Stillwater Food Studies

Earlier, I wrote about how much place shapes food interests, and how I yearned for more food-related interest in Stillwater, OK, where I now live. One of the ways I’ve been trying to be the change I wish to see in the world is by organizing a new Food Studies Program here at Oklahoma State University. We’ve just launched our new website and we held our inaugural brown bag last week, with great success.

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The project initially began with a colleague of mine, Bailey Norwood, an agricultural economist here at OSU, who had the idea of bringing people together from the College of Agriculture, the College of Arts & Sciences, and other colleges on campus, to connect over a shared interest in food. He often felt siloed within the Ag College and an agricultural focus on food that was sometimes devoid of social or cultural engagement. So, he invited me to help him organize a party at Good Little Eater (about which I hope to write a separate post soon). We invited people from across campus, and from across the community. And when all of these people got together, we discovered a pulsing, vibrant energy that felt very exciting and hopeful. From there, we decided to formalize that energy into a Food Studies program. For now, we are holding monthly events, but are brainstorming to see where we can take it from here–a Food Studies minor or certificate? An annual food festival? Working with OSU to source more local meat and other products? So many possibilities.

When I shared an announcement about this initiative on facebook, a friend re-posted it with the caption, “See, Stillwater does care about food!” That’s one of the less tangible things I’m hoping to get out of this–a mental transformation in the way this community thinks about and approaches food. The existence of institutions like this, however small they might be, begins to plant seeds of interest, begins to indicate a community’s values, and begins to reshape awareness of what is and what might be.

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How much place shapes food interests

As an environmental historian and a food historian, perhaps it should come as no surprise that where one lives shapes what one eats. And yet, the real transformation in my engagement with food over the past three years–since moving from Madison, Wisconsin to Stillwater, Oklahoma–has been remarkable. I realized, of course, that my involvement with so many food-related organizations and activities in Madison (Community GroundWorks, GreenHouse Learning Community, Wisconsin School Garden Network, the Center for Culture History and Environment, Community and Regional Food Systems, Slow Food UW, Madison Children’s Museum, in addition to all the potlucks and farmers markets and home canning and craft brewing) had to do with the fact they were so visible in that culture, so deeply permeated my graduate school world and the world of Madison more broadly.

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Dane County Farmers Market in Madison–Bustling, grandiose, and full of people

But it has still been a shock to move to Stillwater, Oklahoma, a town of 50,000 people with not a single restaurant advertising “local food”,* with a small farmers market that seems to be an afterthought, where students have never heard of “the food movement,” where a facebook thread on the City of Stillwater page asking residents what restaurants they’d like to see in town yields almost unanimous calls for chain and fast food restaurants.

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One of only a handful of stands at the sparsely-attended Stillwater Farmers Market.

It’s not just that it’s harder to become interested in food systems here, but that maintaining interest is also quite difficult. In the face of teaching students who are starting from scratch with these concepts, of grocery stores that do not carry organic/ethical products, of local farms that do not have community supported agriculture programs, it becomes much harder to keep up one’s own commitments.

Peer pressure is real, and the intuitive desire to follow the lead of those around us is ever-present. When questions about how we should eat hum in the air we breathe, it’s impossible not to try to answer them. But when those questions lay silent, even a finely-tuned ear cannot hear them.

In future posts, I’ll try to lay out how I’ve been working to make these questions speak a little louder here in Stillwater, and how I’ve been working with students and colleagues to answer them.

*Though 1907 Meat Co. is on the verge of making me retract this claim.

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On returns

In January 2011, I began a blog I decided to call Dining and Opining. It was partly motivated by Mark Bittman’s announcement that he was shifting from the New York Times Dining section to the Op-Ed section. He was still going to be writing about food, but rather than just sharing recipes, he wanted to engage with food as a political issue because of his “growing conviction that the meat-heavy American diet and our increasing dependence on prepared and processed foods is detrimental not only to our personal health but to that of the planet.”

I also then held (as I do now) that conviction, and wanted to bring the sensory pleasures of food together with the moral obligations. To dine (eat) and opine (offer opinions and analyses) in one space.

I maintained that blog for a full year, posting each and every week day, and then posted sporadically after that for several years. Then, a move to a new city and the arrival of two small children into my life put that blog on hold, for more than two years.

I’m now hoping to pick up where I left off, and take blogging in a new direction here at my personal website, continuing to think about food and its place in our lives and in our world, but also to bring in my other interests and commitments, to build online community and document what I’m thinking about and doing, in the academic and social world of food and everything it touches (which, it turns out, is . . . everything).

I’ll hopefully also be writing about my forthcoming book, to be published with the University of California Press in early 2018: Canned America: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry. I’m exciting to finally be in the very last stages of producing this book that has been in the works in one form or another for many years now!


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And another article featuring my public humanities work!

And another article featuring my public humanities work!

This one from the UW-Madison student newspaper, The Badger Herald. Click here, or the image above, to read the full article.

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Wisconsin State Journal Article

Dan Simmons, of the Wisconsin State Journal, has a piece on the Public Humanities program at the University of Wisconsin, featuring my work at the Madison Children’s Museum!

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Read the whole article, by clicking here.



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Public Humanities Fellows Program

I’ve been profiled for my new public humanities work on the University of Wisconsin website!

Read the full story here:

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Wisconsin School Garden Initiative

This summer, I’ve been working as a Communications Coordinator for the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative (WSGI), a new project of Community GroundWorks, funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The logo and banner I designed:


It’s an exciting project that hopes to both help build more school gardens throughout the state, and gather evidence for the effects of school gardens on childhood health! And the ultimate goal is to create a self-supporting Wisconsin School Garden Network that can live on and do great things!

Check out the WSGI website I’ve put together:

And our Facebook page:

There’s Pinterest, too!

And if you’re interested in subscribing to the newsletter:

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