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. The Baiano way is so much better. Share a beer, while the other cans are getting cold in the freezer (not the refrigerator). You waste less because you don’t have to worry about the warm saliva invested beer at the bottom of the can. Also, people can drink at their own rate –granted, good courtesy means your cup will be topped off without the worry of asking– and most importantly sharing beer (or food) builds a sense of community.
Eating with a spoon and fork
Fork and knife or chopsticks are probably the most common utensils used to eat in modern times. I was kinda shocked when I visited Thailand that it is most common to eat with a spoon and fork. Got me thinking about what forks and knifes do… they stab and cut things. In a country that is mostly Buddhist, I understand how this way of eating can be considered quite violent. So, they use the fork to rake food on to their spoon. Then, I started to think about stereotypes. I met monks that eat meat and I felt silly by the fact that I assumed that all “Asians” ate with chopsticks.
The Foot Rest on Grocery Carts
Recently, I realized that I am in love with the little bar on the bottom of grocery carts. When I go to the grocery store here in Brazil, my foot naturally always goes for that bar, but here that bar doesn’t exist and my foot is sad. So it got me thinking about why does my foot love that bar in the first place? First, the types and amount of food in their shopping carts are different. They buy less industrial ready-made processed foods, and more real plants and animals to eat. Processed foods have a longer shelf life than “alive” food, meaning they buy less and visit more often. Second, I noticed that the size of the carts are smaller in comparison with ours in the States. The physical space of the store is more limited, and it is not their costume to go to the grocery store, load up, and stock a pantry at home. Anyways, without getting too carried away, the foot rest makes it easier to push our loaded carts around our massive stores in the States.
Get out there and experience other cultures! If you already have, share with us below. Just remember to take a minute and ask yourself, “Why is _____ this way?” You might be surprised that you can learn a lot about the world by experiencing the little things.