weekly photo challenge: culture

I grew up in the southern United States; food is a tremendous part of my culture. Thanks to family, friends and spending years with a second family (my “North Carolina Grandma“, a.k.a. my babysitter) after school I am too familiar with some pretty tasty foods: macaroni and cheese, fried okra, ham biscuits, green beans and collard greens (or any vegetable) cooked for hours with some sort of ham, fried chicken, potato salad, sweet iced tea, butter on everything, dessert after every dinner. I would watch my friends snack on a livermush sandwich or crunch on a handful of fried pork rinds (two things I just could not bring myself to eat). Most likely, I am still alive because I stopped eating those lovely foods on a regular basis before I turned ten years old. My family tried to eat healthier and I still attempt to do the same.

Food is still a big part of my life. I try to disconnect it from love and care and to see it solely as nutrition for my body but I don’t think I will ever be able to separate it from my roots, my tradition, my culture. The older I get the more I see that my food, our foods—seem to be connected. My husband is Sri Lankan and our home towns are quite a distance from each other but we both grew up with spicy food and drinking very sweet tea to combat the heat. In both families, love was communicated to the family through food and the cook(s) felt love in return depending how much a meal was enjoyed.

The best meal I ate in Liberia was a ‘green soup’ at a tiny stand in a small village. The taste so clearly reminded me of my Grandmother’s greens that I fought back tears and the urge to go back to the kitchen to see if she was there (she passed away in 2001, so of course she wasn’t…). The soup wasn’t pretty but the best meals rarely are.

In Rwanda, the same connection occurred. One of the best soups I have ever tasted took me back to sweltering summers, in a hot kitchen and the distinct taste of fresh vegetables cooked for a late dinner after a long day of harvesting them from the back yard garden.

It happened again in DRC as I filled my plate with vegetables at a lunch buffet. The same hostess who urged me to take the varied meats, and looked incredulous as I declined all meat offered, later stopped by and nodded in approval as she noticed my cleaned plate. The potatoes, cabbage, beans, greens and carrots were all gone. Again, each dish could have come from that steamy summer kitchen where we had to speak up to be heard over the crickets and cicadas loudly chirping through the screen windows and doors.

How could I be pulled back to my childhood memories when I was so far away from those places? How could these meals seem so familiar to me when I had not been here before? I considered historical connections and recipes passed along generations but those connections seemed too impossible, the links were too thin. Riding in a bus over the “hills” of the Rwandan countryside, seeing the crowded farmland that covered every bit of space on the steep mountainsides, made me recall my Grandmother’s childhood home. She grew up on the side of a rocky mountaintop and her family farmed tobacco on that steep, stone covered land.

The food connections I experienced, for which I am grateful, were from a shared culture of poverty, resourcefulness, creativity and love.


132 thoughts on “weekly photo challenge: culture

  1. great post! I will never be able to see food as mere nutrition – but perhaps we aren’t supposed to. there is an inherent beauty to it all, and the fact that meals take place with friends and family means our memories are all tied to it.

  2. Food is a personal connection to our past and present. I am reminded of this often as I prepare a family recipe that always brings back fond memories. It is not necessarily the components, but the look, smell, and taste that transforms me back to treasured family celebrations or memorable travels. Nice article!

    • Absolutely! You make a good point about the family recipes…it is so true.
      Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to share your thoughts.

  3. I really enjoy your lovely words and amazing photography. Food is something we all need to nourish our bodies but also has so many memories and milestones associated with it that just a memorable smell from the kitchen can recall so many fabulous thoughts.

    • You are so right! I appreciate your kind comment and I’m so glad to see so many people share such similar, positive connections to food.
      Thank you.

  4. Great article! Food is so much more than just nourishment for your body. It traces the history of a people, brings back memories from your past, and brings people together. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  5. I certainly understand your perspective about those southern foods as I’m a granddaughter of the south. Fried okra is something special! Nowadays, I’m seriously struggling to cut back on certain foods. I do love partaking in foods from various cultures.

    • Fried okra is one of the BEST southern foods—it is special! I love it but I haven’t loved it for a long while… it’s sad the healthy foods just aren’t as tasty.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  6. Well-written. How many memories do we all have tied up with the smells and tastes of certain foods. We should never have to give up anything that gives us spiritual and emotional sustenance as well as nutrition…moderation is the key.

      • Hey, more food photos like that and I will follow you anywhere! LOL. What I really miss is a good homemade crawfish gumbo with sides of sliced red tomatoes fresh out of the garden, fried okra, and a couple ears of fresh corn and hot cornbread right out of the oven with lots of butter (of course!). I never really cared for sweet tea, but I will take a piece of sweet potato pie with fresh whipped cream for dessert, if you don’t mind! 😉
        My favorite foods from other countries are Thai of any shape, form or fashion and a really good chicken burrito with homemade salsa and pico de gallo. Eclectic, right? ,

        • I like the way you think; it looks like you have the same taste in food that I do!
          The garden will hopefully be productive this year…I’ll work on cooking more (just so I can share the photos, of course)! 🙂

  7. Pingback: july 26: liberia | Wood Rabbit Journey

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