Let's Talk About Food Identity
When my husband Jeff moved to San Francisco five years ago and became a part of our family full-time, there was no small anxiety on my part. I’m a vegetarian, as are my two daughters. How would we take to having this person living in our house who insisted on cooking meat? One kid was grateful to know we’d have a grill, as she assumed he’d be cooking all meat outside, including bacon. Bacon is not something that you want to cook over an open flame (safety first!) and she’s had to adjust to the smell of it on the occasional morning. We’ve laughed at what my husband called our “exclusionary diets” while we chided him for mercilessly consuming dead animals. Time has passed and we find Jeff is eating more broccoli, we are closing in on Maximum Kale according to the teenagers (not possible, in my mind), and we are spending Sunday mornings at the Farmer’s Market. Since Jeff does the majority of cooking he has learned a lot of recipes I’ve cultivated, annotated, and created over the years. I realized Jeff’s presence precipitates the merger of two food cultures. We have two identities and ways of thinking about food and our interactions with it. For me, a dinner without a salad feels incomplete. For him, a meal devoid of animal protein feels unfulfilling. The differences run on with some strong positive intersections. We are both Southerners, so iced tea is a staple. Shared meals and having people over is important to both of us. We’ve been in the ongoing process of creating a shared family food identity. Why is this important to us at Nima? When I first met Shireen, our CEO, I told her that I immediately understood the problem Nima is trying to solve. It’s hard to trust your food if you have any concerns. As a vegetarian, I’m constantly going into restaurants and asking questions, calling ahead to see if they can accommodate my needs, or scanning menus online. I worry that I’ll be able to eat confidently and safely. As you think about living with allergies, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it would be like not able to eat something that appears commonly on menus like wheat, dairy, or soy, much less any allergen. The pressure to find something to eat and the worry associated with wondering if your food is safe is huge. It’s also something permanent. People carry their allergies with them everywhere they go. In fact, it defines much of who you are. It often feels limiting, about what you can’t do vs. what you can. It’s “I’ve got a gluten allergy, so I can’t eat bread” not “I’ve got a gluten allergy, here’s what I can eat.” There are so many people with a wide variety of allergies that eating feels very limited for them, and some where the side effects include hospital visits, so the severity is something to include in our understanding of how these allergies intersect with everyday life. This informs who we are — it’s something you carry with you everywhere you go. There’s more to our lives than what we can’t do – there’s also our beliefs about things. Things we like and things we don’t when it comes to food. So let’s talk about our food identities. They are more all-encompassing. More true to who we are. More about the wholeness of who we are as people. You likely have strong feelings about where your food should be sourced. You may have severe allergies that force you to eliminate whole categories from your diet. You may have personal rules, from quirky tastes to serious disciplines about how much of one food type you can eat. You may think it’s okay to eat at your desk at work, or refuse to eat anywhere but at a table with family. All of these are okay. All of these are about you. The basis for your food identity is formed here, your relationship and conception of food. We’re not the first to talk about this – food identity is something that’s been well–researched in academia – and is well documented in all cultural explorations. Our food identities are often expressions of cultural identity alongside our personal ones. Each person has their own carved out in the places they go, they way they consume, and how they feel about it. You’ll see that almost everyone at Nima has put together a quick description of their own food identities — and some of us will post more detailed versions on our personal blogs. We’d love you to tell us: what’s your food identity? What allergies do you have? What food do you love? What do you dislike? How do you feel about food? How do you share food with other people? Where do you like to buy food? Are there certain cuisine styles you prefer? Are there ones you avoid? Who do you like to eat with? When do you like to eat? All of these form one’s food identity. Let’s celebrate these!