You are what you eat! Or are you?

On a recent book tour talking about the challenges and opportunities of a Global Cosmopolitan lifestyle, the audiences raised many issues about the complexity of living and working in multiple cultures.

People invariably brought up the subject of food. What you eat, how you eat and when you eat are elements of everyday life that mark global experience. Individuals spoke about the opportunities for exploring new and different culinary experiences and then other moments of yearning for a taste of home.

A Peruvian who had lived in Korea for three years put it this way, “I knew from my first meal in Korea, that life was going to be different.“ He had anticipated many cultural difference, but he forgot about one of the basics – eating. The tastes, presentations and even the ways of eating were different. “I felt like I had a different digestive system.  And that was only the beginning.”

One Indian went to boarding school in a country where meat was a staple in the diet. With great deliberation, he became the first person in his family for generations to ever eat meat. While his new eating habits helped him integrate into the new school environment, he frequently found himself homesick for the food he grew up with. In addition, his return visits to India were  complicated by this new “culinary” identity.

And the smell of home cooking! Early childhood memories are often stimulated by familiar smells and tastes. That was enough for one man to think about knocking on a stranger’s door when he detected the aroma of meals from home.

Some people turned their desire to have home cooking in other countries into business plans for exporting spices or opening restaurant chains in their new countries.

In a global family, these issues often require significant adaptation. No matter where in the world my family gets together, a key meeting point is around food. When our grown up children come home, they love eating what they consider home cooking. It is not unusual to discuss the transformation of childhood recipes into gourmet delights. The rest of my family has acquired a taste for spicier food than I can tolerate. So, when my Peruvian daughter in law prepares ceviche, one of her favorite dishes from home, she makes sure that I do not get too many hot peppers.

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