(SOUNBITE OF BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES’ “BLU-BOP”)
STEVE SANDERS: Welcome to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Steve Sanders. How are the rituals and traditions of food - what we eat with family or on holidays - intertwined with our ethnicity and our culture? How do food and cooking affect the experiences and other people's perceptions about the diverse peoples who have immigrated to the United States for centuries and continue to do so today? How has the study of food and culinary traditions come to be a subject of serious academic work? And what do the principles of diversity and inclusion mean in higher education? Today we explore those and other questions with our guest on this episode of Profiles Vivian Halloran. Vivian Halloran is Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington. She's also the associate dean for diversity and inclusion of the College of Arts and Sciences, and she's author of the book that will spend some time talking about, "The Immigrant Kitchen - Food Ethnicity and Diaspora" published by Ohio State University Press. Vivian Halloran, welcome to Profiles.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Thank you.
STEVE SANDERS: First tell us about your family and how you came to the United States. You were born in Puerto Rico and came here with your family. Citizens of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, yet in the book you describe yours as an immigration experience or an immigrant's experience. Why? Tell us about that.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I think of it in terms of cultural - culture shock and the cultural change. Even though my father was in the U.S. military and part of my childhood I spent growing up living on the military base in Puerto Rico, I spoke Spanish with my family all the time. And I was not used to doing things like eating turkey on Thanksgiving. We'd have pork. And we'd wonder about certain kinds of things we thought Americans did. So Puerto Rico is a very interesting midway point between Latin America and the United States. Culturally we identify more with Latin America. But also we are fully aware of the benefits of having U.S. citizenship, even though we're not treated in the same way as mainland Americans are. And so when we first moved, it was from Puerto Rico to Colorado. I had no visual reference for Colorado when we moved there. For that reason, it was very much of an experience of culture shock even though the language for me wasn't as difficult. The military schools did a great job of preparing me to just integrate into the public school system. But it was still really all American all the time, and that was a little much (laughter).
STEVE SANDERS: If someone asks you about your own ethnic background, you yourself - correct me if I'm wrong - your father is Lebanese, but you had a maternal grandfather who was Spanish. So what goes into your own background?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: So my father's family came from Lebanon - what is now Lebanon but at the time was called Syria. And they went to Cuba first, and then they settled in Puerto Rico when my grandfather was a baby. So my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His father married a Puerto Rican woman. He's from a Lebanese background. When we would visit my great-grandparents, oftentimes they had forgotten their Spanish by this point. And so they go back and forth arguing in Arabic. And so it was really funny. My mother's father was born in Puerto Rico but in 1912. So that's before the Jones Act. So he was technically a Spanish citizen. And he had to become naturalized later in life when he decided to get married. So he and my grandmother had to travel to St. Croix or St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands, to get married because he was still in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
STEVE SANDERS: What were food and cooking like in your home growing up when you were child or a young woman? I think you said that your father would go through a sort of pining for Lebanese food on occasion. And so other things - what did your family - what did your parents cook? What role did food play for you growing up?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Food was very important. And I should tell you that one of my sisters is a pastry chef. So I mean, it's a very important bonding mechanism. So when I was growing up, my mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she could cook for us. But my grandmother, her mother, would make cakes and then sometimes she'd eat them and then tell us all about it (laughter).
STEVE SANDERS: Not quite the same thing for you. Not quite as good a deal (laughter).
VIVIAN HALLORAN: No. It was not great (laughter). But it was kind of a funny thing because she just loved what she made so much. She always had fruit trees in the house, and so they were passion fruit. And there was all manner of fruit. And so she had a lot available and would always be very creative. But she, my grandmother, had been running her own beauty salon. So there were periods during my mother's childhood that they would do what people do now which is order food and bring it home and so do that kind of thing. But my mom's godmother was the acknowledged best cook in the family. And she made little pink beans that were absolutely hands down the best. They had Caribbean pumpkin. And she was the only person I knew who had a garden in her home, but it was a garden behind a fence so the children were not allowed to go mess it up. And so I grew up thinking that only special people got to have gardens.
STEVE SANDERS: (Laughter) What foods today are most evocative for you of your childhood, of your formative experiences of growing up? Are there aromas or particular dishes that just remind you of a certain time when you were younger?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah. Plantains. And I wish there were more plantations prepared in Bloomington. I have access to a lot of actual plantains so I can go make them. A key food that I would say really is a touchstone of my childhood was cod, which is funny because I don't know anybody who eats cod.
STEVE SANDERS: The fish, cod. Yeah.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Just…the actual fish. We used to have a lot of salt cod. So the funny preparation for it is you put it in milk to get rid of some of the salt before you start cooking it. And there's a great Puerto Rican dish called Escabeche. And it's cod with boiled eggs and with root vegetables and sliced onions. And it's served cold, which is unusual. And that was something we had at key times in my childhood, not all the time. And I really feel like that is one of those iconic meals that signals home to me.
STEVE SANDERS: You tell the story in the book about a turkey and cranberries...
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah.
