Teaching Spotlight: Maps of American Food

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I’m in the throes of organizing a course for the American Studies program at Purdue on food studies – a class exploring the connections between food, identity, and place.  Today’s visual inspirations are maps I’ve found trying to embed certain recipes within US regions and cities.  What could you add to these maps?  How would your map of US food culture differ?

For me, these are missing a fundamental food from my youth: pecans. I was raised in Leesburg, Georgia – a city with mostly suburbs that were rapidly created after nearby Albany was integrated to meet the demands of white flight in the 1960s.

My family moved there after our home (and thousands of others) were flooded during Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994, fueling new housing development in the largely rural Leesburg.  When we moved to Leesburg, our middle-of-nowhere suburb was surrounded by pecan orchards.  Miles and miles of pecan trees about 20 feet tall, in rigidly aligned rows as far as you could see.

But this landscape changed in the 10 years I lived there from about 1995 to 2005.  Food culture shifted – nuts became more expensive and too caloric and fatty for mid-1990s diet fads.  The price of land spiked – the push for new housing developments made pecan orchards prime candidates for new suburbs.

When I left for college, few pecan farms remained.  Identical houses were built equidistant every 3-4 trees.  “Who would want to live in such a maniacal grid?” I thought from our largely wooded suburb (woods that would be demolished to build more houses in the coming decades).

Needless to say, I would add pecans and walnuts to Georgia on my map.  When I was young, I could find them raw in snack bowls on my grandma’s dinner table, sprinkled atop the sweet potato souffle on Thanksgiving, and forming the crunchy crust of a pecan pie…not to mention, right outside the kitchen window.

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Teaching Spotlight: Mapping Youth Culture

The culmination of each class I’ve taught includes 2 connected assignments: the creation of a mind map in which you rethink the topics and organization of the course and a 1-2 page essay unpacking the argument and significance of your map.

(side note: You can check out the course syllabus for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture on my Academia.edu page here.  This 8-week online course was offered at Purdue University in the summer of 2015, and had 12 undergraduate students and 1 Masters student.  Most interestingly, it includes the list of readings and films assigned for the course, although I’m always on the lookout for more amazing assignments.  Send your ideas my way!)

This visual exercise frequently stumps my students who have never had to create an assignment like this.  How can you grade it?  What’s the right answer?  How will I know if I’m wrong?  And all I can say is this: “I want you to be brilliantly original and brief.  Show me critical thinking and show me that you engaged with assigned material and discussion topics over the course of this semester.”  It’s a lofty goal, but most of the time it really gets students thinking about how to put all of the puzzle pieces back together.  It encourages students to think about the significance of juxtaposing these ideas, as well as initiates thinking about what topics or perspectives were left out.

For this course, students were asked to create a mind map on American youth culture and write an accompanying explanatory mind map.  I encourage you to check out all of the mind maps on Tumblr by searching for our shared class hashtag #amst201youth.  Here are a few of my favorites as well as my own mind map of youth culture.

Tylor's Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Tylor’s Mind Map, produced as a final component of his participation in AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

In his mind map, Tylor broke down the course chronologically by generations (which offered an interesting counterpoint to the course which was organized thematically and jumped from past to present).  Readings or films on each generation indicated distinct characteristics.  He argued that Generation X was ethnically diverse, educated, and “their generation worked to live, and they didn’t live to work.

This generation was the first to not have to live through the segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.”  Generation Y is family oriented, ambitious, and desires to make a difference.  He adds: “This generation is the generation that are into tech, like the software developed today, is the result of this generation, their ambition and desire to make a difference. This was also the generation that experienced the zoot culture. This culture was a good topic in this class, because it showed how different cultures were adopted by teens in order to make themselves more comfortable.”

Finally, Generation Z is focused on technology and entrepreneurship: “Today’s youth are the ones we see with all the new iphones, ipads and all the social media account, such as Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. We don’t know everything about this generation, but it’s gonna be something exciting for us to experience.”

