By Olivia Cuccaro
They say you are what you eat. For Robyn Cope, the 2006 movie The Namesake put the relationship between people and food in a whole new perspective.
"It's a story about moving to a new place, feeling like a stranger and getting used to a new life," Cope said. "A big part of that in the film is getting used to new foods and trying to recreate home by eating food to feel more connected to where you came from."
To Cope, home tasted like the cornbread and fried green tomatoes of the American south until she studied abroad in Nancy, France.
"I have found that my long connection to and affection for France has started to express itself through a slow but steady trickle of French dishes into my list of comfort foods," she said.
As a new assistant professor of French in Harpur College's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Cope said she hopes to make the school a home "in every sense of the word."
With research interests that include the relationship between people, food and its production in Francophone Caribbean literature and Caribbean diasporic literature, Cope has already found a home in the sustainable communities Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence.
"It's really exciting for me to have the opportunity to work not only in French and Francophone literature, but to also be able to work with people who are interested in sustainable food production and the effect of different food policy on people of the world," Cope said.
"It is a great challenge and privilege to explore the ways in which literary criticism as a particular area of scholarship and the humanities as a whole can contribute to our understanding of what constitutes a sustainable community, what are the human consequences of non-sustainable practice, how to incorporate diverse world views and historical experience into our efforts toward increased sustainability, and much more."
Cope teaches the course, "Food in Francophone Literature," using works from areas of the former French empire to show what others can communicate using food.
"I think the students are really engaged," Cope said. "They seem to connect with it. I find Binghamton students curious, pleasant and energetic. They are the best thing about my decision to come here."
After earning her bachelor's degree in French from Miami University of Ohio, Cope made the decision to pursue academia. She earned her master's degree in education from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio and her doctorate in French and Francophone Studies from Florida State University, where she also spent time as a teaching assistant.
"Once I started teaching, I realized how well it fit me," Cope said. "It allows me to be creative, it allows me to be autonomous and it allows me to satisfy my desire to nurture young people and invest in their futures."
Having instructed at both the K–12 and university level, Cope said she is passionate about helping students make the transition between the two.
"I think that we have very talented students here, but they're still young people and this is a big step," she said. "They need good, solid mentors. They need professors who are interested in them as people and in their overall development. I like to see young people succeed not just in class, but in life."
Cope believes that the road to success can be paved with an advanced knowledge of language and culture.
"I'm kind of a generally curious person," Cope said. "Learning French made me feel like I didn't have to choose, there were so many different things that I could explore. It really opens up a world of possibilities. You have the opportunity to think about history, art, films, literature, sociology, psychology and the language itself. There's something for everybody."
Outside of the classroom, Cope's passions for French and food have led her to publish "Writing Haiti Global: Food and Fascism in Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones," "Gagging on Egalité: Culinary Imperialism on the Island of Réunion in Axel Gauvain's Faims d'enfance" and an appearance in the "Food and the French Empire" issue of French Cultural Studies for 2015.
When she isn't writing or teaching, Cope is expanding her menu. Among the most interesting foods she has tried, Cope named époisses cheese from France, the Lebanese dish raw kibbeh, and Korean pickles.
"There's something about sharing food with people, and then something about experiencing food the way other people experience it that helps you to understand them," Cope said. "It's important to me to keep my mind open and my palate open."
Last Updated: 3/1/17