My experience with food, like others, began a long time ago. I was lucky enough to grow up with a garden. I experienced slow food before I knew the concept, but I took it for granted.
Throughout high school, I wasn’t concerned with food. I was exposed to nice meals and healthy options, but I was distracted as most teens are. I became obsessed with calories and portions. It makes me sick thinking back. This obsession ruined my love for food, and it didn’t do any good for my body either.
Not until years later, would I realize and cherish food. Travel sparked this change. Many may find it odd that my love and appreciation for food was created from my disrespect of food, my tiny weight change, and my interest in the slow food movement.
Upon entering college, I wanted to take a semester or year abroad. I was looking for a change. In my second year of college, I said hell with it, I’m outta here! See ya America! I decided to study abroad at Brighton University, UK. Brighton was an amazing place to be, and I was extremely happy with my choice. When I think of Brighton I imagine the beach. And what can be better then being by the water? nothing.
I laugh at my experience with English food. It’s not exactly my first choice. I feel ashamed admitting this, but it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it! I recall many unpleasant experiences. Me in Mr. Chips at 3am with my boyfriend and 5 other British army blokes ordering, “Chicken Burger and Chips please!” It was probably the company I was with, but hey, I was traveling abroad and making the most of it. To be honest, I have pleasant memories of English food. Sometimes I miss a good cup of English tea when it rains. Breakfast is for kings in England as well, and nothing is better than a cool English morning with breakfast in bed! But English food did me wrong. I was exposed to a lot of toast with margarine, Hobnobs, fish and chips, chips and gravy, and a multitude of other fried foods. I’m sure others have experienced the slow food side of England, but I experienced the packaged food, alcohol, and 10 extra pounds. Not until a year later, would I appreciate the local slow food culture in England.
A clear moment in my travels where I realized the beauty of slow food, was in France. A group of us wandered into a market, and were amazed by all the fresh fruit, flowers, vegetables, cheese, and cooked meals. I remember spending the majority of my money there. I bought jam for the family, berries, and a mixture of fresh cooked seafood. I honestly might have walked through the whole market three times over. It is evident that food draws people in. It also brings us together. I spoke with the man who made the jam I purchased. He was interested in me as a foreigner, and I had interest in his story and passion for homemade products. People love sharing food, especially if it’s good! But food is so much more than nutritious; it’s a way to share culture. In many ways, I didn’t realize how food determined situations during my time abroad. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I was able to look back and see how significant food was in my relationships.
Issues with food brought high tensions in our flat at Brighton University, UK. Our international flat housed Americans, Koreans, Danes, French, Italians, Spanish, Germans, and English residence. As a flat, we decided to hold cultural nights where one country would cook and explain the importance of their meal. It was an exciting time for learning about our fellow flat mates. There was a lot of positive interaction, but, sadly, some conversations lead to spoiled friendships. I cherished these conversations. This was a point in my life where I was questioning a lot about my own country. Some didn’t take this opportunity the same way. A few Americans were angered and felt disrespected by questions asked about obesity, pollution, and racism within the United States. Others were similar to me, but some just being boys, added gasoline to the fire.
It was Thanksgiving, and the Americans had the floor. The girls were set on proving Americans weren’t uncultured people with horrible taste in food; they were baking and cooking days before the event. The boys, on the other hand, were doing as they do. Me and a select few steered clear of the mess. Thanksgiving came, and the Koreans were most interested in what Thanksgiving represented, why we celebrate, and how the food was made. The boys made their grand entrance with 20 hamburgers from McDonald’s…o no! Most laughed about it, the Koreans were confused believing we eat McDonald’s on Thanksgiving, and the girls were extremely pissed…Tensions were high. I find it funny how food could be the cause of all this tension. It all worked out in the end. Everyone understood that the hamburgers were a joke, and we moved on…well the majority of us.
The Koreans put us to shame. No one cooked like the Koreans. They were the perfect example of sharing culture and love through food. Jack was the main chief. When Jack cooked, he made a feast…and this was multiple times a week! He made fun of the Korean women for not being able to cook. He brought so many people together. Most of the time, I had no idea what was going on, but I loved being invited to share in their meals. There was no shame in being wrong, and it allowed me to understand more about my new friends. I see the difference in American eating verses other cultures here. We take the glory out of food. Many talk of eating on the run, and family meals being separate based on multiple schedules. Many take the time and dedication out of preparing food as well as sharing with those cared for. Most meals Jack prepared were hours long and everyone shared. It was an amazing time where the invited parties felt appreciated. I realized whatever feeling these meals created was important.
After my return home, I began to find slow food everywhere. I would travel back to the UK to visit my boyfriend in the small town of Hereford. Sometimes I would stay a month. It was slow and pleasant there. Hereford is known for its cattle and farmland. It is truly a beautiful city! I was into the slow food movement now, and I could see differently. Every Sunday the farmers market in the city center was filled with fresh meats and veg. Farmers tell their story, if you let them, and it truly is worth the time spent in town. I was so much more excited to cook, eat, and share a meal after hearing about the farm and the dedication of the man who sold me my meat. It’s a beautiful thing. Now cooking was a new experience.
Today I never count calories, I never worry about my portions, and I NEVER eat low or reduced fat items. I cook with whole and pure products, as many as I can get my hands on! I love and appreciate my own body to treat it well, with the respect it deserves. And hey, if you’re at my table, I want you to be satisfied. Food just is not the same when it’s not shared. Sharing food goes back to our early days as humans. I believe there is something significant about sharing food with those you care about. Travel sparked this relationship I now have with food, and when I eat, I appreciate all the favors I experience. I appreciate the company I’m with, as well. There are many great stories I have surrounding food, but in the end, it doesn’t matter where because we are all capable of creating this experience with the ones we welcome into our lives.
Here is to food and the amazing capabilities it has!
Please share any significant moments with food from your travels!