What’s for breakfast? Exploring our cultural bias ...

 What’s for breakfast today – fish curry, cereal or egg on toast?

What’s for breakfast? Exploring our cultural bias ...

Let’s take a moment to talk about what’s for breakfast: what we typically might eat, and what we might never have dreamed of eating for breakfast – this can help us reveal if perhaps there is a cultural bias we might be carrying regarding our first meal of the day . . .

Growing up in Europe, the typical breakfast in our family was what is called the ‘continental breakfast’ that many of us I am sure are familiar with – toast with butter or jam, and a coffee, tea or hot chocolate … or if we were a little more adventurous, perhaps boiled, scrambled or poached eggs too. As children we often had cereals with milk – rice crispies or cornflakes or something similar, and on cold mornings some porridge with milk and sugar or honey.

In Australia, the US and the UK, breakfasts are often at a par with the continental kind. The cooked breakfasts tend to be more spunked up with baked beans, sausages or bacon and a bun or toast. And for health advocates, let’s not forget the muesli or the granolas, common especially in Europe!

Cereals or toast was my typical breakfast for many, many years and I did not really question this nor consider any alternatives; in my breakfast world – that was all that I was interested in until I met my current husband who introduced me to a whole new relationship with food and breakfast.

My husband is of Asian ethnicity, and though he grew up in a Caucasian society and also had the ‘usual’ continental style breakfasts, he had no hesitation to occasionally cook up a fish noodle soup for breakfast, a green chicken curry with fresh chilli on top or even a breakfast burrito. This was much to my horror and discomfort (!) and he often bore the brunt of comments such as, "how can you eat that for breakfast?!" Also I often felt nauseous, especially when smelling fish soup first thing in the morning.

Here is where I thank my parents for a multicultural background and many travels, living in different and exotic places whilst growing up. In our travels, I was exposed to different things, food being a big one. With this background I was able to hold an open mind and give my husband the space (and literally so when I felt nausea and would leave the kitchen whilst he had breakfast!) for his own choices around breakfast. Over time, I found myself getting more and more curious to the point where I would sometimes ask to taste what he had made. I found myself actually enjoying this food and wanting some too.

Much later I went on to study nutrition and came to realise how supportive some of these ‘unusual’ breakfasts can be to the body – especially when looking at the nutritional value offered between a slice of white bread with jam versus a chicken curry. So it is clear that when we explore some of the so-called ‘exotic breakfasts’, they often offer much more support to the body than our conventional continental style breakfast of toast or cereal. This is not to say that we should ditch the continental breakfast, but it poses some interesting questions:

  • What is it that stands in the way of our Aussie culture accepting such a ‘different’ breakfast to our norm?
  • Why is there such a degree of cultural bias when we talk about a curry for breakfast?
  • What is it about us that resists change (even when we can entertain the idea that this change might be beneficial)?
  • Could it be that we are simply comfortable with what we have always done and don’t want the boat to be rocked, so to speak?

I recall one of my earlier nutrition clients coming to me for advice around their diet. The client was a young Asian University student who was rather embarrassed to admit that he had dinner left-overs for breakfast (chicken soup and lamb curry etc), and was concerned about this not being healthy – he thought that perhaps the continental style breakfast of toast and jam or cereals (which is advertised and promoted and predominantly only offered at most Aussie cafes and restaurants), was better for him to consume. Much to his relief, I reassured him that the curries and soups were fine to continue for breakfast as they are full of nutrients for the body and offer a great start to the day!

After many years of living with my husband and giving myself time and space to explore the various different breakfast food options available, I have found myself having lamb chops, barbequed salmon, seaweed soup, chicken soup or grain-free seed crackers with sardines for breakfast, to name a few. This has certainly been a liberating experience, and one that has been thoroughly enriching. And this is an experience that I invite you all to try out . . .

So what’s for breakfast?

By exploring the cultural bias we may carry with food and putting this factor aside, the breakfast experience can be more adventurous as well as enjoyable – and for those who want to start off slowly, taking baby steps and introducing little things gradually is fine.

For those who are more adventurous, go for it – your imagination is your limit! And most importantly: have fun!

Filed under

NutritionHealthy dietCultureVitalityWell-being

  • By Henrietta Chang

    Henrietta has always had a love and keen interest for science, chemistry and how the body works. Over time this interest has expanded to include bodywork, food, nutrition and other natural medicines.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd