Posts tagged playing with food
food as culture – why cooking is important to preserving identity

Food has always been important to me.

Not just the consuming of it, but the cooking of it. More recently, food has grown in its importance in my mind because I’ve come to see it as a primary vehicle of culture.

How Food Defines A Culture

When you think of other cultures, there are usually 3 things that define them:

  • what they wear
  • how they speak, and
  • what they eat

{for example: If I were to ask you what comes to mind when you think of Indian, Japanese, and Jamaican culture – I can pretty much guarantee that – in addition to saris, kimonos and dreadlocks – curry, sushi, and jerk are going to show up somewhere in the list. }

An individual or group’s food culture is more than just what they eat for dinner, more than a single, iconic dish. Food culture is a complex mishmash of history, geography, climate and social values that go into what food is served, when, where and by whom. It’s an important way of preserving and transmitting the culture as a whole.

The Lexicon of Food’s definition of food culture summarizes it perfectly (if not succinctly):

Travel as Cultural Exchange

Travel has definitely influenced my perspective about my own food culture as an American, as a Southerner and as an African-American. After having been invited into the homes of co-workers from other cultures, or being cooked for by people I’ve met travelling, I’ve realized how important food culture is in communicating to someone who you are and where you come from.

I have newfound appreciation for Sunday and holiday dinners past at my grandparents’ house, backyard fish frys and barbecues out in the country, sitting on the front porch shelling beans, patiently stirring a pot of grits, all things okra. I’ve recognized how important it is to preserve my own unique culture by knowing how to cook even a few signature recipes that are intrinsically linked to the land and the people I come from. In fact, I see it almost as a responsibility.

What Exactly is ‘American’ Food?

One particular point of dismay when I’ve traveled has been the realization that people from other countries and cultures typically think of American food as either hamburgers or pizza. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the globalization of American fast food chains, and the failure to mass export more authentic, often regional American cuisine. This misconception makes it all the more important for me to continue to hone my skills in the kitchen and add to my repertoire of true American recipes, so I, too, can share who I am and where I’m from with new friends from other cultures and parts of the world.

I challenge you to do the same.

How to Become a Food Culture Ambassador

Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a cook, take it upon yourself to learn how to prepare at least one dish that is representative of your culture. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about where you come from – to understand the connection between the ingredients used in the dish and the place it originated. Call up someone else from your culture – your mom, another person from your hometown – and ask them to give you some pointers on how to make one or more iconic cultural dishes, then invite them over for a taste. Practice making the dish until you feel proud of it, until other people start to request that you make it for their next potluck dinner, their son’s birthday party, their wedding reception. Once that happens, write your recipe for the dish down on really nice paper. Make copies of it and give them out as gifts to people who’d appreciate it.

Culture is many things – food, dress, language – and each element of culture has a story of how it came to be. Preserving food-related stories, and bits of culinary background info is essential to preserving a culture. Unlike many other countries with more homogenous populations, America has a wide and diverse range of cultures living in proximity to one another and intermingling every day. Some degree of assimilation or fusion of cultures is understandable, but when entire food cultures are abandoned for pre-packaged, mass-produced commodifications of a particular culture’s food (see: Taco Bell, Panda Express) it’s a huge loss for everyone. And since profit and mass appeal are the primary motives of food-centered corporations, it’s we individuals who must maintain the authenticity of our respective food cultures, not only for our own families, but also for those curious enough to seek it out, and those who we meet on our travels.

4 food network hosts i love to hate

While I don’t watch the Food Network nearly as much as I used to, I still find myself lingering on that channel more than most others. Yet these 4 Food Network hosts will have me hunting for the remote control faster than you can spell EVOO.  

#1 - Rachael Ray

love to hate rachael ray

Rachael Ray makes me think of mayonnaise and Wonder Bread - two things that instantly make me retch just at the mention of them. Her nasally accent, her annoying little sayings, aka Rachael Ray-isms, like: yummo, easy-peasy, sammie, stoup, and delish; plus her uber-flat pronunciation of anything that sounds remotely foreign is enough to make my ears bleed. Frankly, those so-called 30 minute meals aren’t exactly time savers if it involves an additional 30 minutes for me to clean up all the blood and vomit expelled from my facial orifices after watching the filth-flarn show.

