USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food’
Customs
Foodways
Material

Lentils on Monday

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: It was a Monday afternoon and my informant was eating a bowl of lentils, she explained that she did so every Monday, as explained by a common Peruvian folklore custom. Her parents and grandparents have followed this tradition for as long as she can remember, and she feels that it’s something that connects her to her family, even while she’s away from home.

 

Main Piece: “So every Monday I make sure to eat a bowl of lentils. Back at home, my mom would make them for dinner every Monday night for our whole family to eat. No matter what else she made, there were always lentils involved and we always had to have at least one bite, no matter how badly we didn’t want to eat them. The reason is that it’s supposed to bring or attract money, prosperity, and good luck. I’m not sure where this tradition started, but my grandparents grew up on it, so did my mom, and she makes sure we all take part in it too. Peruvians use a lot of foods to represent or attract different things into life. Food is a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how much I believe that this tradition works or anything like that, but it’s something that I’ve done for so long that it feels natural to continue. Little things like this keep me connected to my family which is important to me now that I haven’t been able to see them since I’m away at school.”

 

Analysis: The continuation of cultural traditions and rituals is something very important to the elders of immigrant families. It’s easy to assimilate to the current lifestyle of where a person lives, so it’s refreshing to hear that first or even second generation immigrants keep their culture alive.

 

Humor
Legends

Peacock for Dinner

Background

Location: Pasadena, CA

Informant: 21 year old male from Austria, living in Pasadena with his father after moving to America.

Context

Heard from source local to the Pasadena area. This area is heavily populated by wild peacocks that live outside among the homes there. This urban legend was told to me in response to my question of where the peacocks came from. I have paraphrased the response below

Main Piece

The informant heard from his father who owned the property in Pasadena, that the peacocks migrated down to the neighborhood from the mountains above. There, the peacocks bred uncontrollably and now was considered an “infestation.” As a result, some residents had taken to hitting the peacocks with their cars and taking the corpses of the birds home to prepare them as meal, in soups, stews and other dishes.

Thoughts

The origin story of the peacocks is interesting, the informant is attempting to decipher how these peacocks came to be so prevalent in the area based off of what he has heard. Due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of peacocks living in the neighborhoods of Pasadena, the emergence of the urban legend points to a possible dislike for the peacocks. It also seems somewhat taboo, as Americans culturally do not regard peacocks as a typical bird for consumption. The legend itself seems farfetched, but it also points to the “quirkiness” and interesting characteristic of the neighborhood that so many wild peacocks roam around.

 

 

 

Folk medicine

Spinach and Tofu

The informant is marked IN. The collector is marked JJ.

IN: My mom told me I can’t eat spinach and tofu together otherwise I would die. Like all throughout my childhood, she never let me eat spinach and tofu.

JJ: Did she explain why you would die?

IN: No she had no idea why and I told her I don’t believe you and she was like it’s real I heard it on the Chinese television. And my mom believes a lot of things from chinese television and they have the weirdest like, health talks where it’s like, they bring up the weirdest shit and it’s usually not true.

Context: I met the informant at lunch and asked about any folk medicine used by her parents.

Background: The informant is a Chinese-American whose parents were raised in Vietnam. Her parents collect a lot of health remedies from Chinese television, often explained with little scientific backing – which is something that the informant has never agreed with but faced a lot growing up.

Analysis: I found this interesting because both foods are very healthy and to my knowledge used often in Chinese cooking. I can’t imagine reasons for avoiding these two foods, folkloric or scientific.

Legends
Narrative

Cutting the Ham

Text: “This story was passed down as if it were the true in my family. But I have heard it told by others as well. My mom was preparing a ham for Easter and she cut the end off the ham before putting it in the pan. When I asked her why she cut the end off the ham she said, ‘because Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we decided to call Grandma and ask her why she cut the end off the ham. When she answered the call she replied, ‘I always cut the end off the ham because Great Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we went to go visit Great Grandma in the nursing home and we asked her about it and she said, ‘oh well I always cut the end off the ham because my pan was too short.’ The moral of the story is two generations of women were doing something because of the way they had always seen it done but in reality there was no need for them to do it.”

 

Context: This story was told to me by a 45-year-old white woman from Denver, Colorado when I asked her if she knew of any folklore that was passed down within her family.

 

Interpretation: I assume that this story was told in the informant’s family for two main purposes. The first is for entertainment, since it is simply a funny story that I imagine most people who hear it would find humorous. The second is to give advice to its listeners because it has a moral to it, as the informant stated at the end of her text. One could reword the moral she stated as don’t do something just because someone else does. This story reminds me of a longer version of a common saying that is said to children that goes something like, “If (name) jumped off a bridge, would you?”.

 

Folk Beliefs

Pregnancy Craving Beliefs

Main Text:

DC: “When you are pregnant and you begin to crave a specific type of food, you must eat the type of food you are craving or else the baby will be born with the face of that food”

Collector: ” When you were pregnant with your son, did you ever ignore a food craving?”

