Understanding Place reflection #3

For the last three weeks we have been building up our ‘toolkit’ for understanding place, with a special focus on agriculture. Please share how you envision your contribution to the final group project – the recipe book. Please include specific details including the kind of contribution you’d like to create or share, what disciplinary or life-experience background(s) you could contribute through your work, and what ‘tools’ for understanding place might be expressed through your contribution. Finally, please briefly note how your proposed contribution applies to our shared place at the SoE or to a place that is special to you, and also how it can be applied to any place.

Your answers to this reflection are not set in stone, and you are free to change your contributions to the final project as we progress through the second half of the semester. This is simply a forum for you to brainstorm, be creative, and share your ideas with your peers.

Provide your reflections as a comment to this post, and remember that your comments are public.


  1. Hannah Root says:

    My contribution to our final group project will be to create a recipe, in collaboration with Ben, which helps us understand place through looking at land use and geography. Creating a recipe book that ties in many different ideas about place is a concrete way to talk about understanding place, which is such a broad goal. The reason why recipes fit so well in this project is that they spell out a process, and although it might be different in every kitchen, it can tell us something very profound about the people and the place where it comes from.

    Land use and geography is about spacial thinking and historical perspectives and how they are all intertwined. My group will be asking how and why a food is being produced in a certain place. I can imagine weaving together a historical narrative about the place where the recipe and the food comes from. Perhaps the recipe began to look different as land use shifted from agricultural to urban. We would ask geographical and historical questions, digging deep into the story of place and expressing it with our recipe. Both Ben and I study creative writing, so I am excited to use our skills collaboratively to create a new kind of recipe that tells two stories at once: how to cook the food, and how to understand the food.

    Our hope is that our recipe book will come together to be a collection of suggestions on how to understand place when making food. We all interact with food everyday, no matter who we are or where we are. This recipe book is unique because it helps us approach mealtime with more critical thought, recognizing how it ties us to different places. Bringing those connections to light is important work wherever we are, be it on a homestead in a rural area or an apartment building in a city.

  2. Laura Berry says:

    As part of Tim’s and my contribution to the final Understanding Place toolkit, I’m envisioning researching and creating a dish that exemplifies what it means for a person to have a nomadic love of places. Having lived in almost every region of the United States, I identify very strongly with the struggle of understanding where “home” is. For me, coming back to Middlebury for the SoE and working to build the strongest community connections that I can in only six weeks is a perfect example of allowing myself to “make meaning” wherever I go and create new combinations of identity and belonging – no matter how long I spent there, each one of my experiences in these different places has contributed to the core of who I am as a person. Through my toolkit recipe for place, I want to be able to convey the message that authenticity to a place does not predicate belonging there, and that a person’s experience of a place is valid and important no matter how they experience it. My own cooking style has evolved through experimentation and modification of recipes that I’ve been exposed to across place, so I would love to find and create a dish that has been modified and changed throughout history in order to represent this dynamic. Whether it represents the cumulative contribution of many cultures and groups of people to a food associated with a specific location or a kind of “universal” dish that is repeated in different forms across place, the biggest challenge of representing this tool for understanding place will be portraying both the whole and the distinct parts of having a nomadic ethic of place. Some ideas:
    – Bring multiple ingredients or foods and have SoE members create their own dishes out of them together
    – “Universal” foods (bread/rice/pasta/potatoes, hot beverages)
    – A dish with that has undergone significant change over time as it has been influenced by multiple cultures and groups of people (ex. Cajun, fusion, etc)

  3. Jennifer Damian says:

    Molly, Darrell, and I will be focusing on creating a dish that represents shadow places. We will decide whether to focus on one shadow place (example: making a unique recipe from a shadow place or using ingredients that typically come from shadow places) or many shadow places (whereas we can discuss ways to create a dish that embodies their similarities/ differences or an explanation of common difficulties/injustices that shadow places often face with regards to how they are treated/ ignored by society). We are looking to make a dish that most people probably never tried before (which will create a learning experience about a location/community that does not receive much attention/recognition) or using common ingredients found in American supermarkets that might actually come from a place that is having problems (example: cocoa beans). In projects like these where we have to present a new culture/ food/ lifestyle etc. I really try to pay attention to whose voice isn’t being heard, which is why I really wanted to create a recipe for the topic of shadow places. When it comes to knowing about who grows our food, I have an appreciation for undocumented migrant workers in the U.S. who pick crops at low wages, long hours, and often terrible living conditions, and I definitely would like to learn, through our group’s research, about other groups of people and communities who face struggles as well that are often perpetuated through the American food system and its policies. Definitely we would try to represent the sense of community that these places might have to show that they are not just “shadows” but are actual people that deserve as much “spotlight” as any other city/town/location in America (or the world, if we decide to focus on a group that is outside the U.S.).

