Artwork by Annie Lu

The Berkeley Potluck

The Potluck is a project that aims to share intimate aspects of how people interact with their food through ethnographic interviews with students, staff, faculty, and community members on the UC Berkeley campus. The quotes taken from these interviews provide a glimpse into each individual’s perspective, and brought together, highlight the diversity and interconnectedness of our food experiences. Connect with our Facebook page.

“Fairly early on, a farmer said to me, ‘The problem isn’t how to farm. I know how to do that. The problem is gaining access to land in order to be able to do these practices.’ And it really helped me throw this whole problem on its head that we focus so much on the agroecological practices that farms can do to accomplish these sustainability goals, but we don’t think about the restrictions that farmers face in making those decisions, that forces the market, and land access, and having a discerning landlord restricts them and the farmer’s ability to do this kind of stuff. And so I thought it was my duty to switch research focuses on the forces that control farmer autonomy, and for me, land access, and not having secure land tenure is chief among those.”

Adam, graduate student

“I identify as a mixed person who can be both black and Korean, but also just a human being that just enjoys to eat food, and I use food as a way to learn about different cultures, specifically my own. Food is an opportunity to reclaim your own identity.”

Will, undergraduate student

“I eat a sandwich every day for lunch. It makes life easier—I never have to decide what to have for lunch because every day it’s a sandwich…I buy whatever meat is on sale at Berkeley Bowl, and this week it was bologna. So I bought half a pound of bologna and every day, a bologna sandwich. Which is awful right? Bologna is the most processed, unhealthy, high sodium—I don’t even know what’s in it. In the end, everyone just lives at the level they are comfortable with, right? And I guess that’s the level I am comfortable with.”

Adrian, graduate student

“I find it so hard when people reduce these discussions to nutrients. ‘Am I getting better vitamins? Or antioxidants? Where are my carbs coming from? And my protein?’ It’s just so limited, in my mind. It’s so boring. I think it’s so much more interesting to think about food in the context of culture. When you are thinking about thinking, and about how you are moving in the environment not as a consumer but as a generator, as a creator. When people present us as, ‘your only choice is to be a ‘conscious consumer’ or a savage consumer… I respond: says who? Who calls me just a consumer? I’m not necessarily consuming, right? By eating, I can be a co-generator, a co-creator. And I am actually part of the process of making the next planet that is going to follow after our time. So I don’t want to be called a consumer. Because that means that all we’re doing is finishing something off, we just have this tank of resources that we are consuming and finishing off. And by the end of it, we are going to end up with an empty tank… and that’s all we can hope for? Whereas, there is a very different way of looking at the world in which this planet will keep moving forward with new forms of life including ourselves and our descendants, and you get to be part of shaping what that planet is going to look like. That is so much different than conceiving of it as something that will be consumed.”
— Ignacio, Professor

“To me, retracing my own family’s agricultural lineage felt really powerful, because that was a side of our history that wasn’t always passed down. There was so much pressure to leave the farm essentially, and do anything else. Move to the city, get an office job, be a nurse, be anything away from the farm. So to me, having a positive experience with farming in the US was one way I really wanted to honor these family roots.”
— Aileen, BFI alumna, Owner of Sariwa Kitchen

“It’s hard right? The good thing is I have that female perspective and I know that body image issues are something we are naturally conscious of due to how society portrays us. How we’re supposed to look, act and portray ourselves – it is ingrained in you from an early age. I have the same exact concerns and insecurities as any other female does but the big thing is I always try and go back to how can you best fuel yourself to perform? I don’t believe that there’s necessarily an ideal body composition because everybody is different and everybody performs best with different body compositions so that’s how I always try to address it. Don’t worry about what you look like right now, think about what you need to eat so you can be the best you can be at your sport.”

