Thursday, February 6, 2020

When you Dine with Reindeer Herders in Mongolia: Bread, Meat and Milk

Beer and dried meat on a platform beside an urts (teepee) in an east taiga spring camp. 

“To remain who we are, we must continue to eat what we do.”
Indigenous Youth, Arctic Change & Food Culture.  

Eating is more than sustenance, with the very definition of food rooted in cultural knowledge. One person’s delicacy is another’s forbidden fruit.  As a Baltimorean, I was raised on steamed blue crabs flavored with the ubiquitous Old Bay Seasoning original to Maryland. These crustaceans would never find their way onto a table hosted by observant Muslims or Jews. Personal preference means I shy away from my friend’s favorite soup made with sheep’s heads, while in restaurants my children pass me the anchovies from their Caesar Salads. Encompassing religion, availability, personal experience, even income and education, the collection, preparation, and sharing of food involves specific skills and the enactment of rituals learned from one’s family. This includes special recipes handed down through generations, particular foods found only in our home regions, and the language used to name our favorite dish. Everyone, too, can he relate to the feeling of contentment experienced when encountering a familiar aroma as it wafts from the oven or pot creating an immediate visceral link to childhood. What we choose to put in our bodies is a reinforcement of who we are and where we came from. When we lose the connection to our foods, we lose our collective past. 
        Most people in the industrial world today do not raise their own animals, grow vegetables, forage or hunt, but buy their food preselected at the supermarket. Much of what we consume is prepackaged, dehydrated or frozen, ready to be baked, reconstituted, or microwaved for a ready-made meal. Not just family traditions, and hunger, but time, money, supply chains, and marketing strategies play a role in what we eat every day.