Food provides the world with one of the only ways to universally communicate. Location and culture play a large part in how one views food and the importance it has in your life. We have all had those moments where something we smell reminds us of our childhood. Food can propel you to another time, country, or culture without even leaving your dinner table. This shows how food culture is an important way we as people can connect and relate to one another.
By exploring different countries’ connections, beliefs, and experiences with food and the food system, we can better understand food culture as a whole. This is because our food culture is as much about our ethnic and cultural heritage, as it is about our environmental culture.
Food culture can vary regionally, even within a country, because factors like landscape, weather, history, and religious beliefs in each region are unique.
The United States is not known for having a positive food culture. For instance, the country has produced a large number of fast food chains causing obesity rates to increase. However, local cuisines in the United States vary drastically depending on where you live. The same can be said for Italian food culture, for example, which varies drastically from North to South.
Despite all the different factors playing a part, there are two factors connecting them all – community and pleasure. These two parts of the food experience are apparent in every food culture, even though they are often overlooked and undervalued. We as humans are meant to enjoy our food- especially with friends and family. Food culture is central to the way we come together to celebrate religious holidays, community events, and family gatherings.
In Mexican culture, food is looked upon as an art form and a creative way to express oneself. Preparing food together brings people closer, and in Mexican culture, preparing and eating a meal together is understood to strengthen family life.
Japanese food is referred to as Washoku as its essence reflects a deep respect for nature and locally sourced ingredients such as rice, vegetables, and edible wild plants. The cuisine in Japan focuses on the little details in the way it is prepared, presented, and eaten. In this way, Japan honors cultural traditions passed down through the generations.
The Mediterranean Diet, Mediterranean Region
In Spain, the Mediterranean diet utilizes as few ingredients as possible to make a flavourful dish while trying to eliminate food waste as much as possible; eating a group of small dishes with an emphasis on sharing; and viewing food and diet as a social ritual. For example: Tapas.
In Spain, the tapas culture is incredibly common as individuals go out in the evening with friends, have a drink, and share small plates of food. In most bars, if you buy an alcoholic beverage, you get a free tapa to go with it. In the markets, most include a small cafe-bar where shoppers can enjoy a beverage and snack while talking to friends. The best place to experience tapas culture is Seville.
Dolma is a pre-cooked grape leaf stuffed with minced meat, rice, onion, and sometimes other ingredients such as peas. Recipes and methods of making dolma are typically passed down from generation to generation. What is great about this traditional food from Azerbaijan is the way it is used to celebrate guests and mark special occasions. Azeri love to be hospitable and showcase their traditions. They welcome foreigners into their society through the local traditions and ways of life, food being central here.
Importance of Food Culture For Global Well-Being
Our food should nourish both our bodies and our environment, and our understanding of agriculture should be about balance and not control. As humans, we live off the land alongside other species. We shouldn’t farm land to exhaustion or threaten animal species with extinction but instead find a balance with nature.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to see how a sustainable food culture conflicts with our Western diet, especially fast food. Without a strong food culture , we tend to value the eating experience less.
Our natural history has developed and evolved overtime from hunting and gathering our own foods to commercially processed foods, especially in the United States. This has disconnected us from traditional food culture to the point where we don’t even recognise what we’ve lost anymore. Before, the original inhabitants of North America were conscious about the land and food culture.
They, like other cultures, would honor every part of the plant or animal by using every part they could for food or household necessities. Any parts they could not utilize were honored. They had a sense of balance and understanding. Today, Americans do not understand or care about food culture as much. This can be seen with people who waste food because they are now used to itcoming in prepackaged vessels, with food as just another disposal commodity.
The United States is not the only region with this issue, so it’s important to understand the importance of food culture, the environmental concerns, and how you can come up with a strong food culture within your own home.
Foster a Strong Food Culture at Home
You do not need to grow up in an environment with a strong food heritage to build a strong food culture. Think of the real foods that bring you joy: the foods your grandparents made; your favorite dishes relatives make at family gatherings; or a dish you had abroad you cannot stop thinking about. Then start to know the foods that are grown in your local environment.
You do not need to identify with any country or particular food heritage in order to develop a strong food culture. Your food culture can be individualized to you and your family and can incorporate ethnic flavors, dishes, and traditions as you like. There are no rules when it comes to developing a strong food culture.