My family has a complex relationship with food. Judging by my waist line, so do I.
When I got married I didn’t know how to cook, as in, at all. This came about for two reasons, the first being that no one in my family expected me to ever marry (“I pity the man who’ll take you” was mom’s favorite exclamation) and if I didn’t marry, culturally, I probably would never have moved out of my parents’ house, where mom cooked.
Except by the time I was fourteen or so, they were starting to suspect the good and dutiful daughter who lives with parents all her life would not work, but then another factor intervened, as I had the grades to go on the college track, and very few people with college degrees need to cook, beyond some simple dish for themselves. Which meant that other than frying something and making popcorn I needed no lessons in cookery. And mom was — still is when I visit — jealous of her kitchen, and won’t let another woman in it without force majeure.
So when mom realized I was about to get married, she freaked and tried to give me a crash course in two weeks — as I WAS PACKING to move to the States. As you can probably surmise, this didn’t work too well. Which led to my being left alone in the house my first day as a married woman (post honeymoon) when Dan went back to work and finding the house contained a package of spaghetti and a thing of minute steaks, neither of which did I know what to do with. (Yeah, we went out to eat.)
I’ve come a long way, baby, guided by two things: for my wedding my brother’s wife gave me a book of Portuguese cookery WITH PICTURES, and my MIL gave me The Joy of Cooking, back when it wasn’t the “joy of pushing vegetarianism and low fat cooking of dubious scientific provenance.”
I learn well from books. It’s kind of what I do. And I wanted to TRY stuff. Over the next three years, I never repeated a dish twice, except by special request. This meant we gained a lot of weight, since Dan likes new food, and also since I had no clue of portions (still don’t.)
After three years, we’d established a repertoire of favorites, but I branched out into “cuisines of the world.”
Here is where I burst your bubble about Portuguese cooking. The North of Portugal has the LEAST Latin cuisine in the world, except for the fact that you use garlic for everything except deserts (and now that I think about it, there’s probably a Portuguese desert involving garlic) and wine for EVERYTHING including some deserts.
Note though that garlic is considered not merely flavorful but very hot. In the North it is used sparingly last the food be labeled “sharp.” My mom used to buy 2 oz envelopes of pepper that lasted her forever, and she bought her salt in little containers that lasted forever also. She complained grandma (dad’s mom) made her food so salty it was like “licking a battery.” I liked grandma’s food. And I ate olives as a snack all the time. It is probably worth noting that the English are a great influence in the North of Portugal and also that, given the associated family names that have intermarried with mom’s family forever, there is some indication they were kicked out of England after the doctor’s plot. I’m not sure what this means, since Elizabethans thought camphor was a spice, but perhaps the Elizabethan cuisine from which English bland cuisine descended did a parallel trajectory in mom’s family. Or perhaps there is a certain taste that’s genetic.
The indications for this are the following: I still don’t like overly hot food, though I like FLAVORFUL food (and the only herb used in cookery in Portugal, in the North, is parsley. In the south it’s cilantro.) Younger son, too, is not fond of really hot dishes, and his definition of “hot” is south of mine. His older brother OTOH was eating fire-alarm chili at very little past one, and has special arrangements with Thai restaurants who know him to make the food as spicy as the one of them who REALLY likes spicy food can take it.
Curiously, while pregnant with Robert I craved spicy Indian food. It’s practically what I lived on. With Marshall I craved fish. The curious thing here is that I don’t LIKE either food. And that these things are the boys’ favorite foods, even now.
So, there is surely some genetic component. And all the Britishers in the North of Portugal made Northern Portuguese food more bland than otherwise. But even the South isn’t crazy spicy, which you’d think for people who traded all over the world it would be.
When I got older, we got a lot of refugees from Portuguese African colonies, and they ate spicier food, particularly piri piri. I found I could tolerate a bit of it, if was what was on offer, but it was still not my favorite. (Same reason I don’t ride roller coasters. I find the sensation unpleasant — possibly because of a middle ear defect. I also get vertigo when looking up — and I don’t voluntarily seek unpleasant experiences unless they produce something needed.)
Now, because my husband and older son, who are who I cook for most of the time now, like spicy food, I often make it. I will also make a pot of unspiced vegetables which I mix in on my plate, so I can tolerate it.
Which is how I came to make vindaloo last night, and post about it on Facebook as a joke about cultural appropriation. The last thing I counted on was having someone come on to tell me all the edible foods came from Europe, including Vindaloo, because it started in Portugal.
I’d never heard of this theory of “racial superiority by food” and I was stunned, mostly because a) food palate is learned (however much one has the inclination to like, say, spicey food) and b) ANYONE who has ever eaten vinha d’alho (a dish made by marinading meat in wine and garlic overnight and then stewing it in olive oil, with a dash of pepper and salt) knows that vindaloo might start with the meat, might have garlic and a dash of wine vinegar, but has otherwise bloody all to do with a cuisine in which cumin is considered a bit racy. (Used in the South, but not in the North of Portugal, much.) (And before you go racing through the net and coming back with all sorts of Portuguese recipes using high spice, let me tell you that’s as great a bit of nonsense as people who discover a Portuguese recipe from Azores online and ask me if I ever had it. Or people who think Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine are the same. Portuguese cuisine has changed an awful lot in the last thirty years, mostly as people traveled more, but also as they catered more for tourists. Also a drive to reduce salt in cooking has led to the use of herbs. But I’m telling you what I grew up with. A cuisine in which Vindaloo would be considered so spicy as to be inedible.)
