Social Documentary Photographer Tanya Houghton is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From her project ‘A Migrant’s Tale‘. To see Tanya’s gallery of projects click on any image.
Ten Migrants living and working in London were interviewed about their relationship to food, narrating their stories, tales of home and their motherland. Exploring their use of food in their daily routines and their ability to use this as an access point to their homeland.
Through a decoding process their stories were reduced to series of objects and food items, sitting alongside donated photographs from the participants and their family. Still life shrines were created through a visual reinterpretation of the stories they had told. The Shrine sits alongside a portrait of the migrant and is accompanied by a text panel of quotations taken from the interview.
In the context of our current border crisis the word migrant has been misshapen and recontextualised far beyond its original starting point. Through this exploratory research I aim to reclaim the word, moving the idea home far from its physical geographical location. Proposing home to be a place that stretches far beyond borders, home is place that we carry within, a cognitive home that we are all migrating to and from on a daily basis. All migrants in the search of a better place to call home.
They moved to Canada in the 1970’s. My dad lived in Niagara and Toronto for a bit and then my mum came later.
The family is interesting because they used to run this fish plant, like on the coast of Canada. So there was a lot of seafood in our lives growing up.
The first thing I do when I go back home, which is indicative of how well my Mum knows me, is that we go for this food.
My mum was the type of person that grew up in a traditional Korean home, where the wife cooked, you know, the mother cooked, so I never really cooked growing up.
But between all the women they have all their different techniques, and they sit around the table with your family and, you know who made which Kim chi, how it tastes differently, some people’s will be sweeter, some people’s will be more acidic.
This is how I feel about food culture in general, you should go and eat what’s best in that country….., if you don’t embrace what is done best there then you are kind of going for a sub par standard of what is available somewhere else.
We lived in Alaska. Especially during the winter, cause there’s not a huge amount to do, you really can’t go outside, really…. Mum had us kind of baking and cooking from a really young age….. the one thing I still make now is banana oatmeal muffins, I don’t know why but the smell of them just reminds me of growing up.
At my parents house, so that’s really different you know, in summer time, its just everything, you have everything, you walk out the back door and you have all your own herbs, pick all of your own salad’s.
My Dad is kind of a hunter gatherer. So he kind of likes collecting limpets off the rocks on the beach and, like, we’d fish loads of mackerel; come September he would tin some for the winter.
A lot of the other people were just, like, single men who moved up there on their own and were friends of my dad’s and they would all kind of come into the house on a Sunday and everyone would sit down together for meals.
That’s a big thing for me is when I’m cooking I love having a space that other people can sit and talk, its that social thing. Even in the food preparation, its really important.
She took me to the school on a Saturday to meet the headmistress to see if she would give me a place ‘cause I’m not actually Chinese and its for Chinese people. So she gave me a piece of paper and just said “Write down all the characters you know”.
He would get up at like 4 in the morning and he would go to the fish market and he would get fresh things… We would pick out fresh squid that was caught that morning and I would watch him take the intestines out and gut everything.
In Japanese there’s a word its called meibutsu which means, it literally means famous thing or named thing and every region is a meibutsu. For example Hirosaki in the north or Japan there meibutsu is apples.
Being in Japan really revealed the pathology behind food and food culture for me, so its very ingrained in how I like to eat now.
She was like right, she’d give us jobs and it was good because I learnt a lot and I think although I was so into food I always had a sweet tooth, so I think my love for baking started then.
I don’t know if it’s reality or just like memory but everything seems so laborious the way my Grandma or my Mum did things, so I like to churn things out quite quickly.
Black lemony tea always reminds me of my grandparents. They just drank it all the time, but the smell, like, it has an aroma and if I smell that it just takes me back to their kitchen.
What I noticed was a real adversary to not doing a full English breakfast when I first opened. Like, people came in and that was their expectation. To me that was really strange, it was like, I don’t go to someone’s home and tell them to rearrange the furniture in their house because certain things don’t fit a certain way.
I miss the sunshine, I miss being able to walk down certain streets in Melbourne and having so much choice for like, where to eat and where to have coffee and actually I could spend the whole day just eating my way
The way I would prepare my food, the way I want to eat it and love it and enjoying it, it’s a kind of love, you know it’s a kind of love. A feeling you have to give it to the food you’re making, if you don’t give the feeling of it, if you don’t like doing it in a way how are people going to love it?
