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Ignorance of Food and Other Peoples Cultures

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When I was an undergraduate at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY, I recall a very funny story that happened to my friend. She was President of Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus. She was eating in the general student cafeteria when someone asked her "Why aren't you eating in the Kosher cafeteria? Aren't you Jewish?" The student meant absolutely no disrespect; he honestly thought that all Jews are Kosher. (If you go by myself, that's definitely not true- I'm Jewish and love shrimp!)
In most cases, I believe in being culturally relativistic in the vein of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern; to try and learn at least a little about other people's culture & beliefs when it comes to what they eat and why before you judge them. However, some people, whether through disinterest or simply ignorance just don't take the time to do this. Have you had instances of ignorance when it comes to a culture/religion's beliefs concerning food?

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  1. I think if you've traveled the world at all and haven't had these experiences I would be surprised.

    the one that comes to mind was when I was traveling through China. It was subtle but surprising. I was in Shanghai and Hong Kong (this was years ago). In one city it was "awkward" for the host if you did finish a dish since it implied they didn't make enough. In the other it was "awkward" if you did not finish a dish because it meant you didn't like it.

    Ah the shackles of social obligations.

    I wonder if in your example the person may have been confused by Hillel and Halal. If it isn't your religion and you only hear those words in casual conversation they are easy to juxtapose. (not that I'm saying Halal and Kosher are the same thing either. . . . . but just saying we should cut each other more slack when it comes to these types of things)

    6 Replies
    1. re: thimes

      You're absolutely right about traveling. When I wrote "ignorance" I didn't mean to imply that it's always a bad thing. Often it takes ignorance to become enlightened and learn something new:}
      But for the incident at Stony Brook, my friend was sitting right outside of the Kosher cafeteria, so I highly doubt the person in question meant to say "Halal". This reminds me of another incident, also at college...
      My roommate was a very religious 7th Day Adventist. She had just gotten back from the Olive Garden with her family, celebrating Easter Sunday. That year, it just so happened that the end of Passover also was that Sunday... and I had also been at the Olive Garden (this is college folks- the Olive Garden was a 5 star restaurant for us back then!) celebrating the fact that my friends and I could eat bread and pasta again. When she found out we had been to the OG (keep in mind she knew that we're all Jewish here), she exclaimed excitedly "You believe in the Lord Jesus too!" I recall my mouth hanging open, not knowing what to say to that:}

      1. re: NicoleFriedman

        I think with the first Stony Brook story, the student is to be commended for asking about the kosher cafeteria. This would be an example of trying to learn something new and understand something that is confusing to him. A more narrow minded approach would have been for him not to have asked and decide that she was a hypocrite for eating in the regular cafeteria. The second story is just bizarre. I can't imagine assuming that everyone eating out on Easter Sunday is Christian.
        I do think when someone is traveling to another country (or visiting someone with another cultural background), it is wise to learn something about the customs first. The social part of eating can be complex: eating vs not eating with hands, views on taking seconds, finishing vs. not finishing the dish, etc.

        1. re: mountaincachers

          I agree! I think that when the first incident happened my friend and I were just so surprised that we didn't consider how confusing it may have been for this student. I will openly admit to a very strong bias of mine. I don't think that it's realistic for everyone to learn everything there is to know about every major religion and culture in the world. However, I do believe that we should all strive to at least know the basics, if only to better understand each other. That being said, I can see how the idea of kosher law can be befuddling, especially when so many Jews interpret them so differently.

          1. re: NicoleFriedman

            It's the individual interpretations, IMO, that make kosher law so confusing.

            By now, I've got it down to where I don't even pretend to be perfect, but I'm now comfortable that our friends will not leave our house hungry or thirsty...but if I have any doubts at all, I just ask. They're tickled pink that I care enough to ask, and then I don't make a mistake by assuming that something is kosher when it isn't.

            We have a few Muslim friends, too -- and the food rules of Islam are open to personal interpretation, too...so again -- I just ask, and everybody's happy.

            (not that I've never made or will never make a mistake...but it helps cut the probability!)

      2. re: thimes

        Your first line reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:

        “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

        Back in his day, travel could be a very taxing and daunting endeavor, so for him to get beyond that and actually intellectualize the process of transformation was truly amazing to me.

        1. re: bulavinaka

          What a great quote. I am happy to say that I share an ancestor or two with Samuel Clemens - looks like he got a lot more wisdom and humor than I did our of the ol' family tree! He's a good one to try to learn something from, for sure.

      3. My FIL is pretty...uh...indelicate, I guess...or you could say he's just plain clueless. He's a very smart man, but lacks common sense. So one day I had worked long and hard to put a multi-course Chinese meal on the table, and as we sat down to eat, he looked at the chopsticks and wondered out loud, "You know, as technologically advanced as the Chinese are, they still don't use forks and knives like the rest of the civilized world...."

        I nearly threw him out of the house.

