To eat: Wisinin (Algonquin), Impa (Chickasaw), Turhurak a kawats (Pawnee for Let’s eat!), Wah-Num-Bra (Osage), Mitsoh (Cree)
It was inevitable, while researching my SXSW panel, that food would come up! The culture of food is so universal and fundamental to us humans, I wanted to take a moment to dig into it.
My Native American tribe has a ceremonial food. It is served at every gathering and is known to have healing powers. Most indigenous people have traditional foods for ceremonies and healing. But, really what culture doesn’t? The most common cultural item we share with one another is food.
Why is this relevant to community in Digital Times? I believe we are tethered deeply to one another through our traditions and no tradition is more fundamental than breaking bread together. Let’s stop and consider our national holidays to crystallize this. When you think of holidays we Americans share nationally, you think of Independence Day (grilling, BBQ), Thanksgiving (an entire holiday about a meal), Christmas (pumpkin pie, ham, turkey and so on), Halloween (candy). Now think about MLKjr Day, Labor Day, President’s day. What do we all share culturally on those days? There are parades and memorials, and some attend those, but many just use it as a day off for a long weekend somewhere with the kids. These are pretty cultureless holidays. Now, if there was a food associated with MKLjr Day or President’s day, I bet we would celebrate them much differently.
My husband and I have a cuisine for our own marital traditions. We eat Indian food for anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations. It started as an opportunity to reflect on our brief visit to the Himalayas, but has grown into the thread that holds a patchwork of lovely moments together. We have a bond over lentils!
So, I am thinking that your digital tribe is missing out if there is no food/drink tradition. How does it translate from “In Real Life” (IRL) to digital communities? See the suggestions below, but remember culture comes from tradition. Tradition is what we do ritualistically, repetitively. Whatever your community does, the evidence of a community food culture is in the repetition.
1. Virtual food/drink sharing:
This medium should happen very regularly. It can be based on time of day or week (morning coffee, Friday happy hour,…). This is a low level of effort, but shows awareness and thoughtfulness for others and can be an icebreaker for folks to get to know one another.
a. This past week I noticed @prosperitygal tweeting bowls of steaming Texas chili to friends. It wasn’t just “@so-and-so Here is a bowl of chili.” She is a Texan so it was personal food that she tweeted with flair. According to her stream, these bowls were steaming hot. I could see the deep red color of a good Texas chili and wondered if there was cheese or chopped onions. I could have sworn there was real chili in her real kitchen and I admit, I wanted her to send me a bowl! It was personal, authentic and it brought the joy of shared food to Twitter.
b. Folks on #UsGuys twitter tribe offer each other #coffee all morning. It creates an atmosphere of awareness of what members are up to during their day and illustrates that they are paying attention to one another. Maybe a different tribe would share #expresso or #instant coffee. Offering #SoyMochachino on #UsGuys might reveal someone as not #UsGuys-culturally literate?
2. Remote food/drink sharing:
This medium gives weight to special events: honoring someone, acknowledging their change in status or showing support when times are difficult. Do it with personal intent! Don’t confuse this with sweepstakes, where someone wins. That is sales and marketing, not community and culture. The challenge with remote food giving is that the community doesn’t experience the tradition directly. In these cases, it is a good idea to make a ritual around the giving/receiving of the food, like a tweet up and photo or video sharing.
a. Could your community come together and send someone a gift certificate to eat out? Perhaps there is a common food theme in your community, like coffee houses, taco street vendors, BBQ.
b. Or even better, send a bowl of oranges. Think of that person sitting at their table everyday for a week, associating the look and smell with their online tribe. This bowl of oranges could be twizzlers or homemade goods. The important thing is that food is in their house for them to see, smell, eat and share and that the food is relevant to the community culture.
c. Whatever you do, do the same thing multiple times. I am not saying that you have to have the same food every time. Christmas dinner has a lot of variety, but we all have a common cultural idea of what makes the Christmas meal. Food sharing has to have an element of symbol, something that represents the community.
3. In Real Life (IRL) food/drink sharing:
This medium is for gatherings, coming together face-to-face with other members of your community. There is inherent bonding value in eating and drinking together, as we all know. When does it become cultural?
a. It is nice when a company throws a party and there is free food, but this is usually a sales pitch, seller to sellee. Plus we all know the perceived value of free stuff! This is not the most powerful vehicle to bond a group. It is better if everyone pitches in somehow.
b. As with the item above, you don’t all have to eat the same menu every time you meet, although if things developed that way, I would take that as a sign of a strong culture and bond in a group. But do have a common, repeated theme that signals, this is your community meeting. Even a joke food that everyone hates has cultural bonding significance. A friend of mine throws a Spam potluck party every year that has a cult following.
Please remember: You cannot create a culture out of thin air and shove it down folks throats. Food tradition is a part of who we all are. Given half a chance it will emerge. Maybe this post can give you new ideas about how to break bread with your community. Food for thought… (I had to, really, I had to).
Now I am hungry! I would be delighted with any examples you have of your online communities developing a food tradition.