As I previously mentioned, this spring at NELP I taught a Food Writing Society to a wonderful group of five talented women. The final project of the society was to create a culminating event that would allow us to share our work with the rest of the community. We wanted to convey the principles of our class-- that food is a language and that exploring the foods of our required authors (Thoreau and his beans and bread, Sarah Orne Jewett and the pies in The Country of the Pointed Firs, Wallace Steven's "Study of Two Pears," etc.), informs our reading of the text as well as our "reading" of the food. We also wanted to communicate our belief that food is an important foundation for intellectual thought and writing, and can be a symbol for relationships, identity, history, and culture. At NELP and in many of the communities that we inhabit, food is the nexus of social life.
With these goals in mind, we collaboratively developed a progressive dinner, "Eating Our Words," that would allow us to recreate and share the foods of our authors in different settings around Camp Kabeyun. We started with chowders, beans, and bread in the dining hall, and via a map, lead everyone on a self-guided eating tour.
There were stops at the herb garden for a sampling Alymer's elixirs, from the Nathaniel Hawthorne story "The Birthmark," a recreation of Phoebe's kitchen from Carolyn Chute's novel Merry Men, a half-bushel of cornmeal-- weekly rations for four slaves, which Frederick Douglass writes of in his Narrative, and pickles on the dock as per the Lloyd S. Barrington poem, also from Merry Men. It all culminated in the Bowden/NELP family reunion, inspired by Country of the Pointed Firs, with pies and Emily Dickinson's coconut cake, and a reading of the student's work.
Though we had to change some plans due to windy and rainy weather--we had wanted to have our "doughnut island" on the floating dock (mostly to see who would swim for a doughnut) and our Family Reunion in the meadow-- the dinner was wonderful and left me inspired and full. I think we met our goals of prompting others to consider the importance of food in literature and our own lives.
I was so impressed and thankful by the work of the society members-- Abby, Ariella, Brooke, Emily, and Madalyn. They put in a lot of time and hard work in the kitchen and the typewriter to pull it all off. In the words of Sarah Orne Jewett, "The feast was a noble feast," with "an elegant ingenuity displayed in the form of pies, which delighted my heart."