Monday, 2 February 2009

Acculturation... Inspiration?

Acculturation is the act of exchange of cultural features between groups that come into continuous firsthand contact; such as a migrant culture and the alien culture they find themselves within. Original cultural patterns of either or both groups may be altered with continued contact, but one culture usually dominates the other with their norms and ideals.

This is the phenomenon that I want to study for my PhD. I want to study acculturation through foodways. Food is a dominant part of all cultures, and impacting forces such as religion, myth, folklore, taboo, ritual, festival, migration, and rules all have bearing on food choices we all make. Yes, we may not think these types of rules apply to us. But they do. We have been culturally conditioned to believe that some edible items are "food" and some aren't. Some foods are clean, some dirty, some hot, some cold, some healing, some impassioning, some poisoning.

Food inspires me. I love all types, from the raw to the cooked (there's a Levi-Strauss reference for you), from the hot to the cold, spicy and sweet. I love learning how to make new things: new regional and national delicacies, new methods of cooking, new spices, new ingredients. Because inside all the new, exotic, unheard of foods, there is always a connection. A connection to another place, another time, another people. This connection could stem from ritual significance over time, or from the use of a certain spice across the world, or from the creation of the exact same dish thousands of miles apart, known by a different name, but in essence it is the same food.

Adaption to a new culture is often done as a means to fit in, to fight persecution, and to end or diminish the status as "outsider". But this doesn't always happen. In large groups of migrants, holding on to one's home culture is a way of reinforcing ethnic identity and strengthening the group dynamic. while substitutions, alterations, and secession of certain ingredients or methods might change, the essence of the cuisine will remain the same.

To me as an American, this is an amazing concept. America has been a land of acceptance for centuries (at least of foodways, if not always the people who bring them). As such, there is NO real, indigenous American cuisine. It is an amalgamation of influences, ingredients, methods, rituals, and beliefs from all over the world. Yet we still distinguish between "Italian" "Mexican" and "Japanese" cuisines...even though the "Italian" pizza now has a Thai chicken topping, the "Mexican" taco is filled with california avocado and chinese cabbage, and the "Japanese" sushi roll comes with Mexican hot sauce on top. Fusion is everywhere in America. Especially in restaurants.

All of these ideas are the main motivation for my thesis. the blending of traditions across national and cultural boundaries through the neutral zone of a restaurant. We can be anything we want, from anywhere we please, when we eat. Food has the power to transform us through new smells, tastes, and sensations. for the traveller who can't afford to leave their home town, ethnic restaurants can be the window through which they vicariously traverse the map.

Food is inspiration. Acculturation is the means by which we become inspired.

1 comment:

Darleen said...

This made me think of Ratatouille...