Thursday, May 6, 2010

Food: Another Universal Language

The other day I was thinking about how much I enjoy food and sharing it with other people. You can learn so much from a person just by talking to them about what they like to eat and, or if they like to cook or not. It makes me think of when you go to a strangers or a friend’s house and when using their bathroom you look into their medicine cabinet. You feel guilty for being so nosey, but you are just curious and want to learn about the individual whose house you’re in.

Imagine instead of looking in someone’s medicine cabinet you look in their pantry or fridge. What do they have in there? Is it empty or full of a variety of things and possibilities? You can learn allot about a person this way, however your idea of them could also be completely misconstrued. It’s just like if you see some hemorrhoid cream in their medicine cabinet assuming it is theirs, but what you don’t know is, it is their boyfriends or girlfriends. Just like maybe they cook dinner every single night and that is why their fridge is empty rather than just assuming they eat out every night. You never really know until you actually take the time to talk to them, or maybe even just spend a little time in the kitchen with them.

In my random thoughts I realized something that might already be obvious to many, but just became more vivid in my own eyes, and that is the connection between people that is built through the exploration and experiencing of the culinary world. Let me explain…

A common thing often said is that music is the universal language. Though I do agree, I believe there is another form of connectivity across all cultures and languages; food. Regardless of where we are or what we are doing we still have to eat right? Well, one of the amazing thhings I learned about food and cooking is... You can learn so much from other people just by what and how they eat. Take a look at some culinary explorers such as food journalists Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern (whom both have shows on the Travel Channel). They travel across the world to experience and learn about different cultures and their foods. In the process they also build new connections with strangers and learn about the people’s way of life.

In every episode some family invites them to come to their home and eat with them. Often they do not even speak the same language, yet there is still something being communicated and something learned. We are able to see their way of survival and how food affects it. Many are fishermen, farmers or some kind of forager; often their way of life is also their main form of gaining sustenance.

Generally, these families have very little food to disperse among many people. Regardless, they graciously invite these travelers into their homes to partake in their meal. They show them how they catch or prepare the food and how they make it without even speaking the same language; this doesn’t really matter though because an expression can be worth a thousand words. When Anthony or Andrew taste the food (whether it is good or not) there is an unspoken respect and appreciation that exudes from them as they smile and nod in enjoyment. Their generous hosts nod and smile back with pleasure and a new bond has formed.

Unlike Andrew and Anthony, I do not host a show or have a large budget to travel to wherever I choose to savor different cultures delicacies and study their ways of life. What I do have is a vast array of food, friends and cultures right out my front door. Who’s to say we can’t learn about those around us… maybe it’s a friend, a friend of a friend, or even a family member. There is nothing I enjoy more than having people come to my house and eat food that I made. Mainly it is self serving because I really just want to hear people praise my cooking, but I enjoy it and take pleasure in seeing others enjoy something I’ve made and having that instant connection with them even if I never met them before.

I believe that is what is happening when these travelers go into these strangers homes. These hosting families are getting the same satisfaction by sharing what they worked so hard at with someone else and seeing their pleasure in it. Nothing to me is more rewarding or universal than that. So next time you are out at a restaurant, or at someone’s home look around, talk to the people serving you the food, and ask them what their favorite things are or how they made it. I guarantee you will feel an instant connection growing between you.

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