DC: “Yeah, but nothing really happened” *laughter*

Context:

DC is a Mexican woman who immigrated to the United States and has one five year old son. DC mentioned before she told me this belief that when she was pregnant, her mother always told her not to ignore her cravings and she remembers it because of how bizarre it actually is. Despite this being just another folk belief in her eyes, today she continues this belief and mentions it to her friends or family whenever they mention that they are craving a specific food while pregnant. When asked why she continues to pass this belief along, DC responded that it encourages people to eat more when they are pregnant and not feel bad about the “weirdness” and the “changes” that their body is experiencing. She said that she likes to make people feel comfortable while they are pregnant and that sometimes this belief can just be for good humor if someone needs to hear it.

Analysis:

The idea behind cravings in general is a way for your body to tell you what food it needs or what nutrients it is lacking. To couple this with pregnancy, I believe that this folk belief was a way to address the needs of the baby and to make sure that it is also getting all the nutrients it needs from the mother. Another way to analyze this belief relates to the culture of the informant. Growing up in a hispanic family, one is usually encouraged to indulge at family dinners and to specifically not waste food. This in part can be explained by the limited resources of a developing country where water, food and money are very important life aspects.Either way, this belief is passed along by hispanic families who encourage others to indulge in their meals as well as not to waste anything, and both of these aspects would be fulfilled by a pregnant woman satisfying her cravings. Hispanic culture is also one that values new children to a high regard so in a sense I think that this folk belief is representative of the value placed on the birth of new children in that it encourages protecting and fulfilling all of the needs of an unborn child.

Folk medicine

Garlic and milk to cure a cold

The informant is my mother, who is originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she grew up with her eight sisters. When she was visiting from Washington, D.C. where we currently live, I asked her and my aunts how they used to cure colds when they lived in Ethiopia. She shared this interesting anecdote with me.

Note: The initials NG denote the informant, while A refers to me, the interviewer.

——————–

NG: When I was younger, some people used netch shinkourt ena whetet [garlic and milk].

A: woah, really? why? isn’t milk bad for you when you have a cold?

NG: I don’t know. Maybe, actually.

A: Did it ever actually work?

NG: [laughs] I don’t think so.

A: So why do you think people do it?

NG: I don’t know! It’s, you know, it’s nice to feel like you’re doing something to help. [laughs]

——————–

I thought this was a funny example of the fact that some beliefs are unfounded, but are performed simply because they are tradition, or because the belief that the remedy will work is enough for those who perform it. Science has actually proven that there is no actual way to cure a cold, which means that in this way, every cold remedy will work, because the cold will go away by itself in a few days and you can attribute this to whatever remedy you used. I also thought it related to the fact that we like to feel some amount of control when we’re in a situation in which nothing can be done, because although we know there is no way to cure a cold, we all have cold remedies and things we do to try and “cure” ourselves.

Customs
Foodways
general

Cantonese hospitality custom

The informant is a USC student and friend of mine from Bangkok, Thailand whose family is Cantonese. She came over to make dumplings at my house, and while we were eating, she kept putting dumplings on my plate for me. This is what she told me when I asked her why she was doing that.
——————–
“In cantonese culture, when you’re sharing a meal with someone, you would have all the plates with food on them, for example, like all the dumplings would be in one plate–if you’re sharing dumplings with someone, you would always take the dumpling, dip it in the sauce, and put it on their plate, and then you would get one for yourself. And when you finish yours, you put another one on their plate. And then, when you get to the last one, you have to put it on their plate, so they get to eat it.”
——————–
I found that this was an interesting custom that seemed to reflect something I have seen in many cultures, specifically non-Western ones; many cultures emphasize the importance of serving others before yourself, or respecting others before yourself. I have seen this reflected in my own Ethiopian culture, which emphasizes the importance of attending to others before yourself in almost everything from serving food to giving houseguests your bed and sleeping on the couch or floor. This custom is also part of a larger customary lore that exists almost everywhere but seems to emerge more when people move away from their home countries: when engaging in the customs of hospitality from their native countries, they are expressing a sense of nostalgia for that community, for the “old country.” These customs also tend to become simplified over time as cultures mix; in more cosmopolitan societies, a lot of the nuance and specificity of certain customs tends to fade away. We can now see them in more generalized customs, such as asking someone whether they would like a glass of water when they visit your home, which are more simple, symbolistic nods to that culture of hospitality.

Customs
Game
Humor

Modifying Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Piece:
J is the interviewer.
K is the interviewed party.

K: “I would like to preface this with the fact that none of these are legitimate rules, I don’t think, as far as they go, and they’re just what I’ve always done. So whenever you go to a restaurant and they give you fortune cookies, right at the beginning, I’ve always heard that it’s bad luck or something to grab one — anyone but the one that’s closest to you. You have to grab the closest one otherwise its either bad luck or your fortune won’t come true or something like that. But then something that my mom would always do, believe it or not, is that whatever you read, whenever you say — it has to — you just add the words, when you read it out loud to other people, you read it and you say your fortune and then you add the words, as uncouth as they are, ‘in bed with a midget.’ So people will read their fortune, and it’ll say, ‘good luck will come to you’ or, ‘good favor’ or ‘you’ll discover something about yourself’ and then you say in bed with a midget at the end.”

