Contact The NJ State Council
on the Arts
Mailing Address:
NJ State Council on the Arts
P.O. Box 306
Trenton, NJ 08625-0306

Office Address:
33 West State Street, 4th Floor
Trenton, NJ 08608

Tel: (609) 292-6130
NJ Relay: 711

Share Your Foodways
A New Folklife Program Responds to Community Need
Mujadarah recipe prepared by Chef Maha Pulomena for Middlesex County's Foodways Program.  

Food is life. That expression holds true in different ways. Not only does it sustain us by fueling our bodies for healthy daily living, it nourishes us socially by connecting us to our families, friends and neighbors. Throughout generations, the culture surrounding food has been a commonality shared by us all. Our colleague Sally Van de Water, Folklife Coordinator at The Folklife Program for (Central) New Jersey, drives home its significance: "The way we relate to food is one way we express our cultural identity and pass it on." With this in mind, it makes sense to consider an often overlooked and under-appreciated social issue - food insecurity. A brand new program out of Middlesex County called  Share Your Foodways offers a dynamic way to provide nutritious food for folks in need while celebrating ancestral cooking and food traditions. Spearheaded by Sally and a team of colleagues, including Isha Vyas, Division Head of Middlesex County's Arts & History Programs, who Sally says, "deeply understands the power of foodways."  

It's difficult to deny the fact that human ingenuity peaks during times of crisis and this program easily upholds that merit. Funded in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Share Your Foodways was born out of true community collaboration in response to a county-wide increase in food insecurity due to the effects of COVID-19. Middlesex County's Office of Arts & History, The Folklife Program for (Central) New Jersey, and The Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services (MCFOODS), have integrated their resources to thoughtfully address this challenge. In our interview with Sally, she gives us a deeper understanding of foodways and shares the origin story of this inspired program.  
Q & A with Sally Van de Water

Chef Pulomena shares her dish with her son, Matt during a Foodways video tutorial. Photo by Hamza Masood.
Passing It On: What does the term "Foodways" mean? And why is it important? 

Sally Van de Water: Simply put, it is the cultural context around food. It's the why, when, and how we cook and eat. Food is never just fuel. We make meaning through sharing food with others and it's one of the great ways we carry culture onward. 

PIO: How did the Share Your Foodways program come to be? 

SVW: It started with us realizing we had extra space in our budget because of pandemic-related cancellations and the pivot to virtual programming. This allowed us to think creatively about how we could respond to the current crisis. Many of our conversations in other contexts had been related to food and the exponential rise in demand at county food pantries. For example, Elijah's Promise was seeing a three or four fold increase in their daily meal requests. So we asked, 'How can we both celebrate the arts and culture of Middlesex County and provide access to food'? We had the initial idea to do a Foodways tutorial and that is when the lightbulb went off!  

PIO: How do foodways and fighting food insecurity come together here?

SVW: Each video tutorial incorporates the concepts of folklife with a guest chef's story or family history and how it relates to their recipe. There's a food kit that goes along with these tutorials which has recipe cards in both English and Spanish as well as all the ingredients needed to make the dish. It ends up being enough food to make a meal for one family. This is of course meant to be a supplemental addition to the other food supplied by the food pantry. The project has become a really exciting way to share the richness of the county's cultural treasures and do something to alleviate food insecurity in the county. 

Share Your Foodways video tutorial filming at the Edison Automat, with Chefs Jerome Mangroo and Maha Pulomena.

PIO: What can folks do to get involved with or benefit from this program?

SVW: Great question! Go to our Share Your Foodways webpage to see the tutorials! We are encouraging people to tag us on Facebook and Instagram and use #shareyourfoodways when making these recipes at home. We'd also love for folks to share their own stories and recipes on social media. Folks can donate food, their time, or make a monetary donation to local participating food banks. If you are experiencing food insecurity in Middlesex County you can visit MCFOODS online to view the directory for food assistance resources near you. 
*For more information about Share Your Foodways or other Folklife programs in Middlesex County, please contact Sally Van de Water at the Folklife for New Jersey Program. Photos used were included with permission from the participants. 
The title for this publication was inspired by Rita Moonsammy's book, Passing it On, Folk Artists and Education in Cumberland County, New Jersey, published in 1992.
From the Author 
Having the opportunity to meet, interview, and promote NJ's Folk/Traditional Artists is quite simply an honor. The artists featured in every issue of this publication are renowned in their communities, playing a vital role in keeping their cultural identities alive through the art forms they practice and master. Because they merit being experienced and celebrated, it is the Council's hope to bring these distinctive cultural traditions into focus and to share them with all New Jerseyans. I am more than happy to oblige that pursuit. In writing these issues, it is my hope that I can convey a bit of the marvel of the artists' work to you, so that you might better understand and take pride in the richness of our state's splendid diversity. Please, feel free to "pass it on"!  -Stephanie Nerbak-

Generous support for the New Jersey State Arts Council's Folk and Traditional Programs including Folk Arts for Homebound was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts; and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council receives direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated, renewable Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee, as well as competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Please visit