    I feel that regardless of the many places that feel special to us, knowing about the people/places where our foods come from, and not only knowing but also appreciating and working to give these places the respect they deserve, is important. This is something that can be applied anywhere, wherever our foods, ingredients, and recipes come from.

  4. Caitlin Haedrich says:

    For our part of the final project for Understanding Place, Aiden and I are going to find a recipe that reflects bioregionalism and the temporal aspects of place. We haven’t yet had the chance to discuss what this dish will be but I’ve been doing some thinking about what it might look like.

    First, our bioregional theme implies that the ingredients will all be local, sourced from our “bioregion”. I think this could include most of Vermont and parts of New York but having our dish be as local as possible would be awesome because all the SoE students know Middlebury and have been to the organic garden or local farms. The temporal theme means that the ingredients will also be in season or representative of the Vermont summer we’re in. Luckily, Vermont grows a huge variety of food in the summer. Berries are in season; vegetables (except for some root veggies and squash) are ready to be picked locally. The dairy industry is also huge part of the economy and culture of Addison county and Middlebury. Because of all the variety of food available, we can be flexible on what type of recipe we do depending on what other groups decide to do. Some ideas I’ve thought of are apple cider, caprese salad, green salad, berries and whipped cream, ice cream and berries or a pie.

    I’ve lived in Vermont since I was 6 so I’m pretty excited to try and come up with a dish that represents Vermont’s summer. I think it will be a cool way to share a little piece of Vermont.

  5. Benjamin Harris says:

    As violence erupted across the Middle East during the 2011 Arab Spring, many of the demonstrations against oppressive regimes featured a common food: bread. In Egypt, the word for bread—aish—means “life,” and without a doubt, grain is a major nutritional source for people of all socioeconomic statuses. Although I’ve considered several recipes that Hannah and I might contribute to our class’s anthology of place (the two of us haven’t finalized a recipe yet, so the following is very rough at this point), bread seems a logical choice for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, as evident in the Arab Spring anecdote, bread symbolizes a bridge between global cultures. Despite the enormous diversity of diets and culinary traditions, I’ve yet to come across a country or population that lacks bread. It is a food that will enable us to explore a much greater geographic extent than regional dishes, for instance. At the same time, bread not only provides a large-scale lens on the global community, but also a finer focus on specific places. Bread embodies Wendell Berry’s concept of “local adaptation” because it often uses ingredients that are immediately available—the leftovers from the pantry or from last season’s harvest. Bread’s simplicity makes it a rational choice for both subsistence and industrial societies.

    I envision that our final product might not only be actual bread loaves, but also photographic and written documentation of each ingredient and its social, political, economic, and cultural origins. In order to combine a wide array of place-based perspectives into our bread, we might use ingredients from multiple places and create a novel “fusion”/hybrid bread recipe. To use Bauman’s terminology, our bread might epitomize a “polyamory of places.” If we derive ingredients from around the world, it’s highly likely that our bread would incorporate shadow places.

    Also, on a personal level, I’m an avid baker (mostly of bread), so rather than risk a kitchen catastrophe, it seems wiser to stick with what I know fairly well. In a deeper sense, I equate bread with home. The smell of a loaf in the oven evokes longing for a simpler past, when my childhood self more easily found satisfaction in life’s small pleasures. I also have such a strong affinity for bread because it engages the body. When Bell Hooks and Wendell Berry sing the praises of manual labor, I understand how an emotional affiliation with a place is sometimes not enough. Bread making brings me to a heightened sensory awareness and sensation of rootedness in present place and time. The ritual of kneading—rhythmic, meditative—demands the sort of muscular strength that is energizing rather than enervating. In a way, when the bread emerges from the oven, it is the culmination of a mutually beneficial relationship. While I’ve lent tender love and care to the living yeast, they rise in response and return the favor with delicious sustenance. Bread signifies reciprocity, a theme that we’ve touched on several times throughout this course.

