By Daniela Serrano
I can eat like a famished truck driver. This goes both for amount and complete disregard for the origins of whatever meal I have in front me. A couple of weeks ago a professor had us do a impromptu writing exercise where we were supposed to write about a special meal someone had made for us or the story behind our favorite food. I went blank, although a good 70% of my thoughts on any given day are about food, I had a hard time figuring out one favorite dish, or a situation where the specific act of cooking was the most relevant. Food is, by far, my favorite way of feeling the world around me, and with a scope so big it’s nearly impossible to pick just one thing.
When I was growing up my mother was very strict with us eating everything that was on our plates and not being picky eaters. Of course back then it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me, but now I am so very, very, very, grateful. This authoritarian regime of hers on the dining table introduced one of the basic driving principles in my life: “how do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it first?” Sure, this was thrown at me so I would feel bad about not wanting to eat vegetables (which I now love), but it developed into an unadulterated sense of curiosity. Added to this, is my upbringing which involved moving over a great deal of countries. On every country we arrived my mother would quickly incorporate the national recipies into our daily meals. We met many families that, being expats as well, would cling to the homeland recipes, this, although respectable, winds up alienating more than necessary in my opinion.
I like trying out anything that anyone tells me that is traditional of any city/country/season/culture/religion/insert any kind of social structure that also incorporates food because what I hate most in the world is feeling like I might be missing out on something. It’s very off putting (as anybody who has been told to eat everything while visiting a distant relative knows) when another person is reluctant to accept the meals others offer them. I’m sure there are more serious and well constructed investigations about this, but food is one of the basic pillars of any social groups, and one of the most basic ways of sharing between cultures. By eating things I didn’t use to know I feel closer to that city/country/etc. and if I feel closer to them I’m closing that “outsider” gap that can make living in a new country more difficult. In other words, when you eat what someone who’s different from you eats, you are inching closer to that “one of us” territory; and once you get there, you’re golden.
I know not everyone is as willing to experiment with their taste buds, but I do recommend it, blindly. I am very grateful for whatever it is that lines my stomach that keeps it from being constantly upset even when I put it through serious tests (bugs? yes, uncooked things? yes, things that are cooked over flimsy radiators in tiny trucks of very shady hygienic records? yes, things that smell like used socks? yes.) Of course not everything tastes good, and some things I will never try again. But at least now I know.