STEVE SANDERS: ...A sort of basket that your family received shortly after you arrived in Colorado. Tell us that story because it's clear that your feelings about that experience were ambivalent.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: It's an interesting thing because it was simultaneously the best of America and the worst of our own impulses. Because the neighbors around - we had moved. My sister had had surgery. She had several surgeries in the United States. That was the reason we chose to move to Colorado to be close to Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center. And the neighbors had seen that she was in a wheelchair for a while. And then my father had to go back to Puerto Rico to try and get a compassionate reassignment, which is what ended up happening. So for all visible information that we put out there, it was a single mom with a sick kid and two other ones. I don't know how we ended up receiving a basket with a frozen turkey and all the fixings.
STEVE SANDERS: Someone left this on your doorstep...
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah.
STEVE SANDERS: ...Anonymously.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes. And that's what was so amazing. I think one of us opened the door. I think it was me, but - and saw this bounty. And at first impulse it was, oh no, we're taking something from someone else.
STEVE SANDERS: You didn't think of your family as necessarily poor or needy.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Right. We didn't need it. I think it was an interesting thing because my mom was a stay-at-home mom, I don't think people saw her going to work. So I think the perception was that we needed assistance. And that, I was simultaneously touched that people would think of us at such a time but then my mom was embarrassed because someone else needed it more. And then we decided we can't go around figuring out who else needs it more. So let's just go ahead and do it. And that was one of the first whole turkeys that we decided to make because before then we would do a leg of pork: Pernil. And that was more to our taste. So I think that first turkey we stuffed with rice and ground beef mixed together to give it a more of Puerto Rican spin on it. We felt seen and welcome, but also that was only after we got over the shame of taking from someone else.
STEVE SANDERS: So when you had that first turkey and cranberries and the Thanksgiving fixings, did that in your mind make you think in some way you had crossed a threshold to becoming part of the United States culture?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: You know, I think it made us seem like we were part of that neighborhood more, mostly because I don't know what we did with the cranberries (laughter). But it's hard to make a national identification, especially when you have such a strong pseudo national one, right? So the thing about Puerto Rico is that we have a very strong regional identity. And we are a territory of the United States. So even to this day, I'm more comfortable saying I'm Puerto Rican than saying American, even though I am American. We were being welcomed and it made me more attuned to Thanksgiving. So we arrived in 1987. Ever since then I've paid attention to how the plight of immigrants is discussed around that time. And especially in radio, there are stories with recent immigrants about their first Thanksgiving. So in retrospect, yes. I can see how it was an introduction to the - like a rite of passage. But at the time it was more like, OK. We are part of the neighborhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA’S “ABRAZO DISTANTE”)
STEVE SANDERS: If you're just joining us, this is Profiles on WFIU. I'm Steve Sanders. Our guest is Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Arts and Sciences and author of the book, "The Immigrant Kitchen - Food, Ethnicity and Diaspora."
You went to the University of Colorado Boulder for your undergraduate education. You would go on to get your PhD in comparative literature from UCLA. What made you decide to pursue an academic career? Did you know this would be your path when you went away to college? Did you consider other things? What led you to become a PhD and want to be a scholar and a professor?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, that's really funny because my mother actually had suggested at some point that I consider becoming a professor. But she had no idea other than you need to get a PhD how you'd go about doing that. But she said you're too smart and you like school too much. So that seems like a good thing. And so what that prompted me to do was ask my professors, how do I get to be one of you? I was very lucky that when I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder that was far enough away from my parents for them to feel a little hesitant to let me go but also for me to feel like I could explore. And I ended up using student loans and some grants to pay for my own schooling. I in no way felt beholden to do what they wanted me to do, which was study law. So I did a double major in English and Spanish and just fell in love with both. And I didn't want to choose. My advisers and the faculty said you don't have to. You can do comparative literature and add another language or two. And that became just amazing. I also had great mentors - so people who would just convey to me the enthusiasm of reading as an active practice. I think up until college I'd been thinking about how much information I could receive from books, the joy they gave me but how much I could learn. And what the faculty at Boulder did, both in the Spanish and in the English department, was teach me how much I could put into the reading process and actively engage with the material and make it come alive.
STEVE SANDERS: That's important - isn't it? - for at all phases of an academic career to have mentors, people who take an interest in you, people who usher you into a folkways and things that might not occur to you naturally.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah. And it's a funny thing because faculty then become your academic family. So my oldest daughter lives in Washington D.C. And when we were taking her from here to move to D.C., we stayed in the apartment of the faculty member whose graduate class I took as an undergraduate where I met my husband. So it was like, this is your academic Grandma. Funny thing. Also she is the person who introduced me to salmon mousse, which I had never had. And why it's shaped like a salmon? I don't know (laughter).
STEVE SANDERS: It's hard to find those little copper fish molds these days.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: The connection I hadn't thought about till now, the English department of Boulder literally had wine and cheese parties. And so what you read about the stereotype of faculty doing, they did that. And it was so exciting to see, ah, yes. Indeed, faculty do enjoy this. I couldn't have any because I was an undergraduate. But it was something to aspire to.
