Food is an essential part of our daily lives and culture as a whole. It has the power to bring us together as well as to nourish us. The following sample research paper explores the connection between food and culture when it comes to Homeboy Industries. Ultius creating this paper to help students with their academic writing.
Homeboy Industries reveals the connection between food and community
George Bernard Shaw once wrote:
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
The sentiments of this statement ring true throughout nearly all cultures throughout the world. Food is the one thing that people celebrate, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. Historically, food has always held an integral role in American culture. Recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. Food is made a part of nearly all family events because food brings people together. A significant part of the satisfaction people get from enjoying a delicious meal is knowing it was carefully prepared. That is what Homeboy Industries attempts to capitalize on.
By understanding that people have more than just a utilitarian relationship with their food, Homeboy industries have been able to distinguish itself from its competitors. Consumers support Homeboy Industries not just because of the good food they offer, but because of the sense of community they create and the good they do. Homeboy Industries has successfully used food as a medium to emphasize a common culture, promote peace, and create a strong sense of community.
Homeboy Industries: Brief Overview
Understanding the importance socioeconomic status plays in criminal behavior, Homeboy Industries is an organization that provides former gang members with new opportunities through training, life skills education, employment, and other significant services, such as tattoo removal. Homeboy Industries officially started in 1992 by Father Gregory Boyle, who was a Jesuit pastor living and working in a gang controlled area of Los Angeles. Although Homeboy Industries now runs several businesses, including bakeries, diners, catering services, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and merchandise manufacturers; they started with one small bakery across the street from Dolores Mission.
The bakery started out making tortillas and eventually evolved to baking bread. Homeboy Industries evolved from a program called “Jobs for the Future” which attempted to help gang members find legitimate jobs. After finding limited success in this endeavor, Fr. Boyle got the idea to create job opportunities. When he opened the first bakery, his mission was to provide jobs to young people looking to get out of the gang life. He opened his bakery with the help of a local businessman looking to help expose the issue of gang violence in Los Angeles.
Homeboy Industries has grown so much that the organization is able to help thousands of formerly incarcerated young people and former gang members every year. They saw the criminal justice reforms weren’t working and now help these young people to get the education and training they need to get a job. They help them prepare for interviews and remove visible gang tattoos that may make them appear to be a less than desirable perspective employee.
Although Fr.Boyle could have chosen any number of businesses to open, he chose a bakery because he understood the connection that is made from sharing food. Being located in a largely Hispanic area, he started by making and selling tortillas. Once again, this created a community bond between the people living in the area and the young men and women working in the bakery. Fr. Boyle wanted to create a new community for those trying to leave their gang community. Fr. Boyle once stated:
“Community trumps gang, every time.”
This was a belief Fr. Boyle stood by throughout his development of Homeboy Industries.
The community impact of food
The connection between food and culture has enabled Homeboy Industries to develop a deep connection within the community of Los Angeles. Donna Gabaccia, author of “We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans” writes extensively about the connections between food and cultures. She explains in her text that Americans are uniquely American, in part, because of the embracing of foods from other cultures and the Americanization of those foods. She provides the example of the bagel. Although bagels are seen as a traditionally Jewish food in America, American bagels are a far cry from the traditional Jewish style bagels.
Similar assessments can be made about any number of ethnic foods widely enjoyed by Americans. Fr. Boyle started the Homeboy bakery making tortillas, which appealed to the Hispanic consumers living directly around the bakery. However, the bakery quickly expanded to making breads, desserts, and more. They worked to offer more things and appeal to a wider base, which increased the Homeboy bakery community. As the organization grew, so did their roots within the community.
People say the food Fr. Boyle was doing by providing jobs for individuals that would otherwise not be able to find employment. Another example could be Muslim communities in America. In order to understand the cultural differences and make connections with the residents, one must participate in their community and talk with the people. Food is a way to ope these doors.
Food opens doors to other cultures
Food is the one thing that can create connections between people that would otherwise be completely estranged. While everyone needs food to survive, it is also a source of enjoyment, entertainment, celebration, and more. Food is an integral part of people’s lives. The mission Fr. Boyle undertook was a great mission with a seemingly impossible group of people. Food was likely to the only medium that would enable him to gain the level of success needed to make an impact. The focus on food is also part of what makes his program so attractive to former gang members and inmates.
According to Gabaccia:
“Humans cannot easily lose their accent when they learn new languages after the age of about twelve, similarly, the food they ate as children forever defines familiarity and comfort.”
Fr. Boyle made a connection with young people by reminded them of their own childhoods; before gang life took over. He created a peaceful place for them to see as their new home and a work community that they could see as their new family. Like many communities, this community was developed around food.
The connection between culture and food is immense and diverse. In American society, there are entire holidays that center on food. The greatest example of this is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is essentially a holiday where people eat together within their own communities and families to remember the meal shared between the pilgrims and Indians centuries ago. Although there is debate over the political correctness of the remembrance, the debate doesn’t change the fact that a single meal played such a monumental role in American history that it developed into a national holiday. The cultural connection with meals is also highlighted through the use of cliches like, “as American as apple pie.” The connection between apple pie and American culture is so strong that people view it as a strictly American dish.
Food and memory
The connection between culture and food also sheds light on the connection between food and memory. Jon Holtzman, author of “Food and memory” examined the relationship between food and memory in his article. Food has the ability to bring people back to different places and times in their lives. They are taken back to memories that are forever connected to food. For some, the taste of tortillas may take them back to their grandma’s kitchen when they were little, watching her prepare the tortillas. In addition to personal memories, food also invokes historically constructed thoughts and feelings.
