Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Who I am is...


what I eat. You what you eat or what?


Saturday's lunch with Anna: hummus, fruit and cheese salad, pita, falafel, babaganoush

I've been thinking about food lately. Not like, what will I eat or cook, but really thinking about the ways people think of food. It started when I joined Facebook. There is an application titled "ghetto snacks". Eye roll, grimace. Now, I'm all for having fun and was thrilled to receive several other less...uh what word am I looking for [insert] applications, but this one stuck in my craw. Many of the items are candy, but a few stood out to me as regional/ethnic foods (plantain chips, pork rinds, Malta etc.) and, that sorta saddened me.

I grew up in a GeeChee/Gullah home for the most part. Sure my grandmother in her quest for ultimate northern exposure made pasta and potatoes which my resistant grandfather would eat in addition to rice. We ate rice everyday, and I still do. It is a part of the coastal Carolinian culture, it is part of who I am. As a Native New Yorker and a vegetarian, rice and West African peoples' rice history has been one of very few cultural items I've been able to incorporate and pass on to my own children. Rice also conjoins the Carolinian and Caribbean cultures Favorite guy and I share. Rice though, is not served at high holidays, weddings, graduations et al.; rice is low brow, rice isn't classy-rice is ghetto.

Low-brow, ghetto food?! This didn't make sense growing up, but now at 35 I'm tainted enough to understand and have even partaken in the food caste system. Perhaps, seeing the Facebook application opened my eyes to just how ignorant (that's the word) this practice is. I have to say, I was flooded by thoughts of all the ways in which the things we eat define us. From Ernest J. Gaines' salt meat reference in The Sky is Gray, Jill Scott's, "rice and gravy, biscuits baby and black-eyed peas", Machito's Sopa de Pichon and many others. Yet, this tale and songs of which I speak aren't tales of poverty and despair, but rather comeuppance, joyous occasions, kinship and love even. Attaching caste and class to foods and the people who eat them-food shaming, if you will, is the antithesis of the true meaning of food and dining, of culture, of civilization.

So, let's dish-Who are you? What are some of your regional/cultural/childhood food favorites?

25 comments:

fly tie said...

i have *such* a fascination with food and how people relate to it, so this is definitely a post i can appreciate.

and i agree with your sentiments. someone i know recently decided they were gonna attack certain foods that are a part of southern cuisine and the people who eat them. particularly grits, black eyed peas, and greens. of course i wasn't having that.

despite the fact that i don't eat a couple of those anymore, i take seriously when folks from other regions decide they wanna look down on things that were a part of my upbringing and are still very essential to the cultural fabric. joking is fine, but don't come at me with all that condescending craziness!

with that said, one of my favorites growing up was hot water cornbread. i naively thought everyone knew what that was until i moved to south LA. food in south LA is vastly different from food in north LA. you'd fit right in here. rice is an all day every day thing!

(love gaines' _the sky is gray_.)

Heather said...

I am green beans simmered all day,
I am collards with hambone,
I am corn bread and raw Vidalia,
I am fried okra and yams,
I am sun-warmed tomatoes,
I am chicken, biscuits, and gravy,
I am tart scuppernongs,
I am the red clay of my Grandpa's garden.

M Ayers said...

I agree. You are what you eat, at least to some extent. If I did eat what is being classified as "ghetto food" growing up, I had no clue it was ghetto. However, eating those foods shaped who I am today.

I didn't realize how much food is entwined in our being until I moved out of NYC. I realized then that I missed the variety of cuisine offered, and that variety all collaborated into my sense of self. Eating foods from different cultures opens your mind and heart, and ultimately marries your soul into that culture.

So now I guess I am a myriad of "things" since I have eaten foods from almost every walk of life.

Now that I live in Oregon, I am embracing the old wagon-type northwestern fare; the rustic, simple grace of it all is rubbing off on me. I'm even beginning to speak slowly!

Monique

T.Allen-Mercado said...

I like this line Monique-"Eating foods from different cultures opens your mind and heart, and ultimately marries your soul into that culture".

It's very true.

Kala Pohl Studio said...

Food is such an integral part of who you are. So much of how I feel is tied to food from my childhood, or more the good memories tied to the food. Regardless of whether it is good for me or not, sometimes I just have to eat it. My philosophy - everything in moderation:) Yes, indeed, food is an important part of understanding and appreciating different cultures.

lori vliegen said...

my background in food begins and ends with dessert. every member of my family has more than one sweet tooth in their mouth, and always waiting for the next home baked pie, cake, cookie, peanut brittle poured out on the special marble table top, applesauce made with gems picked from the orchard...well, you get the idea. :)

Kym said...

