I recently shared the ethos of why I care about food: the sociological implications of a communal approach to food is healing and life giving and transformational. Below is the text from my talk. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed sharing it!
I’m Emily and I’m exploring new ways to live and cook.
I’m the founder of Lo & Slo, a Derry-based food enterprise that will be launching this year. We exist to connect people with food through the following methods:
- SIMPLE | Old fashioned traditions of preparing food.
- SUSTAINABLE | Using the utmost care in selecting reputable farmers & growers to provide ingredients for our fare.
- NURTURING | Feel good foods for body & soul. Happy gut, happy head!
- NOURISHING | Cooking, curing, & smoking foods to produce a nutrient-rich cuisine.
- CREATIVE | Infusing our age-old methods with creativity to produce a one-of-a-kind product.
I moved from America in 2005. Derry has been a big transition for me — it’s opened my eyes to the tensions and conflicts here that have been long eclipsed by louder news stories elsewhere in the world. But I now know that the fractures and distances between cultures and classes is heavily felt by a city that is so welcoming to its outsiders.
I began to see something interesting happening at festivals and food fairs. People didn’t care who was next to them or who they were buying food from — Food broke down a lot of the barriers that divided people.
But it does more than simply break down.
Food is the delicious mortar that binds individuals and societies together, masking the jagged edges and sharp corners for the time that is spent sharing, laughing, and enjoying food together. It has the power to blend harsh edges and join strangers and loners in a momentary eclipse from their realities into friends and family for the short duration of a meal.
Ayelet Fishbach & Kaitlin Woolley published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology last year. Fishbach and her colleagues found that eating similar foods, such as snacks during an investment meeting or a meal at a labor negotiation, promotes trust and closeness between strangers. The study states, “When ordering food during lunch with a colleague or dinner on a blind date, selecting a similar type of food could build rapport… People tend to think that they use logic to make decisions, and they are largely unaware that food preferences can influence their thinking. On a very basic level, food can be used strategically to help people work together and build trust.”
But food doesn’t simply help mend the current and future cracks. Food tells a story. This is the subject of food anthropology: It is the face and identity of a culture: how a culture has survived, evolved through time, and continues to shape old fashioned and modern techniques into its own distinct flavour. Food is a cultural vehicle for engagement. Food critic, Frank Bruni observed, “Food is an aspect of culture that, because everyone necessarily participates in it to some degree, is more egalitarian than, say, ballet, or opera, or even theatre. It’s easier and less intimidating to join the fray and weigh in with an opinion.”
Bell and Valentine, in their book, Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat, state that national identity is linked to food: “The history of any nation’s diet is the history of the nation itself, with food fashion, fads and fancies mapping episodes of colonialism and migration, trade and exploration, cultural exchange and boundary making.”
Similarly, Almerico, in her 2014 publication entitled Food and identity: Food studies, cultural, and personal identity, observes that, “Food choices tell stories of families, migrations, assimilation, resistance, changes over times, and personal as well as group identity. The human trait of sharing food is exclusive to its species. Humans relate to food in a in a way that is unique to mankind. We do not simply feed.”
The creativity of cooking is the passion; the consumption of the meal is the consummation. The table is an intimate, sacred space. New friends are made, old quarrels forgotten, and traditions are both continued and started.
Often, in the western world, people live to eat: we listen to our cravings and eat the foods that make us feel good… And then join Slimming World and join running clubs after Christmas! Conversely, in other societies and in some developing nations, people are eating to live. Food is merely a means to survival. We are disproportionately out of balance.
I’m offering you a third option: Why not try eating to truly live? To engage with those around you. To welcome in those distant and lonely. Everyone bruises in life; how can you soften those bruises over a bite to eat? Let’s consider eating to help our society live and thrive.
Food invites, almost begs, for inclusivity — it’s not meant to be eaten alone. Enjoy the journey that food takes you on this year, and remember to invite someone along on your journey of food.