Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

The practice of sharing a meal dates back to the dawn of humanity. Today we also use this time to learn about each other and welcome others into our families and communities. In many Middle East countries, for instance, “I have had water and salt in your home” is a common way of saying that once a meal has been shared, “we are bonded to one another.”

Many agree that the bonding power of “breaking bread” is tremendously rich, enabling us to overcome great challenges, and even infusing cultural competence in younger generations. I am convinced that preparing the meal collectively deepens the bond even further.

The culinary arts is perhaps the only art that stimulates all five senses simultaneously. My theory is that this multi-sensory experience creates a uniquely strong connection. Therefore, preparing and sharing the daily family dinner is a vital opportunity to reinforce family values and counterbalance other influences that may be less desirable.

Overcoming Challenges through Sharing a Meal

I believe we should consider the possibilities of “food diplomacy” and raise awareness of its potential for positive impact. Dining together is a multi-sensory, tangible experience that can uncover commonalities where previously only differing experiences and viewpoints might have existed.  

The potential for conversation and trust building is inherent in sharing smells, tastes, colors and textures of the ingredients along with various methods of preparation. The total experience can be a catalyst for diplomacy, increasing greater understanding and the sharing of a common experience.  Furthermore, the tradition of raising a glass to a common desire (i.e. “to our health”) unites those around the table.

Teaching Cultural Competence through Food

Today’s finest French cuisine is often created using the animal parts traditionally eaten by peasants. And why is it that countries in the hottest climates such as India and China eat the spiciest foods? Do we recognize that spices are used to preserve foods in places where refrigeration was (or is) not readily available, and what else does that teach us about these places? When you eat international foods, and even more so if you cook them yourself at home, you are personally investing in different cultures.

Several organizations have initiated programs that focus on this. Cooking Matters asks participants to prepare dishes from as many cultures as possible and challenges them to draw relationships between those foods and the respective cultures.They say that foods are “the summation and expression of experiences, beliefs, and practices.” So when you cook foods from other cultures, you get a first-hand taste of the experiences, beliefs, and practices of that culture; you learn about others without assumption or judgment.

Scholastic, as another example, encourages teachers to prepare meals from different cultures as a way of getting even young children to appreciate other cultures.

What Students Can Learn

There is much to learn from cooking and eating foods from other cultures and even breaking bread together with people of these cultures. These include:

  • The people’s identity: When we eat certain foods, we identify with a very specific norm within our own community. Cooking or consuming foods of others will help us learn and appreciate their identities.

 

  • A community’s pleasures: Students learn which festivals or occasions are associated with which foods.

 

  • A community’s values: Breaking bread with other communities helps future leaders learn about the values that tie those communities together.

 

  • Heritage: Taking an interest in other communities’ foods is one of the best ways to trace their history and heritage.

 

Ravi Unites Support for Culinary Experiences

My Ravi Unites Schools program that unites students from different cultures online is directly aligned with creating community-building culinary initiatives. In fact, a discussion of food is naturally part of every interaction. I encourage educators and especially families to incorporate diverse foods and culinary exploration into regular activities. By simultaneously stimulating sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, a unique and rich experience is created that can break down walls and form lasting connections.

What are your thoughts on this? Please let me know by sending me a message.