Food & Drink

Ramadan, Dates, and the Evolution of a “Foreign” Food

Products You May Like

This week marks the final couple days of Ramadan, a holy month within the Islamic calendar the place Muslims abstain from consuming or ingesting throughout daylight. Throughout this time, no meals is extra essential to the iftar desk than dates — the candy fruit is usually used to interrupt the Ramadan quick. The 1,400-year-old custom is linked to the Prophet Muhammad, who broke his quick with a date first after which water. He’s reported to have mentioned, “Individuals in a home with out dates are in a state of starvation.”  

As soon as thought of an unique fruit, dates have turn into extra well-known in America in recent times, because of the recognition of plant-based consuming. In elementary faculty, I keep in mind explaining the idea of breaking quick with dates to quizzical appears to be like from my friends. The one dates they knew of referred to a calendar or one thing romantic. Immediately, they’re a go-to pure different for sweetening smoothies and baked items. 

There’s an apparent connection between dates and Islam. Each share an origin story evocative of desert oases, dotted with camels, within the Center East. They’re additionally each considered pretty current additions to American life, although each dates and Muslims have important historical past in America. 

Ramadan has been celebrated in America for a whole bunch of years, first noticed by enslaved African Muslims. Thomas Jefferson hosted the primary White House iftar in 1805 to obtain the Tunisian ambassador. (The subsequent time the vacation could be acknowledged within the White Home could be in the course of the Clinton administration.) As for dates? They’ve been cultivated on American soil for a century. 

So far as foreignness goes, each dates and Muslims have been the item of exoticized curiosity. The primary “mosque” in America — a reproduction show of an Egyptian mosque premiered on the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 — was a literal spectacle. Muslim performers had been requested by truthful organizers to don “native costumes” and carry out the 5 prayers as observers seemed on. 

Just a few years later, the U.S. Division of Agriculture despatched “agricultural explorers” to go looking the globe for brand spanking new crops to convey again to American soil. Impressed by widespread tales of Aladdin and Sinbad, they landed in Morocco, Algeria, and Iraq, the place they discovered date palms rising in climates much like the American Southwest. Offshoots had been taken again and planted in Arizona’s Bard Valley and California’s Coachella Valley. 

The date crop took off and have become a part of the financial system and identification of those rural desert cities. The city of Walters, California, was renamed Mecca in 1904 and different cities in Southern California took on names like Oasis and Arabia with streets dubbed Luxor, Baghdad, and Cairo. The cities had North African-style structure, camel races, Bedouin tents, and orientalist costumes to attract in vacationers.

Beginning within the Seventies, geopolitical occasions from the Iran hostage disaster to 9/11 brought about public notion of the Center East and Islam to shift from fantasy to fundamentalism. Consequently, date growers moved away from the unique imagery. In 2015, the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association mentioned that they had poured hundreds of thousands of {dollars} into creating the “Nature’s Delight” model title to market the fruit as a superfood as an alternative. Their efforts paid off: In recent times, dates have turn into a key participant in healthy snack bars, energy balls, and raw vegan brownies, coveted for his or her pure sweetness and fudgy texture. And despite the fact that dates aren’t as carefully linked with Ramadan and Muslims the best way they as soon as had been, American date growers rely on the annual Ramadan bump in gross sales — as a lot as 57 percent this year.

As soon as thought of international and consultant of a complete group (nevertheless caricatured), dates appear to have largely shed these connotations to nice industrial success. “International” meals that signify a specific group, like bone broth and turmeric, usually discover a wider viewers as soon as they’re stripped of their cultural context and rebranded as a brand new superfood.

Because the day’s quick involves an in depth, I attain for a date first, the identical manner fasting Muslims have achieved on this nation for generations. At what level will our deep roots on this nation lastly get acknowledged?

Fareeha Molvi


Fareeha Molvi is a cultural essayist who writes about identification in America. She is the creator of @browninmedia, which examines how brown individuals are portrayed on display. You will discover her @fareeha_m.

Comply with Fareeha

Products You May Like