Time flies when you’re making friends and making food. As I looked over photos that I took of the Syrian brunch I had at my friend Abir Zain’s the day before, a Facebook ‘memory’ post reminded me that it was one year ago that day we met for the first time.
“I handed her a jar of partridgeberry jam. She offered me a cup of tea. And a friendship was born,” the post read. This exchange of culturally significant food, the prized scarlet berries from the barrens of the Southside hillsm and the sweetened, cardamom-infused tea customary in the Middle East, to foster communication is the simplest form of gastrodiplomacy.
We’ve all heard the cliche “the best way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.” The concept of gastrodiplomacy mixes this conventional wisdom with the tenets of “Contact Theory,” which states that positive interpersonal communication between individuals of different cultures can have large scale effects in reducing discrimination and promoting co-operation.
The people at the Heritage Foundation of NL are putting on a series of events this year, “From Syria to St. John’s: Newfoundland Foodways Workshops,” to put this academic theory to practical use.
Starting with Newfoundland tea buns with Alanna Wicks, and moving on to Syrian baklava with Abir Zain , the opening workshops will provide expert instruction in preparing these foods and also time to chat about the traditions around them while waiting for them to bake.
The food we eat is an important expression of culture and identity. Foodways, as defined by Merriam Webster, are “the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period.”
It’s not just “what people eat,” but also what they don’t and why, plus the traditions around the foods, how and by who they are gathered and prepared, and so much more. This makes food events rich in opportunity to discuss culture.
Authenticity level is on bust, both recipes handed down from the families of the instructors, though Abir admits she has tweaked the recipes her mother-in-law and mom handed down to create her own rosewater cream cheese baklava.
This workshop sold out in less than a day, but if there is demand, Abir is open to repeating it. The tea bun workshop has a few seats left open, but they are going fast.
Removing all the academic jargon, what I know for sure is that the first day I met Abir, I arrived at her doorstep knowing very little about her traditions or homeland, nervous that she might not like me, holding my jar of home made jam as a gift to let her know I was there to be her friend. The time it took to explain what this jar contained created the space for us to feel at ease talking. Good food fosters a more peaceful world, and you can count me in.
The last tickets for March 1st’s tea-bun workshops, if remaining , can be purchased through the link below.