Food is never just about the food.
There’s just something about food that connects individuals across culture, age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Food is the great gatherer. Or merger. And blurrer of lines and softening of prejudices.
Something changes when we share food with others and gather with others around a common table. It’s hard to hate someone when they are enraptured with your grandmother’s pasta. Or pho. Or biryani. And, as a general observation, people will not crap on you if you like their food. Period, the end.
Often, I have walked into a new restaurant or grocery store in which no one looks like me or anybody I personally know. Sometimes I get nervous and feel tempted to leave as quickly as I entered. But have found unexpected connections with others by fighting through my uneasiness and talking to people about food.
For example, during my first few, desperately homesick weeks in Fargo, I visited the Somali Business Center. On my first visit, I fought through my shyness and made a beeline for the coffee counter where I asked the employees about the handmade food that lay inside mysterious plastic bins. Over warm Somali tea, richly flavored sambusas, and sweet fried dough, I felt strangely at home in a larger community of individuals that no more looks like me than those in the Somali Business Center.
What we really need to be afraid of is apathy, not ethnic. Apathy, not different. You should be afraid of apathy, because that’s what will give you food poisoning.
Despite Ryan Bakken’s claim in this Grand Forks Herald article, newspaper reviews in larger markets really aren’t saved for only the high-end, fine-dining experiences. This is evident by taking a quick glance at the New York Times Dining and Wine section that includes reviews of pizza, Vietnamese chicken wings, and dumplings. If our community spent as much time exploring locally owned, family restaurants, we could foster an environment in which they could flourish.
I’d like to add that even if it doesn’t look good. . . eat it!
(Or at least try a few bites).