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Building Community Spirit, Loaf by Loaf

Shauna Kearns shapes a loaf of bread.

This story, by Ray Werner, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Recorder

Catch the 61B bus from Regent Square to Braddock and you just might catch a whiff of pungent-sweet sourdough bread, on its way to a brick oven.

Benjamin Franklin would approve. You recall he was seen with a loaf of bread under each arm as he strolled along Market Street in Philadelphia. No doubt Ben’s bread was also baked in a brick oven similar to one run by Chatham University student Shauna Kearns.

A student in the Falk School of Sustainability’s Master of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS) program, Shauna has a ready smile and her eyes light up like arctic stars at the mere mention of bread. On her lap is a plastic container of several pounds of sourdough rising to the occasion and ready to be baked in Braddock’s community brick oven. It’s a trip she makes two or three days a week. While she shapes her bread, she is also helping to shape the new community spirit that is a catalyst behind all the good things happening in this comeback town. Their newest community brick oven will be built this July next to the new and much anticipated Superior Motors restaurant.

“With the addition of Shauna and our new oven,” said Mayor John Fetterman, “Braddock’s fortunes will certainly continue to rise.”

Shauna’s passion has deep roots. “I grew up in Toronto in a family that treasured the outdoors and loved to cook with locally grown foods. The first time I made bread, I just fell in love with it.”

That love landed her an apprenticeship at Tracebridge Sourdough in England.

“This incredible couple, Katie Venner and Gordon Woodcock, run a small-scale bakery in Somerset. They have a brick oven they made from reclaimed materials. With their weekly pizza nights, they bring people together with food and music and community spirit. I learned so much from them.”

Shauna brought a jar of Tracebridge sourdough starter back to Toronto from the UK, which she still uses for her bread. Then, she apprenticed at St. John’s Bakery, a nonprofit next to a mission that trains the unemployed. This will be the model for the bread-baking training program Shauna plans for Braddock.

These past few summers, Shauna has also led canoe trips on the Ravensthroat and Coppermine Rivers in the Arctic, and she’s going back this summer, along with her sourdough starter, to paddle the Keele. Yes, she bakes bread in the Arctic wilderness. Much like the Klondike miners did during the gold rush in the late 19th century. But Shauna mines a different kind of gold.

Hands flattening a loaf of bread.

“These canoe trips in the Arctic are little communities,” she says. “They’re nomadic, self-sufficient. We eat only what we catch and carry. Baking bread in a small portable Dutch oven every day in the middle of the nowhere encourages a community spirit. It’s the same kind of spirit I discovered in Braddock.”

Shauna received one of the initial Falk Sustainability Summer Fellowships, which will help her participate this summer in an oven-building workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, Pennsylvania, and to serve as an apprentice at their oven- use workshop in September.

For Shauna, it’s all about what bread from a brick oven can do to bring people together – to learn, to share, to develop a skill and give something back to the community.

Shauna putting loaves in a brick oven.

“Bread sales from the Braddock oven,” Shauna says, “have always gone back into the project. The Falk Fellowship helps ensure this can continue. Imagine, 100% of our bread sales goes right back into it – to buy flour and support the construction of the oven. It will be for sale Saturdays at the Braddock Farm Stand beginning in June.”

So, while breaking bread, Shauna is also breaking the mold. What comes out of the community oven in Braddock is extraordinary. But what comes out of her community spirit is changing people’s lives.

Under Shauna’s leadership, Chatham will be building  a community bread oven at Eden Hall Campus in the summer of 2017. In spring and summer 2017, Chatham will be hosting food-related workshops–including bread baking with Shauna–at Eden Hall.

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

 

Food Studies Student Creates Community Garden

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Leland Scales (MAFS, ’16)’s hometown of Swissvale, PA had fallen on hard times, and he wanted to give back to the community. Inspired when he began the Master of Arts in Food Studies at Chatham, Leland created the Swissvale Community Garden to both beautify a part of his community and to provide some much-needed healthy produce to those in the Swissvale area.

Funding his project through Indiegogo, Leland designed the Swissvale Community Garden as a community-based initiative that is managed and operated by volunteers of the community and overseen by Reach Up, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Swissvale. Gardeners grow various flowers, herbs, and vegetables with crops being donated to local food pantries, some given to volunteers, and the remaining items sold at a local farmers market.

Leland plans to grow the project each year, and to offer gardening workshops to teach children that with hard work and determination, even the smallest seed can grow into to something larger than life.

Located within Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment, the Master of Arts in Food Studies emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.

 

award-winning filmmaker Chester Lampman, MFA Film & Digital Technology ’12

Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival
Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival

If you think of award-winning filmmakers, Chester Lampman, MFA Film and Digital Technologies ’14, may not be the first to come to mind, but make no mistake—he’s the real deal. His thesis documentary “The Marquee on Main Street” was accepted to six film festivals, and also won a Recognition Award for Short Documentary from the Hollywood International Independent Film Awards in May 2016.

