A tale of two potlucks

Lisa Keylon Thompson

Students recently completed the Sustainable Food Systems Travel taught by Professor Brandon Craft and Dr. Emily Stuzman.  For the first part of our course, we attended the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference held this year in Chattanooga, TN, where we had the opportunity to attend many great sessions and learn about sustainable agricultural practices. Each person attended sessions that held an interest to them.  Then we would meet up for lunch and dinner and eat together at several of the Chattanooga restaurants that incorporate sustainable concepts in their culinary practices.

For the second part of the course we gathered together twice to share food and continue our conversations about the practices and theories we were learning about food systems in our readings. Our first potluck was hosted by Dr. Stutzman at her home. We were joined by staff from Caney Fork Farms, as well as a visiting speaker from Vanderbilt.  We had a great conversation after dinner about the challenges of developing healthy and sustainable food systems. 

For our second potluck, we received a special invitation from our new friends from Caney Fork Farms to visit their farm and join them for their evening communal dinner.  After watching a breathtaking sunset, we gathered around the farm table and had more great conversations about food and our experiences in the class.

The beauty of these potluck dinners is that each person was asked to bring a food that was significant to them. Some brought a favorite food they like to cook; some brought food that they like to eat; some brought foods that had a special memory for them.  At each dinner we would go around the table sharing the story of the food that we had brought.  As each person went around the table and spoke about the item that they brought it became very clear that these were was no ordinary potlucks. Each dish had been carefully selected and made. For the first evening, fresh lamb and beef, recently harvested from the farm, was simmering in crockpots.  Dr. Stutzman delighted us all with a delicious cheese ball that was in encrusted with pecans collected by her family.  Quiet hush fell over the room as everyone savored the delicious food that had been prepared.  The second potluck did not disappoint either.  Billy, who is here studying from Mongolia, brought dumplings to share with us.  He told a beautiful story about how the dumplings were made by his family back home and this was the first time that he was making them on his own.  You could sense the longing for his family as he told us about how we would usually be in the kitchen watching the dumplings be made.  And I have to say for a first time endeavor, they were DELICIOUS!

For both potlucks I brought banana pudding, a dish that I am known for.  (I might have even won an award for it before.)  One of the objectives of the class was to challenge our thoughts on food.  I challenged myself the first evening to make a version of banana pudding that was completely gluten-free, since we have a student in the course that is gluten intolerant.  Working on that recipe challenged me to rethink something that I can make easily with no thought.   And I had fun doing it!  It probably did not hurt that my amended recipe called for fire roasted bananas.  Yes, I got to set a banana on fire! My gluten free banana pudding was well received, and I might even incorporated some of the elements into my standard recipe.

This course provides a unique opportunity to not only study food systems theory, but to see it in practice.  One of the wonderful takeaways from this class for me was just being able to sit around the table with a group of people exchanging ideas, laughter and fellowship. It is said that one of the great takeaways of an educational experience is meeting fellow learners and having them expand your worldview. The certainly was the experience I had in this class! There's not too many times that you get to learn interesting ideas, make new friends, and eat great food!  If you have a chance to take this course I highly recommend it; you will not be disappointed!

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