Q: Pepper For The Beast, huh? What kind of name is that?
Sometimes, a name finds you.
Years ago when I moved to Seattle from Philadelphia (by way of China) I visited the Seattle Art Museum to check out a traveling exhibit of African art. Part of the show included a looping video that documented storytellers reciting West African folk tales. In one story, “pepper for the beast” is prepared and administered as a way for a wily protagonist to best a big meanie by getting them to sneeze after eating the pepper. I liked the turn of phrase. I liked the idea of smarts and creativity outwitting the bad guys. And, I have always been a big fan of food that calls for a dash (or two or three) of pepper.
I jotted the phrase down and knew I would use it in the future.
Coming full circle to today, much of my work has taken me to Africa and food writing has nudged its way forward to become a central part of my career that straddles both journalism and academia. Now it appears that PFTB well embodies many aspects of my work, from communications with a bite, gastro-ethnographic writing, humanitarian communications trainings, and leadership development.
Q: So, is PFTB what you do full time?
At its essence, PFTB is very much an extension of my work. I am on faculty at the University of Washington Department of Communication, where I teach at the Communication Leadership graduate program, as well as sharing its Associate Director responsibilities. My courses currently address the themes of leadership and creativity in the digital age, as well as audio storytelling and how we design stories for the ear.
In addition to my teaching, I serve as the Department of Communication’s Flight Instructor, a position I created to encourage “ideas and people to take flight” by building a dynamic learning environment through curricular innovations, space and design considerations, and spearheading leadership development at the undergraduate and graduate student level. More about my teaching philosophy can be found on this section of my website.
I maintain a Clinical Instructor appointment at the UW Department of Global Health, where I have collaborated with partner institutions in Sudan, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Namibia on trainings that address leadership, management, and policy development, with my contributions targeted at the concept of storytelling as a leadership and evidence tool.
Q: What can PFTB do for me?
Well, that depends on who you are and what you seek. If you are a fellow gastro-nomad-ethnographer, then do check out my blog Sneeze where I collect and comment on various articles and writings on the intersection of food, culture, and identity. If you are a media outlet in search of a creative food writer who knows a good story when she sees one, meets her deadlines, and lights up a page, you’re in luck. If you represent an agency, organization, or school that wants a knock-your-socks off communications training, story-sourcing session, or presentation on any strand of my research, look no further. Finally, I excel at taking tired prose and spicing it up with a dash of pepper—from personal ads to annual reports.
Q: What is your favorite species of pepper?
Sichuan Pepper, or huājiāo (花椒). I lived for a number of years in a neighbor province to Sichuan, and grew to develop a love of these tingling peppercorns.