For so many of us, nostalgia encompasses memories of breaking bread with family and friends. Culture celebrates an intimacy around food, feeding, and hospitality. Food traditions might include specific recipes that celebrate marriages, high iron meals for new mothers that support a robust milk supply, or annual feasts that accompany the plethora of holidays that Blindian couples may hold dear. Holidays are a Blindian partnership's opportunity to show their communities what hospitality looks like to them as a coupled unit. Blindian relationships face the task of exploring the story of another culture, its cuisine and assimilating to its history. Food memories often remind us of home, of belonging, of a connection to one’s own people. Therefore, food and memory interconnect to create a component of our cultural identity.
Because sharing a meal with others engages all five of our senses, food-related memories are often profoundly nostalgic, “Food memories are more sensory than other memories in that they involve really all five senses, so when you’re that thoroughly engaged with the stimulus it has a more powerful effect,” explains Susan Whitborne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts. When I close my eyes and envision a South Indian kitchen, I can smell the aromatics of curry leaves, spices and roasted coconut, the sound of the mortar and pestle, bangles jangling, masala dosa, idli Sambhar, paysam, maladu, the list goes on.
An investment in understanding the origins of our partners’ food traditions is a powerful means of showing love and commitment. This dynamic led me to contemplate what it means to feed in a different cultural currency?
Food is deeply personal and Blindian couples may face issues such as but not limited to religion-based food practices, vegetarianism, availability of ingredients, and the language of written recipes, to name a few. Furthermore, India can and should be thought of as a nation of nations. Each state has its own language and cuisine, and therefore, food history and traditions. Food is a vehicle for communication and the messaging shared takes time and investment to fully grasp. Families and friends of the Blindian couple may express an overt or palpable fear that the romantic pairing will struggle to understand implicit cultural messaging and thus struggle to assimilate. Messaging in this case indicates the unspoken rules and hierarchies of each respective culture. There is an evolution that occurs in the journey from cultural novice to intuition. The process of this evolution speaks to concerns surrounding authenticity and hospitality, and the rituals involved in cooking and feeding. The evolution from learning about a new cuisine to being able to replicate its nuances in the name of honoring a multicultural relationship is a significant one.
Cooking and communicating are both universally present in any society. Depending on a couple's initial level of familiarity, the Blindian couple can begin with this truism in their movement towards understanding the “Food Language” of their partner’s culture. How can we, as Blindian partners, show up for our significant others, through adopting pieces of their food traditions, and thus cultural identities. Attending gatherings where food will be shared, listening to food stories, and helping out in the family kitchen, if and when asked, are all salient approaches to learning about where your partner’s relationship with food originates from. Listening to conversations that highlight the evolution and migration of food practices will afford the Blindian spouse a window into their partners' cultural identities. This process should be pursued with humility, patience and an eagerness to learn.
A commitment to attentive learning allows the Blindian partner to build trust and cultural efficacy. In doing so, capacity is created for the Blindian couple to offer each other an understanding of each other’s cultural identities and therefore capacity to recreate authentic and nostalgic food moments that are evocative of their partner’s upbringing and culture of origin. Many Blindian partnerships come from cultures where typical welcome greetings echo, “ Have you eaten ?” This question is born out of hospitality and love. Adopting this intrinsic level of hospitality is often an expectation in Indian families and as such spills into the Blindian couple.
Navigating our partner’s food history allows us, as Blindian partners, to welcome family and friends with built cultural capital. Therefore, the commitment to growth in understanding a partner’s food language serves as an effective tool of cultural assimilation for both the partnership and the extended family.
@chellikeshavan, a South Indian, is a mother of two who is fiercely committed to anti-racism work and has been an advocate for reimagining structural systems in health and educational settings. She has a background in Child Development, Education, and Public Health.
Chelli currently serves as Executive Director at the Boston Association for Childbirth Education. In addition, she serves as a commissioner on her local Human Rights Commission and Co-Founded a Coalition of Families of Color in June of 2020. Chelli looks forward to connecting and learning through her editorial role at the #BlindianProject