duck rectum or meat glue? whose cuisine will reign supreme?

Posted on March 11, 2010. Filed under: American culture, chinese culture, cross cultural, cuisine | Tags: , , , , , |

My nephew, who has spent considerable time in China, mentioned that on his last trip there he ate duck rectum, and that it really wasn’t all that bad. Granted, he didn’t know what he was eating until after the fact, which, I assume, removed any cultural barrier about what’s supposed to be delicious and what’s supposed to be gross.

I know the Chinese eat many more parts of animals than Americans, who tend to eat only the meat and a few organs.  Still, I thought, “Wow. That is totally disgusting.”

But Americans, too, are eating some pretty gruesome things.  The FDA has over 3000 approved chemicals that can be added in food processing. There are  colors, preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, flavor enhancers, and antibiotics to name a few.

Thrombin, commonly known as meat glue, was just recently approved by the EU as a food additive. Recently approved? American have been eating it for years. Thombin, which was originally developed to stop bleeding during surgery, is also used to hold together chicken nuggets.

Americans have no idea  the number and quantity of the chemicals that pass through their bodies each year. At least with the duck, you know it’s a duck.

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the power of subculture affiliation

Posted on May 19, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural conflict, cuisine, culture, subcultures | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

One of my best friends is dating a man who, culturally, is very different from her.  Just from looking at them, you wouldn’t think they are so different. They are both American, white, middle class, middle aged, educated, divorced with kids, and from the Northeast.

They do have some fundamental differences that make my friend think that maybe he’s not “the one.”  She’s Jewish. He’s Christian. She’s a democrat. He’s republican. Still, these were areas she could compromise on. They weren’t necessarily deal breakers. She used these differences to teach her children about tolerance and the importance of looking at the individual, not group affiliation.

But last night, she called me up to tell me she knew this relationship could never really work.  It seems that they were out with his kids, and he gave them Capri Sun juice drinks and white bread. She knew it wouldn’t last between them.

And you know what? I totally understood. We are both part of the culture of healthy, natural living. We don’t eat processed foods and we certainly would never give our children juice “drinks” (which are mostly high fructose corn syrup and water)  or white bread. My children have never–not once–eaten fast food.  And they don’t miss it because they know what homemade, delicious, healthy food tastes like. 

After talking with my friend, I realized that lifestyles can be defined as culture, or subculture if you prefer, in that they include a set of beliefs, knowledge, values and behavioral norms shared by its members and  transmitted to future generations.

For my friend and me, a healthy lifestyle is core to the values and beliefs  that we want to pass on to our children.  And as core values and beliefs,  are more important when looking for a partner than what may normally be viewed as cultural differences, such as religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity.


What subcultures do you identify yourself with? How does it affect your daily behavior and relationships?

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Pets: love them, pamper them or eat them for dinner?

Posted on May 7, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, chinese culture, cross cultural conflict, cuisine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The other night I was watching The Dog Whisperer (I have no idea why), which is a TV show about a man who has some preternatural ability to understand and communicate with dogs. He helps families whose pets are having emotional or behavioral problems. In this episode, Cesar, the Dog Whisperer, was explaining to a woman “your dog is jealous of your husband.” She nodded knowingly.

I have never understood people who are crazy for their pets, and think of them as their children. Americans spend about 10 billion dollars a year on their pets. There are pet therapists, pet cemeteries, and pet spas.  A friend of mine cancelled her vacation, losing her non-refundable plane tickets, because she couldn’t find her cat pre-departure.

Years ago, when I was a new ESL teacher, I did an exercise with students where they had to match a list of items with the store in which they belong —the hammer goes in the hardware store, the lettuce goes in the green grocer, the rolling papers go in the bodega, etc. When we reviewed the answers together as a class, I was amused to find that all the Chinese students had put the pets in the butcher shop.

Fish, rabbits and reptiles are often pets, but no one really complains about eating them. It is often seen as a personal preference.  Even horses, beloved in the US,  are eaten in some European countries.

The biggest battle lines seem to be drawn for dogs and cats.  It also seems to be an East/West divide.  It is not uncommon for these animals to be on the menu in China, Korea or parts of South East Asia.  Westerners, on the other hand, not only refuse to eat them, but find it horrifying that others do.

Why, of all the animals that are kept as pets–fish, birds, cats, dogs, horses, reptiles, etc–are there such strong emotions in this cultural divide? What is it about cats and dogs that sets them apart?

