Our Stories Our Food: A U of A Cookbook

By Juanita Gnanapragasam

By Juanita Gnanapragasam

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One of the highlights of attending university for many undergraduate students is the amount of free food available. From club meetings to information sessions, if you were diligent and timed it right, there were days where you wouldn’t have to worry about breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

As I progressed through post-graduate school and started to work on campus, I was surprised to realize that the excitement over getting a free lunch wasn’t lost on graduate students, faculty, staff, and other campus members. Knowing there’s a free meal being provided made that long trek across campus for a workshop, session, or meeting all the more worth it. While food is one draw, through serving food you’re providing people a chance to mingle and socialize which is invaluable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited in line for food only to run into a colleague or professor I haven’t seen in years, and that line provided the time and space to catch up. With the University of Alberta being a Top 5 university it means that whether you are employed here or study here, you worked hard to earn your place. Sometimes with all the accolades and accomplishments we forget that at the end of the day we’re all human beings with similar needs and aspirations. Creating opportunities to create meaningful connections that allow us to see each other beyond our roles on campus became the heart of this project to create a campus community cookbook entitled Our Stories Our Food.

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Photo supplied.

Originally this idea was tossed around as a byproduct from student-led and student-ran cooking classes that started on campus a few years ago as a response to previous research conducted into the accessibility of culturally relevant and nutritious foods for international students. Myself and fellow alumni, and current staff member, Mishma Mukith co-founded Converse and Cook, a non-profit that creates social spaces where individuals are empowered to explore their connection to food and their community by creating meals and dining together, after we noticed that the most enjoyable part of the pilot cooking classes for students was the ability to cook with others and make friends. In fact in one of our cooking classes a student exclaimed that she was interested in knowing what others on campus were cooking which got us thinking about that very same question.

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Photo: Jordan Pereira

As a response we decided to create a community cookbook. Over the course of this year we interviewed U o f A alumni, staff, faculty, and students about their favourite dishes. We took a very “Humans of New York” approach to this cookbook in an attempt to provide some context, personality, and an opportunity for the reader to connect to the recipes submitted. The final print version of this cookbook features more than 35 recipes from various parts of the world such as Garlic Curry, Borscht, New Orleans Style Gumbo, Bison Bolognese, the famous Tuck Shop Cinnamon Buns, and more. The stories featured touch on the diversity of the human experience, from friendships to loss to re-creating culture left behind to using food as a way to critically think about the relationship settlers have with Indigenous people.

One such story that really resonated with us was submitted by Chemistry Professor Dr. Loppnow. He shared a recipe for Lemon Mousse and a story about how this wonderful dessert fostered a life long friendship between himself and the late Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour. Kat Pederson, a program administrator in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, shared a recipe for cauliflower soup that’s a tribute to her mother.

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Having conversations with various folks on campus about their connection to food, like we did with Dr.Loppnow, has been the most impactful part of creating this cookbook. It gave our participants a space to share stories that often go untold. We hope for students it’ll allow them to see they have more in common with faculty and staff then they think. For everyone else we hope that this cookbook will allow you to feel more connected to the U of A and give you a whole bunch of new recipes to add to your culinary repertoire.

As the holiday season approaches consider taking some time to sit down and have a meal with your colleagues and talk to them about food. We promise you it’ll leave you with a newfound appreciation and perspective.

Cookbooks are available to purchase at the U of A Bookstore, or email converseandcook@gmail.com to order a copy. 100% of proceeds will go towards providing opportunities for U of A students to engage with the Edmonton community through cooking classes, grocery buses, and other food literacy and community building programming both on and off campus.

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Juanita Gnanapragasam, BSc ’16 and MPH ’19, has been part of the University of Alberta community for eight years and counting. Her interests lie in creating spaces that maximize abilities to form social connections. She’s currently working and studying in the Department of Occupational Therapy.