Faron Levesque

Graduate Student

I’m a public historian, educator, writer, and ABD PhD in History. I live in Memphis where I manage a community teaching kitchen for an urban farm and food justice non-profit. I hold an MA in History from the Program in Gender and Women’s History (PGWH) from the University of Wisconsin–-Madison and a certificate in the Public Humanities from the UW’s flagship Center for the Humanities. My research, teaching, and writing interests include the history of radical pedagogies, food, capitalism, and the cultural history of gender and the Queer South.

I’m convinced that there are new stories to be told about the broken beauty of learning in America: forgotten and unknown histories that didn’t make it into the more enduring, nationalist narratives of schooling in the United States. My dissertation, “The Secret History of School: Alternative Academies, Revolutionary Imagination, and Educational Activism in Twentieth-Century North America,” examines how activists and educators have transformed the politics of schooling by advocating structural change, political education, and radical pedagogies.

I not only study alternative academies, I also work to build them. Most recently, I’ve created a teaching kitchen and original culinary curriculum that combines a people’s history of food, health, and environment with everyday experiences of food in Memphis. This is participatory research at its best. How to cook with cast iron becomes a conversation about collective memory, kitchen artifacts, and family foodways; cracking open farm fresh, brown eggs becomes an engaged dissection of industrial food, capitalism, and bleach; how to add some love to donated food pantry items like canned corn transforms into a lively discussion of settler colonialism over a big bowl of succotash. On Fridays, we wander our local foodways and food systems hashing out how land, food, culture, and people swim together in all the mud that Memphis is known for, savoring, what I call, that dirty dirty terroir.

Through this food justice-driven curriculum, we re-attach what non-profits often refer to as “garden to table education” to a long history of organizing traditions in Memphis and the many Souths. We mobilize the humanities through a radical free food pedagogy for and shaped by a wide spectrum of learners and literacies. Like Fannie Lou Hamer (the matron saint of our kitchen) said, “But you see now, baby, whether you have a Ph.D., D.D., or No D, we’re in this bag together.”

I am also a host of the podcast New Books in Food, a channel of the New Book Network, a massive online network (8.5 million downloads in 2019!) which prioritizes access to free public education.