I guess the foods I was raised on was mainly southern??? We ate a lot of catfish, trout, hush puppies, sardines, rice, black eyed peas, liver, fried chicken (my granny could make fried chicken taste so sweet), corn bread, grits..I had made a comment earlier, but it did not show? I cannot remember all that I said, except that we ate what my parents could afford to buy and our meals always included gravy, milk and brown!

Kathy said...

My mother didn't like to cook...guess I inherited that trait of hers...so my dad cooked a lot. He was big on whatever was easy. We ate a lot of meatloaf, spaghetti, mac and cheese, burgers on the grill...oh and he loved to burn things...on purpose. Must have like the taste or something. Nothing fancy in our midwestern household. He was one heck of a baker though and treated us to many of his family's Norwegian treats!

Sherry said...

Food can be political and it has followed me everywhere. I'm a Georgia girl, born there by accident when my Brooklyn mom and dad were there during my dad's stint in the air force.

Grits and collards and bagels and lox.

And now I'm a vegetarian, but still marry the cultures of my husband's culture and the amazing Latin food of El Salvador where my son was born.

Jewelry Rockstar said...

My mom exposed us to many foods from many different cultures growing up, so as far food that's who I am. I am a food explorer. From Sauerkraut to roti canai, it really varies as to what I'll eat from day to day. I cook all kinds of food, and I visit all kinds of restaurants.

I am also vegetarian as a food. Meaning it has been a part of my household, like rice has been apart of yours. My grandmother was a vegetarian for 50 years, so although we ate meat growing up we also ate vegetarian just as often. Currently, I am raising my children vegetarian, but my husband and I eat flesh from the ocean.

Food defines us just as much as religion, values, and morals.

A Cuban In London said...

Like fly tie, I love food and how people relate to it. I think that my fascination comes partially from having very little to eat in the mid 90s when I still lived in Cuba in the midst of the terrible crisis we had (have). Lovely post and thanks for giving us another snippet into your childhoood.

Greetings from London.

Mary said...

as always, an interesting and thoughtful post! my grandmother came from ireland and pennsylvania and i was raised on mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, baked potatoes, etc. as well as creamed meats and fish...talk about comfort food! also, salty foods. this has not helped me as i've aged as they are still foods i gravitate towards when i am feeling down or stressed (which seems to be often these days)

i am actually cruising towards mostly vegetarian, lighter foods these days--no potatoes or cream! but find i am feeling a little lost about food and health these days....good, thoughtful question that is right in tune with my own thoughts these days. it's interesting to see how prejudice and preconceptions follow us even to the dinner table....

JillHannah said...

Beautiful post! Just fabulous! I must say, you look delicious!

I grew up in a very multi-cultural community in Chicago with a New Yorker dad who liked all kinds of cuisine and a mom who liked to experiment in the kitchen, so I was exposed to many foods as a child. Still, the Russian/Austria-Hungarian Jewish roots of four plus generations back remain clear with my parents purposefully maintaining our Jewish heritage.

The funny thing about Jewish food is that it's also "ghetto" food but doesn't get labeled as such. Potatoes and matzo ball soup and brisket (aka cheap cut of meat that you cook for hours until it's delicious) and kugel...lots of comfort foods, lots of inexpensive ingredients.

We didn't keep kosher. When I got to college I joined the Kosher/Halal coop largely because it served the most meat of any of the coops. It followed both the Jewish and Muslim dietary laws (except that wine came out for Jewish holidays...I never understood that one). Kashrut is a whole huge mess of food super-awareness. In its orthodoxy, you end up checking labels on everything you buy at the store for hechshers and keep multiple sets of dishes. It makes cooking and eating a very conscious process. It made me crazy.

For whatever reason, these days I could live entirely on Indian food. We did have a disproportionate number of family friends from India when I was little, and I actually liked everything they served. I get puzzled looks from Indians and fork-bearing non-Indians alike at restaurants as I unconsciously eat "the real way" with the naan in hand. My parents use silverware. I must have learned by watching the Patels.

The US is amazing for having so many cultures on top of one another. I love that. Sometimes people can be sucky and ignorant as all hell and need to be punched in the face (cultural ≠ ghetto).

Please pass the cornbread.

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

so u a geechie lol and i would eat all that - just gimme some meat with it lol

365 Letters said...

I grew up mostly in Texas, with a few years in Louisiana, so we ate a lot of Texas/Southern/Mexican food when I was growing up. Mostly Texas and Southern foods at home. My mom made some Mexican food at home...tacos, chicken enchiladas. Our staples at home included meatloaf, fried round steak (not quite like chicken-fried steak), fried chicken, hamburgers, link sausage, etc. Vegetables we typically ate were salads, canned green beans, corn, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, potato salad, etc.

I could order a steak at a restaurant before I could read, but I've been a vegetarian for about 10 or 11 years now, and I'm raising my 8-year-old daughter a vegetarian.

