Food can teach us so much about culture

By Melanie Hall, Director of Marketing at Kashi

 

What are your favorite family recipes? Where did they come from?

We can learn so much about ourselves, our families, our culture and other cultures from food. That’s why the Kellogg African American Resource Group (KAARG) was thrilled to join food writer and historian Donna Pierce’s Skillet Project that connects Black youth with family and community members in exploring the origins of family recipes. The program creates space for an “intergenerational handshake” that helps them learn important aspects of Black culture and allows them to play a vital role in making sure their community’s stories are not lost to history.

(Left) It's me! (Right) Donna Pierce, food writer and historian

The Great Migration Monument located in Chicago.

I wasn’t surprised that several of the young people we worked with didn’t know their families’ history in the Great Migration, when more than 6 million African Americans left the segregated south in search of political freedom and physical safety in the north and west between 1916 and 1970. I didn’t learn my family’s migration story until I was in my 20s.

Part of why Donna created this program was her own experience uncovering untold stories of success and achievements in education and business that many Black communities enjoyed once they had more freedom to pursue the American dream.

Food played an important role in these stories. Families brought ingredients to different regions or had to create on-the-go versions of favorite foods because it wasn’t safe for our parents or grandparents to stop in certain towns to visit a restaurant. Today, food continues to bring families together.

Mississippi Mud Cake: A Southern tradition my mother brought with her when her family migrated West to escape the KKK in Louisiana

In late 2021, the Eggo® team saw the connection between its brand promise of creating shared moments of warmth and how the Skillet Project brings families and communities together through the warmth of food and storytelling. They formed a partnership to help 5 Detroit-area middle and high school students participate in the program by interviewing a family or community member about a family recipe and the link between food and local culture. To prepare for these interviews, students participated in an online five-class series where they learned from Donna and me, an urban gardener, Kellogg’s Chef in Residence Chris Williams and others about interview skills, food writing techniques and podcasting. These conversations also gave the students insight into food industry careers. The students are aggregating these experiences and family stories into a podcast and recipes into a cookbooklet. But sharing the recipes and getting exposure to food industry professionals isn’t the only benefit of Skillet Project. Eggo even gave each participant a modest grant to pursue their personal interests after the program concluded.

The Oklahoma Land Run Monument,
which is part of my father’s migration story.

This is just one way Kellogg is helping people understand and experience food culture. There are so many other examples. Limited Edition Pop-Tarts® Día de Muertos honored Hispanic culture and we’re the first company in the world to use NaviLens technology on all our cereal packaging by printing a special code that helps blind and partially sighted people hear and read information.

“By showing young people that they can understand, share and advance their culture through food, we’re encouraging the next generation of food employees and further diversifying the industry.”

We’re also helping young people use their digital powers for good. Our Detroit Skillet Project participants learned important interviewing and listening skills, proving that the intergenerational handshake works both ways. Kellogg and the students in the pilot are excited to partner with other organizations to share our experience with even more students.

 

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