Monday, March 10, 2014

Samoa in the News


At the Huffington Post, Robert Oliver—Chef, Author, Bon Vivant—writes about traditional Samoan cuisine.
Like many indigenous cuisines from all over the world, the diet was based on simple but nourishing preparations, here made largely with fish, root crops, tropical fruit, coconut and leafy greens, the best of the earth and ocean.
He laments, however, that in modern times, "in an ironic madness, . . . 'tourism food', largely devoid of genuine Samoan content, was then deemed by the traveling public, to be 'Samoan food.'"

Oliver then lists foods and dishes he considers "of genuine Samoan content."
[C]oconut oil . . . jam and jelly . . . vanilla . . . Misiluki (dried local banana) Pudding . . . hearty local pork chops smothered in local koko samoa ( extraordinary local cocoa) sauce . . . "poke" (spiced raw tuna with sesame) . . . served with crunchy local seaweed and creamy coconut wedges . . . oka (Samoan raw fish and coconut) . . . soulful watercress and shin-bone soup . . . "umu" (earth oven baked) lunches . . . freshly brewed kokoaraisa (a soupy rice and coconut soup flavored with the terrific local cocoa) . . . sapasui ( a Samoanized version of chop suey) . . .
Ironically, in an essay in which he decries a "food invasion," "food colonialism," "fat bombs," a Samoa "awash with fat, flour, fake foods and Fanta," "tourism food," "local cuisine [that is] dislocated and marginalized," "inferior imported food," and a suffering "cultural sense of self" tantamount to cultural destruction because "by rejecting Samoa's cuisine; we are essentially rejecting Samoa," Oliver's list is heavily populated by non-Samoan foods.

Jams and jellies? Not Samoan.

Vanilla beans? Not Samoan.

Misiluki bananas? Not Samoan. The k in the name gives it away, being, as it were, like this particular banana cultivar, an import.

Pork Chops? Though Samoans always had pigs, not a Samoan cut of meat.

Koko Samoa? Not Samoan.

Poke? Not Samoan. Pretty sure it's Hawaiian.

Sesame? Not Samoan.

Watercress? Not Samoan.

Kokoaraisa? Not Samoan. Rice (the araisa part) isn't grown in Samoa.

Sapasui? Samoanized, true. "Scandalously good," to be sure. But still not Samoan.

None of these are Samoan in the pre-colonial sense; they're all imports. Just like Christianity isn't Samoan.

But Samoans have adopted and to a large extent Samoanized Christianity, seamlessly imbedding it into their traditional way of life. So much so, that once when I asked a Samoan woman about the Samoans' pre-Christian religious beliefs and practices, the response I got amounted to, There weren't any other gods, we've always worshipped the Christian God.

And so it is with certain non-Samoan foods. I can't imagine a Samoa without those "cheap meat imports" that were, by Oliver's admission, "integrated into the traditional Samoan diet . . . [c]orned beef, lamb flaps, turkey tails, and chicken backs." I wonder if the Samoans themselves could imagine such a world.

So why do koko Samoa and watercress and sapasui receive Oliver's stamp of "genuine Samoan" while corned beef, turkey tails, and lamb flaps are relegated to the trash heap of colonialism?

I couldn't say, but it seems like Oliver is applying a double standard here. Part of it may stem from the privileged status that anything organic receives these days—Oliver makes a big deal out of the fact that Samoans are growing their foods organically. Or perhaps it's because cheap meat imports don't get much attention from Samoa's professional chefs, not being very chic.

Whatever the case, it's a double standard, and Oliver's problem stems from spending more time, it seems, "in restaurants all over Samoa" than in eating at Samoans' homes.

So while "Samoa is proudly shaking off the last vestiges of colonialism," Samoa is apparently proudly clinging to another, though chic, set of colonialism's vestiges: Rice, chop suey, watercress, vanilla beans, etc.

Bon appétit!

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