“You are what you eat.” We have all heard that phrase at some time in our lives, maybe from a mother scolding us for eating too many chocolate bars or from a doctor reproaching us for our high cholesterol levels during our most recent checkup.
In a sense, it is true: what we eat says a lot about us as does what we choose NOT to eat. Human beings are omnivores. That means that we are one of the unique species on the planet that has been blessed with a digestive system capable of eating and processing meat, plants and pretty much everything in between. Cows are pretty happy just munching on grass all day long, but we humans need variety in order to stay healthy. How we go about choosing that variety is part of our ethnic and cultural identity.
The Hindus don´t eat cows, the Jews don´t eat pork, the Mayans have a diet of almost 80% corn, and many New Age hippy types our strict vegans. In the modern world, literally hundreds of diets have popped up gaining a pseudo religious following. These diets sometimes demand its followers to relinquish carbohydrates or legumes; others declare that eating raw and uncooked foods is the way to go. Almost every major religion, spirituality, or belief system has some sort of restrictions that they put on what foods can and cannot be consumed.
I´m Dr. Foodle, and while I´m no religious scholar, I do know my food. What I do appreciate about the vast diversity of religions and spiritualities around the world is their contribution to the diversity of flavors that make up the culinary universe. Let´s face it; one of the best parts of ethnic and cultural diversity is the rich assortment of foods that are born from that diversity.
People may argue over religion, but at the same time, they can enjoy and relish in the richness of traditional dishes that have been born from the religious and spiritual influences of different cultures around the world. While we may not agree on certain religious doctrines and dogmas, we can all appreciate a well-prepared and delicious meal.
The sociologist Claude Levi-Stauss once said that food “must not only be good to eat, but also good to think (with).” What we eat conveys to others our beliefs, our cultural experiences, and our most deeply rooted convictions. There is a huge difference between a friend who invites to dinner and serves us macaroni and cheese pulled from the microwave, and another acquaintance that walks us through her garden, explaining the different herbs that are to be harvested for the salad and soup that she has been simmering since early in the morning.
When we sit down to eat with a friend from a different ethnic background, he may also share with us how the meal we´re eating is important to his way of life. Not only will we have the benefit of learning about his cultural identity and the richness of his traditions, we will also have the privilege of allowing our taste buds to experience the intensity of flavors developed over thousands of years of history.