    Ultimately, bread unites the places that I’ve been. In Haiti, where the denuded land, devoid of forests, bears the old scars of colonial plantations and clear-cutting, people still make their daily bread. On a volunteer trip into Haiti’s mountainous villages, I woke up every morning to hot coffee and the same hunk of dense, filling dough. And yet, to our dismay, us volunteers came across Haitian children in agricultural communities who eased their hunger pangs with clumps of dirt. Back in the States last summer, I worked a two-week stint as a “WWOOFer” on an organic farm, an oasis of green in the dry, desert plateau of Oregon. Several times a week, the farmhands and the owner would drive to farmers’ markets, and when we returned home, the car nearly overflowed with baked goods. This bounty was the result of our barter trade with the village baker, a long-standing relationship in which the farm, as repayment for bread, gave her whatever vegetables she wanted. Bread has played a subtly formative role in my life, and this was especially true during my semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which provided me with my first tantalizing taste of bread baking. As we moved through the ever-changing landscapes and shifting seasons—maybe we were the migrants that Bauman wants us to be—bread was always a constant. No matter where we were, we inevitably managed to scrounge together some flour and create something in the cast-iron skillet.

    I believe that bread, as I’ve come to know it, reflects many of this course’s motifs. It represents the shadow place that is Haiti, as well as its shadow people there—bread feeds Haitian farmers and children who go hungry even as they grow food (like California’s farmhands). Bread is the basis for Hooks’s culture of belonging, as well as neighborly fraternity, all evidenced in the exchange of bread and vegetables that I witnessed in Oregon farmers’ markets. And bread stretches across landscapes and land uses, a universal symbol found everywhere from the wilderness areas where we traveled on NOLS to the city bakeries that I frequent. These teachings, as well as many others, make up bread baking’s toolkit. And if I had to guess, I’d bet that most students—including myself—have never encountered the College’s baker, who cooks the entire day’s bread and pastry selection long before we’re awake. And speaking of shadow places, it’s befitting that the bakery is in the basement. Thus, bread could provide a real window into a shadow place and person on the Middlebury campus. In the end, I hope that the “breaking of bread” at our closing banquet or ice cream social could stand for our collective experience, camaraderie, and knowledge that we built together.

  6. Molly O'Neil says:

    For our Understanding Place “toolkit,” Darrell, Jennifer, and I will be working to create a dish that represents shadow places. We will either be focusing on a specific food that comes from a shadow place, or a place that produces food that we all depend on without recognizing its origins. Either way, we aim to remind people that everything we eat has a unique story. We will focus on how and where this food is produced, and how it got to us here in Vermont. We will also be looking at the people who produced this food and exploring their lives. The end product will result in a food that can describe both people and places, and highlight how those two components interact with one another.

    Last summer, I had the chance to work for a socially responsible coffee company that was focused on exposing the shadow places where this crop is grown. Their coffee advertises the country and exact farm where it was grown as well as the name of the farmer. I traveled to a coffee farm in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea and observed every step of the production process. I met the head farmers, explored through the fields, worked on quality control, and witnessed the lives of farmworkers first hand. Before going there, my boss told me that thirty-four different pairs of hands would touch a coffee bean before it ended up in a cup. I got to see the majority of those hands on this farm, and it opened by eyes to how a single crop can represent the livelihood of so many people.
    While working on this project, I hope to bring a firsthand perspective to understanding place through shadow places. Every day, people consume foods that come from all around the world. Somewhere, there is a person who is relying on the production of that food for their everyday livelihood. By creating a dish that represents the lost memory of these places, I will be able to help remind consumers of the implications of their actions. There are also foods that represent social injustices. This project is a perfect opportunity to show where injustice originates and how food production contributes to this type of injustice.

    Through this recipe, the three of us will be able to combine our knowledge to produce a dish that captures all of the complexities of shadow places. It will incorporate agriculture, international trade, social and environmental justice, and it will remind people to connect with their food on more than just the local or regional scale.

