Your food’s history is yummy

Joanna Barajas

Published: Monday, October 29, 2007

Updated: Sunday, July 20, 2008


Joanna Barajas

Did you know watermelons originated in Africa? That one of the first ideas of a “sandwich” was a 3-day-old piece of bread used as a plate in the Medieval period? Or that cinnamon was used for mummification in ancient Egypt? How satisfying will your next meal with cinnamon be? Well, maybe not, but hopefully you are inspired to learn where the ketchup you’re dipping your fries into or the chocolate in your mochas came from.

Why do we love food? Is it because it tastes good, it’s a symbol of culture, or it awakens sweet memories? The challenge is to delve deeper into the cereal box and uncover the prize. What influences your love or hate for food? I see food as an art. But, unfortunately, we are straying further from food’s true essence.

We need to revitalize the dinner table-not only digest the food, but recognize its art. For example, for the majority of cultures, food is principal in their lifestyles – consider Italians, Mexicans, Filipinos and so on. In America, we shun food as the culprit of obesity and indulgence.

Although this may be true, it leads to our disconnection with our meals. The test is to allow our health concerns to coincide with our appreciation for the meal. The resolution, America: embrace your culture and love what goes into your body!

There has been a splurge of knowledge about calories, trans fat, protein and grams of carbs, but there is a major lack of interest in the art of food. Art is not just the fancy decorations on the side of the plate, or the white chocolate drizzle on the luscious chocolate covered strawberry. Art is the family recipe passed down for five generations, the wars fought to secure its possession and the innovation that created the food.

Something as simple as the “grilled cheese sandwich” became popular during World War II for economic reasons. That’s what I call food art. To know the history of your meal gives it some importance and meaning. It’s just like an art history class. Find out how it truly came to be, then you can appreciate it.

If you still find yourself asking what does history have to do with food, then look at it this way: when you go to a concert, the best ones are the ones where you know the most about the artist (you know, the ones you can recite the words at the drop of a hat). You know how the group started, how they struggled to survive, and finally influenced the music scene.

If we simply carry this over to culinary arts, history and origin doesn’t seem so foreign. The next time you crack open a crispy fortune cookie, know that fortune cookies didn’t originate in China-they were invented in San Francisco. That’s just a little taste of what you can encounter out there. History works in mysterious way. How do we get our hands on these valuable stories?

Unfortunately, there is no handbook that shares the vital information of history, usage and origin of food at the Lair, like the nutrition handbook, but it’s not stopping me. The best we can do is digest what the media has for us, like “Unwrapped” on the Food Network, or the History Channel’s food snippets.

You can find almost anything on the World Wide Web, so next time you sit down to eat your banana pancakes or yogurt parfait, check out where it came from, and you may be surprised. Once you pick up on the little short stories, you will realize your food is not just there and then in your stomach. Instead, it’s a symbol of culture and centuries of innovation and change.

As we grow closer to nutrition information, and reduce food to science and numbers, people lose sight of the culinary arts. In America, it can be said people use food for diets. This makes eating an obligation, something you must swallow and chew tastelessly. Diet if you must, but never lose your lust for food.

This is the opinion of Joanna Barajas, a junior natural sciences major from Thousand Oaks, Calif. Please send comments to

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