Situationer Workbook/Situationer Cookbook, a transformative pedagogy reader initiated by Michelle Teran and published by Research Center WdKA and Publication Studio Rotterdam publishers. Bringing together experimental practices of learning otherwise, my contribution is a letter to Michelle about the pedagogies of my kitchen.
The Pedagogies of My Kitchen
I hope you’re doing well in Berlin, and you’ve been able to return to your gardening. Now more than ever, it’s essential to touch (and smell!!) the dirt and generally just plant things. With so much screen time during this COVID-19 quarantine, I keep thinking about Anni Albers’s insistence on the importance of touch. I’ve printed out a quote from her book On Weaving and taped it by my computer screen as a reminder. It says:
We touch things to assure ourselves of reality. We touch the objects of our love. We touch the things we form. Our tactile experiences are elemental. If we reduce their range, as we do when we reduce the necessity to form things ourselves, we grow lopsided.
It’s like muscles that without stretching and moving become weak and floppy. Where once nipping out for a walk or gardening felt like a break, now it’s an indispensable lifeline.
I wanted to write and apologize for missing the deadline for the publication. I just couldn’t get my essay finished. It’s not that I didn’t want to write it, but somehow, with everything going on, the binding didn’t bind. My lack of concentration has left me with only notes and fragments of thoughts. Initially, I planned to submit something about the pedagogies of the kitchen. Riffing off of Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen, I wondered what such a domestic space with all its quotidian rituals could teach me or is teaching me. Being sequestered at home and cooking, I’ve been thinking about how my hands re-enact my grandmother’s gestures when I make cornbread. As I whisk eggs, milk, oil, and baking powder into cornmeal, I perform a kind of séance summoning her spirit with my body. No doubt, these movements are also connected to my great-grandmother, who was married off at the age of thirteen to my great-grandfather who was thirty-three. And I assume her gestures were inherited from countless other forgotten women who came before her. All those anonymous women, most of whom could neither read nor write and whose recipes were relayed only through spoken word. They were not chefs but spent their lives practicing the art of care with very little to no fanfare.
Their unwritten biographies are folded into the batter of my cornbread. And although I may add a little less sugar, I recently discovered it is the same recipe Maya Angelou published in her cookbook, Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising because she spent part of her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, which is not too far from where I was born. It was there that her grandmother prepared cornbread along with other dishes familiar to me, like biscuits, collard greens, and fried chicken. Food that feeds the soul or soul food, that complexly rich culinary tradition that emerged out of the histories of Africa, slavery, and Native American traditions. These legacies fill my pantry, and I wanted to write about how, depending on the cook, specific pasts are evoked and how we might listen more attentively to these divergent histories… (to read more, get the book!)