What Food Teaches Us About Culture

What do you see in a plate of food? You might notice the portion size, the nutritional value, the color scheme. Or maybe you just see the sustenance — but there is much more than that. I like to think of food as a delicious blueprint of a culture that directs you to its history and values. Many people are self-proclaimed “foodies,” and hopefully, today, I will explain why I am too.

Food, like travel, can teach you more about people than any textbook or documentary ever could. It gives you a sneak peek into the lifestyle of the people who originally created the meal. For example, the most well known meal of my family’s Creole culture is gumbo, the heavenly stew native to Louisiana and other African-influenced cultures.

Let’s take a moment to break it down. The flavorful shrimp, crawfish, or crab in gumbo is illustrative of Louisiana’s coastal placement on the Gulf of Mexico. The fresh seafood in the dish is an ode to the way many Creoles have lived as fisherman in harmony with the expansive swampland and rivers throughout the state. It’s not uncommon for rural Creole families to still fish for their own seafood even today. A bite of gumbo’s thick and silky roux is seasoned with filé powder, a spicy seasoning made of ground sassafras leaves. This seasoning is unique to Native American cuisine and specifically points towards Creole people’s Choctaw Indian roots.

Finally, the bed of fluffy white rice the stew sits upon is absolutely a Creole staple. Because of the humid Louisiana climate, rice could be grown anywhere and often grows wild in the area, making it the grain of choice. Gumbo, in essence, is everything the unique Creole culture is, in one place.

There are so many meals across the globe, just like this one, that are beautiful representations of the people who created them. In South Africa, this meal is bobotie, a tasty minced meat and egg dish. In Spain, this meal is paella, the mouthwatering spicy rice and meat plate. And in Fiji, it’s the delicate raw mahi mahi marinated in coconut cream, lime, and tomatoes called kokodo. A bite into each of these beloved meals is a step into the past.

So, yes, I do love food. Not only for the obvious taste factor, but even more so for the way it has the power to connect a person to another life, a people, a culture. Eat on.

Image: FoodiesFeed