STEVE SANDERS: And once the pandemic is over that would be a nice ritual maybe to revive at a place like Indiana University. What led you to Indiana University? You came here in 2002. How did you come to join the faculty at IU?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah. This is my first job. And I liked it so well I didn't look for any others. Academic jobs are hard to get. I had learned about Indiana when I was a graduate student at UCLA because what I knew about it was that it actively had a program to try and bring in minority graduate students to try and prepare them to be faculty. So I knew about that program. But it just so happened that after three years on the job search, I sent in my resume to comparative literature to apply to a position as director of composition. And the chair liked what he saw in my CV and said, “you know, we might be able to get a tenure track teaching position here.”
STEVE SANDERS: Nice.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: And so he worked with Swamy and they were able to bring me here as a visiting assistant professor. And then I gave my official job talk in October of that year. They hired me in May when everybody was gone. So nobody had vetted me. So I went through the formal process in October, and that was early enough in case they didn't like what they saw, I could still look for another job. And they could get rid of me. But it worked out. I started as an assistant professor then of comparative literature. And then later on in my career, I switched my affiliation to American Studies and English. And then most recently I've consolidated all my FTE into English because I wanted to be able to do things like become the associate dean and do administration. And it helps if you are not split into too many pieces.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: If you're just joining us, this is Profiles on WFIU. I'm Steve Sanders. Our guest is Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the college of arts and sciences, and author of the book "The Immigrant Kitchen - Food, Ethnicity and Diaspora."
I want to turn now and talk a little bit about your scholarship, the book, the field of food studies. My own personal experience is as the grandson of immigrants all of my grandparents came from Eastern Europe - Poland, maybe with a little bit of Russian and German mixed in. And when I first came to Bloomington as an undergraduate, it was a revelation to me that not everyone ate kielbasa and sauerkraut or potato pancakes and things like that. And so I went through a phase sort of in the 1990s when I became very interested in food as ritual and the role that food plays in one's ethnic heritage. And I remember thinking at the time, boy, I'd love to teach a class about this because nobody studies this. There's no teaching about food. That's really changed. How has it come to be that a few decades ago food and its role in history and culture really weren't formally acknowledged by scholars or university curricula? Today they seem to have become very mainstream. What accounts for that process that you yourself have certainly centrally been a part of?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: You pointed to the '90s. And that was a key decade because of the rise of magical realism about food. So "Like Water for Chocolate" hit and that was a very influential text. And then it became an influential film, especially because of the loving portraiture of the cooking process. And that then just multiplied.
STEVE SANDERS: "Babette's Feast" was another movie I remember seeing around that time.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: ...And that was around the late '80s, early '90s.
STEVE SANDERS: Yeah. "Big Night" which was about an Italian restaurant.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah, that was about to go under. And so it was clear that there was a public to consume narratives about food. Now all along there had been memoirs about food. People liked Julia Child as much for her persona as for her actual writing about food. And what changed in the '90s was that magical combination of people were already interested in reading Latin American books in translation. But when "Like Water for Chocolate" which is Mexican was translated into English and then the movie became so big, that coincided with the rise of interdisciplinarity and the opening up of the canon, I would say. So those two things made it possible for people to start doing literary study of novels that included references to food. In my case, I decided that I would write a book on food memoirs that included recipes. And the reason for that was because I wanted to see what truth claims authors made about the recipes, especially when in the early chapters of their memoir when they would mention lovingly having had a particular dish at a fancy restaurant that no longer existed when they were four. So much of what we enjoy about food we have no way to prove. And authors nonetheless want to give something as proof. And the truth value of recipes is I would say more subjective than the truth value of photographs because how can I disprove that restaurant X served this particular recipe of that dish that you love? I can't disprove it. And yet we place so much emotional value on it. That meant that scholars who were working on literature could suddenly talk to anthropologists who have long been talking about the importance of food within their study of society. And then people in nutrition sciences who were also looking at broader social implications of how people go about choosing food or avoiding food and then diet trends - superfood discourse became suffused with references to food and the rise then, of course, towards the end of the '90s of the Food Network, which on the one hand demystified the actual cooking process. There are a lot of so-called dump and stir shows. So you too can do this. And also then had super chefs just do amazing feats of pastry construction of multi-tiered cakes or incredibly delicious and time-consuming things. And it became a pleasure just to see it.
STEVE SANDERS: And hasn't it been studied or documented that most people who watch those shows really aren't - weren't interested in the technique. They're - unlike the people who watched maybe Julia Child's television show in the 1970s who really did want to learn how to cook French food, the people watching the Food Network today just want to be entertained or want to fantasize about food, not necessarily learn how to cook it.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Very much so. And Michael Pollan wrote about this at some point about how most of the fans, even the dump and stir shows don't ever actually cook. They order in while they're watching food. What I personally found about that that was useful, I was raising small children when I was writing my dissertation. And so watching food television was something my husband and I could do with our toddlers and not think that it would be in any way offensive or lose their attention. I mean they love to see something come together. Luckily, my children never thought that I should be making the same thing at the same time. But it gave people who had otherwise different interests a common reason to watch something together whereas nobody would necessarily agree on the one crime show or the one comedy. They could certainly agree on the one type of cuisine they wanted to see more of.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA’S “WAND”)
STEVE SANDERS: If you're just joining us, I'm Steve Sanders. This is Profiles on WFIU. Our guest is Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington and author of the book "The Immigrant Kitchen."
