Food can bridge cultural divides

Explore cultural dishes and learn the story behind them. You may just gain a better understanding of how cultures are more similar than you think.

Food can bridge the cultural divides we face in our interactions with others. We all come from various backgrounds and have many differences in how we view the world and how we live our lives. Some earn more money than others, some live in rural communities with diverse natural resources at our finger tips, some of us come from difficult upbringings, and some are lucky to want for nothing. Michigan State University Extension offers a Multicultural Self-Awareness workshop which delves into many of these subjects.

While different cultures may be separated by several factors, there is one unifying thread that runs through all of us—the need to eat.

Every culture has their own spin on what foods they eat and how the prepare them. In larger communities, there are often a plethora of options to explore, however in smaller and rural communities, the choices are often more limited. Therefore, these smaller and rural communities are often more limited on their experiences, diversity of choice and exposure with other cultures not represented within the local community.

My time in the military took me to lands far from home with a diverse group of fellow soldiers who viewed meal time in different ways. Also, those experiences allowed me to learn more about their cultures and foods in a safe environment and on a common ground around the value of a meal and community. These similar experiences also exist within many of our diverse local communities.

On deployment overseas, the dining facilities would often offer various cultural dishes, not only from various cultures from within the United States, but also of cultures from around the world. Had it not been for many of those experiences, I may not have ever experienced the dishes from other cultures, nor found an interest in the stories behind many of the foods being offered.

Interestingly enough, many of the ingredients used by various cultures directly correlate to their specific geographies. Due to climate, environment, governmental structure, growing seasons, or advances in technology over the years, different cultures have different reasons as to why they eat what they do. According to the article “Why We Eat What We Eat”, produced by the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, “The quest for food has shaped the development of our society.”

So consider this: explore other cultures via food. Though not every dish may be to your liking, as you learn more about the background, you may find your worldview broaden more than you may have envisioned.

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