The thing that shocked me about this assertion of the superiority of European cookery, besides the stunning levels of ignorance on display, is that there is no such thing as “European cookery.” Tell French and English that their cookery is alike, and you’ll get killed. Even Portuguese and Spanish cookery aren’t even close to similar. H*ll, in the Portugal I grew up in, cookery varied over a twenty mile radius, because the culture still hadn’t adapted to CARS and there were no highways or convenient roads.
BUT the ultimate error of this thinking is the belief that all culture is genetic. This is the error of the SJWs in which name we are enjoined to not make people assimilate here because that’s “racist”. It is the error of believing that speaking a certain language, liking certain foods or a preference for a certain type of music — or governance — are genetic, inborn and unchangeable.
This is the veriest nonsense. Sure, there are inborn preferences. No mother who ever birthed a child believes in tabula rasa. From birth Robert had certain, definite preferences. Maybe before birth if there’s a mechanism by which kids influence what the mother craves. And by age three he liked really spicy Indian food and was a fiend for Greek food, even though neither of which were things I cooked regularly.
But any mother who has had two kids knows that such preferences vary much even within a family. And don’t say it’s because my kids are mutts. We’all mutts. The same weird preference for highly spiced foods runs in my family. As in, my brother loves it. I don’t think anyone else in the family does.
To ascribe a preference for hot foods to “European blood” would be crazy, as would be to ascribe a preference for any foods. I’m sure there are Britishers who adore hot food without ever having tasted it as children, but I know growing up in the same sort of blandish diet, that it took me years working up to even mildly spicy which I can now enjoy. My genetic preference is PROBABLY for bland food (I remember as a child thinking onions were spicy, and I watched younger son do the same) but this was exacerbated by not being exposed to much of it early on. Younger son who genetically seems to be much like me, has a much higher tolerance and even enjoyment for foods I’d have considered unbearable at his age. And his brother, no matter how much he was predisposed to eat hot food and like it, had this characteristic exacerbated by growing up in America where he could go to a Thai restaurant at eight and convince them he really liked it “Thai hot.”
Now where the commenter was “right”: I don’t think there is any food in the world that hasn’t been influenced by some form of “European” cooking, because Europeans went all over. So, of course, Thai cooking has French influence. And Indian cooking has Portuguese influence. But that’s where things get confused. I grew up with a solid… well… jam would be a way to put it, though it’s more like a jello after it dries thing called Marmelada. It is called that because it’s made from Marmelos, which is the Portuguese word for quince. (BTW I’ve found reference in British books to this being GREEN which is fricking insane. It’s orange-red. The jelly made from the peels is deep ruby red. Since these references are from the nineteeth century, I wonder if there was a method of making the dish, or something used to color it then which I never saw.) The British, during the Napoleonic wars, saw it, and liked it, and from it made “Marmelade” which is orange (made from oranges) but tastes nothing like it, and is, to Portuguese food trained taste buds nearly inedible being bitter. However, it wasn’t until I was an exchange student and one of my best friends, a Japanese girl, got a package from home, that I realized Marmelada is nearly identical in color, texture and taste to a red bean sweet made by Japanese. Portuguese have been in contact with Japan from the 11th century. Which came first? The red bean or the quince? Who knows? Who cares? Humans have probably traded recipes as much as genes around the world. We probably have traces of Neanderthal recipes (or recipes for Neanderthal or both) in our cookery.
There are plenty of reasons for Europeans to be proud of their culture and their achievements. For one, their Judeo/Christian basis infused them with an appreciation for individual humans, which in turn made freedom and economic prosperity possible.
But a preference for a certain food is not a mark of superiority. The statement that European food is better is about as sensical as saying cow is a more “logical” word than vache.
Sure, humans are born with certain instincts, but training and early exposure constitute most of the culture.
Even the vaunted “short time” versus “long time” preference, while it might have inate roots can be trained. When we made poverty not only unpleasant but disapproved of, people learned longer time preference. Sure, some would be better at it than others, but none would be totally incapable of it. Because genetically humans of all races are more alike than not.
In fact, things like punctuality, thrift and organization followed industrialization around the world. And the even five generations of an industrial revolution are, as any biologist will tell you, far too short a time for evolutionary selection to operate.
If we believe that the ability to take advantage of the fruits of liberty and individualism birthed into the world by American culture (which is a child of British culture, but not the same) is genetic, this leads inevitably to the logic of genocide, which by itself negates such fruits and destroys civil society.
We also demonstrate a total lack of understanding of human history. Wherever and whenever men have been rewarded for doing nothing and living at other’s expense, even if this curtails their liberty, they have done so. The welfare state is the cause of most dysfunction in the people it seeks to help.
I realize many generations will have to pass and all the sociologists influenced by Marx will have to die before we can correct that. BUT until then we do not need to compound the error of rewarding people for bad behaviors and then assuming they’re inferior because of those behaviors.
It is time to get out there and emphasize bourgeois virtues in the happy knowledge that taught early and often, EVERYONE can acquire them. Yeah, some will be better at them. So? No human being is incapable of them.
Get out there and win the culture wars. Don’t get distracted into things like cultural appropriation and food. Man is a trading, fornicating, warring, colonizing, learning ape. It’s why we’re so fascinating and so good at survival.
Go be human.