What was your favorite food growing up? What kinds of memories are associated with this food? In what context did you eat this food? How did this food relate to your family and friends–did they enjoy it with you or did you just have a taste for it?
The answers to these questions could give some clue as to your food culture. Food culture depends on many things: your geographic location, your cultural heritage, access to different types of foods, etc. For me, I define my food culture as “Anglo-American Midwestern meat ‘n’ potatoes” based. As I grew up, there were only a few ethnic restaurants around my hometown, and they were very Americanized Chinese and Mexican cuisine. When I went to college, I was blessed with roommates from the San Francisco Bay area, who were accustomed to eating a lot of different kinds of cuisine. With my friends as my guide, I experienced Indian, Thai, Korean, real Italian, and Japanese foods and learned more about my tastes. Before then, I had thought that my taste was just “how I was” but I discovered that my tastes were incredibly influenced by the type of food my family grew up cooking, which depended on what was local and affordable, which depended on my geographic location in the Great Lakes area and the history of immigration to this area (read: chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, grilled cheese, pasties, apple pie).
When I moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2014, I ate okra for the first time and learned about the history of the migration of that plant from Africa due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I dined with friends and strangers in a “meat ‘n’ three” restaurant. I ate grits and Soul Food and Louisiana crawdads. I learned how to garden in the south, where the growing season is easily extended into December and January if you cover your crops with frost cloth. This experience of living outside of my homeplace, the Great Lakes region, opened my eyes to a whole new way of living and experiencing food. Did you know you can grow kale in November? Did you know that fig trees thrive in middle Tennesse, far from their origin in Mesopotamia? I am continually amazed by the different food cultures of each place I have called home.
This week, take a look at some of the short films on this website, compiled by the Real Food Media Contest. As you watch, consider how people in these films interact with their natural environment and/or built environment and represent their food culture. Are any of the food cultures engaged here part of your story?
Give up attachment to your own food culture by trying some new cuisines in your area and get to know the folks who prepare that style of food. What does their food culture mean to them? How can you relate to each other across different food cultures? What can you appreciate about their food culture in a “holy envy”, meaning a deep appreciation for something from another culture?