Dinner with Professor Pinar Batur

The aroma of warm spices wafted up from the two pots of Moroccan stew simmering on

the range. Two of our housemates were busily mopping the floors, readying the house for our esteemed guest and completing their chore for the week. I acted as sous-chef, asking Executive Chef McDermott for a new task after each completion. Potatoes had been

peeled, onions had been chopped, and garlic had been minced. My heart skipped a beat when she pulled out the secret weapon: a half-dozen yellow torpedoes filled with a dangerously delicious amalgam of chicken, lamb, Moroccan spices, dried apricots, and I’m sure more than a couple secret ingredients. She had procured the goods from the butcher shop where she works. The sausages went into one pot, the other being strictly veggies.

Once the potatoes (regular and sweet) in the stew achieved done-ness, the vessels were transferred to the table and the table was set. The dinner triangle was rung and the Coop gathered to feed. In stepped a delightfully cheery Pinar Batur. She was all smiles as she explained that she wouldn’t be eating with us, but would instead talk and ask us questions while we would answer in between bites of savory stew. She also couldn’t stay for long, as tonight was the first of the Presidential candidate debates, and she was excited to see how they would go.

As we began dinner, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. My appetite had grown and grown as I stood over the stove, inhaling the intoxicating fumes. I had a bowl filled with rice and stew in front of me along with my notebook to retain information for this blog post. I soon regretted never having learned to eat with my left hand. With Professor Batur unencumbered with a meal, she was able to speak at amazing speeds. There I was, trying to sate myself with large spoonfuls of boiling hot stew at the same time furiously scribbling notes on what was being said. I then attempted larger spoonfuls to make up for the time I had to set my spoon down and pick up my pen to scrawl some more. Eventually, I spurned the desires of my flesh and focused on recording the words of Professor Batur.

Before Professor Batur came for dinner we were relayed some strange instructions: don’t take out the compost. She was to talk to us about food waste. I think it’s safe to say that we were all prepared to be berated for our surely inefficient food preparation and wastefulness. I heard us sigh only a small collective sigh when she told us at the dinner table that she would instead be talking to us about food with regard to the Presidential campaign and to policy. It was a fitting topic for the night, given the circumstances.

Before we got the conversation started, we did introductions. Professor Batur has served as the chair of both urban and environmental studies departments here at Vassar. She is interested in studying social movements and inequality in the form of segregation of populations. She also champions the idea of education as a form of empowerment.

Professor Batur opened the night with Wendel Berry’s comment that “eating is an agricultural act,” and Michael Pollan’s development on that when he said “eating is a political act.” She then asked us how the President and the Republican Presidential nominee ate and how their acts of eating reflected something about themselves and how they were portrayed (whether they wished to be or not) because of it.

She then spoke of how food and food policy factored into the current politics. Professor Batur mentioned three food issues that were being spoken about.

  1. Food safety – is what we are eating safe?
  2. Farm help
    1. immigration – documenting agricultural workers vs. trying to take them in and out of the country with the change of seasons
    2. rights for farm workers
  3. Nutrition – also, regulating peoples food habits using SNAP program

However, none of these issues deal with the more global food issue that is present. In closing, Professor Batur told us that because such issues would not be dealt with by presidents or other leaders, instead she gave us the charge of building more of a grassroots system for changing food in America and across the globe. She encouraged us all to take her senior seminar next semester “Toxic Futures.” She said that she allows the students to choose which books to study in the class, so we could really make of it what we wish. And with that she packed up and headed out the door with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.