Destiny's mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Destiny’s mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Destiny chose Prezi as the medium for her mind map, so I encourage you to check it out in order to see it in a better quality.  Destiny chose to construct her mind map on four stages of being in youth culture as seen through the eyes of youth.  In her explanatory essay, she writes about the different sections:

WE ARE GROWING represents the things that youths develop as a result of the environment they are placed in. Like the LA/Salvador, and Dummy Smart articles, youths grow, usually against the grain, and begin to develop their own identities based on the geographic and social location they are in. Usually, they develop a culture and a lifestyle that they can fit themselves in after being rejected by ‘normal’ society.

WE ARE CHANGING meant to represent the different paths that demographically diverse youths take. Some allow themselves to fall into the socially constructed system, while other don’t. Like the podcast on Hispanic youth and the documentary Teenage, new communities, identities, cultures, and social norms can arise when enough regulative pressure is applied to youth populations.”

See more of Destiny’s excellent work at her Tumblr site here.

Ariel's Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
Ariel’s Mind Map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

Ariel’s mind map is broken into four poles: norms, power, identity, and gender (nearly every one of Ariel’s posts offered a thoughtful feminist analysis of gender, so check out her work here). She gives a spectacular analysis, but I’m going to only focus on one of her points to give you an incentive to check out her full essay on her Tumblr.  Ariel argued in her essay that visible aspects of one’s identity (like gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity) shape how the individual is perceived as connected to power and expectations of conformity.

She writes: “As discussed in numerous articles, a person’s race/ethnicity are often a source of power imbalance. As is seen not only in the articles but in everyday life, if you are a part of the mainstream society you tend to have more power in general while being a member of a minority group automatically grants you less power. From this imbalance of power stems the concepts of conformity and rebellion.

There are those who though they do not necessarily agree with the imbalance of power, go along with or conform. Then there are those who rebel against the power imbalance in whatever way they can.”  Ultimately, you can never resist both forces of power and identity, the visibility of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, and even class) and the cultural norms granting certain identities more power.  These forces exist together in an electrified web.

My (Kera Lovell's) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.
My (Kera Lovell’s) mind map for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture in American Studies at Purdue University, 2015.

I pick up Ariel’s argument in my own mind map for the course.  In thinking about how to visualize the theme of youth culture I couldn’t get away from the course’s initial organization around two oppositional yet overlapping poles: conformity and rebellion.

This course really interested me over time because it revealed how the central themes of youth culture revolved around how teenagers exist in a liminal state – youths are celebrated as beautiful, idealistic, pure, adventurous, and youthful, while they are also denigrated as naive, self-absorbed, dangerous, vulnerable, and juvenile.  Youth culture holds so much power and yet youths are given very little citizenship except for the right to (and expectation to) consume.

Conformity and rebellion are shaped by social and cultural norms, individual wants and experiences, family dynamics (and I would add, historical context), shape behaviors and identities of American youths.  These two tensions between conformity and rebellion shape the essential relationship between identity (who am I and what does that mean?) and citizenship (what power do I have and how are my rights valued in society?).  Nearly every example we encountered in the readings or films demonstrated how youths in ways that both conformed and rebelled.

Miss Representation demonstrated many girls conformed to cultural norms of female sexualization and infantalization by sexualizing themselves.  To engage in this self-sexualization is an act of conforming to norms of women’s sexualization in such a way that presents this self-sexualization as an act of rebellion.  Likewise, in the chapter “Dummy Smart” from Victor Rios’s book Punished, Rios argues that young black and Latino boys engage in practices of creating organic capital in an attempt to define their own identity in positive ways that both conforms and rebels – such as wearing expensive tennis shoes to a job interview.  These attempts, however, are frequently misrecognized as being lazy or disrespectful that, in turn, further reinforce negative stereotypes about youths of color.

Don’t forget to check out the syllabus on my Academia.edu page or check out amstyouthculture.tumblr.com to see more of our discussions throughout this extremely brief yet fun course on youth culture.

Inspiration: Visualizing Slow Food

After posting recently on my Global Food Studies blog about my exploration in Italy of Slow Food International as a mission and practice, I wanted to explore the world of visualizing slow food.

