The FIFA World Cup is, of course, a festival of football. For a little over a month, every four years, the best footballing nations of the world battle for the highest honour in the game. But, looked at another way, it is a glorious cultural festival as well. The World Cup gives us a chance […]
The FIFA World Cup is, of course, a festival of football. For a little over a month, every four years, the best footballing nations of the world battle for the highest honour in the game.
But, looked at another way, it is a glorious cultural festival as well. The World Cup gives us a chance to see how diverse and joyous our world can be. In previous years I’ve often wondered if don’t celebrate this celebration enough.
So, this year I set myself the crazy challenge to cook my way through the World Cup. Everyday I would pick one of the nations that was playing that day and cook a dish from that country. It was a lot of fun and when time permits I’ll add a post (with pictures) outlining the dishes I tried.
Along the way the issue of “authenticity” came up a few times, when talking to people about the challenge.
Authenticity is something of a buzz word in food circles and the concern it expresses is not wholly misguided. Growing up in Australia I was constantly frustrated by the way Latin American cuisine was misunderstood by most of the population and as I got older it became clear that other cuisines, especially Indian and Chinese, were equally misrepresented.
But, push this too far and authenticity becomes a problematic idea. Few of the people who love, say, Italian peasant food actually want to go eat among Italian peasants in the peasant eateries that Italian peasants might frequent. Typically what authentic food fans want is a representation of authenticity. It is authenticity as a form of consumerist purity, which is really a kind of cultural colonialism.
Rena Diamond’s brilliant piece from 1995, Become Spoiled Moroccan Royalty for an Evening: The Allure of Ethnic Eateries makes the point that those who seek authenticity from the cultures of others typically become very paternalistic in their outlook.
I’m not sure we can be authentic to anything more than our own culture and memory. Is the Indian food I cook “authentic?” Maybe that’s too big a question. What matters is that the Indian food I cook is true to the memory I have of the food I ate in the years I lived there. Equally, when I leave Hong Kong, the Cantonese food I will cook will be true to a memory of meals shared here in this city.
So, when I try to cook a dish from Algeria, or Ghana, what I am doing? I’ve not been to either of those countries so I cannot draw from memory. Neither do I have a cultural affinity to express. So, anything I cook is going to simply a representation, a reduction of a culture down to a recipe, a few pictures and some explanations.
To what extent does that matter? I didn’t enter the kitchen again and again during the world cup to satisfy someone’s abstract philosophical definition of authenticity. I did it to try and celebrate, in my own limited way, the global richness of human experience and passion for food.
And, I had a lot of fun doing it.