I am in shock today and with the entire world falling apart around me, I received some incredible news! I have been chosen to receive The Drexler Family Diversity Fellowship from The Civita Institute to work on a dream project!! A cookbook/ photo journal in beautiful Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy next year!
For those who aren’t familiar with The Civita Institute here is a note from their site:
“The Civita Institute, formerly known as The Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy (NIAUSI) is a Member-supported nonprofit corporation established in 1981 by academics, architects, students, Italians, and professional members of the Pacific Northwest design community.
Originally intended as a means of involving the professional community in the learning experience provided by the Italian Studies Program of the University of Washington’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, NIAUSI’s purpose has evolved and expanded to more widely support cultural exchange and excellence in the design quality of the built environment through our Fellowships, Membership Stay programs and educational programs located at our facility in Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy….“
With all that is happening in Italy now, there is a lot of unknowns but I am so honored to receive this fellowship award to spend a month cooking, writing, and photographing the culinary culture and heritage of this region. I just don’t even know what else to say…
For those interested in what I submitted to win this opportunity, below is my exact proposal and scattered through are the images I submitted with my proposal to reflect my style of photo journalism. I am hoping this project will be a catalyst and the prequel to another dream project, traveling to Puerto Rico and seeing the culinary traditions there.
When I shoot food and beverage, I tend to want to incorporate the human aspect of creating dishes and the people behind them. You will see many images that are for the most part, in the moment, not planned, showing real-life situations and moments, except for my cocktail creations for my recipe writing.
Looking forward to this experience and if you have been to Italy and have some advice on what to expect, please leave a comment below and thank you!
Lost in Translation
The Power of Sustainable Food and the Potential Extinction of Cultural Heritage
Lost in Translation is a genesis project that seeks to illuminate what it means to eat sustainably and how traditional ethnic foods and recipes are at risk of disappearing from our cultural heritage.
Part cookbook, part culinary love letter, and part cautionary tale, Lost in Translation will be a collection of local food traditions. By participating in immersive culinary experiences, interviews, recipe documentation, gardening, and photographic storytelling, I will focus on the daily importance of the sustainable food traditions of this region.
I want to study how sustainable food production contributes to the community of Civita di Bagnoregio and its producers, farmers, restaurants, and families that have lived there for hundreds of years. I also want to explore what the potential extinction of this cultural heritage in sustainable food practices might mean for future generations.
Please write a short statement describing why you feel you should be considered as a candidate for the Drexler Family Diversity Fellowship.
As a 2nd generation Puerto Rican American and a woman of mixed race, I have only recently come to realize the effects, discrepancies, and the incredible loss of my cultural heritage through systemic racism and sexism. I was never taught Spanish or much about my ethnicity growing up, and in hindsight, I can see that it was very much intentional.
I was born in the early 80s. It was a time when being a minority was still considered less than ideal, but what I have found the most damaging was the abandonment of cultural identity from within the ethnic communities themselves. The psychological and financial toll this has taken on these communities is now being felt by their children (like me) who were never given the opportunity to learn more about their cultural heritage, their native languages, or the ability to cook traditional meals and family recipes.
My mother didn’t know it at the time, but she was being persuaded to walk away from her own ethnicity. She stopped cooking traditional Puerto Rican meals because her husband didn’t like the taste of them. She didn’t teach me Spanish because she thought it would make my life harder. She was taught to erase who she was to be accepted by our society, and in return, she unwillingly made the extinction of her own cultural heritage a reality.
When I realized this was what had happened to us, and others, I took steps to salvage what I could, by learning to cook traditional recipes that I could then share with others. I also became more involved in my community through my photography and design business, Rainy Day Prosper.
Although I am not formally educated, I did not let that slow me down. I taught myself design tools over the last 20 years, and I now work with several local nonprofits helping micro and ethnic minority small businesses with their photography and design needs.
In 2019 alone, I donated over $20,000 of my professional services to these communities and nonprofits that support small businesses and sustainable food production. This is not an insignificant amount of money, and I am not a wealthy person. I simply see that in order for these minority businesses to compete, they need a running start and so I began to offer my services at discounted rates to give them that.
I now want to pursue a path of exploration into this loss of cultural diversity and its connection with or move towards mass-produced and over-processed foods in these communities. I am curious to see if other cultures have experienced the same thing I have and to meet people who are working to reverse it by educating younger generations on the importance of cooking and the connection our cultural heritage has with sustainable food production.
My background is in photography, design, and editorial writing. I have recently started my own design company, Rainy Day Prosper, in July of 2018 and currently write and photograph two cocktail columns for regional beverage magazines, Sip Northwest and CiderCraft. I have assisted in consulting for larger food and beverage industry leaders during my tenure as Creative Director at Kathy Casey Food Studios and Liquid Kitchen.
My love of photography inspired me to volunteer at the Photographic Center Northwest over the last eight years, both as a digital lab monitor and assisting with their annual auctions and events. My passion for food and the culinary arts led me to donate my services to 21 Acres, a local, sustainable farm and education nonprofit in Woodinville, Washington.
I am also passionate about supporting minority-run small and micro businesses in Washington. That passion has led me to collaborations with Spaceworks in Tacoma, where I mentor small businesses on photography and design, and Ventures, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small and minority-run businesses grow in Seattle. Through Ventures, I have taught workshops on photography and design for Pike Place Market Vendors.