STEVE SANDERS: You mentioned interdisciplinarity. The sort of stereotype that some people have of the academy or even some of us who were in the academy sometimes feel that faculty members are siloed. That there's a lot of specialization. You describe yourself, your own research and teaching interests, as profoundly interdisciplinary. So talk a little bit more about what fields of scholarship, what areas of knowledge you feel you bring together in your own work.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: So I am trained comparatives which I think is an important thing to begin with. And that already makes me look for more than one thing. I've been involved with the human biology program here since 2005. And what I bring to that was a willingness to use food. At that time we were using centering the first year of the curriculum on food. And I'm able to then read across disciplines and tell science students how poems about food nonetheless illustrate particular biological processes or then we would go into more nuanced discussions about why food is culturally relevant to some groups and eating a different kind or seeing an Americanized kind of a particular food would not be accepted well. So that kind of thing. Right now, though, I also work with the liberal arts management program affiliate in African and diaspora studies. I have a wide range of interests. I've mostly published on literature but literature broadly defined. So I've published on film. I think I even have something on diet books (laughter) and I look at narratives writ large and try and keep in mind what the premises of the discipline I'm working with so that I don't blur everything and make it all literature.
STEVE SANDERS: The book that we have mentioned, "The Immigrant Kitchen," you focus on one particular genre of book as you said and you describe in the book immigrant culinary memoirs with recipes.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes.
STEVE SANDERS: Why that focus? Why not just immigrant culinary memoirs? Why not just cookbooks by a particularly prominent immigrant personalities? What led you to that particular focus?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, I had read very broadly. And I decided that the conversation I wanted to enter into, it was about hospitality. Having a recipe in your book is an open invitation to the reader to join you in a meal. I like that gesture. I thought also that it was important that all the people I study, all the texts that constitute the archive of the book, be by people who had previously published other works so that they were writing to an established public as opposed to trying to make it on their food credentials alone. And that was important because I wanted to have them already have an established set of what their identity was based on and how food played a part in that as opposed to trying to make everything about food to join a particular trend. And what I also was looking at is the fact that when you have a recipe in a memoir there is no expectation that it be tested in the same way that a recipe in a cookbook has to be. So some of the recipes I read about don't taste very good because they're not written by cooks. And other ones are great. But it allows you to have a sensory experience that then you can compare with the written account of the author's own sensory experience. So I can read some wonderful basketball players' experience of winning the championship but I will never be in the NBA. But I can cook. And if I can cook and follow this recipe that this person has, I can see, ooh, we're compatible. I like what she likes or, geez, I would never accept the dinner invitation to that person's house.
STEVE SANDERS: (Laughter) When you embark on a project like this, do literature scholars sort of begin with a hypothesis and then consult these texts and see if the hypothesis works out? Or is it different? What ultimate conclusion did you draw after reading these books? Is there a central argument in your book that unifies the various books and a few films that were your subject?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: It's an interesting process because only this far into my teaching career have I become more comfortable talking about my research question. And that's perhaps a sign of my training or perhaps a sign of my weakness as a scholar. But I was interested in narrative, and I wanted to look at peoples accounts of themselves as American and their journey to becoming American. So that was very much an American Studies project. I didn't know what to do. So I start setting parameters so that it made sense how to assemble an archive that could, in some way, speak to each other and also illustrate different aspects of the larger process. I also chose very privileged people. As I said, they were writers who had an existing public so they weren't trying to crack into the publishing industry. They already had achieved a level of success. So I'm aware of that. I wanted to include references to how people who are in more marginal parts of society use food to affirm the ties of kinship and also solidarity. But they didn't write these narratives. So there was a missing archive that I didn't want to invent. So out of respect for the archive that was there, it took me a while. I've read all the memoirs during the year I spent at home after my son was born. I had a leave and then a course release. So I read very, very broadly. And then it took me a couple other years to finally decide the arrangement of the memoir so that they made a cohesive unit. And they generally point to larger elements. But the overall thesis I would say is that immigrants acknowledge that their fellow Americans are curious about why they left everything and came here. And so this is their way of making that conversation less awkward. And they tell us about their reasons. And they ask us in return two things. Number one, that we stop hyphenating them. They're American. And number two, that we take a chance and follow the recipe and see what we come up with.
STEVE SANDERS: I think I read in the first chapter in the introductory in the outset of the book that you believe that these works both involve the authors speaking, communicating something, but also they affect the larger countries, the larger culture's perceptions of that particular immigrant group that they're part of. Am I stating that correctly?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah. Yeah. I would say so. And it - partly it's because we all are curious about one another and our differences. But we're unsure about how to ask, and we don't want to offend. Especially now it's very charged. The topic of immigration is very politically divisive. And so people really don't want to make the immigrants they interact with feel ill at ease or worse - when they find out you're from someplace else but where are you really from? Right? So it's all these impulses that people are aware of and hesitant to engage in real conversation.
