Students whip up a quarantine cookbook to stay connected

The COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for conversations around not only mental health but also the struggle many Oregonians are now facing even more — food insecurity.

The intersection of those two topics led professor of political science Alison Gash and her students to start “Cooking while Quarantined,” an online cookbook raising awareness to and money for food insecurity both locally and nationally.

The cookbook is filled with student artwork, poetry and recipes for quick and satisfying vegetables dishes, decadent mac and cheese, and challah bread, among many others. It is offered as a gift, but in return readers are asked to donate to one of three local and national organizations working to end food insecurity.

In spring 2020 when UO classes were first moved online, Gash began hosting Zoom sessions called “Connecting while Quarantined” to help bring her students together and create a sense of community within her classes while everyone was home. That’s where the idea for the cookbook was born.

“I really wanted to provide a space for students to find a sense of community, and to feel like they could give back, even when everything in our political and social world was pointing to isolation,” Gash said.

Community is a regular topic in her classes, including the importance of creating a sense of cohesion, hope and decency, especially given the current political division in the country.

“The cookbook and the artwork were a way for students to enact that,” she said.

With the help of political science majors Hunter Spence and Emily Fowler, and UO alumna Momo Wilms-Crowe, they poured through the recipes and artwork submitted by Gash’s students, and the e-book was created.  

“Those Zoom calls were a fantastic form of consistency when everything had been upended,” Spence said. “We talked about how we were all cooking while in quarantine, and someone suggested we make a cookbook, so we just ran with it.”

But they also wanted to bring awareness to the issue of food insecurity.

“It's great that we could make a bunch of types of challah bread or poach an egg while we were at home, but it’s a privilege to be able to experiment with food like that,” Spence said. “We wanted to recognize that and choose organizations that are solving food insecurity through community empowerment in order to institute long-lasting solutions, not a top-down charity approach.”

The three organizations Gash and her students chose to highlight are Migrant Justice, which works nationwide with farmworkers; Portland-based Black Food Sovereignty Coalition; and the Community Alliance for Global Justice, which is based in Seattle but works all over the globe. The donation goal for “Cooking while Quarantined” is $5,000, but Gash said they are encouraging any form of donation, from money to time volunteering or supplies.

“Cooking while Quarantined” is also part one of three books to be released in Gash’s “Good Books” series. The second is another cookbook filled with sweets and drinks, and the last is a collection of artwork, poetry, short stories and reflection pieces from students and other young people across the country, all focused on the topic of racism and resistance. Both are to be released this spring.

“The past five months have been consumed with the pandemic and the movement towards racial justice,” said Fowler, a student in the UO's Clark Honors College. “This was a tangible way to have a more hands-on role with that and actually combine this passion we all had for these recipes we were making into something that has a systematic, substantial impact on our community as well.”

Part of the inspiration for the cookbook was classroom discussion about ways the law isn’t always applied equally, Spence said.

“One way to combat this is informal politics,” she said. “So if we can’t rely on courts to apply laws fairly and we can’t rely on political systems to get it done quickly, informal politics like community empowerment is the best way to combat that.”

Wilms-Crowe, an honors college graduate, is currently an organizer and co-chair for the Community Alliance for Global Justice’s food justice project, which inspired her to get involved in the cookbook.

“I wanted to help with this project as much as I could,” she said. “A lot of people were feeling lonely and disconnected from our regular routines, so having a space to share a little bit of our experiences was important. We might not be able to be together, but we can both cook the same recipe and share it over a Zoom call.”

Wilms-Crowe said all donations the alliance receives from “Cooking while Quarantined” are being put back into its own art book that will, in turn, raise money for the group.

From an effort to help connect people across the isolation of the pandemic to a three-part book series bringing awareness to food insecurity, Gash worked hard to ensure they had a community to find solace in, the students said.

“I’m so inspired by this project,” Wilms-Crowe said. “The simple act of sharing stories and sharing food together is radical. It’s such an important way to be connecting with each other and with larger systems of power and inequality, I’m hoping it will help people engage with food justice as well.”  

To see the cookbook and learn more about these organizations, visit Gash’s websites

—By Victoria Sanchez, University Communications