“Soul Food and Food for the Soul” is now midway through its first semester of existence.
The course was created by Martha Pereszlenyi-Pinter and the late Valentino Lassiter. “Linked courses,” such as this one, are part of the new integrative core affecting current freshmen. Students sign up for two classes which meet separately during the semester but are connected in content. In this case, Pinter of the language department teaches a core-required course and Cory Wilson of the theology department teaches a related religion course.
Pinter and Wilson recently received a Mandel Grant for Diversity and Inclusion at John Carroll. Terry Mills, assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, heads the committee which handles grant requests. He described the aim of the fund to “support campus projects that promote inclusive engagement.” The professors utilized the means to take a group of over 30 students to enjoy a community meal at Empress Tatyu, Cleveland’s only authentic Ethiopian restaurant.
The trip was advertised around campus in two forms: through an Inside JCU e-mail sent to all students as well as flyers which were posted in various buildings. This is a requirement of the Mandel Grant, that the event be made available to the entire student body.
On the night of the dinner, the students were driven by bus to Empress Taytu. Pinter coordinated with the restaurant’s owner, a native Ethiopian woman, to plan a unique dining experience for the John Carroll students attending.
The pre-selected menu for the evening included, among other dishes, the traditional “bozena shiro,” which is essentially mixed legumes and beef with ginger, garlic and a special sauce. It also included “tikil gomen,” a “lightly spiced vegetable stew of cabbage, carrots and potatoes,” according to the Empress Taytu website. Served additionally was injera, a typical Ethiopian bread of spongy texture. This is used to scoop food from a central serving platter in the absence of most eating utensils.
Pinter explained that her 21 students echoed similar thoughts in the reflection papers they completed for the class following the dinner. “They were surprised at the leisurely pace at which the meal was served, because as Americans we are accustomed to being served hurriedly, getting ‘in and out’ of restaurants. That’s what we expect. But in Ethiopia it’s very different; mealtimes are slow and relaxed and if you try to speed the process up you’ll get looked at with funny faces,” Pinter said.
Another significant difference students noticed was the communal presentation of the food. Ping Mou, a freshman enrolled in the course said, “They served the dishes all together on one large, circular platter, and we shared. There were no individual plates or forks or knives or anything. We could feed each other bits of food wrapped up in the injera bread if we wanted.”
In both Ethiopia and the U.S., the gastronomy reflects the value system most prevalent in the nation. “This idea,” says Wilson, “supports the purpose of the two linked courses: to raise students’ awareness of the powerful interconnectivity that exists between spirituality, culture and food.” In Wilson’s words, the three can “hardly be distinguished,” an important reality for students to learn about and moreover experience firsthand, as they did during their memorable evening at Empress Taytu.