On Thursday, Oct. 26 from 12:30-1:30 p.m., the Diversity Engagement Center (DEC) invited students for a free alternative to their normal daily lunch. DEC staff Matt Farley and Peggy Gaffney opened their doors to anyone curious about various foods of the world. Special guest Ann Kos Edwards, a retired instructor from the department of anthropology, attended to speak on the subject. She gave an engaging lecture, asking students about their experiences and giving them personal advice on nutrition.
About eight students were in attendance to see the lecture and enjoy the egg rolls, chocolate éclairs, potstickers, pizza and sweet tea that was available, courtesy of the DEC.
Before Edwards began, she wanted everyone to collect their food and eat, relax and enjoy.
“In this culture, we never have enough time. We gobble up our food. We’ve lost the meal, sitting down with the family, in American culture,” said Edwards.
Upon introducing herself, students learned that Edwards came to the United States from the region of Yugoslavia that is now Croatia, and moved to Louisiana from New York to eventually teach anthropology at UNO.
The anthropology lecture she gave on Oct. 26 is one of many that she has given during her retirement. It was advertised as “Foods of the World” and part of the DEC “Let’s Talk” series, and Edwards named it “Evolution of Food Around the World: Anthropological Perspective.” Equipped with a slideshow presentation, Edwards gave a variety of information about cultures and their eating habits all over the world.
Beginning with hunter-gatherer cultures, she explained, “People lived in small communities because [the] environment could not support [bigger populations].” On some occasions, peoples in this category would hunt down an animal and share its body for food. But in the meantime, a community had to scrounge from its environment to survive.
Edwards gave the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert as an example. A modern hunter-gatherer culture in Botswana, “80 percent of their total diet is collected by women and children,” she said. For them, food sharing is key to survival. A family with a surplus might share their food so that one day, when they do not have enough, other families might be willing to share with them.
The Eskimo people are another example of a modern culture that survives by hunting for food. Edwards described the kind of harsh conditions an Eskimo might have to experience when on the hunt for a seal. “A hunter stands motionless next to the breathing hole [in the ice, where seals surface to breathe,] for hours in the dark and bitter cold,” she said. They also employ the aid of dogs to travel great distances across the ice and snow. “[The] dog was first domesticated 12,000 years ago,” Edwards added.
Modern examples of primitive living also include South America, home to the Yanomami people, a group indigenous to Amazonia, the area of Amazon rainforest included in Venezuela and Brazil. Though established long before their discovery by Western culture in the 1600s, and a discovery of gold resources has motivated Brazilians to invade and pollute their lands, the Yanomami are still around today. According to Edwards, they use shifting gardens to cultivate much of their food.
She also briefly mentioned the Nuer tribe of the Nile Valley, a group of pastoralists who depend entirely on their cows for survival. Pastoralism is known to be a transition from hunting and gathering to horticulture and agriculture. Horticulture involves using the slash-and-burn method to clear patches of forests and jungles. After a few years, the land becomes less fertile and a civilization must move on the develop more land to continue farming.
“Around 8,000 B.C.E., agriculture emerged,” Edwards added. This involved heavy plows pulled by animals and the boiling, baking, soaking, and preserving of different foods. However, dense, massive civilization didn’t fully emerge until the rise of more intensive agriculture, which involved large-scale irrigation.
Then Edwards discussed traditional foods in certain regions, and brought the topic around to local influences on American and New Orleans culture. “Americans are very fortunate,” she said. “We have a variety of foods from different cultures.” She also detailed how New Orleans got its unique cuisine from a multiplicity of cultures. “The best New Orleans food, for me, is red beans and rice. It is served on Mondays because Monday was for washing clothes. Beans and rice could be put on the stove and left for a while as the washing was done.”
Even after the lecture, new students continued to filter in for food and drinks. The DEC is still relatively new, so some people have trouble finding it or don’t know about its existence at all. Said UNO student John Lewis, “I’ve never been in the Diversity Engagement Center before,” as he took a bite from a piece of pizza.
This event was one of many that the DEC has planned for its Diversity Celebration, which began on Oct. 19 and ends Nov. 3. Said Farley, DEC coordinating employee, “We try to host different activities with different student organizations.”
For example, upcoming events include Innovate UNO and “Not Your Typical Transfer” on Nov. 1; “Dia de los Muertos,” “Highlighting Economic Inequality,” and “UNO’s Got Talent!” on Nov. 2; and Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship’s Open Mic Night and the Model United Nations Club’s Country Reveal Party on Nov. 3.
Students who are interested are encouraged to check the event calendar available online at calendar.uno.edu.