Identity and Food: A Delicious Relationship

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, food is often reduced to a mere source of nourishment or, worse, a hasty necessity. The food we consume, however, offers a profound path to self-discovery and serves as a mirror to our multiple identities. From fast food restaurants in America to sushi bars in Japan to […]

Identity and Food: A Delicious Relationship
Identity and Food: A Delicious Relationship
  • Yayınlanma4 September 2023 13:32
  • Güncelleme5 September 2023 07:34

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, food is often reduced to a mere source of nourishment or, worse, a hasty necessity. The food we consume, however, offers a profound path to self-discovery and serves as a mirror to our multiple identities. From fast food restaurants in America to sushi bars in Japan to communal dining experiences in African villages and the rich culinary traditions of the Kurds, food is much more than just food intake. It’s a statement, a ritual, an expression of identity. This column will explore the complex relationship we have with food and how it serves not only as an extension of one’s personality, but also as a mediator of social relationships and a guardian of cultural heritage.

The choices we make about our diets—whether we are vegan, pescatarian, or carnivore, whether we indulge in spicy foods or prefer mild flavors, whether we stick to the traditional dishes we grew up with or explore global cuisine—can tell us a lot about who we are. Take, for example, the concept of “comfort food.” For many Americans, “comfort food” is a juicy burger or mom’s homemade apple pie. For someone of South Asian descent, it might be a bowl of chicken curry with basmati rice, and for a Kurd, perhaps dolma or meatballs. These foods, as comforting as they may be, offer insights into our upbringing, our cultural heritage, and even our emotional state. They can be read like an open book that tells the story of our lives.

In addition, the trend of mindful eating promotes a deeper connection to the foods we eat, making us more aware of their taste, texture, and origin. As we become more mindful, we also become more connected to our own bodies, our likes and dislikes, our own histories and narratives. Food is not only a fuel but also a form of self-expression.

One of the most captivating aspects of food is its ability to bring people together. In many cultures, sharing a meal is one of the most significant ways to build or reinforce social bonds. Think about the importance of family dinners, first dates at restaurants, business lunches, or even social events that revolve around barbecues or potlucks. In these contexts, food serves as a medium for interaction, conversation, and, ultimately, relationship building.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to any single culture. In Japan, the tradition of Izakaya where friends and coworkers gather in informal pub-like settings to enjoy small dishes and drinks, serves as a venue for social interaction and bonding. Similarly, In Kurdish culture, it’s common to have long, drawn-out meals with multiple courses, fostering an environment of communal sharing and togetherness. Even in fast-paced cities like New York, the culture of brunch has become a weekend ritual where relationships are nurtured over stacks of pancakes or avocado toast.

But perhaps one of the most critical roles that food plays is as a keeper of cultural heritage. The rituals, recipes, and culinary techniques passed down from generation to generation serve as a living history. Whether it’s the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the United States, the making of kimchi in Korean households, or the complex spice blends of Moroccan tagines, these food practices serve as cultural touchstones. 

In Kurdish culture, for example, the act of drinking tea is not simply a way to quench thirst but a communal experience that brings people together. Often enjoyed in social settings or during moments of relaxation, tea serves as an extension of Kurdish hospitality and a marker of its social fabric. Likewise, Kutilk” a meal traditionally prepared and consumed during significant events or gatherings, stands as a symbol of Kurdish heritage. It’s not just the ingredients that make the dish but also the collective labor that goes into its preparation, often involving several members of a community or family. This harmonious coming-together over tea and Kutilk is a ritualistic celebration of Kurdish culture, offering a palpable connection to history, place, and community.

The preservation of these culinary traditions can be particularly poignant for diaspora communities. For instance, among Jewish families, the preparation and sharing of meals during the Sabbath or festivals like Passover aren’t just about food; they’re a way to connect to their roots and preserve their heritage. Similarly, for immigrants and their descendants, cooking traditional foods from their homeland can serve as a powerful reminder of their history, aiding in the preservation of their identities.

Notably, food also has the power to act as a form of resistance. Indigenous communities worldwide, from Native Americans to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, are reclaiming traditional diets as a form of cultural revival and as a statement against the forces of globalization and assimilation. In doing so, they are essentially saying, “This is who we are, and our food is a testament to our unique identity and history.’’

In our quest for self-discovery and social connection, we often overlook the most basic elements of human life. Food, in its myriad forms and flavors, can serve as an extraordinary lens through which we can explore our own identities and understand others. It’s a universal language that needs no translation. It brings us back to our roots while allowing us to explore new terrains. It creates a space for community, warmth, and belonging. So the next time you sit down for a meal, remember: you’re not just eating. You’re participating in a rich, complex, and deeply human experience that nourishes the soul as much as it does the body.

Bon appetite!