Sunday, August 22, 2010

Food for Thought!

Introducing Interfaith Action Inc.'s cookbook, Food for Thought. The cookbook cover - designed by Rachel Finklestein especially for the IFA - and the introduction that I wrote, reflect the sentiments of all those associated with this project in some way. This cookbook is a celebration of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Sharon that the IFA is proud to support.

One of the major inspirations behind writing or compiling a book is to serve as a source of recorded history. Whether it is a work of fiction or non-fictional narrative, the reach and impact of the written word transcends geographical boundaries and challenges the mind. Writing a cookbook is one such endeavor that aims to connect generations by passing on their recipes to the realm of timelessness.

All cultures have their own cuisine and etiquette, and sharing their favorite traditional foods enriches one’s outlook. As revealed in Food in Global History, by Raymond Grew, “Historians find in foods’ ties to economics, technology, commerce, and re¬ligion particularly satisfying evidence of how ordinary, daily activities are re¬lated to larger historical trends.” Cookbooks from different cultures have addressed this finding in a variety of ways.

Grew discovered that the first cookbook, called Kuchenmeisterey, was published as early as 1485, in Nuremberg. Moreover, early English cookbooks largely targeted a female audience, while the French encouraged “the culinary arts for the elitist male chef domain”. American cookbooks centered upon a married woman’s life revolving around cooking and serving meals to her family. Eastern cultures have also primarily focused on domesticity as a feminine trait, and cookbooks address the housewife who is skilled in the art of cooking as a ‘valued’ wife. A favorite saying in the East is: “The way to a man’s heart goes through the kitchen door”. However, financial concerns and the increasing role of the educated woman in the work environment have resulted in men becoming more actively involved in mealtime preparation.

Inside the covers of cookbooks, one discovers food and eating preferences of cultures from all regions of the world. Cooking and eating is not as simple an affair as one might think. Reflecting family preferences and cultural traditions, the home cook chooses vegetables or meat and selects grains, fruit or eggs spiced with hot or bland flavors. These foods undergo a variety of cooking techniques such as frying, boiling, grilling or steaming; or they may be preserved by smoking, salting, sugaring, steeping, pickling, drying, or soaking. A lot goes into the accomplishment of the end result we so eagerly consume! It is also interesting to note that many dishes made in different parts of the world have much in common, e.g. a rice dish which is a favorite in many countries is known by many different names, such as Biryani or Pulao (Pakistan, India), Jambalaya (US South), Bocumbop (Korea), Paella (Spain), Chau Fan (China), Pilaf (some countries of Middle East, Central Asia), Pilafi (Greece) Qabli Palau (Afganistan) and Risotto (Italy). All these dishes feature local produce and spices to give each their own flavorful characteristics.

Cultural etiquette also varies with region. Cultures may require that meals be eaten at a table, sitting around a floor mat, or standing at a counter. Some may recite a prayer of thanks at the beginning of a meal, others at the end. Diners may use cutlery, chopsticks or hands as implements. All signify adherence to preferred cultural or religious custom and provide a window into the heart of cultural history.

Since food has enormous potential for serving as an indicator of cultural trends, we spend hours researching online to find ways to enrich our eating experiences with a variety of ethnic foods. Living in Sharon, we have a wonderful advantage where we can take a trip into a foreign food culture without leaving our small town! To make this experience even more meaningful, a committee of volunteers from an organization in our town called Interfaith Action Inc. (IFA) has compiled this cookbook, Food for Thought. It consists of a rich blend of traditions and treats in the form of family favorite recipes from different cultures along with their anecdotal notes.

The IFA is known for encouraging Sharon’s cultural diversity to play an important role in weaving a sense of cohesion into our town and urging us to come together in many wonderful ways. We hope this cookbook will be another source of connection for a community that truly owns its diversity. The recipes included in this cookbook are followed by home cooks in not only the United States but also Cambodia, China, England, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Pakistan Portugal Russia, South Africa and Spain, to name a few.

Why the cookbook title, Food for Thought, you may wonder! This is not just a book. We chose this title so that as you prepare a dish for family or friends from our collection, you may reflect on the diversity represented by each recipe. Think of the tradition and the full range of cultural associations connected with every dish served to prior generations of the related culture. We hope you come out sated and enriched. Enjoy your meal!

The cookbook is now available for sale! Price for one book is $18 and for two or more, 15 $/book. Out of town shipping and handling charge, an additional $2. To order a copy, please contact Janet Penn at Interfaith Action Inc., P.O. Box 200, Sharon, MA 02067.

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