Food brings people and cultures together, floods minds and hearts with curiosity as well as flavors. Here's how to use it to defeat prejudice

Design has got to do with daily life and choices. There are no areas in which design skills are not used: not even in the most banal gestures. And Italian designers have often been brilliant in observing and translating people’s spontaneous creativity. But times have gotten more complicated and life seems to go faster than design. Like when one is forced to find pragmatic and intelligent solutions to cultural prejudices.

The story of Anna Bolletta is an example of good informal design. A story that is all the more interesting because of its completely spontaneous application of various forms of artistic performance and relationship design. And it uses food to favor the complicated approximation of two cultures.

A few months ago, Anna married Alieu. A slightly late first marriage, which perhaps took family and friends by surprise. Nothing that it is impossible to overcome yet Alieu is Gambian, a little younger and a Muslim. The specter of a misogynist and polygamous religion, combined with racial and age prejudices, sets off a social and family bomb.

“I knew it was going to be difficult,” says Anna. “Building a couple is hard as it is but when there are macroscopic cultural differences becomes truly complex”. Friends were worried, family members imposed vetoes: "Except for my almost 80 year old mother, who took it philosophically. I don't expect everyone to understand, or to be supported in everything I do. But I don't like prejudice, the choice made on ignorance or lack of curiosity”.

Alieu’s family was much more understanding. Their main concern is everyone’s peace of mind. African culture, in general, is very focused on the present. It is ‘the simple life’: loving each other, having children, helping each other. The family is normally made up of various generational and marital stratifications. Everyone lives close together, when not together. Are they arguing? “Like in any family, it is certainly not paradise”.

The wedding party, which should be a moment of happy sharing, therefore risked turning into a bitter celebration of prejudices and cultural misunderstandings. Mainly from us Italians.

“We thought of food as a solution”, explains Anna. “A means of attempting a complicated undertaking such as the peaceful coexistence of sub-Saharanians and Italians, even if only for a party. And then who knows”.

So Anna and Alieu decided to cook for their guests. No gargantuan tables or lunches, just sharing food. But it is a sharing of the softer and stronger instances of each other's cultures. Mixed Gambian and Italian flavors, which perhaps have not resolved prejudices, but have allowed us to stay close, eat the same things and feed the curiosity among people who are not inclined to try them. The realization of the dishes chosen by Anna and Alieu was supported by the catering Doma Food and Party Design who shared the experience.

Food is a ritual, a fetish, a sacred gesture for anyone. Breaking bread is not a Christian invention, but a documented anthropological operation that serves to strengthen bonds and transmit affection. We have learned, as humans, to eliminate the typical food hierarchies of carnivores and predators. Conviviality, pleasure, are expressions of happiness, like dancing and singing. Difficult to resist, even for those who are really convinced that there is something impossible or wrong when two human beings decide to love each other. And at the same time, to unite in a bizarre relationship two families that are not more different.

All is well what ends well, then? “Maybe a lunch was enough. The misunderstandings and difficulties are still there, but we all celebrated our wedding offering the opportunity for people to discover different nationalities and cultures. This was our wish, for now”. However, the experiment was very popular, and Anna and Alieu decided to structure it in a side business. Now they cook for those who want to learn more about Ghanaian culture. And to show that it doesn’t take long to sit at the same table with someone we might never have had the opportunity to meet.



Cover photo by Alessandro Gentile