samedi 2 janvier 2016


When you are working with the American Indians, one becomes aware of the superficial and deep symbolism attached to Food in their specific cultural context. No concessions are made for the downgrading of the ingredients that go into their food, but rituals and belief systems are maintained. It may also serve as an example how to break, conquer and oppress a culture through the substitution of their Food!
How do natural products become food? When in our history did it happen? Bread is not natural, but wheat is, Sorghum is, Corn is and Rice is. It is interesting that we now blame these grains for the ill health facing the Westerners. But it was a turning point in the history of mankind when ingredients cooked became Food. that preparation became part of the Culture. Food becomes culture when it is eaten also. An Amazonian native would be horrified to know that for some Americans “food” arrives through their car window (thank you Michael Pollan for telling Americans that Food does not arrive through your car window). When it is eaten, with whom it is eaten with, are all cultural norms and deviations can create disequilibrium, which the native people understand very well. Another strong influence of Food as culture is seen when we choose to eat what we want to. We do not eat all that can be eaten, we are prohibited by religious constraints but also cultural constraints, snakes and monkeys are regularly devoured in the Amazonian rain forest and I am sure that there no haute cuisine restaurants serving any of those!
Food as an Identity is an interesting theme, and you don’t have to look too far, I am in the midst of the Breton people, a Celtic people who are considered one of the earliest inhabitants of Europe. 
Symbolism of Food (among American Indians, who prepares that food, with whom one eats, at what time of the day one eats, whether the food has been blessed by Spirits, all have greater value than nutritional value alone).  Such knowledge beyond the ingredients and their caloric content is necessary if one is working with culturally distinct groups. American Indians to this day do not like to eat after sunset, in the dark they say to me, one is not able to decide who is present, lest some evil spirits may be present. They also look at ceremonies which have been blessed by the Spirits to be medicine. In South Indian temples and Christian churches there are symbolic transfer of the spirit of the Gods to the recipients in the form of something that can be eaten or tasted. Coconuts by the dozen are offered to the Gods at the Hindu Tamil Temples, the remnant food considered spiritual and healthy to consume.
Food is present at all life changing events, birth and death, marriage and seasonal celebrations. Fasting to please the Gods and Spirits is less common than feasting to please them.
Bretons who occupy the western most part of the French Republic, to this day remain predominantly agriculturalists. While other agriculture based societies developed cities and adopted a “civilization” (Medieval History Scholar Montanari points out that cities and civilization have the same Latin root!), the Bretons alleviated the problem of overcrowding and poverty by migrating from Brittany, to Paris and also to other parts of the world. Today I read an interesting book on the History of Breton emigrants in Paris, which had begun in the in between war years, mostly economic migrants in search of job and security and a way to escape the poverty and blandness of the life of Breton country lifestyle. Brittany to this day remains predominantly a collection of villages, spread over the lush rolling hills and valleys, thus their fiery independent spirit and attachment to the unique culture persists, including the music, dance and the language.
Alejo Carpentier, the Cuban writer generally acknowledged as the Father of Latin American Magical Realism, wrote in his iconic novel about a country where people confused noise for happiness. To this day, Cubans welcome noise and all celebrations are accompanied by noise of some sort or another. The French on the other hand, do seem to abhor excessive noise and the celebrations are centered on Food. I realized that Food is the celebration here, how proud of their cuisine, which is truly delectable, the way it is prepared, and served and of course accompanied by champagne which can only be French by definition, and other wines.

My welcome of the New Year 2016 began in the old port (Quai des Indes) where the conquering ships had set sail for the Indies of the city of L’Orient. It was a surprisingly sunny and pleasant day, with temperature in the upper fifties F (15 C). At a bistro, a friendly couple, both with glasses of something or other in their hands welcomed guests and took their money, I was surprised at the good quality of Salmon which is cured on the premises. Sea Bass is called sonorously Loup de Mar in French, sported a soft tender chewiness, served with rice and mushrooms.

Dinner which was prepared slowly and eaten slowly over the course of time, accompanied by champagne, was a very varied fiesta to the palate. Various appetizers, small and gorgeously delicious, including foie gras and the quality of bread in France is unquestionable of course! Sea food had its prime place in the array of appetizers and Quail was a delicious sendoff meal for 2015!
No great celebrations with noise and glamour but a varied meal eaten with great pleasure and bubbles going down your gullet. Food is the celebration here.
Fruits, Vegetables, Sea and Land were all represented in this celebratory meal.

 We welcomed the New Year with yet another Food as Celebration with a simple but delicious lunch on 1 January 2016..
May this year be full of satisfying meals, in various countries, on various flights ( Qatar Airways comes to mind) with wonderful people to share the meals with...