Now don’t get me wrong - I respect Rachael’s entrepreneurial gangsta and all. This woman is a brand that rivals Martha and Oprah, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Plus, when she’s off camera, she actually seems to be a lot more palatable. But her over-the-top onscreen personality earns her the top spot on the list of Food Network stars I love to hate.

Not to mention she kinda reminds me of Audrey Griswold from National Lampoon’s European vacation.

is rachael ray audrey griswold


#2 - Sandra Lee

sandra lee, fembot

Sandra Lee is a fembot with faulty wiring. I’m certain that if this alleged woman were dissected, there would be no human organs found inside, only clock parts, glue, and popsicle sticks. This ‘woman’ and the food she cooks is an abomination. She is the representation of everything that is going wrong in American kitchens today. The majority of what she cooks is processed or pre-packaged food that comes out of a can or box, like I assume she did. And if I had to guess, I’d say her internal workings are fueled by alcohol, since the only time on her awful show when she looks even remotely lifelike is when she’s preparing a cocktail to drown out the taste of the plastic food she’s prepared. And don’t even get me started on those tablescapes. Look, I love a nice decorative table theme, but the stuff she puts out there looks like an android’s interpretation of human celebratory rituals.

In this video clip of Sandra Lee outtakes, she slips up and reveals that SHE (not just her food) is semi-homemade. Also note the hefty supply of fembot fuel on the table. Just saying.


tacky tablescape explosion



#3 - The Chairman’s Nephew

mark dacascos - chairman kaga's fake nephew

Take a Benihana hibachi cook and put him in a well-tailored suit, and you’ve got The Chairman’s Nephew. As if Iron Chef America wasn’t awful enough with such inspired secret ingredients as… CHEESE, Food Network had to go and get this clown and dare to pass him off as the nephew of Chairman Kaga – the original host of Iron Chef Japan. First off, this dude is NOT Chairman Kaga’s nephew. He’s a martial arts movie actor, whose real name is Mark Dacascos. He’s starred in such stellar cinematic offerings as: Only the Strong, Double Dragon, and Kickboxer 5. And even if he was the Chairman’s real-life nephew, I’m sure Kaga in his infinite wisdom would have disowned him long ago. Secondly, the Chairman’s nephew’s presence on Iron Chef America is entirely unnecessary. He adds nothing to the show other than weird, cartoonish facial expressions and backflips that I’m not sure if I’m supposed to take seriously or if I should be offended by how stereotypically ‘Asian’ they are.


Though when not in his well-tailored suit, I have to admit, the Chairman’s nephew is kinda sexy. Yet even at his sexiest, he’s still not nearly as sexy as Chairman Kaga. Rawr.

mark dacascos - iron chef karate

sexy chairman kaga

[Sidenote: why the %&#@! does the Food Network dub Masaharu Morimoto’s voice on Iron Chef America? That’s just rude.]


#4 - Sunny Anderson

sunny anderson's wig poses with sunny anderson

Lacefront wigs are a menace to society, and no one is immune to their horrendous effect on black women’s hairlines. Not even Sunny Anderson. I have to be honest, I really have no idea what Sunny cooks like or what Sunny talks about because every time I see her on TV, all of my other senses are rendered useless by the insurmountable distraction that is her hair. What the heck  is up with Sunny’s HAIR!? Did she borrow it from Sandra Lee? Is she recovering from chemo? I mean c’mon Food Network, there are only two brown women on the whole bloody station, and you can’t hook a sister up with a better stylist, or at least a lacefront in a color that isn’t the exact same color of her skin? Really? Really!?





sunny anderson and her stylists










What Food Network hosts do you love or love to hate? Share ‘em in the comments.