Inspiration from her master’s thesis led Colorado State University alumna Ann Diaz (MA ’17 – Communication Development) into a two-year project aiming to bridge the “civilian-military gap.”
One culmination of her efforts is an anthology cookbook of more than 220 purposefully curated recipes and histories. Diaz proposed the book idea as a commemoration of the American Legion Auxiliary’s centennial, which began in November 2019.
“After all, the Auxiliary is made up of women who have been working to support veterans and share in their stories for a hundred years,” Diaz said. “Some are veterans themselves.”
The 240-page hardcover cookbook is called SerVe: Revisiting a Century of American Legion Auxiliary Cookbooks. As its title suggests, the book includes recipes and histories curated from 86 past American Legion Auxiliary unit cookbooks and details about the Legion family’s role and impact through time. Throughout the book, high quality, taste-tempting photos show historically beloved recipes in a contemporary light.
“Its mission is three-fold,” Diaz said about the commemorative coffee-table cookbook. “Support mental wellness programs for veterans. Honor a legacy of service. Inspire conversation.”
The book was published by the American Legion Auxiliary Unit on campus at CSU. It is affiliated with American Legion Post 1879 and CSU’s Student Veteran Organization. Diaz serves as unit secretary, and she led research and assembly of the cookbook alongside Karen Boehler (MA ‘87-Guidance & Counseling) co-project manager and unit president.
SerVe is arranged by war era and provides historical context for food and cooking. It provides veteran reminiscences of their own experiences during trying times like rationing, and it describes curious culinary trends like the gelatin salad.
“The most common reaction to the anthology so far has been ‘it’s so much more than a cookbook,’” Diaz said.
The book also captures veteran observances and recipe testing events from Auxiliary Unit 1879’s recent past. They include gatherings for Armed Forces Day 2019 and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 2018, where CSU Hospitality Management students helped prepare and serve veterans a meal using recipes from the auxiliary cookbook archives.
SerVe, whose production involved recipe testers from across the U.S., was featured in a special Centennial issue of Auxiliary Magazine, a publication of the National Headquarters of The American Legion Auxiliary in Indianapolis.
Diaz’s masters’ thesis about the “civilian-military gap,” which inspired SerVe, was completed under the guidance of Professor Sue Doe, Department of English.
“This gap is the disconnect resulting from fewer personal military-civilian connections as the size of our military shrinks,” Diaz said. “Civilians are left to form beliefs about the service from what they see in movies. It’s important to bridge this, to break down stereotypes, which inform how we interact, vote, hire and respond to important issues that are complex and varied.”
Diaz’s thesis included research on diverse perspectives through a “conversation crusade” of 22 discussion sessions. She said the discussions’ only commonality is that they took place naturally around food and drink.
Diaz said that her vision for the cookbook also included helping people feel equipped to engage in dialogue with veterans.
“Challenges to initiating conversations abound,” she said. “But food stories? Everyone’s got one of those.”
Diaz hopes an opening of communication will help civilians to “appreciate the diversity of those who serve and be more informed about our responsibilities as civilians.”
Meanwhile, in its mission to support veterans’ mental wellness programs, members of TALA Unit 1879 at CSU say proceeds from SerVe have assisted in the future publication of Charlie Mike — the collected writings of CSU’s Veterans Writing Workshop. Future proceeds will also support the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival — a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary.
Visit https://www.alaservecookbook.com/ for sample pages of SerVe and ordering information.