Food-induced nostalgia and cultural exchanges

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cerrodepedro
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sat Apr 30, 2016 4:04 am

So today I went out with a friend of mine. Her mom's Haitian, and subscribes to a lot of the philosophies of liberation and justice when it comes to race. We do lunch about every week. It turns out she's a huge fan of traditional Central, Caribbean, and South American cuisine. In a lot of places a fancy breakfast is fried plantains with some cream, an egg or two, black beans, and some corn-based carbohydrate. It's lovely. Most people have some tortillas (they don't look like what US Americans know as Mexican flour or corn tortillas), and one or two of these things regularly. I was fortunate enough to get to spend a lot of intimate time with folks, enough to become very accustomed to this kind of eating. There is NOTHING that even approaches what kind of emotions the sensory experience of preparing and consuming these foods affords. It's this warm nostalgia that's impossible to replicate without centuries of food culture, adapted to circumstance and utility, and it's impossible to experience it fully without some at least cursory awareness of the origins of the food, how it's cultivated, its responses to the regional movement of seasons, and the labor involved. Having come from a very dysfunctional family, like many, as soon as people started to show me kindness and warmth in a familial fashion, I latched onto what connections I was offered when interacting with folks in Latin American and indigenous communities.

Most people get to the point of truly, holistically eating a meal by years and years of building rapport and trust, by forming bonds in specific circumstances. Not Mormon missionaries. A middle class upbringing without the levels of overprotection used to sensationalize the cult experience mean you can enjoy at least observing some pretty gosh-darned intimate life experiences without really earning that privilege. The language learning methods employed by the LDS church are incredible, and given that kids spend about two months doing little more than intensive language and religious education, honed with levels of efficiency only achieveable by a corporate church, coupled with not very many weeks of immersion, folks who observe the social decorum of treating strange visitors well are impressed when the strange visitors happen to be LDS missionaries (as with most religions with an evangelical bent, you become inadvertently adept at spotting which people are going to be most receptive to your message, and insidiously that includes people who are vulnerable for any number of reasons).

This was me. I wasn't inordinately isolated from the non-Mormon world growing up. Dad made me listen to classical music and eat unfamiliar food as a kid and read lots of diverse biographies. Cultural relativism wasn't a foreign concept, so valuing different ways of life and adapting a lot of their norms was not difficult. The mission, aside from being disgustingly coercive, aside from teaching you manipulative ways of approaching people about religion, was pretty much a really nice vacation for an economically middle class socially upper middle class white kid. Gatekeepers (my use of the term "gatekeepers" here is to say that they exist within cultures not just to irritate interlopers but also to protect sacred spaces and people and objects. I pulled out an old cultural anthropology textbook and found a decent explanation of them in this context. See page 375 of Research Methods in Anthropology, H. Russell Bernard, Fourth Edition, 2006) often fawned over me and wanted to have extended cultural interchanges. It was the classic white boy impostor tourist phenomenon. It was a joy but I always felt that maybe I was getting a little more than I deserved as far as vulnerability and trust. This happened first as a missionary in Utah, assigned to work exclusively with Spanish-speaking folks (most people are surprised to encounter very well-established migrant communities in Utah), then later on as an undergraduate researcher hanging out with indigenous Guatemalan folks and then Salvadoran families stretched between Utah, the LA area, and El Salvador itself.

All of this context out of the way, goddessdammit the food you get to enjoy while engaging in these intensely personal interactions is special, and something migrant communities share adeptly in receiving countries. SO, I'd love to hear other perspectives, other experiences, and hell, if you have the cognitive energy, critical takes on this phenomenon, or just listings of beautiful comfort foods for which you have respect and love, and the expressions of love and respect that accompany them.
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Postby Azealdread » Sat Apr 30, 2016 4:28 am

I personally enjoy me some buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar, heated in the microwave. that brings back so many childhood memories for me. It was a time when we had little money but were happy and i enjoyed/miss those time, but now that i have money and a job i never make them anymore. I think though relating to you post the one time i got to sit down and share food with someone from another race it got me hooked on alot of odd mexican food and japanese food at the sametime as it was a wedding and they had a mix both, the falvors were overwhelming and the surprise from both sides was just as such.
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cerrodepedro
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sat Apr 30, 2016 5:18 am

See and you can describe the feeling effortlessly. It just flows. It's neat to feel like I'm in the same kitchen grabbing a butter knife and pulling out a slice from one of those dollar loaves.
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Postby anynoise » Sat Apr 30, 2016 7:51 am

I have had two Korean roommates (at separate times). I did not know this but they both felt like they truly only fit in with other Asians. And, one was half Korean, didn't matter. They both cooked amazing food. Korean bbq and things with added sugar that I would have never added sugar to. I loved it and it got me to start eating spicier foods. The recipes they made went back many generations. It opened up a conversation about their culture which was really amazing. Family bonds are really strong especially respect for previous generations, which is not the case with my relatives. I loved their stories. I couldn't tell you what was in the food because the labels were not in English. I got to hang out with the Asian mafia (they called themselves that) and I showed them my world...and as far as going out, drinking too much and dancing like fools, it was very similar. The only difference I could tell was race. Which is pretty sad.