This graphic by Daniel Touchet interestingly connects practices of consuming food (growing it, cooking it, and talking about it) with emotions, arguing that fast food is not only more anonymous but mindless and alone.  I don’t know if I agree with this, having enjoyed much family time at fast food restaurants over the years, but I do agree that a faster food lifestyle is more detached from the complexity of global connections that food has to offer.

Yet what are the local impacts of Slow Food?  How does it affect me living in Indiana?

Antidepressants are starting to show up in fish tissue. (Fish Pharm infographic by Oliver Uberti)

This is a really interesting infographic produced by Oliver Uberti using pills to visualize a fish.  As a warning about water quality downstream from sewage treatment plants, the pills represent the four main types and percentages of pharmaceutical drugs found in fish pulled from Chicago’s North Shore Channel. Since I take a Benadryl every night to sleep, the image really resonated with me, making me think about the potential harms of the toxins I consume.  This image implicitly advocates for slow food by illuminating the importance of knowing where you get your food, how it was grown, and what the harms are on your body and on the environment.

Douglas Gayeton, the author of Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, has been exploring the principles of sustainability through photography, taking abstract concepts and turning them into annotated infographics—or “information art.” It’s part an ongoing series called The Lexicon of Sustainability. The images convey invisible or purposely obfuscated ideas related to food, and the concepts are explained by the experts themselves, like Elaine Ingham (above) translating soil science and microbiology for the masses.

Another favorite visualization of slow food is this series by Douglas Gayeton who combines portrait photography with an overlaying sketched mind map.  Each visual centers the slow food advocate in a graphic that aims to unpack the complexity of the food system by visualizing connections, explanations, and processes.  In this graphic Elaine Ingham translates soil science and microbiology through simple sketched graphics.

Peter Smith describes Gayeton’s informational art at Smithsonian.org as

More than a construction actually, these images are a deconstruction of ideas, reducing them to their essence, then trying to find a way to graphically represent them. Somebody once wrote that one of the interesting thing about the work is that it works the way a mind works: If I were to simply give you a piece of paper with a lot of writing on it, you might skim over it; but if I were to take a bunch of ideas and place them on an image, then you are suddenly active in the idea. You’re active in the appreciation of the idea. That activity creates a narrative and makes it easier to retain information. You have more of a deeper connection…. It’s not a passive experience. The active experience of turning the reading of something into it’s almost a game-like quality, I think it allows people to connect more intimately with the ideas and images.

These graphics are part of Gayeton’s project The Lexicon of Sustainability that has created information artworks on food and farming, water, and energy.  Here’s another graphic illustrating the 100 mile diet that’s coupled on the site with definitions and links to the farmer’s website and local resources for pursuing slow, close food.

From The Lexicon of Sustainability by Gayeton

This style of infographic would work best for me to visualize slow food, with a recipe for my grandmother’s pound cake overlaying a photograph of my family at her house during the summer months when her front porch table is covered in home grown tomatoes, her yard groomed by wandering chickens, her basement shelves full of home canned meals ready to be transported to Muncie where I live.  When I eat her jars of pork stew, orange marmalade, and fig preserves I’m transported back to her home in Hahira, Ga where the heat and humidity make life and conversations slow and happy.

My dad's photo of Cypress Pond capturing the misty swamplands of the South.
My dad’s photo of Cypress Pond capturing the misty swamplands of the South.

How do you see slow food?

Research Spotlight: Dance Moves

Having recently read Kyra Gaunt‘s essay in Generations of Youth, “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip Hop” as part of our unit on “youth and place” in the American Studies undergraduate course I am teaching this summer, I watched clips from a 1985 PBS documentary on double dutch called Black Magic that BLEW MY MIND.  Watch the video on my other blog here.  And now I really want to figure out a way to translate their routines via infographics.  Mainly so I can break it down for myself, but also because I know how important it is to positive represent black girls’ athleticism, aesthetics, and power over space – especially via infographics since they’re really hard to find.

By research on how to do this began with Wikihow which breaks down everything from growing tomatoes to parkour.  Wikihow fails epicly at conveying visually how to double dutch.  They read like Ikea instructions.

