by  —  February 14, 2010

I spend a chunk of each year directing a traveling food adventure show for The Food Network, Discovery Asia and Food TV UK. The really fantastic thing about the job is not only the travel, but also that I work with local people for a solid week in each location. It provides a window on different ways of life in a really accelerated way.  At the end of 2009 I shot an episode in New Iberia Louisiana. This episode was about the New Iberia Gumbo cook off which happens yearly. This last year just happened to be the 20th anniversary. People in the community take the competition quite seriously and the festival is a load of fun. That is in no small part due to the amazing character of Cajun people. The Cajuns are a real cultural blend, the French component having come from the Acadian people who were thrown out of Canada after the English defeated the French in the early days of the country. About 5,000 settled in South Louisiana. There is also a big Afro-Carribean component as well. One of the things I tried to discover for my show was the root history of Gumbo. It’s a dish that’s been around for a long time. I was not able to find the answer locally and that came as a bit of a surprise as I went so far as to find a local scholar who had published a book about the history of Cajun cuisine and she was unable to give me an answer. As it turns out the roots of the dish go back to Africa. I had already come to this conclusion as I’ve spent a bit of time with families in West Africa (Guinea, Cameroon) and the staple rice-stew dish that they eat is basically a form of Gumbo. This little conundrum got me thinking not about food, but about the nature of history and how it relates to different segments of our society. That brings me back to the war between the English and the French in Canada. The English who won the war and settled French Canada called themselves “The United Empire Loyalists” and indeed they were the ones who published the history of Canada in school books which I assume are still studied by Canadian children today. Many generations later a famous Canadian author by the name of Pierre Burton (disclosure, I’m a big fan) came along and wrote a book called “The Invasion of Canada”. This book was not written from the “official” crown version of history but compiled from letters written by real foot soldiers and normal every day people. If there were ever a book that illuminated the phrase “History is written by the Generals” this one is it. Many of the events that occurred during famous battles during the war or in fact even the true victors of these battles were revealed in the book. The Generals reports to the crown were falsified only to make them look good in the eyes of Queen and country. Now back to Louisiana where the issue I think is less about falsified history than it is about divergent histories. I’m suggesting that a by-product of racial segregation is that each segment of a segregated society has it’s own history. In Louisiana I assume that the black populace is at a disadvantage in terms of recorded history due to slavery (pre-civil war). Reading and writing were suppressed in the slave populace to avoid fueling any kind of uprising or organization. So where I’m going with this is that here we are in 2010, we have a black president which in itself is amazing. Mr. Obama has made it a core part of his platform to address issues of racial segregation in our day and age and of course I’m 120% behind this initiative. So I pose this question; is it possible to heal the wound of segregation when people living in the same cultural framework have divergent histories? I think the answer is yes. However, I believe that it would be easier and very productive on a community level if we could mount a national initiative to bond our collective histories.  I can’t think of a better way to move forward the cause of equality and mutual understanding.

Marked as: Introspection  —  1 comment   (RSS)

1 Comment so far
  1. askesis March 17, 2011 9:16 am

    I am all in favor of bonding our collective histories. And there’s no better way to do this than over a good dinner. Food is where a culture expresses its points of contact with nature. And when we share food, when we cook together and sit down together, we can talk. Collective history is where we’re headed, but gumbo is how we get there.

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