STEVE SANDERS: Is part of the idea that when these conversations involve food and cooking and recipes that provides a common ground? It sort of puts people at ease in having that conversation to get to know each other across what could be a cultural divide?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I think so because I think it displaces the conversation. I can say, oh, I just read this great book about the cuisine of this place or this immigrant writer. How do you feel about that? Are you familiar with their work? And then if they have a take, is it, oh, that person's Puerto Rican cookery is not at all like what my grandma had. So then it gives you something to talk about that's not about the person themselves because nobody likes a spotlight on them. And then also it gives you the possibility of saying but my recipe for X is better. Let me give it to you. So it's an occasion for speaking.
STEVE SANDERS: Going through the book and reading about some of the texts that you had looked at or you even considered, there was one that caught my eye, mastering the art of Soviet cooking.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Oh, yeah. That's a great read.
STEVE SANDERS: Was that a parody or was that an actual book?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: It's an actual book, and she's talking about the parodic impulse of the Soviet leaders to make a show of opulence and great cuisine while the people were starving. So there are literal examples of the rulers having banquets for outsiders even though people in that same town where that may have been held were starving. And also then she includes recipes - a lot of mayonnaise - but recipes that people in those big apartment buildings where everybody is boiling cabbage. She actually gives you the recipe for those things to show that contrast. So that's a really funny book, but it's heartbreaking as well.
STEVE SANDERS: And there's a chapter in the book in which you actually use as your text not books but film.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah.
STEVE SANDERS: That is increasingly a part of English and literary scholarship - isn't it? - films as essentially texts.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes and because they're narratives. And what drew me to that was their emphasis on immigration and Thanksgiving, two themes that I'm very fond of. And it literally uses the modalities that film can afford. So showing the preparation of the turkey with half the traditional ingredients and half the American ingredients so you strike a compromise to convey to people again, assuming an audience that's mixed, how specific communities go about negotiating the dual alliances that they feel because it's very difficult to feel wholly one thing, especially if you've left another. So that's why generational conflicts - parents expect their children to maintain their own home culture and yet kids are feeling American - but also it's hard to let go of your sense of your culture when you're in a new place, even if you really wanted to come. So that balancing act I think film illustrates quite well.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA’S “BROMAS”)
STEVE SANDERS: If you've just joined us, this is Steve Sanders. You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. Our guest is Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for diversity and inclusion and author of the book, "The Immigrant Kitchen - Food, Ethnicity and Diaspora."
Professor Halloran, in the book you write the following, few times of the year are as emotionally fraught and gastronomically demanding for individuals, families and their friends as are holidays with religious overtones. It's become almost a sort of trope or a joke that the holidays are stressful for everyone getting together with your relatives and so forth. But again, you say that when one, as Polish families do, cook 12 traditional courses on Christmas Eve because that is supposed to symbolize the twelve apostles or honor other rituals that might be associated with a Jewish heritage or a Latin heritage, this is about more than just nostalgia. You write that it has a deeper meaning, that it's about reclaiming a relationship with the past.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I think it's because of the performance. The performative dimension of cooking I think is something we're comfortable discussing. But the national - performing the national belonging or the ethnic belonging in addition to having to keep everyone's food restrictions in mind and times in which everybody eats is an added pressure. I always feel that I don't do Easter right. I do Lent very well. Like I can totally eat fish every Friday. But Easter, I just don't have a frame of reference.
STEVE SANDERS: Is there a tradition in your family for what's supposed to be eaten at Easter?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: You know, I'm conflicted because I grew up having large family gatherings. And I didn't pay too much attention to what we ate. I think we had ham. But what I remember about Easter growing up was having the treat of coffee. And we got to put three probably tablespoons but teaspoons of sugar. And really sweet coffee is what I remember. But I read. And so I'm used to reading about people celebrating with lamb or people celebrating with something else. It's one of those things where my education has ruined Easter cooking for me. But when families all get together and there are certain expectations that the more families grow and you bring in in-laws and that kind of thing, cousins, everyone puts pressure on the cook or cooks to perform, to make the holiday concrete at the table. And that's just something I think we should acknowledge and cut people some slack.
