In 2015 after completing my graduate studies, I sought to create a sustainable food community and founded a Persian food experience called Horest, which brought to San Francisco, and the Bay Area authentic dishes of Persia, prepared by local immigrant women. I acquainted myself with several newly immigrated Iranian women, primarily from rural regions throughout the country. I met these women through my role with the Pars Equality Center in San Francisco. My intent was to engage the women in cooking traditional Persian cuisine and serving the meals “family style” in “pop-up” locations throughout San Francisco. We used the “pop up” model – a mobile feast if you will, serving meals in unused, donated space - because as a new enterprise we were not able to lease or purchase a permanent restaurant location. Additionally, this dining model was becoming popular so we decided this was a viable option. While the project enjoyed moderate success in that we held several events, our limitations for growth and continuity soon became apparent.
I soon realized my post-graduate field project faced some challenges, not the least of which was the inability to promulgate the message widely enough or soon enough to become profitable. It is likely this is, at least in part, the result of the inadequate design for the research project. Basically, I launched Horest after only the most rudimentary research efforts, based on an incomplete knowledge about the target population (low income Iranian women). I did not utilize the available academic evidence, and relied on inappropriate or otherwise incomplete methods of gathering data and analysis of the data.
The Horest experiment was independently chosen without professional evidence and academic background and was not sufficiently focused by a specific rationale. Other weaknesses included not studying the available literature and previous relevant research that had been published on the subject. Empowering women especially low-income and immigrant women through business ownership was more complex than I anticipated; also certain crucial skills (business operations management and marketing for example) was among the limitations to the failure. Clearly defined boundaries and limits have occurred through the events such as women’s hesitation to participate in public due to their cultural and religious beliefs which did not make them comfortable to show up in the public. Refusing to anticipate and sitting together with the guests due to the Persian culture belief towards the unprestigious chef occupation have happened. The Persian cultural values toward the role of women chefs is totally different from western culture where it is socially perceived that this occupation is caused by financial deficiencies. This statement was most observable where one of my community’s women who has been a mathematics faculty member in university in Iran by holding master’s degree in education were forced to migrate to United States refused to attend our seated dinner with other guests and went off home after her cooking’s done.
Although I worked with mentors and university faculty while engaged in this project, their expertise was not related to this particular field of endeavor. The mentors did not bethink me about the probable outcomes of not well researched innovation for the women whose cultural transformation have not scientifically researched. I believe not allocating a member of the academic staff in sociology or anthropology was one of the weaknesses.
Collecting data and returning to the project’s sources for clarification or support was not possible to their location out of state. I was not able to travel to Iran meanwhile engaged in the work project which faced some wrong and insufficient datas from the local culinary behaviors from biased online websites. Without first conducting a pilot study, I was surprised by the outcomes which were unexpected and thus had a negative impact on the researcher. The original Persian dishes with local ingredients provided by farmer’s market with different taste of regional Persian ingredients could not bring the authentic flavor of the original meal.
For any effective innovation in a community, thorough perception and understanding of cultural identity and social history of target population is needed. To tackle the food crisis as one of the right-based approaches and its interconnection with other issues of war and peace, the environment and poverty are all of such grand scope in nature; these various transnational linkages need to be satisfactorily considered by resource country, in this case, Iran, through human development/anthropology research.