        10 Replies
        1. re: ricepad

          LOL. My FIL equivalent once saw *Hunan Scallops* on a menu and said, "Human Scallops??? Oh my..." And then immediately went on to order his Egg Foo Yung like he hadn't just learned that the restaurant serves human scallops, whatever he might have thought those to be. :)

          1. re: inaplasticcup

            Oh my G-d! If I actually thought there was a chance in hell that a restaurant was serving "human scallops" I'd run out so fast my tush would burn! LOL

            1. re: inaplasticcup

              This reminds me of my first experience with Chinese food. I grew up in CT, but in the more rural northeast corner, and back in the 70s/80s Chinese food was pretty scare and something you'd be more likely to see in a City. The town where I grew up didn't get their first Chinese take out joint until 1990.

              Anyway, when I was in high school (mid 80s) we were on a school trip down to NYC for a weekend and had been tramping around the theater district for hours and had worked up a ravenous appetite and someone said "OMG Chinese food place, there!" and there it was, dimly lit at the end of a long, dark alley, a pale sign flicking in the gloom that said "Human Eaters." *cue blood-curdling scream*

              Not really. In my hunger-fueled dazed, I misread Hunan Eaters, but still. lol

              As it turned out, that was about the best Chinese food I've ever had. The Subgum fried rice and "Peking raviolis" were awesome.

            2. re: ricepad

              as offensive as this is...are you also Chinese/of Chinese descent?

              1. re: fara

                Yes, partly. Mom was born in China, and came to the US as a child.

              2. re: ricepad

                What a gauche thing to say!

                1. re: EWSflash

                  My FIL went through the first 70 years of his life with blinders on. Here's another example. MIL has a dear, dear friend (DDF) who lives out of state. DDF comes to town to visit her son, who is going to college not far from MIL&FIL, so DDF invites MIL&FIL to join DDF and her son for dinner. She also extends the invitation to Mrs. ricepad and me, since we live nearby and DDF hadn't seen Mrs. ricepad in ages and had never met me. DDF selects the restaurant (really nice Chinese place) AND selects the menu (really REALLY nice menu - DDF is Chinese, and knows her stuff!). As it happens, MIL gets hung up at work and can't join us, but insists that everybody else go, and she'll try to meet us for dessert. The rest of us go, and I am flabbergasted at the meal....she ordered stuff that wasn't on the menu...stuff that you'd get at a very fancy banquet for a, say, diamond wedding anniversary or 80th birthday celebration (sans the long life noodles, that is). Since it was 30 years ago, I don't remember what we had, but I knew that DDF had pulled out all the stops to treat her friends to some really good food.

                  Mrs. ricepad and I were in heaven. We were absolutely stuffed. The company was great (DDF's son was like a long-lost cousin to Mrs ricepad, so they had a lot of catching-up to do), and the meal was top notch. Our only regret was that we couldn't eat any more.

                  After we'd said our farewells, however, FIL couldn't wait to get home. We later found out that he desparately needed to have something to eat, and as soon as he got home, he made a cold, dry cheese sandwich and poured himself a glass of milk. It turns out that since he didn't recognize anything on the table, he sort of pushed it around on his plate, but didn't eat a single thing. Mrs. ricepad and I were too busy eating and visiting to notice that he hadn't been eating, and MIL wasn't there to explain to him what stuff was...and he was too mortified at the offerings to ask DDF what had been served. I can' only say one thing in his defense: At least he knew enough not to embarrass DDF.

                  1. re: ricepad

                    So sad...all the things he missed!

                    I figure if everyone else at the table is eating it, chances are it's safe..and probably tasty.

                    1. re: ricepad

                      Sound like your FIL has some issues around this anyway, but to be fair older people do often genuinely struggle with unfamiliar foods.

                      I come from a mixed race family, but my Mum's english parents were both very open and ate all of our "weird" food. However, as he got older my Grampy had more and more difficulty eating spicy food or in fact anything other than very plain foods. His body was more happy with him eating the same things every day! This was easy to deal with at home but eating out was a little trickier. He tended to order from the "English" side of the menu at Indian and Chinese places. He wasn't being rude, he just struggled with food as he got older.

                      1. re: Muchlove

                        He wasn't always 'older'. Even as a much younger man, he'd refuse to eat anything he didn't recognize. He has always claimed to be allergic to fish, but over the years I've seen him eat dishes that had seafood in them - without his knowledge - with nary a reaction. I've concluded that he has always claimed the allergy so he wouldn't have to eat fish of any sort.

                2. I was talking to a Jewish patient in her 60s yesterday and discussing Kosher food. I told her that despite no longer keeping kosher I still don't eat pork and shellfish. She said she ate both and then said 'why not shellfish, I didn't know it wasn't kosher?'!!

                  It seems that some are ignorant of their own cultures.

                  20 Replies
                  1. re: smartie

                    my mil, also in her 60's keeps telling me about the sales on swordfish at the supermarket...we don't eat treif at home...

                    1. re: fara

                      "we don't eat treif at home..."

                      that sort of implies that you do eat treif. . . outside of the home. not trying to be attack-y in any way whatsoever, just pointing out the possibility that if your relative has seen you eat and enjoy treif outside of the home, then she may also assume you cook it, or would have an interest in cooking it. she may not realize you have house food rules/restrictions, and then different eating habits outside the home.