When I was young we made bread, butter, cinnamon and sugar too! But we put it in the oven. I loved it! We never ate sugary things so it was a pretty big deal. My sister, brother and I would turn on the oven light and sit in front of it drooling until it was finished. It smelled awesome and it would make our faces hot :)
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:17 pm

On the topic of your roommates' "family bonds ... especially respect for previous generations," I think what I'm starting to learn is that "respect for elders" isn't a unilaterally applied value or just deference and obedience to previous generations. It's actually, at least for a lot of cultures, leaving previous generations what is their right to have, and having the decency to put their lived experiences in context instead of only from the perspective of the present, and then taking what's meant for your generation and working with it.

At least to me that means I don't have to do things like let older folks get away with bigotry (let's all take a moment to contemplate the very real possibility that our children will progress socially so far beyond us that we will one day be bigots), but I do have to recognize their contributions to my life, and it also means not putting my value system up for sale. I may opine that previous generations in my family, for example, are limited by their cult membership, but that doesn't mean they didn't regularly point me in the direction of happiness.

So apparently if there's an IRL get-together butter and cinnamon toast is going to be served.
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Postby anynoise » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:31 pm

cerrodepedro wrote:On the topic of your roommates' "family bonds ... especially respect for previous generations," I think what I'm starting to learn is that "respect for elders" isn't a unilaterally applied value or just deference and obedience to previous generations. It's actually, at least for a lot of cultures, leaving previous generations what is their right to have, and having the decency to put their lived experiences in context instead of only from the perspective of the present, and then taking what's meant for your generation and working with it.

At least to me that means I don't have to do things like let older folks get away with bigotry (let's all take a moment to contemplate the very real possibility that our children will progress socially so far beyond us that we will one day be bigots), but I do have to recognize their contributions to my life, and it also means not putting my value system up for sale. I may opine that previous generations in my family, for example, are limited by their cult membership, but that doesn't mean they didn't regularly point me in the direction of happiness.

So apparently if there's an IRL get-together butter and cinnamon toast is going to be served.



I agree with everything you just said. Full quote.
"I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're goin', and hook up with them later." [em]~Mitch Hedberg[/em]
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Postby NaranjaRa » Sun May 01, 2016 12:22 am

i have a huge, Catholic family for the most part, which translates to all of the "moms" always being prepared to feed people. so if you were to stop by my grandma's house, first thing she would do is throw a clean plate down in front of you and start pulling covered dishes out of the fridge. the way my grandmas and great-grandma cooked...was intense. everything from scratch. everything fresh. the old way. the way it should be. that kind of cooking takes something that today's empty microwave cuisines sorely lack - LOVE. and i do believe it has an effect on us. just like any art, you get out of it what you put into it. the home cooking of my region might be simplistic, but the flavor comes from everything else around it...the locally grown ingredients, the energy of sheer adoration in preparing a meal for her loved ones that my gran would transmute, the table full of folks you might not see but once a year but who drove for a day to be in that seat next to you... passing the crab cakes, the oyster fritters, the corn pone, the cucumber salad, the duck, the mac & cheese, the pineapple casserole, the fried rockfish, the green beans, the tomatoes that still smelled like sunshine...

so when i have these foods today, i taste these memories and feel the love of my grandma again. :)
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Postby Rivoc » Sun May 01, 2016 12:37 am

cerrodepedro wrote:So today I went out with a friend of mine. Her mom's Haitian, and subscribes to a lot of the philosophies of liberation and justice when it comes to race. We do lunch about every week. It turns out she's a huge fan of traditional Central, Caribbean, and South American cuisine. In a lot of places a fancy breakfast is fried plantains with some cream, an egg or two, black beans, and some corn-based carbohydrate. It's lovely. Most people have some tortillas (they don't look like what US Americans know as Mexican flour or corn tortillas), and one or two of these things regularly. I was fortunate enough to get to spend a lot of intimate time with folks, enough to become very accustomed to this kind of eating. There is NOTHING that even approaches what kind of emotions the sensory experience of preparing and consuming these foods affords. It's this warm nostalgia that's impossible to replicate without centuries of food culture, adapted to circumstance and utility, and it's impossible to experience it fully without some at least cursory awareness of the origins of the food, how it's cultivated, its responses to the regional movement of seasons, and the labor involved. Having come from a very dysfunctional family, like many, as soon as people started to show me kindness and warmth in a familial fashion, I latched onto what connections I was offered when interacting with folks in Latin American and indigenous communities.

Most people get to the point of truly, holistically eating a meal by years and years of building rapport and trust, by forming bonds in specific circumstances. Not Mormon missionaries. A middle class upbringing without the levels of overprotection used to sensationalize the cult experience mean you can enjoy at least observing some pretty gosh-darned intimate life experiences without really earning that privilege. The language learning methods employed by the LDS church are incredible, and given that kids spend about two months doing little more than intensive language and religious education, honed with levels of efficiency only achieveable by a corporate church, coupled with not very many weeks of immersion, folks who observe the social decorum of treating strange visitors well are impressed when the strange visitors happen to be LDS missionaries (as with most religions with an evangelical bent, you become inadvertently adept at spotting which people are going to be most receptive to your message, and insidiously that includes people who are vulnerable for any number of reasons).

