While visiting family in another country, a friend observed his father-in-law take a glob of bacon grease out of the drippings can and spread it on his toast. It doesn’t sound appetizing to most of us 21st century westerners, but he was not going to let those calories go to waste. Something we forget is that, for centuries, most people’s food was simple fuel. The different cuisines and flavors that we enjoy today were a luxury.
Today there is a distance from the source; food appears in the grocery store, sometimes in forms our ancestors would not recognize. Much labor used to be spent on food production, time people put to different uses as farming became more efficient. We do still have starvation on our earth, sometimes caused by natural disasters, wars, or poor management of resources. There are also abuses and unhealthy effects of large-scale agriculture that we have become aware of. Some people try to avoid this by knowing their source, shopping at farmer’s markets or from small businesses, and those reliable in their labeling.
On the other hand, some formerly special foods are now easy to get. Caribbean sugar cultivation of the 17th and 18th centuries brought the much desired sweetener to the world. Rationing during WWII made it a rare treat for our close ancestors, but now we think nothing of getting a candy bar or a package of cookies any time. Everything that we have available to eat began in the kitchen of a home, including cakes and candies.
A while ago, I reminded my mom that her traditional New Year’s Eve food was something we used to have on a regular basis. If it takes work to make, these days we either buy it or make it only occasionally. Many ethnic foods have gone from everyday meals to special occasion treats, and can even be found in the freezer section of the store. Time is money, and convenience has become an important feature.
We have given up our food rituals. Making roux, kneading dough, pickling, brewing, baking, making sauces, and spending hours cooking, have been reduced to holiday or purchased processes. These are all things we can do, though, to honor our ancestors at any time. Repeating their actions is a way to deepen our connection with them. Even if we make something that is not of our own culture, the act of food preparation is common to everyone.
Another reason some of the foods have been lessened or abandoned by people today is the view that they are unhealthy. Starches were a staple of the peasant diet, with fats and meats as they could get them. We can substitute ingredients for health, but we can also make less of a particular dish. Our ancestors would not be able to afford the large portions that we are blessed with today. Some foods can be easily preserved or frozen, or shared with other people. I confess, too, that some processes need practice and thus multiple batches. It’s usually my third try of pralines that really look good.
We have lots of seasons and holidays with traditional foods. I ask you to be mindful of the process, and to honor your ancestors as you work. Get back to the source by growing some food of your own, even if it’s a few herbs on the windowsill. Share your traditions with friends and family, and share with those who are less fortunate.
Love, Khouzhan Lucy
Image courtesy of lemonade at FreeDigitalPhotos.net