Food, Culture, and Assumptions

Book open flat
Assumptions, 2020, Artist book, Ink & paper 7.5″ x 10.5″ open

Since I have mainly lived in the same geographic area for most of my life, the cultural encounters I had with food tended to be more influenced by late 19th and early 20th century European immigrants from many countries.

Upon moving to the South, I realized that since the population was historically different, many of the foods I grew up with were not widely available. An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a local life long resident who told me she had never heard of a zucchini until she went to college. Oddly, it was something her father said to me a few years ago that prompted the artist book featured in this post.

The book is titled Assumptions, and it is about what we presume to be the foods that are part of other people’s lives. If you ever saw My Cousin Vinny, you are well aware of the scene in the restaurant where the main characters are confronted with grits for the first time.  The question that my local friend posed to me one day was “How do you cook your okra?”.     “Huh??” was my response.  It was only shortly before I moved that I ever even saw okra at my local vegetable stand up North.  My understanding of it was an ingredient you put in gumbo and that was pretty much it.

I have since become quite acquainted with okra, not only as a vegetable prepared different ways but also as a plant because I spent three summers harvesting lots of okra.  I can add onto my knowledge of okra these facts and observations: that by the time you get to the end of the row picking it, more has grown at the beginning of the row. You could probably spend several hours a day picking and repicking the same row of okra (assuming you have lots of plants).  You should always wear long sleeves when picking okra and gloves or your skin will be very irritated.  Okra is part of the hibiscus family so even it you don’t like the fruit, it is a lovely and vigorous plant.

It is no accident that Okra is not included in the graphics of this book as it was something quite absent from my former life.  For the curious I will tell you that the vegetables pictured are green beans and the diminished base of a bunch of celery  (two vegetables that seem to be part of many cultures)   And for the record, zucchini is now plentiful where I currently live.  How do you cook your Okra??

Assumptions: Book Front (left), Book Open (right)