  7. Sage Taber says:

    For the final Understanding Place toolkit, Ali, Hernán and I are creating a recipe that engages the senses – site, taste, smell, touch, maybe sound. The recipe will draw from David Abram’s approach to place as a sensual experience, known as phenomenology. I imagine translating the concept of phenomenology into a sensory experience of food. As a result of growing up in my mother’s garden, I am an extremely visual person who loves color and fragrant smells. I’d love to see our recipe involve a hands-on approach to how the ingredients are selected – potentially from a garden.

    So far, we have decided to explore the concept of tea and cookies, but with a beautiful twist. Reflecting on my childhood in Sequim, one of my strongest memories was of the smell of lavender at the annual lavender festival. Most notably, I remember the scent and taste of lavender cookies. Besides lavender, many herbs are wonderfully aromatic and subtle in taste. Consequently, select herbs could be a powerful component to a recipe that relies on creating an overwhelming experience. What if we made cookies that showcased different herbs and their distinct tastes, smells and textures? The herbs could even be harvested locally. In the same vein, we could create tea made from flowers and herbs that we dry ourselves. The temporal component of harvesting and waiting for ingredients to dry would contribute to an engagement with place. Some potential ingredients could be Echinacea, calendula, basil, rosemary, etc. Fresh honeycomb for the tea would also add texture, sweet taste, and a distinct smell and is visually striking. Additionally, we could create a centerpiece bouquet that showcased the ingredients. I want to create a spread that asks for its viewer to pause and react to the different components, as they are experienced. The type of experience we are getting at can easily be replicated, and in my mind just takes a deeper level of intentionality on both the chefs and spectators part.

    Beyond phenomenology, I’d like to contribute more to the entire group. I have experience in InDesign and would love to work on putting together the layout for the recipe book. I have a couple ideas for a book cover as well if others are interested in designing an illustration. I was thinking about doing a drawing influenced by the beehive collective drawing that we observed at the beginning of the program. For the cover, what if we put together illustrations that represented each of the components of the tool kit?

  8. Hernán Gallo says:

    For our final project, Sage, Ali and I chose to make a recipe about phenomenology. We hope to bring out everyone’s senses with our dish, whether they read the recipe or eat the food. We are hoping to incorporate local herbs and flowers into our recipe that would require people to interact with the food. We were thinking of making herb and flower cookies and tea; we also want to use the flowers and herbs as décor so that people can see what is in their food.

    I hope to bring my personal phenomenological experiences to this project and my creativity. I really enjoy sitting and taking in my surroundings in many places, whether they are “natural” or not. For example, at Middlebury I found a coffee shop on campus that I frequently visit. Every time I am there, I feel immersed in the atmosphere and I can feel the energy of others when I’m there. I enjoy noticing my surroundings even when I am focused on writing a paper on my computer. I take the time to look around, get a feeling of the space, and appreciate the moment. What I bring to the table is my ability to appreciate my place in space and time wherever it is that I may be. This part of me will enhance our recipe to resonate with anyone. Also, I love getting creative, so I hope to incorporate flowers and herbs into our recipe in a creative way that would make it unique. I hope to use my creativity to make our dish visually appealing to engage people visually.

    My contribution to the final group project applies to our shared place at the School of the Environment because we become so busy throughout the week with classes, workshops, and assignments that we often forget to acknowledge the moments we have together and the places we’ve seen. It is important to use our senses to be aware of what is going on around us so that we can cherish simple moments while we are here. Engaging with the world around us is important for our well being and our understanding of place because we cannot fully understand a place until we interact with it in some way.

  9. Darrell Davis says:

    The geopolitical situations of the world have a very large influence on the food that we eat.I am working with my group to discuss the “shadow places”, and how they interact with the food that we eat. I envision that this project will be an exhibition of care, people will share parts of themselves and their pasts. In my project, I will be discussing what factors lead to the price change in certain types of ingredients that my group with use to craft a dish. In a disciplinary sense, I will use my background in Politics, and my passion is Environmental Justice. I think that the biggest tool that I would like to use for understanding place is my raw love. The English language does not have the words to describe my love for a few things, one being my family, two being my friends, and three being planet earth. Knowing that, I feel it will be difficult to convey certain things. My contribution applies to our shared space at the SoE because this project is bringing me closer to myself, just as the curriculum at the SoE is bringing me closer to myself.

