At the beginning of the pandemic when Oregon entered its first shut down, University of Oregon senior Emily Fowler found herself living back in Portland with her family and facing all online classes. One of those classes was with political science professor, Dr. Alison Gash. Gash discovered many of her students were experiencing this unprecedented situation alone or away from their peer support systems.
To address all that was going on, Gash started hosting a weekly open Zoom session called, Connecting While Quarantined.
“We wouldn’t talk about class. We wouldn’t talk about assignments. We would just talk about what we were doing during quarantine,” said Gash.
About 15 students regularly met to talk about how they were coping.
“I was isolated from my community at school. And it was really great to have this group of people that I could really rely upon and open up to,” said Fowler.
During these times, a theme emerged around food.
“Some people were cooking for themselves. Some people were cooking for their neighbors,” Gash said. “A couple of students were making big vats of soup and stew and bread and giving them out to members of their community.”
This theme was also reflected in an assignment Gash gave her roughly 200 students about how they were getting through quarantine.
“We were all really relying upon food and cooking to bring us some comfort in a time that was very terrifying and really tumultuous,” Fowler said.
An idea to make a cookbook developed. Recipes were submitted by Gash’s students, along with artwork, writings and poetry.
Gash received enough to fill two cookbooks. The first, already out, focuses on savory dishes. The other, being produced, is for sweet treats and beverages.
In addition to being something that brought students together, the project aims to raise awareness for food justice. People are encouraged to donate to one of the suggested organizations working in these areas. This list recently grew to include those involved in helping people affected by the winter storm crisis in Texas.
Gash explained this can take different forms. She shared an anecdote about a woman who was unemployed so donated time by delivering food boxes for a food security organization. And the woman wanted to incorporate the cookbook into the food boxes.
“What an amazing way to use what had been this sort of community building project with our students to really help families in this really direct and meaningful way,” said Gash.
Fowler said she gained some deep friendships through the experience and is proud to be part of the project.
“I think that the poetry and the artwork that is featured in the book shows just another way that food can break barriers and build empathy,” said Fowler.
More about the project can be found at Undueburdens.org.