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        i know, i should've clarified that we live together, and that she knows we don't eat it at home, i've never cooked any non-kosher animal for her, we've talked about this etc...sorry if that wasn't clear :)

                        1. re: fara

                          doh! yup, that's a detail that, had i known it, i wouldn't have gone around giving the benefit of the doubt, quite as much. sorry about that situation, maybe she'll get it one of these years :)

                          1. re: fara

                            My MIL continually offers her daughter ice cream, milk, etc. She's been off dairy for years. It's not cultural ignorance, just... stubborn refusal to retain this detail? For innocent reasons, or something subconcious about not respecting her daughter's choice (it's not so much an allergy as a mildish intolerance)? We are not sure.

                            1. re: julesrules

                              "My MIL continually offers her daughter ice cream, milk, etc. She's been off dairy for years..." I think it's a Mum thing. I remember visits to my mother where she commented that I'd put on a bit of weight and then offered me biscuits and snacks and urged me to eat up!

                              1. re: julesrules

                                You know, jules, my mom thinks that everyone should drink lots of milk and that it cures everything and makes you healthy. She still chugs it at 78 (and would be better off without it, digestively, but convince her of it).

                                You just can't change some of those ingrained ideas!

                                1. re: sandylc

                                  Just curious, does she know any Chinese or African/African-American folks?

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    Doubtful.

                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      Ah. So perhaps she may not know that folks - such as many of those I asked about - could be lactose intolerant.

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        I was severely lactose intolerant for years. So, yes, it is likely that she has never heard of it - sigh. A bit oblivious, she is!

                            2. re: soupkitten

                              Showing my ignorance here - I just googled to see what kind of fish a treif is.

                            3. re: fara

                              That made me curious, so I looked it up. It would not have occurred to me that swordfish were not kosher. To summarize, what makes one type of fish kosher and others not, is amazingly detailed. It is a very tricky area for someone not well versed in the subject. I learn a lot from these topics.

                              As for your MIL, well I guess you will just have keep on gritting your teeth and saying "Thanks for the info Mom, but you know we don't eat that."

                              1. re: fara

                                I thought all fin fish were kosher. Not so?

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  no pika, they must also have scales

                                  these fish are not kosher
                                  Non-Kosher Fish (this list is not comprehensive): Catfish, Eels, Grayfish, Marlin, Shark, Snake Mackerels, Squab, Sturgeons, Swordfish. Also Turbot and Monkfish.

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    Pardon my ignorance, but what is squab (fish-wise)?

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      had a quick google, looks like pufferfish and blowfish.

                                      1. re: smartie

                                        Thank you - Wise on the part of those keeping kosher not just for the scaleless issue - they're both poisonous. I don't think either of these fish should be included on anyone's diet (except you blowfishiacs!;)) Even the smallest most seemingly benign puffer can wipe out a whole aquarium of organisms if they get bothered enough to release their toxins...

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          Our family just finished consuming two giant platters of fried blowfish, with no ill effects.

                                          BTW Puffer and blowfish are the same thing. And squab seems like a play on "chicken of the sea" which is what some around here used to call them. Lots of people call them toadfish too because they're so ugly.

                                          The Japanese poisonous species is entirely different than what you get here.

                                          1. re: coll

                                            >>BTW Puffer and blowfish are the same thing.<<

                                            >>The Japanese poisonous species is entirely different than what you get here.<<

                                            Yes and no on puffers and blowfish. They're generally referred to as puffers or pufferfish, while it seems that the nomenclature relative to the "edible" kind is always referred to as "blowfish." And there are tons of different types of puffers/blowfish around (wiki states 189), just as you've pointed out about the "Japanese" one vs what ever type you ate. Some will be described as puffers or pufferfish, while others described as blowfish or less familiar/accepted names. Even the porcupine fish is often confused as a blowfish, as it belongs to a different family with the general order.

                                            And toadfish - at least among those familiar with the actual fish with this common name falls into a totally different order/family (Batrachoididae).

                                            Common and nick names of various fishes have little meaning as they are thrown around a lot, as in this case, but by referring to the fish(es) in question as puffers and blowfish just covers the bases for those who are familiar with one or the other.

                            4. I don't know if it's a matter of not taking the time to learn another culture so much as it is not having the opportunity. Genuine ignorance about other people's foodways is curable; bigotry, like the example Ricepad posts, generally isn't, because it's usually willful.

                              BTW, I, too, once thought all Jewish people kept kosher, or at least didn't eat pork until a friend set me straight.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: Isolda

                                Obviously bigotry and unintentional ignorance are two entirely different animals.

                                1. re: Isolda

                                  My FIL is not a bigot (or is he?), but he's famously ignorant AND insensitive. Neither is willful, however. He is very complex in his simpleness. Yet another example of his cluelessness: He had never heard of olive oil until he vacationed in Italy.

                                  1. re: ricepad

                                    I still remember when my MIL came back from a trip to Texas, bringing tortilla chips and salsa home with her. She wanted to share these wonderful new things with us! Of course, the convenience store down the street from her home carried about 87 brands of both!!!!! It was pretty hard to fathom.

                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      ah, I think I can top that...my FIL once called my husband to tell him about the 'great new Mexican restaurant' that had opened in their town, and how excited they were to finally have a place to go for Mexican food...

