Culinary Practices in Shared Kitchens
a Collaborative Ethnobotanical Film Project

Overview ≻ Questions | Perspectives | Methods | Participation | Plan | Site

Introduction

    This is a project to document and analyze the performance of food traditions and cultural exchange, using digital video, within a multicultural setting at the University of Hawai‘i.

    The residence halls of the East-West Center (EWC), on the UH Mānoa campus, house scholars from around the world, in private rooms with shared kitchens. The main hall, Hale Mānoa, provides two kitchens for each three floors of the building. Accordingly, residents often meet in these kitchens and talk as they prepare food.

    This interaction provides an excellent opportunity to study the ways in which people from a variety of backgrounds construct culinary discourses, and use these as grounds for cultural identification and intercultural communication. Such a study can be enriched through the analytic participation of the actors. I plan to build a collaborative project which approaches these rich culinary practices through filmmaking, a powerful medium for capturing the details of communication as they unfold in, and build, the context of action, and for providing a body of material available to multiple analyses and presentations.

    Building on previous film work with EWC ethnobotanists, I intend to offer an extended filmmaking workshop for residents interested in acquiring these skills, using the documentation of culinary practices as a means of generating hands-on experience and material to work with. As we examine the resulting footage and edit it into presentations, participants can bring their expertise together to develop an analysis of the material. In the process we will pay attention to ways in which these actions of editing and analysis themselves build another level of discourse.

Project goals

This project has several interlocking goals:

  1. To produce a body of visual material on culinary practices, through collaborative filmmaking.
  2. To use this material and this collaborative process to investigate particular research questions, taking a comparative, discourse oriented approach.
  3. To provide media skills to interested EWC scholars across a range of disciplines.
  4. To create presentations which further cross-cultural understandings, and which promote cultural and linguistic integrity and survival.

Background

    In October of 2006 I presented a workshop in Ethnobotanical Filmmaking to graduate students of the UH Mānoa Botany Department1.  At the end of the workshop we discussed the idea of following-up with an ongoing workgroup on editing, allowing more time for direct hands-on work with footage, and I began to think about ways to set up a collective project to generate the material we would use.  Two of the workshop participants were residents of the East-West Center's Hale Mānoa, where I had done some filming the previous year.

    In November 2005, to fulfill a documentary assignment for an Academy for Creative Media class in Cinematic and Narrative Production, I made an 8½ minute film called Foraging, about the use of campus plants by two Hale Mānoa residents.  We spent an afternoon shooting across campus, and supplemented this with two interviews conducted in the 3rd-floor Hale Mānoa kitchen.  In the course of filming it became clear that an interrelated topic — which would lend itself beautifully to film — is the interplay between food traditions and cultural exchange facilitated by the shared kitchens.

    The study site is a perfect one for collaborative research. Not only do East West Center residents bring culinary traditions from all over the world, they also bring a range of scholarly interests and expertise related to food sciences and social practices. As an extension of the filmmaking workshop this project can give these scholars media skills which they can later employ in their own work. This project can at the same time be educational and research driven, and as it takes as its subject food traditions from across the world, it should be a pleasure to pursue.

Notes:
  1. I had offered a similar workshop the preceding year, and expanded it to present it at the 60th annual meeting of the Society for Economic Botany, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in June 2006, with support from an Arts and Sciences Advisory Council Award, and an Academic Opportunities Scholarship from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences Alumni Association.

David Strauch | P.O. Box 62223 | Honolulu, HI 96839
Revised 20 Nov 2006

Overview | Questions | Perspectives | Methods | Participation | Plan | Site