Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cultural Choices

I've been thinking even more about food and culture lately, though I think food and culture may be a bit redundant. Surely our behaviors and choices and taboos around eating are an integral part of culture, maybe even central.

It's easy to blame the big food manufacturers and the system of farm subsidies for our fascination with mixes and prefab and faux foods. But I realized in reading Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (Sylvia Lovgren, 1995) how much of an influence World War II shortages, rationing and patriotic promotions had on our taste for Crisco, Bisquick, Karo and the like. Mixes contained rationed fats and sugar - and were not themselves rationed. And there is a reason most of my grandmother's recipes contained molasses: she cooked her way through two world wars and a depression on my grandfather's working man's salary.

Then today I heard the latest Hidden Kitchens story on NPR, about Nisei tastes and traditions influenced by foods available or grown in the internment camps.

Reading about the camps always makes me weep for shame for our country, but the recipe for Weenie Royale and the thought of Spam Sushi (or Spam Musubi as they call it in Hawaii) somehow lighten my thoughts.

The writers extend their reflection in a way that should give all of us pause about the way wars and colonialism destroy food cultures:
"Millions of people live in refugee camps around the world now, being fed commodities and surplus. It made us think about the impact on so many cultures within so many nations when they are denied their own food and traditions, when they are forcibly displaced and their land and homes taken from them."


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