Food & Culture

Culture and geographic location plays such a role in how we grow, distribute, and eat our food.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take an international business intro course as a presession, and I found it beyond fascinating (good thing, since that’s one of my majors!). At the end of the course, student groups that had been assigned different major countries (India, China, Russia, etc…) shared presentations about things they’d learned about that country, and we were encouraged to be as creative as we wanted.

Because food is such an integral part of any culture, at least two groups (including mine) brought ethnic foods to share, if I remember correctly, and one brought peanut butter cookies – we were still pleased. Afterwards, several of us went out to Bossa Grill to enjoy some authentic Brazilian fare (another of the countries featured in our presentations).

Even growing up in the middle of KS, I’ve had the opportunity to sample flavors from quite a few different cuisines (and we do have some tasty food originating here too, from Louisburg Apple Cider to great local honey and, of course, wheat). I remember our family making the acquaintance of a couple of gals from Nigeria and inviting them over for dinner once. They brought some yams and another dish from their usual fare and shared with us about their lives back home, their families, food, and culture.

We occasionally shop at the local Asian market, and on a trip to Texas I was thrilled to discover a bakery featuring Argentinean treats. When I visited Seattle I had smoked salmon, Mediterranean fare, and sampled chocolate-covered Washington cherries. And I’ve had friends who’ve traveled abroad and brought back new and interesting (or strange) recipes.

Beyond the huge variety of flavors and food types available out there, another cultural phenomenon connected with food is what constitutes manners in a given locale. Whether or not it is polite to burp, whether one must wait for the host/hostess to begin eating, what portion size is considered normal, whether the men eat first and then women & children or they all eat together, even whether someone is willing to accept a gift of food…all these things are to some degree dictated by culture. And travelers who try to bridge cultures often learn the hard way what is or isn’t acceptable!

Even in the case of Numana, cultural preferences play a role in the types of food we package and send to hungry people. We switched to beans as part of our casserole blend for the Haitians instead of freeze-dried vegetables because that was already a staple there, an acceptable, traditional food for their palettes. And as might be expected, religion plays a role too in what is considered acceptable, so we might, for instance, be sure to avoid beef products and flavorings for Hindus in India, or look for a kosher or non-pork option for Jewish and Muslim people in Eastern Africa and the Middle East. We’re cognizant that tastes differ, and yet strive to maintain a nutritional product.

In many ways, how we eat reflects on our entire lifestyle and upbringing. Whether we learn how to properly eat with multiples of each type of silverware at an early age or our family grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the go, we carry these perspectives and social customs into our adult lives, to our work environments and social engagements, and we pass them on to our children.

Knowing this, I want to think ahead now, and ponder a bit how I can instill gratefulness and caring in my children someday, how I can introduce them to a wide variety of cultures and cuisines, and how I can teach them to view food as a gift to be savored and shared.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


This entry was posted on Monday, April 4th, 2011 at 12:53 am and is filed under Important Causes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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