Dissecting the 'spaghetti dinner'When Deb Augsburger moved to the Northland three years ago, she noticed a plethora of benefit posters. So the associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior used the ubiquitous spaghetti dinners as an example in her classes.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
When Deb Augsburger moved to the Northland three years ago, she noticed a plethora of benefit posters. So the associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior used the ubiquitous spaghetti dinners as an example in her classes.
“There are a lot of cultures that have these meals that are very important, where people contribute a lot of things and they mean a lot, they have a lot of symbolism … and they’re forms of social interaction and support,” she said.
This semester, she and a dozen UWS students took a closer look at the local parade of benefits in a special topics class on Community Anthropology. Digging under the surface, they exposed a bedrock of compassion and a wealth of social currency.
“One of the things that we found was really unique is the community in whole benefits from it because it brings people together,” said Klayton Longstreet, sociology major.
As individuals, businesses and organizations come together to host these events, it creates social capital, he said, which bridges their networks and bonds the community.
Terry Harte of Cable has seen benefit posters all his life.
“I just thought ‘Oh a benefit; that’s interesting,” said the UWS graduate.
Now they catch both his eye and his attention. He thinks more about the people, the stories behind the fliers.
“I’m looking at where it is, when it is, I can make that,” Harte said. “If I can donate and help out, just chip my time to make that benefit happen, I’ll do it.”
He was impressed by a number of bar owners he spoke to — not only did they give people a spot to hang posters, many contributed items to silent auctions and raffles.
“There were a couple that said ‘Hey, if you’re not donating you’re not part of the community. We’ve got to give back,’” Harte said.
Lake Nebagamon resident Dara Fillmore said she had taken benefits for granted until doing class research on them.
“Through watching people I realized it takes the whole community to set it up, not just to attend,” she said. From getting donations to inviting people, putting up fliers to cooking food, it takes a lot of man hours.
“I guess I really hadn’t thought of that because generally the fundraisers I did were just like an EZ Bake sale or I went and came to eat,” Fillmore said. “It was a revelation. It’s a lot of work. You really need the whole community.”
The class found that March was the busiest month for benefits, and most were dinners with other options — silent auctions, raffles, etc. — added into the mix.
“A lot of people think that anthropology is about the study of exotic people on the other side of the world, but there’s a lot of applied anthropology and a lot of work where anthropologists are studying things close at hand,” Augsburger said. The class has given her other ideas for future topics focused on the area, including food security and food deserts. Like her students, the study gave her a new appreciation for the area and those ever-present spaghetti dinners.
“It’s had a real impact on me just to realize how much people in this community care for each other and the efforts they go to,” Augsburger said. “Especially people in my class who grew up around here will say things like ‘Of course you go out of your way to help people. Of course you do this.’”
The teacher realized the community around her is filled with people helping each other.
“It’s helped me become a little more compassionate … more aware,” she said.