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Flora J. Deacon (Head Chef)
Flora is the head chef at our camp. When not in Antarctica, she lives in Eagle River, Alaska. Born in Alaska, she is a Native American of the Athabascan tribe. A bookkeeper for 15 years, she always knew she wanted to cook instead, so she decided to spend her hard-earned money and get a degree in cooking. That was a good decision according to her- it changed her life. She has an Associates degree in Culinary Arts from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT and has been cooking 10 years. She worked on the North Slope Dutch Harbor, Kodiak Island and Denali before taking a job in Antarctica.
When asked what brought her to cooking as a profession, she says "I have loved food since I was a small child, but had limited knowledge about it. … Cooks were in a world where I always wanted to be - it was romantic, cooking for all those people." She relates her love of food to her parents' subsistence lifestyle. They were a nomadic people, moving camp in summer, spring, and fall, so everything was harvested and cooked with great care. Because there were periods of famine (before Flora's time), food was treated with great respect and people who cooked for others were revered. She notes that the food was simple; there were no spices or seasonings, like we have here. She also says there were strict cultural rules about the food they had. For example, you couldn't be picky - you ate what you were given and you never complained or played with food. You were always grateful if someone cooked for you.
When Flora was 13 years old she was removed from her family and tribe and was sent to a high school in Salem, OR. She lived at this school as well as studied there. This was a program of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to try to bring Native Americans into what was viewed as the mainstream culture. She was the only child from her village to go and so she was very lonely, she says. There was no one she knew. Most of the other kids there had some people they knew, but she knew no one. She relates that it was an incredible cultural shock - she had never seen a television, a car or truck, nor had she ever seen packaged food. There were foods she had never seen before. But in spite of her loneliness, she says she never asked to leave and go home. When I asked her why, she said, "there was nothing at home for a girl" - no real future. And she was curious about things. So she stayed to open a new horizon to her life, even though it was painful. She said one of the saddest things was that the experience alienated her from her own culture. She says she feels like she doesn't quite fit in her family's culture, but she doesn't fit into the white culture either. It's sort of a cultural limbo. But through food, she can bridge the gap somewhat by providing and learning about foods from different regions.
She chose to come to Antarctica because cold places give her a chance to prove herself. The cold in Antarctica is challenging and not everyone wants to do it. She loves the simplicity of life here - no bills, no shopping, no worrying about getting from place to place and very few politics. She states emphatically that "the kitchen is not a political place."
When asked what advice she would give a child who feels alienated from their home or school, she thoughtfully said, "Look for a support system. Find one person who cares and talk to them about how you are feeling." She says that is what got her through her worst periods. Her other advice is to "stay busy." Flora says she has never been bored - she always has a plan for her day. It may be a simple plan -take a walk after work, read a chapter or two - but don't just sit around. You need to learn to stimulate yourself. She thinks that she got this attitude from her grandmother who was always doing something - even if she was sitting down, she was busy!
Other things she learned from her family have stood her in good stead in her job and in her life. Her mother always told her "If you say you are going to do something, then do it. Don't just talk about it." She says this was excellent advice and she tries to always follow it.
Flora is quiet and unassuming, but provides a wonderful support system for all the people at WAIS. Her interest in, and respect for, food shows in every meal that is served here.
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