September 2017

Hot Dog! Let’s Eat The power of food to unite

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Once upon a time (a long time ago), before the invention of texting and social media, people used to sit down at the table together to have a meal and a real conversation—one that did not require thumb dexterity or a Wi-Fi connection. It was here that families, friends and lovers looked each other in the eye and asked intriguing questions like, “How was your day?” or “What is your opinion?” They shared jokes, stories and ideas. And because there were no Internet acronyms or emoticons to convey their feelings, they had to actually emote. You knew instantly if someone was rolling on the floor laughing, scowling, clapping, or sobbing her heart out; there were fewer chances of miscommunication and greater odds of real face-time.

Fast forward to today. People are ostensibly dining together, but not. You don’t have to be overly observant to note that we (and I say we, because I am also guilty at times) are increasingly connected to our electronics and disconnected from the person across the table. I recently saw two young couples in a fancy restaurant sitting in a cozy booth. Every head was bowed, not in prayer, but in reverence to whatever urgent electronic task was calling underneath the veil of the white tablecloth.

Food as a common denominator
While modern distractions threaten to dilute the power of shared meals, I believe hope exists, because if there is one thing we can all agree upon, it is that eating is pleasurable. Food is the universal language and the single great unifier, not only within our inner circles, but across cultures. No matter what race, religion, gender or political affiliation, we can all bond over the need for sustenance.

In Colin Powell’s book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, the former Secretary of State illustrates by dedicating an entire chapter to what he calls “hotdog diplomacy.” In his various official capacities, when Powell hosted visiting dignitaries, he often found it beneficial to take his guests to the local hotdog stand. While sharing a simple, informal meal, some of the posturing melted away as they became just two people grabbing a bite to eat.

Sampling food from other cultures is also a powerful way to connect. When we open our minds to try unfamiliar cuisines, we are often amazed by the ingredients, flavor combinations and textures we enjoy. Conversations surrounding food can also open the door to a deeper understanding of the history, traditions and values of other societies.

Like children being urged to eat their veggies, some of us need a bit more prodding to break out of our food ruts and try something new. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” If you taste it and don’t like it, so what? You are not likely to die, and you don’t have to clean your plate. But what if you love it?

A perfect example is Japanese sushi. Many people immediately think: raw fish. Not all items in a sushi bar are raw. In fact, many are cooked and some are vegetarian. You need only alert your server or sushi chef to your individual preferences. Meanwhile, you might take a chance on something you think you won’t like. Unagi (fresh water eel), for example, is cooked and slightly sweet. Prepare to be delighted.

You may also want to open your mind to the world of vegan food. One of the tastiest burgers in town can be enjoyed at Pure Natural Market, where no animal products are used to create this amazing entrée. Delishee Yo also offers vegetarian and vegan soups, salads, rolls and bowls. One thing is certain: Foregoing meat and/or dairy does not preclude deliciousness.

With over 200 restaurants on Hilton Head Island alone and many more in Bluffton, you can take a culinary trip around the world without a single boarding pass or layover. A quick Google search or a scroll through Open Table will guide you to a global experience right here in our backyard, where you will discover abundant opportunities to indulge in all-American favorites (think seafood, steaks, burgers and BBQ), or treat your taste buds to something exotic. A few ethnic options available locally include Asian (Hinoki, Ruan Thai, OKKO, Saigon Café…); French (Bistro 17, Hilton Head Social Bakery, The French Bakery…); German (Alfred’s); Southwestern (Santa Fe Café); Mexican (Java Burrito, Agave Side Bar, Fiesta Fresh, San Miguel’s, Mi Tierra, Holy Tequila…); Latin American (Tio’s); Italian (Ombra Cucina Rustica, Michael Anthony’s, Trattoria Divina, Vine, Pomodori, Bucci’s…); Cajun (Kenny B’s); Greek (It’s Greek to Me, The Greek Table); Mediterranean (Mediterranean Harbour Bar & Grill; and Jamaican (Pure Natural Market). Of course, you will also find many sources of traditional Lowcountry and Southern cuisine (A Lowcountry Backyard, Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar, Annie O’s, Ruby Lee’s, Cahill’s Market, FARM…) and many more.

Food plays a significant role in our daily lives, of course, and is the USB port to every occasion. We use it to supercharge holidays, reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, graduations and weddings. Food is offered as comfort to people who are mourning; it is prepared for family members and friends recovering from an illness or after having a baby.

In every culture throughout the world, food is a vehicle through which people communicate and create memories. The simple act of eating together affords an opportunity to pause from the hectic pace of the day—to share thoughts, opinions, experiences and the stories of our lives. Do yourself a favor. Turn off your smartphone and get connected over food. You may be surprised by what you’ve been missing.

Hot dog, anyone?

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