Food and Culture

photoFood is a cultural universal. It is something that every culture generally has at its disposal. Food and flavors are something that are not static, but evolves with time. In a family setting, it even fosters solidarity. Every culture has a defined cuisine with unique characteristics,  flavor profiles, and its own appeal to the senses. While there are many ways families can foster solidarity, food is something that happens every day. In my opinion, one of the most important ways to spend time with the family is through food. From shopping for the ingredients to preparing and cooking various dishes and finally to enjoying it with the family, we immerse ourselves not only in solidarity, but also a great amount of culture. Some basic characteristics of “culture” include that culture is learned, adaptive, shared, and passed down. These characteristics, and more, are significant in analyzing the connection between food and culture.

Food also creates powerful memories. When I was a child, I remember hearing, smelling, and then tasting my grandmother’s Filipino-style spaghetti which she would always make for me for lunch or dinner. Today, I am starting to make the same dishes she and my mom makes.The memory and the senses associated with my mother and grandmother’s cooking still lives today even though my grandmother is in the Philippines and I am in the United States. I may be making that Filipino style spaghetti, but it may not be as good as my grandmother’s but it brings back so many memories.

Food has a way in engaging and appealing to the senses. Not only do we learn the ingredients associated with the various recipes, but we also learn the various techniques associated with the dishes we learn and the proper etiquette of eating these dishes. Some families even have their own versions of recipes, techniques, and etiquette. We also adapt recipes and techniques. In the Philippines, and in numerous other countries, recipes vary by city, town, and village. It may even vary in every household. These recipes, techniques, and etiquettes are then shared and passed down to other generations. This may be the most significant of all because the only way culture can persist is by passing it down to others. In a way, we also pass down common ancestry and history. For example, Filipinos were colonized by the Spanish, the Japanese, and the Americans. These other cultures surely had great influence in Filipino food today. From adobo, beef steak, sinigang, and lumpia, it is possible to see how food, even across cultures and across borders, are influenced and therefore, evolve even until today.

In today’s world we often trade this chance for solidarity and culture with convenience. Yes, it is easier and faster to spend money on fast food and yes, fast food and convenience food are also part of food culture, but in my opinion, there is nothing better than home-cooked food as not only does it give us the chance to live and make culture, but it also gives us a chance to be creative and experiment in our kitchens. Cooking with family and friends exhibits a great amount of ability, knowledge, solidarity, and culture as well. The conversations over preparing and eating meals are also incomparable to just getting fast food where conversations are just as short as the experience. Do you have any important food traditions and memories?

By John Sapida, Intern at WYA HQ, New York.