Food enters Ali Zaidi’s work in a direct way… We all eat!
The sharing of food is a cultural norm among many people, as is the sharing of the preparing of food. It is a fundamental aspect of many religions, societies and business practices as well as the backbone, lifeblood and cement of families.
Cooking and eating together transforms strangers into people who are known. It is an act of trust and often generosity. It allows individuals to slide effortlessly between traditions. It is often the initial point of contact through which difference is observed, discussed and celebrated. Sharing food is the perfect and inevitable vehicle through which the inter-cultural understanding can blossom.
Almost without exception new arrivals have constructed gateways and junctions for understanding via their homeland recipes and seeds. This domestic diplomacy often emerged from financial necessity, since paradoxically much migration is the result of hunger. The cultural exchange of the hungry migrant is all about food and it performs a unique magic of connectivity, joining peoples and their children to distant ‘homes’, to past lives, to utensils, ingredients dietary traditions and health outcomes. It forms the basis of cultures and memories.
Food as art
Figure this, someone who found an egg in natural surroundings, robbed it from a bird’s nest, took it some distance to a place where there was a certain herb growing. Then he took the herb and chewed it, and when he had chewed the plant so that the juice had come out, he would slurp the egg and swallow the juice. When did this happen, and who was it? It was a chimpanzee, as described by Jane Goodall, a specialist in chimpanzee behaviour. Which begs one question, how old is cooking? It goes back at least to the time when mankind and primates were on a similar level. The chimpanzee had established what is called a metaphor. Meta phorein = “to bring yonder”, that is he brought together two things which do not exist together in nature. It was an artful combination! Is cooking art then?
What is art? Artists are people who want to find a better life or a better way, and therefore must do something, which very often is not appreciated by their co-inhabitants. People acknowledge that cooking is a medium, a three dimensional medium and is so much older than any other forms of art. In a timeline, the oldest of painting is about 40,000 years old; oldest sculpture a couple of hundred thousand years. Fire fire has been sited some 700,000 years ago which suggests cooking. Stone tools from some 2.8 million years ago, enabled a kill, to take it apart and to cook. Cooking and sharing food is ancient. Art in some shape or form elicits an emotional response, be it happiness, or sadness, any of the many forms of pleasure, or fear. The beautiful thing about food lies not in cooking alone, but the environment and the context in which it is eaten. The possibility to be able to generate an emotional response from food then could be seen as nothing short of an art form.
Food as metaphor
Whether it is a farmer eating dry roti soaked in thin daal, biting on raw onion and sipping water, or someone grabbing a ready-to-eat from a super market or eating at some exclusive restaurant, we are living by our metaphors. The movements of peoples and resources are mapped in the recipes and food we cook and eat. There are routes to deficiencies and excesses. There are tributaries and rivers of flavours yet to meet. Food is a chore and food is an entertainment, it’s a dictator and it is a reward. Food remains a complex portrait… remains best when shared!
Ali Zaidi initiated many projects relating to food sharing practice, notably The Seed The Root, Cooked with Love, Cooking with Love, Harvest it!, Journeys of Love & More Love and Potluck- Chicago while being at motiroti. His current project is Casa Ali.
Eating a pistachio after breaking open the shell is far more pleasurable than eating out of a plastic packet. What do you prefer?