What is a language we can all understand? The language of food!
First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Lauren McElwain and I am a Tupelo, MS wife, mom, speech-language pathologist, community helper, and food blogger. I’m deeply inspired by the fact that my small Southern town is home to many international individuals/families...whether temporarily or permanently. I believe that Tupelo natives should be proud of diversity and should work to make these families feel welcomed and even celebrated in our community. That belief is half of what started my organization. Blue Springs, MS (on the outskirts of Tupelo) is home to a major Toyota manufacturing plant. Over recent years, many Japanese families have relocated to our area for jobs and to make a new life. Some of my kids’ good friends are members of the Japanese community...and I’ve become close to their moms as well. When some of these ladies saw that I was a food blogger, they asked if I could conduct a cooking class to teach them some recipes that are popular in this part of the world. So that very first cooking class, (where I taught Poppyseed Chicken, Seven-Layer Salad and Bacon Green Beans to Japanese friends in my own kitchen), is the other half of what started Cooking as a First Language.
I discovered very quickly that many of our Japanese neighbors speak little or no English. So when we cook together, our primary mode of communication is food prep tasks. I was amazed to see that through this form of communication, we felt very comfortable around each other very quickly...even faster than understood words would have made us feel. Working together to reach a common and fun goal formed a lasting bond between us that we needed no spoken words to create. That gives me chills every time I say it!
We realized that with this concept, the possibilities are endless! We started reaching out to many different people in the Tupelo community. A lot of connections have been made through ESL (English as a Second Language) that meets at First Baptist Church downtown. Since beginning the cooking classes we have tasted: American, Sushi/Japanese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese New Year, Korean, Ecuadorian, Cuban, and International Desserts! Upcoming classes include Filipino, Venezuelan, Chinese Takeout and Moroccan. Each class is taught by a person who is from the given country...so you know it’s going to be legit!!
No matter what our background is or what our beliefs are, we can all agree that food is good. Even two people who have nothing in common can bond over a delicious meal. In Tupelo, MS, Cooking as a First Language is a valuable resource for those who might be new to town and are looking to get plugged in and make connections. It is a group where everyone belongs and anyone can participate. The enjoyment of food and hospitality will always be a universal language.