Saturday, October 23, 2010

Food Anthropology

     I've been taking an introduction to anthropology course at the Museum of Natural History for the past few weeks. It's been really interesting and fun, and last Friday we learned about food anthropology.
     Part of the lesson was tasting different kinds of foods and how they make us feel. Being the foodie that I am, I both jumped and shrank back from this. I was excited to see what foods they had and unwilling because I suspected that it wouldn't be prime condition.
     The students and I were handed out a paper plate, fork, and cup. We all had to close our eyes for the activity to work. When we were told to, I picked up my fork and scooped up whatever was on my plate. I hoped I didn't scoop it onto the table or my lap. I instantly recognized the food sample: good old fashioned mashed potatoes. My dad used to make the best mashed potatoes. They had heavy cream and butter, and were pulverized thoroughly. That was my first thought. My second thought was not wordy, but more of an action. An action usually made over a toilet or mistakably onto someones shoes or most commonly the floor.
     The mashed potatoes tasted like cardboard, to put it nicely. I had a bit of compassion for my teachers, because it could not be easy for a museum to make excellent mashed potatoes to feed to twenty-something high school students.
     The next food was another sort of comfort food. A spoonful of it was dropped onto my plate again, and this time I discretely opened my eyes, to make sure I would not be forced to eat soap again. However, that is a story for another day. It was the classic macaroni and cheese. This was worse than the mashed potatoes. It had no flavor, but rather a rubbery texture, like plastic. I was later told that it was the "instant" macaroni and cheese, the kind that was commonly used in colleges. I fervently hoped that I could enjoy baked, genuine mac and cheese while I was still in high school.
     We had a drink, next. Before eating, I again peeked again, and my suspicions were conformed that it was lemonade. The pure sugar kind that mixed with water, that parents hoped that the water could drown out the sugary goodness. To my disappointment, there was no layer of sugar at the bottom.
     Now that I'm fourteen, I get to go to Seminary. For all you people out there that don't know what I'm talking about, I'll try to explain it as best I can: Seminary is something LDS teens go to, to learn about the scriptures. For New York City kids, this means getting up at 5:00 or earlier. I was one of the lucky ones, I live pretty close, so I get to sleep in until 5:30. After the meeting, the Seminary students reign. The only law is: Whatever is left overnight in the kitchen is automatically free game for Seminary, unless specified for the elders. Some of these include: cake, lasagna, whipped cream, icys, ice cream, hot chocolate, and instant lemonade. When I tasted the lemonade, I immediately thought of standing on a chair in the church kitchen to get a tub of lemonade that had been around since last year's tag sale.
     The next was something better. A hershey's milk chocolate. I had the reaction that every chocoholic has when eating: I tilted my head back and made satisfying noises. The memory that came with it was of an old birthday sleepover I went to. We went to the Hershey's factory in Times Square, and each of us got a candy. I chose a heath bar, because that was my grandpa's favorite. After the party, we got goody bags, but I didn't find the candy in it. Sadly, I went home without the chocolate bar.
     A month and a half later, I was doing some spring cleaning. I found the gift bag from the party and took out the tissue paper inside. I also found the heath bar. Then because I don't believe in rotten chocolate, I kept the chocolate bar in one of my drawers, and ate a little piece of it whenever I felt sad. It lasted a long time, and love heath bars even more.
     The next food was good old fashioned apple juice. It didn't really have too much of a distinction, but I remembered all of the old commercials for those juice drinks and about "respecting the pouch" or something.
     The last was Swiss Miss hot chocolate. The other students talked about comfort and happiness, and I thought about a small, china tea set I used to have. My little brother and I hauled it out of the basement one winter, and used instant hot chocolate instead of tea. After spilling many times, we had finally given up, and took it back downstairs. When we brought the tea set back up the following year, we discovered that there was a little bit of hot chocolate still at the bottom. It had solidified into a mushroom-like fungus. After poking and prodding it for several minutes, we finally washed it out in the kitchen sink, and served more hot chocolate. We were sure to wash the china especially well that time.

Next week is my final class, and I must say it was a great learning experience. I'll have plenty of stories to tell, and I'll take them with me the next time I go to the museum.

Here's to all kinds of food, good and bad, and the memories that come with it.