering a sense of intellectual camaraderie is cool."
On this particular night, the topic was salmon -- and so was the meal, which included both fresh and canned varieties of salmon.
After taking a few bites, everyone agreed. The meal was a success.
The discussion got underway quickly. Mink asked the others to critique the manuscript for his latest book, Salmon: A Global History, which he was preparing to send to his publisher in London, England.
Senior Elizabeth Cockrell, an environmental studies major from Jacksonville, Illinois, and Helen Schnoes, a Knox postbaccalaureate fellow from Minneapolis, Minnesota, commented on the prologue of the book. They noted how well it portrayed Sitka, Alaska.
During the summer of 2011, Cockrell and Schnoes, a 2011 Knox graduate who double-majored in creative writing and political science, accompanied Mink to Alaska. They collaborated with Sitka community members to develop a program to educate people about salmon's importance as a sustainable natural resource.
"Food Over Food is a great way to engage in food issues outside of the classroom," Cockrell said. "Coming together to discuss food while eating food is the way food conversations should happen."
Knox senior Evan Lewitus agreed.
"Food fascinates me, as an eater and a student. We eat every day of our lives, everyone does," said Lewitus, a native of Annapolis, Maryland, who is double-majoring in environmental studies and anthropology and sociology. "Food is the basis of every civilization, the centrality of every culture, and the foundation of every day."
The members of Food Over Food are all motivated, and they work hard to commit to the weekly meetings, Cockrell added. "Sometimes it's difficult to add another book a week on top of a course load, but it's definitely worth it."
Mink called Food Over Food an "intellectually invigorating" experience.
"We've developed a really great sense of community as we do this. And, yeah, it's fun," he said. "It's helping me explore ideas that I eventually will tackle in a more formal class setting."
Considering the dedication, scholarly conversations, and great meals, Cockrell said, "Food Over Food is exactly the kind of experience I wanted to have in college."