Tag Archives: culture

The Proper Way To Eat

5 Aug

I was reading back on some responses on my ‘Food Flicks’ page and I came across a very perceptive (and funny) remark by my very clever writer/artist-friend, Agnes. The conversation had focused on various favorite food scenes, to which she remarked about the sniffing of one’s food when first coming in contact with the plate and how this was such a natural thing to do.

Of course, it got this foodie thinking about our relationship to food and how different it is for everyone. Take Hubby and violin girl–natural food sniffers, through and through. Something I don’t understand. For me, the odors naturally wafting from the plate suffices my senses. I don’t need to hover my nares milimeters above food that will soon come into contact with my mouth.

In Kaukab’s household, we ate much with our fingers, scooping up all kinds of Arabic food with the Middle Eastern utensil that is pita bread. Fingers have been the utensil of choice around the world since man’s creation.

But, in American culture, which took its cues from British and other Western-European decorum, the proper way to eat has evolved into something altogether prescriptive. For example, pizza. You would think that this meal-in-a-slice marvel would be the great cultural equalizer. But, when surveyed, Americans seem fairly split on the matter of how to properly eat a pizza. Fork, or hands? And if it’s deep-dish, then what?

Same goes for spaghetti. “Proper” Americans seem to go for the fork and spoon technique and one which Hubby employs–much to the chagrin of Kaukab’s daughter. Just ask him. Nevermind that pasta can be easily managed with fork, alone, if utilized in small, circular movements and of a patient, food-loving mind. Eating spaghetti shouldn’t require false intentions for the sake of ill-perceived “high” culture.

And, let’s not forget the on-going  conundrum of how to eat a steak. Who here is a fork-exchanger? At Kaukab’s table, forks remained in their “proper” left hands, the fork’s back facing outward, with knives in their right (the lefty siblings were left to their own devices), enabling a more efficient path to the eater’s mouth. This seems to be a more customary method outside of the U.S., but one this daughter of immigrants has personally noticed MIA at the tables of the cultural high-minded, even though visiting heads-of-state have been observed on C-SPAN engaging in such methods. And, what could be more high-minded than C-SPAN?

Which brings me back to my original question. Does it take an obscure cable news show to teach we Americans how best to be proper about our eating habits?

Like C-SPAN, does anyone really care?





The “D” Word

16 Jul
  • I was having lunch out with family and some dear friends, a wonderful couple who just got back from a fantastic excursion to the Greek Isles, Italy, and France. This wasn’t their first time to Europe and the female counterpart had lived and worked in and around Paris, early on in her career.

We got to talking (over various fatty meat sandwiches–reubens and bbq chicken pitas) about Americans abroad and conversation turned to size–supersizing, to be rather frank. They observed how various countries have, over the years, accomodated the traveling American tourist by ripping out historically-valuable theatre seats and replacing them with armless, wider berth ones.

While furniture changes may be understandable, altering a culture’s cuisine; or worse, omitting it altogether from a tourist menu heavy on American tastebuds, seems counter-productive. Isn’t the reason Americans travel abroad is to become a part of a different culture, to learn and experience something different from our ethno-centric selves?

Apparently, like most matters these days, profit over pleasure wins out. What our friends experienced in just four years’ time was nothing short of an American tourist food revolt. When my friend asked why they had such limited exposure to ethnic cuisine this time around than previously (especially while visiting Rome and Paris), their tour guide sighed, “Well, we found that the American teens had complained too much about the food; they wanted more American food.”

Well, poor, poor American children. Heaven forbid you go a week without eating your fast food, fake chicken nuggets and salty, sugar-laden beverages. How can we Americans, on the whole, continue to expect other countries to feed our insatiable appetites for unhealthy garbage and not think of us as sickly, unappreciative gluttons? Moreso, do we have the right, as American visitors, to expect other cultures to cow-tow to unhealthy food requests just because we’re too lazy or too ignorant to understand that there is a beauty, a rich history in a culture’s food. To take the time and expense to visit one of them, but not engage fully in the foods offered is akin to a guest at one’s table who brings their own dinner because they don’t like what’s been served.

The bigger question was asked? How did so many Americans get so fat? Our conclusion: Diet. Yes, diet.

An American phenomenon, “Diet” symbolizes all that is wrong with the way we eat in our culture. Instead of  enjoying food, we define it. Instead of appreciating how it grows, how it looks, how it tastes, we assess it according to its value: number of calories, fat grams, and artificial colors and flavors.

And while we continue to “diet,” we grow bigger and unhealthier, all the while not seeing what is so apparent to others around the world. Food isn’t something to be played with. It’s not hard to eat well, to eat simply. It doesn’t cost a lot to prepare simple, quality-rich food. In fact, it’s a lot cheaper to buy fresh, unprocessed, unboxed food and prepare it than it is to stand in line and be handed off some knockoff sandwich which looks nothing like its picture.

Kaukab taught us how to eat. Food was to be appreciated. It took time and hard-earned money to have it. Oh sure, there was the occasional treat: a t.v. dinner here, a run to McDonald’s for a bagful of 15-cent burgers (no fries, “your mother will make them”) there, but it was occasional. Food wasn’t convenient, then. It is now.  And while convenience is desirable in a culture which lauds “busy,” it’s become a double-edged sword. Convenience overrides all that is right with the way Kaukab and others of her “diet” mindset look at food.

To her, and so many outside the American vernacular, “diet” has become a classic American irony.

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