Food Interview Alejandro de la cova-IDH 3931 | LAS 3930 (3/15/17)

In interviewing Rafaella Figueredo, I hoped to unveil a unique perspective on food and culture. Rafaella was born and raised in Venezuela, moved to the United States, and now lives in Italy. She is both Venezuelan and Italian, and is fluent in Spanish, English, and Italian. She is 18 and is in her Freshman year of college at Pontificia Università Lateranense. Through our interview, I wanted to discover how her diverse background and food relate to one another, especially because she has lived both in and out of the United States.

After speaking with her, I discovered many different facets of Venezuelan and Italian heritage. She went on to describe how being both Italian and Venezuelan helps her to be more open to trying foods from various cultures. I myself could not attest to this since I am only Cuban, but I could imagine that having a multicultural heritage influences one's ability to be open towards other cultures and peoples.

I think I have come to realize that food isn’t only for pleasure and for eating, but it goes so much more beyond that; you can learn so much about a culture just from trying its food.

Rafaella then went on to explain her reasoning behind saying that one can learn so much about a culture from trying its food. For example, Italians eat fish on Christmas Day while Venezuelans eat hallacas. In addition, Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during lent and on Ash Wednesday. Italians specifically serve lamb on Easter Sunday. Each culture has its food traditions, and many of them are backed behind some sort of religious ideology.

I went on to ask her a question based on a quote from Rudyard Kipling to see how she feels about the American lifestyle with regards to food.

"The American does not drink at meals as a sensible man should. Indeed, he has no meals. He stuffs his face for ten minutes thrice a day."

Rafaella supported this statement. Her international perspective of food and culture helped her to distinguish between the eating habits of America and Italy (or elsewhere really). "When I think of an American having a meal, I can usually just picture them in their car in traffic on their way home from work, or something like that. The Italian believes that when we are at the table, it’s a sacred moment because its not only eating but enjoy one another's company." She even went on to describe further how her Venezuelan heritage practices "Sobremesa", where those present at the meal stay and socialize for up to hours at a time. Rafaella also mentioned one interesting quote that Italians live by:

Non siamo venuti per mangiare, ma per stare in compagnia.

This quotation, which translates "we did not come to eat, but rather to eat in company", transcends Italian heritage; Rafaella explained how in Venezuela, gathering to eat is a social experience more than anything. Meals taking 2 or 3 hours, where eating throughout or finishing and staying to talk, is a characteristic of both Italian and Hispanic culture.

When asked to describe how the relationship between food and her culture, she responded with a profound answer-

"When it comes to the Venezuelan part of my family, whenever we have Venezuelan food at my house, in some ways it reconnects us to our roots and to family members who are far away from us who still live in Venezuela because we are not only sharing food, but also our history, our identity, who we are."

Her response is rather dynamic compared to that of the American lifestyle. Overall, she seems to have pinpointed the fact that her Hispanic heritage enables her to still empathetically connect to those relatives she has that still live in Venezuela. This aspect of Hispanic food holds true even for my own Cuban Heritage. Every time I eat ethnic food of my own culture, it reminds me of home, family, and childhood memories. However, this type of empathetic bond does not seem to be present throughout America. Both Rafaella and I agreed that many people in this nation, especially our peers, stray away from cooking and rely more on buying food that is prepared to save time. She believes the root of the problem is the fast-paced nature of America compared to the slower-paced natures of both Italy and Venezuela.

I went on to ask if she is willing to learn how to cook traditional dishes of both her Italian and Venezuelan roots...

To which she responded that she would love to, but is intimidated by the difficulty in cooking foods from both cultures. She did mention however that she is more inclined to Venezuelan cooking because that is where she was born and raised. Italian cooking, she admitted, seems to pose a challenge. "There is a paradox here in Italy that they say that Italian cuisine is the easiest yet the most difficult cuisine to prepare, to cook, just because it really is very simple, but in its simplicity it is very easy to mess up." Nonetheless, she does plan to learn how to cook both Hispanic and Italian dishes.

I told her how I myself am learning how to cook, and decided to take a course on how I can learn chemical processes behind the preparation of food and cooking of traditionally Hispanic dishes. She envied the fact that I was in the course and wished to learn all the processes behind cooking: "I think all the chemical reactions that happen behind cooking are really important because it could make or break a dish at the end of the day. That is something that something that best of cooks realize because they know what happens beyond what they see and I think that it’s really cool that science and cuisine can come together to make art on a plate."

Overall, it seems as if it is impossible to truly connect with one's own heritage without the presence of food. Rafaella, although she may not live in Venezuela, still is able to experience her culture through something as simple (yet very complex) as food. Like many others, she too experiences aspects of her religious customs through food. Unlike many others, however, she is heavily interested in learning the culinary aspects of both Italy and Venezuela. It seems that because she has lived in so many places, she is open to food of other cultures. When asked what type of Hispanic food she wished to try, she responded with Authentic Mexican cuisine, since it is more often than not commercialized and Americanized. Rafaella also reflected on how different the life styles are of the United States and those outside of the states. Sadly, Kipling's quote seems to prove true when in comparison with other nations' eating habits.

Created By
Alejandro de la Cova


Created with images by Daria-Yakovleva - "background frame food" • thejourney1972 (South America addicted) - "Mapa América del Sur - América do Sul - South America map" • Florida Keys--Public Libraries - "MM00030828" • CircaSassy - "A short history of early peoples to 1500 A. D., from cave-man to Columbus (1922)" • jarmoluk - "old books book old"

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