Since January, BCL10 students have studied a variety of city systems. In recent days, students have turned their attention to a system that is both universal and particular: the food system. Everyone eats, but what we eat is unique. Our food choices are determined by, and help determine, our identities. What we eat is who we are.

Studying food opens the door to understanding culture, but because the cultures of Burlington are ever-changing, it is also a window into history itself. Who we are today is a small snapshot of an unfolding story. Learning about the different foods that have filled Burlington residents’ plates, and the various ways those foods have arrived here, helps put today’s meals in context. 

At the end of the day, there is nothing more personal than food. The smell of a specific dish carries memories across generations. More than almost anything, food can help us feel like we’re at home. So when BCL10 hosted 18 students from Denmark, there was no better way of bridging cultures. Everyone is passionate about eating. Why not eat together? 

Charlotte Barrett, and former Community Preservation Manager for Historic New England, was one of the researchers behind the More Than a Market Project. She led us on a tour of local markets, highlighting immigration history and cultural resilience through food.
We explored how markets helped past waves of immigrants keep both community and culture alive.

At Burlington Asian Market, we were introduced to new fruits and vegetables.
UVM professor, Ali Brooks, facilitated an activity in which students reflected on dozens of elements of their identity, and then illustrated a food with a particular familial or cultural meaning.  

What is food culture and how does it contribute to the feeling of belonging to those in a new, unfamiliar place? This question came about when we did our drawing activity with a community partner, Ali Brooks, who teaches classes about food and food culture at UVM. Now I realize that food is what brings us together, in so many situations, all throughout history. After the market history lesson/walking tour I understand more of the value of having familiar foods in an unfamiliar place, and how it can bring people together and create community…

These markets help immigrants make dishes from their homelands, to help ease the longing, for comfort meals to mend the homesickness that is often felt when you first come to a new place. Knowing all that I do now, I cannot wait for the potluck. I can’t wait to try foods and learn about why they are special to those who brought it in. Food culture is very deep and there’s so much to learn about. I would definitely join the class at UVM. 

– Jayde

After learning about how local markets parallel Burlington’s immigration history, and after exploring how food feeds, and is fed by, our individual identities, BCL10 students prepared a culturally-meaningful dish for a potluck feast. They knew the Danes would be here, and that they too would be offering Danish foods to the feast table. It’s hard to describe the energy in the room as our diverse group of students unveiled dish after dish. 

I’m going to bring in sweet plantains–a cross-cultural food that is cooked in African countries and also many Caribbean countries. My mother usually makes them during the winter or when it’s cold. In general it is a comfort food for my family and we enjoy it whenever plantains are in season. It’s hard to get plantains that are rip and good but my mom does a good job of getting them. You can eat them as a snack mainly or for dinner with other foods and they are always served at parties.

– Annemiek

The item I plan on bringing in is called Pho Bo. It’s a Vietnamese dish that consists of rice noodles, different styles of beef and lots of greens. The process to make the soup is quite lengthy and time consuming, it takes on average around 4-5 hours to make. To Make the soup you must first create the broth, most ingredients you won’t find in a regular grocery store instead they are found at local asian markets…While beef is cooking you are going to wash and cut up limes, onions, cilantro, mint leaves and green onions as well as wash your bean sprouts and set to the side. Beef should be removed once fully cooked (very easy to over cook so pay close attention) and run under cold water to prevent it cooking too much further when it’s readded. You are also going to just boil water and put your noodles in it and strain when cooked. Once done throw what you want in and enjoy:)

My dad is from Vietnam so this meal for him is a sweet reminder of home but for me this meal is special because it was my grandma’s favorite type of pho and she would make it at least once a week for me as a kid or whenever i’m sad. It’s become my comfort food.

– Summer

Croquetas de Jamon, are crispy, bite-size rolls of ground ham, coated in breadcrumbs, then fried. They are a Cuban food and can be eaten at any time of day; as a snack or as a side of any meal. There aren’t any Cuban restaurants in Vermont right now, so I mostly eat them in Florida, but I’ve never had home cooked Croquetas. Croquetas de jamon were created in an effort to avoid wasting food. Basically, all leftover vegetables and meat were mixed together and then fried. It was originally made in France and then later brought to Spain, then to Cuba. But they use a variety of creamy potatoes as a base while in Cuba, they use ham. It’s important to me because I don’t get to have it everyday and it is very yummy, in my opinion. But it does make you full pretty fast. 

– Sofia

I’m going to bring beignets. They are super simple. You just make dough from flour and water, and then fry them in oil. Back in Africa, they are eaten because they’re a super simple thing to make, especially when you don’t have a lot of resources. In the U.S., we make them at family gatherings because its easy to make and its reminds us of our home.

– Innocent

I’ll be bringing fried rice. Usually my mom makes it, and she makes it the most during the winter since it’s a nice warm dish that doesn’t take much time to make. Most of the time it’s in bigger portions, since it’s day-old rice. Sometimes the rice cooker is left with a fair amount of rice, which makes a killer amount of fried rice. For me, it feels good to eat it because it’s a dish that I personally get a craving for, so it’s like a surprise for me when whenever my mom makes it. 

– Khiem
The scale of what students created and shared was truly astonishing.

Summer spent 7 hours shopping, organizing, and making her dish — including broth, from scratch.
Djani gives Eh Law La tips about how to thinly slice suho meso (Bosnian dried beef).
We asked students how much time they put into their dishes… Collectively, it added up to more than 67 hours!
Quality food deserves quality company.
Nothing brings people together like a shared meal.

It was fun and also exciting because I got to try new foods from different cultures and communities that I never thought I would try in my entire lifetime. 

– Shayer

It was interesting since a lot of this food I have never tried and is uncommon in Denmark, and it was also fun to share some of our Danish dishes with people that have never tasted it.

– Thor (SKALS Efterskole)

It was good to connect with people through food. Everyone’s food is different. That’s what makes us unique, also at the same time, make us a community.

– Moe

It was really cool to see all the different types of food from all the ethnic backgrounds from BCL, it was interesting to taste all of the different things because it just widened my cultural palette a lot.

– Frederik (SKALS Efterskole)

You get to connect though the food. You talk about the food, while you may share it or try it for the first time. So it’s an easy thing to do especially if you haven’t tried it before.

– Bastian (SKALS Efterskole)

It makes me feel like where more connected and closer now because I think food from your culture is part of your identity and to share that with other people in a way it kind of feels like your opening up to them and giving them a small glimpse of your own culture.

– Ngang

I am grateful for everyone who brought something and who took some of their time to prepare something that means for me that the people are interested and open in what we are all doing here together.

– Stine (SKALS Efterskole)

Food really brings everyone from different backgrounds together. 

– Habiba

I’m grateful for BCL and how fun it is and the opportunities it provides 

– Summer

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