By Michael Neal, Florida State University
Michael Neal: It’s my pleasure to have had the opportunity to review “Same Story Three Ways: A Culinary and Epicurean Exploration” by Kat Stevenson. What a treat to look through this project and the three parts that clearly function both individually and then as a larger unit all together. So i think i’d like to start with just a couple comments about each individual piece and then talk about my my own experience in terms of seeing the connections between and among the parts and the whole.
But first i’ll just comment that I think it’s a, that’s a very lovely way to to frame a project to think about this larger topic and thinking about not just in terms of the media–though there are three different it was remediated I guess in three different ways–but just think about the different ways that the same story can be told from different perspectives and drawing on different affordances and constraints of the video and the mapping and the the podcast piece.
So the first part the video with Grandmother Taylor’s beef stew: what a… again what a great project. In and of itself that would have been a strong project. I very much enjoyed the use of I guess I saw the two levels of two histories going on there. There’s a social history: there’s the history of sharecropping. There’s the history with Grandmother Taylor: of her getting up at three o’clock in the morning and cooking for the other sharecroppers and making the biscuits and so forth. There’s also a relationship with the land owners and the best pieces of the meat of the ham going to the… to the owner’s home and what what does one do with the fat and the bones. And so part of the story of this beef stew is a story of American sharecropping, of gross inequities, of of taking the scraps–the garbage, the leftovers–and making something tasteful out of something that that were clearly the scraps.
But there’s also the personal history there: the personal history of Grandmother Taylor. Clearly, I thought one of the really nice moments in this part was this idea of how the recipe evolves as she has more access to different kinds of foods. So, where it may have just started with the the ham bone and the fat and the stock made there and a few vegetables, that the recipe gets more complex and rich as there’s more access to… access to foods. But the personal history is also the history of the family. I love the inclusion of the multiple generations: the kids naming off the recipe ingredients, the kids trying the food and commenting on it.
So there was, it was it was, yes it was about a social history, but it’s a personal history as well, and it’s a personal history of Kat as well, Kat Stevenson who even frames the piece with her own maybe lack of familial connection with food as a meaningful kind of social history, and then with her husband’s family she’s discovered something so much different. Just the craft of this particular video, the camera shots, the music, the the different interviews, the pictures of the grandmother, the sounds, the tone, and the pace of the narration… I mean, this is well crafted. I’m no expert in video, but I work with it a little, and I know a very well-done project when i see it.
I felt the same way about the podcast: I just thought the crafting of it was wonderful. I like the sound effects, the pace and the tone. I thought Stevenson did just such a nice job in terms of setting the style. It was very much reminiscent of the podcast that we hear professionally, and i especially love the ending. I’ll get to that in a few minutes, but I thought it really captured that same kind of tone and pace and depth and richness of the video. I did watch the video first and then I listened to the podcast second.
What’s shown to me in the podcast were the different interviews that went along with it. I mean the narrator’s voice was still very strong from the outset, but I really appreciated the bringing in of the brother, Sean’s voice. I thought that was great. The section about sort of the latchkey kids and food as security, as friend. The relationship, the long-term relationship between Kat and Sean formed with that I thought one of the really nice turns of phrase in this particular part was them being “alone together,” which I thought was very indicative, and so it’s a very personal history that was brought together nicely with with that interview.
And then shifting over to the in-laws: to Michelle to Keisha and the contrast of actually learning to make something from a very young age, being in charge of something, the expectation of the family to take on one of those areas and to develop that, but even more so I really liked Michelle’s connection when she talked about that there’s the day-to-day connections she mentions the conversation and then sort of jokingly also says the drama. And so we’re ready to read into that, but you get a sense of that there’s there’s life happening, that there’s connection, there’s argument, there’s all the things that family is known for happening there in that particular space. And contrast that with Kat’s own metaphor that she uses with the science project in the laboratory… the microwave chicken pot pie. What a great contrast between what’s happening in the relational aspect in Michelle and Keisha’s environment and what’s happening with with Kat.
But I love the ending, the ending, the timing of this. There’s a patience that Kat has in developing this narrative and as she goes into this ending space, you really get a sense of it coming to conclusion. That she becomes reacquainted with the stories of her own past, but then there’s that really nice line at the end about caring deeply enough for someone to make food for you. That’s just such a great and powerful ending.
The third piece, the story map was really interesting. I wasn’t familiar with that technology as much. I’ve seen different kinds of mapping projects, but wasn’t as familiar with that. To me what that was missing was the pace and the patience and the tone and the timing. The story was still there: it was a different kind of story. I think i had to make a few more of the connections myself here, and I liked that I read it third out of the four (along with a reflection) because what I see this part doing–functioning–is this kind of… there’s a hopefulness to it. There’s this sense that even though maybe there’s been sort of an impoverished relationship personally to food and her own family background, that now with her husband’s family and understanding an appreciation of food and family and communication, that perhaps some of these places (whether I remember them all: Ireland, Spain, Egypt, Jordan, Costa Rica perhaps), you know these are all different. She’s clearly well traveled and of course all these places are known for their foods of various kinds and flavors, and so I guess the connection that I’m making there is that there’s a hopefulness to her re-exploring her own trajectory her of the places she’s visited the culinary influences that may have come along the way.
I enjoyed reading this, but again it lacked maybe a little bit of that patience, and maybe i had to be more active because I was the one one scrolling through. I was trying to read it with her same tone now that I had heard her voice and seen some of the things in the video, to try to capture that sense of who she is and what these different flavor profiles and some of the different things meant to her. So expanding, maybe, her culinary palette.
So each one of the pieces: the reflection, seeing the timeline, knowing the the work and the effort and and the connections. But I’d say altogether they work as a really a beautifully coherent whole. I love the social-personal history piece of this. I love the contrast and what she’s learning: the reflections that she’s even making about her own history with her mother and her brother and dad and–I forgot to mention her dad having those very specific things that he, that he was good at–but it’s it’s something bigger than that: it’s about passing down something to her kids, it’s about her being more available or more open to different kinds… the hope would be that she leaves the idea of the the kitchen as a laboratory behind and becomes much more like the in-laws, where the the food is about culture and meaning and connection and creativity and care. And so that’s what I got out of this piece.
I enjoyed it beginning to end: I enjoyed that there were the three different parts of it plus the reflections so four different parts of it, I guess, but I commend Kat Stevenson on just a really engaging project, a well-crafted project, a good set of stories that weave together to make this larger story about her own relationship with food. Well done!