The University of The Bahamas
ENGL 300-Advanced Composition
The Relationship between food and culture: A Jamaican and Bahamian perspective
Student #: 000-05-1823
October 10th, 2018
Professor: Dr. P. Bailey
Food plays an important role in shaping an individual’s identity. It influences a person’s cultural background and personal beliefs. Food is the framework of a person’s ethnicity, roots and serves as a chief reminder of tradition and customs. According to Anderson, Benbow and Manzin in their article “Europe on a Plate: Food, Identity and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary Europe” states “Food is a language we use to convey to others and to ourselves who we are. More than mere nourishment, food is an expression of identity” (2). As such, food and culture are indistinguishably associated to one another, tracing where one came from, who they are as a person and the hardships they have faced along the way. The type of food one consumes varies between cultures and regions. This means every culture has a special way for preparing, eating, serving and storing their foods. Additionally, food is the heart of many traditions because it is a time to commemorate with family and friends and embrace one’s identity. This paper will compare two staple dishes from two Caribbean islands, namely The Bahamas and Jamaica and state what these dishes reveal about their history, ecology and culture.
Firstly, a typical Bahamian breakfast will be discussed. Conch pronounced ‘conk’ is the heart and staple of Bahamian cuisine and a true Bahamian specialty. People recommend it as a cure for everything from hangnails to sexual deficiencies (Harris 1991). This large mollusk is found in restaurants all over the country, but most commonly found by The Potter’s Cay, under the bridge, Paradise Island, where conch enthusiasts and tourists enjoy watching the local fisherman open a fresh conch. In the Bahamian culture, conch can be eaten for breakfast, as an appetizer or an entrée’. Stew conch is a traditional Bahamian breakfast, accompanied with Johnny cake or grits. This dish calls for: 6 medium sized conchs, washed and cleaned, 1-2 tbsp. of butter or margarine, 8-10 cups of water, ¼ cup of bacon or salt pork drippings, ½ cup all purpose flour, 1 large diced onion, 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tbsp. of tomato paste and 2-3 potatoes, peeled and quartered (Sands 2015). The conchs are sliced horizontally into ½ inch thick pieces and pounded with a meat tenderizer until the meat is soft and breaks a part. The bruised conch is then placed in a large stock pot with 8-10 cups of water and butter. Butter helps prevent the conch from frothing and boiling over (Sands 2015). Next, bring the water to a boil and simmer uncovered about 45 minutes or until the conch is tender.
The conch is then drained, reserving the water. The next step is to brown the flour which gives the stew its color, carful not to burn the flour, as this would give the dish a non-pleasant taste. Add the onions, garlic tomato paste, thyme, salt and pepper, sauté a few minutes allowing the onion and garlic to soften. Lastly, slowly add 6 cups of reserved conch water, stirring or whisking to prevent lumps. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Add carrots, potato, conch and cooked bacon or salt pork, then stir to combine all the ingredients. This dish is served either with grits or Johnny cake which are also a Bahamian staple. According to Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, author of How to Be a True-True Bahamian “Grits are a legacy of our ancestor’s sojourn in the southern parts of what we know as The United States of America” (232). There are two types of grits that are consumed in Bahamian culture, which include yellow and white grits. White grits are usually imported from The United States of America, whereas, yellow grits are freshly grounded and preferred by out-islanders.
The previously mentioned Bahamian breakfast represents a huge part of Bahamian culture. According to The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation, “the queen conch has been used for centuries for food, decoration, jewelry, bait for fishing and used as a musical instrument, such as the conch horn” (2014). Conch is especially significant to The Bahamas because it has been fished traditionally from the early days of the Lucayans and the meat was an important source of protein, while the shell was used for trade and to make tools and ornaments (BREEF 2014). Additionally, Johnny cake, another Bahamian favorite eaten with chicken souse, stew fish, or sheep tongue souse just to name a few, is also a staple of Bahamian breakfast. One would think that the name itself suggests dessert, however, this typical staple is similar to the texture of bread. Johnny cake is a huge staple of a Bahamian meal, mainly breakfast because many historians thought it originated from indigenous settles of North America and believed to be linked to the word ‘janiken’, which is a native American word meaning ‘corn cake’ (“Tru Bahamian Food Tours”, 2014).
Lara Anderson, Heather Merle Benbow, Gregoria Manzin. (2016). Europe on a Plate: Food,
Identity and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary Europe. Australia and New Zealand Journal of European Studies, 2-15.