I've always loved to cook, and was lucky to have a mom that let me experiment in the kitchen as a kid (and a dad that would eat everything - even the gross stuff). As I've gotten older, I've expanded out into different cultures and cuisines. And as a social entrepreneur, I've witnessed first-hand how culture, food and community go hand-in-hand, even under the most difficult of circumstances.
But over the past couple of years, as I've been building Just A Girl - Global, I haven't had much time to cook. It just kind of fell by the wayside. At the beginning of the shelter in place orders back in March, my boyfriend moved into my home. I wanted us to feel safe and nourished during these challenging times, so I turned back to cooking. Each week, I read about all different foods and recipes to try, learning about their backgrounds and ensuring I bring them to life with authentic intention (and a little Kiki flair).
I feel connected, on a different, deeper level to culture and community because of the recipes I cook. All this without needing to book a plane ticket! I'd argue that understanding a culture's food is a starting point to understanding the culture itself. And as our nation - and our world - struggles to find common ground, connection and compassion - perhaps connecting through food is a good place to start.
Samin Nosrat is an amazing chef (seriously, go watch her Netflix show "Salt. Fat. Acid. Heat." that was based on her book by the same name). Her own life is an intersection of background and experience, from different cultural traditions. She wrote this lovely, tender and earnest column for the NYT this week, and it's honestly something everyone should read. In it, she talks about the Gullah Geechee people, and their recipe for Okra Soup.
The Gullah Geechee are descendants of people enslaved on the lower Atlantic coast. One of the things that makes them unique is that they were able to retain their connections to West Africa, and their culture and traditions to this day demonstrate those ties.
As Nosrat was talking through the recipe and the roots of its ingredients with chef Amethyst Ganaway (a Gullah Geechee woman), she realized that: "At least four continents, five spiritual traditions and three races were represented in this dish."
Nosrat delved a bit deeper with Ganaway: "By necessity, Gullah Geechee cooking refers to our nation’s history and acknowledges even the ugliest parts — the genocide, the enslavement, the colonization — and still manages to nourish."
Our food is a mirror of cultures, traditions and experiences. So as we seek to build a fair and equitable world for everyone, finding ways to learn and grow with authentic curiosity, consider giving cooking a try. Read cookbooks that come from different authors and cultural backgrounds. Find ways to learn more about the foods you already love (even something as simple as popcorn have deep cultural roots that span different races and traditions). Be willing to go beyond the face value of food - get to know it's soul. Sit in conscious recognition of the beauty, pain, struggle and creativity from which it was born. See that the food we eat is more than just calories on a plate - see the humanity that created it. And nourish your own heart and soul in the process. And from that nourishment of body, mind and soul, build bridges.