Analysis:

Even though they come at the end of Chinese food meals, fortune cookies are actually a known American invention, so they exist as an example of one culture adding to another and being adopted by the new culture. If I ever go to a Chinese restaurant, I feel somewhat cheated if I don’t get a fortune cookie at the end of the meal, knowing full well that fortune cookies have no legitimate claim to Chinese heritage.

Fortune cookies exist for many people as a lighthearted form of the spirituality of another culture. The jovial nature of their existence is a perfect way to incorporate personal traditions of making the experience even funnier. At many of the dinners where fortune cookies are served, I have experienced a similar tradition of reading the fortunes and deciding who had the best one or putting personal spins on the fortunes to make them even better.

Context:

The interviewed party is a 21-year-old, male southern-California native. He lived his whole life in Irvine, California until he moved to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. This interview was conducted in person at the interviewer’s house. The audio of the conversation was recorded in order to ensure accuracy when writing the spoken words.

Foodways
Material
Myths
Narrative

Kalo: A Staple Plant of Hawaii

Abstract: Kalo is a plant that is named after the stillborn of Sky Father (Wakea) and Mother Earth (Papa), two Hawaiian entities. Kalo is a main staple for Hawaiians culturally, but is mostly used for food. When born, Kalo was a stillborn, and his parents buried him in the ground. His mother was so sad that she began to cry and, from her tears hitting the soil, the plant, Kalo, began to grow where her son was buried. Kalo is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes and serves as a symbol for respecting the earth.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date.

Kalo:

DM: Kalo is the origin of so many Hawaiian things, but mostly for food. There’s lau lau, which is the pig roast that is wrapped in Kalo, and poi which is this purple paste made out of Kalo. Both are like traditionally Hawaiian. So anyways, there are these two entity things, Sky Father and Mother Earth. Wakea and Papa. They have human children somehow I don’t know (laughs), but Kalo was the name of one of their children who died when he was born. Then Papa buried the stillborn and she was so sad about it that she cried, and her tears went into the soil. Then, out came Kalo.

S: Does anything happen if you disrespect the Kalo?

DM: The earth is everything to us. I don’t know. Bad harvest maybe.

 

Interpretation: The connection between Kalo being a product of nature (the sky and the earth) and also a main food staple showcases the connection that the Hawaiian people have with nature. Not only do they rely on nature for their mythological origin stories, but they directly connect it to their survival. The story of Kalo can be used to demonstrate that Mother Earth went through a lot of pain in order to provide food in kalo. Since she went through so much pain to feed the people, Hawaiians should be respectful to her and thank her by taking care of the land. This thought process is demonstrated when DM states “the earth is everything to us.” The origin stories reflect this close relationship to the planet that Hawaiians share. Since the foundations of being Hawaiian are to respect the planet, the main stories on which people grow up on encapsulate this mindset and ingrain it in the minds of the youth.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persimmons scare the tiger who wants to eat crying babies

Context
I was having lunch with the subject, and he told me about this bed time story. He lived in Korea until he was 14 years old, one year from finishing middle school. He then moved to the United States to finish his middle school and high school.

Piece
Informant: It’s really for a kid who don’t go to bed or like keep crying. So, this involves a baby crying. So, basically, you are the main character. And, there is an evil tiger outside. Trying to get the crying baby. So, basically the old ones, for me it was my grandma. My grandma keeps telling me,’if you keep crying the tiger is going to get you.’ But I’m in the middle of an apartment. There is no way the tiger is going to get me. Or else, the zookeeper is going to come and pull it away. And now I still don’t know how I believe in this story. I believe that the tiger is going to come and get me.”

Interviewer: Are you afraid of it?

Informant: Not any more. Yeah, so the way you defend off the tiger is actually like — you know what persimmon is? Persimmon is like a fruit. It’s very sweet fruit. So, the dry version of it. They say, if you give that to the tiger, the tiger will actually run away. So, they will actually bring it from the fridge and give it to you, and you basically eat that. And people eat it, because of the childhood story. So, to summarize it. A child keeps crying so the grandma basically threatens the child that if you keep crying the tiger is going to come for you. But the kid stills cries because there is a tiger coming, right. So, the Grandma gives the persimmon and the child stops crying, right? Because it’s food and you can eat it, and you can’t cry while eat it. So the tiger outside is scared by the persimmon because persimmon is stronger than the tiger.”

Analysis
I ask whether persimmons carry some special meanings. He explains that the fruit is eaten in late autumn. It is also dried so that it could be eaten in the winter, like in early February. The fruit is eaten on holidays such as Lunar New Year, which is on Jan. 15. The informant believes that persimmon symbolizes family reunion because people eat it when they meet their family on holidays. He says that it is not a national fruit. When I asked him why persimmon scares off the tiger, he said persimmon is not a repellent against the tiger, but rather a stronger version of the tiger because it stops the baby from crying better than the tiger does. He explains that persimmon stops the baby from crying, because it is a sweet food, and the baby has to stop crying so that it can eat the fruit.

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