Saturday, December 24, 2016

Your First Foreign Culinary Experience and the Initiation of a Basic "Global Mind"

Having foreign foods for the very first time can be a scary thing.  With foreign ingredients and condiments cooked in completely unfamiliar ways, their strange visual presentations is more than just a matter of curiosity.  When put in the stomach that is just as unfamiliar with digesting them as the eyes that see them, it could seriously do some serious bodily harm in matter of hours.  And as far as foreign foods go, Indian foods can be especially hard for first time introduction.  Their heavy use of exotic spices rarely seen in other cuisines are bound to make some react rather negatively after they hit the stomach.

The author remembers trying chilli chicken for the very first time in Mumbai.  That was the beginning of a week-long appetite-killing stomach burn that significantly reduced the entertainment value of that particular vacation.  And if the author, with full eighty countries (and their countless local foods) under his belt, can be a bit hesitant to dive straight into unfamiliar foods for fear of sitting on the toilet seat for the next couple of days, imagine the rural Tanzanians, with zero experience in foreign lands, handling the presence of exotic cuisines.  It is certainly not a situation with which they should treat with too much frivolousness.

A previous blog post has already noted that the financial hurdles of the locals to try foreign foods can be quite high.  But even when those foreign foods are given for free, probably a bit more caution is due when experimenting.  This is not because the locals are deserving of chance to accept foreign foods, but their bodily functions, as mature adults, can no longer quickly adapt to the different flavors of foreign cuisines.  Local Tanzanian foods, after all, are seasoned with little more than salt, sugar, and really mild local peppers.  After eating only that fore decades, the body probably does not have much ability to digest other flavors.

With the initial bodily revulsion to foreign foods all but certain, the question becomes one of how to deal with the same foreign foods after that first rather unpleasant first introduction.  Here is what separates a "global mind" and a localist one.  The latter is simply too common in the African nationalist rhetoric.  It is a message of "us" the African people vs. "them" the foreigners.  The glories of traditional Africa was destroyed by corrupting foreign influence, and to hold its own, Africa must repulse such exotic elements whenever possible.  Such sentiments even blatantly displayed in educational institutions like national museums.

Sure, the rural African certainly do not need to be able to digest Indian foods in order to survive, but by outright rejecting Indian or any other foreign foods as "un-African," s/he will also not become anything more than a rural African.  Food is the gateway to understanding other cultures.  Dinner table etiquettes, conversations, manners, and presentations are often the very microcosm of overall social norms, and without willingness to eat like a local, there is simply no way to be able to behave like a local.  This is especially true of many cultures that, unlike rural Tanzania, take eating extremely seriously through elaborate meals.

And being able to participate in foreign-style eating is just one example of what one can do to be more mentally global without having to ever leave one's country.  Non-locals, while mostly isolated in their own little communities, do host activities that are free to participate.  It is a chance for locals to see how foreigners really are in daily lives, in turn dissipating biased views that come from a combination of exaggerated foreign movies and work-related encounters where the most "un-African" characters of the foreigners' nitpicky, work-hard-no-play, and harshly strict are on full display.

Like trying foreign foods, joining such activities for the first time can and most cases, will be repulsive for the local.  The local who worked up the courage to go can come away with even more negative opinions of the foreigners afterwards.  Many, scarred from the first experience, may never go back.  It is the same reason that many foreigners, even when they become Tanzanian citizens, still feel left out of the black majority culture after generations.  To preserve their own identity and heritage, these non-black Tanzanians, like foreigners living here, choose to isolate themselves in their own social circles.

That is precisely the reason that the local black majority must do the active reaching out instead of relying others to do so.  The majority culture, despite what nationalistic propaganda may say, is not in danger of being corrupted by a few foreign ideas.  Just because a few rural Tanzanians start enjoying Indian food does not mean all the sudden Indian food will take over the dinner table of every farmer.  But if everyone can try those foreign foods and ideas, there will bound to less irrational fear, less ignorant ridicule, and less blind distrust of the foreigners so damagingly prevalent in villages today.  

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