I have good news, and bad news. The good news first, of course: I am truly enjoying my doctoral research program (I’m studying changing foodways in the Cook Islands), although there have already been (inevitably) a few overwhelming moments. The bad news? I want to eat all. the. pancake-flippin’. time. Much of my days are spent reading and writing about food, and though this has not resulted in cravings for tinned meats or breadfruit, it does mean I’m pondering foodstuffs whilst sitting. I’ve already gained 2 kilos, and while this isn’t in itself a serious issue, if things keep going in this direction–and I’m referring here to biscuits going in the direction of my mouth — I will have to get another part-time job to buy new clothes! I decided instead to join the on-campus fitness center. Sliding back into graduate life with yoga pants (the kind from Athleta that have pockets so I’m like, these are totally presentable) and ponytails has felt quite natural after 15+ years and two kids. . . until, that is, I visited a cross-fit class at the gym today and realized a) I may never be able to do real jumping-jacks again (humiliating, I think I cleared 2 mm), and b) wearing glasses to this type of activity is just not acceptable (why did I think it was?). For every gruelling and bizarre exercise the instructor looked directly at me for the “alternate” option: “If you’re not sure you can leap into the air and land in a low squat repeatedly because you might keel over and traumatize us all, just jog slowly in place.” I left early (to pick up Everett, don’t judge) and kicked a barbell on my way out of the darkened, neon-lit room, emitting a Homer Simpsonesque “doh!” Tomorrow I’ll be back to riding the exercise bike for a slow 23 minutes and highlighting an article. Nerd alert. (And yes, double nerd points for writing nerd alert.)
Before my embarrassing foray into the world of cross-fit I had a turning-point meeting with my supervisors. I sent them a 12 page paper on Friday that was supposed to be about gender in the context of religion and food in the Cook Islands. It was, technically, but –and this is what they each pointed out to me — I seem to always return to a more modern narrative of health and nutrition, asking questions, for example, about how the Cooks came to be, along with Nauru and Micronesia, one of the most obese nations in the world? A modern problem with roots in the period I’m researching, yes, but how much of this transition from dependence on traditional to imported foods can be tied to missionaries? By narrowing my view was I leaving out potentially excellent sources? (The other option was that my paper made zero sense.)
“What kind of historian do you want to be — a historian of religion, of food, or the Pacific?” “Definitely food. And the Pacific.” So there we are, and my project has broadened to looking at many influences on changing foodways, not just religion. Don’t worry, missionaries will still figure prominently in my work — how could I leave out Seventh-day Adventists telling Cook Islanders they had to abandon pork, shellfish and kava, all important ceremonial foods, in order to join the church? — but I will be exploring other influences as well.
Breadfruit and Taro, two traditional Pacific Island foods