The goal of my blog still seems to be the same as what I envisioned a year ago, so here is what I wrote on that particularly hot but inspired evening. At least now I have a better internet connection, and there is no guilt-ridden-impending-dissertation-deadline looming over my head so I can simply begin writing and sharing with you as hopefully the inspiration continues.
Here’s my story to start us out:
Food has always been part of my life. Perhaps not a shocking discovery, as a living being that clearly relies on food to survive. But I’ve taken for granted an upbringing that has celebrated an abundance of good family with an abundance of good food. The heart and soul of my childhood home comes not just from the wonderful people who make up my family, but also emanates from within the old stone walls of a house that has served my family, and families of the past. The land on which that house sits is rich in its bounty of trees, vegetables, fruits, and unlimited childhood and adult imaginings.
Within the walls of the house are two very important objects that reside in (and even define) our kitchen. The antique wooden stove burns hot during a cold Canadian winter, and steadily infuses the air not just with a proper dousing of wood-smoke, but with the scent of steamed vegetables, roasted meats, baked goods, and even simmering maple sap when the season is right. As food is cooking in this treasure chest of synesthetic memories; another food domain sits across the room predictably cooling, generally preserving, and equally revealing, hiding, and always overflowing with its items that define its purpose. Coloured with photos of family, friends, pets, and newspaper clippings, this family fridge is fully enclosed around what Claude Levi Strauss terms the culinary triangle (the raw, the cooked, and yes, even the rotten)—a blessing I enjoyed but never really questioned as a child.
I read once that physically and symbolically the hearth (fire, stove, kitchen, home) is the center of the family. This particular hearth (or heart) is surrounded by a particular old stone building that sits on a particular bit of land, nestled in a particular lovely little community outside of Ottawa, Canada. The land is Sunny Maples Farm, a glorious terrain, that for me emanates the joys of family, love, adventure, relaxation, and hard work. Once a site of the Iroquois indigenous peoples (as evidenced by the remains of a longhouse and the scatterings of arrow heads—excavated and preserved by an archeological team from Ottawa University), the land has also been home to early settlers who fashioned it as their family farm. As a child, I enjoyed the adventures of climbing old trees, swinging from a rope into piles of hay in the old barn, and investigating and inventing any imaginable excuse to play with my big brother and visiting friends in this great outdoors.
Sunny Maples is now a hobby farm, run by my parents who spend a great deal of their time tending to the large vegetable garden, and the many other flower, herb, and even spiritual gardens. The landscape was completely changed by my parents, especially with mom’s attention to detail, and dad’s constant urge to plant trees. While some of the trees are hundreds of years old, particularly the maples that lend the name to the farm, there is now an Upper Canadian jungle of species both deciduous and coniferous. With the help of my parents’ loving hands, these trees have grown delicious varieties of apples, pears, cherries and plums.
As my parents met during their masters in Agro-forestry, perhaps it was inevitable that I would become interested in thinking about food. Yet my appreciation for the countryside and the bounty Sunny Maples produced was not always there. As a teen, I considered my parents to be ‘moderately reformed hippies’, and at the time, often resented the rural lifestyle that I felt was keeping me away from the adventure of the city. I took every opportunity to go into the city, solidifying my bond with my best friend, as we tested the boundaries of our young adulthood through a newfound lifestyle (a changing lifestyle that even then centred on a change in food—and drinking—behaviours).
My appetite for learning about different cultures began to expand, and my desire to understand my own assumptions about life and meaning did also. I was lucky to take my undergraduate degree double majoring in Religious Studies and Anthropology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia—where I delighted in the culinary revels of Eastern Canada. For the first time I enjoyed the taste of beer with my introduction to the culture surrounding Sir Alexander Keith, and I indulged in both a new level of independence, and an abundance of fresh seafood.
During this time I also came to appreciate the regular care-packages sent to me from my mother. Boxes filled with fruits and baked goods—grown, prepared, and infused with the tastes, goings-on, and memories of home. Ironically, yet not surprisingly, this separation from home is what also helped me appreciate the value of the upbringing I had, and I now think of Sunny Maples as my personal rooted oasis. It’s an oasis with memories of family, love, growth, changing seasons, and delicious food. Coinciding with my sense of love for these roots, I also have an insatiable desire for international exploration, intercultural interaction, and continued learning.
Thinking, learning, and living through food has become part of an ever-growing appetite of mine. With anthropology my focus, and bartending part-time during my undergrad, I started thinking about how gender, place, time and other socially constructed aspects of our lives greatly influence the way we behave around each other—especially through food and drink. I was particularly lucky to gain the opportunity to conduct my undergrad honours research with the Sikh community of Halifax, with a focus on the Sikh communal meal, langar. This opportunity officially inducted me into the realm of the anthropology of food, where I discovered that I wasn’t alone in wanting to celebrate our human relationship with food.
After submitting my thesis, and with my brain officially fried from academic intake, I took a few years to explore my love of humanity, and my love of food in different ways. I lived in Ghana working for a small NGO in the Upper East Region. This is where I was really inspired to explore the significance and impacts of our food choices. I also later worked in a restaurant as a server and as a front of house manager in Canada for two years, where an entirely different side of food culture was revealed to me. It was then time to join the ranks of academia again, and when I typed ‘masters + anthropology of food’ into my search key, the first search listing that Google selected for me was the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. A few inquiries, an application, an enormous bank loan, and the purchase of a one-way-ticket later, and I was off to London.
I have now completed the MA Anthropology of Food program. Through a series of what I shall name—for the sake of simplicity- serendipitous events, I found myself in Tanzania, where I continued my study of langar through a more focused lens in the anthropology of food. I now find myself in Taiwan teaching English and exploring more of this beautiful planet. For the last few years I have had an idea to start a blog, but I just never took the time. With urgings from friends and family, and with my own need to process my wandering food thoughts, I’m hoping this blog will give not just me, but you, dear reader, a greater attention to appetite.
This blog is about an appetite for travel, an appetite for learning, an appetite for adventure, and most especially: an appetite for food. I do not take for granted the special position I’m in to experience these things and appreciate what I have, and I hope to draw attention to the way we can learn about our own lives, and the lives of others through food. Such imaginings are important to consider, not only because I think learning about food is fun, but food is also literally what sustains our lives as humans, and we should think about our access and our connections to food in more critical and reflective ways. It’s an appetite I expect will only continue to grow. While our tastes for some foods or some ideas in life may wane, the meaning behind our food choices will only expand as we pay more attention.
In addition to sharing my current tastes of adventure, I will slowly include a few entries from past emails of traveling abroad—particularly as they relate to my food experiences when traveling; and I will also eventually contribute reflective entries about my ghosts-of-foods-past that I have not yet had the chance to write about, but that I can now think about in new light. I will also post links to articles, videos or other blogs that I find share a special attention to food. While this blog may have anthropological undertones by the very nature of my own background, it is by no means claiming authority as academic. I will leave that to my dissertation, and to the professionals. Instead, this is a space to engage as an everyday person with everyday wonderings about food and travel.
I welcome responses to my blog, and encourage you, dear reader, to think about your food with a never satiated attention to your own appetite. And, because I think now is a perfect moment to taste another cheesy food pun (don’t worry, I never get my fill, and neither shall you), Bon Appetite!