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Release: March 22, 2000

NPR commentator helps show impact of food, culture on American traditions

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- You are what you eat. In this land of plenty, foods and cooking techniques like those from Africa and other countries are at the core of American culinary traditions. At a Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries annual dinner April 14, America's culture and culinary influences will be tasted and traced in bites of Caribbean deviled crab, jerk chicken, Southern peach cobbler and other delights.

"The Americas' Table: A Story of Food and Culture" buffet scheduled from 6 to 9:30 p.m. in the R. Wayne Richey Ballroom of the Iowa Memorial Union is more than a hunger-sating affair. It is a palate-whetting exploration of American identity that has been shaped in part by foods. The event features as its guest speaker National Public Radio "All Things Considered" commentator Vertamae Grosvenor, an author and self-described culinary anthropologist. Grosvenor is the host of the award-winning NPR show, "Seasonings," and the television show, "The Americas' Family Kitchen," which airs nationwide on PBS stations.

The event is open to members of the public who can make reservations to attend the $35 per-plate dinner program by calling the UI Libraries at (319) 335-5867.

The program includes an opening reception and book signing with cash bar, hors d' oeuvres live jazz music, a buffet style dinner with selections from Caribbean, Creole and African American cuisine, and a presentation by the guest speaker.

Grosvenor's most recent cookbook, "Vertamae Cooks Again: A Taste of Home," is one in a series of cookbooks by the prolific writer whose stories have appeared in "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Village Voice," "Ebony," "Redbook," and others.

Grosvenor, a South Carolinian from Beaufort, grew up speaking Gullah, a combination of West African languages and English. She served as a consultant for Gullah language and was a featured actor in "Daughters of the Dust," an American Playhouse movie by Julie Dash. Grosvenor also served as an actor and culinary consultant in the recently released movie "Beloved," based on the novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.

Doris Witt, assistant professor in the UI Department of English and author of "Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity," studied Grosvenor's writings and will introduce the guest speaker at the special program scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Both Grosvenor's and Witt's books will be available at the event.

The Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries is an association of individuals committed to the enrichment and growth of the University Libraries. Established in 1964, it is one of the oldest such organizations affiliated with a university library.


5 p.m. "Tracing Americas' Culinary Influences Through the Libraries Collections," in the Reading Room, Special Collections, (Third Floor, Main Library). Presented by David Schoonover, head, Special Collections. This public program is free to people not attending the dinner.

Program schedule for "The Americas' Table":

6 p.m., reception with drinks and appetizers;

7 p.m. buffet-style dinner;

8 p.m. featured program


Cash bar: Wine, beer, Szaceracs, Mint Juleps, mixed drinks

Buffet dinner: Caribbean: Deviled Crab Bouchees; Pepperpot Soup; Heart of Palm and Beet Salad; Jerk Chicken; Old-time rice pudding with golden raisins;

Southern/Creole: Sweet potato biscuits; shrimp and sausage gumbo with rice; boiled peanuts; bread pudding with Bourbon sauce;

African American: Coleslaw; black-eyed pea salad; fried catfish and hush puppies; peach cobbler.