What the what? What are we doing here, making a spider web? Using lasers to identify the hidden force field like Catherine Zeta Jones-Entrapment-style?

The awesome epicness of this routine and Wikihow’s visual failure to make it any easier for me got me wondering – how could you visualize space within the realm of double dutch?  Surprisingly a quick Google search of “double dutch routine” revealed nothing other than videos and images, with no step by step instructions.  Despite the globalization and institutionalization of this once-street sport, the 411 breaking down double dutch is still hard to come by.  You just have to watch videos or learn from a friend.

But what about dance routines?  Could I use visualizations of dance routines to rethink how to visual space utilized during double dutch?  This begins my exploration of dance visualizations, which ultimately offers an intense look of key dance components, processes, and the spatial meanings of dance.

These are the rules of dance club:

1) Dancing is all about where your feet are – in what direction they’re going, and which foot goes where first.  From this viewpoint, your feet are always parallel with the floor.  You just move your feet like you move fingers across a keyboard.  Super simple.

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Only it’s not so simple. Still a little lost?  Me too.  Here’s another version using a few more details regarding time to make it a little easier. These visuals excel for self-taught dancers because they’re only from the perspective of the dancer looking down.  But where’s the rest of your body go?

2) Dancing is moving through space above the ground plane.  With these side views, learning dance moves like the cartwheel (which would have previously looked like two feet print over there and two feet print over here) becomes much easier.  These visuals define dance by what it looks like from the spectator.  You now know how high to be above the ground, how far to move across the floor with a foot suspended, and necessary body angles.

Neither of these visuals capture what dancing feels like.  In these visuals, dancing is going to get the mail.  It’s loading the dishwasher or bending down to put on shoes.  But how can we visualize what space feels like for dance?

3) Dancing is all about getting in a good mood.  This visual breaks down steps into stages, connects those steps with feet routines and song lyrics, AND connects it all together with intense facial expressions.  You cannot Gangnam Style and not finish with a cool pose, otherwise go home and practice the Mambo.  Lots of arrows.

Lasso that sexy lady!

4) Dancing is about articulating your identity.  Who are you?  Because most likely, you dance how you want others to see you or how you see yourself.  Are you a straight white man and want to remind your mate of your incredible microwaving skills?  Want to look ridiculous and have fun doing it?  Then Killer Infographics says dancing is your chance!

9 out of 10 white guys actually read this and learned how to do the Shoplifter.

But there are just single moves.  So far we’ve only seen bits and pieces of dances.  Could you visualize a ballet on a side-view X/Y axis that charts momentum and energy throughout the entire performance?  I think so.

5) Dancing is fluid. When you dance your body should seamlessly glide across the floor.  You are one with the ground plane, your body, the space, the music or your mood or identity, and your partner (or spectator).  When you moonwalk, you are not alone – you are one with MJ.

The sliding is always flat! Also, you’ll need one glove.

Here’s a final infographic for all you all out there still don’t know how to dance that breaks down your body into zones of appropriateness:

Don’t forget to follow Kyra Gaunt at her blog here.

Inspiration: Dubai’s World Expo, 2020

To begin, I want to start by connecting you with my other blog, Global Food Studies, in which I unpack my exploratory research trip to the 2015 World Expo in Milan, Italy where I analyzed transnational American food studies.  In this post, I include graphics just released that visualize Dubai’s plans for its own World Expo in 2020.  This is a complex infographic, and attempts to visualize three pillars of mapping that I seek to implement in my research and teaching: mapping arguments, mapping primary sources, and mapping constellations. On the left, the graphic uses world and regional maps to geographically pin point this event at the center of both the world and the region.  Second, the graphic utilizes a partial aerial view to provide an overview of the park’s components, using scaled images to illuminate proximity of these components to one another.  Third, on the bottom, the infographic uses photo-like renderings to provide snapshot stills of the park on the ground to shed light on the experience of seeing and being in the space at that given moment.  Finally, on the right, the infographic uses graphics to unpack the park’s thematic layers while showing connecting threads between the park’s structures and its conceptual framework.

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