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Teaching with food – famous explorers

Submitted Photo Three Sisters — the vegetable dish combines beans, corn and zucchini.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily Record

Today, I would like to share the truly nice story on how I ended up teaching children. I never was a brilliant student myself and felt sorry for my teachers, so I really never planned to teach. In fact, I thought I would not even like to be a teacher, getting up early, preparing papers and texts, trying to convince all those kids to listen to me and learn — never!

During my studies in cultural anthropology, I watched one of my professors at the university — he was a nice, friendly man, but his lessons were extremely boring, so much so that everybody in his class was in danger of falling asleep — and decided again, I would never teach.

As you may know from my previous articles, I enjoy giving guided tours in museums. It started with a special exhibition in Munich, were I grew up and where I studied famous explorers at the well-known German Museum. The director of the German Museum thought it would be a good idea to have cultural anthropology students give guided tours for the exhibit Nordic Explorers. The exhibit came from Finland and traveled throughout Europe from museum to museum.

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Since I was a student assistant in the Institute for Africanistic in Munich, it became my job to put together a crew and a timetable for the whole week, and to be the exhibit supervisor, including doing the guided tours. I found eight colleagues and friends from university who were reliable, and we met a few times ahead of the tours. During those meetings we discussed the themes we want to cover during the tours, we familiarized ourselves with the exhibit, which was mostly digital, and finally, we got our contract and the keys from the museum.

This was the first time I covered famous explorers. For the guided tours we researched the five main themes and biographies of the exhibition: Vikings in Greenland, Vitus Bering, Eric Nordenskiöld, Roald Amundsen and Sven Hedin. For the opening event of the exhibit, the museum invited the famous Norse explorer Thor Heyerdahl as guest speaker, and I was immensely proud that I could invite my parents to this event — my father had been reading the books of Thor Heyerdahl on his “Kon-Tiki-expedition” as a teenager. During that semester, I was working on one of Heyerdahl’s books in college and was able to talk to the famous researcher that evening, which I still feel is one of my proudest moment.

To be honest, my first guided tour of the exhibit was a disaster. I only had one visitor, which happened to be an author of one of the biographies I read to prepare for those guided tours. So, I was the first-time tour guide, and he was the expert. After that tour I thought it could not get worse, only better. And indeed, it got better.

After moving to Frankfurt on the river Main, I wrote my dissertation but also attended classes at the local university. Serendipitously, I found a class at the History Institute called Teaching Native American Culture in Primary School. I wrote the professor and asked if I could take part in it as a visitor. He agreed and was very enthusiastic about me visiting his class. It turned out to be a great contact because later on, a primary school approached him and asked if he knew a student who would like to give extra afternoon classes. He shared the request during one of his lessons, but no student was interested since it didn’t pay anything. At the time, I had a paying job in a bookstore, and I was planning to be a cultural anthropology freelancer, so I volunteered.

In fall 2003, I started my 10-weeks probational class that included 12 children from age 7 to 9 at a school north of Frankfurt. Since the school had asked for a history teacher, I did not plan a class on cultural anthropology. Instead, I planned a class on famous explorers. Of course, I still had my material from the German Museum, but extended it with lessons on ancient Greek explorers, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, James Cook and of course Thor Heyerdahl.

So here I was – teaching in school. I ended up teaching in this school for almost seven years, up to three classes in one afternoon, and here I developed most of my favorite classes: Native American culture, travel around the world, archaeology, mysteries of the world and evolution. After the probational class, I got paid, not a lot but it was at least something.

Working in a bookstore in Frankfurt, I was able to visit the famous book fair in Frankfurt, to present my material on my explorers’ class. And as you may know from my previous articles, I found a publishing company that agreed to print the material as a book for educators. My first book was not about Native American culture but about famous explorers: “Kolumbus, Marco Polo & Co” was published in 2008.

Many years later and in another country, already working in the North American Native Museum in Zürich, Switzerland, I applied for a job at its institute for gifted children to teach cultural anthropology, but the director told me that there was already another cultural anthropologist giving classes. However, she said she would like to keep my papers, just in case. A year passed.

One day, while working in the museum, my phone rang. It was the director of the institute for gifted children offering me a job. The lady who taught cultural anthropology for gifted children quit the job in the middle of the year because it became too much work for her. The director now asked me if I could jump in. Believe it or not, the two classes I was asked to give were: Native American cultures and famous explorers.

Coincidence or not, I immediately started preparing classes and extended the explorers class into a full year, and all my other classes step by step, too. The rest as they say is history. This school year is the fifth time I have taught the explorers class since I alternate my classes every year.

But wait a minute, didn’t I want to tell you about “teaching with food?” Of course, it would be fun to teach children about the food the early explorers had on their ships, like ship biscuits, salted fish, dried pea flour and too much rum, and it surely would be an event to cook one of those recipes, and discuss the problem of scurvy. However, in this class, I focused on another subject: Imagine our kitchen without the explorers.

For you, living in the U.S., food before the arrival of European explorers didn’t consist of dairy products, neither wheat, pork, beef, sheep or chicken. There was no sugar and almost no other sweets than fruit, maple and agave syrup. But also any products from Middle and South America such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, avocados, pineapples and peanuts were not available on the North American continent. Asian spices, rice, tea, Italian herbs, olives, citrus fruits, bananas or even coffee weren’t available either.

I would give the kids in my class homework: They should open their fridge and pantry and mentally remove all the ingredients that aren’t native to Europe. There wouldn’t be spaghetti bolognese, no popcorn, no hash browns, no vanilla ice cream. Can you imagine Switzerland without chocolate? For my students and even for me it is natural to have all those food items throughout the year. Even if the explorers endured incredible hardships and almost never had that kind of food we have now, they changed a lot for us. All those consequences — the good and the bad — are known as the Columbian Exchange.

This time, I offer you a recipe with only Native American ingredients:

The Three Sisters

A vegetable dish


1 Tbsp sunflower oil

1 small zucchini

1 small onion

½ cup cooked beans

½ cup canned corn

½ cup cooked posole corn

2 Tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp dried sage



Dice the onion and the zucchini. Heat the oil in a pot and add the onions, stirring until translucent. Add the zucchini and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add beans, corn and posole and cook until all vegetables are tender. Season with maple syrup, sage and salt. Serve hot as a side or a complete meal.

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