STEVE SANDERS: So there have obviously in this country been sort of various major waves of immigration. After the Irish potato famine, you had a wave of Irish immigration to this country. In the early half of the 20th century you had European groups from southern and eastern Europe coming to this country. More recently, groups from Asia, Africa, the global south - does every one of these very diverse groups that have come to this country at different times have their own rituals, their own role that food plays for them in their culture? Are there some immigrant groups or immigrant traditions where food and its relationship to culture just is more important or plays a bigger role than it does for others?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I think stereotypically that is true, that there are some groups that value at least the discussion of how much food is a part of their identity. So I'm thinking Italian Americans - even now, the Italian grandma who tells you to eat all the time. Jewish American people, there are foods they associate with love or with family together - or performing their Jewish identity regardless of their religious context. There are some groups - and there are groups that you don't really know what they eat as a national cuisine because it's not trendy. I think everybody who leaves a place wants to take a little bit of them with them when they arrive. And the difficulty is in whether or not you can find the ingredients. But the way our food system works right now, before the pandemic it was possible to get very specialized foods in most major cities. I don't think right now is the time to try and find a very obscure ingredient. But that allowed people to really try to maintain at least the illusion of continuity even though everything else had changed. What I would say, though, is that other people really never wanted to eat that way again. So if you left your country due to war, if you were persecuted, if you didn't feel like you belonged, I'm not sure that what you want to do is eat the way - and for some people, the hamburger or the cheeseburger or the hotdog on the Fourth of July. That is the epitome of being American so that's what they're going to have all the time.
STEVE SANDERS: Until now, we've been talking about the role that food plays in the culture and the history of immigrants who came to this country consciously by choice. Of course, there is a very prominent group of Americans whose ancestors came to this country not by choice, the descendants of African slaves. You have also, I believe, written and studied African-American food, traditions and histories and rituals. Are those different in any way or had they come to play the same role in that group's culture that food plays in other ethnic and racial groups' cultures?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, that's an interesting issue because there is the great migration from the south to the north for people to find employment. And so one of the texts that I looked at in my book is called sweets. And it's recipes for desserts - so no main courses, just desserts - that the author got from her family members who stayed in the south.
STEVE SANDERS: This is an African-American author.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes, African-American author who got the recipes from her relatives who stayed in the south or were the things her mother would miss the most, and so she'd make that particular coconut cake to take to church. And then churches in places like Michigan, or something, so up north would have these meals afterwards. And everybody would show off their own family's recipes. And so that's a really interesting thing. But that's only one dimension of what I would say are Black foodways because there's also the fact that Caribbean immigrants are sometimes Afro Caribbean. And so they have their own African-derived traditions that they bring with them. And those are distinct and try to establish as many connections to Africa as they can. But it's a lineage that is broken. I also have “If God Can Cook You Know I Can.” And so that also brings in Canada which is funny because Shange talks about her father who is Canadian but then she is U.S. born and raised African American. And she has friends who are Afro Latino. And so what she presents as her recipes are partly chosen family, partly her family she was raised with and then looking forward to giving that broader tapestry of mixed heritage and traditions to her daughter because she writes about her daughter at that point. So Blackness encompanies (sic) a rich - encompasses a rich diversity of cultures. And some of the writers I discuss are aware of the limitations of when they can reconstruct their past and others have broader geographical roots to draw from.
STEVE SANDERS: Have you come to believe are there objective criteria about what makes good food? Or is it really all essentially constructed and subjective? I think there was a period in this country where French food was the epitome of high cuisine, and good food, and skillful cooking and so forth. In recent decades, we've come to have a much greater appreciation for what's called street food. Is it possible even objectively to say what makes for good food, what the right ingredients are, what the proper techniques are? Or is that simply just the wrong question?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, if there were such a thing I would not be the person to tell you what would make it because I'm not a food professional. And my palate is not as developed. As a middle aged I've developed way too many food allergies to be able to tell (laughter). So I would say there is food that's prepared with care and integrity. And so that would be one standard. But also I'm not going to deny there's some junk food that's yummy. Am I gonna say that's good food? At the time when I need it, yes. But I'm not going to say that never ever, ever.
STEVE SANDERS: Does the work that you're doing interact with this old, maybe now sort of outdated, period piece of America as a melting pot? It seems to me as America has developed a greater diversity and as our tastes in food have widened dramatically, we celebrate difference. We celebrate having a diversity of cuisines and musics and styles. So is this old idea of America as a melting pot still relevant? Is it even offensive?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, I wouldn't say it's offensive. I'm not sure it's particularly relevant. But what I have done in my career is to teach the play called "The Melting Pot" which was a huge hit at the time.
STEVE SANDERS: And what was it about?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: So it was about a Russian immigrant family who had left after the revolution. And they're in New York. And one of the brothers is a musician and is trying to make it teaching music. And the other brother becomes convinced that he can write not the great American novel but the great American symphony to bring everything in. But "The Melting Pot" was not about cooking. It was about melting ore down to make it into steel. Even though the metaphor doesn't really apply directly to food, there's a great subtext because the food discussion in that play has to do with the Irish maid's confusion about the Jewish household's Kosher rules. And she didn't understand why she couldn't mix the milk plates and the meat plates. And by the end of the play, the son has in essence mansplained to her what to do because the grandmother doesn't speak English. Then she understands. And then she declares herself to be Jewish, culturally at least, because she's figured out how to keep everyone. So it's not about giving up what makes you ethnically unique, not even in the play that started the phrase. It's about maintaining that and sharing it with others. And my colleague Steve Watt wrote a great book in which he talks about the play as well. So it's one of those things that I think the way to deal with it is to look at the origin text and to get the richness of that portrayal. And then say food, there's been fusion. There's been, you know, what is authentic - all these debates. But I think at the end of the day it's good to share whatever is true for you with the people you want to share it with. And if it's received in that spirit, you achieve commensality. You eat together and that's the important thing.
