Culture

Women artists: Georgia O'Keeffe

Historically, women have struggled to be accepted in the world of the arts. In the art of painting, they were subjects for men's art, or wives and sisters of male artists. Women weren't accepted as artists themselves. But that began to change in the 20th century. Georgia O'Keeffe played an important role in that change.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1996) was part of the American Modernist movement. American Modernism grew out of the Industrial Revolution and focused on everyday subjects like cities and factories. It used abstract forms and bright colors. Georgia O'Keeffe pushed the boundaries to develop her own style. Her paintings were still abstract and brightly colored, but she added a little realism.

Cook to learn English

English is a tool you can use to do many things. Since English is a global language, you can use it to learn things from different cultures.

A fun way to learn English is cooking. You have to know how to talk about the ingredients, measurements, textures, times and flavor descriptions, and explain the process. And, if you teach cooking in English, your pronunciation needs to be clear enough for others to understand.

Accordingly, in 2015, two English language teachers in Manchester, UK, set up a program called Heart and Parcel. Karolina Koscien and Clare Courtney gather immigrant women together to cook dumplings. Why dumplings? Because "parceled foods" are universal to all cultures. Women from different countries can all come together with their recipes and share their unique histories with each other. Besides language learning, social connections are formed that help the women thrive in their new home.

Women call the cows home

For centuries, women in Sweden have been calling their cows home with a sound called kulning. Not quite singing, not quite yelling, kulning is a skill that has almost disappeared. But from medieval times until the mid-20th century, the sound could be heard every summer, ringing across the mountains. Reaching up to 125 decibels, kulning can be heard over 5 km (1 mi) away. Since cattle can wander a long ways, they needed to be able to hear the herdswomen calling them.

It was traditionally women who went up the mountains with the herd in the summer. They each lived in a small settlement, tending the animals. They milked the cows, made cheese and spent hours doing all the rest, like cooking, knitting, mending, making brooms, etc. It was hard work, but the women also had a lot of freedom without men around. They could do whatever they wanted up there.

Can language change culture?

Languages generally develop organically, following changes in culture. But sometimes we have to purposefully change our language to create the culture we need.

Take, for example, sexism. In English, seeing the masculine form of a word—e.g., adding "-man" to a job title, and using he/him/his pronouns—as neutral had been accepted as the norm since the 19th century and still often is. In the 1970s, however, women began to demand equal representation in all things, and that meant in the language, too. 

Studies have shown that people are influenced by the words they see. In one study, people were asked to read a story with the following sentences in it:

  • “The foreman reassured himself he had made the right decision.”

  • "The foreman reassured herself she had made the right decision.”

Visuals: Fruit & Veggie consumption

People’s diets have varied considerably around the world, and have often been dictated by geography, the types of crops that the land can sustain and animals that dominate the ecosystem. However, with advances in technology and globalization, billions of people can now eat all sorts of fruits and vegetables out of season, as well as exotic imported meats.

Take a look at the two maps below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

Giant beasts made of rice straw

Rice straw, or wara, is the waste left over from rice production. It used to be used to make tatami mats, bags, and other daily goods, including shoes. But these days most things are made from plastic and other synthetic materials, so farmers are left with mountains of useless wara. In 2007, farmers along with the tourism board of Niigata City in the Niigata prefecture, asked Professor Shingo Miyajima of the Department of Science and Design at the Musashino University to come up with a creative solution to the problem. He suggested using it to make art.

The surprising origins of sushi

The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based news organization, reports that according to Nobu Hong Kong Executive Sushi Chef Kazunari Araki, sushi is not originally Japanese.

The combination of rice and fish, he explains, originated in the 3rd century along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. After the fish were cleaned and gutted, they were covered in a salt and rice mixture in buckets for several months to preserve the meat. Before eating the fish, the rice was discarded because it was too salty to consume.

By the 12th century, this method of fermenting fish had travelled from the Mekong River to China, and then on to Japan, where it was called narezushi. However, in the 16th century, in the Edo period, Araki says, vinegar replaced salt in the preservation process, which was a major step forward in the development of sushi. It also gave birth to the name sushi—which translates to “vinegared rice.”

Perpetual stew

Do you like to eat leftovers? At Wattana Panich bistro in Bangkok, you can have a bowl of soup that's been in the pot for almost 50 years. Known as neua tune, it follows the "perpetual stew" method of preparation: the leftovers at the end of each day are kept overnight to become the base for the next day's soup. 

Cultures all across the world have versions of perpetual stew. In France, it's called pot-au-feu, or "pot in the fire", for the way it was traditionally cooked—in a pot that hung over the hearth fire all day. Other cultures' versions of perpetual stew include Chinese master stock, Mongolian Firepot, and Olla Podrida (literally, "rotten pot") in Spain. In the U.S., we have "hunter's stew", and the wonderfully named "Skilligalee" of pioneer times.

Visuals: Alcohol by country

Different cultures have different relationships with alcohol. For instance, Italians tend to drink a lot of wine but have a very low level of alcoholism, as they usually drink a couple of glasses with lunch and dinner. However, Russians are known for drinking copious amounts of vodka, and nearly one in three deaths in Russia is related to alcohol consumption.

In the east, South Koreans are known for signing business deals in bars and then drinking each other under the table, while Vietnamese love their Bia Hoi (beer halls) where they spend most of their evenings drinking beer after beer with their neighbours.

Take a look at the map below and discuss it with your teacher. Click on the “continue reading” link for an interactive version of the map.

Ramen: once a black market staple

Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular foods today, with around 5,000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone, according to culinary publication Gastro Obscura. However, ramen wasn’t always so ubiquitous in Japanese society. It was first introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century and originally consisted of noodles in broth, topped with Chinese-style roast pork. It emerged as a critical part of Japanese cuisine in the years immediately following the Second World War.

In December 1945, Japan had recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years. As a result, the American occupying forces imported massive amounts of wheat into Japan, which was used not only for bread, but also to make noodles for ramen, which most Japanese ate at black-market food vendors. With the government food distribution system running up to 20 days behind schedule, many people depended heavily on black markets for survival.