Texas Folklife, a nonprofit organization that got its start documenting folk art across Texas, has launched its first food-focused research project.
The group plans to spend the next four years collecting information about eating habits statewide.
"Food is the centerpiece of festivals and celebrations," executive director Nancy Bless explains. "We thought it was really a rich topic."
Information gathered by Folklife staffers through field visits and an online survey will be used to develop traveling exhibits and documentaries, Bless says. The first photo essay to emerge from the project -- a chronicle of taquerias in Southmost -- will be posted on Texas Folklife's website later this week.
Bless says the films, radio programs and online exhibits rooted in the group's research should provide a context missing from most conventional food journalism.
"You can have tacos anywhere, including probably Prague, but you can't have these tacos," Bless says. "We're hoping to be able to capture things that give a feeling of place."
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The primary tool for collecting stories is a 12-question survey that Texas Foodlife crafted to provoke substantial replies; The open-ended questions include "What food traditions are special in your family?" and "How are meals different from the way they used to be?"
While Texas Foodlife hopes to move beyond beans and barbacoa, Bless admits the organization is still grappling with how to reach the state's most recent immigrants. There are plans to translate the online survey into Spanish and Chinese, "but that wouldn't get us to Vietnamese or Ethiopian communities," Bless admits. "We really do need to work at that."
Bless says she's also actively working on soliciting Dallas voices. Only 30 Texans have thus far completed the survey, which went online earlier this month.
"We'd love to hear from people in Dallas," Bless says. "It would be wonderful to have responses from all over the state."