You knock on the door, enter the family’s home and take off your coat. Maybe you take off your shoes, too. And the mother asks, “Can I get you a cup of tea, or a soda, or anything?”
What is your initial response?
Mine was always, “No, thanks. I’m fine.” Then one day I visited with a Kurdish family. I wasn’t asked, however, if I wanted hot tea. Instead, almost as soon as I entered and sat down, the tea was placed before me as well as a slice of baklava.
I remembered that some of my colleagues had told me that they ALWAYS refused any offer of food. But this food was already served. I remember thanking them and taking the plunge. It seemed like the right thing to do and I was going by sheer “gut instinct.” By the way, the baklava was HEAVENLY!
A cup of tea became a part of each visit with this particular family. Over tea, we talked about how things had gone in the weeks between my visit and discussed what was important for this visit. It also became a time to learn more about their country of origin as well as their customs and beliefs.
Soon the child was ready to transition to early childhood special education. The ECSE teacher asked about making a joint home visit. When the teacher and I arrived at the family’s home, an ENORMOUS spread of food was laid out before us. This was much more than tea! Soon the mother and children began carrying out more plates of different foods that I did not recognize. The father quietly served the teacher and me as the mother and children watched.
I am not vegetarian but I’m also not much of a meat eater so I had a moment’s hesitation when the father placed some unidentified meat and bones on my plate. Now, all I could hear was my mother whispering in my ear, “Be respectful. Don’t hesitate to try new things” and lots of other motherly advice. But, the truth was, I just was not sure I could eat the unidentified meat. I began sampling the foods that clearly looked like fruits, vegetables, and starches. The father quickly noticed that I was avoiding what would later be identified as lamb and asked, “You don’t like “da sheep?”
I realized at that minute that it was ok. The family recognized my dilemma but appreciated that I was trying so many unknown foods. For over a year, we had shared tea and stories and had established a relationship built on trust. It didn’t matter that our cultures and our beliefs were very different. It didn’t matter that I didn’t eat lamb. What mattered, was that I put aside the “steadfast rules” and adapted to this family’s individuality and uniqueness.
How do you manage the “food dilemma?” Did culture or family values play a role in your decision to reject or accept the food?