Connecting Generations through Food, Stories, and Making a Cookbook

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It’s a Monday afternoon at Vintage Senior Services in East Liberty, where students and seniors have begun to set out a dozen various dishes. Oxtail soup, Southern style tea cakes, grape 7-up cake, bean soup, pound cake. In true potluck fashion, the ratio of desserts to entrees is sinful. Nobody has any complaints.

This feast—and the cookbook that came from it—is the result of a project called Food Story/Food Secure: Building Community Through Food-Centered Partnerships, funded by a grant received by Chatham Assistant Professor Carrie Tippen from the Council of Independent Colleges and AARP as part of their Intergenerational Connections program, designed to help foster connections between generations and to benefit lower-income older adults. Chatham was one of only 22 institutions to receive the grant, and Tippen chose to focus on affordable cooking and the way that food can connect different generations. All of the stories will be added to Western Pennsylvania Foodways Collection project of the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation (CRAFT).

Over the course of a few months, a group of ten Chatham students, all of whom received stipends for their participation, collected recipes and related stories and memories from seniors affiliated with Vintage Senior Center. The cookbook is titled Vintage Generations Cookbook. “Ms. Bradshaw, one of our most dedicated senior participants, picked it,” Tippen explains.

 Tippen explains that the project was a true collaboration between Chatham’s School of Arts, Science, and Business, in which she teaches, and the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment (“We had three training sessions with (Food Studies Program Director) Alice Julier and Emeran Irby on collecting oral histories,”)  and the School of  Health Sciences (“We also had training with Julie Slade from our nursing department on aging and working with senior adults with dignity.” ) Tippen herself is an expert on cookbooks. “I’ve been working with community and commercial cookbooks for the last seven years in my research, and I wrote a whole book about cookbooks,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole career!”

“Our last session was almost like the last day of camp, saying goodbye to fast-friends. It was so rewarding to get to know them so deeply, to swap phone numbers, to get texts from them with their new ideas,” Tippen says. “I live about two blocks from one of the seniors, and I have a standing invitation to knock on her door and come in for coffee anytime. I haven’t had the chance to make that kind of connection in any other project I’ve done.”

Get the cookbook, and learn more about the project, here.