STEVE SANDERS: I'm assuming that in the work you do there must be discussions and differences of view about what's come to be called cultural appropriation. How should we think about that? The sort of stereotypical example, I guess, the Anglo chef who gets rich by giving his particular interpretation of traditional Latin recipes and cooking and for example. Do you think there is such a thing as cultural appropriation or cultural misappropriation when it comes to food? Or essentially should we let anyone who has an interesting take on a cuisine sort of offer us what their take is and not necessarily worry about whether it's consistent with their own heritage or background?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, it is certainly possible to study something to the point where you become an expert in it. And the French technique has become something of a standard in professional cooking circles. So I would say that my standard for what becomes cultural appropriation is if the person or the cook or chef who has achieved some fame in a platform actively works against giving the limelight to people from that culture. So I would point to Rick Bayless for example who was studying his PhD in anthropology in Mexico. He speaks Spanish. He's deeply enmeshed in the culture. And he has had very successful Mexican restaurants, cookbooks, sauces. And what he does is he has farms. And he talks about his staff. And he goes back to the villages. And he maintains active ties and has a program of training others. So I would say in his case he's not culturally appropriating. If one actively wants to maintain a monopoly of the discourse on a particular cultural anything - it doesn't matter if you're from that place or not - then you're hijacking the food for your own ends. And that's what I would object to. I think with food I don't have a problem with fusion. I don't have a problem with innovation. I have a problem with people maintaining a monopoly on ideas and conversations. So that's what I would say. There's been controversies about who has the right to speak on what behalf. And I think no one should speak for everyone, but people should claim their piece of the pie and then try and have it a broader conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA’S “BALABARISTAS”)
STEVE SANDERS: If you're just joining us, I'm Steve Sanders. This is Profiles on WFIU. Our guest is Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington and author of the book "The Immigrant Kitchen."
I want to spend the last few minutes though of our time together, Professor Halloran, talking about your work in the administration. You are associate dean for diversity and inclusion. What does that involve? That's a new position, I believe, in the college of arts and sciences.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I'm the second associate dean in this position.
STEVE SANDERS: Oh. OK.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yeah.
STEVE SANDERS: What is your brief in that role? What is your responsibility?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: So I am in charge of spearheading and serving as a clearinghouse for each of the college units' work on diversity and trying to move forward the dean's vision on how diversity and inclusion should form part of how we do business. So the executive dean I work for, Rick Van Kooten, has prioritized the college engaging with diversity and inclusion as part of how it does business and wants to actively work to achieve anti-racist aim. So it's not enough for our units, myself, the dean, to not be racist. Our goal is to begin dismantling the systems of power that have prevented full access to the college, to the departments, to all our constituent units. And so I carry his vision forward.
STEVE SANDERS: Has the meaning of diversity and inclusion expanded and changed in recent years, in recent decades?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes. And there are debates even right now which question whether these two are appropriate labels for the work that we are carrying out. Some people suggest social justice as a more apt label. I like both diversity inclusion because my vision for both of these terms is broad. I think it's important to have a multiplicity of views, a multiplicity of experiences, so really not prioritizing one but having various different points of entry and a real dialogue. I also think that when we talk about inclusion, we need to think about that broadly. It's not just people with disabilities. It's first generation students, people who don't quite usually fit the label of college student. So older students, maybe sometimes some younger students because I know there's high school students would take IU courses. So I really do think it's broad. So I see social justice as a good addition, but I don't want to jettison either of those terms quite yet.
STEVE SANDERS: Do your own life experiences and your scholarship inform how you carry out this role?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Yes. I was a target of opportunity hire. So I have benefited from these procedures that were in place before I got here. And that's - the first way I knew about Indiana University was because it had these hiring minority faculty initiatives. So it was on my radar because of that. I was hired through those processes, and I have benefited from the mentorship of other faculty who have shown me the ropes and made sure I feel comfortable questioning when I needed help. And I think my scholarship, I work on race. I work on - teach world literature. I teach ethnic literature. I'm working on a book right now on Caribbean American belonging and precisely looking at that across race and geographic specificity what the people from the Caribbean Basin who are in the states contribute to how the U.S. moves forward politically and culturally. So those are my background influences that impact how I'm able to carry out the duties.
