The Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria (UP) has published a cookbook – 100 recipes to celebrate its 100 anniversary.
HumanEATies is a cookbook, not a recipe book, as it has academic resonance, and is not a mere collection of recipes. Like many academic endeavours, it is a transdisciplinary project, with all the recipes tested by final-year Hospitality and Consumer Food Sciences students in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.
So why a cookbook, and why does it matter to a Faculty of Humanities, asked Professor Vasudhevan “Vasu” Reddy, the faculty’s dean, in the book’s introduction. “Food is more than a micronutrient and a science,” he said. “Food represents what (American anthropologist) Arjun Appadurai describes as the social lives of things. It is deeply sociocultural…. it is comforting, energising, and restorative. It plays a special role in our personal lives and sense of self-definition and shapes our well-being.”
Prof Reddy immediately loved the idea when staff proposed it. “At a personal level, I'm deeply interested in food, in cooking, in ingredients, how food brings people together, how it separates us, all those sorts of issues, and they’re deep questions and knowledge,” he said. “I've come out of a particular culture - and I'm not saying I'm unique; it straddles everyone - where food is very, very central to whatever one does, in meeting people, in relationships, in being human.”
So it’s apt that HumanEATies will be launched at his farewell function at the Javett Art Centre on March 31. After nearly eight years as dean, Prof Reddy is leaving to be Vice-Rector for Research and Internationalisation (including postgraduate studies) at the University of the Free State.
The cookbook was born over a breakfast in November 2018. UP’s staff from the faculty’s Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) were having breakfast at Huckleberry’s restaurant in Magnolia Dell Park in Pretoria. They were hosting Marika King, then a doctoral student, from Georgia State University in Atlanta in the US, and Dr Dana Marks, a postdoctoral fellow from Leibniz University Hannover in Germany. Both had been working with Prof Juan Bornman, then head of CAAC, on different research projects. The two arrived at the event with traditional German Christmas cookies they had baked to say thank you for the centre’s hospitality, and to share something from their own cultures: vanilla crescent cookies (vanillekipferl), spritz cookies (spritzgebäck) and lebkuchen.
“While eating, and – inspired by the cookies – joking about the sweet tooths on the team versus the savoury tooths – we started talking about food and culture and how it shapes some of our earliest memories,” said Prof Bornman. “We also thought about the dean who had asked us to think creatively about celebrating the faculty’s 100th birthday and we thought 100 recipes to celebrate 100 years would be a great idea”.
Prof Alecia Samuels of CAAC, who led the project on behalf of the staff of the CAAC, remembers the breakfast conversation very well. “Much hilarity ensued as we discussed how each department or entity in the faculty could have a chapter in the recipe book with a title having a potentially witty play on words. For example, ‘Food for thought’ for Philosophy, ‘Food for the Soul’ for Psychology, and ‘Don’t talk with food in your mouth’ recipes brought to you by the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology,” she said.
COVID-19 delayed their plans, however, until Dr Heather Thuynsma, a political sciences lecturer with the added responsibility of managing the faculty’s communication and marketing within the dean’s office, resurrected it in 2021 and “had the creative vision to take the project to completion”, said Samuels.
The faculty’s staff and some students were invited to submit recipes that held meaning for them. And the result is a blend of traditional foods that cross many cultures, including African, Indian, Japanese, Gabonese, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Spanish and German.
In the end the book was split into four classic cookbook sections: starters and snacks, salads and light meals, mains, and desserts and bakes. The recipes encompass delights ranging from morogo and sorghum naan bread, to South African sushi (made with maize porridge and boerewors), to vegan butternut chickpea curry, dombolo with beef stew, covo and mushrooms, and boere soetkoek.
Each recipe is accompanied by a short comment on the contributor’s approach to cooking food, as well as their interpretation of the history of the dish.
“In this cookbook, we are in celebration mode, flavoured with bits of nostalgia and memory-making,” said Prof Reddy in the introduction.
HumanEATies is published by Emerging Scholars Initiative (ESI) Press. Founded in 2020, it is one of three presses at UP, the others being in the Law Faculty and the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender. “ESI Press is more broad-based. We run across all the faculties,” said Dr Thuynsma, who is also its executive director, pointing out that Humanities includes the Unit for Academic Literacy and so boasts an inhouse team of experts in copyediting, proofreading, layout and design.
The cookbook is not for sale. ESI Press is a not-for-profit, open-source press, and HumanEATies can be downloaded for free from its website, esipress.up.ac.za.