  10. Ali Surdoval says:

    Sage, Hernán, and I are contributing the “tool” of sensual engagement for the understanding place toolkit. We plan to achieve this goal by preparing a dish that engages multiple senses, such as sight, taste, smell, and feel. We were inspired by the experience of reading the David Abram excerpt at the gorge while simultaneously trying to embody the concepts he wrote about.

    Our current thought is to make some sort of herb or flower cookies to be served with herb or flower tea (like lavender or mint, for example). We also hope to have the same flower or herb fresh cut on the table where people are eating. The cut flowers provide a more clear connection to the physical earth they came from, and they offer visual and olfactory stimuli. The idea is that the experience of consuming the cookies and tea will reach beyond an experience of taste into feeling the warmth of the tea, smelling the flowers fresh and in the cookies and in the tea, and seeing the colors.

    Baking cookies holds a particular significance to me because I bake cookies often at home. It provides a sense of concreteness and focus: you mix the right things together and you get a tasty product. I also felt a certain pull toward exploring phenomenology/sensual engagement as a tool to understanding place because I tend to seek out meditative interactions with place. I love having an excuse to sit quietly and notice what surrounds me from many sensory inputs. I’ve never really considered meditating over food, however, and I am excited to see how we design the experience for others (maybe it includes having everyone close their eyes and focus on other senses for a moment, or maybe it involves “taste testing” a few different cookies and teas). In terms of the actual final project, I imagine our recipe to include hand-drawn illustrations (in watercolors and marker maybe) along with written directions. The steps of the recipe will include sensual phenomena, like noticing the smells of many flowers and feeling their textures. I would like the recipe page to have writing and illustrations integrated throughout (or some way to embody the integrated experience we are trying to depict).

    Sensual engagement, to me, largely means to be present wherever you are and to appreciate the complexities of that place. It is complete involvement with a place– the opposite of shutting yourself out. Integrating the self with a place through sensory engagement helps me to best understanding that place– it is a type of meditative practice. Hopefully, our portion of the project will encourage people to understand place by acknowledge and experiencing where they are.

  11. Aidan McLaughlin says:

    I will be working with Caitlin to create a recipe to represent bioregionalism. In this context, this means that the meal that we think up will be rooted in Vermont in its ingredients and ideally in its origin. I haven’t formulated many ideas yet on what I would like the meal to be specifically, but I do know that I want to source all of our ingredients from within the Middlebury region. This will help us to stay seasonal as well, as all the different parts of the meal will have to be fresh from Vermont’s summer.​

    Thus far, I’ve been thinking about a vegetable-intensive meal, with some potential for locally raised meat and cheese. I am looking forward to working with Caitlin to find different traditional Vermont recipes and trying to give them fresh twists!I think that whatever we choose to do, it will incorporate local produce and ingredients and it will incorporate the past with the present.

  12. Timothy Harper says:

    In my part of the class project for Understanding Place, I will be tackling the perspective that a polyamory of place is necessary to the place-based discourse. I feel that I am suited to this due to having moved around a lot through my childhood, and developing a love for a multitude of place. Mine, along with Laura’s, goal will be to create a recipe that encompasses this polyamory that is not simply an Americanized homogenization. For instance, a pizza is a collaboration of ingredients from and designed all over the world, however is the history of each of those ingredients appreciated in its construction? Is there a deep connection to the places and cultures involved in the creation of that dish? This is clearly a debatable point and is dependent on location but has not been true in any place I have lived for pizza. Developing an authentic dish that is a result of this paradigm will be our goal, and I will look to historical centers of cultural diffusion, particularly prior to the growth of globalization which has been a great homogenizing force.
    I would like our recipe to address our own personal histories as well, which would allow us to give our perspective on the ability to connect with many places. I believe this early mobility has allowed me to connect with places in short order and to appreciate a place without it being a home to me and I hope to convey this theme in a dish. Bauman states that we need to be able to consider many places to be our homes if we are to achieve this polyamory of place and I think a dish that is a combination of many histories is a visceral way to convey this message. A historical example of a dish that may be able to convey this message that struck me was Cajun food, a combination of French, English, creole, and American influence that have combined to define a region. Laura and I will have to create original dishes to represent our own personal histories but in this unique combination we should be able to represent our own polyamory of place.

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