‘What’s That Vegetable?’: Cultural roots found in the ground

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Students from Spring Valley Student Farm and EcoGarden present their favorite vegetables in a presentation in the Student Union on Thursday evening. Participants presented their own favorite vegetables and shared how they enjoy eating it!. Photo Credits to Matt Pickett of the Daily Campus.

Food has an undeniable, yet often overlooked, effect on different cultures around the world. Whether we realize it or not, many foods are distinctly tied to the cuisine of a particular nation or region. Imagine Chinese cuisine without rice, Italian cooking without tomatoes or Ireland without its infamous potatoes—all of which play an intricate role in our lives and each tell a very important story. 

While vegetables are practically never the stars of the dinner table, they took center stage yesterday evening at the Planting Our Roots Initiative’s “What’s That Vegetable?” event, where students both online and in-person shared vegetables and recipes that play a role in their family’s heritage. 

The Planting Our Roots Initiative is a collaborative effort between the EcoGarden Club, Bringing Awareness Into Latino Ethnicities (BAILE) and many other student groups. The purpose of last night’s event was to begin preparations for a community garden on the UConn Storrs campus that will grow foods important to the different cultural heritages of the UConn student body. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made this goal more difficult to accomplish, the Planting Our Roots Initiative has hopes to begin growing culturally-meaningful crops in the upcoming spring semester. 

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The purpose of the Planting our Roots initiative was to begin preparations for a community garden on the UConn Storrs campus that will grow foods important to the different cultural heritages of the UConn student body. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The event kicked off with a show-and-tell style seminar where students shared pictures and stories of the vegetables that always seem to make their way onto their family’s dinner table; ranging from old favorites like tomatoes, shallots and kale, to lesser known choices like loofah, bitter gourd, bok choy and chameleon plant. 

Students took part in a vegetable trivia game where their leafy green knowledge was put to the test, revealing many interesting facts about the foods we eat every day. Did you know that there are 40,000 varieties of rice consumed worldwide? This came as a huge shock to anybody like me who thought there were only two types of rice: white and brown. The hottest pepper in the world happens to be called Dragon’s Breath, grown in the Carolinas. Don’t let that tempt you though, because a bite of the pepper can actually kill you, so it’s best to steer clear. 

Those attending in-person also partook in a socially-distant planting party where students were taught how to grow microgreens, a fantastic garnish for any dish that needs that extra boost of flavor. 

Aaron Johnson, a seventh-semester student with an individualized major in Sustainable Urban Design and the vice president of EcoGarden, spoke with The Daily Campus after attending the event. 

“It was really fun to learn about everyone’s personal connections to different vegetables,” Johnson said. “We’re really excited to get back to in-person events to further the Planting Our Roots Initiative, planting culturally-relevant crops right by campus.” 

“We’re really excited to get back to in-person events to further the Planting Our Roots Initiative, planting culturally-relevant crops right by campus.”

The Planting Our Roots Initiative welcomes the continued collaboration with many of the environmental and cultural groups on campus. 

“Any interested student cultural organizations should reach out if they’d also like to get involved,” Johnson said. 

To learn more about EcoGarden and the Planting Our Roots Initiative, check out the EcoGarden Club’s page on UConntact

Until then, happy gardening and remember to eat your vegetables! 

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