Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well cultured

Do you know what this is? There's kielbasa in the background, but in the foreground? It may look strange (even disgusting to some), but my friends that gravy smeared pile of fries isn't some stoned college kid's answer to the late-night-snack question. 

It's poutine (pronounced "puts-in" where I come from). This French Canadian delicacy is an amalgam of  French fries, turkey gravy, cheese curds, and sometimes pieces of turkey, though turkey a poutine does not make.

It wasn't until my early twenties that I started to realized that New England, specifically the Northern portions of New Hampshire where my family hails from, actually can claim regional and culturally based cuisine. Like living down the street from the Eiffel Tower ... it is easy to take for granted what is right in front of you. For a long time I took for granted that I had a food culture at all.

That was a perfect segue into what I really wanted to talk about in this post. Not heart attack inducing entrees, but food cultures. 

Now, food culture can be an incredibly broad term. Americans have a food culture that is different from Thailand, France, Spain, Morocco, etc. However, the concept can be used with even more precision. Tennessee's food culture is a far cry from New Hampshire's. And even further, Berlin and Concord can feel alien when examined on a food culture basis. Get into people's homes- eat dinner with them- and you find that the gap gets wider still. Each of us is born into a food culture that shapes not only the food on our future plates, but the significance that food holds in our lives.

It's kind of a big deal.

So ... my food culture. Well, you could probably assume from the beginning of this post that I am French Canadian. My folks were born in Berlin, NH and as with lots of families that originated in and around the Great North Woods, hunting and fishing and all around foraging hold a place at our table. My mother always had a garden when I was little and was adamant that my sisters and I learn to feed ourselves and to feed others. There was always more than enough food on the table and the processed stuff rarely found its way into our cupboards. Food wasn't just for fuel, it was for celebrating; a way to show someone you love them.

With this set of rules there are also recipes woven in to the fabric of who I am today. My mom's Bouliabaisse,  Roasted Beet and Potato Salad, Summer Fresh Caprese, Feel Better Chicken Soup, Morning Hash made with the previous night's leftovers, the perfect egg sandwich, the list goes on and on.

My husband's family has added to this familial food culture of mine. Everyone brings something to the table- a meal is meant to be shared and enjoyed together. Grammy's handwritten recipe books are treasured and serve as a road map to a family history's worth of meals. Christmas Cookies, Sugar Pie, Grammy's famous German Chocolate Cake, Baked Haddock, Jello Salad (which my husband and brother-in-law affectionately call "Booger Salad", since it is made with lime flavored jello).

There's a lot of joy in these memories and flavors, but food cultures can create problems for us as well. Unhealthy relationships with food, fostered by personal experiences or the rules we were raised with, can create battles with weight and nutritional deficiencies. Over-eating, under-eating, limited diets, food allergy battles; these can all be side effects of the very same things that bring so much joy to our lives.

I am learning that becoming deeply in touch with my personal food culture allows me to maintain the good points and hopefully move on from the bad ones. It is a constant work in progress.

I think I will give you some homework. Think about your own personal food culture. What value did your parents put on food. What foods were off limits? What foods were celebrated? How have your family's attitudes about food bled into your adult life? Have they affected you positively or negatively?

If anything, this is a great examination into who we are as family members and as individuals. If anything, we gain more insight into who we are ... and that's never a bad thing. 

I would love to hear from you about your favorite aspects of your personal "food culture". Is there a recipe you can't live without? A "food rule" that has helped shape who you are? I would love to learn more.

In the mean time, feast with your family. You'll never regret it. xo

1 comment:

  1. Your post has got me thinking about Tourtiere (French Canadian pork pie for those that don't know). I find it very interesting that my mom's pie's different than her sister's and my brother and I each have our own recipes yet the idea and tradition were passed down through the same family. Given its prominence in our family's holiday meals I'm very happy that my kids like it too.