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UK students reflect on history with ‘Cooking Up Community’

Students prepare ingredients for sweet potato casserole at a Cooking Up Community event on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, at The 90 at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Isabella Sepahban | Staff

University of Kentucky organizations united in February to host a series of events to honor Black History Month, Assistant Dean for Diversity in the College of Agriculture, Dr. Kendriana Price, said.

As part of the series, “Cooking Up Community: Celebrating Black History Month 2024,” a culinary event, was hosted on Monday, Feb. 19, to provide UK students a unique opportunity to foster discussions, cook, build new connections and eat a variety of southern dishes.

“A lot of conversations, a lot of community across cultures is built across a table filled with food,” Price said. “So we kind of thought, ‘What could we do to engage students that would involve food?’ And we got Cooking Up Community in celebration of Black History Month.”

Hosted by the Food Connection, the event took place in The 90 dining hall and was hosted in collaborative efforts with the Office of Diversity for the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the UK Center for Academic Resources and Enrichment Services (CARES).

Attendees were given the opportunity to prepare four food dishes inspired by southern cuisine from a famous film, featuring a sweet potato casserole, grits with a jalapeno sauce, smoked collard greens and hoecakes.

“With the recent release of the new “(The) Color Purple” movie, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to base our event off of dishes or foods that are staples in the state of Georgia?’” Price said.

The recipes were put together by Chef and Program Manager of the Food Connection Tanya Whitehouse, she said she drew inspiration from various different chefs for the event — particularly the late chef and teacher Edna Lewis, chef Bryant Terry, journalist and author Toni Tipton-Martin and UK professor and author Crystal Wilkinson.

“Their dishes are so full of flavor on all levels. They really embody the term ‘comfort food,’ when you get to try these,” Whitehouse said. “They’re gonna be so flavorful they’ll knock your socks off.”

Whitehouse also showcased local ingredients during the event, such as Ballew Farms, Black Soil, Rootbound Farm and Weisenberger Mill.

Price said the event was a change from previous Cooking Up Community events, giving students a more hands-on experience in making the dishes. She also said there are plans to have the “Cooking Up Community” event once a quarter, with a different cultural piece tied to it each time.

“It’s the commune that happens in the making and in the eating that we feel that community is really built,” Price said.

Maranda Brooks, a Ph.D. student in the health education program, said she learned about the event through her job as a family consumer science agent at the College of Agriculture.

“In my job, we have an initiative that is really focused on nutrition, cooking, and we know this is Black History Month,” Brooks said. “I like to both provide and participate in some things on campus, so I think this is really important for people to learn our culture through food.”

When students finished cooking and eating, multiple discussions were sparked, one mostly about life in the 1900s, the timeline of when the movie was based. Additional discussion topics followed with rarely a moment of silence in the room.

“You can feel the energy in the air is light, is fun. Even if folks came in here not knowing each other, it’s something about food that brings people together,” Price said.

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