Food for Thought: Food as an Important Part of Our Cultural Identity

There are many ‘things’ that connect people to their sense of identity. Personally, I think food establishes a strong link to identity as it is part of one’s culture. If you ask any French or Italian person they will wholeheartedly agree. Food is where memories are made; smells floating in the air, sizzling and chopping sounds, touch of different produce, sight of a delightful plate, and finally the taste… need I say more! Well, as a matter of fact I will…  

When I travel it is not just about escaping the often damp and wet Irish weather, but rather exploring new places and the people that bring meaning to these very places. For me food is an integral part of the voyage. I am passionate about food as it is part of our identity. I appreciate the awakening of my taste buds with new flavours and sharing such sensorial experiences with others, especially my husband who is also passionate about food.

So next time you decide to indulge in a trip to Paris, endeavour to sip your espresso at a ‘real’ Parisian cafe rather than at one of the globally standardised coffee shops! In Italy, bite into an authentic pizza – Margherita is basic but best! – the typical Neapolitan pizza. If you enjoy a great feed of fresh fish especially cod then off to Portugal where they prepare cod in a thousand ways.

Embrace the local culinary identity. Travelling is an adventure that should encompass the taste buds so bring the experience into your plate.

But let’s not forget we have great quality produce in Ireland and especially here in Cork! Both city and county have interesting food markets where local excellence is a trade mark. Yet, despite these resources, Ireland is not recognised for its culinary identity; and consequently, we, Irish, tend to belittle the food distinctiveness of our country. However have you ever asked yourself why we export so much of our produce; why so many foreigners appreciate our Milleens Cheese, produced in Eyeries, West Cork, or Union Hall Smoked Fish, or Clonakilty Black pudding, or our dairy products such as our best butter produced from grass-fed cows… the list is endless. I’m not talking about intensive farming; I’m encouraging you to think about local food at its best. We are fortunate enough to have a rich natural food resource on our doorstep, that is, seafood. Seafood was appreciated by our ancestors, by coastal and inland dwellers alike and would have been a regular part of their diet.  So next time someone makes a comment about our lack of culinary identity, think about our salted ling traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or our infamous Bacon & Cabbage, and all the new ways in which we can use our local quality produce to embrace traditional food with a contemporary twist. Our senses of identity are created and shaped through our engagement in practices that connect us to particular places. So what are ye waiting for? Go shopping, get your pots and pans out and start experimenting…

I’ve attached a link to an article in the Irish Times; enjoy the read:

Quality NOT Quantity

Food waste is the scourge of 21st-century society. However, it is up to each one of us, as individuals, to make conscious decisions about the food we eat and, therefore, the food we buy. We could begin to considerably reduce food waste and consequently food shortage. Being mindful about food waste is one of the many solutions to feeding the world’s population. There is enough food for all of us we just need to think about how we eat. We have the power to change the society in which we live, we are society. Governments and multinational food companies respond to what we, society, the people, want. We set the trends and the multinationals follow; their number one priority is to make money.

We have never been so educated to make informed decisions; information is at our finger tips…literally! Be an ‘ingredient reader’; indeed it takes time in the beginning but practice makes perfect and in no time it will become second-nature. Be aware of the food you’re buying and where it comes from.

Buy local, eat local. Don’t be afraid to make a stand. Be part of positive change. Show your family and friends and especially your children that we all have the power to change.

Be aware of seasons as that is when food is at its best. Remember, what food you put in your mouth is who you are. You have one body, one life, one shot at it. Life is a theatre performance not a film with multiple ‘takes and cuts’!

I recall my early 20s living in Paris, admiring the food stalls at weekly markets or at the greengrocer’s. They were so vibrantly colourful. I always bought French produce and when it was not possible I bought food imported from neighbouring countries. It was always about reducing food miles and supporting local.

Eating better means eating less and spending less and less waste. It also means an even food-distribution for all of us. Buying local means eating fresh produce which is healthier and tastier because it’s seasonal! Support local food growers, fishers and farmers.

Reducing food waste starts at home. It is rather simple; check the ‘larder’ before you go grocery shopping. Make a shopping list and stick to it! Think local to reduce food miles.

So… buy local, eat fresh, and reduce waste & food miles. Be an actor of positive change.