Ethical eating in a diverse world; cultural idendity and food: from nuclear family to feasting on diversity (Part 5 of a series)

The cultural identity is based on the biology, but tastes better.

Answering the question “what do we eat” is central to our omnivorous identity, unknown by herbivores nor carnivores, as they just eat the same every day.

The major cuisines of the world compose meals from the main food groups: meat or milk products when available, beans or cabbage when lacking meat, a starch rich staple food, and some fruits and vegetables. As our body has a genetic memory of very lean times, we crave for food high in energy such as oil (fat, cream), sugar and starch. Traditional meals will limit these cravings, by e.g. limiting the deserts to the end. However, as meat has always been in short supply for most of the population, until a few decades ago,  richer people traditionally ate more meat, even more than a few times a week. Meat is worldwide still seen as an indicator of status.

Traditional meals are not “composed” on the basis of a prescription for health, although the element of balance can be found in most kitchens. Once there is enough “staple” and the question “where is the beef?” has been answered, the main element in a refined kitchen is taste. People eating food only for nutrition are frowned upon in most cultures. In times of extremist zeal however, the enjoyment of food, sex and alcohol can be forbidden or heavily regulated.It is remarkable that you can raise a child on traditional food, although the meal is not prepared following scientific prescriptions, while a modern diet taken from a magazine, or the adverts, or even a modern “ism” like veganism, almost certainly will leave you deficient for a few major elements, and overfeed in others. Even following the “food pyramid” based on food science will leave you confused. Modernized traditional meals, with more attention to vegetables instead of the traditional “all the meat we can get” approach seem to be the best available choice. The fun part is that we are not limited to our own tradition. To the contrary: diversifying into other cultures seems to improve the overall value of the diet. Even combining traditions in one meal seems to improve our level of satisfaction. And is contentment not the real fruit of a good meal, and the overall goal of civilization?

The marriage of culinary tradition with global diversity has an ethical aspect on itself: openness to the world, compared to closeness. Looking over the border and enjoy it, while not giving up your own. Your mothers’ kitchen defines your identity, but this identity can only be positive if it is a window to the world: your own kitchen gives you the reference framework to go confidently into the world of taste and other traditions, like speaking your own language well is a boon for learning more languages.

Sam Gardner

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