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If Politics Divides Us, It Is Food That Unites

Here's cheers for The United Kitchen.

27/06/2016 2:02 PM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:56
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The Leave voters have egg on their face.

I remember so keenly the euphoria I felt as a 16 year old, watching live on TV the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: the end of the Cold War and the birth of a new spirit of optimism and unity in the world. This was evolution, and I loved the idea that the world I was to grow up in would be truly borderless, transnational, increasingly connected by ideas, travel, technology.

I have always believed in union, that given a chance, the world's people would indeed, in the words of slain British MP Jo Cox, have more in common.

I am a hybrid of many cultures myself, Indian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Dutch, Filipino; my children are part Irish and I live in Australia. I have crossed many borders and my identity, like many others, is stronger because I am a sum of so many parts.

While the dark post-Brexit days have momentarily shattered my faith in the trajectory of globalisation the world has followed in my time, it is in my kitchen that I can regain composure.

If politics divides us, it is surely food that unites. It is food that inspired most if not all the great campaigns to discover the world: spices that drove trade between the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans with Asia, the Arabs to cross the Indian Ocean, the Persians to find overland routes to India, the Europeans to discover the Americas.

While many, many wrongs were done during the great ages of Empire, the movement of people around the globe over the last 5,000 years in particular has been of infinite mutual benefit. As people discovered new cultures they discovered new ideas, new people to fall in love with, new books to read, new colours, new architecture, new foods.

In kitchens around the world, people welcomed new elements, new techniques of cooking, new ingredients, incorporated them into their own cuisines and synthesised them into new dishes.

Nowhere are the great migrations of human history reflected more beautifully than in the lexicon of Indian cuisine. The Indian food we cook today is a story of so many layers: the unparalleled expertise in using spices evident in the Indus Valley as early as in 3000 BC, the grilled meats, rice dishes and samosas which travelled to India with traders from the north, the rich food of the Mughals, tomatoes, chillies and potatoes brought to India by the Portuguese and spread to its regions by the British.

The best curries are, in their most profound sense, a melting pot, to which we have all added a little bit. It is more than only Indian, some food is owned by the world. I'd challenge any Leave voter who suggested they did not enjoy going out for a curry, a pizza, a meal brought by migrants to enliven dull British cuisine.

While authenticity does for some remain a significant marker of a place, a culture, a cuisine, there is no nation that can say with hand on heart that it is all their own, that they haven't grown richer as a result of the movement of people from and to their country.

When Nigel Farage said "We will win this war... we will get our country back, we will get our independence back and we will get our borders back", I struggled to understand his sentiments.

For most of us, the borders of Europe are already strongly marked by the cultures and cuisines of each nation. It is the reason we travel, to eat warm croissants in France, gelato in Italy, tapas in Spain. But these borders should not divide us, and do not divide us, when we eat, when we cook. It is in union that we find the best of ourselves and the best of others, a synthesis of rich influences that transcend place, time and culture.

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