It would probably be an understatement to say that food is a big part of my life. It’s a HUGE part of my life. In fact, if you’ve talked to me even once in the past 6 months, it’s pretty clear that that I’m thinking about food studies at almost every waking moment of the day.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most while learning about food is hearing what everyone else has to say about it. It is in this way, after all, that I’ve learned so much about food and have come to appreciate it in the many ways that I do. This week in particular though, I really wanted to hear from people that haven’t yet had the chance to think about food in all the ways that I have. I wanted to challenge them to start thinking a little more about their food and what it means to them. I wanted to see what kinds of relationships they had with their food and learn a little more about the role food plays in their lives.
Thursday night proved the start to my unusual 3-day weekend. First off, I’d like to just say thank you to Apple for saving me from being stuck in the rain with thousands of confused, scared, or unusually happy students pushing and shoving their way past each other to West Campus. Since I was more concerned with pre-ordering the iPhone 5 than showing up to my Logic TA session on time, I was still in the comforts of my own kitchen when the sirens went off. In fact, all of my roommates and I were in the kitchen when we received the urgent (and thus completely ungrammatical) text at 9:48 a.m., “Evacuate all buildings get as far away from the buildings as possible. Further information to come” Continue reading →
Sticky and sweet salted caramel slides down a beautiful woman’s face in tantalizing rivulets. Sultry smoky-lidded eyes and long lashes serve as a ledge for drops of the unique sweet and stray caramel rests on pillowy pink lips. Her hands are cradling her blissed-out face and truly tell the story of her “love affair with salted caramel”. If you are finding yourself having mixed and confusing emotions about the picture, do not worry. It is a purposeful attempt to tap into a person’s lust for not only rich food, but the desire for satisfying sex. Pyschology and biology has proven that humans are unconsciously relating food with sex and vice versa. Continue reading →
“Girl Scout cookies”. Once a year, those three words are able to invoke strong emotions into the hearts and souls of the American public. Whether it is dread over having to deliver an immense amount of cookies to eager customers or excitement over replenishing last year’s stockpile, the little baked goods occupy a certain place in most people’s minds. After more than fifty years in existence and several recessions along the way, Girl Scouts are still as popular as ever and have never lacked a sizable consumer base. A major part of this success is due to clever marketing over the years and revitalizing the brand by licensing other companies to provide their take on the cookies, usually by incorporating the flavors into their products. It is also important to note how things can go wrong for corporations if they are a poor fit for the image the Girl Scouts of America has cultivated over the years
The earliest documented cookie drive occurred in December 1917 with the Muskegee, Oklahoma Mistletoe troop leading the event. The idea continued during the 1920s and 1930s as Girl Scout troops baked simple sugar cookies and sold them independently. Around the mid-1930’s, commercial bakeries approached the organization about producing the cookies, but it was not until 1951 when ABC Bakery began producing shortbread, thin mint, and sandwich varieties of cookies for the scouts to sell. Presently, ABC Bakery and Little Brownie Bakers are licensed to produce the eight varieties of Girl Scout cookies that have been altered over the years to suit the demands of the American public. Despite flour shortages during World War II and the trans-fat controversy in 2005, the cookies manage to sell in huge quantities each year. Most consumers are not aware of it, but a clever advertising technique keeps them coming back for more each year. Continue reading →
Mexico, beautiful and beloved, If I die far from you let them say I am sleeping and bring me back to you.
This is the rough translation of Mexico Lindo y Querido, one of the most popular and typical songs of Mexico. It represents a common experience of the Mexican people — that of displacement and immigration. As a Jew and a Mexican I come from two cultures that have experienced forced migration and displacement. As a semi-exile, I have lived the experience. I will not relate the details of my exile in this essay, but I, like so many Mexicans, cannot return because of extenuating circumstances. I use semi-exile because I grew up in two countries and one is no longer available to me. The pain this has caused is difficult to describe, it hurts in a very deep way. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who made their entire lives in Mexico. Home is one way we identify ourselves and losing your home is a bit like losing a piece of your soul. I often find myself getting angry. Angry that my grandmother may never see her hometown again; that I cannot visit my family, and that a government can get away with atrocities. Mostly, I miss the sights, smells and simplicity of my childhood.
Making Mole with my Grandmother
So what does this have to do with food? Food is culture; it is the shared experience of a region. Traditional cooking connects us to the land and customs we were raised with. The smell and taste brings back memories of meals shared with loved ones, living and dead. When I make enchiladas or mole I remember the wisdom of my grandmother, “The chef gets the first enchilada and it should be eaten with your hands” and how her breath smelled like onions when she hugged me. I think of my aunts making tamales and gossiping, and the first time I tried coffee with cinnamon and cloves on a road trip to Veracruz.
Food invokes all of the senses, it connects us, but it also distinguishes us. That is its power. When we eat the food of home we are honoring the sacredness of place.
