‘This cake is our cake’: Students explore race, culture through literature

Written by
Sarah Malone, Program in American Studies
July 3, 2019

On a Monday this spring, talk rose in the air with whiffs of garlic and ginger, and students held up their phones to capture the lively scene in the Friend Center Convocation Room. It was lunch time, and the annual cook-off and feast prepared by teams of students in the course “Literature, Food and the American Racial Diet” was being served.

Tables lined three sides of the room, crowded with steam trays, platters and casserole dishes. Each student team presented its dish and a statement relating the dish to the themes of the class. Anne Cheng, professor of English and American studies and director of the Program in American Studies, encouraged the students to think “historically, archivally, contemporarily, globally, creatively” in developing recipes, in direct engagement with texts from the syllabus, or with their own interests and research.

“This cake is our cake,” wrote seniors Emma Park, Paul Schorin, Lena Volpe and Alex Yablonski in the statement about their Colony Cake, “an original recipe inspired by dozens of recipes from Europe and the United States for Baba au Rhum, or Rum Baba.” The team dubbed themselves Julia’s Childs. They noted that “traditional Rum Baba is from France but made with ingredients that cannot […] grow in France.”

The team chose cinnamon, coffee and rum as their focal ingredients, and explained how trade and conquest made these ingredients popular in Europe and North America as “luxury items” disassociated from their origins. They noted that the flavors “taste foreign and like home.”

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