The connections between people and food is too fascinating to not stop thinking about how food affects our daily life. It all came down to how much food has meant to me, as a person who does not eat much. However, food has still shaped me as a person through the many meals I've dared to try with others. The idea of spreading how much food can mean to people inspired me to write about what food culture means to me.

Illustrated by Christina Feng

I asked my friends for their interpretation of “food culture,” and unsurprisingly, they all gave different answers such as a necessary ingredient or a memory of enjoying a meal with a loved one. However, the common conception of such a term is the idea that food undoubtedly bonds people together. My idea of “food culture” is the relationship that people can form over a good meal, whether it's in a fancy restaurant or simple snack in the park.

I often think about how humans are the only animals that cook their food. However, after millions of years, it’s not astonishing that humans lean towards a warm meal cooked with dedication over raw meat ripped off the bones of prey. There is no one civilization that can proudly claim that they invented food, but the 195 countries that exist today on top of the dozens of fallen civilizations that were left in the past can present a staple dish that says “This is a classic New York Cheesecake!” or “Ah, this is how a bowl of congee should taste like.” Beyond comfort food, humans have always competed to eat the most, cook the best, invent a new technique, or rate restaurants on Yelp to proclaim how generous the restaurant was with the cheese. Food is undeniably essential not only to survival, but to the rise and fall of cultures.

Meanwhile, humans are again set apart from animals by the fact that food has an emotional impact before the instinctive need for sustenance. It’s a way to identify and emotionally connect with others. The human race's relationship with food advances us as a whole because of how the brain associates food to memories. For example, chasing down the ice cream truck as a child on a scorching summer’s day or holding a mug of hot chocolate on a frigid winter’s evening can spark positive impressions. It’s not the taste that will be remembered but rather the feeling it created. On that note, thanks to modern neurobiology, we can expect positive or negative reactions when coming across food that we’ve encountered in the past. And thanks to food culture, humans have adapted to a wide variety of food preferences rooted in their cultures and upbringings.

"Beyond comfort food, humans have always competed to eat the most, cook the best, invent a new technique, or rate restaurants on Yelp to proclaim how generous the restaurant was with the cheese. Food is undeniably essential not only to survival, but to the rise and fall of cultures."

Food is part of cuisine, but cuisine isn’t necessarily part of food. The point to understand is that cuisine identifies culture. Let’s take spice for example. Korea finds comfort in dakdoritang, a soup with gochugaru, pepper paste. India values the intensity from many wonderful blends of spices like in biriyani. Southern America favors cayenne peppers in its jambalaya. Thailand uses their native Thai Chili to leave a fiery impression on people in its curry. On the other hand, Malaysia uses the Thai Chili in sarawak laksa, a noodle dish that people who can handle spice probably can’t take. The Congo finds their fire in maboke, banana leaf wrapped meat marinated in spice from red Scotch bonnet peppers. Consider beyond variations of these examples, that there are even more assortments of spicy food. It all comes down to how each culture spectacularly developed its food culture by utilizing their resources for specialized cuisine!

To find another approach to food culture, let’s take a step away from food and into drinks. After all, drinks are part of food culture and may hold an even higher impression than food! After water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. As I’m currently sipping a cup of Indian Chai while writing this, I want to convey how tea can warm up one’s body and heart.

I"f you are cold, tea will warm you;

If you are too heated, it will cool you;

If you are depressed, it will cheer you;

If you are excited, it will calm you."

—William Ewart Gladstone

In the end, tea gives people a way to love. In England, there’s afternoon tea with a delicious cup of black tea, sandwiches, and scones. Morocco has a tradition with gunpowder green tea where tea is done by the male head of the house, passed down from father to son, serving everyone, young and old, a cup of tea. In Argentina, maté is a bitter tea, drunk with a bombilla or metal straw, in small servings that aren't found in bars or restaurants, but instead, drunk in the comfort of one’s home. In comparison, Russia would use a samovar, a container to boil water in, and drink five or six cups of tea in a row! Japan uses a chasen, a wooden tea whisk, to blend the tea until bubbles form and the country even has a tea ceremony to "attain enlightenment" through the dedication of brewing tea. And bubble milk tea from east Asia, a concoction of milk, tea, and ball-shaped tapioca pearls, is becoming more popular as it takes the world by storm. Clearly, food advances by people taking inspiration from other cultures to form their own interpretation of what food means and how it’s shared with the world.

"Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people eat together."

—Guy Fieri



Christina is a native New Yorker and first-generation Chinese American. She is an aspiring architect at the Georgia Institute of Technology and an alumnus of The New School University's Parsons Scholars Program. Be it by designing the yearbook cover or painting murals around NYC, Christina always wants to support the community through her art. In her spare time, Christina likes to read webtoons, play instruments, and draw. Currently lives in the U.S.






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