This was me. I wasn't inordinately isolated from the non-Mormon world growing up. Dad made me listen to classical music and eat unfamiliar food as a kid and read lots of diverse biographies. Cultural relativism wasn't a foreign concept, so valuing different ways of life and adapting a lot of their norms was not difficult. The mission, aside from being disgustingly coercive, aside from teaching you manipulative ways of approaching people about religion, was pretty much a really nice vacation for an economically middle class socially upper middle class white kid. Gatekeepers (my use of the term "gatekeepers" here is to say that they exist within cultures not just to irritate interlopers but also to protect sacred spaces and people and objects. I pulled out an old cultural anthropology textbook and found a decent explanation of them in this context. See page 375 of Research Methods in Anthropology, H. Russell Bernard, Fourth Edition, 2006) often fawned over me and wanted to have extended cultural interchanges. It was the classic white boy impostor tourist phenomenon. It was a joy but I always felt that maybe I was getting a little more than I deserved as far as vulnerability and trust. This happened first as a missionary in Utah, assigned to work exclusively with Spanish-speaking folks (most people are surprised to encounter very well-established migrant communities in Utah), then later on as an undergraduate researcher hanging out with indigenous Guatemalan folks and then Salvadoran families stretched between Utah, the LA area, and El Salvador itself.

All of this context out of the way, goddessdammit the food you get to enjoy while engaging in these intensely personal interactions is special, and something migrant communities share adeptly in receiving countries. SO, I'd love to hear other perspectives, other experiences, and hell, if you have the cognitive energy, critical takes on this phenomenon, or just listings of beautiful comfort foods for which you have respect and love, and the expressions of love and respect that accompany them.


I've never really had a family that values sit down dinners aside from holidays, except when we'd go to my great grandmothers house on Sunday's but I was too young to appreciate it then.

Now that I live with friends from where I grew up but across the country, we have dinner together all the time. Even tonight, one of us cooked a side of pasta another is cooking chicken Marsala and wee having a nice sit down dinner on a sat night. I'm valuing this atmosphere more now that I'm older.
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cerrodepedro
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sun May 01, 2016 12:44 am

NaranjaRa wrote:just like any art, you get out of it what you put into it. the home cooking of my region might be simplistic, but the flavor comes from everything else around it...the locally grown ingredients, the energy of sheer adoration in preparing a meal for her loved ones that my gran would transmute, the table full of folks you might not see but once a year but who drove for a day to be in that seat next to you... passing the crab cakes, the oyster fritters, the corn pone, the cucumber salad, the duck, the mac & cheese, the pineapple casserole, the fried rockfish, the green beans, the tomatoes that still smelled like sunshine...

so when i have these foods today, i taste these memories and feel the love of my grandma again. :)


I loooove this. And wow, if it's not Catholic I don't know what is. FEELS.
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sun May 01, 2016 12:45 am

Rivoc wrote:I've never really had a family that values sit down dinners aside from holidays, except when we'd go to my great grandmothers house on Sunday's but I was too young to appreciate it then.

Now that I live with friends from where I grew up but across the country, we have dinner together all the time. Even tonight, one of us cooked a side of pasta another is cooking chicken Marsala and wee having a nice sit down dinner on a sat night. I'm valuing this atmosphere more now that I'm older.


This hurts. It hurts. It is nice to think that maybe that's something we can resurrect, though. Thank you.
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Postby Pawly » Sun May 01, 2016 1:49 am

How about a different perspective.

I am a first generation Canadian of Italian heritage. My parents come from the same tiny farming village in a very rural area of Italy. Everything was done from scratch. Food, clothes even shoes. EVERYTHING! When they immigrated, many of the townsfolk did as well. So they had an instant community here in Toronto. Many of the traditional foods and methods came with them. We made our own wine, pasta, fruit preserves, meats (sausage, proscuitto, salami etc.) and family meals were daily. No going to restaurants for us, we were cash poor but food rich. Even though many of that first wave of immigrants are starting to die off, quite a few of us kids keep some of the traditions alive. I make sausage and we jar roasted peppers and tomato sauce. The lifestyle has instilled pretty deep family values in all of us.

But here's the rub. It gets boring as fuck eating the same shit day in and day out. Pick your favourite food and eat it for months (years) on end. You will begin to hate it or at the very least look for other options. Introduced my mother to sushi a few years back and now she asks when we're going for it all the time. lol I understand how exciting it is for anyone to experience new foods and cultures. Working at hotels and restaurants opened a whole universe of flavours to me that I had never experienced.

While I agree that eating as a family is an important thing that many North Americans and Europeans have lost and as wonderful as some "ethnic" foods can be to newcomers, the cook probably just wants a hot-dog and a beer.
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Postby cerrodepedro » Sun May 01, 2016 2:10 am

Pawly this is why I like NE. Thank you. At least as far as the Central American staples go, that sentiment is everywhere. Corn may have saved the Maya peoples but yeah. Beer and a hot dog.
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