A Chef's Take on the Middle East

Brittany Power is a UA graduate student with a passion for food and culture. Power is specializing in Middle Eastern foodways in the Levant. Her research and perspective in gastro-diplomacy push the boundaries and expectations of the Middle Eastern and North African Studies (MENAS) department. 

 As a chef and a MENAS M.A. student, Power appreciates the joy she gets from making other people satisfied.

"Cooking is all about others. It’s the pride and satisfaction of producing something material and intangible that other people derive joy from," Power said.

Born in Austin, Power grew up moving around Texas, but from the 4th grade through high school she lived in the Dallas Fort Worth area.  Power is Jewish and her family identifies as Ashkenazic, a Jewish subpopulation that traces to Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East. 

Her father was an anthropologist who worked for a highway department. Wherever they planned to blast through limestone to make roads, he would do the preliminary digging to make sure there were no sites of historical significance such as Native American burial grounds.  Power’s love of food and cooking started at a young age and learning from cooks in her family filled her with admiration of what food can accomplish. 

“All the women in my family, both the maternal and paternal side, were amazing cooks and so I grew up loving food because there was so much delicious food around me," Power said.

Power initially went to college in New York to study voice and vocal performance. She got caught up in the lifestyle and dropped out of school and enrolled in beauty school. She then earned her Esthetician license and did skin care for several years. However, she eventually got tired of pushing products that she felt weren’t doing anything for her clients.

 “I wanted to do something creative and artistic," Power said.

Power returned to Texas and attended culinary school in Dallas at El Centro College. She completed an apprenticeship at the Texas Chef Association at the Crown Plaza Dallas-Market Center.  Her chef career has spanned 20 years and, in the last 8 years before attending UA, she owned a catering company in San Antonio called Caravan Boheme Catering.  The company specialized in serving the Jewish community in San Antonio Texas.

                                                        Photo By Billy Calzada/ San Antonio Express News

 In 2014, she obtained a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio.  Power will graduate from UA’s MENAS program in summer of 2018. MENAS has accepted Power into the MENAS Ph.D. program. She also applied to the School of Anthropology’s Ph.D. program. Her food studies specialization focuses on food sovereignty, resource management, and sustainable peacebuilding.

“My dissertation research examines the relationship between foodways and identity formation. It also explores the influence that shared foodways has on intergroup or intercultural interactions,” Power said.  

Power credits her success at UA to the family-like bond with other graduate students and the ability to foster mentor relationships with professors.  These connections and support have helped her overcome her most difficult challenges. She advises people to be goal oriented.

“Don’t let yourself be derailed by others or derail yourself by veering away from that path," Power said.

Power wants to address social justice regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. She aspires to work with NGO’s in Israel and Palestine, and with organizations in the United States. 

Leila Hudson is an associate professor in MENAS. She explained Power's impact on the department.

“Food is a key area of not only culture but also of economics and politics. It takes a pioneering student who is willing to get out there and is passionate about a subject to push the envelope of what a traditional department does, and Brittany{Power} fills that role for us,” Hudson said.  

Hudson says Power has also been instrumental in taking steps to design a new course about food and culture in the Middle East.  Hudson believes that Power’s research is setting her up for success. 

“Every contribution like that has potential to change the contours of the world, so hopefully she will be a pioneer in that way," Hudson said.