El Paso Food Voices (EPFV) begins by embracing the fact that food—how it is remembered, experienced, and perceived—speaks of people’s migratory patterns, histories and cultural values that define the culinary flavors of an area. EPFV is an archive of oral stories and a record of a living history-- a kind of “intimate history,” as one participant says—that is experienced, remembered, and archived viscerally. In this project, residents of El Paso, Texas, give expression to their gastronomic ruminations. Many participants share the ways in which food goes beyond nourishing the body; their stories speak of the multitude ways in which food nourishes us emotionally, socially, and spiritually. In voicing their culinary experiences, people illustrate how they negotiate the politics of consumption by defining the symbolic and affective value certain foods and food practices hold for them. These stories express cross-cultural connections that define a city’s culinary identity that is made up of a diverse population, a past with roots spreading in multiple directions, and a dynamic and ever-changing present. A city’s characteristic that food defines is that of relationships: an individual’s relationship with food, amongst people of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, between individuals and nature, and between the past and the present.
EPFV traces people’s food stories and the embedded living histories they express through the methodology of “food voice.” The term, coined by nutritionist Annie Hauck-Lawson, refers to how food and culinary practices in and of themselves serve as a powerful, highly charged, and personalized voice that crystalizes the dynamic, creative, symbolic, and highly individualized ways that food serves as a channel of communication. All of the stories included in this project communicate how El Paso’s history, culture and politics expand beyond the coordinates that geographically place El Paso, Texas, on a map.
Meredith E. Abarca
Creator, Editor, and Curator of El Paso Food Voices
What has led me to become a professor of Food Studies and Literature in the Department of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, is a life-long passion for food and for people’s stories, especially when these are about food. I define myself as “a child of the kitchen.” I grew up in restaurants, for a while I thought of becoming a professional chef, and then one day I found myself getting a Ph.D. and writing about the transformative power that food holds in all of our lives. Since then, I’ve continued to research and write about this power in Voices in the Kitchen (2006); Rethinking Chicana/o Literature Through Food: Postnational Appetites (2013), Latin@s’ Presence in the Food Industry: Changing How We Think about Food (2016), and in numerous articles in scholarly journals and edited collections. Through lectures and workshops, I’ve had opportunities of sharing the complicated social, cultural, historical and philosophical complex dynamics that food plays in our lives in places like the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi; the University of Gastronomical Sciences in (Colormo) Parma, Italy; the University of Technology in Sidney, Australia; the University of Paris-Sorbonne, France; the University of Oslo, Norway; the University of Toronto, Canada and numerous US academic settings. EPFV reflects my commitment to create venues to share work produced within an academic setting with an audience not reached by scholarly academic publications. My first digital endeavor in this commitment was the creation of a virtual museum as a graduate course’s final project.
Joshua I. Lopez
Graduate Research Assistant
I graduated from UTEP with an MA in Literature. For my final project in the program, I wrote about the role of food in literature, and so began my journey into food studies. Since then, I have come to appreciate the role food plays in my life, and I have realized that food deserves more of our attention as it can teach us more about our relationship with ourselves, the Earth, and with each other. This learning experience has led me to participate in the El Paso Food Voices project. I look forward to learning more as I continue with food studies at the University of North Texas as a PhD student in food history in Fall 2019.
Undergraduate Student Research Assistant (Spring 2019)
I currently attend EPCC, and I’m majoring in Communications with a focus in Film and Television. I’ve always had a fascination with film and television, and once I registered for an Introduction to Mass Communications class at EPCC in spring 2017, my fascination began shifting from a dream to a reality. In that first course I also discovered I’ve a flair for editing. To enhance my skills, I took to the web to watch how-to videos and tutorials on basic editing and gradually moved on to more advanced techniques. This early skill set served me well when I took Audio Production and learned the art of audio mixing and how critical it is in enhancing the visuals elements of video. I earned high marks including a “class award” for audio mixing; the professor is now using this work to aid in teaching future classes. In spring 2019, I applied and was accepted as a Student Research Fellow with The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP. This opportunity is allowing me to apply my educational and practical knowledge to a research project under the direction of UTEP professor Meredith E. Abarca. This project focuses on recording people’s food stories and is providing me with hands-on experience in videography, sound engineering, editing and directing.
Undergraduate Student Research Assistant (Spring 2019)
I worked with this project as part of the Humanities Collaborative between EPCC-UTEP, a grant funded by the Mellon Foundation. My major contribution was conducting research to begin understanding the complexity of people’s food memories and culinary practices. I graduated from Del Valle High School in El Paso, Texas in 2018 and began my studies at El Paso Community College (EPCC) where I am currently majoring in Communications and Journalism. After completing an Associate’s degree at EPCC, I’ll transfer to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).