Do away with the lunchbox complex

However, the flavors of the specialties concocted by his mother perfumed their suburban home in Washington, United States. These cumin and coriander smells have become Meeru Dhalwala’s workhorse.

In third grade, I realized that my classmates’ residences didn’t smell the same, she recalls. In high school, I went to a party where I was dancing with a boy. He told me my hair stank of spices. I swore to myself never to cook Indian food in my life. I only wanted North American food.

She kept to this iron-clad promise until she was 30. Meeru Dhalwala now lived in Vancouver and no longer visited her parents every Sunday. Driven by nostalgia for the dishes of her childhood, the chef entered the kitchen of the Vij’s restaurant, which she now co-owns with Vikram Vij.

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A chickpea sprout paratha dish is served at Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver. | Photo: Courtesy: Vij’s

The lunch box complex

The lunchbox complex (or lunchbox moment, in English) refers to when a child brings a meal from their home culture to school and is teased by their peers because of the different smells or texture of the food. The experiences are multiple, and their consequences too.

Children will want to adopt traditional North American foods to suit their classmates in order to avoid the derogatory remarks that come from the sight and smell of meals that are unfamiliar to dominant tastes, explains the sociologist Merin Oleschuk. These comments are ultimately based on racism, xenophobia and exclusion.

The assistant professor at the University of Illinois notes that young people seek acceptance from their peers. Food becomes a way to get there. People present different facets of their identity, she believes. Their cultural and racial identity may form an important part of who they are, but they negotiate these sides of themselves with their identity to their fellow men and women.

In her office, dietician-nutritionist Muriel Gnimaldi observes the setbacks of the denial of culinary heritage among her Afro-descendant clientele. She has lost count of the number of young women who categorically refuse to put food from their country of origin back on their plate.

They have come to demonize food from home, in part because they have received comments about their lunch at school. »

A quote from Muriel Gnimaldi

Overwhelmed by nausea in the first trimester of her pregnancy, Muriel Gnimaldi considered a solution she had refused for a long time: cooking a dish from her childhood. She admits having herself broken with her culinary culture during her studies in nutrition. After weeks of heartaches, raw vegetables and baked vegetables were no longer acceptable. Only okra was able to soothe his condition.

I cooked meals that my mother made. I kind of found myself at home, she says. I now cook like this while adding local foods. Gnimaldi confirms, however, that lunchbox experiences are not the preserve of children. The nutritionist remembers remarks made by ex-colleagues about her own dishes.

More than food

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Traditional Vietnamese dishes will be honored at Michelle Vo’s new project, Ăn Chơi Plaza. | Photo: Courtesy: Ăn Chơi Plaza

Parents don’t say I love youbut they will cook your favorite dish to demonstrate it to you. From phở soups to bánh mì, Michelle Vo doesn’t write love letters; she is cooking. According to the owner of Pasthyme, Asian culture does not like to dance with vulnerability, but it has mastered the art of flavor.

Food becomes a way to show that you care about the person and that you want to take care of them.»

A quote from Michelle Vo

The one who has everything so as not to look Vietnamese has revived its culinary heritage to the point of making a career out of it with its new restaurant, Ăn Chơi Plaza, which is scheduled to open in the fall. Growing up, I realized that it’s one of the only things I have left from my parents and my culture, she notes. It is my responsibility to continue on this path. I do it because I find there is a beauty in it all.

Beyond nostalgia, food makes it possible to create a home, believes Muriel Gnimaldi. Food contributes from a sensory and emotional point of view to forming an anchor. Dishes are associated with times like holidays or major life events, she argues. For immigrants in search of landmarks and stability, food helps rebuild. The children are between the two cultures.

Food is so important in this context to not forget where you come from, to feel comfortable and to reconnect. – Muriel Gnimaldi

Chickpea and rice dishes have always had a place in the lunchbox of Meeru Dhalawa’s youngest daughter. Her daughters took less time than her to fully embrace their culinary heritage. A turnaround that brings a broad smile to the one who had promised herself never to touch cumin and coriander again.

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