When you think of your cultural or family traditions, do you think of food? The dishes that are part of your holiday celebrations? The special meals your parents or grandparents cooked for you? The flavors that remind you of who you are and where you’re from?
Why does food mean so much to us? Here’s what one student said:
I think cultural food symbolizes identity and culture. Especially in immigrant families, recipes passed down through generations symbolize the taste of home. I am first generation American and most of my extended family lives 3,000 miles away. The thought of Irish shepherd’s pie makes me feel safe and nostalgic, reflecting on memories of spending time with my grandparents. Cultural food is a reminder that wherever you go, your identity and values follow. — Ella, WT Clarke High School, Westbury, New York
How do you celebrate, honor and remember your culture and family through food?
Below, we’ve collected questions we’ve published over the years in our writing prompts column to encourage you to reflect on and explore your own food traditions and memories. Use them as writing prompts or conversation starters.
The links will take you to the original prompts, which include the New York Times article, essay, or photo that inspired the question, as well as a comments section where teens from around the world share the foods and traditions that are most meaningful to them. them.
1. What are mealtimes for your family?
Food culture, of course, begins in our own families, at our own dinner tables. What is dinner time in your household? With this prompt, look at a typical weekday dinner for 18 families around the world, and then tell us about your family’s typical dinner.
Or in this one, share the most popular dishes you eat at home. Poly High School’s Daniel says tacos de chorizo are at the top of his family’s list because “it’s something we grew up with and it’s one of the few foods that everyone in my household loves.”
2. How is food part of your holidays or cultural celebrations?
What special cultural or holiday traditions do you have that involve food? On the Lunar New Year, for example, people eat and give fruit as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. For Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast, eating every evening after sunset and eating before dawn before it rises again.
Share how food is part of a holiday that your family or community celebrates.
3. What foods remind you of where you come from?
Are there foods that every time you smell, see or taste them, they immediately remind you of someone or some place close to your heart?
In this essay, for example, a writer shares how making chickpeas and spinach, or revithia me spinach, reminds him of his Greek father. And in this material, a journalist who is Syrian but grew up in the United States writes about what Syrian food means to her.
What foods remind you of the people and places you come from? How does making and eating these dishes help you connect with and preserve your heritage?
4. What cooking traditions do you have in your family or culture?
Food heritage can be found not only in What we eat but also in how we are doing it. For example, the smoking method pictured above is one technique that Indigenous chefs and scientists across Canada are reclaiming and popularizing as part of a growing culinary identity.
Are there certain types of foods or ways of preparing meals that are specific to your family’s lifestyle or culture? What does participating in these traditions mean to you?
5. Who are the famous chefs in your family?
“The outstanding cook in my extended family would be my Aunt Tracy,” wrote Chloe from Chicago. “I grew up doing homework in her kitchen after school. She would always do something that would make you drool and your senses crave for it.
Who are the best cooks in your family? What are your favorite dishes of theirs? What memories do you have of eating the food they make?
6. How does your culture influence what you eat?
Does your culture, religion, or family have rules about food? For example, do you keep kosher or eat halal? Are you a vegetarian Or is meat so central to your diet and traditions that you have a hard time giving it up?
Share how your culture influences the way you eat and if you have ever challenged or would challenge the way you were raised.
7. Where, when and for what reasons do you gather to eat with your loved ones?
Are large gatherings part of your family traditions? If so, is food included? Describe your most memorable family gathering and what made it stand out. What role does food play in the celebration? What did it mean to you?
Here is part of Jack’s response from Hoggard High School, Wilmington, NC:
I like big gatherings because I don’t have any relatives in the United States other than my immediate family. Therefore, these gatherings are almost always with other families in the local Chinese community. The community is actually an extended family when the real relatives are on the other side of the world… Food is always manja, with many Chinese dishes gathered to satisfy the children’s hunger and remind the adults of their home. We always eat together and I think that is one of the most important things that connect us.
8. What are the staple foods to eat where you live?
What foods best represent the people and culture of your hometown?
Korean fried chicken in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, paella in Barcelona, mashed tater tots in Cartersville, Georgia, and green chili in New Mexico were just a few of the dishes students shared in response to this prompt.
If someone were to visit your hometown for a day, what foods or restaurants would you recommend? How would these dishes help the visitor get to know you and your community better?
Students aged 13 and over in the United States and Great Britain and 16 and over elsewhere are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by Learning Network staff, but please note that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more questions about student opinion here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.