As discussed in the cultural connection, food creates specific images and feelings for many people based on their cultural significance. This holds true religiously, as well. Bread is a symbolic food in many cultures. Jewish history teaches believers it was bread or manna that God gave the Israelites in the desert. For Christians, it was bread that Jesus broke and shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. The symbolism of bread in Fr. Boyle opening a bakery is not lost.
Fr. Boyle was on a mission to provide gang members with new life. He appealed to their family and spiritual memories to make a connection through the bakery. His efforts worked, and the organization grew beyond the bakery. However, the cultural and spiritual significance of his first endeavor are part of what ensured its success. Fr. Boyle successfully connected with the young people on a deeper level. In his book, Fr. Boyle spoke of their early success:
“Perhaps gang members had always longed for this, but for the absence of a place to go, the desire had festered.”
Prior to Fr Boyle, gang members relied on the gang for family, food, and security. They were self-contained communities that took care of their own. Fr. Boyle also offered family, food, and security, but without the violence and danger that inherently came with gang membership.
Fr. Boyle successfully made the connection to peace through food.
Homeboy Industries had gang members coming from 800 different gangs “seeking employment, tattoo removal, mental health counseling, case management, and legal services.”
These were young people who didn’t feel they had any other options before Homeboy Industries. Gang life was their only option. Fr. Boyle also connected to peace by helping young people be able to look forward into the future because for the first time they were being offered a future. He was able to break the cycle of violent crimes simply by giving them a chance.
“Food cycle shapes ‘prospective memory’ by causing one to looking forward in reference to past events.”
While the food memories helped them connect to their childhood and hopefully pleasant memories, it also helped them to make a connection with their own future. As gang members, having a future is always uncertain due to the violent nature of the lifestyle. However, walking away from the violence and being given the opportunity for something different allowed them to consider their future; possibly for the first time.
Homeboy Industries: Creating a new community
Homeboy Industries used food to create a new community. Fr. Boyle stated in his book that community would always outrank the gang, and he proved his belief to be correct. Homeboy Industries would not have experienced the level of success they have without developing and promoting such a strong community. Fr. Boyle managed to create a new community with young people, who came from different and possibly rival gangs.
In his book, Fr. Boyle talks about a fire at the first bakery.
The morning of the fire, he was unable to get a hold of one of his bakers. Finally, the young man shows up ready to work, not knowing about the fire.
“He sees smoke still wafting through the sizable hole in the roof. He sees his coworkers, all rivals from enemy gangs, picking through the rubble. No one needs to explain. He stands there frozen, puts his head in his hands, and begins to sob. This was his reason to get up in the morning.”
Fr. Boyle goes on to explain:
“The union he shared with his coworkers, former enemies, was deeper than anything he had ever known in his family and certainly stronger than the bond he knew in his gang.”
The Homeboy bakery created peace between the workers and made them a family.
Fr. Boyle also created a new community between the former gang members and the rest of the community. He was able to promote peace and social change through a connection over food, and offering healthy selections prevented adding to the nation’s obesity problem. He gave former gang members the opportunity to learn a new skill and experience the feelings of accomplishment. Homeboy Industries has been and still is successfully creating social change.
In addition to the many accomplishments already discussed, the organization has also successfully changed the way people see these former gang members. Having been terrorized by gang violence for years, many of those living in Los Angeles developed a less than desirable view of gang members, and many believed they were a lost cause. Homeboy Industries allowed people to see that many gang members would choose a different path if given the option.
The Expansion of Homeboy Industries
While Homeboy bakery started out appealing to the Hispanic neighborhood with tortillas, their menu quickly expanded. Holtzman explains how food is given an identity. Just as pizza is seen as Italian and bagels are seen as Jewish. Homeboy bakery was able to quickly move beyond Hispanic because it created its own identity. The young people who joined Homeboy Industries proudly identified themselves with the organization and the community. They took great pride in the food they made, which enabled them to create a new identity. Some may argue that the social change created by Homeboy Industries isn’t about the food; it could have been accomplished through other means.
However, this argument does not account for several factors. Food brings people together like nothing else. Food provided a viable business in an economically depressed area. Food attracted a large number of people; both consumers and new members of the organization. Learning food preparation and cooking is a career path that anyone can follow; it does not require intensely advanced or unique skills. The food gave Homeboy Industries the resources needed to provide their other services including tattoo removal, which is one of their most popular services.
Connecting food and community
Fr. Boyle recognized the universal and cultural value placed on food and the act of sharing a meal. He used that knowledge to create a platform for former gang members to make new choices and pursue a better path. He was able to open them up to education, job training, and life skills that they would otherwise never have received. This was accomplished through a single bond over food; both the preparation and consumption. Fr. Boyle story of the young man coming to work after the fire personifies the affect Homeboy Industries had on all the young men and women, who went to the organization for help. Working in the food industry isn’t just another job.
It is something the young men and women can take pride in and gain feelings of accomplishment to increase their self-confidence and knowledge of self-worth. Homeboy Industries identified and addressed a significant social and societal problem in the Los Angeles area. Homeboy Industries showed that something as simple as food can bring enemies together as friends. Food is culturally important within all cultures, which allows it to be important cross-culturally.
Boyle, Greg. Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion. New York, NY: Free Press, 2010. Print.
Gabaccia, Donna. We Are What We Eat. London: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print.
Holtzman, Jon. “Food and Memory.” Annual Reviews 35 (2006): 361-378. Print.
“Homeboy Industries.” Homeboy Industries. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. http://www.homeboyindustries.org/.