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The Food of Work and Celebration

By: Rebecca Aréchiga

Every day, we break our bread. But not all meals are equivalent. We eat together, we eat alone, in offices, in restaurants, outdoors, on the floor, at the table, on the couch, in reception halls, and around the fire. We eat to sustain ourselves on long, hard days of work, and we eat to revel in the days of celebration.

Work and celebration are universal pursuits. And across the world, keeping with local customs, ingredients, and traditions, food is an important part of both—a unique and shared, local and universal experience.

To grow and cultivate food in the first place requires a great deal of work. And those who put in that work must also eat to nourish themselves. Nothing fancy, something hearty. Others are bringing sandwiches to the job site, left-overs to the office, picking up street food on the way, or in some cultures, going home for a mid-day meal.

In Hawaiʻi, some working food was introduced by immigrant laborers. The plate lunch and loco moco, now considered to be Hawaiian-style dishes, were brought to the islands by plantation workers from around the world. Potlucks are also common in Hawaiʻi and further illustrate the intermingling of different cultures’ cuisines.

The Spam musubi was born in Hawaiʻi in the aftermath of WWII when rations of Spam were dispersed en masse to the military—to the point that the stockpile was made available to the public. The Japanese-influenced grilled Spam and rice wrapped in seaweed paper was deemed musubi and is still a prevalent, inexpensive on-the-go food throughout the islands.

            The food of work is the food of the everyday. It is patchwork dinners for the family in a noisy house, big pots of soups and stews, generous portions for hungry bellies. As the meals made most often, the food of work carries comfortability, routine, memorized recipes. Though sometimes made quickly, they are not made carelessly.

Food is also an important facet of any celebration across the world. From the birthday cakes of childhood to food left on gravesides for loved ones lost, celebratory food equates to love. The end of harvest season is celebrated with festivals and food, a fast is broken with a feast, milestones and achievements all call for special dishes to be shared. In Hawaiʻi, a traditional lūʻau might celebrate a graduation, birthday, or birth with a spread of kālua pig, poi, poke, huli huli chicken, and the coconut milk-based dessert, haupia.

Malasadas, Portuguese-style fried dough covered in sugar, were also brought to Hawaiʻi by immigrants in the 19th century. When the sugar and pineapple industries boomed, increased labor needs drew workers from Portugal who already had experience farming the crops. Malasadas are still a staple of the sweet palate of Hawaiʻi.

Food of celebration are the special meals of life; meant to be indulged, savored, appreciated due to their infrequency. Celebratory food holds memories, traditions, and rituals. Often, this food is shared. The food we celebrate with has the power to unite us.
In work and in play, food is the common thread that weaves through each of our days. It is the intersection between heritage and ecology. Food is necessary to keep living but perhaps it can also make life worth living. Throughout life, the food of work and the food of celebration offers the opportunity, again and again, to link the happenings of life with vital nourishment.

Join us for a special celebration of food and work on February 26th!

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