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Gulf Coast Food Project awarded $100,000 NEH grant

National Endowment for the Humanities commits to growing food studies at UH

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $100,000 grant to the Gulf Coast Food Project at the University of Houston.

The grant is designed to deepen the teaching, research and community engagement activities delving into the history of food production and consumption in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. It will fund the creation of a reading group that will develop curriculum for a graduate certificate and an undergraduate minor in food studies, as well as a 2016 conference and an ongoing lecture series.

“This grant allows us to immerse ourselves in the latest pedagogy and research on food studies and push forward in our work here in the Gulf Coast region in a more concentrated way,” says Monica Perales, co-director of the project and associate professor in the Department of History.

“This is not just about foodies getting together and talking about the food they love; this is thinking critically about what food tells us about the world in which we live,” Dr. Perales said.

The Gulf Coast Food Project is a collaboration between the Center for Public History, the Department of History, and the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication with support from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, College of Education, Blaffer Art Museum, and the El Paso Lecture Series.

But the project was started by Dr. Perales and History Associate Professor Todd Romero a few years ago.  Soon after, they were joined by Temple Northup, assistant professor in the Valenti School, who leads the project’s media studies and documentary film aspects.

In the spring 2013 semester, the project produced the "Houston Eats" documentary series of student-crafted short films that examine how food shapes the city’s culture.

“The single thing we’ve figured out about food in the Gulf Coast region is that it’s incredibly diverse and always changing,” said Dr. Romero. “A word like ‘tradition’ on the Gulf Coast doesn’t mean much because the traditions are always evolving.”

Community partners, including Whole Foods Market on Kirby, Saint Arnold Brewing Company and the H.E.B. Buffalo Speedway Market, also have stepped up to support and encourage the study of food ways in the Gulf Coast region.

“When we host the conference, we don’t want it to just be historians and humanists in the conversation,” Dr. Romero said. “We want to involve anyone who is involved in food studies in any way possible.”

- By Shannon Buggs