Why a participatory cookbook?

Museum-goers peruse an institution in their own time, with their own agendas and background knowledge, in various social groups (or alone), and in their own chosen sequence. Cookbook users do the same. Using a cookbook is an example of an informal learning experience, and the curatorial and educational decisions faced by the cookbook author parallel those faced by the museum curator and educator. Creating this cookbook will allow me to apply principles/theories from my job as a museum/informal educator to the work I do as a culinary arts instructor.

Creating a cookbook resource focusing on the cuisine of a specific cultural group necessitates several curatorial and educational decisions, some of which may be in conflict. These decisions will have particular outcomes in the representation of the culture and the educational experience of the student.

  • Cultural decisions/questions: Which recipes would I choose to include, and why? Which versions of recipes should be represented? What do I leave out of the recipe collection? How do I organize the content? What context (information about ingredients, culinary techniques, culinary history, personal or cultural stories) should be provided, and how? How much detail do I give? How much do I rely on text to convey meaning? How does this choice affect the site visitor’s view of Japanese food culture?
  • Educational decisions/questions: What principles of educational theory should I apply to the project? How can I present content for users with various background knowledge/agendas/ culinary competencies? How does their social experience of the recipe affect their learning (i.e. commenting on the blog, cooking the recipe, eating or sharing the dish with others)? How does participation/interaction affect their learning? In what way will students be most meaningfully engaged with the content?

In a museum setting, visitor engagement is often addressed through programming, but with a cookbook, this is by the use of a recipe. Whether and how a recipe is used depends on its format, content, and the context in which it is presented. By asking students/users to meaningfully contribute to the final format of the recipe and book, I hope to:

  • create a final product which will effectively engage the cookbook user
  • engage the user through the process of FEEDback
  • learn more about how participatory projects affect engagement, and how that engagement contributes towards learning
  • apply theories of museum and informal education to my own practice

What will the whole project look like?

1.       Creation and moderation of an online FEEDback blog system [July 2011 – January 2012]

The online forum will provide recipes and reference materials from the current course, and invite users to contribute to the final cookbook in one (or more) of the following three ways:

  • To leave a comment/response to the recipe content.
  • To submit a photo of their final product, to be posted on the site.
  • To submit a story about their personal connection to the recipe. (Reading it, using it, serving the dish, a previous experience, etc.)

The forum will be shared with past students of the course, as well as with community groups interested in promoting and learning about Japanese culture, and with the general public.

2.       Reflective Journal entries

Informal journal entries referencing academic literature in informal education and museum studies will be written at various points in the blog moderation/cookbook creation process. These journals will allow me to synthesize and document my own learning process, and will serve as a basis for the final essay.

3.       Creation of the cookbook, incorporating online feedback

User feedback will be taken in and used to re-write, re-organize and to create additional content (if necessary) before final self-publication.

4.       Critical Reflective Essay

A final essay will document and serve as a reflection on the process as well as informal learning/curatorial issues including references to literature I read throughout the program, as well as some Japanese cookbooks, websites and blogs.