                                      yep. Taco Bell....

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        Yikes.

                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                          LOL. I think that's cute. :)

                                  2. I don't think it's just culture.

                                    I think alot of folks are sheltered -- generally -- when it comes to food. And not even necessarily food of the exotic kind.

                                    I have co-workers, in their mid-40s, who have never heard of a kiwi, much less seen one.

                                    Whether it's myopia or ignorance, people who are culinarily diverse and well-traveled are few and far between.

                                    1. I'm 49 yrs old and I understand 'Jewish' to imply 'kosher' - why would I think otherwise? I'm fairly well travelled but haven't met many Jewish people. When I last visited New York I made a point of going to a Jewish restaurant as it was a new experience - but through lack of knowledge (I didn't know about the meat - dairy thing) I went to a meat restaurant, which was awkward as I do not eat meat. So I learned something there - but I was not aware that Jewish people could choose their 'kosherness'.
                                      (I am in the UK, if that makes a difference).

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: Peg

                                        I get the confusion but they aren't connected that way. And I bet you've met more Jewish people than you know - they don't always stand out they way you think (joke). What you're probably referring to would be something like the Hasidic Jews in NYC who do stand out due to all the clothing/hair/etc.

                                        It is similar to Christians though a little more diverse along the spectrum. There are plenty of Catholics that eat meat on Fridays or who don't give up things during lent or who don't take communion or . . . . .on and on and on.

                                        On some level we all choose how "in depth" we want to participant in religious and food traditions. I wonder how many Italians gave up pasta during the "no carb" craze . .. . .

                                        1. re: thimes

                                          not many I can assure you :)

                                          1. re: fara

                                            Yep, thimes, fara is probably right...My ex DH came from a little city in the UK, and honestly had not been exposed to Jewish people until he moved to NY.
                                            I lived with him there for 6 years,, and it's really true!
                                            Unless, you're in London or maybe some of the other large cities,...

                                            1. re: NellyNel

                                              Question cropped up on another thread. To put numbers in context, our 2001 census indicated there were about 226k Jewish people living in the UK. About two thirds live in the Greater London area and immediate surroundings. The next largest population centre, with about 30k is my own metro area around Manchester. The next biggest group, of about 9k, is in Leeds (total population about 700k)

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                There was a period (I'm guessing about 500 years) when Jews weren't allowed to live in England (starting around 1300). They were allowed back as bankers and other urban occupations, hence the concentration in cities like London.

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  SignificantJewish immigration to my area started in the late 18th and early 19th century. Initially the immigrants, both from the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, were business people who arrived to join in the growing prosperity of the city.

                                                  Later, the groups tended to be poorer and were fleeing the pogroms in eastern Europe. There was a well established emigration route, in the late 19th century, which would see folk arrive in ports, like Hull, on the east coast, before crossing the country, through Manchester to Liverpool, before heading off for America. A goodly number stayed in Manchester working in the textile trade, and living nearby just to the north of the city centre. By the early part of the 20th century, the population in the area was about 30k. This has remained a stable number, although the community is now much more widely spread throughout the metro area

                                              2. re: NellyNel

                                                i was referring to Italians not eating pasta! serves me right for trying to be cute on the internet and not explain myself..

                                        2. "to try and learn at least a little about other people's culture & beliefs when it comes to what they eat and why before you judge them. However, some people, whether through disinterest or simply ignorance just don't take the time to do this."

                                          Maybe it is due to ignorance or disinterest but I rarely try and learn about other people's culture. Why would I care if a Jewish person kept kosher or not?

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: Harters

                                            "Why would I care if a Jewish person kept kosher or not?"

                                            I don't think it matters for one *personally* what culinary restriction others adhere to, but it makes a difference if you ever entertain guests or eat out with people that are simply "not like you". I think it's just a matter of cultural sensitivity that makes the world a brighter place when others are aware... that they make the effort to learn about the way other people live for no other reason than to just know "in case". For example, it would be insensitive of me to not ask my Jewish or Muslim guest if they have food restrictions and then go ahead and serve a meal with pork roast, bacon and lard. Taking the time to learn about these things are just respectful. Just knowing to ask is sometimes enough.

                                            1. re: velochic

                                              ^ that.

                                              If food is not a part of my interaction, then it's off-topic. If it comes up, great, I'm interested, but if they're not offering, I'm not asking. To me, it's too personal unless we're going to be sharing a table.

                                              But if I'm issuing an invitation for dinner or a party, I ask about likes/dislikes, allergies, and any restrictions up front. If we're going out, I just ask them what sounds good or where they'd like to eat. It's saved me more than a few uncomfortable or downright impassable moments. (seared scallops with a seafood allergy? Yike)

                                              1. re: velochic

                                                Singapore is a small country with big differences in cultures living side-by-side. Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures have huge differences in how they relate to food. Knowing each other's cultures and how this relates to food (where Singapore is a food-intense land) is a given. People for the most part get along well there. But when it comes to food, folks who are otherwise friends often part ways when it comes to meal time. No insults intended - they each understand that when it comes to their own respective cultures, some aspects don't mesh well together and this is respected...