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It tastes sooooo good!!

Posted on February 17, 2009. Filed under: cuisine | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I Love Food.  

It is a really important part of my life, and not just because it keeps me alive. 

My daughter, too, is an NBF (natural born foodie).  Still too young to speak or walk, she would open Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to the middle page  (one piece of cherry pie, one slice of cheese, one slice of salami….) and just stare at it. Then she would pretend to grab the pictures and pop them in her mouth.  Like mother like daughter.

Whenever I travel, I always try the local cuisine.  For people who love to travel, eating new foods is either a wonderous experience or a daily trauma. I always read about weird foods that people saw, or were forced to eat (monkey and bugs come to mind). But what about foreign foods you LOVE?! I mean food that you daydream about, and wonder where you can find it when you get back to your country. My all time, absolute, there-must-be-a-God, yum yum yum, I-tried-it first-in-a-foreign-country foods are:

Jugo de chinola– a staple when I’m in Dominican Republic. Tart, refreshing, delicious. I was drinking it for almost 8 years before I learned that chinola is passion fruit. I really think it must have a vitamin that my body needs, because I can’t drink it fast enough.

Mochi – a super chewy Japanese treat made of pounded rice. I like mine filled with red bean paste.  Still, at 300 calories and 25% of my daily carbs in each small piece, it’s a once-in-a-while treat.

Som tom– I dream about this stuff. A Thai salad made of shredded unripe papaya, chilies, and other yummy ingredients. I rarely find it done right  in American Thai restaurants. They always make it with shredded cabbage, which is ridiculous, and they never make it spicy enough.

Well, those are my favorites….

What are your favorite, and I mean FAVORITE, (not, yeah, I like Chinese food) foreign foods?

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Why I ate a broom, and other cross cultural missteps

Posted on January 31, 2009. Filed under: cross cultural miscommunication, cuisine | Tags: , , , , |

Normally, people don’t publicize the dumb things they have done. But, if you know anything about Jewish humor,  you know that self-deprecation is perfectly OK if it is followed by a great punch line.

As I’ve mentioned many times, people try to understand new cultures by processing their experiences based on their own cultural frameworks–how is this like or not like my own culture. Usually, I’m pretty aware when this is happening, but sometimes I just get caught off guard, and forget that I’m using my own culture as a reference.

I was in Dominican Republic with my husband, who is Dominican, and we had stopped at a local supermarket to pick up some groceries. As I wandered through the produce section, admiring all the exotic fruits and vegetables, I saw a bundle of what looked like thin strips of bark. This must be some kind of spice, I thought, like cinnamon bark or sassafras. Right? I mean, it was in the produce aisle. I picked up the bundle and gave it a sniff. Funny, I thought. it doesn’t have any aroma.

Being a total foodie, I simply had to find out what this unknown and exotic Dominican spice was–so I broke off a small piece and popped it in my mouth. I looked up, only to find a group of teenage girls watching me and giggling uncontrollably. I was used to the “check out the gringa” stare, so I didn’t think anything about it. My husband, at this point,  came down the aisle looking at me  (with that look he gets!) and shaking his head. “Why,” he asked, “are you eating a broom?”

Why was I eating a broom?

  • Because it was in the produce aisle, and not in the cleaning supply aisle (like in America)
  • Because brooms bristles are made of polyester or plastic, not bark (like in America)
  • Because brooms have handles (like in America)
  • Because it didn’t look like a broom! (like in America)

All of my reasons were based on my cultural knowledge of both brooms and spices. It was at that point my husband explained to me that in his country the bottom part of a broom is replaceable (unlike in America) and you can just put it on the broom handle you have at home.

No wonder it didn’t taste very good.

Have you ever made a silly mistake because you were using your own cultural references in another country? What happened?

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Do chopsticks make you thin?

Posted on January 16, 2009. Filed under: American culture, cuisine |

I just read about the chopstick diet and at first thought it was a joke. The basic idea is that if you eat with chopsticks, you will lose weight. Forks, apparently, are to blame for our eating so much. They make it much too easy to get your food to your mouth, unlike chopsticks, where 60% of your food falls back on your plate after you’ve picked it up.

This is a new hot trend for Americans, who will do almost anything to lose weight except exercise and eat sensibly. Somehow, I don’t think a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese and a large fries and going to be any more slimming if they are eaten with chopsticks.

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