Food From Around the World at International Education Week

By Chris Rojas

Food from Around the World was an event held during International Education Week in mid-November that provided an opportunity for students in a literature course focused on cooking, character and culture to share dishes from their heritages.

Students in the College of Southern Nevada course English 223 Themes of Literature taught by Instructor Elizabeth Larakers had a big semester project where students were tasked with preparing dishes from different countries around the world and sampling their food at the event during International Education week, which was organized by Larakers herself.

Larakers said, “As you may imagine a few people wanted Italy and Mexico so those were countries in high demand but in general everybody found a cool country to do and we had a lot of representation especially of Latin America and South America. In part I think that’s because so many of the students here are Hispanic and come from those backgrounds so the opportunity to explore something of which they feel kinship or have a personal part is exciting.”

Student Raquel McCoy cooked a dish for the event. She chose hers from Guyana, a South American country, because her significant other’s family gave her a lot of exposure to that culture.

“His family’s mother’s side was born and raised in Guyana before the country became an independent country on its own when it was separated by British, Dutch and French Guyana,” McCoy said.

The recipe McCoy chose called Guyanese Pepperpot has a rich history with the culture of that country. Pepperpot is a stewed meat dish, strongly flavored with cinnamon, cassareep and other basic ingredients including Caribbean hot peppers. Beef, pork and chicken are the most popular meats used. Pepperpot is served with a dense Guyanese-style homemade or home-style bread, rice or roti.

Another student Marissa Carroll cooked Lumpia for the event. Lumpia is a savory snack made of thin crepe pastry skin called Lumpia wrapper that envelopes a mixture of savory fillings consisting of chopped vegetables and minced meat. The dish is of Chinese origin often eaten in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Carroll really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the event and is so happy she took Larakers’ class. “It’s a foods class. I do love this class. I absolutely love it.”

Food from Around the World had 22 students cook special dishes for the event. Dozens of other students stopped in to enjoy the epicurean experience.

Larakers planned Food from Around the World to offer her students and others a chance to explore diversity and cultures and to come together.

“The fact that we all eat is one of the areas that binds us together,” Larakers said. “It’s something that people enjoy to do. It’s one of those easy cultural experiences that I think can really enrich our lives. By eating from those different cultures, I hope students learn to appreciate them and embrace that and maybe, you know, to get out there and make friends with different people.”

Larakers said that cultures can be reflected in their foods and eating practices. In her class, students are taught that food can express things such as sensuality, ethnicity, race and traditions as cuisine provides an entry point into understanding cultures. For example, “Students learn about how important it is to eat as a family in China,” Larakers said. In China they do not have individual plates but instead have prepared dishes set on the table and guests reach in with chopsticks and eat as they desire. “It’s straight from the dish to your mouth.”

Not all cultures practice this.

Chi Lam, a student in the class, prepared Banh mi for his project, which is a Vietnamese baguette sandwich introduced by the French during Vietnam’s colonial period. Lam said it is a very popular dish in Vietnam because, “Vietnamese people are very busy and do not have time to sit down and eat so they get a sandwich and eat it as they go.”

Americans eat on the run too.

“We have a tendency to go through the drive-thru, grab a burger, eat in our car and I do that myself from time to time,” Larakers said. “In other cultures food is very much something you do together. You wait for everyone to be present.” This is one of the things she hopes to encourage her students to do.

Topics like this are explored in Larakers’ course, which offers a different way to accomplish the literature requirement that many degrees have, and can be a lot of fun to learn.

“I am very happy I chose this class,” McCoy said. “[Larakers] is an amazing professor.”

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