                                              2. re: Harters

                                                Of course you don't have to care, especially if you only are socially interactive with people from different backgrounds from yours on a superficial level.
                                                Living in NYC I have a diverse work environment with students and colleagues from all over the world and religious spectrum. I can choose to ignore these differences to a point, but a little understanding and curiosity goes a long way. For example, Greeks celebrate Easter on a different date than other Christians. Knowing this and being able to say "Happy Easter" doesn't take much effort on my part but it makes a huge difference in our work relationship. One of these co-workers recently put together a wonderful retirement party for someone who is Glatt-Kosher. (An extreme form of Kosher) He was beyond appreciative.
                                                From your statement "Why would I care if a Jewish person kept Kosher or not?" I suspect you don't interact much with many Jewish people. Ok. But what if you end up working with people from a different culture than yours (not necessarily Jewish)? Or you meet someone you want to be friends with, also from a different culture? You really wouldn't want to take the time to learn at least a little bit about their culture to better understand them?

                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                  I note that, in your OP, you preceede the remarks about disinterest or ignorance with "before you judge them". I choose not to "judge" people - and certainly not by the food choices they make. The fact that you choose to use this expression speaks volumes.

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    You're taking the words "before you judge them" out of context. I am a human being and I admit my biases, or at least the ones I'm aware of. I've traveled to 25 countries and I strive to be as open minded as I possibly can to other people's traditions and cultures. That being said, not being a robot means that I am incapable of being 100% objective at all times. We all judge people or at least make assumptions or opinions, whether we choose to admit it or not. My OP was about the fact that I feel it's paramount to be as open minded and culturally relativistic as possible before we do that. (The exceptions to this are when a culture violates basic human rights, but that's a whole other issue.)

                                                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                      No, I don't believe I am taking your words out of context.

                                                      What you wrote was "to try and learn at least a little about other people's culture & beliefs when it comes to what they eat and why before you judge them."

                                                      I think that is pretty clear as is the whole tone of your OP. And my comment that I do not judge people on their food choices is a response to that. People's food choices are their food choices. It is a matter for them and I am happy to accept folk as I find them without "judging". It is irrelevent to my relationship with them to know if they keep kosher, don't always eat halal, are vegetarian, etc. By way of a personal example, my sister in law has not eaten red meat for many years. She has never mentioned why this is the case and I have never asked her. I have no need to know her reasons nor am I interested in knowing what they were. It is, simply, sufficient for me that there are things she doesnt eat. When she comes for dinner, we don't cook red meat (or we make her something else)

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        I don't necessarily find your attitude judgmental, and I would definitely prefer someone who is totally uninquisitive to someone who is intrusively curious. But, fortunately, those are not the only two choices. I don't appreciate a lot of indiscreet questions about my eating habits or any other aspects of my identity or behavior, but when I do chose to share such information with someone (or if they happen to learn it by other means), the reaction I'm looking for is not, typically, "Why would I care? I am not interested in knowing this about you. It is irrelevant to my relationship with you."

                                                        1. re: DeppityDawg

                                                          You make a perfectly good point. Most things in life are not black and white. Curiosity has its time and place. As I've already said many times on this thread, my hope is just for people to be a bit more open minded. I'm not suggesting that we cure people of every ignorant thought or idea they have about food in other people's cultures. That's ridiculous.

                                                        2. re: Harters

                                                          You are absolutely taking my words out of context. If you read my original examples, I was referring to people who ARE inquisitive, and who draw opinions of people without having all of the facts (even if well intentioned). What you're talking was never really the point. Since you do do not seem to be the bit curious about other people's food choices, then so be it. My OP was about the idea that many people are naturally curious, which I do not believe is a bad thing at all. Even though I described myself as being a bit shocked at the time, I now find those 2 incidents as an undergrad pretty funny and enlightening for myself. It has helped me be a better teacher to my students when it comes to the topics of religion and culture (I'm a social studies teacher if it wasn't obvious:} ) When they say statements that would make some people's heads turn, or automatically scream "Ew!!!" when shown a picture of food that grosses them out (I try to show them a bit of each people's food culture when we learn about different civilizations), I know that they're coming from their own cultural perspectives. I've talked to them about cultural relativism and a lot of them get it. And by the way- most of them are curious; about other people's cultures, and especially food. You may say that these are only students and teenagers, but the reality is that these are our future, and it makes me happy that they're so curious and wanting to learn about other people. Obviously you are not curious. It works for you- fantastic. That's not who I am or who I was talking about.

                                                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                            Well, clearly in reading your words as you had written them, I have not understood what you intended them to say. When you had asked "Have you had instances of ignorance when it comes to a culture/religion's beliefs concerning food?", it was difficult to appreciate that you had intended the reader to add at the end "from people who are inquisitive about other people's culture".

                                                            And, no, it was not obvious that you are a social studies teacher, your post does not convey any sense of what your employment might be. By way of swaps, I worked as a clerk before I retired.

                                                            1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                              I think food is a great way to begin learning about another culture, and I think it's fantastic that you incorporate those lessons in the classroom.

