Strange Food and the Interracial Relationship
Updated: Apr 21, 2018
Last year I ate Hamburger Helper for the first time. As a child I had seen the four-fingered-red-faced mascot and I had dreamed of having the creamy cheesy meaty dish on my plate at dinner time. I would plead with my mother as we walked down the grocery store aisle to just put one box of the instant mix in our cart. She would always say the same thing to me, “We don’t eat that.” In my home meals were an all-day affair. Preparation started from early morning with my grandmother cutting up ingredients for a West Indian style stew or curry. On Fridays we ate fried fish and a rice and peas dish we called “cook-up,” which was basically a mash-up of all the meat we didn’t use during the week mixed in rice. I hated cook-up. I wanted Canadian food like hot dogs and Hamburger Helper. I wanted instant food, normal food, food that didn’t smell like a million spices.
I ate Hamburger Helper for the first time at my boyfriend’s family’s home and I hated it. My childhood dreams were crushed at the first bite. It was soggy and bland and smelt awful. It was nothing like the food I had eaten all my life. It was tasteless, devoid of the million spices my grandmother use to add to her food. I watched as he and his family wolfed down the instant meal as if it was top sirloin steak. I was completely perplexed at how they could swallow something so awful. Then I realized that this was what they had grown up with, this bland lifeless food was what they ate to fill their hunger.
I think it’s time I share another important fact: my boyfriend at the time was Canadian white and I am Guyanese. I never really noticed a difference between us until that moment at the dinner table. The looks people might give us when we were on the bus or walking down the street never bothered me. Seeing my black skin against his white skin never gave me pause. His eyes were blue and mine were brown, he liked rock and I liked hip hop, he watched hockey and I hated sports but none of these things made a difference in the way we felt about each other.
When you are in an interracial relationship you are trapped inside your own kind of love bubble, one that shields you from the fundamental differences between you, one that allows you to pretend for a while that your culture won’t affect your love—but it does. Food is the example I use to make my point. Before eating that Hamburger Helper, I was under the illusion that my boyfriend and I were the same, that we shared similar values, were influenced by similar things had commonalities that ties us together. After that meal I wasn’t so sure.
Think of your favourite cultural dish and imagine your partner not liking it. What happens next? Do you force him to love it as much as you do? Do you stop eating it all together because you fear losing esteem in his eyes? If you get married what kind of food would you be expected to cook? What kind of food would you be expected to eat? What changes would you have to make to assimilate to his culture? What changes would he have to make to assimilate to yours?
The last two are the true questions that truly test an interracial relationship. It’s naive to think that when you are in a relationship with someone of a different culture or race that assimilation to some degree will not happen. In a loving and accepting relationship both partners have to make adjustments for each other but as the relationship grows there is also the unexpected obligations you have to the outside world, and your individual families. Once the interracial intercultural love bubble bursts the reality of your situation begins to set in.
For me it looked like this:
“I love my boyfriend but I can’t eat this food…why is he eating this…how can he like it...if he thinks I am putting this into our children’s mouths he’s crazy…if his food is different from mine what else is different that I haven’t been seeing? Could I live with Hamburger Helper for the rest of my life? Does it really matter?”
I believe that sometimes when you are in an interracial relationship you develop an “us against the world” mentality and you are so focused on fighting the injustice of the world, you are so busy scoffing at the indignation you see in some people’s eyes you miss an opportunity to see if the differences you are fighting so hard to preserve are actually differences in each other that you can live with. Please don’t misunderstand me I am all for blended relationships, I am open to having another one in my life but I would also be going into it with both eyes open. I would want to see a 50/50 assimilation split between the two of us, each of us respecting that we all have our cultural “foods” we can’t live without.
Food like many things in life feeds the soul. When you are in a relationship it too has a soul that needs to be fed. When you add interracial and cultural differences that soul now becomes something that you may have to feed with fundamentally different viewpoints from the cultural experiences that shape who you are. In the end it wasn’t fundamental cultural difference that broke apart my relationship, it was the difference in which we viewed life: I was driven to find my dreams and he had given up on his.
But my first real interracial relationship taught me a lot. I learned that our differences are what make us interesting, that two people from two seemingly different worlds can fall in love and learn something from each other in the process. I definitely learned that I don’t like Hamburger Helper but I think the lesson I learned the most is no matter how strange the food is if the love is real you can swallow anything.