My second favourite F word. Food is not just our daily source of energy and survival; its connection to humans goes much deeper than we think. Food provides nutrition and is needed by everybody whether rich or poor. But the role food plays in our lives is much more important than just nutrition. For us human beings food follows us around wherever we go, it is like a constant companion for us.
It is with us during the good and bad periods of our lives. Did well in your exams? Got that promotion you were always after? Cracked a huge deal? Said yes to the man of your dreams? What do we do to celebrate? Now let’s look at this from another perspective. Didn’t do well in your exams? Got dumped? Had a rough day? What do we do when we need a little pick me up? We eat. We eat to celebrate; we eat when we need to feel comforted, from Valentine’s Day chocolates to a Diwali feast. Food plays a crucial role in all our big days. I mean, it is the only reason people attend weddings.
What we eat is essentially where we get divided or used to get divided. Back in the pre-technology era people’s diet was determined by where they were born and the food available depended on the geography of that place. For example, the south of India has a lot of food prepared from rice because rice was and still is one of the main crops grown there. Similarly, north Indian food is heavier and richer with more wheat since they had harsher winters and wheat is one of the main crops grown there. Apart from geographical location, our food habits are widely influenced by our culture and traditions.
Traditional recipes and food specific to one’s culture is passed down through the generations and kept alive within the family and community. With the arrival of technology, people started travelling more and started settling in foreign countries. With them, they took their cultures, values and traditions while simultaneously learning or picking up the culture of that foreign land. Thus, slowly and steadily our cultures became global and as food is a large part of culture our food became global too.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like I mentioned earlier, food brings people closer and having food from different cultures helps us understand and appreciate it more. However, the problem with the increase in globalization is that traditional recipes important to that culture are lost and people oftentimes prefer this commercialized rip off to the original.
I will give you the easiest examples:
- Sushi – Who hasn’t tried sushi these days right? However the sushi we eat and love is a slap to the traditional recipes integral to Japanese culture. California roll is not sushi. Cream cheese doesn’t belong anywhere near your sushi. Sushi is traditionally made to enjoy the flavours of the fish and is supposed to be clean with one or two toppings at the most. An authentic Maki roll is made from fish along with a vegetable and rice wrapped with Nori (seaweed paper) but when sushi was introduced to America people didn’t like their Nori on the outside. In fact, salmon was not traditionally put on sushi either, it was introduced by Norway in the 1980s when Japan was facing a large deduction of seafood.
- Curry – Fun fact, curry is not an Indian dish; the term curry was introduced by the British to India and the rest of the world. And as Indians, we know that curry is not a particular dish of any sort. This misconception was formed because the British grouped all the South Indian gravy based dishes under the umbrella called Curry. Even the popular spice mix “curry powder” is not native to India; it is similar to the North Indian Garam Masala. Ask an Indian about Curry powder and their first response is going to be ‘WHICH curry powder?’
- Mexican cuisine – I don’t even know where to start with this one. Our entire idea of what Mexican cuisine tastes like is vastly different from authentic Mexican food. What we believe is Mexican is actually Tex-Mex. Mexican food is lighter and contains more pulled chicken and pork, sour cream is the Americanized version of crema which is runnier like the French crème fraîche, and it’s less sour. Burritos in Mexico are much smaller in potion and more loosely wrapped. Fajitas aren’t Mexican at all, in fact, the word Fajitas didn’t make it in print till the ’70s and most probably originated in the south or west Texas. Churros, although much loved by the country, actually originated in Spain (although that too is debatable).
There are a thousand more examples I could give but getting back to the point, our cultures that heavily depend on their food and vice – verca are getting lost in translation, quite literally. And as someone who believes humans need to keep evolving to stay current, I can’t help but wonder, are our practices getting lost to the western civilization or are they just evolving like everything else on the planet? Change is necessary but is our culture changing so much that the original purpose behind them has been wiped out altogether?