Cheryl, Strength & Conditioning Coach

“I try not to waste food, I never waste food. I’ve always been big on eating in food competitions/challenges. My favorite one was Fenton’s! They have like 3 pounds of ice cream in 15 minutes. That one was so fun. I also did one in LA right before I left for Patagonia over break. They did this like, ‘spicy king demon challenge’ or something? They used ghost peppers to make it and it was ridiculous. Totally failed, I was crying. But still fun.”

Eli, undergraduate student

“I was just thinking about the cultural relevance of food throughout the world, and I think it’s really interesting that obviously there are indigenous and local plants that influence cuisine throughout the world, but at the same time, a lot of cuisines independently come up with very similar things. For example, a potsticker is roughly the same as an empanada, which is roughly the same as a calzone, which is roughly the same as a samosa. And none of those cultures are really connected to each other very much, and yet they come up with these very similar, yet different things and I always thought that was fascinating about food. I think it has to do with common themes in human nature and human culture overall. We like the same things, and there’s a lot more that unites us than divides us.”

Austin, undergraduate student

“I grew up on Chinese food because my mom was the main chef of the house, so she cooked what she grew up eating. She grew up in China and came here when my older sister was 2. I’ve learned to do some of the favorites of my mom’s recipes while in college. I cook them because I miss having that; it reminds me of home to have that familiar taste that I really crave.”

Emily, undergraduate student

“I think the food that you get from home is kind of the bar with which you compare everything else. It’s like your first experience with any type of thing, it brings you comfort. I don’t live too far from here—I’m from Sacramento, so my parents do come on occasion and give me some food to put in the freezer, so I will heat it up. Actually, I’m kind of terrible at cooking… I broke our rice cooker at home. So I can heat things up from the microwave, but it’s pretty limited at that.”

Manu, undergraduate student

“There’s always those conditioned beliefs that come at you about the illusionary deficiencies that would be involved with not eating meat, so you always have to be equipped with your knowledge to help others understand where you are coming from and the value of it. In terms of my dance group, I feel like I may be at the moment the only one who is raw vegan. There are others that have definitely tried to improve their diets. I’m actually a dancer for MC Hammer right now. He’s actually vegan, and his son tried it for a little bit—so people dabble in it, but it’s not the easiest path to be on. It can be a real battle at times with yourself to maintain integrity on that path when there are all these forces around you that can cause you to stray from it.”

Galaxy, visitors to campus

“When I wake up, I don’t really eat anything. Because I like to sleep as late as possible until my first class, so I end up not having time to cook anything in the mornings. Honestly, if I have class straight through the day, I just don’t eat lunch either and I wait until dinner. And it’s really bad, because I get really hungry. And then I get so hungry that I’m not even hungry anymore. Yeah, it’s pretty bad. And I know a lot of students are like that, like some of my friends are so busy that they forget to eat or maybe don’t have time to meal prep. Or at least they don’t want to take the time out to meal prep (like me), and it’s so hard to bring packed lunches from home. But I hope when I start working that I’ll be able to do that more. It’ll be one of my goals.”

Ya-an, undergraduate student

“He’s from Chile, and this is his first burrito in the world!”

Mario’s friend, visitors to campus

“It’s interesting coming from a farming family, because we want our food to be sold on a larger scale. Being in a city, I want people to be buying all of this organic produce. But in a city, it’s a lot more confusing. It’s not so straightforward. I used to think Whole Foods was a really great place because at the two towns on either side of our farm, Whole Foods bought my dad’s produce and they sold it, and we would shop there all the time. Now, here at Berkeley, I hear a lot of different things about Whole Foods and I’m learning about their corporate structure and I maybe don’t feel comfortable with it anymore, so being in the city is definitely confusing because there are a lot more options and it’s a lot more political. So I guess my relationship with food has blurred a little. And I really don’t know whats right anymore in terms of organic, GMO—like which store is better—so I grow food at my house and I eat that, and I have a local CSA box, and I try to buy organic or local if it says that on the label.”

Maya, undergraduate student