                                                              1. re: mountaincachers

                                                                Much appreciated:}

                                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                  I could not imagine being friends with someone without knowing their cooking and eating preferences which usually are discussed either directly or tangentially. If I have a close enough relationship with someone to share a meal with them at home, I would think a discussion of food/cooking/preferences would be a natural part of it. If I knew someone for six months and we had never discussed the fact her parents kept a Kosher kitchen--for example--I would feel our relationship was superficial. The same if someone was allergic to shellfish and never told the story of ending up in the hospital after a wonderful shrimp cocktail at a fancy restaurant. For me, experiences with food are one of the commonalities that can build friendships and have certainly been a pathway into other cultures.

                                                  2. Actually, in the story you gave here I don't actually think the person asking the question was all that ignorant. He knew that the woman was an actively practicing Jew, and he was aware that Judaism involves a dietary law known as Kosher. What he was missing was the more complete knowledge that there is a wide variety in how strictly people follow that law, from completely ignoring it, to only eating from certified Kosher kitchens. And if the campus had a Kosher cafeteria, it would provide a strong emphasis for the Jews = Kosher assumption, because if Jews don't have to be kosher, why establish a separate cafeteria for them.

                                                    I find it easier if I acknowledge that everybody, no matter how adventurous, well meaning and open to learning new things, is going to have incomplete knowledge about the huge variety of food and culture around the world, and is going to be hopelessly ignorant about *something*.

                                                    In general, the more experience and exposure you have with something, the more you tend to know about it. So someone living in the US could be expected to know something about what a kosher diet is and who follows it, but is probably not going to be up on the details of Jain cuisine, and would not realize that some variety of religious based vegetarianism avoid root vegetables, garlic, onion and hot peppers.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                      I can see your point. However, you have to keep in mind that this incident took place in Long Island, NY which is chock-full of Jews:} If I had been in the midwest my friend and I would not have had the surprise reaction that we did. Obviously this doesn't mean that everyone on Long Island is familiar with the intricacies of Kashrut, but maybe you can better understand my reaction at the time.

                                                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                        I read your original post (and this reply) as stating that it was ignorant that this student didn't know that some Jews don't keep kosher and that it was shocking that they asked their question directly.

                                                        You have thereby ruled out what in my opinion is one of the best routes for people to expand their knowledge of differing food cultures. (asking)

                                                        1. re: _jj_

                                                          Oy vey. I was in college folks. Of course I agree that asking questions is paramount to learning anything. But I don't see why it's so hard to understand that I was taken off guard at the time. I started this thread asking for other people's experiences. Instead people seem to be taken aback that I had the audacity to be shocked when I've already explained my reaction.

                                                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                            When I was 17 (yes, it was a very good year) , I left the rural backwater protestant end of an Irish- Italian town in CT, for a predominantly jewish university in Philly. Ignorance at that tender age was excusable, but asking questions was an admission of it. It was so welcome when those of different backgrounds would simply share an explanation, and relieve the tension without the pregnant pauses. Fast forward 40 years, and numerous of my friends for life are jewish, I enjoy the jewish country clubs, and I can handle a Shabbat dinner but I have to lip-sync the musical part. All's well that ends well.

                                                      2. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                        I agree. Also, ignorance is not a crime - if it were, we would ALL be found guilty. What should be a crime is the unwillingness to learn. I appreciate a person who is willing to ask questions, even at the risk of appearing ignorant.

                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                          As I recall so so many teachers saying with great conviction, "there are no stupid questions!" If one cannot answer with confidence who, what, where, why, when and how about a topic, then more questions need to be asked...

                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                            My husband likes to *joke* that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people - haha (he really is teasing)

                                                      3. IMO the worst thing is a little knowledge combined with too much pride. Often I have come across people who spent two weeks on holiday in a country and then suddenly think they are an expert. Or they buy a cookbook based on a cuisine, read it, and then think they know everything.

                                                        Be polite, don't be afraid to ask questions and always be willing to learn. No-one expects you to know everything and you'll look like an ass if you pretend you do.

                                                        1. I LIVE with it. I am from Quebec and married an american from the midwest. I grew up eating snails and horse. He thinks the snails are gross, but the horse meat offends him. He grew up with horses as pets. I understand totally where he's coming from, but he keeps calling me heartless horse eater and telling me I'm immoral when the topic of Quebec foods comes up. I kind of brush him off, but I think that he doesn't understand that what I have eaten growing up doesn't make me immoral. Obviously he's not COMPLETELY serious but I still think he could be a little more open-minded when it comes to different cultures.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: cactusette

                                                            From the way you describe it, this would get really old really quick for me. I like a good joke as much as the next guy, sometimes even after repeated retellings, but "You're immoral!" doesn't strike me as one of the great, enduring punchlines.

                                                            1. re: DeppityDawg

                                                              And it did get old quick for me too. It is not hilarious and I have learned to just start thinking about other stuff when he goes off on that. I just kind of nod to make him think I'm listening.

                                                              Don't get me wrong, he's a great guy. But sometimes, well you just have to learn to ignore.

                                                          2. Reminds me of my Jewish MIL, who makes faces every time we eat something she can't or don't eat.

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: Monica

                                                              Well. Did she raise her son to be observant and now he has changed, or did she suddenly become more observant after he was out of the house?

