What’s the best way to understand a different culture, almost immediately? Sit down with a member of that society and have a regionally traditional meal. That’s why College of Charleston professor Lauren Ravalico created the Global Foodways program as the 2018-2019 World Affairs Signature Series sponsored by the School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs. She knew cuisine was a good entry point for the interdisciplinary study of different cultures.

While Ravalico is an assistant professor of French in the Department of French, Francophone and Italian Studies, her plan for a year of courses and events revolving around the global meanings of food includes topics pulled from 16 different fields of study (anthropology, biology, communication, Chinese, environmental and sustainability studies, exercise science, French, health, history, Italian, religion, sociology, Southern studies, Spanish, Russian, and women’s and gender studies). Courses titled “Tea in China: The History, Culture, and Science of Chinese Tea” or “Sociology of Food” are just a few of the classes students can sign up for.

Lauren Ravalico

Throughout the world, food is a biological necessity, an everyday practice, a foundation of culture, an art form, a symbol of love, and a cause of war. The objective of the program, says Ravalico, is to explore these layered meanings of food from the perspective of global humanities, a critical field for the advancement of ethical, engaged citizenship and cross-cultural literacy.

Ravalico hopes that events, including cooking demonstrations, tastings, lectures and discussions, film screenings, and theatrical performances will bridge the local and the international to focus on community of the table, sustainability, and the history and politics of food. To help make this possible, the initiative recently secured a major grant from South Carolina Humanities, which supports programming that enriches the cultural and intellectual lives of South Carolina residents.

Charleston, as a dining capital of the South, is an ideal place to implement a food-based initiative. African, Jewish, and French influences are easily seen in Lowcountry kitchens, so there’s a wide range of inherent cultures to pull from in the area.

Global Foodways along with the African American Studies Program hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, titled “African Retentions: Lowcountry Foodways,” which that focused on Lowcountry cuisine and sustainability from an interdisciplinary perspective. The event, which took place at 6 p.m. in Addlestone Library, room 360, featured University of Maryland professor Psyche Williams-Forson, a leading scholar of African-American foodways, and Chef Kevin Mitchell of the Culinary Institute of Charleston.

Next month, on Nov. 13, 2018, Global Foodways will pair with Mount Pleasant group Creekside Women’s Club to prepare and serve an internationally-themed meal to families of critically ill children at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Children’s Hospital.

“I envision this as an opportunity for faculty, students, and members of the community to come together to do something useful and meaningful with international food traditions,” says Ravalico. “I have been working with many different people – including students who have studied abroad and fell in love with certain dishes – to curate a really special menu for the home-cooked dinner we will serve.”

Dubbed the Global Foodways Community Service Project, the event is a personal one for Ravalico.

“I became involved in serving food at the hospital to the families of sick kids after my son was born in critical condition and had to be rushed by ambulance to MUSC Children’s right after he was born in 2015,” Ravalico explains. “I know what it’s like to be inside the hospital all day and night with a child in peril. But at least we live here. Many of the families are from out-of-town, are in low-income situations, and are in the midst of the worst crisis of their lives. One home cooked meal isn’t a cure-all, but it does help.”

The goal for the community service project is to engage the College community, particularly student groups such as language clubs and houses or Hillel, to volunteer to cook, drive, or serve at the event. 

I envision this as an opportunity for faculty and students alike to do something meaningful with international food traditions,” she says. 

To participate in the Global Foodways Community Service Project event as a volunteer cook or server, contact Assistant Professor Lauren Ravalico at ravalicold@cofc.edu. For a full schedule of events for the 2018-2019 academic year visit the Global Foodways blog.

Feature Photo: ©Adalberto Ríos Szalay. Archivos Compartidos UAEM-3Ríos