Yale bridges food today and food past

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Photo by Michael Marsland.

On Saturday afternoon, renowned chef and co-founder of the Yale Sustainable Food Project (YSFP), Alice Waters, along with Professor Paul Freedman led an event at Yale to view the aged cookbooks and recipes, and other food related materials in Beinecke Library.

They were joined by a cohort of people involved with the YSFP, including many alumni, the founding co-directors, sustaining donors and some recent graduates. The event was the last in a weekend that celebrated the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s 10th anniversary, and looked forward to the next 10 years of sustainable food at Yale.

“This is partly to show what kind of things students can use for research,” Freedman said, “and partly to show the various ways in which a mainly biological phenomenon has manifested itself across cultures.”

Waters is the founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California restaurant famous for its menu’s focus on organic and locally grown foods. She has been a national supporter of organic foods for over 40 years, as well as an advocate on the national level of school lunch reform, which she has promoted through programs like the Edible Schoolyard program at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California.

Freeman gave the attendees of the event a brief summary of the materials that they were looking at and explained how these materials fit into the larger context of sustainable food at Yale.

Materials displayed included a stone tablet from the Babylonian collection with cuneiform inscriptions of recipes dating from 1750 B.C., a reprinting of the only Roman cookbook known to survive, and materials from the founding of the YSFP.  According to the curator of the Babylonian collection, Ulla Caston, it is the oldest cookbook still in existence. Attendees were invited to leaf through the materials presented and even touch some of the ancient stone tablets displayed.

“I think it’s important that we know what was happening in places of the world that connect health and gastronomy,” Waters said. “We have to find our way back home,” she said, speaking to how in the past smaller farms put a higher premium on the quality of their product, but today’s farms are more concerned with quantity.

Waters said how she herself has recently taken an interest in ancient grains such as farro, barley and others that were eaten by civilizations of the past. She is also very interested in spices from the Middle East such as turmeric, which are not only a source of “natural and delicious” flavor for her cooking, but have also been linked to health benefits.

The Beinecke event was the conclusion of the YSFP’s 10th anniversary weekend celebration, which included a trip to the Yale Farm, several panels featuring speakers affiliated with YSFP and a Friday night dinner honoring Waters and former University President Richard Levin.

Jacquline Lewin, programs manager for international and professional experience for the YSFP, said she felt that the weekend reflected the importance of sustainable food both on the farm, in the classroom and around the world.

“We have to really do the research, and the YSFP is doing that,” Waters said. “I hope that we can go all the way here at Yale,” she added.

Waters stressed how important it is for those who work with food today to take into consideration the information that has been cultivated about food over thousands of years.

The Yale Sustainable Food Project began in 2000.

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