                                                              In any case, you do know what she believes and should respect rather than deliberately offend your elders. You know this. The subject of this thread is about ignorance,not ignoring.

                                                              1. re: Cathy

                                                                I don't think that we have enough to go on based on Monica's post to make assumptions. If I were in a kosher person's home, I wouldn't think to eat anything non-kosher in their house out of respect. However, if you're dining together in a restaurant that's a different issue. Tolerance in that case goes both ways. Also, keep in mind that there are many levels of kosher. I had a co-worker who had to have his retirement party in a Glatt-kosher restaurant; he has never eaten in a non-kosher restaurant in his life. To deliberately go out of your way to eat lobster in front of someone like this I think would be beyond rude, especially if there are other options. On the other hand is my grandmother; she used to eat bacon on occasion (though only out of the house). She eats in non-kosher restaurants all of the time. If you ask her, she's always been kosher:} To eat something non-kosher in front of her is not the same as in the first case.

                                                                1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                  We were never allowed to even eat meat in a restaurant with my grandparents even though they would eat out they only ate fish or dairy.

                                                                  1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                    I think you're right...the correctness is all relevant on the who and where.

                                                                    When we have guests who keep kosher, I try to make the entire offering either milk or meat (with a healthy dose of parve)...and I don't serve pork to anyone if our Jewish friends are on the guest list.

                                                                    (just for those who might think otherwise -- I also clear the food offerings and preparation methods with our guests. My only preparation -- typically cut veggies or fruit -- is with a knife and cutting board reserved exclusively for these occasions and washed in a dishpan I keep exclusively for these occasions)

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      This reminds me of a cruise I took with my ex from college and his family. They were all from Israel and Iraq, and mid level Kosher. (They didn't have 2 sets of dishes but I never saw them eat anything non-Kosher, at least that they weren't aware of- my ex was pretty upset when I informed him that wonton soup had pork in it:} ) One night of the cruise was lobster night. I really wanted lobster but my ex was quite insistent that I not eat anything obviously non-kosher in front of his parents. I recall being upset but looking back, I was being a jerk. #1 They took me on a cruise with their family which was beyond nice. #2 While I did want lobster, there were many other food options on board. I was being a whiny brat:}

                                                                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                        I was a guest of a kosher-keeping family, and they knew I love Cracker Barrel (none in my area). They made the huge concession to offering to take me there, and while my favorite item in the whole world is country ham, I decided to go for the chicken so as not to be offensive. The wife noticed (she knew my country ham obsession) and thanked me later. I thanked her for even going to Cracker Barrel in the first place!

                                                                        1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                          Going on vacation is about putting restraint in the back seat. At the same time, I completely understand your dilemma. I was in the reverse situation of sorts. My in-laws in Malaysia wished for us to return to Malaysia for a traditional Chinese wedding. The "homecoming" and the reasons for it were cause for celebration, and the centerpiece of the homecoming meal was a beautifully prepared suckling pig. While I don't have any religious dietary issues, I couldn't get over the fact that this little piglet was slaughtered and prepared whole (feeling a la "Babe"). This dish is supposed to be among the world's best pork dishes to be had. I just couldn't. I let my personal feelings about a poor little defenseless piglet being snuffed to be laid on a platter. My in-laws were miffed. On one hand, the family was puzzled as to why I felt that way. On the other, more for them...

                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                            I just had a flashback to the scene in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" where they are at the engagement party and he refuses something to eat because he doesn't eat meat. The aunt says "What, you don't eat meat? Its ok, you can have some lamb!" (To her "meat" meant beef apparently.). My husband is from India, and was raised vegetarian. He goes through periods where he won't eat meat at all and then backslides from time to time. I have learned that each of his siblings have different ideas about what is ok to eat as well. Some are strict vegans, except that they will eat milk (but no eggs). Some will eat any non-meat products. Some won't eat onions on certain days of the week -- its tied to religious beliefs that I don't begin to understand. And at least one will eat chicken, but only outside of the house, largely because his wife doesn't eat it. I have learned when visiting DH's family to follow my dad's golden rule about eating: "Eat it and shut up about it, or don't eat it and shut up about it." In other words, I eat what I'm served, and fortunately don't have any food allergies. When we have hosted his family members we tend to go out, because it is usually when they are in town as tourists or for a convention (we live in a large convention town), and there will often be more than one sibling present. Meeting everyone's dietary needs becomes difficult, and at least one sibling won't eat food cooked in a kitchen where meat has been cooked -- just easier to take them to a favorite restaurant with a good veggie menu....

                                                                            All that being said, although I never talk about food likes/dislikes, my SIL (world's best cook, IMO) knows exactly what I like. My DH tipped her off that my one strong dislike is bananas, and so she never serves them. Yet somehow she has managed to watch me eat and has figured out what I eat - and enjoy- the most. DH swears he's never told her which of her dishes are my favorites (getting hungry thinking of her cabbage dish now) yet somehow they are always on the menu for my first meal of any visit to her house....(now there' s a hostess!). I guess my point is, everyone is different. You either ask nicely (and I don't see anything wrong with that) or you just eat it - or don't eat it - quietly.

