A couple of weeks ago, I was dropping off rescued food at Sun Valley Kitchen. As we finished unloading the boxes of produce from Whole Foods, I suddenly saw myself in an outdoor market in Tlaxcala, Mexico. It was where I shopped for food each week for a year. I could smell the food stands, see the fresh and vibrant produce, and hear the vendors yelling out the name and price of their goods: “Jitomates. Quince pesos al kilo.”
I snapped back to the present and asked myself, how did that flashback occur?
I looked at the bottom of the box from Whole Foods and saw broken pieces of garlic, the outer layers of onion, and petals from cempasúchil (marigold) flowers, especially popular in Mexico around Día de los Muertos. In Code Switch’s “You Are What You Eat” podcast, Gene Demby shares, “the olfactory build in your nose is connected directly to the amygdala and the hippocampus — the parts of your brain that elicit emotion and memories.” In other words, smell has the power to elicit past memories and emotions, and thus touch our hearts. For this reason, food plays a much bigger role in our lives than just physical nourishment. Food is emotional, even spiritual. It connects us to our family, our culture, our identity.
At Denver Food Rescue, we believe that food is about about all these things: the physical, cultural, emotional, and more. We love being able to get fresh produce to our No Cost Grocery Program participants, so that they can cook the meals that pull on their hearts, the comfort foods they remember from their youth. Es una manera de conectarse la gente a sus raíces — it’s a way of connecting the people to their roots.
As is discussed in “You Are What You Eat,” culture does not stop transforming or stagnate. Thus, we also love providing NCGP participants with produce that they have not seen before, or are not familiar with. We invite all people to try new cuisines and to continue to adapt and develop the recipes they use. You do not have to be Italian to eat eggplant, Mexican to eat jicama, or Asian to eat bok choy. We encourage everyone to see food culture as alive and changing. It’s something you can be creative with while simultaneously paying tribute to the societies and cultures that gave us the unique foods we eat and love today.
So, tell us – What foods/dishes speak to your heart? What are the cultural/familial roots of the food you eat? How have you introduced new elements and ingredients to the food of your roots?
Happy cooking and eating y’all!!