“Edible Media: a case study of food as an intercultural communication channel in the integration of immigrants.” is the title of my forever-in-progress master thesis. Combination of being a master student of visual communication in the department of media with a huge passion towards food, raised a challenging question in my mind: Can Food Work as a Media?
Food is a great vehicle for sharing culture with people from different backgrounds. It brings us together and enables us to share our culture and heritage and give each other nourishment. Coming together and sharing a meal is the most communal and binding thing in the world.
Every dish we eat has a story behind it. There is a history behind every cuisine. Food is the memory of nations. It’s subconscious of civilisations. Geography, climate, believes, famines, abundances, birthdays, baptisms, weddings and funerals are all embedded in the food we eat. Every dish is a chapter of a novel. Food is a story. Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. Probably that’s why we love to share our food with others.
Food plays a major role in defining identity as well as culture. Food is an important part of our identity. Our food choices serve to symbolise how we define ourselves in terms of religion, ethnicity, social class, morality etc. We send messages by our diet.
Kitchen is my favourite spot at home. Since my childhood I always have been very curious about the organic conversations that raise in kitchen. The process of preparing food and cooking is very meditative; probably it’s because of the repetitive nature of the tasks in kitchen. Usually even in professional kitchens you can sense this atmosphere. People open their heart, topics pop up after each others, conversations freely flow, stories fly on the air, emotions are exchanged etc.
I believe that many problems in our societies have their roots in misunderstanding or total lack of understanding. Mutual understanding happens on the context of talking and discussion. We should have the chance to talk freely and listen without prejudice to each other. In many cases we simply forget that solutions can be as easy as having a cup of tea or coffee together.
For showing the power of food and magic of kitchen in my thesis, I decided to organise a series of cooking workshops with participants from totally different social and cultural backgrounds. People who normally wouldn’t spend time together. I wanted to bring these people in a kitchen and ask them to cook together and share a meal. The plan was prior to every workshop to ask the all participants to suggest at least one recipe that is for some reason special for them. Later on they would decide all together to cook few of them within the workshop. I wanted to create an atmosphere for them to share their stories and discuss about each others’ stories.
Finding right participants and partners who would help me to make the workshops happen was not easy at all. Finally I received a very positive response from Suomen Setlementtiliitto Ry. Setlementtiasunnot Oy owns several residential buildings around Helsinki. Residences of these building were exactly the kind of people that I was looking for. With help of Matti Cantell, the multiculturalism and equality expert of the organisation, we successfully carried out several workshops and few pre-workshop sessions in their premises in different neighbourhoods.
In the very first session which took place in Pohjois-Haaga, I was going to share my idea of the workshops and ask the potential participants to bring their own recipes. However, some people were so excited to start the workshops that they already arrived to the first session with their recipe books. The story-sharing behind their beloved recipes begun.
We decided to put a box for collecting more recipes in the communal room of the building. The second session for choosing the final recipes was on Valentine’s Day.
I really overwhelmed with the excitement of participants. Some of them told me that even though they could not join the cooking session but they would come earlier to cook something and leave where some others said they would prepare some food at home and would bring later to share. People sincerely wanted to participate in the event this way or that way.
When I arrived to the kitchen in the first workshop, I met an African lady who came few hours earlier to cook because she was going to go to church. She gave me some instructions about her dishes and left.