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Book Discussion Series Caters to Foodies

The “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” book discussion series at Oklahoma City University will open with “The Last Chinese Chef” at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Walker Center for Arts and Sciences room 151 at N.W. 26th Street and Florida Avenue.

The series is funded by grants from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The series’ food theme is titled “Much Depends on Dinner.” It is based on a quote in Byon’s “Don Juan” that states: “Since Eve ate the apple, much depends on dinner.”

“Our  relationships with food are complex and convoluted,” said Harbour Winn, director of the Center for Interpersonal Study through Film and Literature at OCU. “What we eat can be a source of joy and delight, and of creative expression, as well as a reason for anguish, worry, dread and even fear. Nearly every aspect of our lives affects what we eat — politics, religion, economics, geography, culture and ethnicity, aesthetics, health and personal taste.

“As a species, we have elevated many of our basic needs to an expression of who we are, what we believe, how we interact with our environments, and how we communicate and express ourselves. Food is no exception.”

The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones will launch the series theme. The book offers a window on cuisine that is both an expression of an ancient civilization and the tradition of a meal as fine art. It is about Maggie McElroy, a recently widowed food writer for an American magazine who goes on a personal and work journey to Beijing preparing for the 2008 Olympics.

Maggie meets Sam Liang, one of three finalists in a Chinese cultural competition. Sam is the latest in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. His father and his uncles were forced to hide their names and their skills in order to survive the Cultural Revolution.

As she shadows Sam and his uncles in the complex preparations for the banquet, Maggie’s own notions of family and relationship are challenged on every front. Experiencing their family’s love and warmth, the ways in which they deal with grief, and support one another, give her more than she ever expected to find in China and help her forge a new way of seeing her own relationship with her late husband.

Winn will facilitate the book discussion. At each session in the series, a humanities scholar makes a presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussions follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, all participants come together for a brief wrap-up.

Those who are interested in participating are encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Winn at (405) 208-5472, e-mailing him at or dropping by the Dulaney-Browne Library room 211 or 207.

Other dates and books in the series are:

* Sept. 27, “The Tummy Trilogy” by Calvin Trillin

* Oct. 11, “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan

* Oct.  25, “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg

* Nov. 8, “Secrets of the Tsil Café” by Thomas Fox Averill