                                                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                              bulavinaka, that cute little piglet was a thornbird. Frustrated by a monotone grunt, lacking a mellifluous warble, burdened by gravity weighing heavily on its hoofs, and without Pegasus' gossamer wings to enable flight (pigs still can't fly), it couldn't offer song for your pleasure, but instead gave it's very being for you: ROAST PORK .

                                                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                                                You are poetry-in-motion...

                                                                      2. re: Cathy

                                                                        I don't care what she believes, I eat my food when I am in my house.
                                                                        When I visit her, we always eat kosher.
                                                                        No one should make faces just because he/she can't eat the food others are eating.

                                                                    2. When we were in college, our apartment was the hub for the other Indian students (Mr Pine is Indian; I'm as white bread as they come). We had Christian Indians, Parsis, Hindus, Sihks, Jains and Muslims who regularly ate at our house. It was eye-opening for me--couldn't serve vegetarian food in pans that that previously had meat cooked in them, Jain wouldn't eat any root vegetable 'cause insects could have been harmed in the harvest, the Muslim guy scoped out which room faced Mecca for his prayers (ended up it was the bathroom, which was a real inconvenience), issues about pork, alcohol, on and on. I learned so much, and considered it another "class" to honor their needs while feeding a diverse group of people. And still, so many folks here think "India" is a monolith and a can of "curry powder" makes for Indian cooking.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: pine time

                                                                        Incredibly interesting and I'm sure you came out having learned a LOT...but I figure you gave serious consideration to tearing your hair out at least once, trying to keep all that straight....!

                                                                        1. re: pine time

                                                                          Ouch!....Maybe a game of Twister for an icebreaker? On second thought....

                                                                        2. BTW, I learned recently that sometimes the ignorance can be simply a matter of semantics...another reason why I think its always ok to ask.

                                                                          I have known for some time that most Australians consider the concept of pumpkin pie to be, well, disgusting. I can even remember my dad once inviting some visiting Australian students to our house for a Thanksgiving dinner. They all turned down the pumpkin pie. Pumpkin was just not something that should be in pie as far as they were concerned. But what I DIDN'T know until a very recent discussion with some Australian friends was that in Australia the word "pumpkin" is usually used to mean ANY kind of squash. Furthermore, what we call pumpkins are rare in Australia; the closest thing you usually find there is a kabocha. So when an Australian hears the term "pumpkin pie" they think "squash pie." I can see where they might consider that less than appetizing.

                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                          1. re: janetofreno

                                                                            The name 'squash pie' might not invoke the warm feelings that 'pumpkin pie' does to Americans, but kabocha should make a tasty pie. I usually use it in savory ways, but it does fine in 'pumpkin bread', and Japanese use it for a sweet steamed cake.

                                                                            1. re: janetofreno

                                                                              I believe squash is sold under the label pumpkin in canned pie fillings. So it is likely squash unless you carve up the pumpkin yourself.

                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                Aren't pumpkins a type of squash? It is kind of "strange" that we put them in pies - but I have to say - I LOVE pumpkin pie, especially cold for breakfast!!!!!! Yummmm

                                                                                1. re: thimes

                                                                                  Yes, of course pumpkins are a kind of squash. But at least in the US, although all pumpkins are squash, not all squash (squashes?) are pumpkins. Apparently, at least to three Aussies I know who were in on this conversation, in Australia all squash ARE pumpkins. A mutual friend had sent out an email asking some of us to identify a number of squash she had bought, and our Aussie friends responded by saying: "that's an acorn pumpkin, a butternut pumpkin...." etc. It led to some confusion and an interesting conversation!

                                                                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                    But only zucchini are courgettes? They are squash too...

                                                                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                      Summer squash vs. winter squash...

                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                        And in Chinese the word 瓜 (gua) is roughly translated as melon, and is used in the words for pumpkin, squash, zucchini, cucumber, bitter melon, watermelon, sweet potato and papaya, among others.

                                                                                2. re: Steve

                                                                                  The exception being Libbys 100% canned pumpkin. That is always pumpkin, not any other squash.

                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                    Libbys uses a strain they call Select Dickinson Pumpkin. But as you can see in the picture in the following link, this does not look at all like the orange carving pumpkin (it's long and tan). There isn't a universal meaningful distinction between squash and pumpkin. In the USA if the flesh is orange and it is used for pie or for carving, it is a 'pumpkin'. As noted in Australia, 'pumpkin' is applied more widely to include all winter/hard squashes.

                                                                                    'http://www.lindseytoth.com/blog/index...

                                                                              2. When I have the great experience of dining in "other cultures" I have always enjoyed it. I ask a lot of questions, and try to learn about general dietary customs, plus the foods. I also ask about any "dining instructions," that might be useful.

                                                                                If at a restaurant, I will explain to the server, exactly what I know, or think that I know, and what I do not know. I often throw myself at their mercy, and try their recommendations.

                                                                                When at a home, I do the same, but then the menu is usually set.

                                                                                Most times, I greatly enjoy the fare, and always learn some things in the course of the meal.

                                                                                Hunt