Stew chicken, rice, stew beans, potato salad, and fried plantain. That’s the delicious combo on the plate above, prepared for me last July in Gales Point. The story of how these foods came together on my plate that day as a “typical Belizean dish” is a long and interesting one. But Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists by anthropologist Richard Wilk has more far-reaching themes then Belizean culinary identity. From the book’s get-go, Wilk argues against the simplistic notion that in today’s hyper-connected world, “â€¦culinary diversity is disappearing under a monotonous food landscape of burgers and fries.”
Rather, the advancing steamroller is only one way to look at globalization; another way is to “compromise and reduce [globalization’s] impact by adapting and preserving local and ethnic traditions of food, music, dance, and language.” Wilk says that instead of colonial and Western civilizations swallowing local cultures whole, it’s much more of a global give-and-take; the same forces which created the small creolized country of Belize in the first place eventually helped create the notion of “Belizean food” and national identity.
Wilk addresses the country’s evolution from colonial backwater to international tourist destination by looking at what people ate and what items were imported and exported from Belizean shores throughout its history. He also takes on the eternal Belizean conundrum: Why has such a rich, fertile chunk of Central America always imported so much tinned food from Europe and the United States?
Home Cooking (the book first came out in 2006 from Macmillan) includes recipes at the end of each chapter. I just tried cooking Belizean rice and beans with coconut milk, from the end of the final chapter, for twenty people. In a dining room thousands of miles away from Belize, it was a smash hit; our neighborhood tribute to global- and localization.