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The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
The Important Link Between Food and Culture

BY ELLA BUDENBENDER ’23

At TASIS, we are grateful enough to be exposed to such a wide variety of cultures, and International Week is the prime example. Being new at the school only this semester, I had no idea what to expect of International Week. What stood out to me the most was receiving an email about the International Week Food Fair, as I enjoy cooking. At the same time, however, I was also ecstatic about trying other cultures’ food and learning more about the process that went into it. Food not only provides distinctions between different countries but also between different regions and time periods, and there are even instances where various cultures combine to give birth to a new cuisine. These aspects can unfortunately go unrecognized, as we mainly think of food as something to keep us alive or simply something that can taste really good.

The day before the actual food fair, which was Wednesday, February 16, students were grateful to get a “sneak peak” at what the official food fair would look like the next night. Thanks to the TASIS Parents Association (TPA), students were able to try a wide variety of foods, including empanadas, tiramisu, fried rice, swiss cheese boards, and many more delicious items. While I am sure all students were grateful for this opportunity and even more excited for Thursday night as a result, it is also important to think of the process that goes into making the food, and how that process can often be just as important as the ending result.

The TPA event

Before the majority of students got to enjoy the food fair, others were busy planning, buying ingredients, and cooking. Students either cooked their own foods or ordered dishes that represented their home country. At least in my scenario, I found it difficult to decide on a dish that I thought would both represent my country and be easy to serve to a large number of people. Once each person sent their information to Mr. Roccato, who organized the food fair, he proceeded to set each boarding student up with a kitchen at a specific time. However, it was inevitable for groups to run into issues, like the Venezuelan group missing an ingredient for their arepa filling. Nonetheless, all turned out successful in the end.

To many, this process also represents the joy that comes with getting to eventually eat the food. 11th-grade student Julia Arzate spoke about her personal experience with cooking, saying, “It is very unique, and I think we put so much love into cooking. It not only represents our culture, but our family does it so often that it's like a bond.” This concept of a bond is especially important when so many boarding students are far from home and their families. When students showed up at 6:30 PM to set up, the cultural diversity was apparent. Each country had a different table or section, some larger than others but all equally representative of how food represents their country. Flags were hung up all along the walls, and some even had posters with images to present their dishes.

By the time 7:00 PM rolled around, students were lined up outside the Kay Hamblin Terrace, some trying to sneak in early. Student leaders greeted everyone in an orderly fashion, and even the aroma of the food was inviting. The way Mr. Roccato described the structure was “like a pinball machine,” where students would get their dishes and silverware, bounce around to each food table, and proceed out of the terrace to eat. However, students were so excited that a large majority stayed in the terrace and lingered to grab more food at their convenience. There was a large abundance of food, including dried meats from Spain, kheer from India, lahmacun from Turkey, and so much more. Serving plates were nearly empty within minutes, highlighting the eagerness among students and the amazing taste of all the dishes. Unfortunately, as a result, students who were not at the fair right away ended up missing out on some opportunities. 

Soon enough, students also began blasting music from their home countries. While it definitely felt like a huge party, it also represented the passion students have for their nationalities. Nearly everyone crowded toward the other side of the terrace trying to get in on the excitement. One student, Ines Martinez, was involved in the so-called music battle and said that “it was amazing” to not just hear the songs that she knows everyone loves but to also “sing them loudly.” This celebration continued up until 9:00 PM when the food fair ended, and afterward students made their way to the outside courtyard to continue playing music. Those who did not attend the fair could even hear the shouts transmitting from outside their dorms. 

While the food fair itself was a massive success, its importance in the context of global understanding also struck a significance with students. Out of 20 students I spoke with, 14 said that the absolute favorite thing they ate at the fair was from another country, and five said their favorite food they had was something they had never even tried before. The food fair introduced students to aspects of the world they might have never learned about before, not just in the context of food but also in how others express their passion for their cultures. There were some foods at the food fair that I didn't even know existed, and I thought about how lucky I am to be exposed to this variety. Seeing students be so passionate about their cultures through food and, unanticipatedly, music was far different from what I am used to at home in New Jersey.

Events like the food fair are essential in our understanding of other cultures; they bring to light our diversity that we might not normally realize. It is important to appreciate these opportunities every day here at TASIS. After all, part of the reason many fail to fully do so is because it is so common. Hopefully, students will continue to recognize and value cultural diversity here.
 

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