Thursday, 30 June 2016

On Eating to Become More than Who You Are

My 'research' yesterday consisted of catching up on the latest episode of 'Poh and Co.' on SBS on Demand, continuing my viewing of an older Aussie foodie program called 'Surfing the Menu', distractedly watching 'MasterChef' while making dinner, and then switching to the ABC when I realised that Annabel Crabb was interviewing Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on 'Kitchen Cabinet'. What a leisurely research life! To add to your culinary envy, I will admit that I also went to a fabulous local exhibition on the weekend that consisted of photographs of people cooking in their kitchens in the Greek city of Kos, and in my neighbourhood of Marrickville.

Author's own image at the entrance of 'The Community Kouzina Project' exhibition,
part of Open Marrickville
The photographer, Eleni Christou (who also happens to be an anthropologist and a resident of Marrickville) told me that she was interested in seeing whether her neighbours only cooked the food of their own cultures, and was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. She also recounted tales of visiting the Vietnamese stores on Illawarra Road, and hearing Greek women talk over okra. This was all very heartening for me as well, given that my recently-contract book project, 'Bonding Over Food: Becoming Ethically Convivial in Australia' is interested in mapping the potential of food to facilitate genuine inter-cultural encounters. 

At the same time, I wonder if 'we are what we eat' is a convenient yet ultimately meaningless shorthand for the acceptance of multiple cultures (and their values). Perhaps those who venture into exotic food territory, in terms of both their eating and cooking practices, do not become open to inter-cultural understanding just by virtue of trying a new spice. However, food can open doors if we want, and are in the right social conditions for those becomings to take place. These transactions may begin in a commercial realm, such as in a farmers' market, and then become habitual. Habit can then lead to conviviality, which is everyday rather than reliant on one-off tokenistic events such as 'Harmony Day'. 

I have never consciously eaten to become more than who I am, but my culinary adventurism has certainly paralleled my interest in cosmopolitanism. It helps that I have class privilege, and live in Sydney's inner west. It is perhaps at this intersection of mobility and habit that we start to eat to become more than who we are.