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First-ever food-writer-in-residence comes to UTSC

Celebrated cookbook author Naomi Duiguid is sharing her expertise with the UTSC campus during the month of March. (Photo by Ken Jones)

For the rest of the month, Naomi Duguid is getting students and the U of T Scarborough community talking about food.

Duguid is the food-writer-in-residence – a first at the campus – for UTSC’s Culinaria project. She brings a wealth of experience, having travelled widely, shared recipes and written about her experiences with foods around the world.

“Really my job is to make people comfortable,” says Duguid, who has co-authored six cookbooks, and in 2012, published Burma: Rivers of Flavor. People feel terrible pressure in the kitchen to get things right. We need a little reassurance.”

She has already hosted a reading from her work and a panel on food writing.  Duguid hopes to help students who want to get better at making their own meals. “Students are under so much pressure, and it’s easy to give up.  So let’s talk about how to find the time, how to find the ingredients, how to store it in your home.”

One activity Duguid will be conducting is a shopping assignment called Strategies for Eating Well on a Student Budget. Students will go out in pairs to buy one assigned ingredient and one that interests them. The students will gather in the kitchen and talk about ways to use the ingredients.

“This is how people actually cook in villages. They’ve figured it out there,” she says.

But food goes beyond just getting nutrients into your body. Food, because it’s something we have daily in our lives, opens up conversations on just about any topic, from science to politics.

“I hope to help people have eyes to see everyday things,” says Duguid, who will also host drop-in sessions with students who want to talk about writing, food or both. “We can fall into patterns and not see things. But food is a way we can talk about things like social justice and culture.”

“Naomi is an organic intellectual. We are lucky to have a writer of her calibre,” says Daniel Bender, Canada Research Chair in Global Culture. “She has a keen interest in people and communities, and her work here will help generate the kinds of conversations that help connect communities with the university.”

Bender says having a writer-in-residence focused on food is unique in higher education. This year, program is paid through research funds, though he hopes to make it a regular part of Culinaria’s offerings.

Some of Duguid’s programming will be held in Culinaria’s kitchen lab, which Bender points to as something else that’s unique to UTSC and its scholarly work in food studies. 

“I can’t think of any other place that has one,” he says. “People are starting to realize how groundbreaking that space is.”

Duguid is currently working on her next book, Caucasia, based on her travels in the Persian culinary region, which includes parts of Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“I can’t write about things I haven’t seen,” she says. “It’s not a region a lot of people here are familiar with, but there’s a richness of history there. Their influence can be seen all the way to the Mediterranean.”


© University of Toronto Scarborough