In her article “What Americans Can Learn From Other Food Cultures,” Amy S. Choi examines how we can think of our food habits as a form of personal history. This may sound like a strange concept, but Choi explains the many ways that we begin forming a “food identity” from early childhood on throughout our adult lives. This part of our identity is made up of everything we are exposed to in the kitchen at home, out at restaurants with friends or significant others, and in new cities while on business or vacation. All the food we eat and gravitate toward reveals a lot about who we are and how we got there. It creates a road map of sorts, with each like and dislike pointing to a place on your food journey that corresponds to other significant moments, people, and cultures in your life.
The link between food and identity is something Americans often overlook because we have so many options available to us; in a way, we literally absorb multiple cultures simply because of our “melting pot” society. However, Choi notes that Americans often fail to differentiate between the many types of regional cuisines within different countries, clumping them all under a blanket qualification like “Indian food” or “Chinese food.” We also often don’t note how we’ve Americanized many cuisines we consider to be traditional. Learning to distinguish one food background from another preserves cultures that might fade out of the American melting pot and allow those whose food identity is tied to unique regional cuisines to remain connected to that part of their history even as they are immersed in the diversity of American culture.
Food shapes every society, and the culture we are a part of causes us — perhaps Americans especially — to obsess over it almost every day. What to eat and not eat, what to feed our friends and family, how to serve and eat each dish — all these cultural factors must be taken into account. Food can cause difficulties within a single society and even clashes between cultures, something that becomes more and more evident as people migrate around the world and insert themselves into new cultures while still trying to maintain the traditional eating habits that have shaped their lives. As Choi says, there’s a lot to be learned from someone’s food culture background. Understanding (or at least respecting) the origins behind a culture’s eating habits can only benefit multicultural societies as our global community continues to grow. Read more from Choi’s article here.
Image Source: Flickr user Guian Bolisay