A picture of spices and spoons

Food for Social Change

Fusion might be the only way to describe Australian cuisine. It blends colours and flavours from the Mediterranean all the way to East Asia. It is the symbol and signifier of the multiculturalism that takes place in Australian society today. Australia prides itself on the mix of populations that have brought their own palates. 

Food is more than just a necessity; it is a tool through which we can achieve multiculturalism. Regardless of our cultural, ethnic and religious differences, food just brings us all closer. Certain flavours, spices can instigate strong memories. Food sometimes takes the form of celebration, on our birthday, or nostalgia, when as migrants we miss our local cuisine.

I spent my summers cooking in refugee solidarity kitchens in Athens. There, hierarchies did not matter. Someone would know the recipe and the right amount of ingredients, and we would all work toward the same goal. Cooking for 300 people was not always easy, but we managed. Simple tasks, like cutting a kilo of onions or chopping hundreds of tomatoes could be seen as mundane, but it was an opportunity from people around the world to get to know each other.

The kitchen became our safe and even favourite space. Asylum seekers, locals, and independent volunteers became a family. Sometimes the recipes were not our greatest achievements, but with the right spices, they became our pride. The final result was a mix of cultures; Syrian, Afghani, Greek… and sometimes Philippine. Food did not only bring us closer, but also made us equal. We came to see each other as individuals, with our own struggles, pain and ambitions.

In Australia, this wide mix of cultures made me think about the ways we approach food. Even though it’s said to celebrate multiculturalism, I felt like some cultures are emphasised and seen as more important than others. In my university exchange year here, I have witnessed the adoration of all things European combined with partial indifference to the non-West as ordinary.

In Levenstein’s words, migrants often neglect aspects of their native food that they consider ‘inferior’ as a way to assimilate to a white settler culture. At the same time, they focus on colonial foods and methods to foods that are thought of highly in their host country.

At a time of increasing ethnic violence and discrimination, we realise we don’t actually live in a post-racial world. However, food reminds us that deep down we are all the same. It is so powerful in uniting us, that it’s said it can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Humous embodies the few things the two populations embrace and share in common. Respect for the same regional cuisine can help shape the ways in which they see each other.

In our local context, the Canberra Multicultural Festival sought to do this with great success. It gives a voice to the hundreds of communities that live in Canberra that we would otherwise overlook.

Maybe it is time to set aside our preferences and better engage with communities and flavours we ignore.