This year I had the pleasure to live in three different States in Brazil, starting in the lovely Northeastern State of Bahia, then working my way down to the traditional Minas Gerais, and finally finished my adventure abroad in the famous Rio de Janeiro. I lived with three different family with three very different financial situations and life styles. I enjoyed seeing their different foodways and there were a couple of important things that I would like to share about food and life that I learned with them. Language and Money.
Language and Food
Studying Portuguese, or what I like to call Brazilian, certain words caught my attention and made me think about my host families food situation. Especially with my family in Belo Horizonte when they would constantly talk about foods that would enche (fill yourself up). Like when our host father would always say, “Põe mais arroz meu filho.” (Put more rice on your plate my son). Then I got a lesson in Brazilian indirect communication when I once mentioned that I “like” vegetables… to him that meant I “would like” to eat more vegetables. Next thing you know my father brought home the harvest from the Sacolão (literally meaning “the big sack” it is a veg and fruit shop). It was good though since they start incorporating veg in their diet as well.
Then, there was my host mother who always warned her filhos (kids) about different food myths such as we couldn’t eat mamão (papaya) with milk, no hot cake since it would give us a stomach ache, and she did not like when we would take a bath after eating dinner. My host brother helped me understand the history of those common myths, explaining that most were invented during Portuguese colonization of Brazil. The slave owners used these myths to try to control and prevent slaves from enjoying or partaking of certain foods.
Without Money, No Food for You
From simple beans and rice to a full Churrasco buffet, I was fed a lot of food living with my different Brazilian families this year. I got a reality check about the costs of eating and feeding a family as well. Without money, you can not eat. Without enough money, you can’t eat well. Ex. my host father uses almost all of his money to feed his family since he is the only source of income. Watching him I learned many of his techniques to preserve and extend the life of foodstuffs. He didn’t let anything go to waste; he would beat air in eggs to use less, save and plant seeds, divide up all the food up equally, cut up single tomato and call it salad, and on and on. He would some how bring home food from work that he was able to get for free, including a Cesta Básica. But the best lesson that I learned was with luxury items such as small portions of chocolate, cheese, or meat. It doesn’t matter how much that he would bring home, an his economically poor family will eat it all mindlessly quick. So I bought a kilo of sliced ham and was surprising upset initially that it disappeared in the same rate as when my host father brings home 200 grams. Sometimes people forget to conserve and respect that things that are “free”. I wasn’t mad though because I remember what my host mother stated once, that people should be able to eat freely until they are satisfied because it is horrible to deny someone food. When your life consists of eating basic foods everyday, food different from the norm will always be desired and consumed.
As a university undergrad, I know that we have complex economical relationships with food during college but I challenge other students to think deeply about their relation with food. And how about your language about food and eating? Some times just changing words, can changes lives. What are couple important things that you learned about food this year?