The metaphor described verbatim by informant:
“That’s about gossip. That’s a Puerto Rican saying about gossip. I learned it from my mother, my Puerto Rican mother. Who would hear people talking about stuff especially about like somebody’s marriage or you know ‘Oh you know she did this’ or you know ‘They’re doing that’ or ‘This happened’ when it’s something going you know you hear that something isn’t right in a marriage or a family, and my mother was always quick to say, really, she would say, ‘You know what, you and I can look in and we can make all sorts of judgments but the truth is, none of us know for sure, because no one knows what’s in the pot except the one who stirs it.’ And she’d say that in Spanish. No one knows what’s in the pot except the one who stirs it. And that’s the truth isn’t it? So my mother was always quick to say that because she really wanted me to understand that I shouldn’t judge. That’s really what she was saying to me: be careful how you judge other people’s actions cuz you really don’t know what’s going on. I thought that was lovely. My mother was always, she was all about that really, she was all about that. Because judgment was really huge in Puerto Rico, you know? Everybody’s watching you, everybody’s watching what you do.”
The fishbowl living that my informant experienced while growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a big part of why this proverb holds meaning to her. As my informant infers, the saying relates to people’s assumptions and preconceived judgments—“Nobody knows what’s in the pot except the one who stirs it.” You think you might understand other people’s situations or give yourself the authority to pass judgment but you don’t. Coming from a place where everyone talks about everyone else’s business and gossip is rampant, my informant says her mother did her best to teach her the opposite. The metaphor in cooking terms also aligns well with the culture because it’s women who traditionally cook and, in many cases, gossip.