The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Dinner in the Desert Kitchen: Reflections on Experiential Learning Through Food, Art, and Social Practice

Glenna Jennings, University of Dayton (United States)


Socially-Engaged Art (SEA) is inherently experiential in nature, and the realm of Art as Social Practice has a history of using food as a means to achieve both social connection and critical commentary. For this reason, my collaborators, community partners and I have chosen food as a catalyst for projects around topics ranging from race and social equity to immigration and sustainability. Since the 2014 formation of Desert Kitchen Collective, a loose collection of educators, students and advocates across Dayton, Ohio, my students and I have partnered with local food-related organizations in the creation of art works that raise awareness of food justice in general and Dayton’s food insecurity in particular. Over the years, I have experienced the challenges and successes often encountered in EL, which include addressing white privilege, mobilizing field research, confronting barriers to transdisciplinary learning, and simply balancing community-engaged work with academic and personal life. In the edited collection of case studies, “Diverse Pedagogical Approaches to Experiential Learning,” published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020, I relate these challenges against a backdrop of comparative theoretical lenses that consider opposing art philosophies around pragmatism and aesthetics. Within this narrative chapter, recent scholarship regarding performance art, public art, relational aesthetics and dialogical art assists in communicating our EL experiences with the project Dinner in the Desert Kitchen, an annual art exhibition, fundraiser and dinner performance that raises money for local food organizations, including a foodbank and an upcoming full-service grocery cooperative in a Datyon food desert. From brainstorming to dish washing, I discuss how the three past iterations of this event were designed, facilitated and implemented, and relate the project to national and international trends in both Socially-Engaged Art and transdisciplinary learning, which art historian Claire Bishop has termed “The Social Turn.” My current presentation contains an overview of this chapter with updates on how this specific community-based, experiential learning project has shifted during the global pandemic to more closely consider issues of public health and adopt a platform that moves beyond dismantling white privilege towards building an effective anti-racist platform. I share updates on how our community partner, the member-owned cooperative grocery store Gem City Market, managed to open its doors during the pandemic, and how we have continued to grow learning opportunities as transdisciplinary partners in education. I consider how the project will move forward as higher education shifts to accommodate economic, political and cultural change, while food insecurity remains a steady issue in our society and food justice remains a site with great potential for shared, creative learning across cultures.

Keywords: socially-engaged art, experiential learning, community-based learning, art and social practice, food justice, anti-racism.


  • Bishop, C. (2012). Artificial hells: Participatory art and the politics of spectatorship. London: Verso.
  • Bottinelli, S., & D’Ayala Valva, M. (Eds.). (2017). The taste of art: Cooking, food and counterculture in contemporary practices. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

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