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How the Food We Eat Reflects our Culture and Identity Essay

Ntozake Shange in her essay, What Is It We Really Harvestin’ Here? had taught her readers a very important lesson that is very vital in understanding one’s culture and one’s family. It is the simple truth that food is more than food. It was clearly communicated in Ntozake Shange’s essay that food is not just an arbitrary or random thing that arises from one’s culture or family. Rather, the local food of one’s culture and family is a reflection of his or her environment and his way of living. The food that we eat is a mirror to what the nature provided to us outside of our houses.

At the same time, food is also the mirror of our own creativity and taste. Whether we prefer sweetness over spiciness, such preferences appear and manifest on how we prepare and how we cook our foods. Summing it up, food is a very important element that we must take a look (and taste) to have a good grasp or understanding of one’s culture or one’s family. The essay What Is It We Really Harvestin’ Here? can be regarded as a very important and significant piece of literature in proving the significance of food in understanding ones’ culture.

In the essay of Shange, she told the story of numerous local delicacies that will convince us to the point that we are establishing. Take for example the Shange’s example of sweet potatoes. In the essay, she made a very good way of instructing his readers on how to grow quality sweet potatoes. Growing sweet potatoes require much dedication, patience and knowledge. As seen in Shange’s instruction on how to grow a sweet potato, it was seen clearly how one must work hard to be able to produce a good quality potato.

In fact, as stated in the essay, “[one must ]Get your soil ready at least two weeks before planting. . . (Shange 111)” The entire procedure is difficult. As stated again, “The easiest thing to do with a sweet potato is to bake it” (112). These lines clearly showed that growing sweet potatoes is a tough job. This difficult method of growing such crops mirrors the characters of the people or group of people who happened to eat those crops. As growing a potato requires dedication and patience, we can also argue that the people that grow this crops are dedicated and patient.

This is our first way of proving the point that we established above – that food is viable factor to see in understanding one’s culture or one’s family. Another notable proof of the relationship of food and culture is the case of the Carolina Rice. As discussed in Shange’s essay, rice, more particularly the Carolina rice reached a great demand in the 1700s. Because of this, the slaves who came from West Africa are priced better than their other counter parts. This is because of a more complex knowledge and skill that is required in growing rice. The slaves who grew from rice countries are priced better.

As stated in the essay, “Plantation owners were perfectly aware of the superiority of African slaves from rice country” (114). Despite the complexity of growing rice, its cooking is much simpler than its cultivation. Again, this can be related to the simplicity of the lives of the people who adapt this kind of food. Rather than undergoing some complex process of cooking, rice are just simply boiled in water (116). Once again, this showed how rice that is very complicated to grow yet very simple to cook mirror its African cultivators who have a rich culture and tradition, yet living a simple life.

The way we cook our own food tells a lot on our preferences and fondness. In the essay, it was written in the later part of it that North Americans does not prefer burnt rice at the bottom of the casserole. In fact, they find it scary. However for the people other people, rice, at least the bottom of it are preferred to be burnt. This burning made possible the cooking of very dry rice (116). In my opinion, these burnt rice preferences of the colored people remind them the colored of their skins.

Sidestepping a bit from the literature to my own experience, being Hispanic also mirrored on my food tastes. My taste for a good food is determined by my background as someone who has a Hispanic descent. Coming from this particular background, I prefer foods that possess a great deal of flavor and variety. As common to all Hispanics, we prefer rice meals, chilies, spices and tomatoes. This in respect to our cultivation of these crops and fruits in the earlier times and of course to our rich cultural and historical past.

Shange had successfully proved to us the important relationship of food and our cultural and familial identity. As we said in the beginning of this essay, food is not a random and arbitrary thing that just popped in our households. Rather, food is product of our experiences, our appeals, our desires that were smoothened by time. What we grow is who we are. What we buy is who we are. What we eat is who we are. Food is truly a mirror to our cultures and most importantly, a reflection of our humanity. Works Cited Shange, Ntozake. What Is It We Really Harvestin’ Here. p. 109-117


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