Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

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.

Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?


Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?

Gaming companies and learning experts often disagree on the effects of online gaming among teens.

Despite the fact that we have watched our children play online games for decades, and that a whole generation of gamers has grown up without civilization collapsing, there is still an intense fear among many that online gaming is "dangerous" and has no positive long-term value.

Every few weeks we come across stories from psychologists and others detailing how battling opponents in games like “World of WarCraft” can make children have violent tendencies. We have also heard stories about online video games making kids hyper and anti-social.

Within this backdrop, it is fairly safe to conclude that the fact that researchers today have begun looking into ways to introduce video games to accelerate classroom learning might be unnerving to many. And yet still others are able to extoll gaming’s virtues, including the authors of a 2014 American Psychological Association article, “The Benefits of Playing Video Games” which surveyed the landscape of video games. In it they identify four types of positive impact that video games have on the kids who play them: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social.

Why would gaming be approved in schools in the first place, and can online gaming really help teens develop cultural competency?  I will dive into this a bit deeper below.

One Path to Cultural Competence

The reason is simple – video gaming online appears to be one of the unique ways to cultivate cultural competence.

Our world is a connected world.  Through television, travel, and the Internet we have opportunity to intersect with others around the globe in various capacities. Gaming online is another means of opportunity for youth to connect and team with people all over the world.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness the potential of this reality to see that deeper learning takes place.

To live and thrive in this world, today’s children must learn the intricacies of a connected globe. Anthony Johnson, Director of the Center for Global Education at the Asia Society, calls this “global competence.”

Anthony makes it clear that if the current generation is serious about bringing the world together, which I also advocate for strongly, then they must arm the current youth with knowledge and skills in global competence.

But, What Exactly is Global Competence?

I was reminded of the Asia Society’s excellent framework in a recent related session I attended while keynoting at the ASCD conference last month. Their recent report titled “Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World" defines global competence as a combination of four domains, which are the ability to:

1. Explore local, intercultural, and global issues

A globally competent individual combines knowledge about the world with critical reasoning whenever they form opinions about a global problem.

2. Understand and appreciate the perspectives and worldviews of others

Being globally competent brings with it a willingness to look at global problems from different perspectives.

3. Engage in appropriate, open, and effective interactions across cultures

When you are globally competent, you can engage in respectful dialogue without undermining marginalized groups.

4. Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development

Globally competent individuals are ready and willing to respond to local, global, or intercultural issues for the common good.

Conclusion: Online Games Can Teach Many of These Skills

Games can help kids appreciate cultural diversity and become global thinkers. Game play online often requires teaming and that can be with anyone, anywhere around the world.  Unique partnerships can develop, which while simple and focused on game play, actually do lay a foundation for global cooperation. Online gaming can be one method, among many, that can assist and provide young people with simple skills in cultural competence.  When reflected on and combined with other methods, such as my Ravi Unites Schools initiative, the overall effect and impact can be significant.

What is needed is the intention to provide stakeholders with the necessary insight to make video gaming a tool that we can confidently use to teach cultural competence as we seek to prepare the future generation for a peaceful and economically productive coexistence.  I aim to provide some of that intentional insight into how to utilize what currently engages youth via my keynotes and to help educators turn experiences like these into deeper learnings about cultural competence.

Does this topic pique your interest? Consider booking Ravi for a keynote at your next education leadership meeting or conference. Get the conversation started by reaching out to Ravi at