Writer’s Block: Salad Bowl or Melting Pot?
A culinary lesson on multiculturalism hits the spot
In this classroom, multiculturalism is on the menu.
Before the bell rings,” said our teacher Mrs. Owen, “I just want to say a few words about our next unit. Next week, we will be talking about multiculturalism. Basically, we will be comparing our national policy, often called the salad bowl, to another philosophy called the melting pot. We will be exploring both of those terms in much more detail. In preparation for our discussion, I have an assignment for you. On Monday, I would like each of you to bring in a potato dish. It can be a dish from your own culture, a family favourite or just a recipe that you like. Please bring enough for everyone to have a taste. And, please also list the ingredients, so anyone with food restrictions knows exactly what they are eating. You don’t need to worry about plates and cutlery. I will handle those. Have a great weekend, everyone, have fun and be creative with this assignment.”
On Monday, Mrs. Owen asked for volunteers to present their dishes. Hyang-soon raised his hand shyly. “I’ve brought in a Korean side dish called gamja jorim. It contains potato, white oyster mushrooms, corn syrup, onion, garlic, olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, sugar and water. It isn’t spicy. I would be glad for you to try it.”
Ananda was next. She proudly presented her dish. “My family is from the state of Gujarat, in western India. For religious reasons, we are vegetarian, so of course, this is a vegetarian dish. It is called vagan bateta nu shak. It is potato and eggplant curry. It also contains tomatoes and a few spices. It is quite spicy, and very tasty!”
Mike was the next student to take the floor. “I’m one-quarter Irish, and there is nothing more Irish than the potato. Since I love my meat and potatoes, I’ve brought in some of my mother’s hearty Ballymaloe Irish stew. The main ingredients are lamb, carrots, onions and potatoes. No other comfort food can beat it!”
Sophie’s dish was a stark contrast to Mike’s stew. “I’ve brought in some pyrohy. Sorry, Mike, but I’m a vegan. You won’t find any meat in my dish. You won’t find any dairy products either. I know that cheddar cheese and cottage cheese are usually popular ingredients, but my pyrohy contains only potatoes and onions. I do realize that many people like to add sour cream as a topping, so I also brought a container of low-fat sour cream for anyone who would like some.”
“Low fat!” groaned Mike. “No, but seriously, Soph, thanks for thinking of us. I should have considered you, too, and brought some of my stew with no meat in it.”
“Sorry, Sophie and Ananda, but my family changes basic scalloped potatoes
into a main course by adding Italian sausage and tons of cheese,” said Tony. “Instead of using cheddar, though, we add mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. I’m afraid I wasn’t really thinking much about anyone’s dietary restrictions when I put this dish together.”
The class also sampled Jewish potato latkes, French Canadian poutine and German potato salad.
After each student had presented a dish, Mrs. Owen took her turn. “Thank you, everyone. We have tasted a lot of very interesting recipes today, each one showcasing the simple potato. I have one more dish for you to try. I have brought in some plain boiled potatoes. There should not be any dietary issues, because I have added nothing to them. I did not even add salt or pepper. You will taste only the flavour of the potatoes.” Several of the students commented on the blandness of the plain boiled potatoes, most also complaining about lack of variety.
Mrs. Owen used these comments as a starting point to launch their first lesson on multiculturalism.
“There are two distinct models for dealing with various cultural groups within a single society. These two models are called the melting pot and the salad bowl (or cultural mosaic).
First, we will talk about the melting pot. Another term often used to describe this approach is cultural assimilation. Citizens are assimilated into one homogeneous national culture. Can anyone tell me why my potato dish might be compared to this melting-pot model?
“I think your word homogeneous is the answer,” replied Kim. “Our dishes all had other ingredients. Your dish was homogeneous, since it contained only plain potatoes.”
“That is exactly the answer I was looking for, Kim. Every bite of my dish was the same as every other bite. There was nothing to differentiate one bite from the next. In a melting-pot society, citizens are encouraged to assimilate, and literally, blend in to one national culture.
“Now, let’s talk about multiculturalism, or the salad-bowl model,” continued Mrs. Owen. “In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy. This model allows citizens to take pride in their ancestry. It also encourages racial and ethnic harmony and crosscultural understanding.
“Opponents of multiculturalism argue that it emphasizes the differences among citizens, rather than their shared citizenry. How can our potato potluck here today be compared to our national policy?” asked Mrs. Owen.
“Well,” began Mike, “we tasted a lot of different ethnic dishes today. I think differences were definitely emphasized, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing.”
“Yeah, we tried things we might never have tasted before,” said Tony.
“Besides enjoying our cultural differences, we were also able to respect one another’s dietary restrictions, whether they were caused by allergies or were based on religious beliefs,” added Ananda.
“Our dishes were not at all homogeneous. Each one was different, just like each ingredient in a salad is different, in taste, colour and texture. I think we celebrated our differences, rather than merely tolerating them,” said Sophie.
“Is there anyone here who preferred my potato dish to the variety of flavours we experienced today?” asked Mrs. Owen.
No hands were raised. n