The GreenHouse Community is unfamiliar to most.
Situated on the first floor of Cole Hall, the learning community focuses on the concept of individually defining sustainability and finding ways to enact those newfound beliefs. As with many learning communities, the GreenHouse offers relevant programming for its members and small seminar classes to provide students with focused, unconventional learning opportunities.

The Global Food for Thought Meals began as a seminar and is now a regularly occurring part of GreenHouse programming. Led by GreenHouse Food Intern Anna Zeide, the Global Meals are, as she puts it, “an innovative series of dinners that expose students to the cuisine and culture of another place, using food as a lens onto larger ethnic, religious, linguistic, class-based and gender issues.”

The seed had already been planted for Global Meals before Zeide joined the GreenHouse team last semester. Professor Jack Kloppenburg, director of the GreenHouse, decided such a series would be the best use for grant money awarded from the Division of International Studies. Zeide echoed Kloppenburg’s sentiment, though, stating that food is “a perfect lens onto international cultures, and so the idea of an international-focused food series was born.”

Many of the meals feature chefs or speakers from the Madison area from restaurants that are familiar to most students, like Chautara on State Street. However, the cuisines and cultural topics offered span the globe. While the food itself is prepared by the chefs in University Housing’s food department, they collaborate closely with the guest speakers and modify the cuisine to include locally available ingredients.

The meals are impressive. As sophomore Adam Luepke recalled, “I remember my first meal. It was dish after dish of delicious food; everything was spot on. It was a restaurant-quality meal with restaurant-quality service.”

But the discussion that follows is certainly no afterthought. Many of the speakers and chefs have lived in different countries, and as such, they provide insight into common matters from a unique perspective. Students learn about topics ranging from eating locally to how to make tempeh. Speakers sit with the students too, offering some the chance to have a less formal conversation, which helps provide the communal atmosphere Global Meals strives for.

Most recently, the Global Meals series featured Scott Barton, a culinary consultant with extensive industry experience and a teacher of various classes, including some at the masters level. His meal centered on Afro-Caribbean cuisine, which included everything from traditional cheese bread to a pumpkin dessert. Barton spent the majority of his discussion talking about food identity, how it varies from person to person and how it heavily relies on a person’s experience. 

To Zeide, food is the gateway through which students can better understand a foreign culture or idea. In her words, “Food can be a powerful reflection of cultural difference, and shared eating can bring different people together.” While the tastes might be foreign, the language of food is universal: Everyone can find a common thread in sitting down and sharing a meal.

Two installments remain in the series this semester. One, featuring West African cuisine, will even have a brief exhibit of West African dance. Next semester, the Global Meals will partner with the Women in Sustainability series, combining the two ideas by inviting women who have focused on large-scale agricultural sustainability.

While the Global Meals Series is in its infancy like the GreenHouse itself, it has already yielded some interesting results and a positive flow of ideas. To the students, it provides a chance to expand their knowledge of foreign cultures over a delicious and unique meal, in a language spoken by everyone.

For more information on Anna Zeid, check out her work on www.grist.com or her own food blog, Dining and Opining, diningandopining.blogspot.com.