Tuesday, October 16, 2012

RRa: Culinary Tourism

"Smaller portions, bigger pricetag" ~ Anonymous Food Advice

I've had the most exposure to different cultures, and food cultures, in living with my Mom.  Between adjusting to my step-father's tastes, establishing Mother-Daughter food traditions, and exposure to literal other cultures.  Mom's house was a constant, even with it's instabilities and fluctuations, not to mention gender roles.  In Lucy Long's Culinary Tourism, she mentions how at thanksgiving some women carve turkey or grill "out of the curiosity to experience what are usually considered male activities."  At home, Ma almost always grill's, and she definitely carves the turkey so she can present it her way on the platter.  Already, I've experienced a different culture between my home life and the standard.  "The tourist gaze can be turned inward to look at the familiar and everyday, recognizing them as potential offering a different kind of experience." [12]  Sometimes home feels like an entirely different continent, depending on what's for dinner.

This past week I have been internally celebrating my birthday with food.  When I went to Food Dance in Kalamazoo I treated myself to stuffed squid and Thai chicken lettuce wraps, and I requested Lamb Shanks from my mother.  The other meal I requested of her is called slop, which is pretty much a cowboy's meal of beans and meat.  Comfort food.  My tastes range from the exotic to the mundane.  Maybe it's because as a child I was really well fed.  Mom, being a starving actress for a while (pun intended), wanted to give me the best food culture possible.  Instead of plum baby food (her favorite from her broke days), she'd throw her and my father's dinner in the blender.  In some ways, like Lucy Long, "standard American foods - steak and baked potatoes, fast food hamburgers - were an exotic treat for me, offering me an experience of what was to most Americans the culinary mainstream." [2]  As a child my mom and I had Friday nights to ourselves.  Fishsticks and katchup and mayo in splotches appeared on a serving plate, or just the cookie sheet they were made on.  The sauces were swirled together in the middle to a nice pink, and we'd watch old black and white films.  Mamma could have cooked anything, but our special meal was the easy junk food like chicken nuggets and some kind of green.  In Secret Ingredients, in a few of the essays, cooks discussed that even with their advanced knowledge of "fancy dishes" they still preferred the standards at home with their family.  As much as Mom laughs when I request Hamburger Helper, there are certain comforts in it.

"Folklore as an academic discipline has a long history of including food...  Folklore scholarship has addressed the aesthetic and sensory nature of food, the use of food in expressing and constructing cultural identitites and social relationships, as well as the emergence and imposition of meaning in relation to food."  [8]  For me, food can define the difference between Mom and Dad, Mom and Stepdad, Me and friends, me and school, me and home, and other pairings. "Culture, which includes ethnicity and national identity, is one of the most obvious ways of distinguishing food systems as other." [24], even though my culture isn't about ethnicity and national identity.  I can find culture in just my immediate surroundings.  When I went home I missed my grandmother's canned jam and jelly, and to this day am disappointed by any pickle that wasn't made by her.  My mom made up for it by making applesauce to put on waffles (the waffle-maker was my Christmas present when I was a Junior in high school).  But what really oriented me was the requested lamb shanks, which were delicious by the way.  Then there was the red velvet cake with candles that got glitter all over our faces.  Like Long says, "foodways set aside for holiday celebrations" [28].  Sometimes my birthday foodway is sushi, sometimes lamb, sometimes another craving, and the dessert is typically red velvet cake, but they give me a direction which distinguishes the difference between my birthday at home, and my birthday with friends.  When I came back to school I went over to the house where a lot of my friends live.  There was many hugs, and one of my friends gave me a blue kool-aid in one of those plastic bottles with the face.  Like Lucy Long with her grape Popsicles or soda pop, I consummed it with the hope to "recapture the intensity of flavor they seemed to hold for me as a child," [32], but as expected, it wasn't the same.  As much as my friends define a different home for me, it is a different culture that can never replace the one I developed at a young age.

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