By Polo Munoz, Managing Editor/Publisher
“People always ask me how I hold on to my culture, that’s easy. I live it every day by the food I eat, the languages I speak, the place I pray and the company I keep.” When I heard this on the third episode of “Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi, I realized why this show was connecting with me so much and why I just watched all episodes in 2 days. Taste the Nation feels deeply authentic and the connection she has to the folks that she shares moments with, is very touching. Frankly, I would volunteer to crew just to be part of what that experience seems to be.
The show feels very comfortable, conversational, warm and freaking delicious. Her style of presenting the food in short bursts while presenting the communities and the people is novel and captivating. The program is also very much from the perspective of those that are being spotlighted. Padma creates a strong karma that surrounds those who are sharing the story of the food and the people they represent. Some of the most beautiful, compelling, sad and thought provoking episodes are “The Gullah Way,” “The Original Americans,” and “What is Chop Suey Anyway,” but all of the episodes are profound and caring. Padma approaches each episode with curiosity, patience, respect and a profound sense of thoughtfulness. What is unexpected is the exposition of what some of these ethnic communities have suffered; this show could be an ethnic studies course where food is the vehicle. Taste the Nation allows us to connect to each other through our most basic need and most valued pleasure, food. When we eat each others food, we accept each other’s spirit and we listen to the pain communities suffered and the joy they share as they actively work toward healing.
The depth of the stories and the willingness to provide an opportunity for the voices of the communities she visits is inspiring and charming. She creates a palate that allows and encourages them to lean into their culture, as she has done for hers. She empowers the guests to “celebrate their whole selves and their identity,’ and “food is a nice language in which to develop an identity.“
There is no question that I am enamored with the show. The approach is neighborly and comfortable. Deeply insightful, thoughtful and activating, it moved me to think about local restaurants I wanted to visit as soon as I can. In some cases, inspiring me to visit some of the restaurants that she highlights, once we can travel again, but to also approach my new quest through the questions that she and her guest pose. I am pretty sure I won’t be cooking most of those recipes any soon, but I will certainly be sitting in a similar restaurant sooner than later, and contemplating, how did this get here?