Making Time for Slow-Food Rituals
Ninth-grader Meitong Chen earned an honorable mention for her entry in this year’s NYTimes Editorial Contest. Here is her essay.
One of my fondest memories is making dumplings with my grandmother in Shenyang, China. As we folded the flour-dusted dough into perfect crescent-moons, stirring minced pork into ginger and garlic, she spoke about the meat ration tickets her family used to prize. She lived through multiple wars and grew up during famine and the Cultural Revolution, but this was the only time she ever talked about her past—in the kitchen, in snippets, while we were making food.
As a Chinese student who left her family to study high school in America, cultural traditions like dumpling-making are an important part of how I stay connected to my family even when living an ocean away. Recently, I was shocked to discover that many of my Chinese peers had never made dumplings. When I asked why, they replied that frozen dumplings were more convenient and tasted just as good. While ready-made dumplings are delicious, I think it’s important for us to pass on “slow” traditions like hand-making dumplings. As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and convenient, we must also continue to make room for these slow rituals, which help us connect with each other and better understand where we come from.
Cultural rituals are a crucial part of our building community, helping us reflect more deeply on our past and future. As David Brooks writes, “rituals provide comfort because they remind us we’re not alone.” Cooking in particular is a natural ritual to bring people together, since everyone needs to eat and each culture has its own rich culinary tradition. Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of the FEED Project, notes, “The celebratory nature of food is universal….It helps define us.” Food writer Melissa Leong reflects on the symbolic importance of food rituals, calling it “the vital glue that holds us together or helps us reconnect with something we lost.”
Therefore, we should do our best to preserve these culinary traditions, making an effort to learn and share them. By learning traditional recipes from older family members, I can connect with them and open opportunities for them to talk about their pasts. In sharing these recipes with friends, I can help my peers encounter my family’s cultural legacy. In turn, my friends can teach me the nuances of Sichuan peppercorn paste or Ethiopian injera, helping me better understand the unique worlds they come from.
Cultural traditions help us reflect on who we are, where we come from, and how we relate to each other. As technology continues to make our lives faster and more convenient, we should also make time to learn the slow culinary rituals of our pasts. In doing so, we can help build a better, more connected, and more flavorful world.
—Meitong Chen ’23