Nostalgia and Pride: Who we Cook for

Take me on a journey

Show me how you got to the kitchen today

Take me from the fields in Italy

Take me from the farms in China

Take me to the fragrant smell of spices dancing together

Take me to the sounds of vegetables sizzling

Take me to the sounds of laughter and enjoyment

Show me how recipes were born of yesterday

Remember the days of being afraid of the flame,

unsure of the possibilities it held

Remember the time when the cutting board and knife were never yours to use

Remember the start, when you first cracked an egg

When you first licked batter off a spoon

When you first frosted a cake

When you first rolled some dough

Think of the teachers

Think of the ones who fought off your fear

Think of the ones who taught you to wield the knife

Think of the ones who introduced you to the possibilities of food

Think of the ones whose recipes you follow today

When you serve your dish, serve it with pride as a representation of those who cooked before



What piece did you choose to imitate?

            I chose to imitate the style of The Exegesis of Eating, by Alane Salierno Mason. While this piece is not a poem, I chose to imitate the message and general feeling of the written piece through my poetry.

Why did you choose this piece?

            I chose this piece because I felt a personal connection to it. In the piece, the author engages the reader’s imagination with a rich description of her childhood in her grandmother’s kitchen. She describes how she would observe her grandmother cooking and how she would listen to her grandfather and learn from him about the world. This reminds me of when I was growing up. Often times I would go over to my grandparents’ house and experience exactly what the author experienced. My grandfather would tell me stories and while listening to them, my grandmother would be making delicious food. The author goes on to discuss how she lost touch with her Italian cooking roots when she became busy with adult life. I feel a connection to that sentiment as well. As I have become more and more involved in college with classes and other activities I find that eating has become something that I try to fit into my schedule so I can keep focus on my other commitments. These personal connections are why I chose to write a poem that imitates The Exegesis of Eating.

What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

            By imitating the author, I learned a lot about the Italian immigrant experience in New York City. One concept that has become apparent over the past five weeks is that Italians put time and effort into their food. No shortcuts are taken as hastily made food can be differentiated very easily from the high quality Italian food that we have come to expect. This piece taught me that this standard did not end when Italian immigrants left Italy but instead became even more apparent. The incredible effort and precision put into Italian food became readily apparent in comparison to the cheap and hastily made American counterparts. The piece showed me that the effort is what set Italian food apart and helped it become the world spanning cuisine we know and love today. The author’s grandfather is quoted saying, “Pizza is everything he doesn’t like about America: quick, sloppy, cheap, eaten on the run, away from home…”. This line illustrates some of the very qualities that are often associated with quality Italian food. It often comes with a rustic home-made vibe and is no small affair that is eaten quickly as an afterthought. It is the focus of attention and is held to the highest standard. By imitating her style of remembering the culture that made us who we are today through food, I was able to understand what set Italian cuisine apart from others. It is the precision and effort that is put into the dishes, a practice that is generations old and still apparent on the plate today. 

What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

            While writing this piece I learned quite a bit about my own culture. As mentioned above, this piece helped me to see what sets Italian cuisine apart. In imitating that style, I was forced to look inwards and analyze my own culture. In my first blog post I mentioned how I learned that my family is a mix between classics and modern new twists. In writing my poem I looked back at my childhood and learned about my family and others like mine. Growing up we always had the classic Indian dishes of dosas, idlis, curry, and so much more. As I went through middle school and high school however, my family started branch out more. My mom tried her hand at dishes from all different cuisines and my father and I loved them. This balance of classics and new age twists worked well for my family. When I went off to college, I was excited to eat whatever I want whenever I wanted it, but something changed. When I went home for break I craved those classics like my mom’s fish curry or my grandmother’s biryani. Come Thanksgiving time I would always be looking out for the famous soup that my aunt would make. Meanwhile in the summer I could not wait to eat the wings my mom would always makes. All these different dishes became my version of “classics”. In writing this piece I have realized that I have re-defined what classics mean to me. They are not the same classics of my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Instead they are mine and they are different. This may not be the case for every Indian family, but it is what defines my family culture. This piece forced me to look inwards at my own family culture and I certainly learned a lot from it.

Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

            I definitely believe that there is a cultural DNA embedded in the piece I read and my own personal piece. I believer that DNA manifests itself as a sense of both nostalgia and pride. The readers of both pieces feel a sense of nostalgia while reading them as they are taken on a journey back to the culinary experiences of their youth. Both pieces aim to stimulate the senses to remind the readers of the time when they first experienced various culinary aspects and who they experienced them with. Whether it was a distant relative or a close family member, food helps tie people together. This nostalgia is an important element and helps to give rise to the pride. After experiencing all the emotions and sensations of their early culinary experiences, readers lead towards the life they are currently leading and the dishes they are currently serving. This ending point helps to tie together all the feelings from above as it gives the reader a path by which to go forward, which is by remembering those who cooked the same dishes before you. While we may stray from the path sometimes, in the end we will find out way back as it is culturally engrained in our DNA to cook with pride to represent those whose recipes we prepare.