My first Food Studies paper has been published in the 2010-2011 issue of Portal, the yearly academic publication from the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies. It is a simple account of my recent study abroad experience in Brazil. It is so interesting how eating pizza with my host family made me aware of so many social issues in their society and lives. This, is how I study food.
Eating Pizza in Brazil: poverty and other social issues
The entire world eats Pizza, or something that resembles it, such as seafood pizza in Japan or the pizza with fruit Brazilians eat here in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. At LLI- LAS, my concentration is officially Portuguese, but my true focus lies in food studies. Normally, a student like myself, who is interested in learning about pizza, would probably focus on the food itself: the toppings, the sauces, or the crust. However, in my studies, I learn about larger social issues through my personal experiences and interest in food. I am currently studying abroad in Brazil and have had the honor of living with an amazing host family of four: father, mother, and two sons, ages 22 and 16. The other night on the way home from an event, we decided to get a pizza for dinner. I did not realize how different the whole process was going to be from the “American” way of getting a pizza. The experience revealed many social and economic issues related to poverty. The following story about eating pizza with my new Brazilian family reveals a deeper social context, beyond gastronomy, in the way pizza is obtained, received, and consumed. Enjoy.
Two weeks before the Fall 2011 semester started, I had the honor of being part of a Food First delegation in Bolivia with the amazing new project Food Sovereignty Tours.
It is hard to summarize all the new information that was presented to me by Bolivian locals and from the wonderful professionals–now friends–that I met on the trip. Being the youngster on the trip, I did not feel ready to engage in the subject of Food Sovereignty and Climate Change. Even though I did not have much of a background in many of the discussion topics, it did not take an expert to see the shocking reality of the world food system in Bolivia. How the Global North uses beautiful counties like Bolivia in the Global South to aid their own food security. How food is no longer a human right but a commodity used to control populations and benefit certain wealthy nations. As an undergraduate in college, we read a lot about the injustices and unfair issues throughout the world, but lack the reality of experiencing it. I wish my school would had some sort of Study Abroad Program like this. Wake up tours. I wasn’t able to get a scholarship or university credit for the tour (I funded it with the rest of my emergency savings and donations from a few professors who believe in my future) yet it was worth it because I went in with just an interest in food security and left a food activist.
My Garden, Our Garden: my first vegetable garden with my host family in Brazil
I decided to try my hand at growing a vegetable garden. The project was initially for myself, to learn and connect more with my food studies. Yet, I quickly realized that there is a lot more to gardening than just biology and manual labor. Every time I stepped foot into my garden, tons of metaphors came to mind. The most important was learning that nature is life. We have to treat it like a relationship and not an obstacle. It needs to be loved, fed, and wanted or it will die. If it dies, we will die. Maybe not instantly but we will decay eventually from inside out.
In my food studies, I always hear this statistic that only 4% of the population of the United States grows all of the country’s food. I assume that there are not many Americans who want to do the physical labor or devote the time required to grow real food, nor understand the complexed science and biological relationships between nature and food. But, I feel that we have to challenge ourselves to learn about food. Just like any field of study that we might get into, we must learn the basics, the history, the traditional ways and thoughts to achieve something different, great, and truly innovative. I always remember the example that Rocket Scientist, Wernher von Braun; it is said that he didn’t like mathematics and physics but his fascinations with space travel inspired him to study the subjects he needed to achieve his dream. So I thought, if I want to bring food sovereignty to the world, then I need to understand what is food. Hence the garden. Continue reading →
As I mentioned in my last post, the little things were powerful enough to change my life. But of course, there are other little things that I have experienced abroad that I wouldn’t like to live with forever. Some are comical, but many are sad truths about the world and food. Experiencing these other little things motivated me to question and think how I can change the world.
“Business underlies everything in our national life, including our spiritual life. Witness the fact that in the Lord’s Prayer the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.”
Woodrow Wilson on Poverty in America – (Speech, 1912)
When I first read this food quote, I agreed full heartily since Maslow’s hierarchy of needs came to mind. I tend to agree with his pyramid stating shat one can not begin to worry about religious needs until his or her physiological needs are satisfied. But, then I stopped and remembered my experience with impoverish people both here in the States and abroad, many poor people seem to be very religious; it obviously assists the hunger. Also, many cultures practice fasting as a form of devotion in their religion. Could have that come from scarcity or abundance of food?
I see that food has tight connections with religion, but why would I make this my food studies focus? Anyone out there studying the topic of food in religious studies? What other things should we focus on when we talk about food and religion?