Kingston Author Sara B. Franklin Tells Oral Food Stories


Photo by Natalie Conn

Historian and oral author Sara B. Franklin offers to find her career path and give voice to the stories of women in food and agriculture.

Sara B. Franklin’s early experiences with food were a bit… complex. Growing up in the suburbs of Westchester, his parents made it clear that food was something to be enjoyed. At the same time, she was influenced by the “mixed messages” of the diet culture of the 90s – her house had both processed foods and a vegetable patch, and she recalls being in conflict with the pleasure of cooking, especially with the advent of the Food Network. “It was not consistent with the feminism I was growing up with, which was to go to work and hate to cook,” she notes.

But Franklin, 35, soon learned that food was rooted in kindness and empathy when the women in the neighborhood – always women, she adds – brought in meals while her mother battled an illness. She then discovered new food ingredients and cultures in Boston while studying public health and American history at Tufts University.

Sara B. Franklin in Tannersville, Greene County. Photo by Natalie Conn.

While there, Franklin fell head over heels in love with growing food while working on an organic farm. Her interests in “cooking, food, health, social movements around equity and access have all converged,” she says. The experience fundamentally changed everything – her way of cooking, what she liked to eat, the types of foods to keep in her pantry and refrigerator, and her attitude to body image and ideas of fullness and of hunger – and inspired a vocation.

“I basically created a career that allows me to do whatever I want to do,” Franklin says, “which is to be curious and to enter the intimate spaces of people – which is their own. kitchens – and tell them about their lives, ”she says.

“I never really know what I’m thinking until I write it down. “

It has been quite a career. Franklin, a Kingston resident and mother of 5-year-old twins, received praise for her two books, Edna Lewis: at the table with an American original and The Phenicia Diner Cookbook: Catskill Mountain Dishes and Expeditions (which she co-wrote with Chris Bradley and Mike Cioffi). The latter was named the 2021 finalist for the best American cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Book cover courtesy of University of North Carolina Press

Book cover courtesy of University of North Carolina Press

Her next project (title is in the works) is a biography of iconic Knopf cookbook editor Judith Jones, best known for working with Julia Child. An authority on Jones, Franklin received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholars Grant for the book last year.

“I never really know what I’m thinking until I write it down,” says Franklin, explaining how she comes to her work, which explores food and agriculture and its connections to popular culture, media, gender performance, care and identity. “Journalism and the idea of ​​going out into the world and talking to people and learning their stories seemed to me to be an extension of my curiosity and understanding of the world. I didn’t know oral history was… something that existed much later after college.

Book cover courtesy of Clarkson Potter University

Book cover courtesy of Clarkson Potter University

Oral history involves in-depth, long-term projects with more personality and emotion “by digging into people’s lives and histories in a very different way than how I was taught biography and history, ”she says. Franklin notes that the story is told primarily from the perspective of white men; Oral history, she explains, is a way to discover other stories, often in a more nuanced way.

Franklin has written for numerous food and consumer publications. She teaches food and oral history classes at NYU’s Gallatin School (she also earned her doctorate in food studies from the college) and her Prison Education Initiative at Wallkill Correctional Institution. . She has also worked in the area of ​​sustainable agriculture at the American Museum of Natural History’s Our Global Kitchen exhibit and collaborated with agricultural and culinary activists in South Africa and Brazil.

Food was traditionally considered a field of study, Franklin says. Its aim is to add stories of women rooted in food and agriculture to the Archives of History “to legitimize the record of how we think about food and how central it is to who we are.” Because we all eat, food is a unique way to tell people about their lives. “

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