Blog Action Day 2011 – What does food mean to your culture?

October 16, 2011 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Happy World Food Day! This is a worldwide event that is designed to stimulate awareness and action against hunger and malnutrition. Check out their website for more information and a calendar of events, but more importantly, take some time to think about what you are eating. As a food blogger and future health professional, I highly value healthy food. Every bite we take keeps our bodies running. I am fortunate enough to not go to bed hungry, and to be able to purchase and cook with great, fresh, healthy ingredients. However, this is not everyone’s reality. Take some time to educate yourself on the myriad of issues that surround food – access, equality, globalization, sustainability. The list is endless, but fascinating. And important!

To celebrate this event, the topic for this year’s Blog Action Day is food! I learned about this through my friend – an excellent and thoughtful writer who I hope is participating in this community act, “designed to stimulate global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all.” If you are reading this and want to add your own thoughts to the blogosphere, head to the website and register your blog. It will give you a list of topics to choose from, and then let your writing and thoughts flow from there! Check out other bloggers talking about this as well, and leave comments and questions to stimulate discussion. As we share and learn from each other, we can grow in awareness and be better advocates for food security for all.

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

It was really hard to choose a topic, as there are so many nuances to issues surrounding food. I chose this stem because it is a burgeoning passion of mine, thinking about the intersection of food cultures and healthy eating. I have addressed some of the other issues in past posts ( see here for thoughts on organic food, a bit about my food philosophy as a vegetarian, some thoughts and more thoughts on affordability and access to food) Food, while of utmost importance is a means to health, is also a way of creating and sharing culture. Meals are steeped in family tradition, and memories are often created around the table. Foods can be very specific to the culture in which you were raised, and your food choices will likely be shaped by your family and culture for the rest of your life.

My food culture: American. My great grandparents were farmers, and home cooked food is highly valued in my family. (Explains a lot about my blog title, huh?) My mom always cooked rather than catered for big birthday parties, made homemade cake or cupcakes, and astounded my friends with her homemade mac’ and cheese. Thanksgiving was and is more about the food preparation than about the meal itself, and Christmas is as much about the cookie exchange as it is about the gifts. However, the specific foods are not as important in my family. We are adventurous in our cooking – my Grandma has fallen in love with quinoa (which I’d say is pretty adventurous for a 76 year old!), and my mom regularly introduces me to new grains and vegetables. Although there are some traditional family recipes rooted in farming days, we also love to explore other food cultures from around the world. Our homemade interpretations were always very Americanized, but they were baby steps at understanding how food is seen in other cultures.

My horizons were expanded even more broadly this summer while I was traveling. Food and drink are essential to understanding the core of a culture, and food traditions vary broadly depending on where you are. Some of these are beautiful, like the focus on high quality, fresh ingredients in Italy. Some of these less readily appeal to my view of food as a means for health, like the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in many traditional Czech and Bosnian dishes. However, they are both equally important in their respective food cultures.

The reason I have been thinking so much about the intersection of food and culture lately is because it seems like the whole foods/health conscious food movement has been taking off in a very white-centric manner. Many “healthy cookbooks” or “dieting recipes” are very comfortable in the framework within which I grew up: pretty standard American fare with the occasional forray into “cultural” meals. However, this food culture is not shared by most of the rest of the world. A Nigerian friend, for example, doesn’t understand the American obsession with pasta. A Korean friend didn’t know that a rice cooker wasn’t a standard household appliance, and didn’t know you could cook brown rice in it. Everyone brings their own lens to what a healthy meal looked like in their family. Healthy cooking should be able to fit into any cultural framework, and yet cultural food often seems to be excused from the health standards we judge other dishes. How do we make traditional foods lower in fat and salt and higher in nutrients without losing the soul of the dish? How do we marry these two concepts? This is a big question that I have only begun to thought about. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue!

Question: What does food mean to your culture?

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3 Comments Add your own

  • […] Please check homemade adventure’s blog for a great post on this topic. You should also look at every single one of her posts for delicious […]

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  • 2. ilikestoscribble  |  October 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    I love your insight! The Asian v. American food culture is so much more apparent during Thanksgiving, conveniently Americans’ most treasured food holiday. I had no idea what sweet potato or green bean casseroles were until I spent a Thanksgiving with friends who grew up in American families. My family always got together to have hot pot (aka Shabu Shabu-type dining), and it was such a thrilling and confusing experience to be surrounded by stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Because I had to contribute my own dish, I was exposed to a plethora of western dishes I never knew existed. That then got me into trying to make simple dishes of other ethnicities. With that, I completely agree that the relationship between food and culture is so interesting.

    Reply
    • 3. homemadeadventure  |  October 16, 2011 at 10:16 pm

      I had never thought about Thanksgiving traditions either until I brought a friend home. She learned all about Thanksgiving food, and then we learned from her about Nigerian groundnut stew (to the best of our American-product reproducibility!)

      Reply

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