NYBG’s Humanities Institute recently launched the Foodways Initiative, an important project that explores and celebrates the relationship of food to culture and identity.
Foodways—the cultural, historical, and social traditions that surround food—provide context for what we eat, how it gets to us, who prepares it, and who is at the table.
As foodways are central to understanding the experience of immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and descendants of the African Diaspora, food can lead us to stories of survival and help reclaim a sense of identity and kinship—especially when languages or cultural traditions have been prohibited and erased.
The initiative has four main components—all of which will be recorded and archived below. Check back regularly for news and updates.
The Food Dialogues
This webinar series kicked off the Foodways Initiative in the spring of 2021. It brings together prominent authors, chefs, and historians for important conversations that re-examine our notions of culture and identity through food.
The series moderator was Dr. Jessica B. Harris, America’s leading expert on the food traditions of the African Diaspora. Her 12th book, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, has inspired a new Netﬂix series. The three-part Food Dialogues series featured Carla Hall and Tonya Hopkins on May 21, continued with Michael Twitty and JJ Johnson on June 18, and concluded with Von Diaz and Maricel Presilla on July 23.
In parallel with the Food Dialogues, several Foodways Workshops will be devoted to the food and drink traditions of particular Bronx communities.
The ﬁrst workshop, Jamaican Root Tonics in New York City, is an online webinar on Friday, August 27, 11 a.m., which will focus on the tradition of artisanal fermented beverages. Developed in collaboration with NYBG’s Institute of Economic Botany, it will be built on interviews conducted by ethnobotanist Dr. Ina Vandebroek and Mellon Summer Research Fellow Makalé Cullen.
The Bronx Oral Histories Program
Anchoring the larger Foodways Initiative is The Bronx Oral Histories Program, a multi-year effort to collect, record, and archive untold personal food narratives from our large and diverse network of Bronx community gardeners and urban farmers—making them accessible to the public.
Hearing people’s stories in their own words, voices, and perspectives increases our cultural understanding while helping avoid sweeping generalizations that can stereotype and diminish communities. Working with Bronx Green-Up—NYBG’s long-standing outreach program that supports more than 200 Bronx community gardens, school gardens, and urban farms—the Humanities Institute will identify and gather Bronx food stories that will live on… Photography students from the Bronx Documentary Center will capture portraits alongside these food stories to create a unique and dynamic portrayal of our Bronx neighbors and their food stories.
Ultimately, in spring 2022, the Humanities Institute will bring together everyone who has participated in the Food Dialogues, Workshops, and Oral Histories Program for a day-long Foodways Symposium and Oral Histories to share and celebrate their collected food stories in person—stories that will be available as a community resource in the online archive.
Generous support provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation