Culture of Food

Benefits of Sharing Food

There I am sitting in the cardiologist’s waiting room thinking “I hope my arteries are clear. What if the stress test reveals blockages?”

I look back and think how I have lived my life and what I chose to put into my body. I remember a lot of people around dinner tables and lots of food. I wasn’t thinking of balanced diets and high fiber intake. It was all about food and conversation. It felt good because on the whole the food was very tasty and the range of human discourse ran the gamut of the sublime to the ridiculous. Lots of laughs and some tears along the way.

Breaking bread

What I have described above is very much a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern way of eating. The culinary experience is a shared experience. In fact there is something called the Roseto effect where it has been shown that people are nourished by other people. This study has highlighted the importance of social networks in health and longevity. By sharing the joys and burdens of life with others we work through our difficulties and externalize our anxieties. So it’s not only what you are eating, but how and with whom you are eating as well.

Obviously, sharing an unbalanced high fat diet for a lifetime with others is not going to make you happy and healthy like the Rosetans.  They enjoyed a Mediterranean diet which incorporated grains, pulses, vegetables, meats, fish, amongst other things. This is also what I have grown up with. Without being conscious of it, I have been enjoying a rich variety of foods within a cultural context. But has this helped me to remain healthy? The cardio stress test would tell.

The Australian context
One of the things I remember coming to Australia some forty years ago was that you never went to anybody’s place around tea time. Where I came from, this is exactly the time when you went to other people’s places. There would always be ample food cooked and sharing it with others would bring pleasure to the host. The Australian attitude to food has been one of utility. It has had more to do with hunger management than social bonding.

With the changing Australian lifestyle, however, food is increasingly becoming a focal point bringing friends together. We generally meet at restaurants and try to find new and exotic offerings. This is a move away from mere utility to a more refined cultural exchange. With each newly tried morsel, we are adding to our culinary and cultural lexicon.  Some may   question the socio-political benefits of multiculturalism, but I doubt anyone will question the richness this diversity adds to our cultural landscape. Admittedly, the Shire is not the hub of alternative cuisine, but we are certainly finding more and more friends pushing us to take them to places like Auburn, Newtown, Petersham to experiment with different tastes. Having acquired the taste for the exotic, we now want to replicate it at home.

How can I try that at home?

In days gone by, the only way you got to have authentic produce from afar was if you smuggled it in through customs on your way back from the old country. I am amazed that some people still try doing that when there is a plethora of ethnic specialty shops selling everything under the sun here in Sydney. The problem we have, however, is of not knowing what to buy and how to cook it at home. The Gourmetouch tries to fill this void by introducing authentic ingredients to our community and providing recipes and advice as to how to cook these at home.

Having control over your life and your health

Jamie Oliver is quoted as saying “When you know how to cook, you’ve got control over your life and your health.” For our bit, we are trying to introduce the Mediterranean diet to our local community. Cooking at home and sharing with friends has long been an integral part of our life. We want to share this in the hope that more people will be aware not only of different foodstuffs but also the social nature of eating.

In the final analysis, you will know what works for you and you should be able to make informed decisions armed with relevant information.  The important thing is that you care about what you eat and who you break bread with.

As it turned out, my ticker was in top nick. I cannot claim that it was the benefits of my Mediterranean diet of a lifetime, or the cultural aspects of how I ate. All I can say with certainty is that sharing good food with good company has allowed my family and I to give meaning to our own lives while at the same time enjoying delicious and nutritionally balanced cuisine.

Comments are closed.