“ People are joined to the land by work.” — Wendell Berry
DR. RENE MARION
Director of Education
Originally from: Ames, Iowa
What did you do before coming to Stone Barns Center in 2016?
For 12 years, I taught global history and food history at Bard High School Early College. Before that, I taught French history at the university level.
How is food a gateway to understanding culture?
I did my dissertation on the market women of Paris, 1642 to 1789. But I couldn’t understand their political role until I came to understand a bunch of things about food first, things like Catholicism’s association of fish with fasting, and how certain foods were medicinal. Second, I couldn’t research these women without understanding the food they were selling: where it came from, who made it, what it meant. I came to realize you could teach absolutely anything through food: wars, trade, politics, democracy.
How do teenagers change when they learn about the power of food?
They learn about their power as eaters. They gain a much clearer understanding of what they’re doing to themselves by eating cheap junk food, which is routine for many of them. They learn that small things can make a difference—like choosing an egg sandwich over a bag of chips—and see the potential for much bigger change.
Do students’ eating habits change when they take your course?
Most kids walk in saying they detest vegetables and never eat them. They leave eating a wider variety of food, and more of them vegetables— a huge achievement.
How do you teach kids to tap into culinary traditions?
I ask them to interview a great cook in their family: the aunt, uncle or grandma they count on to make that special dish. They learn the value of that dish in their family and culture. That aunt, uncle or grandma usually goes from being someone they took for granted to a resource worth knowing and having. Foods they like come to have cultural value.
What is a favorite thing teens like to cook?
Beet gnocchi. It’s fun to make and delicious, and beets are one of the hardest vegetables to like, but they absolutely love that dish.
What do you like to cook?
Things that have gone through the process of fermentation. Sourdoughs are central in my baking. I love the transformation.
Who’s your favorite character from French history?
The 18th-century Parisian bookseller Simeon-Prosper Hardy, whose eight-volume memoir recorded in rich, fresh language even the most commonplace observations on his walks around the city.
When not at work?
A deep part of me is inspired by my mother, who was a home economics major in college. She elevated home-craft to mastery. It took me a long time to say this out loud, but I really love to sew and now crochet. It’s meditative. And I really love to cook.