The Ancestry Of Food Spirituality

By Julia Burgi

There are many ways that people connect to the past, and particularly, to their own ancestry. For some, religion connects family to members past and present. In Japan, for example, part of spirituality that is integrated into other religions is Shinto, a form of ancestor worship. Or in Mexico, there is a two-day festival dedicated to honoring ancestors, called Dia de los Muertos. Other people look to common activities, such as continuing a loved-one's garden or displaying a great-great-great-grandmother's artwork to join them with the past.

I connect to my ancestry through food. I am what some people refer to as a European mutt-a little bit of this, a little bit of that. There are certain times of year that I'm tied to each of my ethnic heritages, some of which happen more frequently than others. What has become most important to me, though, is my Swiss heritage - not only does it make up the greatest single percentage at 25%, but it is one of my citizenships, and a place I have been connected to geographically throughout my life.

In quite stereotypical (and delicious!) fashion, the way I connect the most with my Swiss heritage and ancestry is through cheese. Growing up, I ate copious amounts of cheese-based or cheese-related dishes:

* Fondue is a centuries old a dish in which small pieces of bread are dipped into a pot of hot, melted cheese. In my family, the father passes down the recipe and the method of preparing the cheese (I'll let you in on a little secret: it involves plentiful amounts of white wine, Gruyere, and stirring in a figure-eight pattern).

* Raclette is a type of cheese and a dish; my ancestors likely ate this the old-fashioned way, where you place a massive half-round of the cheese by a fire and scraping the melted surface over boiled potatoes

* Breakfast every Sunday morning with my grandparents in Bern, a loaf of Zupf, a braided sweet bread, was served with preserves from the local farm and cheeses from the Alps, such as Gruyere, Emmenthaler, Vacherin, Tilseter, and Tomme Vaudoise.

Eating cheese is a passion that my whole family shares and something that I know was part of the daily lives of my ancestors - bread and cheese have been the staples of Swiss cuisine for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Many of the aging processes of the cheeses we eat today are biologically the same (it is fermentation, after all), though perhaps climate-controlled steel shelves are used instead of dank caves.

I take a bite, close my eyes, and know this is an experience that is shared.

Photo: Chefdruck on flickr