November 17, 2020
Students Explore Identity, Ethnicity and Food through "Immigrant Kitchens" Course

This semester, 20 Emmanuel College students have had the opportunity to take part in a service-learning course offered through the history class “Immigrant Kitchens.”

The course delves into a global and local historical perspective on identity, ethnicity and food while investigating how immigrants use culinary practices and traditions as a staple of their identity.

Taught by Assistant Professor of History Violetta Ravagnoli, Immigrant Kitchens analyzes the history of eating habits, beliefs and diets in both immigrant communities and their countries of origin. Her students have been able to explore topics including the processes of identity formation defined and shaped by local and global historical developments, the role of taste in the construction of ethnic stereotypes and the influence of ancient culinary traditions in the creation of ethnic boundaries.

Part of the course also allows for students to study some secondary sources of immigration history in combination with the history of taste and food production in different countries.

“Students have to really get out of their comfort zones and try to understand all the connections,” said Dr. Ravagnoli. “That’s why the service-learning has been so invaluable this semester.”

The Immigrant Kitchens course has partnered with two different non-profits for the service-learning component, including one local organization and another based in Texas.

Everyday Boston is a non-profit that connects neighbors across a divided city through the sharing of stories. Story by story, the organization strives to cultivate a culture of curiosity and connection across Greater Boston. They believe that strangers are just neighbors you don’t know yet, and that stereotypes divide while stories connect.

“Our students have been trained to be Story Ambassadors with Everyday Boston and are working on interviews with ethic restaurateurs or food related workers during the COVID era,” said Dr. Ravagnoli.

After conducting interviews, individuals will edit the content into short feature video segments to help share their subject’s story.

“The most interesting part is seeing the students understand that the focus isn’t about them but about helping communicate other people’s stories,” said Dr. Ravagnoli.

The other non-profit the students are collaborating with is called Plant It Forward (PIF). Located in Houston, Texas, PIF's mission is to empower refugees to develop sustainable farming businesses that produce fresh, healthy food for the community. They envision thriving farmers, enriching Houston’s vibrant culture.

In collaboration with PIF, each student is assigned a different vegetable and tasked with creating a video as a Veggie Educator. Veggie Educators have the responsibility of researching their vegetable’s history, origin, natural habitat and growing conditions as well as several popular recipes in which it can be included. Once all the information is gathered, videos are made and shared with PIF farmers to aid them in the educational component of their farming. Some of the vegetables assigned to Emmanuel students include bok choy, Hungarian wax peppers, sugar cane, thai basil and zephyr squash.

“Many of the refugee farmers at PIF don’t know the language and are really starting as true beginners,” said Dr. Ravagnoli. “This forces our students to think more globally, understanding that there are still connections at the national and international levels for these farmers and their crops. The key is for our students to unlock those connections. They have to think creatively.”

colorful vegetables

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