A word with an identity crisis!
. . . a search for 'authenticity'
I did not know that I was looking for authenticity or that the absence of a structured response to it would bother me, until a recent spate of lectures, essays and podcasts bombarded me with the same phrase, 'authentic experiences'.
Each time I heard it, I cringed.
I cringed because I was not quite sure if there was such a thing as singularly authentic anymore. So I asked: how far back does one have to go to find an authentic anything? What does authenticity mean?
(pictured: Spice & yogurt stuffed shishito chilies, similar to something made by a paternal grand-aunt)
Does authenticity have anything to do with TIME or PLACE?
Does authentic mean the same as original?
Do the words mean different things to different people?
Does the word authentic evoke the same notions, emotions and visuals as the word 'original'?
Does the word 'original' mean 'one-of-a-kind'?
Or does the word 'original' mean 'first-of-a-kind'?
Are the two words 'authentic' & 'original' inter-changable?
What does diversity mean: a mix, a two-tone, the dichotomy between black and white, or does it mean the 50-shades-of-brown?
If we are struggling to stay authentic, how does it influence our desire to be diverse?
Are diversity and authenticity contradictory ideals?
Can diversity and authenticity be inclusive?
Is that ENOUGH?
After two crowdfunded cookbooks, I am writing a family memoir: called
'Not For You: Denial & Comfort Foods'.
I grew up in India and come from a family heritage of inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, some starting as far back as my grandparents. My paternal grandparents' Hindu-Jewish marriage caused social exclusion in the 1920's. They struggled with family acceptance and made unconventional choices for themselves and their children.
As the family grew, children became older and made choices of their own. Despite their own experience, this pattern of exclusion perpetuated. As time progressed, meals became a way to sometimes bridge the contentious relationships, where food held more value than nutrition.
Through Not For You: Denial and Comfort Foods I hope to share the story of those three generations whose lives were shaped by social customs, personal choices and exclusion. Embedded within are stories of how food shaped their relationships. Learning from adversity, the memoir concludes with the story of one generation whose fortitude and perseverance fueled their entrepreneurial spirit to raising them to new horizons.
And yes, there will be old-world family recipes.
(pictured above: Ghodya-che taap, a site of religious significance to Bene-Israeli Jews, located near Alibag, India)
Yet, no one acknowledges the complex identity we developed, or the identities we developed that arose out of exclusion. A century after this story begins, my generation, the generation of grandchildren, are mostly scattered and some of this exclusionary baggage continues. I hope that mine was the last generation that experiences it, but I wonder. My daughter is born and raised in America and at a young age of 13, she experiences the taunts of exclusion - both in India and the US. If it continues, I feel she will grow up with only a ghostly shadow of an identity, because she is an outsider, even among her own.
As I write this book, it include my immigrant perspective as well, as also that of a woman looking to raise her daughter in an inclusive environment - a popular, recognizable notion about the citizens of the United States.
However, when I learn of the rampant cultural disconnect, I wonder how much is real, how much is imagined.
When I read essays about immigrant experiences and about 'finding your voice', I feel there so much yet to be said of not just of finding your own identity, but also developing and nurturing one that is fostered by the love of the people around you, navigating through the layers of religion, class, culture and perception without losing sight of 'self'.
But in the process: do you lose your authenticity? Can you keep your originality? Does it matter?
Or does your refined diverse outlook, make you unique - and is that ENOUGH?
Many of my cookbook readers come from mixed families, who have migrated a few countries and are searching for a way to erase the disconnect between culture and identity through food... only adding fuel to the fire on the conversation about 'authenticity'.
So, I am curious, what is authentic, after all?
I am still searching.
'Not For You: Denial & Comfort Foods, a family memoir' will be published via 'Turmeric Press'.
It can be pre-ordered by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.