“The Marquee on Main Street” is a short documentary centered on three small, independent theaters in and around Pittsburgh: the Strand in Zelienople, the Oaks in Oakmont, and the Hollywood in Dormont. Chester interviews the owners about the challenges they face keeping these small theaters afloat in this era of multiplexes that use digital platforms. “Hollywood is essentially forcing theaters to go digital,” he says. “It makes it so much harder for single-screen theaters to get movies.” View trailer here:

“These places are community treasures,” Chester continues. “Once they’re gone, they’re much more difficult to bring back, if they even can bring it back.” He cites the Oaks as an example. “The Oaks was closed and brought back as a performance art space. They still show some movies, but on a much rarer basis. They do what they have to do to survive, but the space is still there.”

“The Marquee on Main Street is an award-winning short documentary by independent filmmaker Chester Lampman that explores the historic single screen cinema experience. Weaving a story of rediscovery with profiles of several independent neighborhood movie theaters, the film celebrates their histories, examines their challenges, and highlights the people that keep them going. All in an effort to prove that these often overlooked community treasures still have much to offer the movie going public. After all, one screen is all you really need.” – Trailer for “The Marquee on Main Street”

When Chester first he came to Pittsburgh after attending University of Pittsburgh Bradford, he landed a job in independent video production. Then he joined the army, and after three years in active duty, returned to find how much the film industry had changed. “Everything was digital, everything was high definition,” he says. “The mental skill was still there, but my technical skills had become outdated. I would have had to start over in the industry at minimum wage, and I wasn’t about to do that.” Instead, he got a job outside the film industry.

Soon after that, he came to a friend’s graduation at Chatham. “I heard people graduating with an MFA in film, and thought maybe I should look into that.”

He liked what he saw. In 2012, Chester enrolled in the MFAFDT program. In order to take advantage of the GI Bill, he had to be enrolled full-time, and he also worked full time to support his family. “I took three classes each semester and did project stuff on the weekends,” he laughs. It took him two years to complete the program.

“People come into the program with all different levels of expertise,” he adds. “I knew some of the theoretical stuff, but needed the technical expertise. I’d never turned on a Mac before. I’m sitting there, trying to find the power button—everyone was supportive,” he says.

“I could have gone to to some workshops if all I had wanted was a skills upgrade,” Chester says. “But actually earning an MFA was a much better use of the time and money.”

Chester dates his interest in documentaries to his junior year in high school. “I took a specialized course on the Civil War, and the teacher showed the Ken Burns documentary,” he says. “I was fascinated by it. It was the first time I realized you could learn and be entertained at the same time, and that it was a function fo the images, the music—all the elements.”

Chester was also attracted to the do-more-with-less aspect of documentary making. “Filmmaking is a team sport,” he says. “When you’re making a documentary, you can use a much smaller team.” (In fact, Chester’s team was him and one other person—at most.)
“There are also avenues for documentaries,” he says. “It’s easier to get people to see your work. Ten or 15 years ago, we didn’t have that.”

“If I were talking to someone thinking about coming into the program, I’d say to prepare to take everything seriously. Don’t look at the project work just as project work—treat it as an example of your ability, and recognize that you’re building your portfolio from day one. If you take attitude from the start, you’ll be building your portfolio all along. That’s how I look at my film—it’s proof of my ability. Hopefully I can use it as a stepping stone for other films I want to make.”

“Will I ever make a Hollywood feature film? Hell no. It’s never going to happen,” he laughs. “Documentary is interesting to me because you get to pick something you have an interest in, research it, find a unique and interesting way to tell a story, and hopefully engage the audience. I like to learn when I make something.”

Chatham’s accelerated, one-year MFA in Film & Digital Technology program is one of the few accelerated MFA programs in the United States that includes both film and digital technology. Focused on advanced project work in a range of media production areas, principally film/video, interactivity, and the web, it is designed to extend and develop students’ experiences and knowledge in the field of media production and their understanding of creative and critical practice within the media industries.

 

 

Sniffing around brooklyn

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Note: This story originally appeared in the Chatham University Spring 2016 Recorder alumni magazine. 

As with so many New York stories— at least in the movies—it began with a gun. A 3,200-pound custom-built breakfast cereal-puffing gun, in fact, that traveled the city demonstrating how grains get puffed into cereal. It was a mobile exhibition called BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Cereal, the year was 2013, and the gunslinger was the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). In 2014, MOFAD moved into a space in Brooklyn, began thinking about onsite exhibitions, and hired Catherine Piccoli, a 2012 graduate of Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies program, as program associate.

For Catherine, a social and cultural historian who focuses on food, it’s an ideal match. She would be the first to tell you she’s felt that click before. After completing a bachelor’s in social and cultural history at Carnegie Mellon, her next steps weren’t clear. “I had been thinking and reading deeply about food,” she says, “but neither culinary school nor working in a restaurant appealed to me. I didn’t know what the other options were. One day I saw a newspaper ad for the food studies program, and it was like a light bulb—this is me, this is what I want to do. I can study food and continue to focus on history and social and cultural phenomena.”

