Culture is a way of life that represents people’s behaviors, beliefs, values, attitudes, religion, knowledge, and material possessions. It is passed on from one generation to the other through symbolic communication.
Food is a very important element of any culture and provides substantial insights into the origin and progression of a culture. Food and culture have a deep connection with our identity and roots. We grow up eating food belonging to our culture. We associate food with memories of growing up and find an unparalleled comfort in that food. Food can evoke nostalgia which can be nourishing and healing.
An important aspect of any civilization is the availability of food resources. This is clearly seen in the variety of ingredients used in cooking as we travel from one part of the country to the other. Vegetables cannot grow and survive in the harsh winters of north India, but that weather is suitable for dairy farming. As a result, residents of these areas resort to the use of milk products and dried pulses in their daily cooking over fresh vegetables.
Certain parts of the country have an abundance of one particular ingredient and over the years, locals have figured out novel ways of adopting it in their culture. For example, the north-eastern state of Assam is the largest producer of bamboo in India. So, in addition to it being used in construction and rituals, it is used for cooking too. Food is cooked and served in bamboo stems and the sprouts of the shoots are consumed as a delicacy.
Local dishes illustrate the historical eating patterns of a society. Countries are associated with the kind of food they eat. Food culture can be used to promote a country in an entirely different light. For example, the ‘Oktoberfest’ held in Germany or the cheese factories of the Netherlands bring culinary glory to their respective nations.
The strong food and cultural bond help immigrants find their place in a new society and help bridge all distances. The act of breaking the bread brings people together where food provides us with something more symbolic than just nutrition.
Dr. Deepali Kampani is an instructional designer with expertise in curating content for education, healthcare, and culinary domains. She is a research specialist in Indian cuisine and culinary history.