As some of you know, I am in a period of life and career transition. During this transition, quite a number of people have shared with me that they think I should consider doing something food related, as I like to cook (and, even more so, eat and learn about food) and have been sharing pictures of what I’ve been making on Instagram. Food has been an important part of my therapy in this transition.
While I am currently resisting these suggestions (no offence to those who have offered them!), my partner has also convinced me that while I am in this transition period I really have nothing better to fill my time with than to share more of what I am already making for my family and others. I am also hopeful that it will help me get back into the practice of regularly writing and more importantly get me back to a place where I enjoy writing.
When I began to think of a name for the site, or what ‘theme’ was going to hold it all together, I ran up against a mental stumbling block of sorts. Much of the joy of cooking for me is in trying new recipes and styles of food, trying a wide array of different types of food, and learning about new techniques, flavors, textures, and combinations of these I never even thought of before, as well as learning the history and culture where all of these things come from.
The world is full of so many delicious flavors and I grew up knowing about and tasting so few of these; I have so much to learn.
So, when my partner suggested a sort of A to Z theme, something that would allow me to continue to learn new things, try to cook them, and share them with you, that’s what made sense to me. Spices are an important component to good flavor and food, so I came up with Anise to Za’atar as a name.
Us white folks have a complicated history with spices. It was the quest for spices, which were exorbitantly expensive and a signifier of great wealth, that set off Columbus and others to explore new ways in which to obtain them. And we know how Columbus’ voyages and ‘discovery’ of the ‘new world’ ended up… (spoiler: slavery and genocide). The spice trade set off exploration and sea-faring, which set off the ‘discovery’ and exploration of new lands, and the founding of new colonies in these places. The resulting increase in availability of spices in Europe (and their subsequent decline in expense) led to them no longer being seen as a sign of wealth and prestige, and thus the turn in European cuisine away from spiced food. As a joke I’ve seen circulating around Twitter goes, “how is it that white folks colonized the world for spices but still don’t know how to use anything beyond salt and pepper?!”
Not only are there long, complicated histories of European conquest wrapped up with spices, but there are also more modern but no less complicated debates around cultural appropriation and cuisine. I’m not trying to rehash what’s been a long, well-thought out (mostly) debate, but when you understand the long histories of empire, the ways in which whiteness and empire have the power and influence to decide which cultures (and food, as a part of culture) are valuable or not, and the ways in which whiteness as a power structure seeks to subsume, appropriate, and steal what it finds valuable from other cultures while devaluing the same people who make that culture (and food), then…
I think us white folks who are looking to learn about and cook food from cultures that are not our own need to be careful, willing to listen and learn, and looking to give back in the ways we can. Want to think more about this with me? Here’s a couple of articles that I’ve found valuable, by people who have thought more about this and have more important things to say about it than I: this one by Dakota Kim in particular and this recent one by Moana Jackson on Maori culture and respecting what is sharable and what is not shareable, that could be easily applied to the ways in which white folks appropriate food cultures.
Both of these points to the ways in which we might build respectful and healthy relationships to the food we make and eat, as well as to the people and cultures in which these foods come from. I’ve posted this before and will likely continue to think on this theme, but I think:
Good food builds good relationships.
This means good relationships with the people and cultures that we are inspired by and learn from, good relationships with the ingredients, where they come from and how they get to our bowls, and good relationships with the people we share the food and recipes with. These are all a part of good food and good cooking for me.
I have learned that food brings people together. It brings people together to celebrate, to grieve, to plot, to build, to grow, and just to be with one another. And that is the kind of relational processes I’m currently drawn to and want to invest in.
I want to be able to continue to think through these things with you all as this develops. I want the space to be one that connects me to people, as I’ve already had the chance to do through Instagram and cooking, and to connect me to the food in new, more intentional ways.
I still have a lot to learn in this and I hope you’ll all join me for however long this continues, as I learn and share the joy of making good food.