December 2014
Billie Silvey
Food and
Culture
All around the world, people express their
differing cultures by eating together.  And as
we travel—either literally by going from place
to place, or figuratively, by enjoying the food  
eaten by other cultures, we share in their
cultural experience and, to a limited extent, in
their lives.  

We proclaim a family relationship with
people all over the world.  We are all human.  
We all have bodies that require food to
sustain ourselves.  We all have cultural
heritages that express themselves in the
particular combinations of ingredients, the
distinctive herbs and spices, the particular
tastes and aromas that make our food
distinctively ours.

I have been enjoying watching Harvard
scholar
Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s TV series
Finding Your Roots.  One of my favorite
episodes, "
The Melting Pot," traced the
heritage of three famous chefs,
Tom
Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez and Ming Tsai,
through the culture of the foods they prepare

I didn't expect to get much from it, not being a
devotee of cooking shows, or even much of a
cook myself, but the stories of these three
men who won fame by cooking the dishes of
their ancestors were fascinating.  

As Gates pointed out, "America is a melting
pot of cultures and foods," and he taught his
guests new facts about their families through
the work of genealogists, who developed
family trees, and geneticists who studied the
DNA of each.  

Colicchio fell in love with food in the kitchen
of his large Italian family in Elizabeth, N.J.,
eating macaroni (pasta) every Sunday and
crabs in the summer.  He started working in
a restaurant at age 14.

His great-grandfather immigrated to New
York in 1901 from the small town of
Vallata,
Italy.  He went back and forth repeatedly,
taking money back to his family and being
separated from them for years at a time.  

It wasn't until 1947 that he was able to bring
his family to America.

Ming lived near his grandparents in Dayton,
Ohio.  Both were great cooks, making the
traditional food of
Hunan.

In 1937-38, the Japanese invaded
Beijing,
where Ming's grandfather was comptroller of
Yanking University.  He was imprisoned and
tortured.  

When the Communists won the Chinese
Civil War and were executing landowners
and intellecturals in the
Cultural Revolution,
Ming's grandfather saw the danger coming
and left everything to flee, first to Formosa
and then to the U.S.

Sanchez's family owned a cattle ranch in
Sonora, Mexico.  Americans crossed the
border, claiming the land as their own.  

Sanchez's great-grandfather had been born
in
Bilbao in the Basque region, fleeing from
the turmoil of civil war.

These three chefs, and millions more, have
brought their cultural heritages in the form of
their food to America, where it enriches all
our lives and helps us establish ties with
peoples around the world.