Special Blog Post by: Jessica Washburn, Writer and Food Educator
In last month’s blog post, I wrote about my work with Second Harvest to facilitate a creative writing class for 5th and 6th graders at the nonprofit after school program, Redwood City Police Activities League. Completed in the fall of 2014, the class used writing as a means to explore the students’ emotions, tastes, and memories around food.
Why a writing and not a cooking class? I wanted to give students who have experienced food insecurity the chance to express untold stories. As an experienced cooking teacher, I wanted to explore whether or not the knowledge and awareness that can come from a school cooking class could be accessed through a different medium: writing. And, as a professional writer, I was hopeful that the richness of language could be made more exciting and relevant by working with such a tangible and accessible subject.
In the media, food is often talked about in only economic or scientific terms. There is so much external input to makes sense of, from advertising to the community’s culture in which a person lives. Yet how often do we talk about the actual role food plays in people’s lives? By sharing the creative and nonfiction work of other writers, from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to an Onion” to a New York Times photo essay on kids’ breakfasts around the world, students learned of the many ways people can experience sustenance. They learned that personal stories of celebration, heritage and hunger can be told through the food we eat (or cannot eat). This exposure, in turn, gave them an opportunity to consider their own preferences and feel empowered to write, or re-write, their own narratives on the role food plays in their lives.
Please read more examples of their wonderful work below:
Thanksgiving Memory, by Janet
We ate food.
My mom cooked the meal. I helped.
The table looked like a lot of food.
The food smelled good.
The best thing that happened to me this Thanksgiving
was when I got to be with my family and friends.
The most surprising thing that happened to me this Thanksgiving
was when my family came from Mexico.
I think eating together is
fun, good and funny.
Ode to a Fig, by Fabrizzio
on the edge.
Two Haiku, by Naydelin
As we eat the food
That brings us joy.
Join us as we eat our foods.
That we shall thank god
for bringing our frown
Walking to the pond
I spot a duck on my sight
as I throw a piece of bread to them all
they made a SPLASH! to eat their bread.
I Feed…, by Jessica
I feed my happiness by eating.
I feed my hunger beans because I don’t like beans.
There is money for my happiness.
I feed it by fighting and by being mean for it.
I buy it for my hunger.
I throw a soccer ball at my hunger.
The following examples are class exercises that resonated with my students.
After reading a few samples of haikus and other very short poems (most of which had food as a subject), students sampled different fruits, including strawberries, fresh figs and dried figs. After a class brainstorm of sensory words, students wrote their own haiku-like poems that captured their impressions of the fruit.
After we had made a few simple snacks together, and the idea of a recipe was understood, students wrote a recipe poem that explores what it takes for a person to be themselves. They identified the “ingredients” and “set of instructions” that they deemed necessary for being themselves.
Dream Jar Collaborative Poem
When students would finish an activity early, they were encouraged to write down their dreams, hungers, and wishes, and put them in a jar in the center of our class table. When the jar was full, students were given a random selection of dreams, hungers and wishes and encouraged to compose a poem with them, adding embellishments and stories to each line.
Because many of our students are Spanish speakers, one poem included the class brainstorming 10 – 15 Spanish words that had to do with food and then writing stories that used the brainstormed words, as well as 10 additional English words provided by the teacher.
Don’t forget to read Part 1 of this blog series by Jessica Washburn!
*** Jessie Washburn is a writer, food educator and cook based in Oakland, CA. For nearly a decade, she has used writing, gardening and cooking to introduce young people to the connection between food, community, health and land. Her education experience started at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California and continued at the Montalvo Arts Center and Bay Area Community Resources, where she designed and taught cooking classes at local public schools. She has cooked under some of the Bay Area’s finest chefs, where she developed a keen sense of seasonality and local ingredients. As a writer, Washburn holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is at work on a collection of poems that addresses themes of food tradition, labor, and appetite.