Ethnic food as we know it may be subject to changing times as much as taste buds.
“The world is becoming closer and closer,” said Immigration and Multicultural Services Society (IMSS) executive director Baljit Sethi. She was responding to a question arising from food selections at Canada Day celebrations last week. In a cultural mosaic country, what makes it “ethnic” these days when it comes to food and dress.
“I don’t see young girls dressed in saris anymore when I visit India. They are all in jeans and Western dress. They all speak English fluently. This is so different from when I lived there. There is a feeling of global brotherhood now which is good but still I think the youth are losing their own identity and language.”
Open communication is the only lasting link between cultures, Sethi said.
“I think people should be more open to other cultures and to change. I think sometimes we go too far in defining food or dress of one particular culture. I don’t think we should be that particular. Communication is what counts.”
Sethi has worked with newcomer immigrants to Prince George at IMSS for three decades and was named Citizen of the Year largely for her ability to help others integrate into Canadian society. She says trying to keep true to one’s own culture after settling here is not easy because the “authenticity” is no longer there for many people.
“If someone asked me now to give a seminar on Indian culture, I would be talking about things that are no longer happening in India. So much has changed there since I came to Canada 36 years ago with technology and modern advances.”
Those changes have given diverse cultures things in common, she said.
“Food is just one example of how cultures have come together. Young people love to eat hot dogs and hamburgers which are very popular in Canada and America. But they are enjoyed all over the world. What defines Canadian food? There is no one culture over here, it is multicultural. So hot dogs and hamburgers are now universal food.”
The same is true for foods we usually associate with Asia, she said.
“Most Indian food you get in restaurants is not authentic. It is combined with Western food and Chinese food here is the same. It’s not the same food you would get if you were in China. The thing that [connects] food to a country is the way it is prepared. For instance, chicken is eaten all over the world but it is prepared differently in every country and that is what makes it unique.”