Home News Vision Friends: Teaching with food — becoming a cultural anthropologist, part 1

Friends: Teaching with food — becoming a cultural anthropologist, part 1

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Submitted Photo Southwestern buttermilk cornbread.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily Record

Studying cultural anthropology in Germany is not always an easy task — maybe that’s also true in the U.S.? I developed a deep interest in Native American cultures when I was 13 years old, impressed by fiction novels of a German writer of the late 19th century. A teacher encouraged me during my final school years to make more of my “hobby” about Native Americans. I researched the classes available for studying cultural anthropology in Munich, Germany. The classes were at the time called “Völkerkunde,” which means ethnology in Germany. However, these classifications and even the names of museums, university institutions and associations constantly changed because of colonial history and the ongoing controversy about political correctness. Once I found out that there was an “Institut für Völkerkunde und Afrikanistik” — Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Africanistic — in Munich, I began my studies in the fall of 1995.

My parents agreed to support me, though they voiced their concerns to maybe consider a study subject which would promise some kind of good job afterward. Some friends joked that I’d better find something useful to support myself. A museum curator tried to discourage me by telling me that there are 2,000 cultural anthropologists in Munich, and 1,980 of them are unemployed. The story I heard the most was that I was on my way to become a taxi driver. A lot of people asked me if I would dig in the ground for old cultures — in Germany, cultural anthropology has no connection to archaeology. The most common reaction about my study subject was: “Oh, that sounds really interesting (meaning ‘I have no idea what you are doing’)!” and “What are you going to do with that?” My former boyfriend told me, cultural anthropology is no job, it is a condition.

Despite those naysayers, they could not discourage me in following my goal. During my time in Munich, I worked in the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Africanistic in the library and as an assistant to the teachers, and I had various internships in other museums. I did research for a film crew and organized a group of students to work in a special exhibition at the German Museum in Munich. I never lost my enthusiasm, even though I knew I would never be a “real” scientist, because I didn’t stand out. However, I was a reliable student and assistant, but I was never requested for promotions and habilitations as a research assistant or supported by a professor.

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After finishing my master’s degree, I decided to move and write my dissertation in Frankfurt along the Rhine river (there is another city named Frankfurt along the river Oder) because the main teacher there was a specialist in Native American studies. I did guided tours during that time in the German Leather Museum in Offenbach near Frankfurt, which has a very nice Native American exhibition, and also worked in a bookstore. I would have stayed in that bookstore since I really liked working there, but various university branches relocated to another part of the city, and I lost my job when the university traffic declined. A friend suggested becoming a freelancer, but she didn’t understand what I was already doing to make a living.

During the years while I was writing my dissertation, I worked two afternoons in a daycare for school children; two mornings for different attorneys to do minor jobs like sorting new pages in legal texts or copying; two afternoons in various schools where I taught my first classes on cultural anthropology; in the German Leather Museum whenever requested for guided tours; at the local community college for adults giving lessons in the evening and the before-mentioned bookstore. I worked six to seven jobs a week, paid per hour, no paid vacation and I had less income than people on social welfare. I could never make a living of being a freelancer as my friend suggested in my field of cultural anthropology alone. However, I discovered my passion for teaching.

Things changed when I moved to Switzerland. I finally had a stable job and the first paid vacation time of my life — I was in my 30s — I did guided tours in the NONAM (North American Native Museum) in Zürich, Switzerland. A few years later, I started teaching gifted children in the Zürich. Every time somebody asked me, I continued telling them, “I am a cultural anthropologist.” I worked as a museum educator, as a teacher, but I never changed my … “condition.”

While teaching Native American culture in schools and museums in Frankfurt, or while planning lessons for gifted children’s classes, I discovered that I love to teach while including all human senses. Basics are listening and seeing in the schools or museums, and I always had some objects for the children to touch. What was missing was scent and taste — there is hardly any better way to get to know foreign cultures. I started with simple things like little bags for smelling herbs. For special days during vacation programs, I made tea or prepared little bowls with nuts, vegetables or fruits to try.

In the museum I grew more adventurous and created special tours that included cranberries, popcorn, maple syrup, tasting different things while exploring the exhibition. Drinking and eating is not permitted in the museums, so my special treats were even better. After I made contact with a bison breeder in Switzerland, I served bison jerky at the end of my guided tours, which has become a tradition in the museum ever since.

I remember a special evening a few years ago — the event is called Long Night of the Zürich Museums – I set up a table in the exhibition with blue and yellow corn nachos. I asked the children to close their eyes and gave them first a yellow and then a blue nacho to try and asked them which one tasted blue. Some smaller kids were very seriously trying to taste “blue” while their parents were standing by laughing tears at their antics.

Maybe you, the reader, would also like to try if you can taste blue? I’ll share one of my favorite Native American recipes with you, which I didn’t bake for the museum, but for the kids in my gifted children classes. I’ll tell you more about that next time.

Southwest buttermilk cornbread

1 1/4 cups blue corn flour

1 cup wheat flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven at 400 F. In a bowl combine corn flour, wheat flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a second bowl mix the two eggs, the buttermilk and the melted butter. Slowly combine these two mixtures. (Don’t over-mix.) Fold the dough in a non-stick baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly brown. (Do the toothpick test to make sure it is done: If the toothpick that is inserted in the center comes out clean it is done.)

Veronika Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. She has visited New Mexico and Roswell for her research and is looking forward to return as soon as the pandemic is over.