Sunday, August 10, 2014

Food is memories

Throughout the movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey, the story makes it clear that food is memories.  Just in case it did not get through to anybody in the audience who might have had way too much carbohydrates to think, the young chef, Hassan, even utters that very line "food is memories."

Photo from the NY Times review
If not for the scenic backdrops, good-looking people, and the "seasoned" Helen Mirren and Om "Puri" trying to do their best to add weight to the story, the movie itself was a dud with a story-line that was an awfully predictable, formulaic, "masala."  Perhaps that should not be a surprise given that Steven Spielberg and his pals at Dreamworks have an equal equity partner in India's Reliance, whose big guy, Anil Ambani is married to a former Bollywood heartthrob, Tina Munim!

While the movie is not worth blogging about, there is plenty to think and write about the notion that food is memories.

I have made that very point in a number of posts, like in this latest one.  Food creates many, many memories that we might recall years later.

In an essay on Proustian memory, the author notes:
Food forms a powerful part of the emotional narrative of our lives which is, in many ways, more important than the historical one. An old family friend, the restaurateur Nicola Pomoponio, told me that speaking and cooking Italian are ‘two things I couldn’t do without’. Émigrés will often adopt the language of their host nation, and even start thinking in it, before they give up the food traditions of the old country. This is not primarily about nostalgia, but preserving a link with where they came from, in order to keep a clear sense of who they still are.
Whether or not that link preserves complete authenticity is besides the point. People often do not even notice how their recipes gradually alter over time to accommodate the different ingredients, traditions and even cooking utensils of the new country. What matters is that nonetheless the cooking feels like it comes from ‘back home’.
The food memories are especially delightful because they are about us.  Those are important aspects of our own autobiographies.
Any time you ask someone to tell you about their first food memory, you get two great things: 1) food talk, which is really our bread and butter and 2) a story about who they are and where they came from. Because the great thing about food memories is that they root us in a time and place, tell a story and make us all hungry.
Those memories take us back to particular places and times.  And, of course, our relationship with peoples.  And, thus, we are what we eat, and more:
Recollection is thus a form of autobiography, and like all such works, it says at least as much about the subject at the time of writing as it does about their life before. It is only because we have this capacity to form a narrative of our lives, no matter how disjointed or stream-of-consciousness it might be, that we can have a fully developed sense of personal identity. And because some of the most memorable characters in this narrative are drawn from the cast of food and drink, we should never forget that our story is one of warm-blooded, sensuous, emotional creatures for whom bread is life. We are not so much what we eat, but what we remember we have eaten.
And sometimes, making, or re-creating, those memories might mean more than a hundred-foot journey.


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