My natural instinct is to celebrate and respect food, to see it as an offering, to savor the connection, the deep joy and the nourishment that it can bring. But growing up, this desire was often repressed and overshadowed by the food culture telling me that the importance of food was to maintain and maintain my health – and, more importantly, my weight – than certain cultural foods. are unhealthy and that I should be ashamed of myself if I indulge too much.
I’m not the only one who has a fractured relationship with food. Almost 45 million Americans diet each year, while the wellness industry earns millions in profits. In an interview with Elle Canada, author and nutritionist Christy Harrison talks about an aspect of diet culture that “demonizes or praises certain foods.” Culturally in the United States, we have attached morality to food, meaning that some foods are “good” (and even “great!”) While others are “bad”. And our obsession with this false dichotomy, combined with our shame of eating “too much”, prevents us from getting to the heart of the problem: access to food.
Culturally in the United States, we have attached morality to food, meaning that some foods are “good” (and even “great!”) While others are “bad”.
On a rainy afternoon in Seattle in November, I spoke with Patricia Fifita, Ph.D., an assistant professor of ethnic studies in the School of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University. A joke about quinoa, an ancient indigenous food, that got appropriated by white wellness influencers turned into a conversation about the nuance of access to food. “Having access doesn’t just mean that we can buy [quinoa], overpriced, in a health food store, ”she says. “We can talk about restoring food systems so that the entire food path is accessible. … It’s much more empowering to say, “Not only can I have access to quinoa, but I can still practice in a tradition of cultivating it and seeing how it becomes part of my life – it’s not just that abstraction. that I can buy for a living. ‘”
The roots of food culture and restricted access to food stem from colonization, which had a deep and complex impact on our collective relationship with food, explains Fifita. “With colonization, it is such an important social, political and economic transformation. It alters, shifts and creates new eating habits. … With food in particular, colonization and these new avenues opening up to capitalism, it’s changing our relationship with food and the way we are connected to the way food is produced, ”she says. “The biggest change would be to move from small-scale subsistence agriculture to this large-scale agricultural production. This change has indeed created a distance, even a chasm, between us and the food we eat.
During my forties last year, as I contemplated the physical distance between myself and my loved ones, I also meditated on the distance I felt between myself and food. In my blood is an inextricable culture of its food. All kinds of celebrations are punctuated by communal festivals. The food is so precious, so savored, that it is eaten with our hands instead of utensils. Eating is a sensory experience that stimulates our touch and our mind and our connection to each other as much as it satisfies our smell and taste. How can I get this back after years of denying myself this birthright?
I started by trying to change my perspective on food and cooking. At the time, I was living in a 400 square foot apartment with my partner. Our kitchen was also our living room, and it was certainly not the most comfortable space to cook – my partner called it our “one end kitchen”. Still, he had everything I needed. Not to mention my dad is a professional chef, his love of food was born out of his love for his mom, my nenek and her food. Food and cooking are my lineage, my heritage. A small kitchen was no excuse.
I poured more of myself into the meals I prepared. Instead of just making dinner because we needed to eat, I cut up some veg like it was an act of love. Washing the rice has become meditative. Adding ingredients was less a matter of exact measurements than of instinct. Serving food has become an offering, an act of devotion to my loved ones, my ancestors, myself.
I cooked dishes that my dad made for us growing up, like curry, stir-fries, fried rice, mi goreng (fried noodles). But one day I decided to do bakso, a meatball and noodle soup that even my dad hadn’t cooked for me since we moved to the United States. The last time I ate was in Indonesia, when my nenek was still alive. I was 8 years old.
This dish was more intimidating than the others. It made so much sense to me; it was more than something I had just consumed. I wanted everything from the manufacturing process to the meal to feel like a dance, a two-way exchange.