As I attempt to deal with my first world, middle class, 20-something existential crisis, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the medium of food as a vehicle for cultural exploration and, in turn, an examination of humanity.
I’ve been lucky to grow up in a multicultural landscape where different ethnicities are embraced (though not always) and allowed to thrive. Somehow through food, we are able to communicate so much about a nation, a culture, or even a subculture. I think it’s amazing that one of our most basic needs – something at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – can both determine common ground and contrast the quirks and nuances of differing cultures.
I have an immense desire to travel and experience the world for the most cliché purpose of “finding myself”. However, given that I am currently unemployed and by no means wealthy, this show is one of the few opportunities to fuel my fascination with food, culture, and travel.
Before I set out to travel this world, 12 years ago, I used to believe that the human race as a whole was basically a few steps above wolves.
That given the slightest change in circumstances, we would all, sooner or later, tear each other to shreds. That we were, at root, self-interested, cowardly, envious and potentially dangerous in groups. I have since come to believe — after many meals with many different people in many, many different places — that though there is no shortage of people who would do us harm, we are essentially good.
That the world is, in fact, filled with mostly good and decent people who are simply doing the best they can. Everybody, it turns out, is proud of their food (when they have it). They enjoy sharing it with others (if they can). They love their children. They like a good joke. Sitting at the table has allowed me a privileged perspective and access that others, looking principally for “the story,” do not, I believe, always get.
People feel free, with a goofy American guy who has expressed interest only in their food and what they do for fun, to tell stories about themselves — to let their guard down, to be and to reveal, on occasion, their truest selves.
I am not a journalist. I am not a foreign correspondent. I am, at best, an essayist and enthusiast. An amateur. I hope to show you what people are like at the table, at home, in their businesses, at play. And when and if, later, you read about or see the places I’ve been on the news, you’ll have a better idea of who, exactly, lives there.
“Parts Unknown” is supposed to be about food, culture and travel — as seen through the prism of food. We will learn along with you. When we look at familiar locations, we hope to look at them from a lesser-known perspective, examine aspects unfamiliar to most.
People, wherever they live, are not statistics. They are not abstractions. Bad things happen to good people all the time. When they do, hopefully, you’ll have a better idea who, and what, on a human scale, is involved.
I’m not saying that sitting down with people and sharing a plate is the answer to world peace. Not by a long shot. But it can’t hurt.