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Shoebox Lunch Opens Eyes to Culinary Heritage

| Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Participants in Monday’s “Shoebox Lunch” were blindfolded and led on a cultural immersion experience by visiting artist Fereshteh Toosi. The multi-sensory performance was hosted by the Saint Mary’s College Moreau Art Galleries and incorporated taste, smell, touch and sound to connect attendees with recorded stories about food told by black men and women.

Each attendee received a brown paper bag containing an assortment of props, such as dried Michigan cherries and a shaker of barbecue spices, associated with each true story shared. Toosi said the paper bags symbolized the historic significance of the stories since the tradition of “sack lunches” emerged as a result of restaurant segregation during the Jim Crow Era.

The 40-minute program was originally designed for the visually impaired, Toosi said. The idea of designing such a program arose after working with a Chicago community to design a garden, she said.

“There were a lot of older people in the neighborhood with different health issues, and we wanted to make the garden accessible in a lot of different ways,” Toosi said. “People who are blind have different needs for accessibility than those who have physical disabilities. People who have loss of a certain ability, they’re not less able than us. … It is interesting to understand what their experience is.”

Toosi said conversations with people in the community caused her to use food to represent cultural heritage.

“We were having conversations with people … and the idea of a food garden came up, having vegetables that would reflect the culture of the neighborhood,” Toosi said. “Everyone has their own food heritage.”

Saint Mary’s philosophy professor Megan Zwart said she enjoyed the first-person stories — in particular a contributor’s story about the negative health associations with “southern soul food” and how true traditional soul food actually includes a lot of vegetables and fruits. Zwart said she appreciated the multi-sensory aspect of the performance.

“I thought by eliminating visual experience and emphasizing sensory experiences of smell, taste and sound, the event was able to highlight our complex associations between food, memory and history,” Zwart said. “Whether one grew up eating the kinds of soul food [Toosi] spotlighted or not, everyone has strong associations between food and memories, which can be triggered by a smell or taste or sound.”

Sophomore Mikhala Kaseweter said Toosi’s piece was her first experience with a sensory art exhibit. Kaseweter said she enjoyed the connections made between history, real life experiences and the culinary arts.

“It was almost as if I was no longer in Le Mans but rather in Alabama [or] Chicago,” Kaseweter said. “Blind to my surroundings, I was temporarily transported to another time and place — another life, really.”

More information about “Shoebox Lunch” and Toosi’s program can be found at garlicandgreens.info

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn