The personality of food

As people, we are obsessed with food.

Type the word “food” into Google, and you get over three million hits.

And that’s just web pages.

Our interest and relationship with food have evolved over the centuries.

For the pre-historic people, it was a struggle to find food.

For us it is different.

For some, there is an overabundance of food and for others, there is very little.

How we eat is inextricably linked to who you grew up with, how we grew up, where we grew up, and when we grew up.

Patricia Williams illustrates this perfectly by describing how she could not possibly bring hors d’oeuvre that represented her ethnic heritage to a gathering because she has a myriad of cultures and ethnicities in her background.

Furthermore, as she has grown up, she has developed a liking for food that predominantly does not belong in her culture.

As a person who has grown up in a traditional African context and a Western one, I can identify with the struggle faced by Williams.

It would be incredibly hard for me to pick one meal that represented my ethnic heritage.

How would I even choose which part of my ethnic heritage is more important than the other?

Furthermore, this hostess assumes that I like the food that is part of my ethnic heritage and that there is the same structure of meals in my heritage.

In the Zulu culture, there is no such thing as a first course.

One simply lays everything there is on the table and you eat what you like.

When it comes to food the degrees of separation between people both increase and decrease.

Because food is taste dependent it can be very divisive.

One of the things I learned in my multi-racial primary school was that there are people who thought our traditional food was disgusting.

I thought this was very offensive because the majority of them had never tasted it and there was the inherent assumption that it was unhealthy because it was home-made and there had been no nutritional studies done on it.

Contrary to belief, traditional African food is healthy.

Our staple foods like imfino (a type of spinach), amadumbe (sometimes called an African potato) and tripe are not only healthy but they are prepared in a healthy way.

All you have to do is boil them and add a bit of salt.

However, it was also at my multi-racial primary school that I first discovered meals like lasagne, koeksisters and sushi.

All of sudden, there was a melting pot of flavours and tastes that were waiting to be discovered.

As I grew, various boarding schools introduced me to other kinds of food such as prawns, baklava and quiche.

Like Williams, I would describe this as my civil rights movement, where I dared to eat what I previously would have never touched.

I must confess that being in boarding school though, one doesn’t really have a choice.

You either eat what is in front of you or you wait for breakfast the following morning.

At present, my relationship with food has become more functional.

I eat to fuel my body.

Whether that energy comes from a bar of chocolate or a balanced meal with vegetables, proteins and carbs.

I have also become wary of trying out new food.

My biggest worry is that I won’t like it and then I’ll be forced to throw it away. Food wastage is a huge problem around the world.

The many beggars in the streets remind me every day that there are people who go to bed hungry.


Read more from Siphokazi Zama:

A rose by any other name?

Cry me a river – Aussie players must just stop with the tears already

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