For the fourth year, the Japanese language program and Professor Kurt Pipa held their Washoku Shock dinner, prepared and presented with the help of exchange students studying at Wells from Doshisha Women’s College in Kyoto. The dinner is an opportunity to infuse Japanese language classes with first-hand cultural experience, provide a space for multicultural exchange, and bring different parts of the Wells community together for a meal planned around local, organic foods.
“One of my passions is sustainability around our food system,” said Professor Pipa. “In Wells’ history we had potatoes being farmed and used on the land here, and there was a lot of interest in gardening or farming on campus even when I started years ago. So it’s not something that I brought—the interest in growing food was already here. In my free time I’ve tried to contribute to that, and to get people more in touch with food. To close that gap between what it is we eat and how it gets there.”
With that in mind, Professor Pipa started planning. He looked at potential garden spaces on campus, thought about which vegetables could grow well and be harvested in spite of the long summer break, and chose turnips, radishes and greens that could be planted in the late season and harvested for the dinner within a short time. Each year, the students are brought into this part, helping to work in the garden, tend to the plants, and pick them for the meal. The dinner’s menu is then balanced by local and organic foods from Finger Lakes farmers and gardeners.
“Things that I started growing in my own garden when I moved here, that you didn’t really have access to, are becoming more popular to grow—Japanese foods like mizuna or shishito,” he said. “So I know a few of the local farmers, I know what I can find at the farmer’s market, and I build it around that.
“The group [of exchange students] this year is more social than some of the others we’ve had in the past. They helped plan the event and invite other students, and I suggested they invite 35 people with the idea that maybe 25 would show up. Then 40 ended up coming—including some who came last year and a few who haven’t taken any Japanese classes here. It’s a really good thing to have that cultural sharing happening, with the centerpiece of that cultural exchange being food, having that food be local and organic, and having that aspect be one of the talking points of the dinner.”
For the spring semester, Professor Pipa is hoping to organize a mochi pounding event—again with the assistance and energy of his students. “We talk about enriching our students’ experience by offering international programs where they travel to another country, and they in turn enrich those campuses with their presence. But we also have that here on our campus.
“It’s a great thing to be able to have students come here [from around the world] and interact at a really different level than they could at other schools—directly with all the other matriculated students rather than just with other exchange students in a separate program. There’s much deeper engagement and interaction here. We’re really enriched by their presence.”