Friday, 8 May 2015

Bringing Food and Storytelling Together

Food is a powerful storyteller. Food lays hold of all of your senses and takes them captive. Its taste, smell, touch, sight and sound can transport you into a distant memory. Food can guide you through the discovery of your culture or history.

Surprisingly, it was through vegetables (of all foods!) that I learned more about my own culture and history. Growing up, I did not eat much salad. When I did have salad, it would always be when my family and I went to Swiss Chalet, my favourite restaurant as a child. Going to Swiss Chalet was a special treat and I looked forward to ordering caesar salad with ribs whenever we went. At home, we very rarely had salad; 95% of the time, vegetables were cooked. On Monday, at Susan Gerofsky’s lecture, I learned why. 

Years ago, people in certain parts of China would collect “nightsoil” (human waste) and use it as fertilizer on their farm crops. It was an effective and economic choice, but the problem was that the plants would be contaminated and unfit for consumption in its raw form. In order to kill the toxins and bacteria, the harvested vegetables were cooked. This affected the cuisine that developed in these countries that used nightsoil; if you take a look around, most vegetables in Chinese cuisine are cooked in some way, be it steamed, pan-fried or boiled. You’ll be hard pressed to find salads in traditional Chinese cuisine.

A picture of soil from the Orchard Garden.
It should be noted that this is not nightsoil.
I was born in Canada and am twice removed from China where some of my ancestors are from. The vegetables we buy in the grocery store have not grown in nightsoil. Regardless, today, my family still mostly eats cooked vegetables at home. The kind of food my mom grew up eating is commonly the kind of food she prepares for us at home. Recently, we have begun to incorporate salads into our meals, but it really depends on who is preparing dinner and we as a family are still partial to cooked greens.

Asking “why” and "how" questions are an essential part of learning. Why do we eat the food we do? Why do we go to one grocery store and not another? Why do some of us eat vegetables cooked and not raw at home? How does one changed practice affect everything around it? 
A snapshot of Susan's lecture powerpoint
One way we can encourage students to ask more why questions is to get students to research one particular dish at home and explain why they eat this particular food. How does the student's culture affect the food they eat? What kind of story does this food tell about its own history? What kind of story does this food tell about the student's history and life? Students will be amazed at how much they learn about different cultures and histories by asking these simple questions!

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