As of this writing, I was a finalist for the Venture’s entrepreneurial competition Innoventures, which provides an opportunity for minority-run businesses to pitch their ideas directly to a jury of local entrepreneurs and investors.
Describe your proposed project.
We live in a nation obsessed with food. Turn on Netflix, Youtube, or Amazon, and you will see that our appetite for food and food content is on the rise as we idolize celebrity chefs, mixologists, and restauranteurs at a level we have not seen before. But there is one problem. Despite our fascination with food and food culture, more and more Americans are unable to cook a single meal or understand the connection between sustainable food production and the importance of cooking. Obesity is on the rise from our overconsumption of processed foods, and the sustainable food practices of our past (and present), a touchstone to our cultural heritage, is slowly becoming extinct.
In our ethnic communities, we often forget how vital these traditions and methods are and, in some cases, have neglected to pass them down to the next generation so they can serve as a reminder of our ability to be sustainable with our food. The connection between our loss of cultural heritage and our loss of plant variety and biodiversity suddenly becomes clear.
Knowing all this, the premise of my project is simple. Within my 30 day window of time, I will document my daily experience with the traditional foods, recipes, and food production methods of this region. I will act as an archivist of the recipes I encounter so they might be shared with future generations. I will also look into how this specific region has been able to sustain these practices for hundreds of years and what the loss of this cultural heritage could mean if factory farms become more commonplace around Civita di Bagnoregio.
Utilizing The Civita Institutes archive, I will look for food and recipe documents I can use to tell my story or reproduce these found recipes with foods available in the region today.
I will look into the local, sustainable farms that service Civita di Bagnoregio and, if able, tour the farms, interview the farmers where applicable, and note the foods being farmed in the region.
I will look into the local, sustainable producers that service Civita di Bagnoregio and, if able, tour their productions, interview the producers where applicable, and note the foods being produced in the region.
I will look into the local, sustainable restaurants that service Civita di Bagnoregio and, if able, dine or even learn some recipes from the restaurants, interview the owners where applicable, and note the meals being served.
I will look into opportunities to dine or make food with local families or to utilize communal cooking opportunities in Civita di Bagnoregio and, if able, interview these people and note the meals being served and created.
I plan on buying my daily staples from the local markets and will take note of the foods that are in season and recipes I can make with the foods I find.
If applicable, I will help plant or harvest foods grown in pre-arranged garden settings helping their owners with their seasonal crops and make a note of what is planted, what is in season, and what is harvested.
Through a mix of photography, recipe documentation, interviews, participation in cultivation, production, and utilizing the research within The Civita Institute archives available to me, I hope to accumulate a beautiful collection of stories and recipes that can then be combined into a book for The Civita Institute to consider for their fundraising efforts and community outreach.
Describe what form your project will take and what deliverable you anticipate providing to the library of the Civita Institute.
My work will be in the form of editorial writing, digital imagery, and printed imagery of the food, places, settings, and people I share food with while in Civita di Bagnoregio.
The writing will be in the form of short stories of my experiences, detailed recipes, methods of food production, and the various types of food items available.
I envision this work will initially be in digital format, used for a blog, and submitted for publishing, with the completed physical form being a photo and storytelling cookbook. Photographed, written, and designed by myself.
Describe what makes your proposal relevant to the Civita Institute’s mission to inspire and foster an interdisciplinary understanding of the unique qualities of Italian hill towns that remain pertinent to our contemporary experience, through the promotion of historic preservation, scholarly research, artistic creation, and professional explorations.
As part of your answer, please discuss how the fellowship will help you contribute to your personal, professional, or global community.
Food is a universal language. Sustainable food production is not a new concept; it is an ancient one and is likely why humans settled here and built these towns so long ago.
We all need to eat, and we all have deep connections, memories, and history with our food and the places we enjoy food. I am excited to see this firsthand in an ancient community, to see what innovations make life better for this community through food and to see where it might become extinct if we don’t protect them and document them. This project will be a visual and written love letter to the culinary traditions in Civita di Bagnoregio but it is also a takeaway, something that can be shared around the world. It is just as essential to protect these recipes and methods, as is any other art form. It will also be another layer of detail and insight that represents what Civita di Bagnoregio is like today.
For me, Lost in Translation is just the beginning of my journey in exploring the cultural heritage and significance of food and recipe traditions of different regions and cultures. It’s a big idea, but an important one that I hope will shift my career and my purpose as well as feed my soul with new and unforeseen experiences.
If awarded a fellowship, how do you imagine the experience might impact your professional trajectory?
Lost in Translation will be a beautiful body of work that will showcase all my skillsets, from photography to design and editorial storytelling — testing my abilities and my focus to create something that is thoughtfully designed and executed for others to enjoy. What a wonderful way to represent not only my passions in food and recipe development but my abilities.
I imagine this experience will help others see my abilities and skills on a deeper level and I hope that it will open doors for similar opportunities around the globe, working with others who share the same passions I do.
Describe how the included samples relate to your proposal and fit into your larger body of work.
The images included showcase work I have done for various nonprofits in Washington State and really represent how I approach editorial photography and photographic storytelling, which will be how I tell my story of my time in Civita.
I have also included some images from my personal travels to San Francisco, enjoying restaurants and the cocktail culture.
How did you learn about The Civita Institute Fellowship Program?
I have known about The Civita Institute Fellowship Program for years through my friend Clark Pickett and have participated in a few outreach events in the past but it is only after a push from Janet Neuhauser, a friend, and mentor, that I built up the confidence to enter.