Our Disconnection with Food and it's Origins

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I recently had a comment written to me about my experience in an Afghani restaurant, and how lucky I am to be eating Afghani food here in California and not in Afghanistan. Going back over it, and reading through the post and the comment Miriam left me, it really made me step back and think. How much do we know about our food and where it comes from?

I'm not talking about a local level. You all probably know about that, and there certainly isn't a need for me to preach to the choir, though I suppose sometimes the choir must be reminded why they're singing. No, I mean on a more international scale. It scares me how little people know about the world outside their own town let alone the country and, God forbid, the actual world.

I went to a party recently and was surprised how few people, U.S. born and raised citizens no less, know how many states there are. I kid you not. I had answers from 48 to 53. Some answers being Washington D.C., Ottawa, and Cuba. How on earth would they know the history of the pork dumpling?

Okay, so maybe the history of the dumpling is a bit much. I don't expect people to know that, and wouldn't hold it against them if they didn't, but I think reflection and some simple common thought about the source and origin of international foods (or any foods) should be a basic part of deconstruction of a meal, or even as mental and aesthetic flavoring to add to the joy to a dish.

Ethiopian food is starchy and has it's roots grounded in the fact that the country is generally arid and without a lot of leafy greens growing about. Refrigeration isn't exactly as widespread as in the states, so food can't be preserved as long. Dishes are designed to be something simple, cooked in a single pot, and from ingredients that can be easily stored in dry conditions. Sugar isn't prevalent in the area either so desserts as we know them (i.e. cakes, puddings, etc) aren't exactly going to be familiar.

An Iranian family here recently explained that she and many other families are adapting recipes and their way of cooking as trade in many parts of the area has halted due to violence, so meals have had to be tweaked and tinkered to make due with what is available.

Later these dishes make their way to the U.S. where supplied are abundant and we simply accept that the dishes we eat are everyday fare and leave them at that. The dish defines the people, without any real thought as to how that dish or the people and their current situation came to be.

This post is starting to develop into a sociology paper, so I'll leave this there right now. There's isn't a true solution for me to offer, just something to think about. So Miriam, thank you for the thoughts about food. I'll take a moment to think about how those in Afghanistan are eating when I'm at the Afghani restaurant, and take a bit of time to reflect over any meal.


  1. I think that there is also more richness to ethnic foods found in the United States because of an abundance of butter and other flavor enhancers. This makes things taste richer.

  2. I think food as well as music are the great bridges across prejudice and bigotry. Please continue your "sociology paper" at any time.

  3. Nice to see another food philosophizer...I love how cultural diaspora never fails to come together over food.

    Want to find a certain 'ethnic' section in your city? Find the restaurants, and the people will have gathered around.

    We're SO fortunate to have access to such a plethora of nutritional delights, and it's always interesting to look into the history of the dish, and see how it came about.

    I'm always up for more philosophizing.... ;)

  4. That's scary that there are US citizens who don't know the number of states. Great thought-provoking post.

  5. Continue your food philosophy anytime!! I have lived in about 8 different countries and I am always fascinated by the food and the stories behind the food. My friends make fun of me because the first thing I will do in a new place is go to the market and look around to see what people eat.

  6. I agree with Mickey. I don't think it's a "sociology paper" at all. I think it's an eye-opening entry and it can make us grateful for what we do have.

    It's easy to forget the differences between our country and other countries and how we have pretty much everything we need at our disposal. So many people are not that fortunate.

  7. Wow ... great post! Food for thought, if you will.

    I am fascinated by the food of Africa, and how they will just plop a big ball of starch in their bowl.

    I wish someone would give me a fellowship to travel the world studying food anthropology. That would be sweet. Unfortunately, I don't have any sort of corresponding degree that would qualify me to do that.

  8. i liked it too! maybe you should do a weekly history entry haha. that would be a great read. i for one love all of the food history shows on food network and the history channel. the ones on tea and coffee were great. ok. so sue me. im a food nerd. hahah


Hey, you're leaving a comment! That's pretty darn cool, so thanks. If you have any questions or have found an error on the site or with a recipe, please e-mail me and I will reply as soon as possible.

Vanilla Garlic All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger