The Flavors That Connect Us

Thanks to Dr. Maya Adam for this wonderful guest post!

November and December are busy months in our kitchen. In the space of six weeks, we celebrate Diwali, Chanukah and Christmas, sometimes without stopping for breath. And in our family, celebrating means cooking!

As a child, I remember waiting impatiently for the samosas and sweet meats that my mother would make on Diwali. The smell of tiny oil lamps being lit still mingles in my memory with the scent of freshly crushed cardamom and the swishing silk of the saris that were worn on that special day. After marrying my dad, my mother learned to make German Christmas cookies and Marzipanstollen as a way of recreating his childhood memories. But something else happened too. By replicating the ceremonial foods of two very different childhoods, she ended up passing both traditions on to us. The holiday specialties she cooked weren’t exact replicas of the original, but they became authentic for us. Like a family scrapbook, the collection of familiar goodies that graced our table, at about the same time each year, helped record and pass on the story of our family.

When I married a Jewish South African, I learned how to make latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and our list of “soul foods” expanded yet again. The range of our holiday specialties grew slowly over the years as I learned to make things like matza ball soup and warm loaves of challah to celebrate the end of each workweek. Sometimes I learned to make things because I had to: making tasty gluten free challah after one of our children was diagnosed with Celiac Disease was a try-and-try-again project. But we’ve got it down pat now, and that bread will live on as the “authentic” challah of our children’s Friday night memories.

Different families have different ways of passing on traditions. Some involve attending services or religious studies. I have an uncle who meticulously updates a family tree that goes back five generations. These are all wonderful ways of letting our children know where they come from, that they are connected to others and that they are loved. Cooking and eating together can do the same.

Imagine if we could teach our children to enjoy the foods of many different world cultures? Even if that was their only connection to otherwise unfamiliar traditions, could it make them more accepting of the unknown? They say that “humanizing” the unfamiliar can make us more open-minded and compassionate. What better way to feel connected to our fellow human beings than by sharing traditions through food?

Feeling inspired? Register for Dr. Maya Adam’s free 5-week online course through Stanford University, Child Nutrition and Cooking 2.0. Keep in touch on Facebook and Twitter (@justcookforkids).

About the Author
Maya Adam is a medical doctor who teaches courses on child health and nutrition at Stanford University. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Cook For Kids, a non-profit organization trying to inspire a return to simple, economical home cooking for families everywhere. As a mother of three young children, she is also proud to be the family cook and chief party planner.

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