Like many bicultural kids, I have a strong connection with food. In my community, it is used to show respect, celebrate milestones and, in many ways, illustrate success. This is because you can communicate, show emotion, and send subtle messages through food.
The difference between serving roasted pork or shrimp during a dinner party is huge – and trust me, Latinos notice. At least the old school type. They won’t say anything to you directly. – that would be rude – but the peanut gallery will be buzzing with comments that, from an American perspective, are hysterical.
I will never forget the first I was indoctrinated into this part of my culture. We went to a party where the host decided to serve “Americanized” healthy food. This included the very American dish of couscous and roasted vegetables. lol While delicious, she made the fatal flaw of not serving meat (gasp!), and not serving Latino food as an alternative. The old ladies went into a frenzy.
“Mija, esto parece comida para los animales.”
“Pero porque nos esta poniendo a dieta?”
“Voy a tener que comer otra vez cuando vuelva a casa. Esto es yerba.”
Now, from an American perspective this may seem odd, but from a Latino perspective it was really the modern Latina that failed here. How dare she invite people into her home and not serve proper food! Is this what her mother had taught her about hospitality? (Can’t you just picture your grandmother saying something like this). It almost makes you think that vegetables are offensive. Of course, this is not the case, but when you invite someone to your home, offering special food with substances is quite important. The Latino food hierarchy goes something like this:
- Lobster / Crab
- Red Meat
- Tropical Vegetables
- American Vegetables
Of course, this affects me directly. As a practicing Buddhist, I am not even supposed to cook meat. What in God’s name do I serve my family or, in that case, any Latino guest, without it seeming like its a slap in the face? What Latino dish, that is not an accompaniment, vegetarian friendly? Do I just give up on hosting family parties?
Any answers to the above questions will be appreciated. This is one vegetarian challenge I still have not been able to solve!