Ever since I began thinking more about the food I eat—and this includes reading books, watching films, following blogs, and lots of cooking and eating—I’ve been rather hung up on the idea of tradition. I find myself lamenting the fact that North America does not seem to have its own traditional cuisine (unless I count fast food).
The more I explore different food cultures and traditions the more I realize that in this modern world most food cultures and traditions are being influenced and changed by one another. This is helping me see that the food culture of North America has the potential to be the most unique and exciting since this is a land filled from all cultures of the world.
Here in Ontario, TVO has been exploring the role of food in our lives through a new project called The Food Chain. In TVO’s words, “it is a multiplatform series of documentaries and current affairs as well as discussions and articles looking at what we eat, where it comes from and how it lands on our plates.”
The series has already begun online with a series of articles at tvo.org/thefoodchain, and kicks off on television tonight with a 10-part travelogue, Girl Eat World, hosted by Food Blogger and Master Chef South Africa winner, Kamini Pather. I’ve watched about half of the episodes so far and the show has definitely made me nostalgic for traveling and eating my way through different cultures.
In my former life I lived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and my favorite activity was exploring the city and finding new places to eat. After work I’d go home, change clothes, hop on my mountain bike and ride down to the old historic center of town.
The ride took me through a dirty urban sprawl but once I’d cross the river to the old town things would change. Street were narrow and turned in unexpected directions as they followed their way around the hill that loomed above. Every week I would find a new part of town I had missed until that point and with it new restaurants, cafés, and shops.
My favorite restaurant specialized in licuados, or smoothies. Often I’d just order a licuado and spend the afternoon grading tests, planning, or reading and writing letters. If I was hungry I’d get some street food, like a baleada, a simple mix of a handmade flour tortilla filled with refried beans and Honduran queso. Other times I’d try a torta which is basically a mixture of wonderful Central American foods stuffed in a hamburger bun. But my real love was pupusas.
Pupusas are balls of masa flour stuffed with cheese, or a mixture of cheese, meats, and veggies, then hand flattened and fried with a bit of oil. They are then topped with curtido, a spicy sauerkraut of sorts.
What I’ve been realizing lately is that it’s not the dishes themselves that define a food tradition but the way those foods are made. Connection to the land—the source of all food—and the processes through which the food is cooked create the tradition, not the recipes.
As my children grow up I’d like them to be a part of our family’s food culture as we build upon the traditions we inherited while making them our own. We have the freedom to borrow from all cuisines as we cook but also the chance to root ourselves in our local community. Trips to the farmers market, to our CSA, or simply exploring local farms outside of town give us a chance to see what foods are available to us as we consider what we’ll be eating for the week to come.
Letting “local” define what we eat can seem limiting, but without limits we could never hope to build our own tradition. Moving through the seasons with the foods that are available and working with local farmers gives our eating purpose and roots it in our community.
For my family our food chain is one that connects us to the land and local farmers. It connects us to our neighbors, friends, and family with whom we share our meals. It is not just about eating, it has become a way of living.
What about you, what experiences have shaped how you look at food and what you eat? Is travel important to you with regard to food, and if so why? Do you value new experiences and going outside of your comfort zone? What about traditions, is it important to maintain them? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and let me know if you check out any episodes of Girl Eat World.