The last few centuries has seen quite a bit of human emigration and immigration, but we still long for home. That is why we cling to traditions, even in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized. We claim Italian, Japanese, or Mexican heritage even when our families have lived in this country for generations. Our bodies contain memories of our ancestral past and it takes a long time to adjust. Forced migration affects more than individuals. It can change whole communities for generations and often it is painful.
Happy Travels: Border Crossing Bridge El Paso/Juarez
So far the best remedy to my own angst has been to break bread (tortillas) with people from my culture who share my situation. It will never taste exactly the same, but it connects me to what was lost. It also inspires me to move forward because in spite of the difficulties, people are incredibly adaptive and resourceful. Remember your home, it is part of who you are. But also remember that it is not impossible to root yourself elsewhere. It just takes time.
With social media driving our society nowadays, it is hard to overlook the convenience of utilizing the internet to find a place to “grab a bite to eat.” Gone are the days when a group of friends sit around and ask, “Are you hungry?”, and get the response: “Where do you feel like eating?” This nostalgic, slower paced method-of decision-making has been replaced by a ritual of whipping out the iPhone; pulling up Yelp, an online tool used to promote local businesses and choosing where to eat based on reviews, ratings, or popularity.
The owner kisses you on the head here!
This technology-driven culture goes further, tapping into our “stalk your prey” instincts. We are still programmed to hunt down something to satisfy our hunger need, but nowadays, we are following mobile food trailer locations to their destinations via Twitter or Facebook. Many foodies simply pursue a food truck simply for the thrill of tracking it down and feasting on its offerings. It still satisfies that “seeking your reward” fix.
Notice the expression of victory
I am not writing this as a criticism, but I just want to present some food for thought. I am somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to technology, but I am by no means exempt from this tech-driven culture. For me, Yelp presented itself as a convenient “journal.” I do not use it to build local food connections, to get free stuff, or even to get famous. I simply started a Yelp account to mark where I have been. So what thrill do I get out of Yelp? Continue reading →
Evidence of the (sometimes) illusive American food culture
Studying abroad in Santiago, Chile last semester and living with a Chilean family I assumed I wouldn’t participate in any Thanksgiving festivities. It wasn’t a big deal, I thought. I had done very well in the not-being-homesick department so that success would extend to a Thursday like any other Thursday, right?
Wrong. As the holiday approached, my need to be with family and eat turkey steadily increased. Luckily, a team of exchange students (largely American) came to the rescue. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t alone in my first Thanksgiving away from home state. We decided that if we couldn’t be with our families, at least we would be away from our families together. It was the next best thing; a day to forget we were thousands of miles south of the good ol’ USA and to pretend the stuffing tasted just like grandma’s.
Surprisingly, there was little need to pretend. Our potluck was impresionante, as the Chileans would say. A snapshot of the dinner by the numbers:
40 people (American, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Australian, French)
A few days after the Christmas media frenzy subsided, I was presented with an array of unappealing afternoon entertainment options. This led me to tune into the Food Network for a block of mindless viewing. An episode of Down Home with the Neelys was on, with the cooking couple, Pat and Gina Neely, demonstrating recipes for updating Southern classics and grilled favorites. Halfway through the thirty-minute show, Pat Neely, one of the chefs, announced that he and his wife Gina Neely were making black-eyed peas and cornbread after the commercial break. During his pitch for the dish, he placed an emphasis on the need to serve black-eyed peas and cornbread together, no matter the occasion. It was then I realized I had forgotten to complete a simple, but important task. In my family’s numerous grocery shopping trips in preparation for Christmas dinner, we had completely forgotten to buy the ingredients necessary for the New Year’s Day meal. My Virginia upbringing dictated that most of the menus at family gatherings have a heavy Southern influence. While every holiday menu for the year was varied, our New Year’s Day menu stayed constant. At the beginning of each year, we sit down and have a traditional Southern meal meant to bring good luck for the coming year. The main dish is a hearty serving of black-eyed peas paired with a slice of golden cornbread, symbolizing the luck and fortune we hoped to have in the coming here.
During the last few years, I have been blessed to have experienced several foreign countries. Traveling internationally I think is what got me into studying food, because I enjoy seeing how people around the world treat food. It is amazing to learn about food taboos, etiquette, and I like to challenge my palate. Weird food combinations, smells, and at times disturbing appearances can be surprising at times, but it brings more understanding about the meaning food. Setting cuisine aside, I find that it is always the little things associated with food that end up having an impact on my life, because the little things reveal a deeper meaning about society.
Here are few examples that changed my life:
Sharing a single car of beer
Beer is so important. It would take forever to analyze its social importance, but the point I want to make is that beer promotes sharing. In Salvador, Brazil, it is common to share a single can (350ml) of cerveja, dividing it amongst a table of glasses. In my culture, each person would get his/her own can. Continue reading →