STEVE SANDERS: You've been on this campus now for close to two decades. How would you assess how IU is doing in its commitment to diversity and inclusion? What does Indiana University as an institution maybe do particularly well and what needs work?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: I would say there's definitely been an improvement in terms of the numbers of underrepresented minority students. The provost has made that a priority of hers. And during her term, I have seen more students of color on campus than I had prior to that. I strive to make those students feel like they have a place to be here. I strive to make my white students aware of the cultural resources, where they can go get informed about other cultures rather than placing the burden on people of color to explain themselves. And I have seen that there is a commitment to hiring. Now we still need to work on retaining faculty of color. That's not always as successful as we would want it to be. And there are aspects of - I'll just speak for the college - of our faculty who have very few if any faculty of color. So we recognize that there are things we can improve. But I do feel valued. I feel heard. And I think that the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society has been a very high profile addition to the campus community. Not only do they bring in great scholars from outside, they have a pipeline to help PhD students, postdocs, to integrate into the faculty. And they highlight the work that IU faculty is doing that impacts on these topics of race and ethnicity and policing such things. They did a great series over the summer that's available for people to watch forever because it's on the Web. And so I think the commitment is real and the execution is getting better. And we still have a lot of work to do.
STEVE SANDERS: Are there unique challenges and opportunities in this national moment we've been in now since the tragic death of George Floyd in the rising consciousness about social justice and the protests we've seen? Do you see particular opportunities or difficulties in this moment that we're in as a nation that you probably couldn't have even anticipated when you began doing this work in this particular position?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Absolutely. And I would point to two big changes now from when I started. The first is the recognition that scholars who are activists are actually carrying out their scholarship while being engaged in social protests and that kind of thing. And the second is a new attitude that I have seen in the undergraduate population since this summer. The desire to learn and question one's own motives and acknowledge one's own privilege is real. And students are thirsting for the opportunity to be able to confront these issues. And so one of the things I've personally done is taught an intercession class on talking race, doing anti-racism. If I could clone myself and do 20 sections of that, they would all fill. So I am very inspired by my undergraduates, and I hope that they are now able to look for such courses that would broaden their interest in learning more about other cultures and learning to be better to one another.
STEVE SANDERS: Is this work more a matter of something that's done outside of the classroom and the informal interactions that students and faculty have? Or is it also done through the curriculum? I know that you're also the associate director of the liberal arts and management program where your position entails the curriculum of that program. So from what you're saying, I gather you believe that the curriculum that our students take actually is an important part of this work?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Absolutely. On the one hand students asked for more courses on race, ethnicity and that kind of thing. But the college already has a diversity in the United States requirement. So students in the college, no matter if you're getting a B.A., B.F.A. or B.S. have to take a course on diversity in the United States. I'm hoping that students realize that this is an opportunity rather than an obligation. But beyond that, I want to acknowledge that the culture centers on campus do this work constantly. And they invite, much like the memoirs that I write about, they invite the IU community and the Bloomington community to come learn about their cultures and learn about their groups, learn about what it is to face, for example, racism now if you're Asian American and you have people being ignorant because of COVID. I think there's multiple layers. There's a curricular piece that we can take care of, but there's also the opportunities - Bloomington residents have been very active. There's no place for hate as an organization. So students can pursue also through their own student organizations opportunities for service and opportunities for discussion. So it's a good moment because you have a lot of things to choose from.
STEVE SANDERS: The role that you're in here is a temporary administrative role. You will return to the English department. You've talked about what some of your upcoming projects are. You've talked about your own sort of comfort level talking about your research agenda and your research questions. How would you describe what you see as the next phase of your career? What's important for you to work on and accomplish and contribute as a scholar and as a teacher?
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Well, I've been working with the Center for Excellence on Women in Technology, partly because I think it's very important for a Latina to be seen to be engaging with technology. So after the book that I'm working on now about Caribbean American belonging, I am going to start a project on online book groups. And that's where again it's interdisciplinary because usually the sociologists of literature look at things like that. But I want to do that from the point of view of a disciplinary scholar looking at how groups function but not analyzing opinions but narratives. What stories do the participants in a book group tell each other? And then what do they take away from the text that they're reading? So I want to do that. I really - this book that I'm working on in Caribbean American belonging looks at things like the nomination of Kamala Harris to become the vice president and her chief of staff who is Korean, Jean Pierre who is Haitian American. There are two Caribbean Americans right there. And these are only a few of the ones who are having an impact. Lin-Manuel Miranda obviously with Hamilton is having a bit of a moment. There's a larger group of people from multiple - so Hispanophone, Francophone, Anglophone - who are claiming space to talk about what it means to come from this region and to help the U.S. move forward. So I want to do that. And then I really want to continue having a foot in the classroom, even if I keep doing administration. But I love to learn from my students what they think is important and to try and engage them in dialogue about how to learn more and become better proponents of the positions they want to support.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA’S “BALABARISTAS”)
STEVE SANDERS: Vivian Halloran, thank you for being our guest today.
VIVIAN HALLORAN: Thank you.
STEVE SANDERS: This is Steve Sanders. You've been listening to WFIU's Profiles. Our guest has been Professor Vivian Halloran, professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in its college of arts and sciences and author of the book "The Immigrant Kitchen - Food, Ethnicity and Diaspora." Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES’ “BLU-BOP”)
AARON CAIN: For more information about Profiles, including archives of past shows, go to wfiu.org/Profiles. Profiles is a production of WFIU and comes from the studios of Indiana University. The producer is Jillian Burley. The studio engineer is Michael Paskash. The executive producer is John Bailey. Please join us again next week for another edition of Profiles.