I love trying different foods...Thai food and Indian food are especially favorites. Not so many choices in our little rural area, though. We alternate between the Mexican food restaurant and the Chinese food buffet in town. Until we can't take it anymore, and we escape to the city for some culture.

Unfortunately, my daughter isn't as adventurous with food as my husband and I are. We can't get her to try much of anything but mac and cheese and cheese enchiladas. Maybe it's just a stage she's going through.

365 Letters said...

PS: If you want another take on what food means to some people, listen to Charlie Robison's "Love Means Never Having to Say You're Hungry." Talk about double entendre!

Amy Bradstreet said...

My husband and I discuss our food memories in our house all the time. My kids are fascinated (and horrified) by tales of jell-o salads and fried bologna and milk with Pepsi (and half a pack of Virgina Slims) for breakfast (that would be my mother.) My dad had thirteen brothers and sisters who grew up dirt-poor, call themselves "hillbillies" and eat what we fondly refer to as "white trash cookin'". My mother cooked like the rest of Methodist Ohio, which means she used a lot of Bisquick. But, I also moved to the Maine coast as a kid, and the food culture here is seafood. My husband grew up in rural Maine where his family farmed and put by foods from their garden, woods, lake and the ocean. He was raised with a much healthier food culture than I was. We were both vegetarian for 18 years and raised the kids as such for many years until we began truly rethinking our local food culture here in Maine. So now we incorporate poultry and seafood, all locally available. We have not returned to eating mammals, and not sure if we ever will. But Maine has a strong food-heritage of wild-gathered foods, fish, game and made from scratch foods. We try to eat with that heritage in mind.

Fascinating post. I loved learning about your heritage, T.

Yvonne said...

As a child, we only ate processed foods like Krafts mac and cheese and hamburger helper. I didn't have an opportunity to try new foods until I went to the military. I didn't have 'real' cheesecake or Mexican food until I was 23 yrs old. Seriously. With age and an open mind, I've learned to be more adventurous, buying items as fresh as possible when I can. But as I've grown up, I've realized all the real food that I missed out on. I found myself becoming more adventerous in my food selections.

When I married my husband, I also married into a family of immigrants. See, my hubs mom is from Switzerland and his dad from Indonesia via Holland. Now I get to experience Rendang, sataty, lumpia, bakmi and fried rice,savory red cabbage with sausage, potatoe and leeks. And every now and then, I will throw down with some down home cooking of fried chicken, homemade mac and cheese and candied yams.

I feel blessed and thankful that my children get to experince the culinary explosion of taste, smells and textures of being part of a multicultural family.

Yvonne said...

Heather- Love what you wrote.

High Desert Diva said...

I love this post!

Rice as ghetto food....weird. Never thought of it like that. I quite like rice, which is a good thing since I'm allergic to wheat.

The only (ethnic) food I can think of that my (mom's) family ate is venir tarta (an Icelandic holiday cake).

Shannon said...

I LOVE the food from my childhood... "Mexican" food, in my family is more South-Western... as we descend from New Mexico! YUM... Can't wait to make those enchiladas for my mom's birthday tomorrow!

btw...
I left a comment for you on my most recent post! :)

Beck said...

Oh, that's strange timing! I was having a talk about this very thing with my dad today - I grew up eating a LOT of rice - all brown - and none of my classmates did. My husband had only ever had white Uncle Ben's type rice as a kid, and even though he's now used to my rice-heavy diet, he still views it as being a bit odd. But my dad did most of the cooking, and he learned from his father - who learned to cook in the Philippines.

I eat very differently than my childhood diet - my parents were back-to-the-land types, and frankly, I do not want to make my own goat cheese or eat moose meat anymore. Eck!

shiborigirl said...

My husband is Jewish, and he swears I must have been a Jew in a previous life. I love the creamy and salty foods they cherish, and I always looked forward to Weekend Breakfasts when I was growing up:

Bagels mit schmear. lox, whitefish salad, even stuffed derma. All the stuff I can't have anymore. I think if I was told I had a terminal illness, I'd head to the nearest Jewish Deli and just dive right into the case and eat my way out. ;)

Kate

Now I'm hungry... off to raid the fridge.

Jes said...

Thank you SO much for visiting my humble little blog. I stopped by your etsy shop and *gasp* fell in love. :) Your jewelry is amazing.

Blessings
-jes

BlueTerracotta said...

My food memories of growing up in Maryland are mostly breakfast or dessert related. French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, farina, puddings, cookies of all kinds or my grandmother's cakes, for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. And of course seafood from the Chesapeake, which I still miss sometimes. I live in France today, among people with a different food culture, so I cook more French dishes, buying fresh vegetables at the farmers' market. But I'm carrying on my grandma's baking tradition too and my kids love eating home made desserts!

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