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Key Ingredients: Ohio by Food

Summary Information

The Key Ingredients collection contains images, audio, and transcription from a foodways exhibit coordinated by the Ohio Humanities Council and supported by We the People, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Materials include photographs, audio interviews, and transcriptions.

Background Information

In preparation for the arrival of Key Ingredients, a Smithsonian Institute touring exhibition on American foodways, Sheila Bock and Ashley Overstreet were hired by the Ohio Humanities Council in Summer 2006  to conduct fieldwork and document local food traditions (ranging from farm to table) of the following places in Ohio: Aurora (Portage County), Batavia (Clermont County), Bremen (Fairfield County), Dayton (Montgomery County), Twinsburg (Summit County), and Urbana (Champaign County).  In taking photographs and conducting interviews during their fieldwork, Sheila and Ashley gave special attention to those traditions that offered culinary cultural tourism opportunities such as festivals; family-owned businesses; farmers’ markets; and state fairs.

Throughout their fieldwork, they observed several ways that food worked both to reflect and to foster relationships with others as well as with places.  They saw how food was used to share aspects of cultural identity at festivals like the Asian Cultural Festival in Miamisburg, providing a way to celebrate diversity and help people learn about the different cultures in their region.  They learned how preparing food can help build relationships at the community level, like when members of the St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Church go down to the basement after Mass to help prepare the food for the Lebanese Festival in Dayton, or when members of the Rushville United Methodist Church make apple butter at the Hugus Fruit Farm in Lancaster each October.  They heard stories of the ways in which food can connect people to a place, like when a mother sent some Mumford’s Chips to her son fighting oversees to remind him of home, or when a mother sent fresh sweet corn from her roadside stand near Twinsburg to her son in Columbus because he thinks it just tastes better from there.  Even the way people talk about food can reveal regional differences in the state, where as one person may order a “hamburger,” another may order a “hamburg.”

They also learned about the ways in which traditions have changed over time.  Ohio food traditions have always reflected the state’s rich ethnic heritage, including German, Appalachian, Eastern European, and Amish influences.  As the state has become more diverse, the influences of more recent immigrant groups from Mexico, Puerto Rico, China, Vietnam, and Lebanon, just to name a few, have become visible as well. 

A topic that came up again and again in their conversations with people all over the state was the decrease in family farms because people just can’t afford to do it anymore, even if a family has been farming for generations.  They face a lot of competition from large-scale corporate farms and land developers.  As a result, there has been a big shift from farming as a stable, full-time occupation and lifestyle to a less stable, part-time activity.  Small-scale farmers have to decide whether to expand or find another job to supplement the farm.  This, of course, affects how much local food is available for consumers in Ohio.  Luckily, there are movements to rebuild local food systems and sustainable agriculture, like the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, but it is still not easy for the farmers who need to make a living.

Please enjoy the photographs and interview recordings in this “tour” of the food traditions of Aurora (Portage County), Batavia (Clermont County), Bremen (Fairfield County), Dayton (Montgomery County), Twinsburg (Summit County), and Urbana (Champaign County)!

About the Fieldworkers

Sheila Bock received her Ph.D. in 2010 in the Department of English with a focus on Folklore Studies, and she is now Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Teaching courses on Interdisciplinary Research Methods and Interdisciplinary Inquiry, she enjoys introducing her students to the numerous applications of folklore theories and methods in problem-based research. She continues conducting research on the intersections between performance, narrative, and diabetes health education, and she is eager to learn more about the dynamic folk culture of her home in Las Vegas.

Ashley Overstreet received her MA in English with a concentration in Folklore from The Ohio State University; her thesis research focused upon the culture of waitresses at a Midwestern restaurant. She currently works as the Director of Marketing for Ohio Distinctive Solutions.