You contain more than culture: practicing care as an inter-cultural practice through taste by Kaajal Modi
Kitchen Cultures: eating (as) ecology is a sensory workshop exploring food, climate and colonialism and part of What Shall We Build Here, Artsadmin’s festival of art, climate and community. In this blog Kaajal Modi, co-founder of Kitchen Cultures explains the workshop and the ideas behind the project.
Kitchen Culture: eating (as) ecology is a sensory workshop where we will taste foods from around the world that are “cooked” through human and microbial collaborations. As we do so, we will ask ourselves, what are the climates, critters and cultures (human and otherwise) involved in the production of our food? Can we taste our relationship to these other beings and, in doing so, become more mindful of our responsibility to care for them? By consciously digesting the products of climate colonialism, can we begin to bodily de-colonise our food web? As part of the event, we will also discuss some of the material and metaphoric affordances of inter-cultural and eco-social practices of preservation, and invite participants to share their own practices of intimacy, relationality and care for our planet’s metabolic ecologies.
The recipes we will taste were developed as part of a (remote) research residency with the Eden Project’s Invisible Worlds exhibition in 2020. Kitchen Cultures was a project conceived by myself and my friend and no-waste chef Fatima Tarkleman (@foodventures_with_fatti), as a way to recover and value the climate knowledge that lives in migrant communities from the Global South. There’s knowledge in our communities that isn’t always visible to outsiders; our recipes tell the stories of who we are, of where we are from, where we have been, and where we live now; but they also contain important knowledge about the climates, resources and species we’ve encountered along the way. These are the practices that have allowed us to survive displacement through colonisation and other forms of violence, yet still retain a sense of identity, without being fixed to a place. As Kitchen Cultures we wanted to work with the holders of this knowledge to tell their stories, both explicitly, and through their food practices, that are also material practices of care.
The legacy of colonisation on the natural resources of our homelands has meant many of us/our families moved to the UK to provide better opportunities for our children; we come from cultures that think intergenerationally, and as a result we tend to waste as little as possible (food or otherwise). By creating new collaborative recipes that utilise pickling techniques to enable us to preserve locally grown/available ingredients, we want to enable us to connect more fully to the land where we are now by taking responsibility for its future. Food is one of the ways in which we care for each other in our communities, and many of us come from traditions where we see nature as part of these communities. By working collaboratively with others, and by drawing attention to the organisms (bacteria, yeasts) in our environment and in/on our bodies that we also collaborate with through food preservation, we want to create conversations about what it means to care for each other when resources and opportunities globally are scarce for all species.
We proposed Kitchen Cultures to the Eden Project curators as part of my PhD, which at the time was looking at climate colonialism through the lens of food fermentation, and were lucky enough to be awarded a pot of funding to do the research. The primary aim of the project was to recover preservation techniques from different cultures to address commonly-wasted foods in the UK kitchen. We developed a call out to recruit women and nonbinary people from the global majority currently living in the UK, and were inundated with applications. After careful consideration we interviewed around 20 people, and ended up with a final group of eight: Eklass, from Sudan via Saudi Arabia; Pepa, from Peru; Soha, from Iran via Canada; Rinkal, from North India; Victoria, a second-generation migrant of Ghanain-Dutch-Jamaican heritage; Sibutseng, from Zimbabwe; May, of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, and Raphaella, from Brazil. May and Raphaella were unable to take part in the project in the end, so we were left with six collaborators. All of them were paid for their time and knowledge, provided with equipment and material costs, and are fully credited for their recipes.
By necessity, all of our interactions happened online or over the phone. We also set up a Whatsapp group, where we could share recipes and inspiration, and an Instagram, on which we shared our progress. Our primary interactions happened on Zoom, where we met weekly for 1.5 hours for six week. Through the process, we learned about each other and each others’ cultures, experiences and food stories. In the first week, we each shared a story about our relationship with food, and got to know each other’s histories; in the second, we each brought a preservation recipe from our respective cultural traditions (whatever we considered them to be); in the third week, we paired up collaborators interculturally and intergenerationally to learn about and from each other, and asked them to develop a new preservation recipe using what they had learned from each other; in the fourth, we continued this development alongside a storytelling exercise about our relationships to home, food, migration and culture; and in the fifth we came together and shared what we had learned and created. In week six, we took part in a poetry workshop with Bristol-based poet and artist Asmaa Jama (@asmaa_floats), who led us through an exercise that encouraged us to develop our thinking and storytelling skills using food metaphors.
The project has resulted in a variety of outcomes, including a series of tasting workshops, of which this is the third (and the first running in-person!), a sound piece developed by myself with the support of Radio Arts Catalyst, and a recipe/poetry/art book (which will be available as a free digital download from my website soon, and that all workshop participants are getting a hard copy of). Fatima is currently developing a book project called ‘Kinspiration’, mentored by the incredible Ixta Belfrage, where she is inviting chefs from the Global Majority, along with the people who inspired them to get into food and cooking, to share a recipe and a story. She is also featured in Zoe Adjonyoh’s new book ‘Serving Up’, which is a collection of essays on food, identity and culture by people of colour in the UK. It’s currently being crowdfunded via Unbound at unbound.com/books/serving-up, so do donate if you can!
Written by Kaajal Modi