What are your strongest memories of food? Standing with your grandmother as she stirred spaghetti sauce? The spicy smell of cumin as your mom made homemade soup? Food not only satisfies; it informs about culture, economies, race and class.
A new lecture series in the University of Houston department of history examines the close relationships we have with food and what it means to community.
"I remember my grandmother making flour tortillas, the sound of her pounding the masa, the sound of her rolling pin on the cutting board, the smell of them hitting the hot placa," said Monica Perales, assistant professor and co-director of the "Food for Thought" series. "She made these tortillas from wages my grandfather brought home, so I started to think about how women's food also tells us about women's labor.
"Food for Thought" was sparked from research interests that Perales and colleague Todd Romero have in food studies. Romero is investigating how Houston is tied to the food cultures of Louisiana. Perales is examining the southwest and researching food and women's labor.
"In some ways, food was a way of charting the journey of where the family was going," Romero said. "When my dad moved into a management job, our diet started having more beef. In many ways food was the story of how our family was moving from the working class to the middle class."
Supported by funds from the El Paso Corporation and the UH Center for Public History, the series of lectures explores a burgeoning area of research, food studies, which examines how food relates to the narrative of a community and its relationships.
"Whether they're employer/employee relationships or racial power relationships in the New South, food can illuminate these things," Perales said.
Speakers cover topics such as obesity, authenticity, sustainability and oral histories.
"Food really says something about who we are and how we see ourselves, but Food Studies allows us to ask questions about how those things came to be," Perales said.
Food for Thought is part of what's happening at the University of Houston.