· June, 2023

Image courtesy of Sydney Allen via Canva. Photos: Top (left to right): Dal bhat, black cake, pabellon criollo. Middle: Beef noodle soup, jollof, baklava. Bottom: Sambal matah, fufu, beshbarmak.

Food serves as a universal language, often transcending cultural, social, and geographical boundaries, creating an intersectional tapestry that weaves together diverse communities worldwide. Its power to bring people together is particularly pronounced in the communities Global Voices works with, where culinary traditions can both reflect a rich cultural heritage and drive social cohesion.

In many parts of the world, the importance of food extends far beyond mere sustenance. It becomes a vehicle for storytelling, connecting generations, resilience, and preserving cultural ties. Given this importance, historically, altering food practices has been a particularly cruel method of colonial control. But today, some groups are reclaiming these buried cuisines as a way to assert autonomy and independence

In times of discord or war, food can often be a crucial link to home for exiles or refugees — one that is all the more important when one’s homeland is in jeopardy. The preparation and sharing of meals often embody centuries-old customs, providing a tangible link to the past while fostering a sense of communal identity and offering avenues for processing both past and present trauma. Whether through the aromatic gravies and spices of rice and lentils in Nepal, an aromatic black cake steeped in rum from Trinidad, the crisp bite of Lechona at Christmastime in Colombia, or juicy red palm fruit in Cote D’Ivoire, a culture’s food serves as a living testament to the diversity and resilience of its people.

A region’s cuisine also serves as something of a cultural map — a way to trace the routes of ancient peoples and civilizations as well as modern-day migration and geopolitical shifts. In Kazakhstan, you can trace the influx of Korean deportees through the East Asian elements in its cuisine. It can also reflect current tensions and grudges — South Asia has long been debating whether Biryani originated from modern-day India or Pakistan.

Aside from skirmishes around the origin of this dish or that, culinary traditions can become a shared language, facilitating cross-cultural dialogue and promoting appreciation for the richness of human diversity. Whether at a bustling street market in Southeast Asia, a communal table in the Middle East, or a family gathering in South America, the act of breaking bread together transcends differences and cultivates a shared sense of humanity.

Moreover, our relationship with food is often deeply rooted in community-based practices. From collective farming initiatives to community-driven food pantries, food becomes a tool for empowerment and solidarity — a way for communities to rally, particularly in times of strife. This approach to food acknowledges the complex interplay between cultural, social, and economic factors, recognizing that addressing food-related issues requires an intersectional understanding of the communities involved.

In a world where divisions persist, the power of food to bring people together cannot be overstated. It is a force that binds individuals across borders, fostering connections that go beyond the plate. In this special coverage, we explore the intricate web of culinary traditions in our communities and beyond.

Stories about Food, culture, and remembering from June, 2023