Food: A Thread That Binds UsOctober 15th, 2023
by Adedoyin Ajayi
…there is no sincerer love than the love of food.George Bernard Shaw
Consider a couple of co-workers having a laugh over a shared meal in their company’s cafeteria. Over their lunch, they have a shared bond derived from the pleasure of eating together. A family dinner allows family members bond and experience a shared connection of similar senses in the smell and taste of food. Imagine a group of Muslim faithful coming together to share Iftar and break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Picture a mass of suited businessmen at lunch after a corporate meeting. Even more so, conjure a picture of curious connoisseurs at a wine-tasting event and their mutual bond over fruity delights. Lastly, visualize an American family wolfing down a turkey at Thanksgiving and the happy expressions on their faces. With a meal, they find a similar interest. Food renders differences to the background, and for more than a few minutes, they become like-minded individuals enjoying a fine meal.
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell used what he called “hot dog diplomacy” to strip some of the veneer of formality away and create a connection that transcended mere diplomatic relations by having hot dogs with dignitaries. By sharing a hot dog on the street with eminent personalities, he fashioned a bond borne from a mutual love for food and sustenance, which appealed to a very basic human desire. In those few moments, lofty positions mattered little; rigid conversations gave way for light-hearted chit-chat, and they became simple humans who craved for an uncomplicated joy of life – a hearty meal.
It is very much evident that something must be said for sharing a meal with someone else. Surely, the very act of satisfying our bellies; of sustaining our bodies, extends far beyond sheer nutritional value. Food extends far beyond its nutritional benefits by acting as a tool for universal connection. In a nutshell, food embodies both nutritional value and social significance as a unifier amongst us.
In spite of the vast distance between us globally, food minimizes the literal and proverbial distance between us. For instance, people eat foods like rice, bread, and beef with enthusiasm in many parts of the world, albeit in slightly different forms owing to ingredients, accompanying dishes, and methods of preparation.A very good example of this is jollof rice, extremely popular both in Nigeria and in Ghana. Due to diverse modes of preparation, ingredients, and accompanying dishes, these foods might have different tastes. Nevertheless, the common theme remains, and gives a feeling of home away from home and highlights the paradoxical nature of our similarity in spite of our many differences. Food makes our social interactions brighter and happier. From a simple brunch hangout between friends, to an elaborate date between couples, to birthday cakes, and feasts at weddings, food is used as a tool to bond, to mingle, and to unite.
Additionally, it is also worth stating the cultural dimension of food. Food serves as a powerful means of expressing and preserving culture. Imagine a Mexican student in the United Kingdom who prepares tamales as a means of beating homesickness. Or picture a Jamaican mother in Australia, miles from home, who cooks ackee and saltfishfor her family for a Sunday brunch. Food, therefore, is a deep expression of cultural identity. Food, alongside dressing, buildings, and artifacts, is one of the tangible forms of culture. While other tangible forms of culture might be lost to history, such as monuments being demolished by natural or man-made forces, the knowledge of food preparation from one generation to another can ensure that a vital aspect of culture of a people remains, and is not lost forever. Food can serve to remind us of who we are and reminds us of home, no matter how far we physically might be away from home.
Food is a language we all understand. It is an adhesive that binds us. So, as you savour your next meal, take a pause, consider the many dishes people enjoy all around the world. And remember, like Colin Powell, that food has the power to dissolve position, standing, and barriers.
Le, C. B. (2017). What Food Tells Us About Culture. Available at https://freelymagazine.com/2017/01/07/what-food-tells-us-about-culture/
Powell, C. L., & Koltz, T. (2012). It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership. New York, HarperLuxe.