Yeah the peanut butter sauce is something like, a certain way. Like back home when it rain and its kinda cold in a way, when they make the peanut butter sauce, with the spice and the lemon, when you eat, that’s kinda
something that warms you.
There was a time in 1981, it was during the over thrown government in Gambia, so she used to scared to be in the kitchen alone with all blacks flowing everywhere, I used to be there accompanying her and watching.
Some people inspire me a lot.
Food, in life food is everything. Cause the joy of food give people, if you don’t have that joy in anywhere and some smile, that food you know, nobody can give you that smile, and your body when you eat certain food,
your body reacts and nah man, food is everything, whether people see it or not food is everything, food give you paradise in your life.
So in our house family meals times were super important; the pinnacle. My mum has always enforced us sitting down to eat together To talk, to share food, to break bread; it’s like a super French thing to do.
Like, Christmas takes a month in the planning, it’s really funny. There is a lot of email exchanges, about like changes to the recipes and if we can do this and if everybody will be happy with the changes.
There is a book. My dad has a recipe book that is hand written, he writes up things that he has worked on over the years. Its kind of quite weirdly become at bit of a, um, a bit of a inheritance issue.
Like coming together to eat food, isn’t just about putting fuel into your body, its about breaking bread with someone and, you know, over food is when you can actually talk to somebody, you know, you can talk a lot about a lot of things over dinner.
You know there is nothing sadder than eating alone, there really isn’t.
She was one of them and got a job in a café and met my Granddad that’s how she ended up in the north east of England.
She would cook every day, bake every day and food was quite a huge part of their daily life.
My dad is very much a feeder and that’s what I am. In our friendship group me and Ben have adopted this role, incidentally, of being like the feeders, so we will cook food for everyone and that’s just kind of our thing now.
So I guess that whole nurturing and just really loving food and cooking it and putting emotions into it, I guess, is what my dad has passed onto us, me and my brother, so its pretty much like central to my life really.
My Grandma was such an amazing cook, like everything was so flavorsome she had a skill but she would never tell us what she had done.
Now I feel the same way about my dad, all his recipes I try and replicate but never can do it in the same way: there is something he does with his cooking.
Well when I was child me and my brother, we always were in the kitchen in our house. Our flat was quite small so kitchen was the center and we were helping a lot baking.
In Germany no one would get the idea of baking bread, the farmers had their wood fired ovens in the courtyard but otherwise bread was fantastic.
We had loads of rabbits. We had a breed of rabbit that was cuddly, black fluffy balls, as long as they were small, they changed color when they became adults, really big. So there wasn’t that attachment to adult rabbits.
It was reminiscent of home, it was something that I could never ever find in any other place in Germany even. Well, once that baker stopped baking, retired, that was it, it was kind of gone.
I don’t know, I never had a lot of home sickness, so when I moved around in Germany I never felt really homesick. I like mountains in the black forest; I like walking there. My wife says I look different when I’m there…..I know the place even in areas I don’t or I haven’t been. I know my way round: I get lost in cities.
I guess, like, it’s important to me more than the food, like all the ritual, process, to have nice food with my family in Spain.
My Grandfather had a farm and every Sunday we’re there; my family is like super big.
All the womens they eat and talking their things about what they did in the week. All the mens like having arguments, cause arguments politics and things like that. And that is what I mean like the ritual.
In that place I saw how the anarchism was going really well, like no money at all, just like basically changing things… I know when I was little no one in my family bought eggs or tomatoes or potatoes, never.
When I go there, its like, I’m in the kitchen I see my mum, but I don’t think there is nothing like passed. Probably like the style, probably the style, is not like a book of shadows where you can find the secret recipes.
But that summer house has been in my life from when I was born, I think they brought it when I was a year old. So that was my root, that was my tree; that was my root in Sweden
You actually went out, and you know they loved animals, they were very respectful and they would shoot one moose a year, and then that was it, you would eat nose to tail and it would last the whole year.
I remember quite often in the summer time we would have blueberry pie and also every autumn, every single autumn, we would go out two or three times during the week and sometimes travelling further north to pick
If the wind came up during the night you would not sleep, you would have to watch: watching the boat that the anchor wouldn’t get loose. Cause then the boat could drift into cliffs, then you have no boat, then you’re going nowhere.
I guess we don’t take the sun and the light for granted, the same as you do in other places in the world. You relish the light: if its light outside you just mustn’t be inside, you have to be outside, cause you feel like you’re missing out on something otherwise.
By Tanya Houghton