Food and Connection: The Slow Cooked Movement Phase II
The drive to connect and make food more accessible during Field Work Term inspired students and faculty to reimagine and expand a pandemic-era program with BIPOC students in mind.
The need for community connections and concerns about food insecurity during the pandemic inspired a cascade of innovative student- and faculty-driven and grant-funded programs to meet the need. The most recent work toward these aims also provided “a home away from home” for the BIPOC and International students who stayed on campus over Field Work Term.
Bennington’s Slow Cooked Movement (SCM), a student-initiated food security project, began during the 2021 Field Work Term with support from faculty member Yoko Inoue. The program worked to address the three main barriers to healthy eating: “the lack of the food itself, the lack of a proper kitchen space, and the lack of knowledge and skill,” Inoue explained.
SCM worked with local farms to provide ingredients. The offerings included seconds vegetables, those that are misshapen, for instance, but nutritionally equivalent to those that look more typical, and off cuts of meat, organs and other parts often discarded. They created four kitchen kits, including a slow cooker (the program’s namesake) and cooking tools, and conducted skill and knowledge-sharing workshops, like knife handling, food thrift, composting, and stock making. It was a tremendous success.
Students researched slow cooker recipes on Youtube, connected with family for cooking tips over online video, and posted photos of their finished dishes to Instagram. It was inspiring, Inoue explains, “Students collaborated on a recipe book. Once a week, they cooked together to provide their peers healthy and nutritious meals to show their support and generosity.
“It was good for their mental health, just being together in a kitchen, smelling food, and eating elaborate meals they figured out how to cook,” Inoue explained. But that was only the beginning.
Exploring Food Justice in Class
Inoue’s Social Kitchen: Collective Wellness, Engagement, and Inclusion course, which was an intellectual and social exploration of food justice and community building, provided a jumping off point for a second phase of the SCM. Discussions revolved around food sovereignty issues in the global context, including cultural sensitivities, cultural identity, geopolitics, and the politics of food, especially in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
“We would come into the class and discuss political matters that were linked to food,” said Roberta Martey ’25, who is studying Psychology, African Studies, and Math. “In one class, we acknowledged the similarities and differences between rice-growing cultures and discussed the treatment of rice farmers in Africa and Asia.”
Discussions were filled with voices from around the world, including those of international activists from the Global South, including Dr. Oussouby Sacko from Mali and Japan, who spoke about creating culturally aware community spaces; Gillian Goddard of Trinidad and Tobago, who is the co-founder of Alliance of Rural Communities and Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective; and others. In addition to more intellectual aims, the students learned practical skills in food safety following the ServSafe textbook provided by Dining Services General Manager Chef Steve Boher.
Most importantly, the course offered an especially safe and welcoming space for BIPOC and international students and the opportunity for hands-on practice with cooking. Part of the aim, Inoue said, was to illustrate “how important it is to embrace tradition in our way of eating and both our traditional and scientific understandings of nutrition.”
Extending Learning Through Field Work Term
After the course concluded, Inoue saw an opportunity to continue food security work launched during the first SCM throughout the upcoming Field Work Term, when the Dining Hall is not open. She mentioned the possibility to students. Invigorated by the intense and invigorating class and class-related programs—Abraar Arpon '26 and Martey—stepped up to create a project that would expand upon the earlier SCM success.
The three worked together to draft a grant proposal. The goal was to foster community connections while improving food security during this time. Since many of the students who stay on campus during the break are international students, it was important to embrace many cultural traditions.
The team received $592 from the Mellon Food Insecurity Student Project Support Fund. Jack de Loos ’22 is the Interim Assistant Director of Student Engagement at the College and a member of the team who worked to make the first phase of the SCM a reality. For the second phase, de Loos collaborated with Arpon and Martey, secured an additional $1,000 of Student Life funding, and contributed transportation for shopping trips and as a liaison between the program and other College departments.
“The SCM is always transforming, and it fills a lot of gaps depending on what is going on at any given time,” de Loos said. “Roberta and Abraar really transformed what the SCM is and how it forms a community.”
The Three Pillars of SCM Phase II
The project included three components: Making the initial Slow Cooked Movement’s portable kitchen even more mobile, deepening relationships with local farms and local international food purveyors, and hosting a series of weekly dinners featuring foods from around the world during Field Work Term. The aim was to foster peer-to-peer relationships and student designed and executed community support infrastructure.
