Cooking By Countries: Material Culture of Gastronomic Variety

My ambitions in life are simple. They seem to idealize a 2.5 children married suburban lifestyle that I do not have. I did not intend to write about food. Although perhaps apparent to readers, I am learning that I have unusual thought processes.  That makes me grin. I cook according to organization: what is on hand for cooking turns into dishes from various cultures cross-referenced by what foods traditionally grow in those countries.

When shopping, I choose ingredients that are fresh and on sale. When planning a meal, I think of items in terms of international cuisine. Certain ingredients go better with particular countries, mainly due to their inherent growing climates and conditions. I am a huge “ethnic food” fan and find that my taste buds only balk when faced with items pickled to the point of turning black such as in the case of Korean black pickled eggs. I will try almost anything else. Those eggs leave me with a “shut my eyes and try it” quandary.

I also follow a dietary code where I do not consume alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco products, or harmful (non-prescription) drugs. Yes, this makes cooking interesting when one is a huge foodie. It also makes consumption interesting when there is an entire world’s worth of alcohol and coffee available. I am of legal age in my country and can  partake of all of it, and yet do not. This choice does not make me any better or worse than anyone else. It is simply my choice. Vegetarians or vegans do not upset me so long as the persons practicing this do not act superior to me. In many ways, I follow a similar diet with a heavy vegetable focus. I also love and consume bacon so I am not traditional Hebraic/Jewish kosher, although I adore kosher food. Although not directly part of my prescribed dietary code, I also do not consume cola drinks. This has intra-cultural meanings and ramifications that most people probably would not understand and I am not spelling out here unless asked. It was how I grew up, and I do not hold it against anyone for drinking Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc. I simply do not.

Okay, those are my food  ground rules for the reader to understand. I am extremely lucky that I have no known food allergies. Various family members are allergic to shrimp and strawberries. My mother was allergic to tobacco. My sister has a lactose problem inherited from my father’s side of the family. Although I will consume them when needed, I am not in favor of walnuts (bitter things!) and my sister despises green beans. When shopping for only myself, I get to choose anything within the parameters of personal tastes and dietary code. I think that everyone has their own health code, whether received from the pages of Women’s World or Real Simple, or from the Koran, Torah, or from their country’s equivalent of the FDA.

Part of me wants to learn how to cook/consume properly every vegetable in the produce section. While I learned excellent home-cook skills and refine techniques regularly, there are still ingredients that I have not yet tried. I think that the variety of foods in nature is wonderful.

How does this have anything to do with material culture or with family history? It may be surprising how much. Over Thanksgiving, there were food dishes that vanished within a few minutes and others that made leftovers a joyous occasion. When considering my family’s background, I think about what was available to an ancestor, and when. The nutrients ancestors consumed affect us now. There is a reason that medical health history grows as a field within genealogy. Finding out that a multiple-times great-grandfather drank to excess helps me stay resilient in my personal choice not to drink. While many people have no problems with drinking, I value my own family (here and now, and future potential family) too much to mess with something that could trap me and keep me a prisoner in that sense. I do not want to turn on the gene that goes with alcoholism. Other diseases like diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure also run in families and I try to eat in ways that stave off diseases. Every family member dies from causes having direct relationship to how and what they ate besides accidents.

I cannot afford to shop at expensive and ritzy grocery stores often although I love looking around and seeing what is available. I like knowing about resources. For me, that is fun. I take what I learn from reading readily made food labels and figure out how to make something myself utilizing Internet and library recipe resources, cross-referencing known traditional cultural information (cardamom is a really fun spice and goes well with coconut milk, for example) and syncing it with what I have in my fridge or cupboard. It sounds complex. After doing it for a little while, suddenly food is a dance of sense and palates. While I do not consume various products, I do not miss them, either. There are plenty of creative ways of making excellent dishes. Variety is the spice of life!

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