Is Mama Africa’s cooking nice?
This is a man’s world; this is a woman’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing without any plant or animal. You see man made restaurants for us to dine in; we made alcohol to get us through stress and for pleasure. We made clothes to keep us warm; we built houses for shelter, like birds make their nest. It is a man’s and a woman’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing without meat, dairy products and vegetables or grains. Bob Marley also sang about how important food is, and how it should be a must for every human being to be fed properly. Food matters in some many different ways. We like eating because it makes us feel good: It is more important than sex – especially when it comes to ensuring our survival. The sex urge needs only to be satisfied a few times in a lifetime, while the hunger urge needs to be met every day. Therefore, eating is a necessity.
Some colleagues at work suggested that we should all have lunch together, for us to bond better as a team. In a group of six, three of us came up with the idea of going for a Chinese meal. Two with the notion of going for Indian cuisine. I being the odd fish out of the pond, suggested what sounded like the return of Pol Pot’s communist Khmer Rouge party to the Cambodian people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To their eyes, the genocide I planned to perpetrate in the 21 century, in the UK, involved the Nigerian cuisine, this time. The cuisine that I have sought solace in all my life, although it takes the better part of the day to prepare, – I am pretty sure that everybody will choose his or her mother’s cooking over dining in the most expensive and fanciful restaurant. British are very courageous, adventurous and great explorers, so, after much persuasion, l was able to rally my troops just like Lord Kitchener. Why was Asian cuisine suggested, instead of African cuisine? Why would a British, German, American or Canadian indigene say “yes” to dine in an Asian restaurant but then say “no” to the idea of dining in an African Restaurant? Are they not “au fait” with the fantastic dishes from my continent or is Asian cuisine served with better “panache”? The shame associated with immigrant food has changed over the course of the few decades. But, while Asian cuisine has become more popular and widely accepted, very few African cuisine -or if any- has been embraced. Surely, this can’t be perceived as prejudice against African cuisine? Chinese Stir Fry is surely the number one British favourite dish; and chicken tikka masala the number two. But shall we also understand that some cultures are more inferior to others?
I had the opportunity to have a “Tête-a-tête “with a few colleagues of mine from a different ethnic, cultural background in the UK – the majority and minority ethnicity in the UK. I realised that there were myriads of factors to consider when it comes to food preferences. The fact is what determines what an individual eats is availability. Let us step away from the ethnicity of food identity and look at the concept which underlines what makes us prefer certain food to others in this heterogeneous society from a typological point of view. The determinants of what is available to an individual have a psychological, biological, sociological, and anthropological aspect to it, too.
The more one is exposed to something; the more one likes it, (familiarity principle-Robert Zajonc 1968). Early experiences with family practices, cultural tradition, peer preferences and other influences such as the media, food programmes, and cookbooks all affect the pattern of exposure that an individual may have. What determines the food that we are exposed to, is mostly our cultural tradition. Also, our long-term food preferences are learnt through experience with food and eating. We like or dislike most food that we experience, which is a major determinant of food choice. The appearance, our visual association, and taste or smell of food can also affect the preference of food, later. People tend to eat the food that they are familiar with because novelty food can evoke fear and dread (Bernard Lyman 1989)
If more than one gene controls a trait, then it is safe to say there is nothing such as the ‘food gene.’ How much of our hedonics response to food is affected by the genetic and environmental factor? Nature versus nurture question comes into play once again. Some cultural traditions such as food preference are passed on from generation to generation over an extended period. It may then feel like it is inherited. We can say that the environmental factor on food preference is greater than the genetic factor. Development at all levels involves the interaction of genes and environment (John Hambley). Every individual is genetically unique irrespective of his/her race -apart from the exception of identical twins. The race is a group of people. They form a recognizable subdivision of a species in biological terms. The uniqueness of individuals means that people from a particular race are not the same genetically, and this may result in different food preferences. Africans and a Caribbean’s have various cultural traditions. Can we say they are different races? Food choices can sometimes be a personal thing; it may be down to the personal preference (uniqueness).
If a particular type of food tastes bad, it should not be eaten again and if food tastes good, it should be eaten again, and may serve as a treat or reward in the future. It represents the ‘plasticity of the brain’. The plasticity of the brain is the learned result of experience. Food preferences are learned through experience with diet and eating.
The environment in which one grows up in can influence our food preferences (Donald Swift). A set of a twin that is genetically identical, raised in two different environments, is likely to have different food preferences compared to two adopted siblings that grew up in the same environment. Individual food preferences can also be acquired by interacting and socializing with others (collective behaviour-Brown 1965). Just as clothes indicates our trendiness, so does food. The history and social circumstances of an individual referred to as one’s libertarian ticket (freedom of choice) can also influence food preferences. During the great depression in 1929-39, could a child with little or no food call himself vegetarian or vegan? Would a child living in penury in South Sudan say he is his vegetarian or vegan if he has no libertarian ticket? My mum is what we call a locavore. She will only eat locally grown or produced food. Now I wonder if she became a locavore by choice or because of her history and social circumstances
‘Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es’ (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are) Anthelme Brillat-Saravin 1826. Food preference can be an individual identification. Our ethnicity, religion and class identification can determine our food preferences. For example, while pork and beef are consumed in western culture, pork is seen as unfit for consumption by those practicing Islam and Judaism; while Hindus view cows as sacred animals (Jeremy MacClancy 1992). We identify ourselves with others by eating the same thing as them.
Chocolate came from Mexico and got introduced to Europe and the world by Cortez and other early Spanish explorers (Coe and Coe, 1996). Raw chocolate from Mexico had a bitter and chili pepper taste. It was converted from a bitter taste to a sweet and milky taste to make it more appealing and accepted in the Western World. The Chinese and Indian cuisine served in most restaurants has been infused with western flavour. It is an imitation. Food- like the Chop Suey, was adapted to suit the palate of the West and to make the most of the less limited ingredients. ‘You can’t find Chop Suey in China, just in the UK’ (Ms Ko). Maybe African cuisines such as Jollof rice, will have to be infused with western flavour to give it a more western appeal to make it trendy? We need more food writers, food bloggers, cookbooks, more restaurants, more film and food programmes and more exposure, to showcase our culture and tradition.