As successful as the original kitchen kits were, the large blue plastic boxes full of equipment were heavy and difficult to move across campus, especially for students who don’t have cars. By incorporating a hand truck into the design, Arpon, along with help from the Building and Grounds Department, hopes to make an efficient kitchen utility cart capable of transporting a mini demonstration kitchen and providing a countertop to cook and serve food.
The Slow Cooked Movement II team continued long standing relationships with local farms by making vegetable purchases from Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, VT, and pasture-raised meat and egg purchases from Saunders Family Farm in Greenwich, NY. The farms offer a bulk discount in exchange for loyalty. The farms supported the program generously with donations, especially just before the holidays.
What’s new about the food sources used during the SCM Phase II is growing relationships with international food retailers on Central Avenue in Albany, NY. The group planned a monthly trip to Black- and Brown-owned businesses that sell a varied array of hard-to-find items. Students are able to purchase halal meat in addition to specialty grains, beans, and spices unique to their homelands. In a Ghanaian-owned African grocery store, called Breakthrough African Market, Martey finds foods that are familiar to her.
“I love it,” Martey said. “It’s just the smell, the kind of music playing, even the name of the shop, just reminds me of back home so much.”
“The Albany trip was a profound experience for me,” said Arpon. “The warmth and appreciation the shop owners showed towards our visit, rather than ordering online, truly touched my heart. It was also a respite from the daily challenges of navigating a new language and culture and an opportunity to connect with others at my own root.”
Fun & Culturally Inspired Dinners
The ingredients were used for weekly dinners that bring international and domestic students together for celebrations of food culture. Every Friday throughout the Field Work Term, over the course of more than ten dinners, students celebrated the dishes of Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Pakistan, and Paraguay, to name a few. During food prep, cooking, eating, and cleaning up, students listened to music and made conversation in ways that built supportive relationships.
During both the Social Kitchen course and the weekly dinners, students enjoyed the hands-on experience of working in the kitchen. With practice and a supportive environment, students’ anxiety about cooking for a group melted away. “My class convinced me to make Ghanaian Jollof, and people liked it,” Martey said. “So that made me want to make meals from back home to help people understand where I am coming from.”
Receiving supportive comments made Martey equally eager to try foods from other students’ homes. The exploration into classmates’ food cultures has enriched all of their lives. “Currently, I am in love with Biryani, which is a South Asian rice dish. It is so good,” Martey said.
The students also play music while they cook, a variety that includes music from India or Bangladesh and Afrobeats. Martey noted how a song would stir up memories and laughter among the participants. “The whole energy in the kitchen was cooking,” Martey remembers. “It just brought me joy to be a home away from home for people.”
"The Social Kitchen dinners made me feel connected with all my friends from different cultures. I learned about their political situation, in the past and now," said Alejandra (Alecita) Vouga ’26, who is from Paraguay and studies Earth Science and Education. "I also got the opportunity to try new recipes and new spices and learn the history behind the dishes. These moments were full of fun."
In January 2023, just before a scheduled SCM reunion dinner with previous SCM team leaders—including de Loos; Cass Skarka ’22, a champion of the program; and others—a broken pipe flooded the kitchen with a deluge of water. The team was able to use the mobile kitchen kits to move the event to CAPA with great success.
The Vermont winter also came in handy. Arpon, de Loos remembers, lacking a working refrigerator, chilled a dessert he had made in the snow. The Social Kitchen and the Slow Cooked Movement promoted improvisation and innovation, commented de Loos and Arpon. “The outside temperature was five degrees Celsius, which effectively froze the dessert. It was a creative solution,” Arpon said.
“The work ethic of Abraar and Roberta as well as the love they have for the work that they are doing is really what formed this entire movement,” de Loos said. “SCM provides a safe space for people, but it’s also essential education, in a way. It’s about how to take care of yourself and how to take care of others.”
Inoue, too, is especially proud of Arpon and Martey. “They have been a part of the Social Kitchen: Collective Wellness, Engagement, and Inclusion class and related projects, and they proudly took ownership of the Social Kitchen space. They are thorough and responsible” And their work makes a major difference.
“Participants talk and become friends,” Martey said. “We eat together. Everyone brings in their specialty, and discovering little tips makes food so good.”
Students and faculty are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Noelle Murphy, Stephanie Meyer, and the Office of Academic Services; Alumni Mirza Cevra '22, Reshavan Naicker '22, and Cass Skarka '22; Angel Kwasniak and Building & Grounds, including especially the Housekeeping staff; Cathy Anthofer-Fialon and Campus Safety; Chef Steve Bohrer; Shelton Walker and the President's Office; Maurice Hall and the Provost’s Office; and Li-Chen Chin and Jack de Loos and Student Life.