In the food studies program, Catherine focused on writing and communication and explored the interplay of food and history through culture. She completed internships at the Heinz History Center, at an environmental radio show, and at a community food pantry.

During the program I was constantly challenged,” she says. “Things that I had thought were constantly being blown open. Not just about food, but about cultures, poverty, and social justice. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. History, culture, science and technology, production, commerce–because of the Food Studies program, I feel like I can speak knowledgeably about all of these things, and I’m confident bringing them into my job.”

In the summer of 2012, Catherine moved to Brooklyn. She began contributing her research skills as a volunteer at MOFAD, and the rest is history—the history of food and culture that Catherine researched, documented, and helped craft into MOFAD’s first on-site exhibition, Flavor: Making It and Faking It. Flavor: Making It and Faking It is a collection of interactive stories and experiences that build toward a holistic understanding of the modern flavor industry. It’s a huge topic that has been thoughtfully calibrated to the space available—a cavernous, one-room, 3000-square foot former car park.

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The exhibition starts with a short video about how the nose and mouth work together to produce flavor. Taste refers to what we perceive through the tongue; flavor refers to the interplay of taste and smell. In fact, most flavor comes from the aroma of food when it’s in your mouth. As you chew, aroma molecules drift toward the back of your throat, up an airway that connects to your nose, and are processed and received by receptors in the brain, just as though they had been inhaled through your nose.

EXHIBIT: LEARNING TO FAKE IT: VANILLA AND THE BIRTH OF THE FLAVOR INDUSTRY
“Initially, you could only get vanilla from the bean of the vanilla orchid, grown primarily in Mexico, which flowers for only one day,” says Catherine. She gestures at a vanilla orchid under a glass bel and introduces Vanessa the Vanilla Orchid. “Taking care of her is one of my duties,” she says. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with Larry at Larry’s Orchards in Michigan.”

In the 1870s, two German chemists realized that vanillin—the chemical that gave vanilla its aroma—could also be made from pine tree bark. And from wood pulp, from clove oil, from paper pulp, and, from coal. That meant that vanilla had gone from being a rare and carefully cultivated substance to something that could be mass-produced. The exact same chemical compound is found in the vanilla bean and produced in the lab. Today it’s the most popular flavor in the world.

vanillin

The exhibition also features a large tablet-making machine, of the sort that MOFAD used to make small tablets of different flavors that are available in tablet-dispensing machines throughout the exhibition. Visitors can sample and compare a vanilla bean-based tablet with a synthetic vanillin-based tablet. “Lots of people prefer the synthetic one, because it’s what they’re used to,” says Catherine.

EXHIBIT: UMAMI: SEAWEED AND THE DISCOVERY OF A NEW TASTE
Umami is the most recently identified primary taste whose Japanese name translates to something akin to deliciousness. A Japanese chemist discovered MSG (monosodium glutamate) as he was trying to replicate the flavor of an edible seaweed. “Glutamate intensifies the savory taste of food,” says Catherine, and beginning in the 1920s, MSG was marketed to food manufacturers and cafeterias as a way of adding flavor back to foods post-processing.

The Japanese army was also interested in using it to make bland, nutritious food taste good. “This is the moment in our story when the flavor industry and the food industry start becoming inseparable,” says Catherine.

Tablets allow visitors to compare umami tastes of tomato, mushroom, and seaweed with manmade

EXHIBIT: TASTE MAKERS: THE ART & SCIENCE OF FLAVOR CREATION
Along the back wall of the exhibition is one of its biggest draws, the Smell Synth—a kind of control panel where visitors can create and experience combinations of smells. It’s a simplified version of the kind of machine that allows olfaction scientists to mix and sample new smells. MOFAD asked David Michael, a Philadelphia flavor company, to choose no more than 20 compounds that visitors could use to create as many smells as possible. Because the compounds have names like “ethyl acetate” and “gamma hexalactone,” Catherine helped come up with user-friendly descriptors of how the compounds smelled, including green, leaf; cheesy vomit; earthy, hazelnut; and boozy.

The Smell Synth houses 19 glass containers, each of which contains a scent chemical compound. When you press a button, the machine opens a valve and blows scented air through a pipe to your nose. Pressing several buttons at once allows you to combine aromas to mimic a common smell. Above the control panel are “recipes” for aroma chords (Maple, brown + butter, sweet cream = pancakes). Catherine helped to “write” these recipes, too.

kid

Through the lens of flavor, the exhibition invites us to consider broader concepts. In this historical and cultural moment, it’s easy to decry the artificial as inferior to the organic, but the synthesis of vanillin brought the sweet, beloved taste of vanilla to people all over the world. We’re also invited to consider the divide between what is “natural”and what is “artificial,” and how those concepts might relate to what we call “real.” “I think there’s a lot of confusion around food,” Catherine says. “Chemicals is not a scary word. Chemicals make up the sky, my mom, soup! The same chemical is the same chemical, whether it’s found in a food or in a test tube.”

Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies in the Falk School of Sustainability emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table.