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Friends: Teaching with food — around the world

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Submitted Photo Veronika Ederer’s class takes a trip around the world, sampling foods and drinks, such as North African mint tea as pictured here.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily Record

While I was living in Frankfurt, Germany, along the river Main, I had already started teaching cultural anthropology in schools and kindergarten. In the beginning, there was absolutely no material I could use, I had to develop everything by myself. Besides, cultural anthropology was not — and still isn’t — part of the regular curriculum in Germany or Switzerland. So, I could only teach at special occasions like project days, during vacation programs or in extra afternoon classes.

I was finishing my dissertation in Frankfurt along river Main. I did not only have to publish my publication with the title “Honor and Shame,” but I also had to do a public presentation. The presentation could be about the same or another subject than my dissertation, so I chose another subject: Teaching cultural anthropology in school. My professor joked that it was more a call for action than a presentation, but I didn’t care. That was the beginning of my interest in developing cultural anthropology for schools in a more scientific way.

I saw a chance for cultural anthropologists and schools alike, and for the next 15 years, I was eager to create a new field. Some scientists, of course, thought it would be below their standard to teach kids, and some told me that this is not cultural anthropology anymore if I must cut it down to make it understandable for kids. Again, I didn’t care. Those people usually had a safe job at the university and could not “think outside the box.”

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I started publishing articles about my work, created a webpage, became the spokesperson of a new working group in the German Anthropological Association (GAA): Anthropology Education, and organized a lot of conferences and events. I also became a lecturer at different German universities where I taught cultural anthropologists how to teach cultural anthropology at schools. I was the only person in Germany who did that, so I really got a reputation. Besides, I also taught in schools to get more practice, material and, of course, to make a living.

Being a cultural anthropologist, it was obvious that I would teach about world cultures, not only in historic times but also today. Early on in Frankfurt, I created a class, “A journey around the world,” for one semester. We started in Europe, crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Africa, went on to India and Asia, crossed the Bering Strait to North America, went down to South America and finished our journey in Australia. After moving to Switzerland and starting to teach gifted children, I extended this class into a full year.

Teaching gifted children in Zürich, Switzerland meant I had not only a full year, but more lessons per subject and a budget for buying material. I always brought things to taste to my classes, even if time was scarce and the budget was low. But now I had the idea of creating a little cookbook for and with the kids. They liked it a lot, especially because I brought samples of every recipe we put in the cookbook.

I started collecting recipes from around the world, at least from parts of the world which I was not familiar with. There were some obstacles to overcome.

First, it was not easy to get a recipe from, for example, Papua New Guinea or Polynesia, and to find its ingredients in Switzerland. I had to find a recipe I could cook — and the children or their parents, too. I may have no problems in getting Mexican food items such as nopales, however, it could be a problem for my pupils.

And here is the next problem: If I publish recipes in our little book which could be cooked in Switzerland with the food items we can buy here, would it be considered a typical, traditional recipe from that country? If you search for recipes from Australia you may get meat pies, burgers or spicy lamb, inspired by English or Asiatic immigrants. Since we talk about the original inhabitants of a country in this class, it should be a recipe made of “bush tucker” or “bush food” in Australia, bringing me back to problem number one: Where do I, or do my pupils, find finger lime, bush tomatoes or anise myrtle?

The third problem would be what recipe to cook and to bring to class to sample. As an adult I tried almost everything I was served, from insects to alligator, and as you might know, if you follow my column, I am always hungry. Surprisingly enough, I was very choosy as a child, but only at home. When I was invited at a friend’s house, I was too shy to say what I did not like and ate everything. However, a lot of kids I taught did not like a variety of food items. Some didn’t like meat, others vegetables, some fruits, tea or spices. I even had one girl who did not like chocolate! So besides choosing a “traditional” recipe from a certain country, I tried to find one most of my pupils would like.

To finish the list of obstacles, I had to cook the recipe at home, preparation took some time on the weekend. I didn’t have a stove in my classroom, only a water heater. So, if I chose a recipe which should be served hot, it would arrive cold in school. Sometimes I brought soup in a thermos, and a few times I went to the staff room to heat it. Usually, I didn’t offer the meal during the first part of class, but saved it for the break, so it would get cold anyway.

Throughout the years, I found more and more recipes. Our little cookbook included beverages, salads, breads, soups and snacks. I introduced the famous mint tea representing North Africa, for Pakistan lassi (a yoghurt drink) and for India chai tea. As we “traveled” to the Arabian countries, I brought tabouleh made from millet and for Mexico I made a tropical fruit salad. Arriving in Brazil, I offered fried manioc chips and I served coconut breads from Papua New Guinea. And yes, I discovered an herbal shop in Switzerland which sells Australian bush food, which allowed me to bake Australian pumpkin and wattle seed dampers. I love doing research on traditional food and recipes, not only for North America as you may know reading my column.

My students and their parents were inspired and often told me years after taking the class, that they still have the little booklet and sometimes use it. Teaching with food is my way of teaching the kids to be open-minded, try and taste, value and judge. It is a very sensitive way of learning about cultures in our world, and I am still convinced that I do teach cultural anthropology and nothing else.

Do you want to send your taste buds on a trip around the world like we did? Today, I will give you the recipe from Papua New Guinea: the coconut breads. They are quite easy to make and delicious, fresh from the oven with a good cup of coffee.

Liklik Kek (coconut breads) from Papua New Guinea

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup fresh coconut, grated.

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 egg

1 tsp lemon juice

A little bit of water

Mix all ingredients to a firm dough and knead thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Form 12 to 15 little loaves and put on a paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly browned.

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.