Spices

How Food Can Teach Us About Culture

My middle school friends always found it strange when I talked about eating good food all the time. After all, my dad gave me bagel bites for lunch every single day. It didn’t make sense to them. They came to school with whatever fancy dinner their moms made the night before, but I was the one who casually discussed shakshuka and escargot. While the two obviously aren’t meant to be eaten together, there aren’t many people who can say they’ve tried either. In fact, even now there aren’t enough people who can say they’ve tried enough foods from cultures outside of Europe or Chinese takeout.

I am aware that bragging about being a “foodie” can be a bit pretentious, but there’s more to it than taking Instagram photos of different kinds of avocado toast every day. For me, it’s about culture. I’m lucky to have grown up in an incredibly diverse family. My parents are Pakistani but I have cousins from the Middle East, Puerto Rico, India and Bangladesh. To most people, this doesn’t seem that diverse considering the proximity of each country to another. But, when you look into the different cultures of each region, there is so much to learn.

My parents, for example, are from the opposite ends of Pakistan. This means the food they grew up eating was completely different. It’s exactly the same for my Middle Eastern cousins. Palestinian and Syrian food are similar but noticeably different. And I could go on forever about the different kinds of foods from India and Bangladesh, but that’s not the point. The point is, by limiting ourselves to what we grew up eating, we limit ourselves to what we know about different people.

It’s no secret that America has a huge race issue right now. And to be real, when has it not? This country has a serious superiority complex and I genuinely believe one way to fight it is through food. I know that exposing people to new foods won’t erase the bigotry in their hearts, but a good portion of eliminating racism has a lot to do with the appreciation of other cultures. And I believe the reason this isn’t happening is because people simply don’t care.

We grow up being told the country we live in is a melting pot. That there are so many different kinds of cultures, and that each one is celebrated. This gives children the idea that there’s no more work to be done. It teaches them that JFK solved racism and that being ignorant towards others in this day and age is impossible. There’s no longer an incentive to want to learn about others.

To be fair, learning how to eat Pho properly or use chopsticks isn’t as serious as enacting Civil Rights laws. But food is probably the best way to learn about different cultures. And I genuinely believe if people went out of their way to understand what Fufu was or why South Asians hate the term “chai tea”, life would be significantly different.

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