Juneteenth has just passed, the 4th of July is right around the corner, and the constraints under which we have all been living for more than a year are finally being lifted. Celebrating that sense of freedom reflected in each of these and all days designed to commemorate independence feels incredibly timely and worthwhile right now. This “free at last” sense is not unique to any one part of the world or situation, actually. Freedom is that breath of fresh air and relief when any burden is lifted from our shoulders or shackles removed from our being — literal or figurative.
It is a gift and a right.
Sharing that unbridled joy at gaining independence is a universal desire, and breaking bread is arguably the best way to do that. We learn about people through the food they prepare, bond over tables ladened with it, and taste the joy and history of someone’s life in the dishes they present. Food is powerful and it’s why feasting is seen as a way of celebrating pretty much everything.
To honor independence, here are five ways hard fought freedoms are celebrated around the world with a special nod to the foods shared.
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort! (Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!)” Bastille Day, France, 14 July
The birth of the French Republic is the most important national holiday in all of France. It is celebrated around the world but with special vibrance and joy in the country itself, of course. From parades to fireworks to the coveted Firemen’s Balls — aka Bals des Pompiers — held on both the 13th and 14th of July, coming together to show your pride is the order of the day. French restaurants and other eateries across the globe celebrate this boisterous occasion, pulling out all the stops on those days. The dishes they feature are such traditional fare as pastries, crepes, croissants, and brioche with Quiche Lorraine being one of the most favored. Whatever dishes you choose for this amazing celebration, indulge in delicious French food and the joie de vivre of the occasion.
“Merdeka! (Independence!)” Independence Day, Malaysia, 31 August
A holiday to recognize the Malays’ freedom from British rule in 1957, Hari Merdeka is filled with color and fireworks, parades and sporting events put on expressly to celebrate the day. A new logo and theme is given to each independence day with a focus on promoting ethnic, cultural, ideological, and religious unity throughout the country. The national dish of Malaysia is nasi lemak — coconut milk infused rice that literally means “rice” and “fat” — and is served along with such delectables as stir-fried flat noodles (kway teow), and grilled fish (ikan bakar) to enhance a feast of freedom.
“Indepêndencia ou mort! (Independence or death!)” Independence Day, Brazil, 7 September
Separating from Portuguese rule in 1821, today Brazilians choose to relax and appreciate Independence Day with lazy picnics and a day lounging on the beach. Oh, sure, there are parades, musical events, and fireworks, but it is more a day to simply hang with locals at the beach, enjoying dancing samba, drinking caipirinhas, and feasting on chicken pastels, pamonha, and the meaty bean stew, feijoada. While different from Carnival, Brazil’s Independence Day is celebrated with just as much care and devotion.
“You may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.” Juneteenth, Freedom Day, 19 June
The 19th of June stands as the day when the last slaves in the United States were finally freed. Just this month, Juneteenth was designated a Federal holiday. Barbecues and cookouts are among the most common ways of commemoration, bringing people together to share their thoughts and emotions of the occasion. For many African Americans, it is the independence day focused upon rather than the 4th of July, and the foods shared at gatherings have deep meaning. Red foods such as red velvet cake and saucy glazed ribs, chicken and beef honor the blood shed by ancestors — red velvet biscuits and barbecued brisket are particularly delicious — and dishes such as collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread denote prosperity, all eaten with loved ones in celebration.
“Live free or die.” Independence Day, USA, 4 July
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, 1776, and freedom from Great Britain. America parties hard and well to show its patriotism, and red, white, and blue decor and foods reign supreme. Cookouts, picnics, parades — all the ways you can gather with your peeps then watch the fireworks to show your spirit. Bring along old-fashioned potato salad, grill some serious burgers and dogs, or start the day with a red, white and blue breakfast of french toast with berries and whipped cream. America is a melting pot of flavors and ideas, and the celebration of its independence is as diverse as the country itself.
“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.”
Freedom. Such a worthy celebration. Sharing it with others, enjoying the festivities honoring all who came before you, the struggle that led to the independence, and the joy of breathing easy after so long — whatever the situation, whatever the lifted burden — are invaluable. Sitting down to a meal with someone to feel that camaraderie once again is immensely liberating and connects us in ways that are wholly unique. It is why food is so much a part of every gathering; every bit of revelry.
With that, whether commemorating the most patriotic of occasions or acknowledging a personal triumph, we wish a Happy Independence Day to all.