The newest addition to Wisconsin Union Directorate’s 10 committees, WUD Cuisine, is striving to establish itself as a facilitator for students to get involved in key dialogues surrounding food and food waste on campus.
Federica Ranelli, a senior majoring in food science, is the committee’s first director. She and the other executives of the group are tasked with establishing the group on campus, and figuring out what the committee’s direction will be — no small task.
The Badger Herald talked with Ranelli about the club’s origins, challenges, goals and her own background in food.
The following interview was edited for style and clarity.
The Badger Herald: How did you initially get involved in this new entity that is WUD Cuisine?
Federica Ranelli: I am a senior this year and I’m majoring in food science and getting a certificate in global health.
I’m really interested in local community and also global food systems. That interest has blossomed throughout my time here at UW by working with different professors and learning from a lot of people, being involved in different organizations like Science Club and UW F.H. King. So it’s a really natural progression for me to come into my own and share what I’ve learned and connections I’ve made with other people in the campus and Madison community.
BH: How did WUD Cuisine originate? What were the underlying reasons for its formation?
FR: WUD Cuisine came about basically because in this day and age you can’t go on the internet or have a conversation that doesn’t somehow involve food, food issues, sustainability and social justice.
They’re super hot topics right now, and the Wisconsin Union is such a powerful entity. And the fact that we weren’t sharing our voice or structuring our voice, giving students the opportunity to learn more about it and share their voice on the issue was kind of a big deal.
BH: One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding food and college students seems to be that it’s not very feasible to cook for oneself on a regular basis. How do you feel about this and how do you seek to change this?
FR: I’m not going to be all high and mighty like I never eat out and I always prep my meals on Sundays, because I’m not that organized.
I do think it’s a misconception that it’s really hard and really time consuming, but I don’t look down on anybody who says they don’t have the time to or feels like they don’t have the time to, because I have gone to Jimmy John’s an embarrassingly high number of times this semester.
BH: Haven’t we all?
FR: It happens to all of us, but I think if you get in a groove of like understanding what you like to eat and keeping your pantry and fridge stocked with what you know you enjoy and what is easy for you to whip up, then it’s really not hard to cook for yourself.
BH: What are the different types of services and programs you hope WUD Cuisine to provide to students in the short-term and the long-term?
FR: Our goal is to really provide a wide variety of programs throughout the year, so a big part of what we do revolves around cooking and teaching people how to cook.
We got so much interest from freshman or people who are new to living in an apartment. “I don’t know what to do in my kitchen. Help me!” We are creating a series of basic intro to cooking classes and creating another series with folks at UW Slow Food that isn’t as basic, so we really meet people where they are.
With everything we do, with cooking we want to integrate conversations of cultural appropriation in food culture, how food is a vehicle of culture, social issues and sustainability. We all love food and we like sharing it and eating it, and so it’s great fun, but we want to have more meaningful conversations and not just have fun.
BH: What about non-cooking programming? How will those discussions come in other forms?
FR: We’ll also be doing food-focused but not cooking in the kitchen, We’re talking about creating a GMO debate where some professors or industry people, and people who are against GMO’s and for them can have a really great forum to talk about it and educate people, so people can hear all sides at once. We want to do a lot of different things like that.
I see that as one of our main missions is to bring together groups who may or may not have worked together but are really talking about the same thing.
BH: How do vegetarianism and veganism fit into WUD Cuisine?
FR: We don’t want to promote, “This is how you should be eating,” plant-based diet or vegan or go meatless or anything like that, because a big part of what we talk about is food access and economic status, and so it can be really hard to tell people, “You aren’t eating sustainably. You’re ruining the planet because of x, y, z … because you buy chicken or beef.”
I don’t feel okay saying that, so we do want to create within our cooking series vegan, maybe some vegan baking and some fun things like that, but we’re not going to have a focus on meatless eating and things like that.
BH: To shift gears, what is your favorite go-to meal you make on a daily basis?
FR: On a daily basis, quesadillas. Those are my life. All cheese, all the veggies. I’ve started canning my own salsa, so I slip a lot of that in there.
BH: What about the best home-cooked meal you’ve ever had?
FR: Whenever I visit, it’s rare but it’s always memorable when my family goes out to my extended family in Connecticut. That’s my dad’s 100 percent Italian side. And my aunt just makes the most incredible spread. Seven meals worth in one meal, and it’s just amazing delicious food, but also just like reconnecting with family. That’s what makes it even more memorable.