Classroom Spotlight: Creating An Oral History Cookbook

Voice of Witness has collaborated with Ria Fay-Berquist, a humanities teacher at Latitude High School in Oakland, CA for the past three years as her students have moved up through the grades. This year, in the midst of a bumpy return to in-person learning, Ria’s students brought joy and family into the classroom through the creation of an oral history cookbook. The culmination of the project had students bringing in their families’ dishes to share with the class, and designing their book, SHMACK! Every dish has a story behind it, and Latitude High presents their culinary memories here.

The process started with students discussing what food meant to each of them. After coming to the conclusion that food means something different to everyone, the class reflected on how they could bring diversity from many cultures and palates onto a plate. They found that the same recipes might be made in different families with the similar cultural lineage, but every family has their own special twist. Each dish has a story behind it, and the ways in which recipes are passed down and adopted by new generations can be a useful tool to study family history.

Next, the students asked relatives, community members, and friends for a recipe they could share, as well as a story associated with it. Students recorded and transcribed these oral histories and recipes, cooked the dishes themselves, and brought them to the classroom for all to share.

The resulting cookbook, SHMACK!, is a showcase of the diversity within the Latitude High community and a testament to the power of food. The cookbook demonstrates the importance of home-cooking and how it can help us connect with and better understand family traditions, as well as shape new traditions today.

VOW is proud to support these students in developing their oral history skills and creating this book. Want to make your own? Explore VOW’s free oral history cookbook guide for educators.

Check out snapshots on the project’s Instagram!

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