Journeys through food: the nourishing art of preserving memory and identity in everyday food stories

This was my submission for my final year thesis at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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My housemate and I are following the ritual we like to practice every morning – of waking up, rolling out of bed, and shuffling downstairs to the kitchen where we stick the kettle on. The kettle is rushed under the tap, filled with water, and stuck onto boil. Mugs are placed on the kitchen counter, and a teabag is thrown into the bottom of each mug. I pour in the water, let the teas brew and withdraw the milk from the fridge. Until, my housemate, Allan, stops me. “You aren’t going to put the milk in while the teabags are still in the cup are you? Where I’m from that’s sacrilegious.” To his wishes – I take out the teabag, plunge in the milk and he sips, satisfied. 

This is a process that no doubt is familiar to all of us – a daily ritual, that we all take pride in. But the way we do things can often differ either culturally or between different families. It’s these inflections that go as unspoken and unrepresented as the way we boil an egg or make an omelette.
Thinking about food can help reveal the rich and messy textures of our attempts at self understanding, as well as our interesting and problematic understanding of our relationship to social others” (Narayan 1995: 64).

In the flick of a hand, or the tossing of a wok – our kitchen habits reveal a deep tapestry of layers and feelings. Gestures are at the backbone of a fundamental thing we all do in the kitchen – they are a way of, “being in-the-world and making it ones home,” (Certeau, Giard, Mayol; 1998; 154). Our little gestures acting as entry points to stories of experiences learnt from family, friends or professionals. They stand to represent the eccentricities of our character, a slight of hand that is as loud and expressive of the flavours of whatever we’re cooking – a presentation of the self in motion.

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