Why My Dad Doesn’t Like Tofu
»What will we have for lunch today?« my dad asked.
»Red curry with vegetables and tofu… and basmati rice,« my mom answered.
His response was a smile, a very weak one. However, behind that smile, you could see he wasn’t happy about today’s meal.
If you were present at the time, you probably wouldn’t read much into the situation. Maybe, you would think that he’s not in a good mood, or maybe he doesn’t like Asian cuisine or, more specifically, tofu.
But maybe it is none of the above.
Him, disliking tofu is actually closely linked to the environment he was, and is, a part of.
“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.” — Jonathan Safran Foer
People learn what, how, when, and where to eat. It’s a part of a culture. Everything that is learned and shared by members of society is a part of a culture. Eating habits, preferences, and customs differ from culture to culture.
Religion is an indicator that can tell a lot about someone’s diet. Some Catholics still avoid meat on Fridays. Hindus do not eat beef. Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. Some African tribes drink cow’s blood as a part of sacred rituals.
What people eat is strongly dependent on the geography of a place. The land’s location and climatic conditions are significant factors for essential ingredients from which food is prepared and cooked. Japanese eat a lot of fish because of their proximity to the ocean. Throughout history, Arabs acclimated camels for transportation and search for water in the desert. It was the perfect animal for hot conditions because of its ability to store water. Now, camel’s meat and milk are one of the staples in the Arab diet. Greeks, for example, drink sheep’s milk. Aborigines eat earth grubs. French people eat snails and frogs.
In some cultures, it’s normal to eat with fingers; in others — as convention dictates — you have to use different utensils. What kind is used for a certain meal also depends on the culture. There are different beliefs about the properties of particular foods. The amount and variety of food available at each meal may also differ.
Different customs and traditions of serving food are present. Table manners are related to customs and traditions of serving food in a particular culture. Time spent at the table may be for family gatherings and socializing or a time to be attentive and grateful for your food.
Everything stated above is a part of man’s cultural conditioning. It is also something that forms the identity of a person. Identity is made out of everything one is exposed to. The same goes for when there is a focus on our food habits. This can be defined as food identity. The macro aspect of food identity — culture, religion, and geography — was discussed in the previous section. However, there is also a micro aspect, which includes family and friends.
People grow up with different food. Some grow up vegetarian. Some eat meat every day. Desserts and treats can be defined as cookies, cake, chocolate, or — just a banana with some nuts. Some people can not imagine drinking anything else but Coke and different sodas. For others, it is completely natural to drink just water. What is normal for one is unimaginable for the other.
These kinds of habits and customs are just some of the obvious ones. For example, less apparent is whether people snack, or when the last meal of the day is.
However, this is what forms food identity. Based on the food people grew up with, they gravitate towards later in life, and have cravings for it. The comfort food of our childhood becomes a shelter for adults in distress.
»Food is one of our basic needs, so it is not surprising it is one of the most widespread markers of identity.« — Greg Richards
Changing our eating habits might also be seen as an attack on our identity.
My dad doesn’t have any religious, geographical, or cultural constraints towards tofu. Still, his cultural conditioning, when growing up, didn’t include tofu. But that changed with time and globalization. Now, there is a consumption of tofu in his macro and micro environment. Yet, he is set in his ways, and a good lunch, in his opinion, does not involve tofu.
How would you define a good lunch?