Moroccan Food & Beauty Culture

One of my readers Courtney Henderson – asked me to write more about Moroccan’s and their relationship/attitude with food and how that has affected me.

Before I arrived in Morocco a year ago, I read a book entitled “Culture Shock: Morocco,” which stated Moroccan’s don’t eat out at restaurants in general because they always eat their meals with their families. It also went on to say that Moroccan’s view foreigners who eat out at restaurant as sad because they obviously don’t have family to eat with or cook for them.

I didn’t think that it would be that big of a deal but it really is in Morocco and among Moroccans because the social fabric of Moroccan society begins and ends with family.

Living in Morocco I have learned how much more connected Moroccan’s are to their families and through their families – their food.

Moroccan food culture values fresh, quality produce that when its the best of the best is from the country side or “Bled” – even better if its from a family owned farm, animal or plot of land.

The “bled” or countryside around Fez

If Moroccans were using the foodie/gourmand vocabulary of America or Europe the words being used to describe their food would be -

Organic, Natural, Free Range, Farmer’s Market, Locally Grown, Locally Sourced, Seasonal and Independently Farmed.

I stated in my last post – specifically about slaughtering your own food, “that it gives you a reality check about your diet and food.”  Why did I say that?  Because since living here I have realized exactly how far in America and Europe we are from our food sources.  How many children do you know that know exactly where the chicken came from that is on their dinner table?  What it was fed before it was killed?  and Who killed it?  Let alone many adults.

I can say I know the guy who killed my chicken by name – so if it isn’t the local butcher – its my father in law or the hubby to be.

If its “djeja especial” aka Special Chicken or Turkey etc – its from the backyard of the in laws house.  That’s the super home grown food for you- yep I knew that chicken before it became dinner last night – boy does it taste good!

Where I live there is a large weekly souq aka open air market and I shop there every week.  Every Sunday early in the morning all the local farmers from the surrounding areas bring their fresh produce into sell.  They also bring animals to sell – chickens, turkeys etc for the Moroccan who desires to grow their own at home.

Moroccan’s eat seasonally except for perhaps the more wealthy Moroccans in large cities such as Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca where out of season produce is for sale at larger stores such as Carfours, Metro Mart or Marjane.  So it’s very common for Moroccan women to stuff their freezers with items that are in season for a short period but highly desired in common dishes OR if they are planning a special meal for a special occasion.

To answer a couple of Courtney’s questions -

Is there a great emphasis on eating a lot in Morocco?

The emphasis isn’t on eating a lot – it’s on making sure no one is hungry at the end of a meal.  As a guest in a Moroccan’s house – you are the king or queen – so they will give you the best of what ever they have regardless of how poor they maybe or wealthy.  My mother in law and father in law to be are always concerned that I am full at the end of the meal.

If I get hungry before a meal time – as snacking between meals isn’t a part of Moroccan food culture – I grab cup of yogurt or a piece of bread.  Now if my mother in law sees me do this – she actually starts cooking the next meal earlier than normal because I am obviously hungry.

Is it like America where the skinnier you are the more attractive you are?

I think there is a generational gap in the idea that skinny is better.  More of the younger Moroccan men are watching music videos with “skinny” women and aren’t as attracted to what has been the traditional standard of beauty the world over.

“Skinny” in Morocco isn’t the American idea of skinny nor would I say in general the Arab or Muslim world.

Moroccan/ North African/ Arab men in general love women with curves – meaning the women have a bust, hips, belly and butt – stick figures need not apply.  Yeah Moroccan men want women – not half-starved waifs!

Think Christina Aguilera post baby – once she gave up on the dieting – and got some serious glam curves going on – that’s Moroccan skinny.

In some regions of Morocco – the bigger, the better – the more beautiful – is the motto for Moroccan men – Queen Latifah would be a HUGE hit among Moroccan men.  Men in Mauritania would probably riot over her.  Adele – don’t even get me started on how crazy Moroccan men are over her!  The term used for women of Queen Latifah and Adele’s size is “healthy,” or “gild” aka thick.

There are some unhealthy parts of Moroccan body image and beauty culture.  Skin whitening is huge – the whiter the better.

Getting plastic surgery to “fix” your nose or enhance a different body part.

Hair straightening using chemicals.

I am not ok with skin whitening – why do I need to change the color of my skin to be beautiful?  Isn’t what I was born with beautiful?

I am ok with getting out my flat iron to straighten my hair once and a while but it is not an everyday thing for me and I have grown over the years to accept my hair as it is.  In my past I use to relax my hair and that was more to fit in socially in the African American community than because I really desired straight hair.

These three things speak to white body image and ideals of beauty being held as the standard for all cultural communities around the world more than they speak to self acceptance and maintaining traditional cultural beauty standards.

Are you in Morocco more attractive as a potential wife the skinnier you are?

I think for some men – maybe but for most men the answer is no.  For some men I am attractive because I am American aka a possible visa to America.  For other men it’s that I wear hijab – the head scarf, look modest and when asked – yes I am a practicing Muslim -  when they see me on the street.  For other men I am attractive because I have a job in a country with such overwhelming unemployment issues.

Some men are attracted to confident women – and I am confident – I look men in the eye and don’t back down when I want something.  Perhaps I am attractive to these men because I can see between the cultural and religious differences and choose Islam over the Moroccan culture.

If I used the level of harassment I get on the street daily as an indicator of how attractive Moroccan men find me – I would be a deemed very attractive – by the men who think I am attractive.

I refused to base my self-worth on any man or women’s opinion who isn’t mine.  I use to worry about how attractive I was to men but then I realized its more important to focus on my self-improvement and doing what makes me happy than constantly worrying if I am pretty, educated or skinny enough to get a husband.

Ironically enough – that’s what attracted my fiancé Omar.  He was seeking and I quote, ” A strong woman with confidence and intelligence.” When asked why he wanted to marry me – that was his exact answer.  It was attractive to him that I was confident and strong enough to move to a foreign country to live and work alone for two years for the betterment of strangers.

He likes me just the way I am and had never said a word about my weight or appearance unless it was something complimentary or to ask why I wear such baggy/loose clothing.  To which I replied to him – I wear loose clothing in Morocco because of harassment on the street.  He just nodded and said. ” That makes sense.”

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One response to “Moroccan Food & Beauty Culture

  1. Wow! Alicia, thanks so much for answering all my questions! Its amazing how little thought I put into my food and where it comes from. I can go to any corner and get food as fast as possible and not worry about having to cook if I dont want to. I never thought of it as anything other then a basic need.

    I agree with you when you said “I refused to base my self-worth on any man or women’s opinion who isn’t mine. I use to worry about how attractive I was to men but then I realized its more important to focus on my self-improvement and doing what makes me happy than constantly worrying if I am pretty, educated or skinny enough to get a husband.” <- Very powerful statement!

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