Three cheers for Athens, Ohio! I spent a short 24 hours at Ohio University on April 12 as one of the many diverse speakers brought to campus in celebration of Earth Month. This year their events supported a People (Em)Powered theme, so the Yogurt Pedaler fit right in!
I was welcomed to campus by a group of students and staff of the Office of Sustainability, who sponsored and organized the events, and I was immediately impressed by how progressive, adventuresome, and comfortable they and their town of Athens were. My first stop was to speak to a studio art class, a seminar of graduate students designing and creating an urban garden. I was asked to speak about my process, and I rooted my talk in discussion of food traditions and the Yogurt Pedaler’s mission to preserve and encourage them in the American Midwest.
Thus followed by far the best discussion I have had about the Yogurt Pedaler’s goals and process. After months of fleeting encounters with yogurt fans, haters (just a couple), and curious souls, talking with this class was a welcome opportunity to dig deep and really question the Yogurt Pedaler’s strengths and weaknesses. (Thanks in particular to an especially perceptive student named Sebastian, and to one Turkish guy who totally threw me off when I stumbled through trying to pronounce buyurun three times fast.)
I have a tendency to speak about American food traditions cynically, as if there are none to celebrate and as if I wish we could embrace and create food traditions like my favorites in various European towns I’ve called home. And yet, even in the hour I spent with the class, I enthusiastically recounted tales of watermelon on the beach, deep-rooted North Carolina BBQ loyalties, hotdogs at baseball games, Thanksgiving dinners, and fried oreos, just to name a few. Sure, maybe they’re not all sustainable, healthy, supportive traditions, but there is certainly no lack of American food traditions. Thanks, class, for making me consider the Yogurt Pedaler’s potential as a project to celebrate great American food traditions, those both disappearing and still vibrantly alive, in addition to one fighting a sometimes discouraging battle against industrial, monoculture agricultural trends.
We also all agreed that the decidedly haphazard cart design had charm, but also definitely lacked a polished appearance that could make people take the project a bit more seriously.
My second appearance at OU was at the Vegan Cooking Workshop, an event I was immediately skeptical of – didn’t they realize that yogurt is made of milk…and milk comes from cows? I was reassured that these were no militant vegans, they just wanted people to be conscious of the food they make and eat. That meant I was definitely on board!
The crew was far from militant – the basement of the United Campus Ministries house was warm and welcoming, with a dozen students and volunteers bustling about fixing dinner. I got to work quickly, chopping carrots and keeping an eye on my huge pot of milk on the stove. As the crowds gathered, I took a moment next to the bike-powered milling machine to speak to a group about the Yogurt Pedaler project and how to make yogurt.
We gathered as dinner finished to inoculate the yogurt with cultures and set them on the stove to incubate overnight. It was an evening of great company, enthusiastic cooks and future yogurt-makers, and delicious food.
(Special thanks to Carolina, my Office of Sustainability host, Erin, interim OS director, and Jim and Kate at Ecohouse.)